The biggest oxymoron in the entire Bible

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As I continue daily in the NIV One-Year Bible, the early days of June have launched the first book of Kings with an account of the transition from David’s reign to Solomon’s. New Testament readings are in the first chapters of the book of Acts.

Acts is one of my favorite Bible books. Why so?

  • Miracles
  • Peter and John preaching about Jesus in the faces of Annas and Caiaphas, the very officials who wanted Jesus crucified
  • Those officials asking “By what power or what name did you do this [healing]?” (I wrote in the margin of the Bible, “Easy answer: the name of Jesus!”)
  • The dramatic, initial dispensation of the Holy Spirit
  • The growth of the Church
  • The transformation of anti-Christian Saul of Tarsus into Paul, the preeminent early Church evangelist

So much to love in Acts! In fact, Buryl Red’s 1979 musical drama “Acts”, though it may rarely see production within church music programs ever again, is one of my absolute favorites. I recently viewed a church’s production on YouTube; I’m really disappointed not to find it now. However, here is a link to one song from that cantata. Another, just so “seventies” and so catchy, and so encouraging, goes: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking in the sky? Why, oh why, oh why…? This same Jesus, who was taken from you, will return some day, in just the same way!” 🎵

What’s going on in 1 Kings?

“Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.” Back up one verse to 1 Kings 3:2– all of the people were “sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord.” Everybody was doing this. Some may not even have known it was wrong in God’s sight. King Solomon participated in this activity, and the Bible makes it clear that he should not have done so.

Obeyed…except
In my Bible’s margin:
“Obeyed…except!!! Always a sin; always falling short, we do… until the day of the Lord!”

In my accompanying journal:
“Obeyed…except” is a HUGE oxymoron! “If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all,” we say about following Jesus. Partial obedience is not obedience, and we frequently make that observation about children and parents.

However, let’s not pretend that Solomon was alone in this. God reminds us in His Word repeatedly that we are incapable of being completely righteous 100% of our days. If we were thus capable, Jesus need not have died to provide substitutionary atonement.

Rabbit chase
Mary comes to mind as one major Bible personality about whom nothing amiss was ever reported. 
It is plain from the Bible that Mary would be exalted as a paragon of obedience. However, even though no particular sin of hers has been reported in our scriptural record (jump in here and correct me if I’m wrong), we know from other statements inspired by God that even Mary, like the rest of us, was incapable of perfection. (Psalm 53:1; Romans 3:23)

And there is John the apostle. Almost nothing negative about John stated in scripture comes to my mind – unless he is the same John (son of Zebedee) who came to Jesus along with his brother James, asking naively and boldly to sit at the Son’s right hand in the kingdom. Biblical Johns and Jameses can get confusing – John the baptizer/John the apostle; James: epistler/apostle/brother of Jesus. If John the beloved disciple is the “son of thunder” aforementioned, then he seems to have been radically changed because of his association with Jesus. …ahem, stating the obvious result of association with Jesus! :0-)

Enoch walked with God. Even so, not Enoch nor anybody else has been perfectly sinless, except Jesus. See Hebrews 4:15.

A few examples of “obedience, except”
Peter: He followed, learned, believed, healed, preached; he also denied, became violent, and feared.
Abraham: He went, obeyed, was named in — nay, led off in — the great roll call of faith in Hebrews chapter 11; Abraham also lied.
David: He loved God, sang, followed, served, persevered while pursued, led Israel for 40 years; he also took a census he wasn’t supposed to take, sinned while idle and feeling entitled, and killed as an attempted cover-up.
And back to Solomon: After succeeding to the throne of Israel, he started out well, walking in his father David’s legacy. EXCEPT for that “high places” business.

There is ALWAYS an “except,” isn’t there? Always a sin, always a falling short. And that is how human lives will be lived – until “the great and glorious day of the Lord”!!! (Acts 2:20, Peter quoting the prophet Joel)

Redeemed sinners can take heart that their failings do not erase what the sinless Son of God has done. What He has established (the place in heaven Jesus has gone to prepare – John 14:2), the enemy cannot undo. “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28

Out of holy love and duty, then, let us pray for the understanding to recognize our “excepts” and to repent of them as we obey our Lord more completely. “Search me, O God, and know my heart…know my thoughts. See if there be some wicked way in me; cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.” – James E. Orr

The Psalms chime in

Very often in the One-Year Bible’s being “divvied up” 365 ways, the content assigned for the same day’s reading in Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs aligns uncannily! On June 7 when I read in 1 Kings that Solomon obeyed “except,” Psalm 125:4 implored God to “do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.” This is exactly on the same topic! Yes, there are those deeply devoted to God in heart and in action. I named several of them above, including King David and the apostle Peter. But, as we have shown, even those rare individuals are incapable of sinlessness. No one is completely good or perfectly upright in heart. And that’s not a loophole for us to use as an excuse for meager effort. On the contrary! Or, as Paul would have written, “God forbid!”

Scripture teaches from start to finish that we can be moving toward perfection and ought to be diligently praying and training ourselves to do so, admitting it when we fail, seeking forgiveness, accepting grace, and getting up another day – in God’s strength – to battle the enemy and gain higher ground.

2 thoughts on “The biggest oxymoron in the entire Bible

  1. Today I am reading in Acts chapter 9 the amazing and wonderful story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, one of the best stories in the entire Bible! And it drove me back to YouTube to search again for the musical Acts by Buryl Red. I did find another song from that musical, “Listen to the Rustle of a Mighty Wind” (though I always thought the lyrics were “the rushing of a mighty wind”): https://youtu.be/aa2zijCr4sc
    With smiles I recorded in my journal how these passages in Acts are bringing to mind specific dialogue from the church musical. Ananias‘ first reaction to God’s directive that he go and minister to Saul goes this way: “Lord, is this THE Saul of THE Tarsus, who hates all your children and is trying to kill us?”

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  2. I wrote in this post that biblical Jameses and Johns can get confusing. A case in point: I am now reading in Acts chapter 12 about the unfortunate action by King Herod: “He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” A few verses later in the same chapter, after Peter (arrested by Herod) was let out of prison miraculously by an angel of the Lord, servant girl Rhoda recognized him at the door of Mary, mother of John also called Mark. Once those in the house investigated Rhoda’s claim and discovered it to be true, they admitted Peter, who said, “Tell James and the brothers about this.” (Acts 12:17)

    So, I am thinking, “Wait. Herod had just ordered James killed.” Next, I remember that there is a vintage children’s song (to the tune of “Bringing in the Sheaves”!) that helps us memorize the names of the original 12 disciples…and there is a “James the son of Alphaeus.” I have to conclude that this is the James Peter was referring to.

    BTW, biblical Marys can get confusing, too! This same passages names for us a “new” Mary, the mother of “John, also called Mark.” (Acts 12:12)

    Also, I think it is sweet that Luke, the author of Acts, bothered to give us the name of the servant girl, Rhoda.

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