Friday, November 25, 2005

Samuel Adams on Thanksgiving, 1777

"Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to Him for benefits received...together with penitent confession of their sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor; and their humble and earnest supplications that it may please God through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of is therefore set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor...acknowledging with gratitude their obligations to Him for benefits received. ... To prosper the means of religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth 'in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost'."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

God's Hesed in Action (Psalm 90:14)

Psalm 90:14 O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Ever since my first year of Hebrew, I’ve been fascinated with the word hesed. It is one of the dominant OT words for how God deals with us, and without question the most frequently praised attribute of God: “for his hesed endures forever!” Dr. Terry Rude, my first year Hebrew prof., defined it as God’s ‘loyal lovingkindness.’ Of its ± 248 occurrences, the KJV translates it mercy 149x, the NASB – lovingkindness 176x, the NIV – love, ESV – steadfast love, NET Bible – loyal love, NLT – faithful love.

As Dr. John Oswalt said in his Aldersgate Forum lectures on holiness last week: this is a very difficult word to translate. In fact four PhD dissertations in the last century were dedicated to determining the meaning(s) of this word, and I even ventured a shot at it in a lengthy footnote (Ch. 5, ftnt. 34) in my dissertation.

Despite looking at all its occurrences, studying its semantic range, reading Gordon Clark’s dissertation on it, and so on, I have not been satisfied with my practical grasp of the term. What has particularly bothered me is that I rarely ever rejoice in and thank God for His hesed, yet that is clearly the focal point of OT praise.

This was bothering me particularly on Wednesday of this week, so I told my Hebrew students that they really ought to begin wrestling with this word. Today I took up my own advice again. But this time with a different focus. Rather than attempting to refine my understanding of the sense(s) or meaning(s) of the word, I decided to look at its referents.

When God does hesed with people (that’s the Hebrew idiom), what does He do? In other words, if I am to find evidence of God’s hesed in my life, what am I supposed to look for? Here’s the data I found in 20 minutes during my devotions this morning:

Examples of God's Hesed at work:
  1. God delivering Lot from Sodom -- deliverance, saving of life (Gen. 19).

  2. God guiding Abraham's servant to Rebekah -- providing leadership (Gen. 24).

  3. God granting His servant favor in the eyes of his superior (Gen. 39; Ezra 7, 9).

  4. Guiding Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 15:13).

  5. Does Exod. 34:7 imply that forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin is God's hesed at work? Num. 14:19 appears to support the idea: Moses prays that God would forgive the iniquity of the people in accordance with His great hesed.

  6. Ruth 1:8 -- Naomi's prayer that God would deal with Orpah and Ruth with the same hesed that they have shown to their (now) dead husbands and to Naomi -- thus a kindness, a loyalty -- sticking with Naomi, helping care for her (Ruth 1:20).

  7. God's provision of Boaz as a redeemer for Ruth and Naomi is evidence of His hesed (Ruth 2:20).

  8. God took away His hesed from Saul = no longer spoke to Him, permitted him to be tormented by an evil spirit, i.e., no longer protected him spiritually (2 Sam. 7:15).

  9. To show kindness is to do the hesed of God with another person (2 Sam. 9:3).

  10. God keeps covenant and hesed by keeping his promises for good to those to whom He makes them (1 Kings 8:23). For example, God did "great hesed" with David by making Solomon his son king in his place (2 Chron. 1:8).

  11. Psalm 6:5 a prayer for deliverance on the basis of God's hesed.

  12. Psalm 21:7 Because of God's hesed, the one who trusts in him is not shaken. God's establishment and strengthening is an evidence of his hesed.

In sum, what I learned this morning is that God’s deliverance, salvation, guidance, kindness, forgiveness, loyalty, keeping of His promises to do good, protection – all these are evidences of His hesed at work! No wonder Moses hungered to be satisfied with God’s hesed. And I have begun to rejoice in and thank God for his never-ending hesed!

Monday, September 12, 2005

We are members one of another (Eph. 4:25)

Ephesians 4:25 Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“We are members of one another.” What does it mean that we are members of one another? The image is clear enough. Paul taught that we are a body in 1 Corinthians 12. Hands, eyes, head—they are vitally connected to each other. Vital connection involves mutual dependence. The well-being of each part of my body contributes to my total health. It’s not difficult to understand that in physical terms.

