Hold Them Back

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is a national observation and affirmation of life. This observance coincides with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the ruling which made abortion legal on January 22, 1973. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is usually observed on the Sunday that is closest to the January 22 anniversary. My church observed on last Sunday, and what follows is the lesson that I taught there in my Bible Study class.

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HOLD THEM BACK
Proverbs 24:10-12

INTRODUCTION

In article in WORLD Magazine, Justin Taylor offers reflections on a bumper sticker that he saw while sitting a red light, “AGAINST ABORTION? DON’T HAVE ONE!”1 Even a child can see the utter ridiculousness of the logic. Can this type of logic really be sustained when applied to other cases in which a moral choice is involved? “Against rape? Don’t rape anyone! Against wife beating? Don’t beat your wife! Against robbery? Don’t steal.”

This argument works well when you are talking about preferences that don’t have any immoral or evil consequence. But the decision to have an abortion is not like the decision of what soft drink you are going to have with lunch. It’s not an issue of preference, but an issue of truth.

You and I live in a culture that does not want to face the real issues involved in the Sanctity of Human Life debate. When you watch how the debate unfolds on television news programs or even in opinion editorials, you rarely ever see a thoughtful engagement of what’s really at stake in abortion. 2

A recent example of this is Ellen Goodmans opinion editorial in Friday’s Boston Globe, “Abortion’s elusive middle ground.”3 Goodman complains that the pro-lifers who will be marching for life tomorrow in Washington, D.C. have staked out an extremist position. Their slogan is “Thou Shalt Protect the Equal Right to Life of Each Innocent Human in Existence at Fertilization. No Exception! No Compromise!”

It’s extreme because it’s not a consensus position. So Goodman says, “The point on which most Americans agree is reducing unplanned pregnancies.” Can you imagine if we applied Goodman’s logic to other areas in which life is at stake? When you do, you can see that her reasoning is absurd. It’s dangerous to drive 100mph in a school zone. You might kill the children crossing the street. So how do we as a society enact just laws to address this danger? We enact and enforce a 20mph speed limit. If we apply Goodman’s logic, we try to encourage the children not to cross the street where people like to drive 100mph. It’s absurd. We know that when people’s lives are at stake, you don’t come up with asinine solutions like “tell the children to find somewhere else to cross the street.” We know that children are still going to cross the street, and people are still going to drive as fast as they want if there are no legal limits set.

Goodman is not being serious. She’s dodging the issue of what it is that’s being killed in an abortion. If it’s a human being killed, then you have to enact laws to protect innocent human life.

So I desire for us not to dodge this issue. We are going to talk about it, and we are going to do so from a biblical perspective. Our text this morning is Proverbs 24:10-12, and we will apply this text to the issue of abortion.

I have on my heart this morning, not only the unborn, but also the men and women who have been broken because of abortion. There are women (maybe some in this room) who have done this and who experience profound feelings of guilt and regret. There are men (maybe some in this room) who have pressured their girlfriends into doing this and now experience extreme regret. I have known people from both categories, and I have seen the guilt on their faces.

If there are any in here who fit that description, then you are on my mind and my heart. You are on God’s mind and heart. This lesson this morning is more than just a lesson about truth-telling when it comes to abortion. It’s also about extending the mercy of the Gospel to you.

God has called us to be warriors for Truth and to take a stand for justice in this world. Unless we hear the message of Proverbs 24:1-12 and others like it, we will never join the fight. Verses 10-11 are a cluster of three verses that all address one issue: rescuing those who are being unjustly led away to death.

Three challenges meet us in these three verses.

I. You Must Not Be a Coward When It’s Time to Fight (24:10).

II. You Must Attempt to Rescue Those Who Are Being Put to Death Unjustly (24:11).

III. You Must Not Look for Excuses to Remain on the Sidelines (24:12).

You Must Not Be a Coward When It’s Time to Fight (24:10).

“If you are slack in the day of distress, Your strength is limited” (24:10).

This proverb pictures a person who has the ability, means, and strength to take a stand for the right thing when the chips are down. But instead of taking a stand for justice, this person backs down. The cost of conflict is so high that they won’t engage the fight.

