Sovereignty of God

The story of Ruth has always fascinated me because of it’s unique place and style in the Bible. It reads very much as a simple story, but upon further study one discovers that it holds many scriptural truths that surpass generational lines. Ruth’s story is the story of every gentile believer who has been saved by the grace of God and grafted into His family. Ruth is a woman of faithful, selfless commitment. She is a woman to be admired and emulated.

Ruth’s story begins as a tragedy in her homeland. After marrying an Israelite, she becomes widowed with no children. When Ruth is told to stay with her family when her mother-in-law Naomi, who is also a widow, leaves to return to Israel (Ruth 1:11), Ruth’s love and commitment to Naomi lead her to refuse (Arnold & Beyer, 2015, p. 163). From there Ruth and Naomi travel to Bethlehem. Here Ruth obeys Naomi willingly and selflessly by gleaning in the fields where she meets Boaz. Ruth again obeys Naomi’s instructions, the results of which end with Ruth being married to Boaz and giving birth to a son who becomes the grandfather of King David. This is the surface story of the book and character of Ruth.

When reading the bible, it is always helpful to remember that there is almost always more than one purpose to a story or section of scripture. This principle holds true for Ruth. Nathan Albright does a great job of summarizing some of these underlying stories in his blog post titled “Why do Jews and Christians read Ruth for Shavuot/Pentecost/The Feast of Weeks.” I did not previously realize that the story of Ruth was read during this time, or that some many holidays coincided at the same time period. According to Leviticus 23:22, land owners were told to leave the edges of their field for the poor and the alien; of which Ruth was both. During this time, the Feast of Weeks was celebrated. It is because of Boaz’s adherence to the law that the story of Ruth has a happy ending. The story of Ruth being read at Pentecost for Christians could have an overreaching understanding of the gospel surpassing any type of racial lines within Christian communities. It was during Pentecost, which is the same holiday as Feast of Weeks, that the Holy Spirit came upon believers and allowed them to speak in all tongues in order that the gospel would be shared with all peoples. Ruth was one of the original members of those “all peoples”.

Another aspect of the story of Ruth that surpasses time and applies vividly to my life and that of all believers is the act and principle of the kinsman redeemer. Boaz serves as the kinsman redeemer for Ruth: Jesus is the kinsman redeemer for all gentiles who desire salvation. Just as Ruth put herself under the protection of Boaz by accepting his offer of redemption in law, so we as believers need to put ourselves under the protection of Christ by accepting His offer of redemption of sin. Ruth is a beautiful example of faithfulness and obedience.

“Throughout the whole narrative, it is God who watches over…Ruth…to accomplish what is best for [her] in accordance with his purposes” (Arnold & Beyer, p. 167). What God seeks and longs for is a willing, faithful, and obedient heart in His believers. When His followers have a heart such as this, God can work wonders that reach beyond our immediate circumstances. The story of Ruth takes place during a time of great turbulence in the country (Arnold & Beyer, p. 167), and yet God chooses to use a few ordinary but faithful and obedient people to save His people generations later. It was through the faithfulness and obedience of Ruth that God provided a King to lead Israel and ultimately Jesus, the savior of the entire world. May we always remember that “a life committed to God meets no insignificant turn” (Arnold & Beyer, p. 166).

References

Albright, N. (2011, June 10). Why do Jews and Christians read Ruth for Shavuot/Pentecost/The Feast of Weeks. Retrieved from: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog

Arnold, B. T. (2015). Encountering the Old Testament: a Christian survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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Redeemed

Redeemed

She was a woman with a past, a prostitute without a future. We are not told what happened in her past to put her in a position of prostitution; though we are told that she has a father, mother, brothers and sisters, and more extended family (Joshua 2:13). Regardless of the status of her relationship with her family, she did not forget them in her negotiations with the Israelite spies for her future. She was a woman who had faith in an unseen God who had done miraculous things for His chosen people. She was Rahab.

One of the overreaching themes of the entire bible is that of redemption. One definition of redemption is the act of being set free from bondage or slavery (Redeem, Baker’s Dictionary). Just prior to meeting Rahab, God redeemed the Israelites through the great exodus from Egypt. There God demonstrated His absolute authority and power through the ten plagues followed by the crossing of the Red Sea. God gave the Israelites a future, something to look forward to and prepare for. Rahab saw this and wanted the same thing. She wanted freedom and she saw a way to it through faith in the Lord God of heaven and earth (Joshua 2:11).