But do I really view myself as so vitally connected to other believers that my spiritual well-being affects theirs? The issue is not “Is it true?” The issue is what am I doing about this truth?

When I am spiritually weak, dry, or diseased, my ill health spiritually affects the spiritual health of the Body of Christ. When I am growing in Christlikeness, feeding my soul well, and living in the Spirit, my spiritual good health contributes to the overall health of the Body.

In other words, our spiritual well-being is not just our business. It is actually a matter of concern for the whole body. On an individual level, when I sit down to nourish my relationship with God through His word and prayer, I am also contributing to the nourishment of other believers in a real, yet often unseen fashion.

How is that nourishment communicated to the rest of the body of which I am a part? My attitude is infectious. The health of my soul is the subtext of my words. I cannot avoid the osmosis of my spirit any more than a cell in my body can avoid the osmosis of oxygen or carbon dioxide. In fact, any attempt to prevent such osmosis would necessarily be detrimental both to me and fellow body members.

That gives significance to the “least” of the members of the Body. That transforms my perception of the importance of my personal spiritual health. I must stay healthy! That enhances my concern for those who are members of me: please stay healthy!

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Culture of the Kingdom of God

Culture, according to Webster, is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group of people. Does the Kingdom of God have a distinctive, normative culture? I mean by that, is there a set of attitudes, values, goals, and practices that citizens of the Kingdom of God share? And what is the nature of that sharing? Is it an accident* of citizenship or is it an essential? Do citizen have to share these attitudes, values, goals, and practices, or are they optional—like most elements of human culture?

I submit that the Kingdom of God has a normative, non-optional culture. I further submit that one of the purposes of God’s word is to teach the attitudes, values, goals, and practices that constitute the Kingdom’s culture. If that is so, then one of the chief goals of pastoral teaching is to facilitate the acculturation of new citizens with the Kingdom’s culture.

Imagine being in a new converts’ class where the leader begins the class with, “Welcome to the Kingdom of God. When you placed your faith in Christ, you were not only born into the family of God, but you were transferred out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of God. You are now citizens of God’s Kingdom. One of the top priorities of this class is to introduce you to the ways things operate in the Kingdom of God. A few things won’t be much different than what you are used to. On the other hand, there are many ways in which God’s Kingdom is radically different, even completely opposite from the Kingdom of Darkness. Its nature, its laws, its culture—they’re all quite different. You will probably experience a bit of “culture shock” as you begin to grow in your faith and develop as a new citizen. Please feel free to ask any questions you have as we go along. I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. I hope you are ready to get to down to business learning how to live as a citizen in God’s Kingdom.”

I asked my students that question this week. One of them responded that it almost sounded cultish. Actually that thought went through my mind as I thought about this. However, I’m convinced that the reason this sounds so strange is that we have either dispensationalized the Kingdom so that it relates only to the Eschaton. Or, we simply have never given any serious thought to the Biblical data regarding the Kingdom of God. In my case, it is the latter.

*In philosophy, accident refers to “a nonessential attribute or characteristic of something.”

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Kingdom of God & The Gospel

The Kingdom of God (aka Kingdom of Heaven) has been a subject of interest to me for at least the last 5 years. I remember starting a Bible study on it with Marianne when we were dating. I quit after the first session because I realized I didn’t know enough to continue.

Two things about the Kingdom of God have piqued my interest over the last three years: (1) the realization that the Kingdom of God was core to the Gospel message that Christ preached, yet I can’t ever remember hearing a gospel message that had the Kingdom at the core of the message; and (2) the realization that the Kingdom of God has a culture and the Bible is its manual for acculturation.

Here’s the data that shows how integral the Kingdom of God was to the gospel preaching of the NT:

  1. John the Baptist’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 3:2).

  2. Jesusmessage was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17); “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3)

  3. Jesus’ teaching, as recorded in the Gospels, include around 80 references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven.

  4. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe Jesus as preaching a “gospel of the kingdom of God” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 16:16)

  5. Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry was characterized by “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

  6. Philip the evangelist preached “the good news about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

  7. Paul’s missionary message consistently included the Kingdom of God as theme (Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).

