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A Challenge to See

A Challenge to See

This past Sunday I was invited to preach in my home church, Chumuckla Community Church. It’s a real privilege to speak on the last Sunday of the year, hopefully rounding up where we have been and presenting a challenge for the future.

I was offered the epiphany scriptures, and used Matthew 2:1-12. I’m not going to summarize the sermon. My message was simple: We need to learn to see Jesus in people and respond accordingly. I contrasted the “god made manifest” of an Antiochus Ephiphanes, as opposed to the baby in Bethlehem. Where is it that you see Jesus?

Even further, how to you pursue the mission of Jesus? Is it according to the power-seeking ways of human politics, or is it in the giving ways of the Bethlehem story? Do you see God working when the powerful make power plays, or when servants serve?

I referred to Matthew 25:31-46. There are many debates about this passage. Years ago I read it as a performance based righteousness, and as identifying the specific type of righteous performance required. (I still think it identifies righteousness for a follower of Jesus.) I later realized that nobody who thought they were going to heaven actually were doing so, and those who were, didn’t realize it. (I understand the varying views of just what is involved in this judgment. I’m not concerned with that difference at the moment. The good guys don’t realize they’re good; the bad guys think they’re good.)

In the last couple of weeks, however, I became aware of a tragedy in the story. I’m not in any way presenting this as an interpretation of the parable. The blessing of a story, however, is that it can convey many things. The tragedy I see is that nobody at all was aware of the fact that they were seeing Jesus as they looked into the faces of people they either helped or didn’t. Not one recognized what they were seeing. This isn’t a question of salvation, but rather of the joy of living this life.

We can argue that we should help the homeless, as an example, on the basis that we ought to do good things. We ought to help those less fortunate. Unfortunately, this can result in condescension. We look at the person as a way to punch our “good person” ticket. Or, perhaps, we perform whatever act we do out of a sense of duty. “It sure is annoying, but I suppose Jesus wants me to help this person.” This leads, for example (and I’m guilty!) to looking the other way when we don’t have cash, or don’t intend to give to a particular person.

I’m not arguing that we need to give money to each and every person who asks. There is stewardship. There is the need to actually help. But what we do need to do is treat every person first as a human being, as one Jesus came to save, as bearing God’s image, and as a way in which we can see the face of Jesus. Hopefully, the other person will have the opportunity to see Jesus in us at the same time.

This is not a New Year’s resolution. I expect to fail at it many times. But my challenge to myself, and to you, is to see Jesus much more frequently, and not turn away from the faces in which he is trying to show himself to me.

And yes, you may see Jesus in the face of someone in need, someone that society might consider less than you. But you also might see Jesus in the face of one of the world’s elites. They also have a need to be treated as people.

As I asked the congregation of Chumuckla Community Church: Did you see Him? Will you?

Wanting to Be Right Theologically

Wanting to Be Right Theologically

I work on a heavy schedule, and as someone who is self-employed, with two distinct lines of business, I very rarely see a blank to-do list. In fact, now that I think about it, it has been several years since I finished a day and could say I was done.

I identify a couple of goals here. First, I’d like to be done at some point. “Now I can go on vacation,” I would say, “because everything is done.” Second, I want to get as much done as possible, not to mention a few impossible things. In reality, I’m not going to be satisfied on either of those points.

Quoth Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?”

You may think I’m being irreverent to use that quote, in which Paul is referring to his own inability to do what he knows is right and wants to do, but I think it’s closer to the mark than most suspect. So let me first illustrate what I’m talking about with my work, and then get back to the spiritual lesson.

No, that’s not quite right. Getting done with my work is physical, mental, and spiritual process. One of our problems is that we spiritualize spirituality until it has nothing to do with daily life. Ideally (another interesting word), we’ll see the physical and the spiritual working together. Everything from doing the dishes to writing a book to running a marathon (as my friend Dave Black is about to do) is both physical and spiritual; above all, real.

Thus I start with the illustration of how I can attack my day. There are two extremes I can take. The first is my natural inclination. That is, I get up in the morning, come to this computer (most of my work resides in its chips), and start attacking my list. I’m not really a list person, but reality has forced lists on me. If I find myself failing to accomplish the list, I add hours at the end of the work day, all the while wishing I could add hours to the physical day.  This process is direct, measurable in effort and results, and easy to understand. More work = more accomplishment.

