17 January 2011

"Like Passions"?

by Phil Johnson



"Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are."

et's take a minute and dissect that expression from James 5:17. In a series of posts on Elijah a couple of years ago, I cited that verse and noted that James was stressing Elijah's ordinariness. He wasn't anything superhuman. He was unexceptional. The modern versions mostly say: "He was a man with a nature like ours." That's the main idea.

But it's more than that. The Greek term is homoiopathesliterally, "like passions." And indeed, Elijah's human passions are prominent throughout his life story. If anything, Elijah wore his passions on his sleeve. His affections and his zeal are more pronounced and more clearly visible than most of us. Even his famous ups and downs were driven to the highest of heights and the lowest of lows by his passions. He was not only a man of passions—he was a man of strong passions.

But James's central point is simply that Elijah was "a man"—and he was every bit a man. The ruggedness of his masculinity is one of the most prominent and endearing features of his character. He was a man of strong passions—but don't get the idea he was always emoting. His passions weren't the sniveling or effeminate kind. He wasn't a wimp. His manliness is always as evident as his emotions, even at the emotional low point in his life. That came at the end of a long fast, during which he had run nearly the full length of the nation of Israel from north to south. That one episode of discouragement was also the exception to a life and ministry distinguished by remarkable courage and stamina.

Elijah was a guy's guy. He seems to have been a bit crude. For months he ate food that was brought to him by ravens—scavenger birds. I don't know many people who wouldn't cringe at such a diet. It suited Elijah just fine.

And listen to the Bible's physical description of Elijah from 2 Kings 1:8: "He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins." So his physical appearance was dominated by hair and leather. I wonder how people would look at him if he walked into the typical evangelical church today.

And in that episode where he lapsed into discouragement, Scripture says he slept under a juniper tree. The Hebrew word signifies a kind of broom plant that flourishes in desert climates. They are scratchy. They grow low to the ground. And they don't make enough shade to shield a grown man. Underneath one of them would make a spectacularly uncomfortable sleeping place.

But Elijah was that sort of crude, earthy character whom the Lord delights to use. I find this refreshing. Time and time again, both in Scripture and in church history, God employs men who smash the stereotypical notions of piety. John the Baptist was exactly like Elijah, living in the desert and eating bugs and honey for his meals. Christ's closest disciples were fishermen instead of sanctimonious Pharisees. Christ himself grew up in a carpenter's home rather than the more sheltered environment of a scribe or cultured clergyman. Again and again, God uses that which is uncultured, unsophisticated, and contemptible in the eyes of refined society. I don't know about you, but I find that wonderfully liberating and encouraging.

Think about it, and you'll realize that the Bible's standard of true holiness is about as far as you can get from the cloistered existence most people imagine when they think of a life of devotion to God. But what good is the kind of righteousness that can only be lived out in behind the walls of a monastery or convent? What good is any kind of piety that cannot survive in the real world?

I'll take the robust, manly faith of Elijah any day over the weak and effeminate attitude of the typical professional clergyman (or woman) who thinks he (or she) is being devout because (s)he pretends (s)he has attained a higher level of social refinement than (s)he really has.



Elijah was the kind of person who tends to offend the sensibilities of cultured clergypeople. He was a passionate, plain-spoken man of decisive action. He could be harsh and even viciously sarcastic, especially when he was defending the truth against its enemies. He wasn't known for diplomacy. He was no friend of the enemies of God. He had a clear-cut sense of right and wrong, truth and error, and he had little patience with anyone who might want to blur or obscure the line between them.

He was not a man who would fit in well among modern evangelicals. The biggest fear of most evangelical pastors today is that they might offend people. They are convinced they will never win the world unless they are as subtle and indirect as possible with the truth—especially those truths that go against the spirit of our age. They think the only way to attract people to the truth is by accommodating worldly appetites as much as possible—especially in matters of style and form. Political correctness is their standard of truth.

Elijah was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He was abut as non-subtle and non-compromising and politically incorrect as it is possible to be. His style would not be warmly welcomed in the typical 20th-Century clergyperson's convention.

But he had a faith that was well-suited for the real world. His passion for truth was stronger than his love of comfort. His convictions were so unshakable that he never wavered, even when he thought he was literally the last man alive who believed the truth. Most people are tempted to decide truth by majority vote. Most of us would probably be tempted to adjust our world-view if we thought the entire world had abandoned the faith and we were the last Christians left. But not Elijah. It's true that he begged to be allowed to die, but he never once entertained the thought of abandoning the faith or softening the truth just to make his life easier.