  8. Paul’s epistles reference the Kingdom of God across the span of his ministry (Gal. 5:21; 2 Thess. 1:5; 1 Corinthians 4:20; 6:9, 10; 15:24, 50; Romans 14:17; Col. 1:13; 4:11; Eph. 5:5).

Hard to argue with that kind of ubiquity! It is central to the gospel.  Why have we lost sight of this?    

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Prerequisite for Revelation (John 14:22-24)

A young man sat in my office not too long ago. He was deeply troubled by questions and doubts about his relationship with God. He longed for God to be "real" in his life, but he feared yielding his life unreservedly to God for His total control.

I suggested two options to the young man: (1) Spend time reading Francis Schaeffer's The God Who is There and/or Escape from Reason. These works profoundly influenced my thinking as a late teenager, and I think they still contain a valuable message to those searching for God. My only warning was that he remember that God will not be found by the intellect alone. Without faith it is impossible to please God (or find Him). (2) The second option I suggested was that he simply yield himself totally to God and pursue relationship with Him, despite unanswered questions and unresolved doubts.

We prayed together and he left intending, I think, to pursue option 1. ...

This morning I sat on a porch swing and read John 14:22-24, which says,
22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to reveal Yourself to us and not to the world?"
23 Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.
24 "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.

Another one of Jesus' non-sequiturs! And then again, maybe it isn't. Judas asked why Jesus was not revealing himself to the world. Jesus replied that that the Father and Son make their abode with those who love Jesus and keep His word.

In other words, Jesus was revealing Himself to the disciples because they loved Him and were keeping His word. He was not revealing Himself to the world because they didnot love Him and were not keeping His word.

Is there a broader principle behind Jesus' statement?: Revelation hinges on loving obedience. If I want Christ to reveal Himself more fully to me, I must be in full obedience to all that He has already revealed. John 7:17 implies this, but this truth hit me anew in this passage.

Perhaps I gave that young man the wrong advice. Given Jesus' response to Judas, I should have said "God generally reveals Himself to those who love Him and are living in obedience to His Word. If you want God to be "real" to you, you have to be willing to trust Him enough to surrender fully to His control. Only when you are in that position of humility are you positioned to receive the grace of greater revelation."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Of Him all the prophets bear witness (Acts 10:43)

Acts 10:43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. (NASB)

I haven't been able to get away from the radical implications of this verse for the last 6-7 years. I keep coming back to it again and again. Our reading of the OT is very non-Petrine; at least mine has been.

Contextually, "Him" and "His name" refer to Jesus. So we can reword the verse this way, "Of Jesus, all the prophets bear witness that through Jesus' name everyone who believes on Jesus receives forgiveness of sins."

Does that sound as strange to you as it does me? Here are the questions that come to my mind:

1. All the prophets? Really?
2. The prophets talk about believing on Jesus? Where? I've never seen His name mentioned in any of the prophets.

So I went looking ... and what I found was that the prophets repeatedly call upon people to believe in the name of Yahweh (i.e., the LORD). See, for example, Isa. 50:10; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 3:12.

That means that Peter believes Yahweh is Jesus. In other words, Peter sees the prophetic call to turn to the LORD/Yahweh (Isa. 45:22), as a call to turn to Jesus.

Which leads to the questions ... When does Yahweh have reference to the Son and when does it refer to the Father? How often should we be reading Yahweh as Christ in the OT? What does Yahweh's existence as one in three, and three in one mean for understanding which person(s) of the Trinity are in view when His name Yahweh is used?

Bottom line: All the prophets talk about Jesus. Are we reading them the way Peter was? Yahweh must refer to Jesus in the OT much more than I am used to thinking.

Monday, July 04, 2005

An Independence Day Prayer from Daniel 9

Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keep Your covenant and lovingkindness for those who love You and keep Your commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.

Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants, who spoke in Your name to our presidents, our congressmen, our judges and all the people of the land. Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day -- to the men of America, the inhabitants of Washington, D.C. and all the United States, those who are nearby and those who are far away -- because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our presidents, our congressmen, our judges, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against You; nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in Your teachings which You set before us through Your servants.

