Christianity 201

January 29, 2014

Things Scripture Doesn’t Specify

The universality of scripture is found in its identification with humankind and the human condition, but also in the manner in which things that could have been made specific are left unstated, so that they apply to all of us.

Paul’s Besetting Sin

Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible notes:

Paul is able to analyze, but not to explain, the contrast between himself and the “sin that dwells within me” (vv. 17, 20). There is a real and bewildering conflict between the energies of sin and of grace in his life. He hints, however, that indwelling sin is a temporary lodger in him. While sin still accompanies his new identity in Christ in this life, the new identity will result in the final triumph over indwelling sin (6:2–14).

It is easy to get lost in the doctrinal teaching that is being set up over several chapters here in Romans, and miss the beauty of the identification that this passage has with most, if not all of us. This is the Apostle Paul we’re talking about! What possible sin would have dogged him? Well, we just have to look into our own lives to see possible answers.

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

II Corinthians 12:7 is where we find a phrase that has worked its way into broader English language usage:

  • there was given me a thorn (a splinter) in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to rack and buffet and harass me, to keep me from being excessively exalted. (AMP)
  • One of Satan’s angels was sent to make me suffer terribly, so that I would not feel too proud. (CEV)
  • I am forced to deal with a recurring problem. That problem, Satan’s messenger, torments me to keep me from being conceited. (God’s Word)
  • I was given a physical handicap—one of Satan’s angels—to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. (Phillips)
  • I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. (Message)
  • I was given a thorn in the flesh—a nagging nuisance of Satan, a messenger to plague me! (Voice)

Most of the other translations, even a few modern ones, stay with “thorn in the flesh.” Was this spiritual or physical? While theologians have debated over this for centuries, we are probably safe in saying it was a little of both. Or a lot.

Our point here again is to point out the universality of this passage, but rather than just leave it, here’s how The Message translates the verses that follow:

Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Now we’ll move into a couple of different examples…

The Music of the Early Church

Ephesians 5:19 Speak to one another with the words of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing hymns and psalms to the Lord with praise in your hearts. (Good News Bible)

Ephesians 5:19 Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God! (Phillips)

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (KJV)

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of the Anointed One richly inhabit your lives. With all wisdom teach, counsel, and instruct one another. Sing the psalms, compose hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, and keep on singing—sing to God from hearts full and spilling over with thankfulness.  (The Voice)

We probably have better preservation of, or insight into the music that pre-dated the early New Testament Church. We certainly can hear the heritage expressed in Jewish folk songs and anthems sung today. But we don’t know much about how much of that style carried over into the First Century Church, nor do we have any specific melodies, though we do have some that followed in later centuries.

Given the music wars that take place in local churches, that’s probably just as well.

What a Church Service Should Look Like

Herbrews 10: 24-5  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Arthur Sido wrote on this a few years ago:

OK, so what do we glean from these verses?

  • We should gather together as the church.
  • We should be mindful of how we can stir one another up, to love and good works.
  • When we meet, it should be for the purpose also of encouraging one another.
  • We should have a sense of urgency because the time is short.

Now, what does it not say or even imply?

  • Assembling together means going to a church on Sunday morning
  • The assembling consists mostly of sitting, singing and lots of listening
  • The only acceptable way to assemble together is on a Sunday morning in a “properly” ordered church service
  • People who “go to church” are being faithful, no matter what they do the rest of the week. People who don’t “go to church” are being unfaithful, no matter what they do the rest of the week.
  • If you don’t take your children to church on Sunday morning, you are not being a good Christian parent

Again, given local church tensions, it might be just as well that the scripture doesn’t address the order of service, the seating, the role of interactive participation, etc.

There are many more things that fit into each of the two groups above, but we can be thankful that God has left us with a book that can connect with all of us, and that He leaves us with things to work out for ourselves in the freedom He has given us.

March 4, 2013

Embracing Weakness

We try to go six months before revisiting an author, but after formatting this, I realized it’s only been two months since we featured Elsie Montgomery and her blog, Practical Faith. (I guess she writes good stuff.) Here is another one of her great devotional posts, titled Weakness is a Good Thing. You’re encouraged to read ‘borrowed’ C201 posts at their original source. This one also continued to look at the key verse the next day, that link is below.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
we are weak but He is strong.

