Christianity and a Word from Moby Dick: Your Letter from Jim

Christianity and a Word from Moby Dick: Your Letter from Jim

My oldest son, Benjamin, and I just finished simultaneously reading the classic, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. We read individually, slowly, in spare moments, and sometimes in strange places, but with sustained interest. It was R. C. Sproul’s favorite book (see here). Behind his desk was an oil painting of Moby Dick, the indomitable white whale, himself.  

I often read single paragraphs in the book containing several words I did not know, but were inviting to learn. Among them were numerous terms related to whaling ships, the process of whaling and the exterior and interior of various kinds of whales. Among all those challenging words, Benjamin harpooned a favorite new one that he helped me understand. Let’s think about that word a moment. The word is sinecure (ˈsīnəkyo͝or,ˈsinəˌkyo͝or/). The word is a noun for a position that offers easy work for a distinguished title.

“Be it said, that in this vocation of whaling, sinecures are unknown; dignity and danger go hand in hand; till you get to be Captain, the higher you rise the harder you toil.” (Chapter 110)

This information was provided by the narrator to describe the work of a seminal character in the book named Queequeg, a harpooner, who not only had the distinction of being such, a highly respected position among the crew, but had to also plunge himself deep into the interior of the conquered whale which was strapped to the side of the ship. In the belly of the whale, he would cut out masses of the whale’s carcass that were then melted down to become whale oil, the commodity that was the end goal of the whaling industry in the 1800s. The narrator was noting that with Queequeg’s distinction came much danger and hard work. The office was not a sinecure

The word is from the Medieval Latin words, sine, meaning “without,” and cure. It came from the religious world in which there were offices that were granted as titles with income yet with little if any actual pastoral responsibilities. Since much of true pastoral work biblically must be about “the cure of souls,” a job that takes the pastor into the belly of the problems of the church’s members, and calls for hard work to instruct them for the sake of godliness, such offices without those labors were sinecures. They were notable in title only, without concomitant labors. Jesus called such people “hirelings” in John 10. When the wolf comes, they let the sheep scatter because they do not care for the sheep. 

The professing believer himself might find such a moniker fitting, if he bears the lofty and meaningful title of Christian, yet does not labor and bear his own cross as Christ called him to. Christianity is not a sinecure, a position of note without work. Though it is not our work that saves us, we are called to it. It is in the position itself. Note how Paul stated this very point as he describes the purpose of the death of Christ: 

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2:11-14

Christ’s death has the design, among other things, to make us godly and zealous for good deeds. There are many who present Christianity to others as a sinecure, a position that gives great benefits for no cost. No, it is not. Though our yielded life is not the price that secures our life in Christ (who could do enough to gain that?), it is what Christ calls us to by design. We sign up for it and the Spirit within us gives us the longing and ability pursue it. It is a rugged and often wound-bearing struggle against sin and worldliness to the death, if necessary, with the power of the gospel and the Spirit and powerful deeds of goodness set starkly against the black zeitgeist, the spirit and vain proclivities of modern man, both religious and pagan. You must not invite people to a sinecure, but call them to a life in Christ that is “sincere,” marked by genuineness to live “into” and “up to” the name we bear.

We must not abuse the idea of grace. It is not only the grace to believe that God gives us, but the grace to act, that is, the desire and ability to do what he calls us to do. Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10). Open your Bible and find out what that life is like. Rise to it and reject the hypocrisy that has by unholy alliance and careless admixture weakened us. Fight the battle “in the strength of his might” (Eph 6:10). 

Our Battle

CCW is in that battle and has that grace which God supplies. We feel it in the physical realm. The hardest battle is that which Kole and Rachel are going through. It’s new territory and calls for such vigilance that we feel we fail all too often. Pray for them. Much has been done in the right direction, yet not always with immediate accompanying comforts and cures. Also, on a much smaller scale, I have experienced vertigo and a few other bothersome things related to the inner ear for a few weeks, making some of my responsibilities more difficult. I am getting better. Mine is a minor thing, but I mention it to illustrate that physical issues can present all of a sudden at times which become part of the battle. You remember how they factored into Paul’s work and in that way he provided a model for handling such things. They do not ultimately defeat us, and may be the very occasion of ministry. Even with these skirmishes into our well-being, small or serious, God’s grace has given his power in our work, which is the set of effects for good seen in others we minister to. We cannot complain about grace.

The meetings which have characterized much of our interest — especially Bible Intensives where we teach not only the content of a critical passage, but the way to study the passage — are revving up again in our ministry after many churches and ministries now are on the other side of those difficult mandates related to the Covid Virus. We’re ready to help and are going out now in various places to labor hard. 

We have our newest book going out now as well. Released and all of our books are without cost to you as long as God supplies us. Some missionary organizations are getting copies now. Partner with us by using this book. We believe giving these to you this way is God’s plan and the more this book can be used, the more we are pushing back darkness in believer’s hearts and around the globe. Help us by ordering — if you will promise to read it.