Indeed all America has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse is being poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in Your word, for we have sinned against You. As it is written in Your word, all this calamity is coming on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.

And now, O Lord our God, who have brought us out of all the lands of the earth with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day -- we have sinned, we have been wicked. O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from this country, America; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, we have become a reproach and a blot on the earth. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on this land.

O our God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our spiritual desolation; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, for your name’s sake.

Amen, and Amen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rod and reproof (Prov. 29:15)

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. (NASB)

The juxtaposition of rod and reproof struck me this morning as I was proofing Proverbs 29 for A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (more info.; sample). Since I am daily shaping the behavioral patterns of my son, it is good to be reminded that it is rod and reproof that gives wisdom. Either the rod or verbal correction alone is insufficient. They work together.

The rod I take to be metonymy of cause for effect. In other words, the rod is what causes pain, and pain is (at all levels of development) a motivator to avoid whatever behavior produced the pain. If the rod is seen merely as a physical instrument, I think its real significance is lost. It is the pain of the rod that helps drive away folly. If physical pain is ineffective, other sorts of rods are available (e.g., loss of privilege, loss of play-time, etc.).

Reproof involves the verbal instruction that identifies the incorrect behavior for what it is and provides instruction on why it is wrong and what is the appropriate alternative.

This is, of course, an axiomatic statement; therefore, it does not mean wisdom is always and only imparted by rod and reproof. But the final stich (last half of the verse), contextualizes this axiom: “a child who is allowed to run loose without restriction shames his mother.” Without the restraint of rod and reproof, parental shame is the inevitable consequence. Solomon should know.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mansions in the Father’s House (John 14:2, 23)

14:2 "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. (NASB)
14:2 evn th/ oivki,a tou/ patro,j mou monai. pollai, eivsin\ eiv de. mh,( ei=pon a'n u`mi/n o[ti poreu,omai e`toima,sai to,pon u`mi/nÈ

The AV says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions …” As child growing up, I assumed that mansions meant what I thought a mansion was: a palatial house with crystal chandeliers, grand staircases, and more rooms than you knew what to do with. Then I studied NT Greek and found out that the word translated mansions means “a dwelling place.” It does not denote or even connote the fabulous sort of residence I envisioned. That was a bit disappointing, initially.

I was also inclined to wonder why the AV chose mansion since it doesn’t mean mansion. In the process of studying NT Greek, I also began to learn something about the history of English. Words change their meanings over time! The word mansion used to be used for “Any structure or building serving as a place in which to live or lodge, as a house, a tent, etc.” (Oxford English Dictionary). In fact, in William Tyndale’s NT, he translates 2 Cor. 5:1-2 “…oure erthy mancion wherin we now dwell … Desyringe to be clothed with oure mansion which is from heven …” (yes, that is how they spelled in the 1500s!).

And that brings me to this week. I started memorizing the Upper Room discourse of Jesus (John 14-17), and noticed something I had written in the margin of my Bible. The word monh, moné occurs in John 14:23 “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode [monh,n] with him.”

We are the moné of the Father and the Son! There are many dwelling places in Heaven, but God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:20-22), has chosen to make us His dwelling place. What an incredible privilege … what an incredible responsibility. We must maintain God’s dwelling place in a way fit for Him—with purity in every area. Holiness is not the condition God imposes upon our living from His throne in Heaven. Holiness is the necessary condition for God’s triune presence to take up and maintain residence in us.

Empower me by the Spirit, today, to love you fervently and obediently, so that my life may be wholly lived unto You and thereby be holy in all that I do, say, and think.
For Christ's sake,

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jesus' Prayer for Unity through Perichoresis (John 17:21-23)

John 17:21 ἵνα πάντες ἓν ὦσιν, καθὼς σύ, πάτερ, ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν σοί, ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐν ἡμῖν ὦσιν, ἵνα ὁ κόσμος πιστεύῃ ὅτι σύ με ἀπέστειλας. 22 κἀγὼ τὴν δόξαν ἣν δέδωκάς μοι δέδωκα αὐτοῖς, ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς ἕν· 23 ἐγὼ ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ σὺ ἐν ἐμοί, ἵνα ὦσιν τετελειωμένοι εἰς ἕν, ἵνα γινώσκῃ ὁ κόσμος ὅτι σύ με ἀπέστειλας καὶ ἠγάπησας αὐτοὺς καθὼς ἐμὲ ἠγάπησας.