Before I go to the next option, let me tell you about the problem I have with leaving the first. Mary Heaton Vorse (I believe she originated the saying) said that writing was the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. She was absolutely right. The arts of editing, designing, and marketing are much the same. So if chair meets backside for more hours, more will get written. Authors (and editors, designers, marketers, and perhaps all humans) have many excuses for not having seat meet seat, one of the most common being that you can’t force creativity. Editors, who like to disembowel the excuses of authors, like to point out that you’re not being all that creative outside of the chair either. Writing great novels in your imagination is perhaps not all that likely to bring either fame or fortune!

So having written one or two books myself, and having published around 170 by other authors, I have a strong tendency to stick with Mary Heaton Vorse.

Not so fast!

I also know that creativity will demand its pound of my flesh. One of my techniques for planning out a cover or the chapter headers for the interior of a book is to put them on a computer screen I’m not using and walk by them every so often. This is a way of forcing me to become so disillusioned with the current state of the object that I will come up with a new look just to preserve my sanity. Put less bluntly, I look at it, think about it, and suddenly come up with an idea. Then I apply back side to chair and implement, generally followed by more looking.

Now we turn to the second approach to my day. In this approach I ask what makes me productive. I could list a number of things, such as getting enough sleep. Staying up late to finish a project can get it out the door on schedule, while actually making me further behind overall. I am less efficient on insufficient sleep. Failing to spend time in daily devotions makes me less efficient. It’s easy—almost irresistibly easy—to decide that I’m too busy for that devotional time and simply jump into work. In fact, as I write, I must confess that this morning other than prayer time before I got out of bed, I am writing without devotional time. But this blog post struck me as I prayed (no, I’m not telling you this is God’s word; it’s just my musings), and here I am, drawn to the keyboard and the chair.

Walking is also important for my efficiency. If I don’t get active, I’ll find myself accomplishing little. Walking can be done at any time of the day, and therein lies another problem. Can I stop working and take a walk? Can I stop working inside and go out and clean up branches in the yard? The second is easier than the first. Why? Because it feels like I’m working toward a goal. What is walking but time when the seat of my pants does not connect with the seat of my chair and thus is wasted? At least cleaning the yard produces stacks of broken branches and piles of leaves!

But, and this is a serious “but,” thus gaining the initial point in this paragraph. But, I say, this impression is an illusion. Yes, I need to work. I need to accomplish things, but I also need to do things that keep me functional. There is a balance here that is not helped by my tendency to think in extremes. If I could just work 16 hours straight, the book would be done, I think. But that doesn’t work. There is a balance, a place where things work best.

But, another serious “but,” I want to be able to say how hard I work. If I rest, in order to be more efficient, I can’t say I worked 16 hours, thus impressing other people with my diligence and dedication. Saying that I ordered my day to preserve mental, physical, and spiritual health, and thus actually accomplished more work than I would have if I had gone with Plan A just doesn’t have the same ring. Deep inside me is this little voice telling me that approach sounds lazy. Somewhere in there is another voice that tells me it is lazy. The voice that tells me it’s lazy lies like a rug. The one that tells me others will think it’s lazy is just irrelevant.

I’m so programmed for work that I tend to listen to those voices anyhow. “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?”

Can you perhaps see some of our problems with spiritual things? In our minds there is a God out there demanding this ultimate perfection, incredibly wonderful holiness, and the attainment of unreasonable standards. We’ve even made a theology of it. We’re so desperately wicked and God is so holy that we are without hope. Jesus comes in and makes up the difference. That’s fine, except that we don’t really buy it. So we come up with new ways to try to attain “rightness” with God.

Way, way back in the ancient days, it was by offering enough of the right sacrifices. Then we weren’t sure, so we offered more, all the while letting actual righteousness get lost in the scramble to offer the right sacrifices. Then we got hold of Jesus, so to speak, but since we couldn’t really believe that things were taken care of, we had lists of works. We’d try to make sure we got the lists done, and we were afraid that if we didn’t quite manage that, we’d be lost. (This isn’t a critique of Catholic theology, but of human existence. I don’t think the change of theology does nearly as much as people hope.)

