Tag Archives: Patrick Swayne

How To Successfully Resist Temptations — Patrick Swayne

Look out the window,” a father instructs his son. “You see that young man down there? He’s about to commit a terrible sin.” The son looked at his father quizzically. “How do you know that he’s going to sin?” The father looked down at his son. “I know he’s going to sin because of where he’s headed.”

Many today might be tempted to accuse the father in this story of being judgmental. How can someone presume to know what someone else is going to do? However, before making this accusation ourselves, we would do well to ponder the fact that this conversation occurs in the Bible almost word for word.

My goal for this article is to examine the idea of resisting temptation. We’ll eventually get to the answer you’re expecting – namely, the need to respond to temptation the way Jesus did in the wilderness. However, before we get there, let’s discuss the importance of putting ourselves into positions not to face temptation in the first place.

The Connection Between A Path And A Destination

Proverbs 1-9 is distinct from the rest of the book of Proverbs in that it contains advice from a father to his son (with occasional interjections by lady Wisdom). When I read this portion of Scripture, I not only try to gain advice as a parent, I try to see what I can learn from my heavenly Father. One lesson that stands out time and time again is that my Father wants to be my teacher rather than to leave that job to experience. He wants to keep me far from sin, not merely rescue me out of sin.

In one of the fatherly speeches that make up the bulk of this section of Scripture, the father of the text describes looking out a window and seeing “a young man devoid of understanding” (Prov. 7:7). The text says that the father arrived at this appraisal of the young man through perception – it says, “I perceived.” Perception typically implies seeing more than what’s presented at face value, so what did the father see to make him pass this judgment?

The father shares two pieces of evidence that he noticed: 1) He saw the young man “passing along the street near her corner” and noticed “he took the path to her house” (v. 8); 2) He saw that he did so “in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night” (v. 9). In short, he perceived that the young man lacked understanding because he didn’t know when it was, where he was, or where he was going. The text confirms the father’s appraisal; what follows is that the young man is seduced (v. 21). It ends up costing him “his life” (v. 23).

What does the father want his son to learn from all of this? He says, “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths” (Prov. 7:25). Notice the emphasis on “ways” and “paths,” and the fact that the son is called to guard his “heart” and not merely his body. The goal of the father is not merely for his son to avoid sexual sin; it is to avoid the path that leads to sin. This father – and our heavenly Father – understands the surest way to avoid a destination is to stay off the road that leads there.

The advice of the father of this text mirrors some very important New Testament commands. Paul tells us to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). The flesh is Paul’s way of describing a life of “darkness… revelry… drunkenness… lewdness and lust… strife and envy” (vs. 12-13). Paul says we need put “on the armor of light” (v. 12) and “the Lord Jesus Christ;” doing this demands that we not even give the life that opposes light and Christ an opportunity to take root in our lives. This requires us to be “awake” (v. 11), and, as Paul instructs elsewhere, to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Eph. 5:15).

Unlike the young man “void of understanding” (Prov. 7:7), Christians must know when it is (“redeeming the time” – Eph. 5:16), where we are, and where we are going. However, God clearly calls us to more than awareness.

Choosing What Is Excellent

Possibly my least favorite question is, “Where does the Bible say that _____________ is wrong?” (To be fair, I also equally despise its twin, “Where does the Bible say that I have to _____________?”) This question can be asked legitimately by someone searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), but more often than not it is asked by someone who is trying to defend questionable behavior by showing that said behavior exists outside of the realm of what God has forbidden.

This is a very legalistic way of looking at the Bible. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day attempted to determine the exact boundaries of the word of God so that they could do exactly what was required, no more and no less (unless the “more” was something they valued by way of tradition). They precisely tithed mint, anise, and cumin. Yet they failed to realize that in the process of merely keeping commandments they were setting aside “justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23). Jesus commended their obedience (“These you ought to have done”), but said they shouldn’t have left “the others undone.”

The Hebrews author calls an understanding of “repentance from dead works” (i.e. turning our mind away from what is sinful) an elementary principle, a foundation (Hebrews 6:1). His encouragement to us is to move beyond what is elementary and to “go on to perfection,” to strive for maturity. Maturity is not interested in simply avoiding what is wrong; it is interested in pursuing all that is right and ensuring faithfulness in that process.

Paul called this aspect of maturity “excellence.” He strove for excellence personally (Phil. 3:8, 14), prayed for others to be able to discern what is excellent (1:10), and encouraged Christians everywhere to reflect on what is excellent (4:8, ESV). Hinging on our ability to “discern” (1:9) and “approve what is excellent” is being “pure and blameless for the Day of Christ” (1:10).

People who seek excellence want to know what is eternally best. When presented with borderline behavior and an action that is guaranteed to be right, a person pursuing excellence will always choose the latter.