21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (NASB)

Jesus begins his petition for unity in John 17:21 -- "That they all may be one" … how? … "just as you, Father, are in me and I in you.

Perichoretic union, (= mutual indwelling of persons), is the focus of the oneness that Christ prays for.

How can we be “perichoretically” one? The rest of the verse explains: “in order that they also might be in us.” We are “one” as Jesus prayed, when we are united with Father and Son.

Verse 22 continues the idea: “I have given them the glory that you gave me in order that they may be one as we are one.”

What is the “glory” that Jesus gave His disciples and how does that result in their unity?
My first stab at defining the “glory” would be the privilege of union with Christ.[1] That is the next thing Jesus says: “I in them and you in me, in order that they might be perfected in oneness.”

1. This is perhaps the passage most abused by evangelicals in a plea for visible, corporate unity. The unity for which Jesus was praying was not the unity of believer with believer, but rather of all believers with Christ and the Father. This has implications for how we relate to others, but I do not believe it implies visible, denominational, or structural unity.

2. What an incredible prayer! Jesus wants us in Him. He is in the Father (v22), so that puts us in the Father as well. The Father is in Him (22) and He is in us (23), so that means the Father is in us too.

3. Jesus opens the door to the mysterious ‘oneness’ of God our Triune God. Jesus and the Father are “one” through mutual indwelling. We become “one” in the same way: we indwell God and He indwells us. Here is marvelous truth, profoundest mystery.

4. Yet, the mystery of mutual indwelling is ours through union with Christ through faith. This participation in divine perichoresis affords us the privilege of fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:4), and grants us the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:2).

Surely, the appropriate response is glad praise, enthusiastic participation in triune fellowship, adoring humility and submission.

I marvel at the privilege that union with Christ has afforded me! Grant me grace to delight more fully and participate more sensibly in the oneness that is already mine in Christ by the Spirit.
On the grounds of Jesus’ name, I pray.
[1] So also Barnes, Jamieson-Faussett-Brown; Gill: “the Gospel is meant, which is glorious in its author, matter and subject, in its doctrines, in the blessing: grace it reveals, and promises it contains, and in the efficacy and usefulness of it to the souls of men. This was given to Christ, and he gave it to his disciples.” Wesley: “The glory of the only begotten shines in all the sons of God. How great is the majesty of Christians.” Clarke: “the glorious privilege of becoming sons of God; that, being all adopted children of the same Father, … however, … the words may therefore be understood of the glory which they were to share with him in heaven.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

What's wrong with it? vs. What would please Jesus the most? (Phi. 1:10)

Philippians 1:10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ,

1:10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

Verse 10 identifies the reason Paul is praying for the Philippians’ love for God to abound in knowledge and discernment: so that they would be able to “approve the things that are excellent” (NASB). Or as the HCSB puts it: “so that you can determine what really matters.”

As a kid growing up, I developed a set of mental criteria by which I made my decisions. One of the primary questions in my criteria was “Is there anything wrong with this?” That is, of course, an important question. But the more I study what it means to love God, the more I am convinced that that question is not the most important question I should be asking.

In verse 10 Paul prays that the Philippians would be able to distinguish not just the good from the bad, but the better from the good, and ultimately the best from the better. As the saying goes, “It is often the good that is the greatest enemy of the best.” It is easy to get swept along doing good things, legitimate things, even ministry things—but things that aren’t the best use of our time, our talents, our resources.

The word translated “excellent” refers to “the essential things, the things that really matter or are of greater value” (Friberg, BDAG).

So how do I discern the best? How do we figure out what “really matters.” Paul’s answer: The ability to figure out what really matters flows from your love for God abounding in knowledge and discernment. The more you know and love God, the more clearly you will be able to see what pleases Him and the more deeply you will desire to please Him. Not that such discernment will always be a cinch. The word “approve” involves rigorous testing to determine the nature of a thing.