Elijah's culture was remarkably like ours. The parallels between his time and ours are striking. Elijah's life is a textbook example of what real faith looks like when it's unleashed in a hostile world. If your prototype for Christian piety has always been the quiet ascetic who sits with his hands folded, reading devotional material, it's time to adjust your thinking—especially since we live in a culture where passion and plainspokenness are commonly deemed inappropriate modes of communication when we're proclaiming the truth of Scripture to a hostile culture.

I think if you seriously contemplate the example of Elijah, you'll come away with a different perspective on what real passion for the truth looks like. And I hope you'll be persuaded to pray for a double portion of Elijah's spirit.

Phil's signature

41 comments:

Thomas Louw said...

Only one question? How do we get to be like that?
How do we stay like that?
I don't think we can say it is a personality thing.

donsands said...

"The biggest fear of most evangelical pastors today is that they might offend people."

Yep. I think it's a mixture of the fear of what men will think, and also, their knowledge of God is that He really loves everyone, and is a nice creator, and so we can "nice" sinners into His kigdom.

And surely we need to be gentle, because Peter tells us that. But we need to fear our Lord first, and that's what is missing. No fear, or reverent awe may be better.
Yet, fear can be the right way to feel. I remember how I feared my Dad, when I was in highschool and did some bad stuff. yet I knew he loved me.

Thanks for the very good teaching of the Word.

stratagem said...

Excellent read! Thank you.

Gov98 said...

Thank you Phil!

This was excellent.

Chris H said...

Thanks for this post. Elijah's a favourite of mine, so it's nice to be reminded as to why.

Just one comment: of course, you're not suggesting we ought to be as offensive as possible. Anyone with a working brain will see that, so I'm saying it to help those whose skulls are more often used for storing oily rags.

Offensiveness, specifically when it's for its own sake or just to prove a point, etc, is not helpful, nor Biblical. Being straightforward with the Gospel, however, is; and that will offend plenty of people on its own.

Audrey said...

As a former Episcopalian, I have to admit guilty pleasure every time you illustrate a paragraph about pompous clergypersons with a picture of Katharine Jefferts Schori (snigger).

Mark B. Hanson said...

Has Elijah been blamed yet for Jared's murderous rampage? Only a matter of time, I figure.

Sir Aaron said...

I love Elijah, especially when he's making fun of pagans when they were trying to get the fires lit.

And hey, if ravens delivered me a pepperoni pizza with jalepenos, I'd eat it.

Steve said...

It certainly is dangerous to allow style to become our focus while weightier matters of the truth are neglected.
One test we might apply would be to examine whether or not the genuine purpose of the activity in question is to faithfully give glory to God,
i.e. does it actually promote fulfillment of the Great Commandment.

Frank Turk said...

I love this post.

Mark B. Hanson said...

I think a large part of our problem at the present time is that we have let the culture define what "love" toward our neighbor is, rather than letting the Scripture define it. "Making me feel bad" is not necessarily a definition of unloving behavior or words.

Anyone who has raised a child knows that our exercise of true love for him does not necessarily depend on how he feels about it at the time. Remember Hebrews 12:11: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

This is the nature of God's - and the true prophet's - love for us. What matters is the harvest, not the moment.

Frank Turk said...

I meant to add, "Phil Johnson should post here more often," but I hit "publish" too soon.

David Sheldon said...

Sweet!

donsands said...

There was one portion that made me sad.

"For months he ate food that was brought to him by Ravens.."

The word Ravens. (heavy sigh)

Matt Aznoe said...

"And I hope you'll be persuaded to pray for a double portion of Elijah's spirit."

Amen! And this, I believe, is the central problem in the Church today. We no longer desire or are even aware of our desperate need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The more I read of the old authors as well as the new, the more I see the great gulf that lies between those who are merely Christians -- given the Holy Spirit but not filled -- and those with whom the Holy Spirit has clothed Himself. There is a clarity, an authority, a power of conviction that simply does not exist in nearly every "spiritual" leader today.

We have settled for Romans chapter 7 and dare not take the step to truly embrace the promises of chapter 8. We are not just to manage sin; we are to be free from sin. We are to be led by the Spirit with the power of the resurrection within our bodies.

We desperately need a pentecost in the Church today -- not a vapid "Pentecostal" event full of demonic influences and lust of showy signs, but a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit to empower and enable us to live a life devoted to and led by God in the supernatural way that only comes from God.

