Christianity 201

June 19, 2019

Quotations: Paul the Apostle

Today we’re back with our quotations series, but for a change, I thought I’d try our various sources and see what they came up with if I typed “Paul the Apostle,” “Apostle Paul,” or “Paul of Tarsus.” (I’ve always wanted to see what the general, non-faith websites might come up with, many were quotations about the Apostle Paul.)

It was interesting that some of the sites made no attempt to cite the reference for the quote, and none of the sites indicated which translation of the Bible they were using. When you’re doing this, you start to get a few repeats, but the Guideposts site (see below) had a refreshing collection of ten key verses that the others had overlooked.

Also these were copied and pasted somewhat randomly. Slow down and take from these what God would have you be reminded of today, since the verses are quite familiar.

Remember also that if you want to know which are the most sought after verses for each of Paul’s epistles and letters, you should go to TopVerses.com and use the book-by-book links. (I didn’t use TopVerses for this collection; it might produce different results.)

I guess everything is in green today, because everything is a scripture verse. At least I don’t have to supply a biographic link this time, as I think you know who I’m referring to!


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.


For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.


I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.


Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.


There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.


Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.


But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us


I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own [will], is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.


Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.


Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.


I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.


In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the good news of the glory of the Messiah, who is the image of God.”



Sources:

Inspiring Quotes, AZ Quotes, BeliefNet, Quotes and Thoughts, Guideposts

December 8, 2018

Taking Responsibility for What You Read Here

This is an updated re-post of an article I wrote which appeared here in 2014.

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of sign-off at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

I think it’s interesting that the first century Christ-followers were forging the doctrines we now follow. In a way, they were looking at the things Jesus taught and did, and then, in light of the resurrection and ascension, asked themselves the question that in our day was the title of a popular Christian book, “How shall we then live.” In other words, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Or, ‘What is the application of the Messiah’s teaching to our everyday lives, our work, our marriages, our parenting, our church-attending?’

With the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which borrows  content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into a new year, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And while we’ll include something every once in awhile from a pastor or author who is worth of name-dropping, most of what appears here is from people you’ve never heard of! People like you and me.

And so as I myself move forward into a new year, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. My hope is that like the Bereans, you’ll ‘search the scriptures’ to see if a writer’s take on a particular passage or topic is consistent with the rest of what scripture teaches.

I might not always pick the very best, but I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

…well today, anyway.

May 19, 2017

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Titus

We did this a year ago and decided it was time to revisit The Bible Project a video series which helps those of us who think more visually. As we said last year, we know you come here daily for a teaching or inspirational writing that is written out in words, and some devotional websites can easily get lazy and just post videos or link to audio podcasts. But we felt this was a worthy exception. I hope you agree.

Learn more at TheBibleProject.com

May 1, 2017

Devotional Potpourri

Three parts today. One a comparison of two similar Biblical texts. The second from the liturgy my wife wrote for our Sunday worship yesterday with particular emphasis to how we were created in God’s image. The third some advice to pastors and church leaders, or anyone else who finds themselves so very busy.


Sitting in church yesterday, I was struck by the ways in which Paul’s opening words to the Ephesians in chapter one were similar to his opening words to the Colossians. Here’s Ephesians in the NLT:

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere,16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.  19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him…

And Colossians in the CEB:

9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience…

For deeper study, print off this section and underline the specifics of his requests for both churches and their spiritual maturity. It’s also interesting to note that his sentences — where we’ve cut off the last verses in the middle — run on as he switches from the quoted sections to the basis on which they can place their confidence in Christ.

  • He made it so you could take part in the inheritance
  • He rescued us from the control of darkness
  • He transferred us into the kingdom of the Son
  • We can trust in the incredible greatness of God’s power
  • We can trust in the power that raised Christ from the dead

If you want to read the full chapters click here for Col. 1 and Eph. 1 in the translations quoted.


Creation Meditation

by Ruth Wilkinson

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You created us with eyes because
You see beauty and joy, pain and brokenness
And so must we.

You created us with ears because
You hear words of faithfulness, promises of love and cries of need
And so must we.