The surest strategy to overcome temptation is to avoid it in the first place. This demands that we identify not only what is wrong but the path that leads to what is wrong. It demands further that we avoid that path not merely by walking the boundaries of God’s commands, but by pursuing what is excellent and therefore eternally best. Satan loves it when people peer over the edge of the cliff spiritually speaking, but he hates it when people stay as far away from the edge as they possibly can.

When Temptation Finds You…

I’d love for the above preventative prescription for the plague of temptation to be a panacea. The fact is that even when we pursue excellence with our whole hearts, we will be tempted. Tribulation is the lot of those who live in this world (John 16:33). Jesus lived to do the will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:19; 9:3), and yet He was tempted (Mk. 1:13; Heb. 4:15).

We often run to the account of Jesus in the wilderness to find God’s prescription for overcoming temptation when we face it. However, sometimes we do so secretly believing that Jesus overcame temptation simply because He was God. I’ll be the first to admit that a full understanding of “God… manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) is beyond me. What I do know though is what the Bible says: Jesus was in the form of man (Phil. 2:7-8). While He was in that form, He was “like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17). I might not know the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16), but I know what “every” means. When Jesus was tempted, He was tempted like you or me. When He overcame temptation, He did so in a way that you or I can emulate.

By all means “flee” from temptation (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Do so by avoiding the paths that lead to sin as well as the sins themselves. Do so by pursuing excellence. However, before temptation comes – and it will come – fill you heart with the word of God like Jesus did so you can identify temptations as He did and respond to them by saying, “It is written.” “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).

Patrick serves as a minister to the South Anchorage Church of Christ in Anchorage, AK. He is married to Chantelle Marie (Herd), and together they have two sons: Ezekiel and Ezra.

“Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” — Patrick Swayne

It’s quite possible that the ground was still wet with “the blood of righteous Abel” (Matt. 23:35) when the Lord’s question, “Where is Abel your brother?” fell on Cain’s ears (Gen. 4:9). God’s mention of the fact that Abel was Cain’s brother marks the fourth time in the first nine verses of the chapter that this is mentioned, with two mentions in the verse preceding (v. 8). God will point out this fact twice more before He is finished talking with Cain (vv. 9-10). It is impossible for readers of the text to escape the relationship Cain had with Abel before “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (v. 8).

Improper worship, Cain’s choice to offer “the fruit of the ground” (v. 3) instead of to offer “by faith” as Abel did (Heb. 11:4; cf. Rom. 10:17), and God’s response to said worship ought to motivate us to investigate carefully how we approach the throne of God. Cain’s anger at God’s rejection and God’s gentle rebuke coupled with a beautiful promise (Gen. 4:5-7), remind us that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20) and that God’s “commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The text therefore encourages us to respond with repentance and obedience rather than anger and disobedience when God’s word differs from our own thoughts, opinions, and actions. The fact that anger led to murder illustrates why our Lord connected the two and encouraged us to avoid both through love (Matt. 5:21-22; Rom. 13:8-9).

These lessons and many more could (and should) be extracted from the text. However, to ignore the contrast between Cain’s actions and his relationship with his brother is to ignore perhaps the most obvious feature of the text. Cain’s words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9), stand out in stark contrast not only to his behavior, but to the six affirmations in the context that Abel was his brother. Disobedience is wrong, as are anger, murder, and lying. But there is something especially wrong about what Cain did – something so wrong in fact that a God Who authorized the death penalty for murder in every epoch of time (Gen. 9:6; Lev. 24:17; Acts 25:11; Rom. 13:4) chose not to use it but chose instead to allow Cain to live a marked, cursed existence for the rest of his life (Gen. 4:11-15). As Israel’s sin caused it to become “an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword” (Dt. 28:37), so too did Cain become a living testimony to the evil of fratricide.

Answering The Question And Making A Connection

Connecting the lessons of this powerful account to Christians today begins first by reflecting on the answer to Cain’s question. Was Cain his brother’s keeper? Some who have studied the word translated “keeper” have discovered that in terms of a legal requirement, the answer is no; as far as we can tell, man was never given a command regarding his fellow man involving any form of the word “keeper.” We have no way of knowing for sure whether such a command existed during the patriarchal dispensation in which Cain lived, but the fact that asked he asked the question seems to confirm that he believed the answer to be no.

