THE SITUATION IS GRAVE – ARE YOU?
By Paul Proctor
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – 1st Corinthians 13:11
There’s an interesting word used in the New Testament several times by the Apostle Paul on the proper conduct for Christians that starkly contrasts what is prevalent in the Church today. From what I can ascertain, it’s found only in versions of the Bible published on or before 1901. And, judging from the rapidly changing and declining 21st Century Church here in America, I dare say its teaching and practice would probably be offensive to many if not most contemporary churchgoers – especially those still desperately trying to be more “relevant” to the culture than to the Christ they claim.
The word is “grave.”
Now, the first thing that comes to mind with this word is, of course, a burial plot. But, that’s obviously not what the three verses containing this word in Titus and in 1st Timothy are referring to, though I am not so sure one’s mortality isn’t applicable here considering the seriousness of sin and its “wages” with respect to the sinner.
Nevertheless, consider these three verses where the word “grave” appears:
“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” – Titus 2:1-2
“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” – 1st Timothy 3:8-9
“Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” – 1st Timothy 3:11
It stands out, doesn’t it?
If you check some of the synonyms for the word “grave” you’ll find words like, “serious,” “severe,” “weighty,” “momentous,” “crucial,” “vital,” “important,” “somber” and “solemn.”
A couple of the more modern translations of the Bible use the word “serious” instead of “grave,” but I’m not convinced “serious” is strong enough to accurately convey the message Paul intended. After all, if someone’s medical condition is said to be “serious,” that’s much better than if it were “critical” – and “critical” is considerably healthier than “grave.” You see, when someone’s condition is reported to be “grave,” that suggests they are at death’s door – that the next report you receive on them will probably be an obituary.
So, when the Apostle goes so far as to tell Christians they should be “grave,” there must be a reason. When I think of Jesus, His Apostles and the early Church as they are portrayed in scripture, “grave” certainly comes to mind because times were hard for them and their situation was desperate. Jesus’ followers were oppressed. They were persecuted. They were beaten, tortured and killed for their faith and yet they continued to preach Christ crucified because there were many who had yet to hear the good news.
The situation was grave back then and so were they.
But, frankly, I don’t see “grave” in the Church today. In fact, I see more revelry than repentance; and since today’s best-selling Christian authors and experts aren’t very “grave” in their presentations and publications, it only stands to reason that “grave” would be absent in the pulpit and classroom as well, seeing as that’s where most of our theology comes from these days.
I would reiterate that none of the modern Bible versions I checked used the word “grave” in the above mentioned verses or, as far as I can tell, any suitable synonym as a replacement. It’s as if this particular command was edited out of scripture.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on The Bible had this to say about the word “grave” in reference to the verse from Titus 2:
“Grave: levity is unbecoming in any, but especially in the aged; they should be composed and stayed, grave in habit, speech and behavior; gaudiness in dress, levity and vanity in the behavior, how unbeseeming in their years!”
And for deacons in the Church, Henry wrote this about the verses I cited from 1st Timothy:
“They must be grave. Gravity becomes all Christians, but especially those who are in the office in the church.”
And about the wives of deacons, he had this to say in later verses:
“Their wives likewise must have a good character; they must be of a grave behavior… All who are related to ministers must double their care to walk as becomes the gospel of Christ, lest, if they in any thing walk disorderly the ministry be blamed.”
A burial site is, without a doubt, a very serious, if not somber place. Let’s face it, there’s not much to laugh about in a cemetery. And, if you think about someone taking up their cross to faithfully follow the Lord through a world full of lost souls, what better word could be used to describe their mission of mercy than “grave?”
If we visited a terminally ill friend or acquaintance in the hospital with only a few days to live who had never heard the gospel, should we enter their room laughing and telling jokes to try a cheer them up before their final departure into eternity or should we acknowledge and share the seriousness of their situation with the appropriate attitude and witness? After all, is their condition not grave?
Now consider a world full of terminally ill sinners who don’t know the gravity of their spiritual condition. Shall we act silly, entertain them, tell jokes, sing songs, play games and boost their self-esteem with hugs, flattery and charming chitchat before they die or do we honestly and courageously give them the grave news regarding their spiritual condition and eternal destiny that they might gratefully and joyously receive the good news of Jesus Christ and be saved? How can we expect anyone to appreciate the good news without hearing the bad news first? And is it not the bad news of Hell that makes Heaven such good news?
Could it be the number of baptisms and church memberships are down because the lost and dying don’t really know they’re lost and dying – because there’s nothing “grave” in today’s Christian witness?
Have we, the Church, turned the Great Commission and even Christianity itself into an amusement – a recreational lifestyle of carefree indulgence and entertainment instead of a rescue mission of grave importance?
I’ll never forget the little church my wife and I visited several years ago that held a foreign missions fund raising contest where they challenged church members to raise $3000 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. If they were successful, the pastor and deacons agreed to sing a song in front of the church on Sunday morning wearing big and brightly colored ladies hats. Long story short, they did and it got a lot of laughs even though they were reminded beforehand by yours truly what the Bible had to say about men wearing women’s clothing:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” – Deuteronomy 22:5
Just how does this work out one’s own salvation “with fear and trembling?” (Philippians 2:12) Is it not the gravity of our sinful condition before the Throne of Grace that causes that fear and trembling? And do we not ignore the Bible’s call to be “grave” in our conduct and character when we resort to such foolishness in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? If Christians don’t take Him or His Word seriously in worship, how can we expect the lost to take us seriously out in the world?
But when crisis comes, everything changes, doesn’t it?
Nothing affects our conduct quite like calamity. When tragedy strikes, it’s amazing how quickly and dramatically our demeanor is altered.
Could it be the Lord allows crises to come along, both individually and collectively, to sober us up and force us to face the fragility of our flesh and fallen world?
My hope is that when crisis comes to America and to the world, which I believe is very near, Christians will once again embrace the duty and disposition we were called to and forego the foolishness and frivolity that has kept us from our spiritual rescue mission – recognizing with grave concern the urgency of the hour.
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” – James 4:8-10