But the ability to discern what really matters isn’t the ultimate purpose of Paul’s prayer. That is really just a means to the larger end. The greater end to which he prays is that they would be sincere and blameless until the day Jesus the Christ returns.

I’ve never forgotten what William Barclay says about the word εἰλικρινεῖς aylikrinaise “sincere” in his New Testament Words. He notes that this adjective was used in secular Greek in reference to pottery or sculpture from marble. One of the dangers of working with marble is the potential for cracking or chipping in the process of producing saleable goods. A skilled artisan knew how to color wax properly and work it into such cracks or chips in a way that blended perfectly with the marble. The only way to tell if a sculpture or vase had such wax covering a blemish was to hold it up to the sun and slowly rotate it. The sunlight would reveal any wax. A piece of marble sculpture that had no wax-covered blemishes was called εἰλικρινεῖς “sincere.”

That is the kind of integrity God desires in my life, our lives. We can be held up to the scrutinize of His Sun – His Word – and no waxed over blemishes will be seen. No unconfessed sin. No unreconciled relationships. No unChristlike words spoken without making them right..

The final word that describes the character the flows from God-loving discernment is ἀπρόσκοποι aproskopoi “blameless.” The word denotesbeing without fault because of not giving offense” (BDAG). This is essentially a relational descriptor. It characterizes the way we have related to other people.

Love for God necessarily bears upon how we relate to others. God-pleasing discernment also results in others-loving actions. As we determine and do the things that are best, our lives will not only avoid giving offense to others, but as Solomon says, they will be living-giving springs (Prov. 10:11).

Monday, June 13, 2005

Love for God abounding in knowledge & discernment (Phi. 1:9)

Philippians 1:9 Καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει

1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, (NASB)

As an inspired prayer, this passage reflects God’s desire for His people. In exegeting this passage there are multiple questions to be answered.

1. Paul prays for their love to abound. Love always has an object; therefore, we should ask, “Love for what?” Is Paul praying that their love for others would abound or that their love for God would abound? Or is it both? Is one primary and the other secondary?

Theologically, love for God always precedes and is the source for love for others (1 John). Hence, if it is both, is the primarily love for God. Verses 10 and 11, while mentioning blamelessness which does have an others-focus, seem to focus primarily on our spiritual condition. That leads me to believe that Paul is talking about the Philippians’ love for God.

2. How then does love for God abound more and more in knowledge? What is the relationship between love for God and knowledge?

When I married my wife, I knew her as well as I could at that time. After four years of marriage I know her much better than I did then. My increased knowledge has resulted in increased love and appreciation for her. This is the way it works in our relationship with God. The more we know about Him and of Him, the more we love Him. As knowledge grows, love grows. The inverse of this is also true, love for my wife has motivated me to get to know her better. The more we love God, the more we want to know Him.

Whether epiginwskw denotes “real knowledge” as the NASB, or the prepositional prefix has lost its intensifying force and as a result the word is merely a synonym for ginwskw is difficult to tell. Taking a minimalist approach insures that we exegete the bare minimum Paul intended.[1] I’m inclined to think that making anything of epiginwskw as opposed to ginwskw would be reading into the text what isn’t there.

3. Not only is our love for God to grow through greater knowledge of Him and into greater knowledge of Him, but our love is to abound in discernment. What is this discernment (KJV: judgment)?

Marriage, again, supplies a helpful analogy. The more I know about my wife, the more my discernment with regard to her is refined. I can discern when she is pleased and when she isn’t. Little facial, body, hand movements that would have meant nothing to me four years ago are now clues to what she is thinking and feeling. Beyond discerning what displeases her, I have also grown in my discernment regarding what pleases her.

In like fashion, as my love for God abounds in knowledge of Him, my ability to discern the things that please Him and displease Him should increase.

In summary: In Phil. 1:9 Paul prays that the Philippians' love for God would abound in greater knowledge of Him and in discernment of the things that please Him.

... exegetical thoughts will continue later ...

[1] EDNT offers “knowledge as recognition of (the will of) God that is effective in the conduct of the one who knows God.” BDAG offers “knowledge, recognition.”