You created us with mouths because
You sing joy, shout truth and whisper comfort
And so must we.

You created us with hands because
You create and build, reach out and touch and embrace
And so must we.

You created us with feet because
You are the God who goes where You are needed,
who walks alongside those who need you
And so must we.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You are the God who named us because
You have a name.
You gave us our true name.
You know who we are.

We are yours.


A Word for Weary Pastors

by Mark O. Wilson
(click here to read at source)

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

As pastors, our calling is to be be with Jesus, as his beloved children, rather than slaving away as his hired servants. Our work for Christ must flow from his overwhelming love for us. Otherwise, we’re living in frantic illusion.

Souls require breathing space to be healthy.

Consider these words from veteran pastor, William C. Martin:

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
you will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
you will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry
about budgets and offerings,
the pains in your chest and the ache in your shoulders
will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations
of those around you
you will forever be their slave.

Work a modest day
then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God.

December 26, 2014

Endorsing What You Read Here

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of comment at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

Though, with the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which appropriates the content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into 2015, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And so as I myself move forward into 2015, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

September 16, 2014

Why Not Sin?

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In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:11

 

The title of today’s devotional certainly got our attention when we first saw it, so we decided to retain it here. This is from a source that’s new to us, The Christward Collective is the blog of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. To read this at source, and then look around at other aspects of the website and blog, click the title below.

Why Not Sin?

As a Christian, why not sin? We could give a myriad of answers to that question. However, the best answer is supplied by Paul in Romans 6. Paul could have talked about the misery that sin brings, the pain that it inflicts upon others, the consequences which flow from it, or the penalty that Christ had to pay for it. But that is not where he first turns. He wants Christians to understand that we cannot easily entertain sin, because of our identity.

In Romans 5, Paul focuses on justification. In Romans 6, he points out that our sanctification cannot be separated from our justification. Those who have been forgiven their sins in Christ are to live in light of having been forgiven. Paul addresses this by pointing out that we are in union with Christ. Look at the language in Romans 6:3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Verse 4, “We were buried therefore with Him.” Verse five, “For if we have been united with him.” Verse 6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” Verse 8, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” As Christians, we have been united with Christ. We are one with Him. In fact, that is what makes us Christians. Paul would have us to understand that our union with Christ marks every aspect of our salvation. That is, by faith we have been united with Christ for our justification, sanctification, and glorification. These cannot be separated anymore than Christ can be separated. Christ cannot be ripped asunder; therefore, we cannot rip sanctification from justification. This has great ramifications.

We have nothing apart from Christ. We have no justification, peace, forgiveness, sanctification, righteousness, holiness, Heavenly Father, or indwelling Spirit apart from Christ. Every part and parcel of our salvation is ours, because we are in Christ. As Anthony Lane put it, “Until we are united with Christ what he has achieved for us helps us no more than an electricity main supply that passes our house but is not connected to it.” Union with Christ is our identity.

This leads Paul to ask the question that he does in Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Before we came to know Christ, we were dead in sin. Ephesians 2 tells us, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Now as a Christian, Paul declares that we are not dead in sin, we are dead to sin. This is what Paul wants Christians to understand above all else in response to the question of why we should not continue in sin: you have died to sin, dear Christian. It has happened. That is our identity in Christ. That is who we are.

When we became a believer by grace through faith in union with Christ, we died to sin. It is not a progression that Paul has in mind, though it is true that we are to die to sin every day. It is also not a future reality that he is looking to, though it is true that we will know freedom from sin more in heaven than we have ever experienced on this earth. Rather, what Paul is pointing out in Romans 6 is that it is a historic reality for the Christian. We have died to sin. It has already occurred in our past by virtue of our being united with Christ. John Murray aptly explained this by suggesting that when we came to saving faith in Christ there was “a definitive breach with sin.”

Look at how desirous Paul is for us to understand this in just the first 14 verses of Romans 6. Verse 2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Verse 3, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Verse 4, ” buried with him by baptism into death, just as Christ was raised from the dead.” Verse 5, “united with him in a death like his.” Verse 6, “crucified, brought to nothing.” Verse 8, “died with Christ.” Verse 9, “being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him.” Verse 10, “For the death he died.” Verse 11, “consider yourselves dead to sin.”