If you are this kind of person, this proverb says that no matter how able and strong you are, you are really weak.

This verse challenges us either to put up or shut up. What good is the quarterback who outperforms every other athlete on the team at practice, but can’t complete a pass during the game? What good is the politician who campaigns saying that he is strong on national security, but won’t lead the military to fight when our enemies move against us?

What good is the highly trained soldier who won’t march toward the front line where the fight is?

Being shy doesn’t make you a coward. Preferring peace to conflict doesn’t make you a coward. Even feeling fear doesn’t make you a coward. What makes a coward is the inability to overcome these obstacles when you are called on to do the right thing.

When the chips were down, Martin Luther had to risk everything in order to stand for the truth of the Gospel. He wrote about what it meant to stand for truth when facing opposition, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” 4

How do you overcome these obstacles? By fearing God more than you fear man. Or to put it another way, by loving God more than you love your own life and prosperity. Until God is your first and best love, your highest treasure, you will be slack in the day of distress.

If you love your possessions more than God, you will never stand for what is right if it costs you materially. How did the saints risk their possessions to minister to their brothers in prison in

Hebrews 10:34? “For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.”

If you love your reputation more than God, you will never stand for what is right if your reputation might suffer.

Galatians 1:10 “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

If you love your health more than God, you will never stand for what is right if it might make you sick or hungry.

If you love your life more than God, you will never stand for what is right when you are facing death. How is it that the saints overcome the devil in

Revelation 12:11? “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.”

This applies not only to the Gospel but to issues of justice as well (like abortion).

You Must Attempt to Rescue Those Who Are Being Put to Death Unjustly (24:11).

“Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back” (24:11).

This verse commands us to help those who are being led away to death. Justice demands that we join the fight. As evangelical Christians, we have a tendency to pit a concern for social justice against a concern for holiness. But the Bible does not let us put these in opposition. We cannot fall off either side of the horse; we have to do both.

James 1:27 “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress , and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The question is, to whose rescue are we supposed to come? Who are the victims? The victims are not only the unborn, but also the women who are seduced by the logic of pro-abortion thinking.

Here is one woman’s story:

Though I would march myself into blisters for a woman’s right to exercise the option of motherhood, I discovered there in the waiting room that I was not the modern woman I thought I was.

When my name was called, my body felt so heavy the nurse had to help me into the examining room. I waited for my husband to burst through he door and yell “Stop,” but of course he didn’t. I concentrated on three black spots in the acoustic ceiling until they grew in size to the shape of saucers, while the doctor swabbed my insides with antiseptic.

“You’re going to feel a burning sensation now,” he said, injecting Novocain into the neck of the womb. The pain was swift and severe, and I twisted to get away from him. He was hurting my baby, I reasoned, and the black saucers quivered in the air. “Stop,” I cried, “Please stop.” He shook his head, busy with his equipment. “It’s too late to stop now,” he said. “It’ll just take a few more seconds.”

What good sports we women are. And how obedient. Physically the pain passed even before the hum of the machine signals that the vacuuming of my uterus was completed, my baby sucked up like ashes after a cocktail party. Ten minutes start to finish. And I was back on the arm of the nurse.

There were 12 beds in the recovery room. Each one had a gaily flowered draw sheet and soft green or blue thermal blanket. It was all very feminine. Lying on these beds for an hour or more were the shocked victims of their sex life, their full wombs now stripped clean, their futures less encumbered.

Finally, then, it was time for me to leave. . . My husband was slumped in the waiting room, clutching single yellow rose wrapped in wet paper towel and stuffed into a Baggie.

We didn’t talk all the way home. . .

My husband and I are back to planning our summer vacation now and his career switch.

It certainly does make more sense not to be having a baby right now — we say that to each other all the time. But I have this ghost now. A very little ghost that only appears when I’m seeing something beautiful, like the full moon on the ocean last weekend. And the baby waves at me. And I wave at the baby. “Of course, we have room,” I cry to the ghost. “Of course, we do.” 5

Does being pro-life mean that you always support life and never support taking another person’s life? Should we have fought just as hard to keep Saddam Hussein alive as we do to keep the unborn alive?