Come the reformation, we renewed the idea that God had taken care of it. We ended all the sacrifices with Jesus and now the reformation wanted to end all that checklist work being righteous enough to get to heaven. But we really didn’t want to believe that either, so we came up with righteousness by correct theology.

I personally think the demands of theological correctness are much greater and much more sinister than the demands of correct living. The farmer in the field or the construction worker laying bricks could hope to live with integrity and carry out acts of charity. But now we have details of theology that must be learned but that many people don’t really get. There are those who demand, however, that they be understood. I was told once that if I didn’t realize that Christ had died for my sins and that I was thus “once saved, always saved” irrespective of any future event, I was not in fact saved at all. In this man’s view, my understanding of the theology was critical to my salvation. I might be incapable of doing one righteous thing (he made sure to quote scripture on that), but I must be capable of righteously (and rightly) understanding his view of the atonement, else Christ died in vain.

We replaced the vanity of gaining righteousness by performing the right ritual with the vanity of performing the right set of deeds. Then we replaced the vanity of the deeds with the vanity of our understanding. All the while our lives continued to do very little to reflect righteousness by any standard.

“Oh wretched people that we are! Who will deliver us?”

Jesus, I think, if we’ll listen. Matthew 5:48 says to be perfect, but Matthew 7:1 says not to judge. Interesting that we try to apply that to others (while missing “by their fruit” a few verses forward), but not necessarily to ourselves. Earning the favor of God by doing things that are, really, the best things for ourselves and doing them perfectly is, of course, impossible. We can’t attain this. We might as well hope to reach the pole star by walking north!

But here comes grace, ready to take that burden from you. To quote Paul again, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It’s the realization that you don’t have to reach the pole star, but you can walk north. You can go ahead and have times of rest in your spiritual life. Why? Because you live in grace. You can work on your own sanctification. Why? Because God has given you the space.

If you spent your time trying to attain the pole star, you would have serious problems getting over the next hill. In an article titled North Star Closer to Earth than Thought, I found the estimate that it’s only 323 light years to Polaris, the current pole star. I also found an estimate that it would take 225 million years to walk one light year at 20 miles per hour. (I think the writer has a problem with the concept “walk.”) But even at that clip, Google tells me that 225 million times 323 light years is seventy-two billion six hundred seventy-five million. Of course that is shortened from ninety-seven billion six hundred fifty million by the new measurements (323 light years to Polaris rather than 434)!

That shortening is sort of like saying, “No, you don’t have to accomplish all these deeds, just make sure you get the right set of beliefs. Then it will take only a bit under 73 billion years longer than you’ll live instead of 97 billion. Rejoice! Sing Hallelujah!”

We need to let grace free us from the need for judgment, and then we can seek God without the constant worry that our experience and understanding are inadequate. Of course they’re inadequate! But God …

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:1-10, emphasis mine)

Perhaps we should give up the works and the judgment, especially self-judgment, and live.

Thankful for the Gift of Suffering for Jesus?

Thankful for the Gift of Suffering for Jesus?

Because you have been graciously given this on behalf of Christ:
not only in Him to believe,
but also for Him to suffer. (Philippians 1:29, excessively literally)

I’ve been meditating on two texts as the new year begins, Philippians 1:27-30, and Ephesians 5:1-2. I’ve been kind of ignoring this suffering thing so far. But last night listening to music in worship at Freedom Church Pensacola, it suddenly struck me to think: Do we have any songs in which we actually praise or thank God for suffering? There may well be, but I don’t recall one off-hand.

This is certainly not a criticism of the church I was in at the time I thought it. I don’t recall this sort of thing anywhere. We don’t talk about it in the way Paul does here. In fact, we don’t really want to acknowledge the reality of suffering. Often our singing, praying, preaching, and indeed our living presents the pretense that nothing ever can or will go wrong. Have you ever heard anyone say in church, when a testimony is called for, that they have had a horrible week and just don’t know how they can go on? No! That’s a sign that they’re crazy. The intelligent and sane ones pretend.