As a cunning and intelligent woman, she not only hid the spies from the King temporarily, she also helped them escape from the city and advised them to hide in the hills for three days rather than immediately return to their camp. She knew the habits of her people, and she willingly gave that information to the spies to secure their safe return to camp as well as her own future safety. She was aware of events occurring around her and listened to the people as they conversed around her. God used her knowledge to save the spies as well as to encourage Joshua and the Israelites by reporting the despondence of those within the city walls. She proclaimed God’s truth by affirming that she knew that the Lord had given the land to the Israelites. She knew and understood the truth, and she knew who’s side she wanted to be on.

When we turn to faith in God, He redeems our past by giving us a future. Often part of that future includes a lot of grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God, or more simply put it is receiving something good that we do not deserve. God redeemed Rahab not only by saving her life through her promise with the spies, but she became one of three women mentioned in Matthew in the direct lineage of Jesus Christ – the Redeemer of the World. “Rahab’s life shows how God’s grace can reach all who are willing to humble themselves and put their trust in Him” (Arnold & Beyer, 2015, p.147).

The story of Rahab, short as it is, has always been intriguing to me. It is difficult enough to have the confidence to stand up for oneself in a day and age when women have many rights and are valued for having a brain as well as a body. To be raised in a world that does not give one those latitudes and still come out on top is amazing. Rahab is mentioned in Hebrews as being a woman of faith, and in James a woman who was shown grace. There are few women who are mentioned in the Old Testament and then followed up with references in the New Testament. I wish we knew more of her story, but I believe we know enough for the purpose her story shares. Her story shares that we are never to far gone to be redeemed and used by God if we will allow ourselves to be so used. Her story shares that sometimes, we will never see just how much grace God will bestow on us through our descendants.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV).

References

Arnold, B. T. & Beyer, B. E. (2015). Encountering the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Redeem. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Retrieved from www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/redeem-redemption/

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Overlooked

Rebekah: A Story of Grace

I have always found the story of Rebekah to be intriguing because it is often skipped over or ignored because of her deceit with ensuring that Jacob received Isaac’s blessing. There is more to her story, and more to her character. She is a woman of faith, and a testimony of God’s grace despite ourselves.

Rebekah was the grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor (Genesis 24:24). Her family knew of the Lord, but we find out later that Rebekah’s brother Laban worships other gods (Genesis 31:19). Rebekah was a modest woman (Genesis 24:65), who may not have known the Lord personally but nevertheless trusted the servant of the Lord enough to leave with him immediately to marry a man she had never met before (Genesis 24:58). She was loved by Isaac (Genesis 24:67) even though she was barren (Genesis 25:21). Having been blessed by her family upon her departure to be the mother to “thousands upon thousands” (Genesis 24:60, NIV), I would think that her faith in the gods of her family was shaken a little. But when the prayers of her husband resulted in her becoming pregnant, we hear her first personal prayer to the Lord (Genesis 25:22). Her husband’s answered prayer in light of her families failed blessing strengthened her trust in the Lord, I’m sure.

There are several interesting parallels between the story of Abram and Sarai and Isaac and Rebekah. The first is that both men attempted to pass their wives off as their sisters when they became fearful of being killed (Genesis 12:12-13, Genesis 26:7). Another is that both women were considered very beautiful, and both were barren until God’s timing. A final parallel is that just as Sarai and Abram had attempted to carry out God’s promises on their own strength (Arnold, B. T. & Beyer, B. E., 2015, p. 69), so Rebekah attempted to ensure God’s promise that Esau would serve Jacob buy tricking Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing intended for Esau (Genesis 27). Rebekah was relying on the physical blessing of her husband rather than trusting in the Lord’s blessing and promises. I wonder if she thought she was helping God and thinking her husband was being disobedient by choosing Esau?

Arnold and Beyer share that “temptation always entails a challenge to God’s word which he speaks for our eternal good” (p. 57), and this can be seen in Rebekah’s moments of choice. God revealed himself to Rebekah and Abraham’s servant by having her be the confirmation of God’s choice at the well, and there was an unspoken temptation to refuse to go with the servant. God gave Rebekah a promise that she had twins and that the older would serve the younger, but when faced with the temptation to doubt God’s promise, Rebekah caved and took matters into her own hand. Had she rested in God’s promise, it could be possible that she would have seen her grandchildren through her beloved son Jacob.

