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Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts

10 September 2018

Men and women, equal in Jesus’s church.

Again, stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 5.21-33

At this point in Ephesians Paul gets into male/female relationships, which in ancient times were unhealthy and domineering, and—no big surprise—they’re just the same way today.

We got a lot of relationships which are structured as unequal partnerships, where the man’s bossing the woman around and thinks he’s entitled to because he’s the man; or where the woman’s bossing the man around and thinks she’s entitled to because she’s smarter. Or whatever excuse works for the domineering spouse: They make all the money, they do all the work, they’re tougher, they’re bolder, they’re stronger, they deserve to be the alpha. It’s entirely Darwinian, which means it’s entirely unChristian.

What Paul taught instead is mutual submission: If you really do love one another, you don’t boss each other around! You take one another’s needs and wants into consideration. You help each other out. You care for one another. Like when you pamper yourself at a nice restaurant or a day spa. And not in some warped passive-aggressive tough love kind of way, where you claim you’re doing what’s best for one another, but really you’re manipulating them into doing what you prefer. Their will, their wishes, don’t come into consideration.

But—again, no big surprise—centuries of Christians have taken this passage, pushed aside what Paul meant by it, and try to overlay their own domineering or sexist impulses. “Love my wife like Christ loves the church? Sure! After all, he’s the church’s boss. So I get to be her boss.” Utterly missing the point, and back we go to the same problems the Ephesians had before Paul wrote this letter. ’Cause selfishness regularly undermines the scriptures.

Well let’s get to those scriptures.

03 September 2018

Awake, sleepers!

Again, stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 5.1-20

Too many Christians have this unhealthy attitude of once we’re saved—once we’ve said the sinner’s prayer and decided we’re Christian now—there’s nothing more we need to do. The entire work of salvation was achieved by Jesus, so all we gotta do is sit back and let heaven come to us. ’Cause if we do try to act Christian… well, it’s a sign we don’t really trust that Jesus did all the work, but a sign we still think we’re saved by our own good karma. So such people won’t even bother to act Christian. Functionally they’ll have the same pagan lifestyle they always had—but the difference, they insist, is they believe in Jesus. That makes ’em Christian.

Rubbish, wrote Paul. If you’re Christian, you act like your Father. If you act like pagans, you’re clearly not God’s kids, and won’t inherit his kingdom.

Ephesians 5.1-5 KWL
1 So, like beloved children, become mimics of God.
2 Walk in love, same as Christ also loves us,
and gave himself as an offering for us, a sacrifice to God with a pleasing aroma. Lv 3.5
3 Porn, everything unclean or greedy—don’t even bring it up among you; it’s inappropriate for saints.
4 Obscenity, stupid talk, hurtful humor: They’re not for you. Thanksgiving instead.
5 If you know anything, know this:
No porn, uncleanness, nor greed—in other words idolatry—
none of these things have an inheritance in Christ and God’s kingdom.

Because Christians get nervous about these items which disqualify us from the kingdom, sometimes we define them broadly, and don’t allow ourselves to do anything which remotely sounds like them… and sometimes we define them really narrowly, and grant ourselves plenty of loopholes. Both extremes are foolish, so let’s not indulge them. Here’s how I define those words.

  • PORN (Greek porneía, KJV “fornication”). Any inappropriate sexual activity—namely promiscuity, or anything going on between you and someone you shouldn’t be having sex with. Like someone else’s spouse, someone under someone else’s authority, prostitutes and slaves (and I should mention they’re frequently the same thing), family members, and anyone the state bans you from having sex with. And since monogamy is a requirement for Christian leadership, polygamy’s also out.
  • EVERYTHING UNCLEAN (pása akatharsía, KJV “all uncleanness”). Few Christians nowadays bother to pay attention to ritual uncleanness, and many will insist Paul totally didn’t mean that in this passage; he meant sin. Wrong. If Paul meant sin, he’d’ve wrote “sin.” He meant cleanliness. Paying no attention to the cleanliness of yourself, your surroundings, nor your food, is a sign you don’t care about the sensibilities of others, including God. Christians are supposed to give a rip.
  • GREEDY (pleonexía, KJV “covetousness”). The desire to have more; frequently the desire to have more than anyone else. Anybody who won’t control their urges, especially when it’s at the expense of others.

And I should pause in this list to mention there are those Christians who interpret verse 5 to mean only greediness is idolatry. Nah. Anything we prioritize over God becomes an idol, and if you’re fixated on your sex life—even if it’s marital sex!—it can easily become an idol. As can an unclean lifestyle. Mammonism and avarice are really obvious cases of idolatry, but there are plenty others.

27 August 2018

Be excellent to each other.

Stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 4.17-32

In Romans Paul pointed out the reason pagans sin is because while they totally know better, they still don’t care to have anything to do with God, so he lets ’em live with their own self-deception. And lets ’em get worse and worse. Ro 1.21-32 But once a pagan becomes Christian, we should snap out of that behavior and follow God. Right?

Right. But we don’t always. Because some of that self-deception is pretty strong. Loads of Christians imagine it’s the sinner’s prayer, not the Spirit’s fruit, which confirms our salvation and proves he’s in us. Loads of us imagine we needn’t do any good works, because since we’re not saved by them, so what’s the point? Or we imagine the good works solely consist of believing all the right things, and not so much doing the right things.