I don’t think Paul is saying here that suffering is wonderful and good in itself. I think the privilege is that the suffering that will come—and despite our desires, it will—is not vain and of no worth, but rather it is suffering on  behalf of the kingdom. It’s not cheering that there is pain, but rather cheering from the pain that whatever happens is not in vain.

This reminds me of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the frequent change of the line “as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free” to “as He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.” (You can find more on this here.) Those who have served in the military know that dying may be necessary. It’s not what you live for, but many people have faced death for their nation. Many Christians have faced or are now facing death for their faith. It’s a reality, but just as we change the line in the song, we’d rather not talk about it. Certainly, we don’t want to sing about it.

Conducting ourselves in a way that is worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) may involve annoyance, discomfort, suffering, and even death. God’s gift is that we do it in, with, and through Jesus Christ.

 

In Defense of the Ordinary

In Defense of the Ordinary

In preparing for my Sunday School lesson tomorrow I read some very high sounding words about settling for less: pleasure rather than joy, vengeance rather than justice, sentiment rather than beauty, and so forth. The source was N. T. Wright, quoted in the introduction to the  Cokesbury Adult Bible Studies Uniform Series for the Summer of 2016.

The idea is not bad. But it is an idea that is easily corruptible. A pursuit of right-doing is a good thing until it becomes perfectionism, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, disdain, or any of a number of other ways in which doing good can become obnoxious and destructive. A love of learning is wonderful as long as it drives one to learn more and make use of that learning. When it leads to a superior attitude or an inability to hear the wisdom that may come from one less learned, it’s not so great. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but so is ugliness, at least when “ugly” is defined as “not living up to my personal standards of beauty.”

We often express shock at the disciples, who constantly asked who was greatest in the kingdom. Why didn’t they get it? But we do very much the same thing. Constantly. A pursuit of excellence can become a pursuit of “more-excellent-than-ness” and can also result in a narrowing of vision.

Any work is a vocation
From OpenClipart.org.

I was talking to my mother at the end of May, just after she turned 98. She mentioned to me the “sacred four” professions. We had a song in Sabbath School (this was the Seventh-day Adventist Church), and it went, using my name, “Henry can be a missionary doctor, a missionary doctor, a missionary doctor….” Or it could be teacher, nurse (for the girls, of course), and minister (meaning pastor/evangelist, for the boys). Those were the “great” vocations to pursue.

My mother said she added farmer, janitor, housewife, and so forth. I remember her doing that. She’ bring in tools for each trade, and we’d have a hoe or rake for the missionary farmer, broom for janitor, etc. These were considered ordinary professions, but could be vocations as well. Why talk to your child about being a farmer or a building custodian, or perhaps a garbage collector? Because each of those things is an important vocation, as are many, many more. The real question is whether the person doing them will do them to the best of their ability and be a witness while doing so.

And that is the question for the “important” professions as well. A seminary professor can be a missionary, but so can every other person out there.

But we want a comparison scale.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not against pursuing excellence. That’s a good thing. What I’m against is creating these hierarchies as to who and what is the more important thing. Does your pursuit of your concept of beauty mean that you can’t appreciate something simple? Does your pursuit of better theology mean you can’t listen with appreciation to a Sunday School class taught by someone who worked in the fields all week? Does your desire to hear the perfectly-formed, homiletically brilliant sermon mean that you can’t listen to a speaker who wasn’t trained in those things but has a real-life walk with God to testify to?

I would suggest that a healthy pursuit of excellence leaves one appreciating excellence wherever it is found, not just in one’s little corner. A pursuit of beauty leaves one appreciating beauty in a wide range of places, seeing more beauty than others because one has beauty in one’s eye.

I like the sentiments from N. T. Wright I noted at the beginning. We do lose when we accept vengeance in place of justice. We need to pursue justice. We need to pursue those great things. But we also need to recognize greatness everywhere. The clerk who rings up your groceries and does it well is absolutely a great person.

 

 

On Dealing with Scandal

On Dealing with Scandal

I haven’t gotten anything written during the last week on this blog. This is not due to a hiatus in Bible study. There’s plenty to write, and I’ve been writing elsewhere, but I just haven’t gotten here with something specifically exegetical.

In the meantime, I wrote a devotional from my wife’s list, titled Handling Scandal. It seems rather relevant both in the church and the nation right now.