God’s grace is usually most easily defined as us receiving a good thing that we do not deserve and God’s mercy being us not receiving a punishment that we do deserve. God showed grace to Rebekah but using her sinful actions of deceit and mistrust to further His plan of blessing Jacob and continuing His promise to Rebekah and Abraham through him. He even went on to show grace to Jacob through a second blessing from Isaac, this one intended for Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4).

Rebekah’s story and character are easily overlooked, but still share a great deal about what faith should and should not look like as a believer. She experienced God’s grace in multiple ways and stands as one of the beloved wives of the biblical patriarchs.

References

Arnold, B. T. & Beyer, B. E. (2015). Encountering the Old Testament: a Christian survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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The Gardener’s Apprentice

The Gardener’s Apprentice

She was but a little girl when the Master Gardener adopted her, a whole four years old. Her height was maybe to his waist, and she loved to talk. Oh, how she loved to talk. He had had his eye on her from before she was born but waited for her to choose Him before bringing her to live with him in the garden. Her first day in the garden he carried her around and showed her all the fruit. He told her that a tree is known by its fruit; a good tree bears good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43-45). When he put her to bed that first night, he tucked her in tight, listened to her tell him stories of her day, and then told her how much he loved her and that he would always be there for her (Deuteronomy 31:6).

The next morning, the little girl woke up and began telling the Gardener about her dreams. After listening to his little girl chatter for a while, the gardener stopped her and told her that sometimes one needs to be quiet, so they hear the response of the person they are talking to. He then took her outside to a little area separate from the main garden and told her this was to be her garden. The little girl became excited! The gardener’s garden was so big and beautiful, and she thought how wonderful it would be to have her own. He gave her some seeds and told her they were cherry seeds, and that they represented his love for her and the love he wanted her to share with others. He showed her how to plant the seeds, and how to nurture them so they would grow and produce beautiful fruit. He asked her to be diligent to take care of her garden every day and the little girl agreed.

Day after day the little girl and the gardener would go out to their gardens and tend their trees. The little girl grew with the love and care of the gardener. One day, as the little girl was playing in her garden, she saw the gardener returning to the house from tending the trees. She ran to him and told him that every day when she thinks of him or sees him, she gets a warm excitement in her and she smiles big. She told him that this feeling seems to never go away. The gardener reached down and picked her up in a big hug and told her, “That is Joy.” He reached in his pocket and gave her some new seeds. He told her these seeds were for a grape vine, and they represented the joy she felt deep within. They planted the seeds in her garden, then went inside for the evening.

A few years passed, and the girl and the gardener settled into a routine of talking and sharing, of laughter and fun. They tended their gardens together and enjoyed their time. One day though, while the gardener was away, a bad man came to visit the little girls garden. He didn’t like her garden, and he took much of her fruit. He hurt the cherry tree and tried to rip out the grape vine. The little girl was scared, but she remembered suddenly to cry for help and did so with all her little lungs could manage. The gardener was there in a moment and the bad man ran away. The little girl fell into the arms of the gardener and cried. She cried because she hurt, and she cried because she had lost so much fruit and her trees were damaged. The little girl looked up at the gardener and asked, “will the fruit ever return? The bad man took so much.” The gardener replied, “my child, with my help we can make these trees blossom again.” He gave her some new seeds and told her that these apple seeds would represent his new gift to her: peace. The little girl felt safe again, and well loved. Together the master gardener and the little girl planted the apple seeds and began to repair the damaged cherry tree and grape vines.

Life continued, and the little girl learned how to nurture her garden and help it grow. One day, the gardener decided it was time for the little girl to go to school. The little girl was not quite as little as she had been when she arrived at the garden. Each morning the girl would tend her garden, and then leave for school. At school she became friends with other children, some knew the gardener, and some did not. In the evening, she would talk with the gardener about her day. When she had troubles with some of her new friends, the gardener would give her advice and encourage her to be patient with others (Ephesians 4:2). As her friendships grew, the gardener helped her think of ways to show her friends how much she cared for them, he called this kindness. When one of her friends was having a particularly difficult time, at home and at school, the gardener suggested the girl invite her friend to come to the garden. The little girls friend was shy when she first met the gardener, but by the end of her visit the little girls’ friend decided that she loved the gardener. When the little girls’ friend went home, the gardener pulled the little girl to his side and praised her for showing patience with her friend’s endless questions, showing kindness by sharing her home and love, and for showing goodness or compassion to her friend in her time of need. He then gave her three new seeds to plant in her garden; some for pears, peaches, and strawberry bushes. The little girl hugged the gardener and told him how much she loved sharing with others and learning to grow new fruit.