Interestingly, while man was never commanded to be a “keeper,” the Bible regularly affirms that God is one. Possibly the greatest affirmation of this fact is Psalm 121, where God is said either to be a Keeper or to keep six times. It is impossible to know whether Cain thought of God this way or not, but the conclusion is clear and powerful: whether he intended it or not, both Cain’s question and his behavior said to God, “I am not like you. I am the opposite of you.” Whereas God would “neither slumber nor sleep” to keep His servants – His family – “from all evil… from this time forth, and even forevermore” (Ps. 121:4, 7-8), Cain walked with his brother into a field and murdered him. When God sentenced Cain to a cursed existence rather than to death, He provided man with living proof of the foolishness of behaving so contrary not just to God’s will but to His nature.

While fratricide is not unheard of today, many of us would recoil at the thought of killing kin even without hearing about Cain (and, inversely, if we were tempted towards this sin, Cain’s story by itself would probably not dissuade us). In fact, if we believe that one of the thirty-nine books written for our learning (Rom. 15:4) included this account simply so that we would know that killing a sibling is a bad idea, we have probably missed Moses’ point. Jesus expanded the scope of application of this account by bringing the blood Abel down on the heads of those who would persecute anyone righteous (Matt. 23:34-36; Lk. 11:47-51). Let’s connect the dots and go a step further.

Behavior can be understood as black and white, right and wrong, etc., on either side of the line of God’s will. Yet behavior should also be considered to exist along a spectrum on either side of that line. Consider Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” Without a doubt, one has done well not to steal but to work instead. However, true progress towards godliness has not been made towards godliness – God-likeness – has not been made until one learns to give as God gives (Matt. 5:43-48). To borrow from the image Jesus paints, one has not truly and fully differentiated himself from those who persecute the righteous until he gives, even to his enemy.

Do you see the point? Brother killing and brother keeping exist on a spectrum just as stealing and giving do. I have not learned the lesson of Cain until I have learned to emulate my guardian God.

Becoming A Brother’s Keeper

While killing my brother may be quite an unnatural thought, so too is keeping my brother. This isn’t necessarily because we don’t understand family love; it is because as a Christian my brothers are those “who hear the word of God and do it,” not those who share my birth or adoptive mother (Lk. 8:19-21; cf. Matt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35). Some of us come to Christ knowing how to love our physical family, but God calls us to develop those feelings towards His church. It’s crucial to our faith to learn how to become a brother’s keeper.

Paul said, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10). In the language behind the text, Paul uses the word for emotional love twice, each time compounding it. The first compound word in the order of our English text (“kindly affectionate”) takes the Greek word for emotional love (philos) and connects it with the word for natural love (storge). The second compound word (“brotherly love”) takes emotional love (philos) and combines it with the word for “brother” (delphos). The teaching is simple but profound: Paul tells us to take the image of a healthy, caring relationship between two siblings and apply it to our brethren in Christ until it becomes natural.

Loving my brothers in Christ as members of a family love one another is not enough; Jesus said our love is not perfect until it is like God’s (Matt. 5:48). To learn how to be a brother’s keeper, I must model myself after my Father.

Turning back to Psalm 121 seems like a good place to start. Learning about Israel’s Keeper provides me with some wonderful points of reflection as I strive to be a keeper myself. Have I allowed my brother’s foot to slip from the faith (Ps. 121:3a; Heb. 2:1)? Have I slept while others are asleep to Christ and His light (Ps. 121:3b-4; Eph. 5:14). Have I provided shade to the weary (Ps. 121:5-6; Jas. 5:20; 1 Pet. 4:8)? Have I protected my brother’s path and made His way easier or passed by on the other side (Ps. 121:7-8; Lk. 10:25-37)?

Am I my brother’s keeper? Perhaps it’s the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, “Am I becoming like my God?” May God bless us as we put the example of Cain behind us and walk towards the example of our God.

Patrick Swayne serves as a minister to the South Anchorage Church of Christ in Anchorage, AK. He is married to Chantelle Marie (Herd), and together they have two sons: Ezekiel and Ezra.

Footnotes

1All Scripture herein quoted is taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

2The ESV translates the term uniformly as “keep,” whereas the NKJV chooses “shall preserve” in the last three instances.

The Local Church and Supporting Mission Work — Patrick Swayne

The building is paid off. The preacher is paid well. Additionally, he is surrounded by a supporting cast including two secretaries, an associate minister, a youth minister, and a family and involvement minister.  Somehow, there is still some money left in the budget. What should be done with it? The logical conclusion is to get involved in mission work. Several questions immediately come to mind. Who should be supported? Who does the preacher know? Who has sent a letter in the mail, and which letter has the most attractive font? How can the most number of people be reached and/or achieve the most number of baptisms with the least amount of money?

While admittedly this scenario is a caricature of how a congregation might come to support mission work, for some congregations it is a little too close to the truth. It goes without saying, however, that such should not be the case. The local church has a God-given mission to support, uphold, and spread the truth (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). God could have caused Bibles to rain down from heaven upon the unconverted, but instead He left the church with the responsibility of getting the truth to them. What should the church know about supporting mission work?