For someone who often sings “Jesus loves me…” God surprises me again by pointing to thinking about my weakness in terms of His love and compassion toward me.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13–14)
Today’s devotional uses these verses again. Obviously, I’ve still more to learn from them. Spurgeon again focuses on the compassion of God, this time on the weakness of His children.
 
As he says, children cannot do much. They have little strength and little children are quite helpless. Yet their father does not chide them for this. In fact, he will enjoy carrying his baby who cannot walk and not at all be angry with the little one who is unable to help himself.
 
As verse 14 says, my heavenly Father knows my weakness. Whether it is a physical lack of strength due to some infirmity or some other shortcoming that keeps me from full capacity, He remembers that I am only dust. He even sympathizes with my weakness.
 
This is the God who became a man, actually, a tiny baby. He became helpless and knows helplessness. This is the Creator of the universe who allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, and strung up on a cross. The Bible says, “He was crucified in weakness… we also are weak in him… (2 Corinthians 13:4)
 
Yet there is power in weakness, partly because it means I will be carried by my Father, but also because when I am weak, I will call on Him and experience His power. Without weakness, I would not do that. This makes weakness, especially a childlike weakness, my friend, not my enemy. Paul said,
… I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5–10)
Weakness is more than feeling weak. It is also being weak and unable. I’ve struggled as a teacher on those days I could not put together a lesson plan. Many times God has put people with questions in my path and I knew the answers, but my mouth seems sewn shut and I could not speak. I get weary, disorganized, depressed, and bowed down, and feel like a total failure, yet God has compassion on those who fear Him. He knows that I am dust.
 
I have to ask, why should I think I should be able to do everything I want to do? When I see problems, why can’t I solve them? When I see spiritual blindness and hardened hearts, why can’t I open eyes and soften hearts? Maybe my attitude of wanting to fix everything stems from pride. Maybe it stems from wanting to be like God in the wrong way, the way that tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. But I cannot do it all nor does God put me up against a wall and hammer me with “do it.” Instead, He says things like…
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)
If I were able, I would not need God or even seek Him. It is weakness that breeds faith and weakness that keeps me in the right place before God, on my knees in humility and utter dependence. I see this clearly and can only say no wonder Paul was content to be weak and even boasted of his weaknesses.
 
Spurgeon says that “a person in perfect health and strength may joyfully accomplish what another cannot even think of undertaking,” but is this what God wants? I don’t think so. Jesus was such a person, but He chose weakness…
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but… we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
Click this link: Another Practical Faith post continues to look at Psalm 103

December 5, 2012

Wasting our Weakness

adrian plass

Adrian Plass:

Here’s a question for you.  What is it that impedes Christians?  Stock answers to this question include sin, disobedience, poor prayer life, failure to read the Bible and lack of fellowship.  It will not have escaped your notice (I hope) that these are all areas of negative behaviour.  We too easily forget that, in Matthew 23, Jesus reframed the Ten Commandments into a list of two wholly positive ones, both of which contain and displace negative behaviour rather than majoring and dwelling on it.

Bearing all this in mind, I would like to offer my own list of impeding factors.  It includes principles, faked spiritual excitement, excessive religious behaviour, and, the one I invite you to consider for a few moments, waste of weakness.  How is it possible to waste weakness?  Remember this passage from 2 Corinthians 12?

II Corinthians (NLT) 12:6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

There you are, then.  The stunning fact is that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.  Perhaps because the words are fairly familiar, we sort of think we know what this means, don’t we?  But the concept is worth dwelling on.  Weakness is not a barrier to service. On the contrary, if we are brave enough to wholeheartedly offer God those areas of our lives where we fail, he is likely to recycle them and use them for his own purposes, Paul’s conversion and subsequent career being a perfect example of this phenomenon.  Even more importantly, his strength will actually be more clearly demonstrated to the rest of the world, precisely because he works through us despite our failings.

Our weaknesses.  Great opportunities.  Let’s not waste them.  Here’s a thorny question.  Does all this actually mean anything?  After all, it is so much not the way of the world.  Want another one?  Here you are then.  Are you held back by a sense of inadequacy and weakness? What would it cost to surrender yourself to God as a public example of the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit?  Maybe God is expecting too much?  Why shouldn’t we focus mainly on our strengths?  What do you think?

 

~Adrian Plass, War of the Worlds (Authentic Media, 2011) pp. 69-70