As the girl grew she became increasingly contemplative and independent. Sometimes, she would forget to take care of her garden. Other times she would try to do too much to make up for neglect. The girls garden began to look a little ragged, and she noticed some things growing in her garden that she didn’t remember planting. Realizing that the girl had grown away from her daily time with the gardener, she sought him out to ask him for help. She asked him what all these things were that she didn’t remember planting. He pointed out to her the weeds and called them anger, bitterness, lust, selfishness, laziness, and lies. The gardener reminded her that giving her plants extra water one day will not make up for a lack of water the previous day. That sometimes that method will work, but what will last is faithfulness to the garden and to the commitment she made with the gardener to take care of her fruit each day. The girl, now a teenager, asked the gardener to help her clean up her garden. Together they did, and the girl began to feel so much better, knowing that her garden was in order. That night, the gardener gave her a new seed, an orange seed for faithfulness.

As the girl became a young woman, she decided to leave the garden and be with another whom she loved. Her new love also knew the gardener but was not really maintaining the relationship. Her garden began to show signs of neglect, for the young woman’s new love would not let her return daily to tend it. She tried to take some of the branches with her, so she could still have the fruit; but the fruit never lasted long. Upset that she couldn’t keep the fruit living, she sought out the gardener on one of her brief visits. The gardener told her that no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain connected to the tree or the vine (John 15:4). The young woman left the gardener and asked her new love to come back to the garden with her. Her new love agreed, and they were married and lived together at the garden. There they tended the young woman’s garden together, and it became theirs. The gardener gave her husband his own fruit to nurture, and together they grew their garden. One evening, after the young woman and her husband had lived at the garden for a while, the gardener pulled the young woman aside and gave her a new seed. He told her that her gentleness with her husband had helped bring him to the garden and renew his relationship with the gardener; and he gave her seeds for raspberries.

The young woman continued to grow her garden, sometimes neglecting one or more of the fruits. Each time she would turn to the gardener and ask for help. He taught her the importance of pruning, how it would help the trees bear more fruit even though it would pain the tree a little for a time. The young woman had children of her own and raised them to know and love the gardener. As a wife and mother, the young woman learned anew how to be patient, kind, and gentle. She learned how to keep silent, and how to speak softly even when she wanted to argue or fight. The gardener, seeing all she was doing, pulled her aside one evening and commended her on her self-control. He gave her another seed, watermelon, and told her to enjoy the fruits of her labor (Psalm 128:2).

The young woman asked the gardener why the fruit was so good at the garden, but not when she tried to nurture it away from the garden. The gardener told her that by remaining steady at the garden she “received from God the ability to do things that under her own steam she simply could not do” (Foster, R. J. (1998) p. 88). The young woman thanked the gardener for all his wisdom and help with her garden. She enjoyed watching her children grow their own gardens and learn each lesson on their own with her guidance that the gardener’s wisdom. She grew old in the garden, leaving daily to share her fruit with those around her but always first tending her own garden and visiting with the gardener each evening.

When the time had come for her to die, the gardener sat with her and told her well done, my faithful daughter (Matthew 25:21). The secret to your garden was that the fruits of your garden were not just physical fruits but were spiritual too. The “fruits of the Holy Spirit…are really spiritual in nature, not primarily emotional” (Ashbrook, R. T. (2009) p. 202), and that it was the well being of her spirit that helped her garden grow and it the evidence of it’s growth showed in her emotions and actions. At peace with her life, the gardener’s daughter took her last breath on earth and entered eternity with the gardener as her king.

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New, Now Ditch the Old

New, Now Ditch the Old! (An exegeis of Ephesians 4:17-5:2)

To be a follower of Christ is to do more than make an internal decision to believe. The writers of the New Testament consistently implore new believers to put off certain behaviors and put on the character of Christ. The inward decision to be a follower of Christ should be apparent by our outward behaviors. Becoming a follower of Christ is a deliberate decision to no longer be what we once were, and to purposely pursue Christ. In this section of Ephesians, the author urges the audience to put off the life they once lived and put on a new life. It provides the imagery of taking off dirty, spoiled rags and putting on new clothes and then takes it another step in saying to get rid of those dirty rags: do not keep them any longer. The author encourages the reader by not only telling them what not to do, but provides clear guidelines of what they should do instead. Ephesians is a very actionable letter full of direct application and it is these actionable steps that makes it cross-cultural and timeless.