Death is everywhere in these 14 verses. Even the most uninformed reader can see that Paul is making a single point. He is declaring with passion, “Don’t you understand, when you were united with Christ by grace through faith, you were united with Him in His death?” Christ died. And by our union with Him, we died with Him. He died, so we died. That old life of mine, that unregenerate man that I was, that man trapped in sin, steeped in sin, dominated and controlled by sin, is dead. And so it is for you, if you are in Christ. Sin’s power and authority has already been broken in your life.

Sin is no longer our king. It is no longer our sovereign. We need not follow its dictates. It cannot command us. We have been set free to serve a new Lord, a better Lord. Sin no longer sits upon the throne of our hearts, grace does in the person of King Jesus. That is the principle reason we are not to sin. Our identity has been changed. Giving ourselves over to sin is harkening back to an old lord, an impostor, a realm to which we no longer belong. Sin that grace may abound? By no means!

March 9, 2014

Put Off the Old, Put on the New

The Voice BibleYou may have noticed that occasionally I use The Voice Bible for quotations here. I do this partly to challenge myself with some different rendering of a familiar passage, but also to remind us all that over time, we need new translations. David Capes lives in Texas and is the Thomas Nelson Research Professor at Houston Baptist University.  He is the author of numerous publications and is one of the top scholars and writers for The Voice. He blogs at HearTheVoice.com and this is one of a number of times we’ve covered his material here at C201, though I must add, that if you have a taste for the issues that translators wrestle with, this is a good blog to follow.

Some of the material in what follows may be beyond your Bible study experience, but take it in and absorb what you can; you may find it whets your appetite for more of this kind of discussion. Click the title to read

Putting Off and putting on: Modesty in Baptism

A new friend of mine—let’s call him Sherlock—is an accomplished legal mind and great Bible teacher.  Recently, he started using The Voice in some of his teaching.  He posed a question to another friend—let’s call him Holmes (another accomplished legal mind and amazing Bible teacher)—about how to read Ephesians 4:22-24.  Paul uses two aorist infinitives for “putting off” the old self and “putting on” the new self.  Most Bible commentaries describe the aorist as a one time act.  It is often called punctilliar aspect.  That’s probably telling you a lot more than you want to know.  But the idea would be that Paul is emphasizing how we decide once and for all to put off the old self and put on the new.  In other words it refers to a person’s point of salvation.  But Klyne Snodgrass, a distinguished professor at North Park Theological Seminary, has this to say: “The aorist tense is used for undefined action. Not necessarily ‘point action,’ as has been the traditional way of looking at the aorist tense!”

Now here is how we translated the passage in The Voice.

22 then you know to take off your former way of life, your crumpled old self—that dark blot of a soul corrupted by deceitful desire and lust— 23 to take a fresh breath and to let God renew your attitude and spirit. 24 Then you are ready to put on your new self, modeled after the very likeness of God: truthful, righteous, and holy.

You may notice words in both regular font and italic font.  The regular font is more of a straight line translation from the original Greek.  The italic is “explanatory paraphrase;” this expresses the idea of the Greek because often it takes more than one word in English to express the nuance and artistry of the original language.

Eventually Sherlock and Holmes kicked the question to me and here is what I said to them late Saturday night.

You are correct that Paul uses aorist infinitives for “putting off” (the old) and” putting on” (the new).  In between however, he employs a present infinitive to describe ongoing renewal by the Spirit which is to typify the Christian life.

There are times when the aorist points to a one-time event (punctilliar) and times when it is undefined.  After all Greek only has a few tenses to draw from. and it is probably unwise to pound the pulpit every time you see an aorist.  On this occasion, however, I think the punctilliar is warranted because most scholars are convinced that Paul is making use of baptismal language and liturgy when he talks about putting off and putting on.  Since baptism was supposed to be a one-time act, these aorist forms are appropriate.  Christian baptism–widely understood as initiation into the Christian life–was seen as the decisive turning point when a person denied the old nature once and for all and took on (intentionally) the new nature.  This language about Christian baptism was taken so literally in the first part of the second century AD that the baptismal candidates took off their old clothes, went down into the water naked, and came up from the water to put on a new set of clothes.  That was one reason why the church needed women deacons, to superintend the baptism of women candidates.