Notes on Mark 9:30-42

Notes on Mark 9:30-42

The following notes and references expand on the material I presented in today’s Bible Pacesetter podcast on this same passage, Discipleship the Hard Way. This includes my working translation (not to be mistaken for a polished and final one), some notes, and some additional quotations and references.

Translation and Notes:

Teaching about the Cross

30When he had left there, he traveled through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know.

Note that the secrecy here gives a clue to the secrecy theme in Mark generally. Jesus is keeping control of the agenda.

Barclay comments on the importance of teaching the disciples:

“He [Jesus] had to leave behind him a band of persons on whom these propositions were written.” — Barclay on Mark 9:30-31

As Barclay notes here, while Jesus didn’t leave us written words, he left us these disciples. This was the critical importance of his spending time with them and teaching them. They would be the human means–accompanied and aided by the Holy Spirit–of getting the word out to all of us.

31For he was teaching his disciples and telling them that the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of people, and they will kill him, but when he has been killed, after three days he will rise again.

There is good indication that the teaching took place over some period of time. Wuest goes so far as to suggest different groups of disciples, traveling separately so as to be more secretive, but I think that goes well beyond the implication of the text.

Barclay notes:

“The human mind has an amazing faculty for rejecting that which it does not wish to see.” — Mark 9:30-31

Often a lack of understanding does not result from our inability to understand, but rather from our unwillingness to understand. We can even deceive ourselves into thinking we don’t understand when actually we do. Jesus will be able to tell the difference!

32They didn’t understand what he was telling them, yet they were afraid to question him.

Barclay suggests they simply didn’t understand the meaning of the upcoming resurrection, but I would suggest that with many other commentators that the problem was that the understood what Jesus said very well, but couldn’t integrate it with their view of the Messiah.

John Wesley comments:

Mar 9:32 – They understood not the word – They did not understand how to reconcile the death of our Saviour (nor consequently his resurrection, which supposed his death) with their notions of his temporal kingdom. — John Wesley, Commentary

The following quote from the Interpreter’s Bible on Mark 9:32 (Exposition) is enlightening:

Consider how reluctant multitudes in the modern world are to accept the Cross of Jesus as the supreme revelation of God. Other conceptions and idealizations fit so much better into our “onward and upward” thought forms. The serene teacher of Galilee, the persuasive expounder of wise and helpful axioms of living, even the Jesus of Palm Sunday, acclaimed and honored, is so much simpler, more attractive, more congenial to our culture, to our reliance on education, to our disparagement of extremes. Many prefer an intelligent, reasonable Jesus, an inspiring example, the counterpart of a broad-minded liberal, a leader of all good causes. They too find it hard to understand the saying about crucifixion and death. And because so many do not understand it, the Christian faith, instead of being conceived and presented to the world as God’s act of redemption, has dwindled down into another set of moral maxims, impotent to face and subdue the tragic evils of life and of history. When we think of the gospel in any such fashion as that, we make a detour around the Cross, and so miss the way. — IB exposition on Mark 9:32

Who is the Greatest?

33And they entered Capernaum, and while they were in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

Hate it when this happens. You’ve been going along happily living your own life and ignoring what Jesus teaches, and suddenly he asks you what you’ve been up to!

The Interpreter’s Bible notes:

What a disconcerting question! How would we like to have it suddenly put to us? There is always danger of great embarrassment when Jesus joins the conversation and asks quietly, “What were you talking about?” — IB exposition on Mark 9:33

34But they were silent for on the way they had been discussing who was greater among themselves.

This is a complete contrast to what Jesus has been trying to teach them, and demonstrates the point of verse 32—they simply didn’t get it!

35And he sat down and called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, let him be the last and servant of all.”

Servant leadership—it’s something we talk about a lot, but it is very hard to practice. We are very much programmed as human beings to desire position and power. Sometimes servant leadership puts one in a position of power. When that happens it’s even harder to maintain the servant attitude.