The author of the letter of Ephesians has come under debate in the last century. Many consider it to be written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome (Snodgrass, 1996, p. 23-24), and disregard the various contestations as irrelevant. William MacDonald, in the Believer’s Bible commentary, defends that there are several external and internal evidences to support Paul as the writer of Ephesians (1989, p. 1903): it has an early and continuous stream of witnesses, twice the author states he is Paul, and the tone of the letter fits Paul’s other letters. It is also likely that Paul would have written to the church in Ephesus as Acts testifies that the church was dear to Paul as he had spent almost three years with them teaching (Acts 19:10). (Bates, 2017)

The audience for the letter of Ephesians was most likely aimed at a geographic area centralizing around the city of Ephesus (Snodgrass, p. 21). During this time, Christians gathered in home churches throughout cities and regions rather than in large congregations as we see in present day. Letters “provided a way for early Christian leaders to express their views and minister from a distance” (Duvall & Hays, 2012, p. 253). The letters were intended to be passed around and read aloud by many. The famous Silk Road, a great trade route, ended at the port of Ephesus making the city central to trade. The temple of Artemis, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, was in Ephesus as well (Bucknell, n.d.). With Ephesus being a central location of trade and culture for the region, it was a prime area to infuse with the gospel so that believers could readily spread the message of salvation across the world rapidly. When sharing a religion that claims to be different than all others, it is vital that one’s testimony show that you are indeed different, and that is the implication of the letter: be different.

Looking just before and just after this section of scripture we can see a gradual progression of specificity. Immediately prior, the author is speaking broadly of principles in the unity of the body of believers, in this section of scripture the author begins to be more specific in the behaviors of believers while still speaking generally to all believers. Just after this section of scripture, the author specifically emphasizes the behaviors of individual groups of believers such as husbands, wives, children, and slaves. It is a smooth progression that pulls the audience in and connects them individually with each other. One body; many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12).

Using the literary technique referred to as inclusio, the author bookends this section of scripture with the same command: be like God! In Ephesians 4:17, the author implores his readers to “no longer live as the Gentiles do” (NIV) and in Ephesians 5:2 he follows his pattern of offering the alternative by saying “live a life of love.” Everything in between these two verses is a pattern of don’t do this, do this instead.

The author opens this section of scripture by focusing on the way gentiles think. He uses strong, emotional words such as futility, darkened, separated, ignorance, hardening, and lost to convey the thought that this manner of thinking leads down a dark path that you do not want to travel. It is a path that Christians should be continuously grateful for being off. The author compares the thoughts of the unbeliever to that of the believer in verse 23 “to be made new in the attitude of your minds” and then proceeds to give examples of behaviors that are influenced by our minds. This concept of inside first, outside second is reinforced throughout scripture. Luke 6:45 states that “the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

The use of the word however in verse 20 causes a shift in the tone and initiates the onslaught of do’s and do not’s that follows. The author shifts from painting a dark picture of the unbeliever, and instead takes on a brighter tone for the believer using words like surely, taught, created, true righteousness and holiness. With his tone and word choice, he encourages the believer and reminds them that they are better than this. They are not pigs in the mud, but rather clean individuals walking a sure path.

An interesting note, in verses 23 and 24 the author uses the word new twice, but the word new is used in two slightly different ways. In verse 23 the word new is from the Greek word neos, which gives the impression of beginning again or renewing. When paired with the action verb made, it exemplifies the idea of starting all over again with a clean slate, which is what happens when we become Christians. In verse 24 the word new is from the Greek word kainos and is use throughout scripture to imply that it’s object of reference is something that was previously unknown (Kohlenberger, 2015). The new self in Ephesians 4:24 is not something the believer had previously.

The verbs in this passage, after the initial comparison of the unbeliever and the believer, are all present tense. Speak, give, share, or rid are all actions that the author tells the audience to do – now! As a present-day reader, these verbs make the letter feel less historical, more current, and we can connect with both the audience and the author.