That said, however, I think Paul would also agree that we are to always be working out our baptismal vows.  That means we are continually in the process of renewal, which means setting aside/repenting of the old and appropriating the newness of the Spirit. This is why we translated the passage in The Voice the way we did.

Perhaps you’ve gone to a church and noticed a water font at the entrance to the sanctuary.  They are usually small and off to one side.  The purpose of the font is to remind you of your baptism.  You may see people dip their finger in the water and make the sign of the cross.  I don’t know about you but I need to be reminded regularly of the promises I made to God.  I need to renew those vows recognizing that ultimately it is God at work in us, making the renewal a reality.

March 6, 2013

Digging Deeper Into I Timothy

One thing we’ve learned from the publication of The People’s Bible — an NIV edition that highlights the most frequently searched verses at BibleGateway.com — is that some scripture verses are more prevalent in the public consciousness than others. In keeping with the oft-mentioned theme here of scripture as a jewel, we find when we return to a passage something staring us in the face which may have totally missed before.

For example, consider I Timothy 3, the passage dealing with the requirements to be an overseer (as in the ESV and NIV, some use bishop, CEV uses church official, etc.) or deacons (today we might say elders or board members).  While you might not have this passage memorized, you could probably describe it: Self controlled, a solid marriage, not involved in any shady business dealings, a good manager of their family, well-liked by those outside the church, etc. But then we come to verse 9:

NIV I Tim 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Matthew Henry says of this:

The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion. If we keep a pure conscience (take heed of every thing that debauches conscience, and draws us away from God), this will preserve in our souls the mystery of faith.

Now notice, we would say that those ‘handling’ the truth of God’s word need to do so in purity; personally, I would want to see this passage as parallel to the purity laws in Leviticus required of the priests who were instrumental in administering the sacrifices.

But Matthew Henry reverses the cause and effect from what I would expected, and says that those who love truth will be kept from error and delusion by so doing, because the truth acts as preservative.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, however sees this passage as I expected, while the Eerdman’s Bible Commentary defines the ‘mystery’ referred to here as referring to truths not apparent to the common man, the one who is not privileged to be a partaker in the truth.

The other verse which I wanted to look at today is in chapter 5:

NIV I Tim: 524 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.

This is a chapter dealing with the treatment of widows and the responsibility of elders. The NIV section header adds “and slaves” though the word isn’t used in the chapter, but does occur at the start of  chapter six.

I like the CEV on this verse:

24 Some people get caught in their sins right away, even before the time of judgment. But other people’s sins don’t show up until later.

The Message Bible couples this with the verse that follows, offering a positive implication to follow the negative:

24-25 The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.

This couplet of verses seems like it would be more fitting in the book of Proverbs. It does stand out here which may be why we tend to skip over it, jumping to the next chapter and the treatment of slaves.  (And historically, we must see this referring to slavery; even the most modern translations avoid an attempt at being contemporary with the suggestion that this might refer to ’employees.’)

The Reformation Study Bible tells us that this section is included as a reminder of the type of screening process that is necessary when choosing elders, overseers, etc.

Matthew Henry reads it differently:

Ministers have need of a great deal of wisdom, to know how to accommodate themselves to the variety of offences and offenders that they have occasion to deal with. Some men’s sins are so plain and obvious, and not found by secret search, that there is no dispute concerning the bringing of them under the censures of the church; they go before to judgment, to lead them to censure.