The answer of course is “no.” As pro-life people, we must make a distinction between taking innocent human life and the just taking of guilty life. The Bible reveals this distinction. John Piper explains:

“I am aware that some killing is endorsed in the Bible. The word for “kill” in Exodus 20:13 is the Hebrew rāśah! (jx^r*). It is used 43 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It always means violent, personal killing that is actually murder or is accused as murder. It is never used of killing in war or (with one possible exception, Numbers 35:27) of killing in judicial execution. Rather a clear distinction is preserved between legal “putting to death” (mu’t, tWm) and illegal “murder.” For example, Numbers 35:19 says, “The murderer (jx^r*) shall certainly be put to death (tWm).” The word “murderer” comes from rāśah, which is forbidden in the Ten Commandments. The word “put to death” is a general word that can describe legal executions.

When the Bible speaks of killing that is justifiable, it generally has in mind God’s sharing some of his rights with the civil authority. When the state acts in its capacity as God’s ordained preserver of justice and peace, it has the right to “bear the sword” as Romans 13:1-7 teaches. This right of the state is always to be exercised to punish evil, never to attack the innocent (Romans 13:4).

Therefore, “Thou shalt not kill,” stands as a clear and resounding indictment of the killing of innocent unborn children.” 6

You don’t have to be against the death penalty to be pro-life. It is biblically consistent to be pro-life and for the death penalty.

Join the fight for justice in the pro-life cause. Verse 11 commands you to “deliver” those who are being unjustly killed. You are to do all that you can to “hold them back.”

You Must Not Look for Excuses to Remain on the Sidelines (24:12).

“If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?”

We cannot claim ignorance (24:12a).

The basic excuse that people make is that abortion is a gray area and we cannot be certain that this is a moral evil. But common sense and the Bible prevent us from claiming ignorance.

Common sense makes us question the logic of pro-abortion arguments. Sometimes, the world can trick us into thinking like they do, which often times contradicts not only the Bible but common sense. You will hear that we shouldn’t worry about the unborn because they are so small and therefore insignificant, because they are less developed (just a bunch of cells), because the unborn don’t become persons until they are born, because they are not viable (they depend on their mother’s womb for life). A few probing questions reveals the bankruptcy of this thinking. You can remember the questions by the acronym S.L.E.D.

Size: Does how big you are determine who you are? Is Arnold Schwarzenegger more of a person than Gary Coleman?

Level of development: Does how developed you are determine who you are? Is the burly football player more of a person than a prepubescent boy?

Environment: Does where you are determine who you are? Does sitting inside a house make you more or less a person than one sitting outside a house?

Degree of dependency: Does dependence upon another determine who you are? Is a diabetic on kidney dialysis less of a person than those who do not need such support? 7

If size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency don’t determine our personhood, then why would they determine the personhood of the unborn? The answer is that they don’t.

The Bible commands us to reject pro-abortion arguments. 8
The Bible commands us not to kill. We have already noted Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill.” The Bible shows us that human life begins in the womb (Psalm 139:13). The Bible emphasizes the wickedness of shedding innocent blood (Psalm 106:38; Jeremiah 22:3). The Bible commands us to come to the aid of the needy (Exodus 22:21-24; Psalm 82:3-4; 94:6, 23).

Neutrality is passivity, and neither is an option when it comes to abortion. The Bible’s clear teaching prevents us from claiming that we don’t know that abortion is sin.

We must recognize our accountability to God (24:12b).

God knows that we know better (24:12b). There are only two types of pro-choicers: those who know better, and those who don’t. God says that he will hold both accountable. Why? Because those who don’t know better should. They “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18; cf. 1 Timothy 4:2).

God will judge us even if we claim ignorance (24:12c).

APPLICATION

1. Pray for an awakening in our churches that will spill over into our culture. The conscience of our culture has been seared.

2. Submit yourself to God and resist the self-centered temperament of our culture that drives the abortion mindset.

3. Support alternatives to abortion with your money and time and prayers.

4. Use your democratic privileges to press for the protection of the unborn.

5. Offer the Gospel to anyone who has been broken by abortion.

ENDNOTES

1Justin Taylor, “Sticker Shock,” World Magazine 19 (January 2004): accessed on-line, http://worldmag.com/world/issue/01-17-04/closing_1.asp.