Klyne Snodgrass, in his commentary on Ephesians, summarizes this section of scripture as the seven motivators (1996, p. 248-249). “We are all members of one body” (vs. 25), “do not give the devil a foothold” (vs. 27), “have something to share with those in need” (vs. 28) and use speech that is beneficial for all (vs. 29) all focus on the body of Christ and community. The three motivators at the end “urges Christians to treat others the way God has treated them” (Snodgrass, p. 249): “as God in Christ forgave you” (vs. 32), “as children of God” (5:1), and “as Christ loved us” (5:2). The central motivator found in Ephesians 4:30, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit” serves as the motivator for all the commands.

The Greek word interpreted grieve is lypeo and is understood to mean to cause sorrow. The author is imploring believers to do what is right, to change our thinking and therefor our behavior, because to do otherwise is to make the Holy Spirit sad. Just as disobedient children cause a parent to be disappointed or sad, so do we make the Holy Spirit sad and grieved when we choose not to do what is right in the eyes of God. Children naturally want to make their parents proud, and do not like seeing disappointment on their parents’ faces. With God as our father, we should long to see Him be proud of us too.

As far as lists go, the author of Ephesians gives to short impressive ones at the end of the fourth chapter. First a list of things to get rid of: bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. He follows with a shorter list to replace those behaviors with: kind, compassionate, forgiving, and loving. The first list, the things to remove, all demonstrate a lack of control and a focus on the self; whereas, the second list, the things to exemplify, all demonstrate self-control and a focus on others. When living in community, to be part of the community and for the community to thrive, each individual needs to focus more on others than on themselves. This is one of the key differences between believers and unbelievers; our focus on others and how to give rather than receive.

In chapter five verse one we are admonished to “be imitators of God” or in a more recent translation “follow God’s example”. The difference between the use of the verb imitate and the verb follow is small, if you know which definition of the word follow one is using. In the English language, the word follow is used many ways, while the word imitate is used less frequently and therefor has a narrower understanding. To imitate is generally understood to mean to copy; whereas, the word follow often means to walk behind or walk in the way of someone or something. The translators paired the word example with follow to offer clarity, but the use of the word imitator is more concise. Either way, the author intends that we, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit within us, work towards being more like God. As God is, so should we be.

Personal application and community application of the principles presented in this section of scripture are very straightforward. The bridge to cross to get from there to here is very short. As Christians we need to speak truth to one another, not just in our Christian communities but with all man. God gave us all emotions for the benefit of His glory, any emotion can cause us to sin but none more so than anger. We can be angry, but what we do with that anger is what makes it sin or not. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and is exemplified when we become angry but do not sin in that anger. We are all to be helpful to others. When we lend a helping hand it is a moment of sharing Christ in our actions. Whether this be a person on the side of the road with a flat tire, a person short a bit at the check-out line, or lending a helping hand to a neighbor by helping them mow their yard or wash windows, we have many opportunities every day to lend a helping hand and show Christ in our actions by putting another’s needs before our own.

We can do all that Paul commands of us because we have Christ within us. If we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, we will not grieve the Holy Spirit and we will be Christlike in all that we do. From the inside out, Christ changes us. Get rid of the old and embrace the new, this kind of change really is much better.

References

Bates, J.R. (2017). Ancient times New York City. Unpublished manuscript, Colorado Christian University.

Bucknell, P.J. (n.d.). A survey of the book of Ephesians. Retrieved from http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net/References/NT/Pauline/Ephesians/Ephesians0/Ephesians0_Survey.html

Duvall, J.S. & Hays, J.D. (2018). Grasping God’s word: a hands-on approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Kohlenberger III, J. R. (2015). The NIV exhaustive Bible concordance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MacDonald, W. (1989). Believer’s Bible commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Snodgrass, K. (1996). The NIV application commentary: Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Ancient Times New York City

Ancient Times New York City: Ephesus

It is helpful sometimes to visualize something familiar to better understand something unfamiliar, or something that is so far in the distant past that seeing it is not quite possible. Upon reading about Ephesus, the first thing that came to mind was an ancient version of the modern-day New York City. Ephesus, like New York City, was a place where all cultures and beliefs seem to meet and exist in one place. It was a city central to trade, with the famous Silk Road ending at its port. As a main focal point of the city, it possessed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the great temple of Artemis (Bucknell, n.d.). Acts 19:23-27 tells us that the area was deeply dependent on the many worshipers travelling to the great temple. Ephesus was a central hub of trade and culture for the region, a perfect place to share the gospel where it could readily be received by so many from distant lands who could then take the message home and thus spread the Word even faster.