How was Elijah used by God? Because he was indwelt by God -- the Holy Spirit had filled Him. Unlike the prophets and saints of the OT, the Holy Spirit today has been offered to all believers who will ask for Him. In the words of Samuel Chadwick, we need to "Repent, Ask, Receive, and Obey" and earnestly and fervently ask God for His Spirit (Luke 11:13).

Daryl said...

Matt Aznoe,

I too, wish to be free from sin. but that is not what we have been promised this side of heaven.

We live at once in Romans 7 & 8. Free, yet not free.

The Spirit has been given, once for all. Pentecost will not happen again, it need not and Scripture does not promise it.

But you are right. We must be filled, which is to say we must live in such a way as to please the Father. We must live holy lives while realizing that we can't live holy lives. Not really.

One cannot be a believer and not have the Spirit.

You almost sound like you pine for a time when we can live without the constant struggle.

Matt, we all pine for that. But we will not be done with that struggle until heaven.

Matt Aznoe said...

@ Daryl, there will always be a struggle and a temptation, but the Holy Spirit is God's gift to combat and win that struggle.

When did God ever command us to do that which we did not have the ability to do? Why then did Jesus command us to "be perfect as I am perfect" or John write that "you may not sin"?

I think we have fallen for the lie of complacency so that we will not seek the gift that God has offered us.

As for the believers automatically having the Holy Spirit, read the book of Acts again. There are many examples of believers who did not immediately receive the gift of Pentecost until some time after their conversion.

We are currently trying to build God's church and live the Christian life under our own power and in our own efforts to be more disciplined. This is not to discount the value of discipline, but God has offered us so much more if will but ask for it by faith.

Matt Aznoe said...

The gates of hell tremble at the thought of a Church indwelt with the power of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of God. We must earnestly, humbly and fervently pray for revival.

Daryl said...

Matt,

To imagine that the Father would never command something that we could not do is to ignore the purpose of the law as spelled out in Galatians, as well as the whole OT. We've been commanded to do what we can't over and over so that we would throw ourselves onto the mercy of Christ.

In fact, when both Moses and Joshua read the law to the people they explicitly told them that they would not keep it. The impossibility of keeping the law is a main theme in the OT.

It is not complacency, it is simply Scripture.

As far as Acts and the Holy Spirit is concerned, read it again. The we find 3 places where the Spirit is given. One, in Jerusalem, one in Samaria and one to the Gentiles. Nowhere after those 3 cases do we find believers who don't have the Spirit.
In all cases, the apostles were dealing with pre-resurrection believers, who believed before the Spirit was given at all.

I hope you don't imagine that you will ever attain perfection in this life. There is only pride or despair at the end of that road.
Pride if we delude ourselves into believing that we've reached perfection and despair if we cling to the idea, while realizing that we are not even close to attaining it.

Sunday said...

I never thought of Elijah like that. Thanks for the new perspective!

Matt Aznoe said...

I do not believe that I will achieve perfection, but "all things are possible through God who strengthens me." It seems to me that we spend a lot of time placing restrictions on God that He does not place on Himself. It is almost like we are trying to cover for Him to explain why our lives are not filled with the power that we see in the New Testament (by power, I mean the power of conviction, holiness, and impact on the lost). God is not limited, but our faith is. Faith is the key. Do we believe that all things are possible with God? Do we believe that we can literally move mountains if the Spirit of God abides in us?

When we are filled with the Spirit, He will purge our lives from sin. This is the promise of Romans 8.

If you want to understand what I am talking about, I highly recommend reading "The Way to Pentecost" by Samuel Chadwick and "The Complete Words of E.M. Bounds on Prayer" for works by saints who fought the good fight and finished the race. They are their legacy to us pointing us to the power that Christ died to give us to the praise and the glory of God.

Daryl said...

Matt,

As a guy who was largely raised in Charismatic circles and spent 2 years in a Charismatic Bible College...no thanks.

I know the arguments and I know some Scripture. There's too little correlation for my taste.

aztexan said...

God bless you, Daryl, for your valiant efforts to convince a snake-handler to turn off The Blasphemy Network (TBN) and tune into the whole counsel of God for proper perspective in faith and practice. You have so much more patience than I (most people do), and I admire you for that.

To the article: This has always been a pet subject/cause celebre of mine. It is my politically incorrect opinion that the epidemic de-balling of Christian males - to say nothing of the watering-down of the Gospel - is in fact a sinful perversion and a judgment on society; it's not quite sodomy, but it's up there. Don't get me started, really.