First, the church should know that prioritizing mission support is intrinsically tied to blessings. Many congregations of God’s people take a reactive approach to supporting missions. Normally, they wait for a missionary to come to them, and then they decide whether or not to help based upon the resources they already have at their disposal. However, reactivity rarely results in world changing activity—only proactivity does. Mission activity is not a vestigial organ to be kept only if it does not cause any problems. Instead, it is the lifeblood of a healthy church. When God’s people are challenged to give to worthy causes, they respond and subsequently are blessed.

The church at Jerusalem illustrates the power of proactivity. This church heard that some wonderful things were happening at Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). They responded by proactively sending Barnabas to help (11:22). No doubt, sending Barnabas was a high price to pay for missions in both money and manpower. After all, the Jerusalem congregation lost the “son of encouragement” (4:36)! Sending Barnabas, however, paid dividends. Not only did the church there grow (11:23-26), but it was also able to turn around and help the church at Jerusalem when famine struck there (11:27-30). Later, the church at Antioch even began its own mission program (Acts 13:1-3), and the congregations this formed also sent money to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-26). What if Jerusalem had kept Barnabas at home?

Second, the church should know the wisdom behind a targeted approach to mission work. Many congregations take a “shotgun approach” to world evangelism. In other words, they give a little money to a lot of missionaries. This practice seems to follow the adage, “Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.” Doubtless, it feels good to help twenty places to receive the gospel. However, when those twenty places are actually twenty missionaries receiving $50 a month each, it probably translates into twenty missionaries needing a lot more to survive. As a result, these twenty missionaries are going to spend a lot more time fundraising, reporting to supporters, and worrying about making ends meet. Missionaries love small churches that give $50 sacrificially, but they struggle when larger churches could do more but choose otherwise.

Though a “shotgun approach” appears to be “safer” and “better,” it usually is not. It is actually incredibly difficult to keep up with twenty or so different works. What often results is poor stewardship as funds are sent to works that are not truly advancing the cause of Christ. A more targeted approach (ideally, picking a field) gives a congregation something upon which to focus. It leads to powerful prayer (less names and places to remember) and a greater connection between said congregation and the missionaries it supports.

Third, the church should know that there are no shortcuts to evangelizing the world. Increasingly, brethren are turning to mass media and short-term mission trips with their mission dollars. This effort often results in less support for long-term missionaries. The justification for this approach is the speed and ease of reaching people when compared to long-term efforts. No doubt, souls are won to Christ through mass media and short term missions. However, one wonders how often vibrant and autonomous churches are established through such efforts alone?

This missionary heard of one short-term campaign in Ukraine which yielded 200 baptisms in two weeks. Amazing, right? A year later, however, campaigners returned and found that there was not even one soul worshipping as the Lord’s church. Essentially, 200 babies were born (John 3:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:2) and abandoned. Had a long-term missionary been there, these babes in Christ could have been cherished and fed (1 Thess. 2:7-8). Short-term missions and mass media ought to work in conjunction with long-term missionaries, but not in lieu of them.

Fourth, the church should know the dangers of supporting third world missions. Brethren often favor supporting third world missions because, as more than one elder has told this missionary, “You get more bang for your buck.” “Bang” generally refers either to reports advertising large baptismal figures or to the relatively little money required to support indigenous preachers. However, the question must be asked: Where are the vibrant and autonomous churches from third world efforts? In particular, where are those vibrant and autonomous churches in which the American church has paid an indigenous preacher? Such congregations do exist, but fewer of them than one would expect. Too often, third world missions are plagued with corruption and/or result in anemic churches which will forever depend on America for guidance and support. Americans going into the third world need to go in with eyes open (cf. Tit. 1:12-13) and with an exit strategy for their support so that planted churches can learn to stand on their own two feet.

Fifth, the church should know that supporting mission work is more than just sending a check. Ideally, supporting mission work is a partnership. Paul thanked the brethren at Philippi for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). Paul did not work for the brethren at Philippi—he worked with them. Yes, they sent him financial support (Phil. 4:16-18), but they also appear to have collected funds for him from others (Phil. 4:15). They were not content to just get a report from him. On the contrary, they sent Epaphroditus on a short-term mission trip both to deliver support and to help him (2:25). Though not explicitly referenced in Philippians, a supporting congregation should also be a partner in prayer—praying specifically and frequently for the needs of the missionary (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1).

In conclusion, this missionary wishes the church knew one more thing about supporting mission work. Simply stated, he wishes that brethren knew of the many congregations which are already applying these thoughts and achieving great things through their mission programs. May God bless reader’s congregation as it strives to support missions meaningfully.

swayne@gmail.com