Another aspect to keep in mind when thinking of the letter Ephesians is who the author was writing to.  The author was writing to the church, but not the church as we think of it today. It is easy to think that many believers equal a mega church: however, this was not the case. It was more common to find that the church was indeed a series of many smaller home churches (Bucknell, n.d.). With this in mind, the authors letter was not aimed at one specific group of believers but rather the believers in the region. There are some scholars who say the letter was not written specifically to Ephesus as some manuscripts do not have Ephesus listed. Using our earlier comparison of New York City, if one were to write to a group of home churches in New York City, it would not take long before copies of the letter dropped or added the phrase New York City depending on what part of New York City was receiving the letter. It is possible a similar occurrence happened with the letter to Ephesus.

The author of the letter of Ephesians has come under debate in the last century. Many consider it to be written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome (Snodgrass, 1996, p. 23-24), and disregard the various contestations as irrelevant. William MacDonald, in the Believer’s Bible commentary, defends that there are several external and internal evidences to support Paul as the writer of Ephesians (1989, p. 1903): it has an early and continuous stream of witnesses, twice the author states he is Paul, and the tone of the letter fits Paul’s other letters. It is also likely that Paul would have written to the church in Ephesus as Acts testifies that the church was dear to Paul as he had spent almost three years with them teaching (Acts 19:10).

The general style of the letter of Ephesians is one of love and encouragement, one can’t help but feel loved when one reads the letter (Smith, 2000, p. 270). When Paul meets with the elders of Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem, he is tearful and prophesies that they will not see him again (Acts 20:25). The elders as well as Paul are upset on this, and it shows how deep their relationship was, how close to the heart the church of Ephesus was to Paul. This emotion, this strong relationship, is felt when one reads the letter to the Ephesians.  Paul’s love for the church is almost tangible, so much that we can feel it ourselves as we read it.

We know that the letter was written while Paul was in prison (Ephesians 4:1), it is unclear which imprisonment it was. Ultimately it really doesn’t matter which imprisonment it was except to further narrow down the possible dates for when the letter was written. Working with the Roman imprisonment, the letter would date around 60 A.D., which would be most believable considering that the letter to the Colossians is very similar to that of Ephesians and it was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome and it too was delivered by Tychicus.

Ephesus was a city and a region that was full of historical purpose and a great launch pad for the Gospel.

References

Duvall, J.S. & Hays, J.D. (2018). Grasping God’s word: a hands-on approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MacDonald, W. (1989). Believer’s Bible commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Smith, C. (2000). The ultimate guide to the Bible. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing.

Snodgrass, K. (1996). The NIV application commentary: Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Bucknell, P.J. (n.d.). A survey of the book of Ephesians. Retrieved from http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net/References/NT/Pauline/Ephesians/Ephesians0/Ephesians0_Survey.html

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Mere Christianity:Spanning Generations

Relatable and Applicable

Mere Christianity, written by C.S. Lewis, is a basic Christian apologetics course that lays the groundwork for the gospel or introduces the new believer to the basic beliefs of Christianity (McGrath, 2013, p.208). His book, created from a series of radio talks he performed during World War II, impacts every reader differently and much as a person’s testimony of salvation lends credence and curiosity to the Bible, so does a person’s testimony of how important this book, Mere Christianity, was to their own decision to follow Christ. C.S. Lewis, through his gifts, talents, and willingness to be used by God, has managed to write a text that is cross-cultural, multi-generational, and non-denominational.

In the preface of Mere Christianity, Lewis gives an analogy that really resonated with me as I began to read.  It was his analogy of a house with a hallway and many doors leading to rooms within the house. The house represented Christianity, the hallway represented the fundamental beliefs that all Christians believe, and the various doors led to the numerous denominations within the church. He wanted his book to present the hallway portion in layman’s terminology so Christians could better understand the basics, and therefore move on with more confidence towards the door that was most true as they understood the Bible to say (Lewis, 2015, p.xv-xvi). This analogy greatly assisted in understanding Lewis’ intent and purpose in writing Mere Christianity.