Steve Hays of Triablogue recently posted on this topic: Old Queens in Chamois Vestments

Reformed and Renewed said...

Ever listened to Paul Washer Phil? he sounds more like Elijah than any man preahcer alive I know.

Matt Aznoe said...

Daryl,

I think you are misunderstanding me. I am not talking about the modern charismatic movement. I am talking about embracing the promises of God, wrestling with them in prayer.

As someone else mentioned Paul Washer, I just saw this clip of him this morning that I thought I would share.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlUezCAWUbU

Here is my point: we should not just settle with our sin. We should throw ourselves on the promises of God and seek to drive that sin utterly out of our lives. It may be that we will never succeed, but if we settle for less than the best and stop striving for perfection, we will miss out on many blessings.

God wants us to be perfect and through His Spirit He has given us the means to be perfect if we will but lay hold of it and seek Him with all of our heart.

Daryl said...

Matt,

"God wants us to be perfect and through His Spirit He has given us the means to be perfect if we will but lay hold of it and seek Him with all of our heart."

Ummm...no. God never promises us that, this side of glory.

Pentecost has happened. The Spirit has been given. We must submit to the Scriptures and pray like our lives depend on it, no doubt. But I fear you are adding promises where none exist, and assuming too much about God's commands.

Must we strive to keep His commands? Absolutely. Will we ever do it perfectly. No.

Aztexan,

Snake-handler? Give me a break dude. Just because someone doesn't understand something, doesn't make them a snake-handler.
Or perhaps I should call you a Hyper-Calvinist? Or a Muslim determinist?
Didn't think so.

aztexan said...

Call me what you will. Dude. I hold those in "ministry" to a higher standard. Go figure. Dude. As a cold-hearted hyper-calvinist (yeah, right), I am wearied by the inexcusable ignorance of Christians who have even the most basic of doctrines (Sanctification 101, in this case) twisted, when there are practically UNLIMITED resources available which would quickly dispel such errors, IF such folks were only willing to SEEK and take instruction, instead of blindly flogging their preconceived folk-interpretations in the face of REPEATED correction. Dude. Guess that makes me a wet blanket, eh? Dude!

Daryl said...

Azextan,

Easy pal. No one (least of all me) is calling Calvinism unbiblical.

But calling Matt a snake-handler because he's got his doctrine of the Spirit wrong is pretty far out there.

Am I frustrated that he thinks like he does? Well yes. Many of us are around here (as far as I can tell) But I know what it's like to think that way, and it's not an easy thing to shake.

Maybe he'll never change his mind, maybe he will. But snake-handler? Seriously?

aztexan said...

I wrongly assumed that "snake-handler" would be understood as rhetoric, not a serious allegation. It was ill-advised, excessive and uncalled-for. I'm tired and grumpy (pretty much by default, it seems). I sincerely apologize to both you and Matt.

The thrust of my initial remarks to you, Daryl, was that people of your admirable temperament are far better suited to dealing with these matters than I, with my impatient churlishness. And then I go and demonstrate my point! Do I get any credit for providing my own "assist"? ;-)

Again, I'm sorry.

Daryl said...

Azextan,

No worries. I totally get your frustration. I get frustrated as well.
I think I'm a wee bit more patient on that one because, as I said, having believed as Matt does for so long, I found it an especially tough thing to shake.
Especially the God talking to you apart from Scripture bit.

I hope he'll get it, I did...because someone made me read Scripture and believe it.

donsands said...

"God wants us to be perfect and through His Spirit He has given us the means to be perfect.." Matt

Daryl is spot on with his answer bro.

I was thinking of Peter, when he told the Lord, "If everybody leaves you, I never will!"

Did he mean this? Sure.

Youwould think his Lord would have said, "Peter, that is pleasing to me."
But we know what happened.

God wants us where we say, "I am undone."
He will then ut a hot coal to our lips, and imagine that pain.

But, it's a continual spiritual battle for us, and our walk is one of faith and repentance ubtil we die, or the Lord comes.

Galatians 5:17: "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."

What a blessing and encouragement this verse is for the genuine born again Christian.
And when we say to the Lord, I am undone, then don't be surprised to see Him do His greatest workmanship in us. All for His glory and honor. Amen.

Matt Aznoe said...