Barclay comments:

“It is strange how a thing takes its proper place and acquires its true character when it is set in the eyes of Jesus.” — Barclay on Mark 9:32-35

“If we took everything and set it in the sight of Jesus it would make all the difference in the world to life.” — Barclay on Mark 9:32-35 [these two sentences come a few lines apart in the same paragraph — HN]

36And he took a little child, he put it right in the middle, took it in his arms, and told them, 37“Whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, doesn’t receive me, but the one who sent me.”

Often even in service we want to serve the person who is most important. If we can just follow the biggest person in sight around, perhaps we’ll get somewhere. At least we can bask in some reflected brilliance. But Jesus asks us to serve people who are unimportant, who can’t reward us, and in many cases can’t even thank us. He’s asking us to make service the object of our efforts, and not the means.

The One Who Doesn’t Follow With Us

38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a certain man casting out demons in your name and we hindered him, because he’s not following right along with us.”

Notice how this man is carrying out the work of the kingdom. Throughout the gospel of Mark, the sign that the kingdom is advancing is that the demons resist and then flee. But since this man is not part of the “in” crowd, the disciples want him stopped. What’s special about them any more if just anyone can do it? But Jesus again emphasizes the fact that service is to be our object, and not a means to importance. The important thing was that the kingdom was advancing and people were being set free.

John Wesley comments:

Mar 9:38 – And John answered him – As if he had said, But ought we to receive those who follow not us? Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name – Probably this was one of John the Baptist’s disciples, who believed in Jesus, though he did not yet associate with our Lord’s disciples. And we forbad him, because he followeth not us – How often is the same temper found in us? How readily do we also lust to envy? But how does that spirit become a disciple, much more a minister of the benevolent Jesus! St. Paul had learnt a better temper, when he rejoiced that Christ was preached, even by those who were his personal enemies. But to confine religion to them that follow us, is a narrowness of spirit which we should avoid and abhor. — John Wesley, Commentary

39But Jesus said, “Don’t hinder him. For there is nobody who will do a miracle in my name and will be able to speak evil of me right afterward. 40For whoever is not against us is for us.

Note the contrast to the similar statement in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23. Both have their appropriate viewpoint. In this case, pride caused the disciples opposition to this man.

John Wesley notes:

Mar 9:39 – Jesus said – Christ here gives us a lovely example of candour and moderation. He was willing to put the best construction on doubtful cases, and to treat as friends those who were not avowed enemies. Perhaps in this instance it was a means of conquering the remainder of prejudice, and perfecting what was wanting in the faith and obedience of these persons. Forbid him not – Neither directly nor indirectly discourage or hinder any man who brings sinners from the power of Satan to God, because he followeth not us, in opinions, modes of worship, or any thing else which does not affect the essence of religion.

Mar 9:40 – For he that is not against you, is for you – Our Lord had formerly said, he that is not with me, is against me: thereby admonishing his hearers, that the war between him and Satan admitted of no neutrality, and that those who were indifferent to him now, would finally be treated as enemies. But here in another view, he uses a very different proverb; directing his followers to judge of men’s characters in the most candid manner; and charitably to hope that those who did not oppose his cause wished well to it. Upon the whole, we are to be rigorous in judging ourselves, and candid in judging each other.

And Barclay, on the same passage:

“It is necessary always to remember that truth is always bigger than any man’s grasp of it.” — Barclay on Mark 9:38-40

41Whoever gives you a cup of water in the name because you are of Christ, I tell you he will definitely not lose his reward.”

We don’t work for the reward, but God will reward.

References

These are some references I consulted:

Commentaries

Barclay, William. The Gospel of Mark (Daily Study Bible). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956.

Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Via Logos Bible Software.

Wesley, John. John Wesley’s Commentary, from eSword.

Wuest, Kenneth S. Mark in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1950.

Bibles:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV)
The Learning Bible (CEV)
The Oxford Study Bible (REB)
UBS Greek New Testament, 4th Edition

Hebrews: Going On Toward Perfection

Hebrews: Going On Toward Perfection

The first time I taught a class on Hebrews following publication of my study guide, we were studying lesson #7, Falling Away. The primary reading for the lesson is Hebrews 5:11-6:12, and thus includes the passage, “going on toward perfection” which is very famous in Methodist and Wesleyan circles. In discussing the passage we noted that some translations used the word “maturity” while others used “perfection.” I explained why one might use either term properly as a translation of the Greek “teleiotes” but added that I felt that “maturity” was a little bit weak for the message.