Lewis introduces the topic of the Law of Human Nature, or Moral Law, in chapters two through five of his first section regarding right and wrong. He gives an example that sets moral law apart from the herd, or cultural, instinct when he says that “feeling a desire to help is quite different from feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not” (Lewis, p.9). “The Law of Human Nature…[is] a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey” (Lewis, p.21). This moral law that all seem to be aware of is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans when he say’s “they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness” (Romans 2:15a, NIV). This law resides within each of us because we are created in the image of God, and as such we have an innate sense of what life is supposed to be like (Moreland, 2009). The search for what is true and right ends only “after you realize that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law” (Lewis, p.31).

I appreciated Lewis’ approach to marriage and his discussion on the importance of keeping a sacred vow. He points out that often people divorce because the feeling of being in love and the sexual attraction they felt for their spouse has waned and they want to find another to be with.  But Lewis points out that “the duty of keeping that promise has no special connection with sexual [attraction]: it is in the same position as any other promise” (p. 106). Lewis regards the vows spoken at the marriage ceremony to be binding and very serious, and I agree. This foundational principle of marriage resonates through to the 21st century as the church reinforces the concept of a covenant, not contractual, marriage. Additionally, Lewis reminds us that “a promise must be about things that [one] can do, about actions” (p. 107). Marriage vows are all about actions, not sharing emotions. The profusion of emotion is what prompts the proposal, the marriage ceremony is what solidifies the union and gives it something concrete to build on.

The concept of headship and submission within a marriage are addressed later in the chapter. Lewis brings up several valid arguments that support the biblical principle of the husband being the head of the family, and the wife submitting to his leadership. He points out that “in a council of two there can be no majority” (p. 113) and therefore someone must be in the position to make the tie casting vote. Some would say that a marriage is made up of three, the third person being God. If you take this concept and apply it, God would be the deciding vote, and since He says in the bible that the husband is to lead, then His vote would naturally go with the husband.  Either way, the husband has the final say. Lewis also points out that the husband and wife discuss things and are generally in agreement. He doesn’t suggest that a husband rule over his wife in a dictatorial manner, he implies that there is teamwork and a sharing of ideas that takes place prior to the husband having a final say when an agreement cannot be reached. This idea is very controversial in our current cultural climate, but I think the controversy comes from the various ways one can interpret the word submit. Lewis avoids this problem by not using the word, and instead focusing on the biblical mandate that the husband is to lead. It is a well laid argument that applies to all marriages, regardless of one’s race, nationality, or generation.

An aspect of Christ that Lewis emphasizes that is sometimes overlooked, although somewhat acknowledged, is the act of Christ forgiving everyone. We often look at this as Christ forgave me for my sins or Christ forgave you for your sins. But we overlook the fact that Christ “told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured” (p.51). In Luke, when Jesus is anointed by a woman who had led a sinful life, he tells her that her sins are forgiven and that her faith has saved her (Luke 7:36-50), he doesn’t ask permission he simply forgives. To apply it today, Jesus forgives the person who commits sexual assault or murder without ever asking the victim if it’s okay with them that their perpetrator be forgiven. It’s a hard lesson to accept, especially when we have been wronged by someone. But it is healing when we can turn that hurt over to Christ and see everyone as Christ sees them: a reflection of God who is valuable regardless of the number or severity of their sins. Jesus has already forgiven them; how can we do any less?

C.S. Lewis started out his idea of mere Christianity with the hope to encourage and help others on their walk with Christ. He wanted to help establish Christians in their faith. His ability to take complex topics like theology, ethics, or philosophy and transform them into topics more readily understood by the common man by using everyday vocabulary and imagery is what has helped his book be successful long after the time period in which he wrote. Mere Christianity would be great in a new believer’s class at a local church. In such a setting, the facilitator could help participants overcome some of the more off-putting characteristics of the book; such as some of the verbiage, or some of the rather sexist comments made throughout. Lewis’ book continues to span generations and cultures because of the impact it has on others. As new believers give testimony to how his book helped them accept Christ, more people open the book to see what all the fuss is about. As long as Mere Christianity is impacting lives, it will continue to be passed on and recommended to others.

References

Lewis, C.S. (2015). Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins.

McGrath, A. (2013). C. S. Lewis: A life – Eccentric genius, reluctant prophet. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House.

Moreland, J.P. (2009, April 17). What is Natural Moral Law. Retrieved from http://www.equip.org/article/what-is-natural-moral-law/

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