2A recent exception to this trend is Yuval Levin, “A Middle Ground for Stem Cells,” New York Times (January 19, 2007): accessed on-line, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/19/opinion/19levin.html.

3Ellen Goodman, “Abortion’s elusive middle ground,” The Boston Globe (January 19, 2007): accessed on-line, http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/01/19/abortions_elusive_middle_ground.

4Luther’s Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f. Accessed On-line 1/17/04: http://www.bible-researcher.com/luther03.html.

5Linda Bird Francke, “There Just Wasn’t Room in Our Lives Now for Another Baby,” in Contemporary Moral Issues: Diversity and Consensus, 1st edition, edited by Lawrence M. Hinman (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996), 20-22. This article originally appeared in the New York Times under a pseudonym (Jane Doe, “There Just Wasn’t Room in Our Lives Now for Another Baby,” New York Times, May 14, 1976). The pagination here follows that of Contemporary Moral Issues.

6John Piper, “Ten Reasons Why It Is Wrong to Take the Life of Unborn Children,” On-line: Accessed 1/16/03 – http://desiringgod.org/library/topics/abortion/ten_reasons.html.

7Justin Taylor, “Sticker Shock,” World Magazine 19 (January 2004): Accessed On-Line 1/17/04: http://worldmag.com/world/issue/01-17-04/closing_1.asp.

8John Piper, “Ten Reasons Why It Is Wrong to Take the Life of Unborn Children,” On-line: Accessed 1/16/03 – http://desiringgod.org/library/topics/abortion/ten_reasons.html.

OTHER SOURCES:

John Piper, “Sources To Help You Speak Against Abortion,” Desiring God Ministries

 

4 Responses to Hold Them Back

  1. Ben January 22, 2008 at 2:02 pm #

    I agree that sanctity of life (including abortion, abuse, capitol punishment, and euthanasia) should be big, big deals for Christians, which weights on our heart and minds, and spurs us to action. I’m not convinced that we all need to agree on all aspects of sanctity of life, such as in the case of capitol punishment, but I have trouble understanding why Christians don’t see abortion as a heinous act against the imago dei.

    However, the SLED acronym seems a little thin to me. It seems like a good part of both Denny’s and evangelical’s argument comes down to definition of personhood. We believe personhood starts at conception, and cannot be defined by size, development, environment, or dependence. Others don’t.

    It seems to me that a more robust definition of personhood is needed in the debate, one that is given by evangelicals and that is both nuanced and self-evident. For instance, does genetics define personhood? Why or why not?

    Additionally, such a definition would need to cover the spectrum of technological possibility. What happens when the day arrives that one of the skin cells I shed daily can be mixed with some off-the-shelf chemicals and yield a clone that is born out of a sack of chemicals in a lab somewhere? Does my responsibility to my own cells change when life can be created by more than egg and sperm? How does SLED handle this? How does a genetic definition handle this? How is ignoring the potential life in my skin cells different than ignoring the potential life in a single-celled embryo (i.e., zygote) that I make in a petri dish?

    As I’ve done work in this area, evangelicals really need a better definition of what qualifies for personhood in a way that makes sense out of all levels of life. I’m not catholic, but they seem to have a better rubric than we do.

    My point is that we need more and better thinkers to drive the debate in the public arena. Otherwise, our ability as teachers is compromised.

  2. jeremy z January 22, 2008 at 5:54 pm #

    I find it sooo ironic that Piper communicates that we not take political side. Although he strongly advocates against abortion.
    Last time I checked advocating against abortion is a huge right wing–political agenda.

  3. Todd Pruitt January 22, 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    Jeremy,

    This is an honest question: Are you being serious or ironic?

  4. Lucas Knisely January 23, 2008 at 1:25 pm #

    jeremy z said:
    Last time I checked advocating against abortion is a huge right wing–political agenda.

    You may want to consult some history books on this one. Female babies were discarded in the Roman Empire and Christians attempted to find and save the babies before they died. The sanctity of life has been an issue for Christians long before the words “right wing political agenda” were ever created.

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