Others they follow after; that is, their wickedness does not presently appear, nor till after a due search has been made concerning it. Or, as some understand it, some men’s sins continue after they are censured; they are not reformed by the censure, and in that case there must be no absolution. So, also, as to the evidences of repentance: The good works of some are manifest beforehand. And those that are otherwise, whose good works do not appear, their wickedness cannot be hid, and so it will be easy to discern who are to be absolved, and who are not. Observe,

  1. There are secret, and there are open sins; some men’s sins are open beforehand, and going unto judgment, and some they follow after.
  2.  Sinners must be differently dealt with by the church.
  3. The effects of church-censures are very different; some are thereby humbled and brought to repentance, so that their good works are manifest beforehand, while it is quite otherwise with others.
  4. The incorrigible cannot be hid; for God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary sees this passage in the light of verse 22, which says,

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

(Note: Just to be clear, there are always some who read ‘laying on of hands’ as referring to prayer for healing or deliverance; but it refers to setting someone apart for ministry leadership.)

The commentary suggests that the overarching principle should be, “By their fruits you will know them;” thus character is established over the long term. (Ref. Matthew 7:20 also verse 16.)

The International Bible Commentary reflects the implications when both verses 24 and 25 are considered together:

…Great discernment will be required where the true nature of the individual is not so obvious. Some will only after a time reveal disqualifying traits. Others, in danger of being turned down, may subsequently show that they possessed in good measure the qualities of a first-class elder. Timothy must be aware of making a rapid assessment, and arriving at a superficial judgment. First impressions are not always accurate. Where uncertainty exists, caution will clearly be the wisest choice. And yet Paul encourages his colleague; good deeds, though not always immediately discernible cannot be concealed forever.


Do you have a verse you’d like to see looked at closer?  No promises, but if so, feel free to use the contact page. (Try to avoid known difficult passages as there is never full resolution on those!) If you know a link where the passage has already been discussed include it with a note as to whether or not you found that explanation satisfactory.

July 22, 2012

He Is Our Peace: Blood Tears Down a Wall

The reconciliation of God’s people

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

~Ephesians 2:11-22 (Common English Bible)

Another longer post today.  Maybe we should rename this Christianity 401. The blogger we feature today is Morgan Guyton, a United Methodist Pastor. I encourage to read this — and other posts — at his blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice, where it appeared under the title, How can blood tear down a wall? Sacrifice in Ephesians 2:11-22

This past weekend, I preached on Ephesians 2:11-22. It’s one of my favorite passages because it talks about how Jesus tears down the walls between us. And at first glance it would seem like a great opportunity to talk about how important it is for the church to fight racism and take on all the “us vs. them” conflicts in our day that build walls between people. But there was a line that confronted me in the passage that I felt like I couldn’t just treat as a rhetorical flourish as I’d so often read it before. I needed to be able to explain it. Paul says, “You who were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That line doesn’t make any sense unless you read it with some understanding of the central purpose of sacrifice in the community of the ancient Israelites. Only through the lens of sacrifice can we understand how the blood of Jesus can tear down the wall that had kept the Gentiles out of the Jewish temple.

The Jerusalem temple in the time of Jesus was defined architecturally by a series of walls that only certain people were allowed to go inside. The outer area of the temple was the court of Gentiles, where money changers and animal vendors could come to sell their wares to Jewish pilgrims who traveled long distances to sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple and weren’t able to bring cattle from their own flocks with them if they owned cattle. Another group of Gentiles who would hang around the temple were called “God-fearers.” These were Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God but were unable or unwilling to go through the process of fully converting to Judaism.

The “dividing wall” that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:14 is the wall separating the inner temple complex from the court of Gentiles. Archaeologists have found several signs that originally hung on this wall around the inner temple saying: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.”

Notice the way the sign is written. It doesn’t say that the Jewish authorities in charge of the temple would kill any foreigner. It is simply indicating that people who enter do so at their own risk of imminent death. The Jews believed that strongly that the divine power inside the temple would be enough to kill someone who was not properly prepared to face it. So what in the world happened in their temple that would cause them to feel this way?

We go to our temples and houses of worship today to sing, pray, read scripture, and hear sermons. We do not ritualistically slaughter and burn an animal as the centerpiece of our worship act. But that’s what the Jewish people did. Animal sacrifice was the means that God gave His people in Leviticus to make their people clean.