I understand what you all are saying, but consider the next verse in Galations:

"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."
(Gal 5:18 ESV)

and then a little further:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."
(Gal 5:22-25 ESV)

As you have pointed out there is tremendous comfort for when we fail as John wrote:

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
(1Jn 2:1 ESV)

While it is true that we will all fail -- that none of us in himself is perfect -- that does not mean that we should set our sights on anything less than perfection -- in the power of the Holy Spirit. Will we fail? Probably. But we need not if we are walking in the Spirit because through the Spirit God has set us free from sin.

It just seems that when we say "well, we will all sin" it is very much like saying "just give the kids condoms because they will sleep around." Just because that is the norm does not mean that it should be the goal.

Daryl, I am reading the scripture, and I pray that my faith will be increased so that I may believe it and live it.

"that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
(Eph 3:16-19 ESV)

Matt Aznoe said...

aztexan,

I accept your apology. It is hard not go overboard sometimes when you are zealous for accurate doctrine.

aztexan said...

Thank you, Matt, for being more gracious and charitable to me than I was to you.

~Mark said...

Elijah is one of my favorite prophets as an example of a good passion, but I think there's a fine line to walk when talking about how he would be received by evangelicals today.

Prophets were weird looking then and they'd be weird looking now. People would stare at them oddly now as they surely did then. They were supposed to be weird so they'd likely get the same reception today that they did then: some would believe, some would freak out, some would want them dead.

I find wimpy Christianity extremely distasteful to be clear, but I don't think the reaction to Elijah would have been any different today than in his time.

"Ew, lookit that weird guy! What's he saying?" Then the variances would kick in... "Hey, y'know what? He's right!" Or "Uh, you might wanna go back to the home, pal". There's also "get him"!

I'm just sayin'! :)

Halcyon said...

Matt:

I'm not sure if I agree with you yet.

I do think, however, that you should win the Pyromaniacs' "Penny on the Cyber-Track" Award for Most Effective Meta Derailer of All Time.

Congrats.

Matt Aznoe said...

Halcyon,

I'm sorry. I really didn't intend the conversation to go that far afield. After reading the article I was just struck that Elijah was able to be the man he was because of the power of the Holy Spirit in him. His confidence came from his confidence in God.

donsands said...

"It just seems that when we say "well, we will all sin" it is very much like saying "just give the kids condoms because they will sleep around.""

The Scripture says it Matt.

There are two problems we run into as Christians.
We think we are really keeping the commandments of God, better than most people, and so we like Peter, "Say, I will never deny the Lord!"
2nd, we give up, and become very discouraged, becuase try as we might, we can not keep God's commandments.

The balance is to take all of Galatians 5, as you have said. We can't do what we want to do. Even Paul didn't do what he wanted.

And what is that we want to do?

We long to love Jesus with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. And we also long to love our neighbor as our self, not to mention love our enemies.

Yet, we disobey these commands, don't we.

In fact Luther says the greatest sin is to break the greatest commandment.

Yet, if you ask most Christians "Do you love God with all your heart, all your soul, with every fiber of your being?", they will say, "Well, no, nobody does that?"
And that should cause us to kneel before our Lord with grieved souls, and then see Jesus on the Cross, where all our sins, even not loving God have been placed upon His broken body, and have been washed in His precious blood.

Keep being fired up Matt. Don't lose that. But undertsand what sin is. Perhaps the book Holiness by JC Ryle would be an encourgement to you. If you haven't read it.

Lord bless us all so that we walk closer to Him every day, and grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord every hour. Amen.

Halcyon said...

Matt:

I kid! I kid! 8^)

Johnny Dialectic said...

"What is God calling for? He wants us to love Him, which is to obey Him, and to love your neighbor as ourselves. If you haven't done that, you need two things: A Savior to forgive you of your past and divine enabling to help you love God in the present and future. If you are a Christian, you are already loving God and your neighbor, but you also recognize that sin hinders you from loving in the fullest sense. You need to starve the flesh and ask God to allow you to conquer sin. You will then begin to love Him and your neighbor more than ever before." - John MacArthur

Canyon Shearer said...

Not only is this a fantastic point, it also comes providentially at a time when I really needed to read something like this. Having recently gotten into trouble for being more Matthew 23 Christlike than John 4 Christlike, it is edifying to remember all of the trouble the truth got Elijah into, and how God was faithful in his life.

This post, along with the word verification: steda (Southern for maintain your position, stand firm in the faith), has reminded me of a great Boniface quote,

"Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us neither be dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers, nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead, where the battle rages, let us find ourselves. Run towards the roar of the lion! Run towards the roar of battle! That is where Christ’s most glorious victories shall be won."