On my way home after the class I got this nagging feeling, and so I went to the translation I had written for the study guide and checked my own translation. There large as life and twice as annoying was the word “maturity.” I had managed to contradict myself within days of publication. The next week I pointed it out to the class, which resulted in another discussion. Of course, the inevitable question was, “What do you really think?”

That’s a fair one, and I’d like to answer it in an overview fashion here. I do feel that “maturity” is a little bit weak of a translation on this occasion, but “perfection” goes a bit astray of the author’s intent. Either English word overlaps the Greek word in the source. Which is best must be determined from the immediate context. To get a broad view of how I understand the structure of Hebrews, check my outline and translation. (I do not recommend my own translation as a clear, accurate, and natural one. Use a good modern version for reading. The reason I created a translation was so that I could have one in modern language without copyright restrictions to use to hang my notes on. All modern versions with copyrights do restrict one from including the entire text of a Biblical book in a published work.)

So what is the broad view here? First, in the text leading up to Hebrews 5:11, our author has brought us to the brink of discussing the priesthood of Jesus. He has hinted at the topic and started to lay out the requirements for that role and the importance of it. He has established the importance of Jesus as one who reveals God to us.

Now he pauses for a moment, in what I believe is the key to his central point. The readers are not mature enough to really get into the meat. They want milk. So first he talks about their immaturity. But then in a turn that has been noted by many commentators, he says he is going on anyhow. He presents the grave dangers of not going on (Hebrews 6:4-8). Why does he say they are not ready and then go on anyhow?

I believe our author sees the addressees standing at precisely this point of danger. They are ready to be weaned and start on the meat of the word, but they are looking back and asking if this is worth it. Is it worth all the trouble? Is there really something to look forward to? Can we do it? So having told them where they are, he suits actions and words and charges forward with them. As I have noted previously, I believe that all Christians are in danger of the situation depicted in Hebrews 6:4-6. While it describes the extreme case, falling away under extreme hardship, it also points us to the danger that we are in every time we say no to something God has called us to do.

So in 5:11-14, maturity is the thing that the addressees have failed to obtain. In 6:1-3 it is that which the author is calling them toward. In 6:4-8, he warns them against its opposite, and in 6:9ff he expresses his certainty that despite the dangers they will not fail. They will attain “it.” So what is “it”?

I would suggest that it is that final, unshakable kingdom (Hebrews 12:26) in which everything that can be shaken has been and is gone. In the meantime, the call is always to move in that direction, and not to fall back or change course, no matter what comes up. We have Jesus, the high priest, who has gone this way before and proven that it can be done.

In the Wesleyan tradition we use Hebrews 6:1 in connection with the doctrine of Christian perfection. In context, I don’t see that it has that exact intent. The perfection to which we are called is a maturity, or “rightness” at each point in our journey with the final, true perfection coming on that day when everything shakable has been shaken out.

Note: I say some more about this “going on” in my podcast presentation on Seven Kingdom Principles of Choice (also part 2), which is based on the pamphlet by the same name.

Devotionals from 1 Corinthians 13

Devotionals from 1 Corinthians 13

I’m writing a series of devotionals from 1 Corinthians 13 for my wife’s devotional list.

The first three entries have been posted. Entries on the devotional list are posted each weekday morning.

Understanding Love
The Priority of Love
Characteristics of Love I
Characteristics of Love II
Love is Eternal (Update)
Love is Boring (Update)
Love and Childishness (Update)
The Greatest of These (Update)

(That completes the series.)

In case you can’t guess, tomorrow morning Characteristics of Love II will appear!

Exceptionally Good Testimony on Women in Ministry

Exceptionally Good Testimony on Women in Ministry

Scot McKnight has posted the testimony of Stan Gundry and his journey from complementarianism to egalitarianism and some of the thinking that marked it. I think this is one of the best pieces of writing on the topic I have read.

I note that he also faced the challenge of the difference between the testimony of the story of scripture–the things women actually did–and the interpretation given to certain passages.

It’s great stuff, not only for the issue of women in ministry, but also as an example of a scriptural approach to understanding an issue.