It’s important to understand that the ancient Jewish understanding of cleanliness was completely different than the modern understanding of cleanliness. In modernity, we define cleanliness according to biological terms. Being clean means you wash your hands with antibacterial soap and wipe your countertop to avoid attracting ants. In ancient Israel, cleanliness referred to the social chemistry of the community. Things were unclean that would disrupt the social chemistry and create conflict between people. In order to stay clean, the people had an elaborate “law with commandments and ordinances” that Paul references in Ephesians 2:15. At the center of the law was the ritual of sacrifice.

Sacrifice as well had a completely different meaning for ancient Jews than it does for us. Today it means “giving up something for the sake of a greater good,” like sacrificing on my weekly food budget for a few months so I can save money for an airline ticket to Hawaii. Though the Israelites were commanded to offer the best 10% of their flock to God, the primary meaning of the word sacrifice for them didn’t have to do with the loss of giving something up, but with the violence within the ritual of sacrifice. It was through the violence and hideousness of slaughtering an animal that the unnamed violence in the air of the community could be named, laid out before people, and then put in God’s hands through the fire of the altar. Using the violence of sacrifice that God had provided for them as a resource, Jewish people were able to clear the air of their community and dissipate any bad blood between them through the blood of the animal on the altar.

In this context of a society that depended upon the cleanliness created through a powerful violent ritual, it seems reasonable that Jews would worry about what would happen to the transformative space they experienced in their temple if Gentile tourists were given permission to walk through. So they told them they would have to sign on fully to the Jewish covenantal system before being allowed to enter. Note that this dividing wall wasn’t about separating races; it was about drawing the boundaries without which a powerful ritual could not occur.

The problem was that the temple cult gave too much power to the religious authorities in charge and they became corrupted as anyone would in their position. It turned into a sacrifice industrial complex. Then a young rabbi from Galilee named Jesus rolled into town and caused a ruckus in the court of the Gentiles throwing all the money changers out, calling the whole place a “den of thieves.” When the chief priests decided to arrest and crucify Jesus, they did not realize that they were creating the means by which their own vocational function would become obsolete. They didn’t make the connection between the lambs that they slaughtered and burned on the altar every week and the innocent man they were putting on the cross.

But because of the chief priests’ unwitting complicity with God’s plan, Jesus became “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His blood became the violence that absorbs every other violence named and unnamed throughout the world. A very common misunderstanding of sacrifice is that it’s something that is done to “appease” God’s anger. This may have been true about other ancient gods, but Israel’s God YHWH makes it pretty clear through His prophets (Isaiah 1:10-17, Micah 6:6-8, etc.) that He didn’t get any pleasure out of sacrifice except insofar as it served as the system by which His people were made clean of sin so they could do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes peace between us and God the same way that the animal sacrifices of the ancient Israelites did for them, but it’s not because there’s any obstacle on God’s end of the relationship to His full, perfect love for us. Our sin simply keeps us from entering His presence with any degree of integrity or confidence without the assurance of the sacrifice that He has made on our behalf. We hate the light and flee to the darkness when our deeds are evil (John 3:19), so God provides a means through Christ for us to walk into His light without shame and with a purification that we don’t have to provide for ourselves.

The dividing walls that keep us out of God’s temple today are not anything that humans have built. They are rather walls within our hearts that keep us from coming clean before God. Many different walls are possible, but there are basically two types. Walls of pride are built out of our accomplishments and acts of piety when they serve the purpose of proving our faithfulness to God and hiding our sin and inadequacy. Walls of shame are built from the piles of our failures and obvious embarrassments; they keep us from believing we could ever be worthy of God’s acceptance.

Both walls of shame and pride share a basic misconception: that God expects us to be good. No one is good except for God alone. We are only good to the degree that we have allowed God to overpower us and accomplish His good through us. God doesn’t expect us to be good; God longs for us to be clean. He wants to take away all the bad blood and hidden ugliness that we have accumulated by washing our hearts clean in the blood of Jesus. Yes, it is a bizarre concept in our science-shaped world: that blood could make people clean, but there’s a truth to the logic of ancient sacrifice that has been proven through the witness of millions of Christians throughout history whose lives have been changed utterly by Jesus’ sacrifice.

How does Jesus’ blood tear down the walls of the Jerusalem temple? By changing the entire concept of temple from a place where you go to make yourselves clean before God using His prescribed ritual sacrifice to the place in all of our hearts where Jesus comes to take our sins away and make us clean again. It is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that Paul can say, “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Peace is not something that can be established on the basis of rational discourse. We will always be able to come up with reasons why our adversaries are the ones who will not make peace with us. Peace is made between people who have been made clean by God, and that kind of piece makes all of us into one body and one temple where the God who we were created to enjoy can be glorified through our worship.

~Morgan Guyton

Related Post:  June 15, 2012: The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross

December 21, 2011

Endorsing the Message

Gal 6:11(NIV)  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology?  Would he have a blog?  It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising.  Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that.  I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of comment at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight.  Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off. 

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s.  No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point. 

Though, with the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute!  I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which appropriates the content from other writers?”  Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into 2012, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown.  They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong. 

And so as I myself move forward into 2012, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite.  But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

September 17, 2011

Short Devotionals With Big Ideas

Once again today, God totally provided something to be re-posted here through a comment left at T. O. L.   Carley Evans is in her third year of blogging almost every day at Grace Partakers, which is now listed in the blogroll here.  Each day’s devotional title is based on a phrase of the key verse and I appreciate her use of a variety of translations.  I read through about a dozen of her recent posts and a few of her very first, and ultimately decided to give you a sample of two of her most recent; something we’ve never done here before.  Her posts are shorter than some we’ve done here, but she digs into some deep ideas and leaves you with something to consider. 

Don’t rush through these. Perhaps you can take a minute to read each one through a second time. The title of each post is also the direct link to the article.

“Don’t Handle, Don’t Taste, Don’t Touch” ( Colossians 2: 21, NIV )

“Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom,” says Paul. However, “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23) Instead, these rules calling for you to not handle, not taste and not touch create only a “self-imposed worship,” a “false humility” and offer only “harsh treatment of the body” without any lasting effect on the state of the soul. (Colossians 2:23)

“Do not let anyone,” says Paul, “judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

People get puffed up with false humility, warns Paul. They go on and on about conforming to rules and regulations, “which depend on human tradition.” (Colossians 2:8) Instead, rejoice that “God makes you alive with Christ. He forgives [you] all [your] sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that is against us and that stands opposed to us; He takes it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He makes a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

Because God cancels the written code, why then put yourself back under that which has no authority?

~Carley Evans

“We Know And Believe The Love” ( 1 John 4: 16, KJV )

One of the saddest personality flaws is the inability to know and believe that you are loved. Janis Joplin had such a personality flaw; she was incapable of believing people loved her. Despite accolades for her music, she lead a barren existence of self-doubt, self-hatred, and abject loneliness. By loneliness, I am not referring to solitude, but to that feeling of complete isolation in the midst of shouting people — people shouting adoration and respect and yes — love. The loneliest moments for Janis were likely those in the midst of her public admirers. Janis also unfortunately did not know and believe the love of those closest to her, no matter how they tried to convince her. She found herself totally unlovable.

The author of 1 John writes that “we know and believe the love that God has to us. God is love.”

What an amazing statement — read it again. “We know and believe the love that God has to [or toward] us.” Why? Because “God is love.” And if we know and believe God, then we know and believe His love. Like Paul reminds, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35) Essentially, assures Paul, nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Do not insult God. Do not hold yourself in such low esteem that you fail to realize God is love. Know and believe the love God has toward you! His love does not depend upon you; His love is wholly dependent upon the sacrifice of His Son.

~Carley Evans

Footnote: I want to add something here that I don’t usually share. Writing a post a day like Carley does or like I’ve been doing takes a great deal of discipline; but I am so much richer for doing this, as it has propelled me into considering scriptures and ideas that I never would have previously. 

Have you ever considered doing something like this? Even if no readers showed up — and actually, they will — it would be of great benefit.