Hogwash, but popular hogwash. And old hogwash; people were washing hogs with it back in ancient times too. Plenty of ancient Christians figured all they had to do was confess Jesus, believe what the apostles taught, and they were ready for heaven. It’s why the apostles regularly included a bit in their letters where they instructed Christians to behave themselves. Like this bit here.

Ephesians 4.17-30 KWL
17 So I say this, and testify in the Master:
You’re no longer to live like the other gentiles.
They walk in the meaninglessness of their minds, 18 being darkened in their thinking.
Alienated from God’s life by their ignorant existence, by their hardened minds,
19 they don’t care any more, and give themselves up to immorality,
into the practice of every dirty thing, of pure greed.
20 So you don’t do likewise, you learn Christ!
21 Truth is in Jesus!—if you listen to him, and are taught goodness by him.
22 Learn for yourselves to be rid of following the previous lifestyle,
the old humanity, corrupted by lusts and lies.
23 Have your mind made new by the Spirit,
24 putting on the new humanity, like God created—righteous and truly holy.
25 So, putting aside fraud, speak truth—each one to their neighbor:
We’re body parts of one another.
26 Be angry and sinless: The sun mustn’t set on your anger,
27 nor should anger give space for the devil.
28 Thieves: Stop stealing. Get a job instead, using your hands for good work
so you can give generously to those who have needs.
29 Don’t let any corrupt word come from your mouth,
but speak only if it’s good to build up the needy, so it can give grace to its hearers.
30 Don’t make God’s Holy Spirit sad—
you’re marked for the day of redemption by him!
31 Every kind of bitterness, outrage, rage, whining, slander:
Get it, with every kind of evil, away from you.
32 Become kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving one another same as God forgave you in Christ.

In a nutshell: Stop acting like the pagans you used to be. Be good. And be good to each other. Because if you truly are following Jesus, you’re gonna do better than you currently are!

13 August 2018

Stick together.

If we could only grasp how much of them there are.

Ephesians 4.1-16

Now that God’s provided his adoptive kids with his superabundant riches, it’s time for us to live like his kids. So here’s the part of Ephesians where Paul moves away from the salvation theology, and gets into how we Christians are supposed to behave towards one another. We’ve been predestined for God’s kingdom; now let’s walk like inheritors of his kingdom.

Paul especially emphasized the unity we oughta see among Christians, who are after all sharing the same Master.

Ephesians 4.1-6 KWL
1 So I, the captive in the Master, encourage you to walk the calling you were called to,
appropriately: 2 With all humility and gentleness.
With patience, putting up with one another in love.
3 Eager to defend the Spirit’s unity, in peace’s joint captivity: 4 One body. One Spirit.
Just as you were also called in one hope of your calling.
5 One Master. One faith. One baptism. 6 One God,
and Father of everyone, over everyone, and in everyone.

Most of the time preachers apply this to Christians who are members, or regulars, of the same church. We’re supposed to love our fellow church members, be patient with them, live in unity with them. Which is true; we should. But that’s not at all the idea Paul had in mind.

Multiple denominations of Christians wouldn’t exist for another two centuries or so, and it’s likely Paul never expected them to ever exist. Even though multiple denominations in the Hebrew religion existed—Pharisees and Sadducees and Samaritans—the early Christians didn’t expect the body of Christ to be likewise fragmented. It’s a violation of Jesus’s will, y’know. Jn 17.20-23

So when Paul wrote this, it applied not just to Christians who shared a church body, but every Christian everywhere: We’re to put up with any and every fellow Christian, no matter what their stripe, whether we fellowship in the same congregation or not. Every denomination and theology. We’re to encourage unity with all of them, because that’s what Jesus wants. Because all of us do have one body, one Spirit, one Master, one faith, one baptism, and one God.

True, you get certain Christians who insist we can’t interact with certain churches. Because they insist they get to define orthodoxy, and if you’re not orthodox enough for them you’re not a true Christian. I would say otherwise: Only Jesus gets to define who’s his and who’s not, and when Jesus told us how to identify true followers, true teachers, and true prophets, he didn’t tell us to look for orthodoxy; he told us to look for fruit. Fruity Christians have the Holy Spirit in them, so they belong to Jesus. Fruitless Christians, no matter how orthodox their beliefs, aren’t obeying Jesus, and aren’t really his.

And y’notice Paul mentioned a few of the Spirit’s fruits in the above passage: Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love. Peace. If you can’t be bothered to try these things, of course your church isn’t gonna hold together. Or interact with other churches. Or interact with anybody; you’ll turn into one of those isolationist cults who only come out in public to wave “God Hates Fags” signs. You’ll think you’re the only ones going to heaven, ’cause the rest of “Christendom” can’t possibly. And it’s gonna suck to be you when you finally stand before Jesus.

06 August 2018

God’s superabundant riches.

If we could only grasp how much of them there are.

Ephesians 3.13-21

God’s great mystery, now revealed to the world through Paul, was God’s kingdom now includes gentiles. Previous generations didn’t realize this, despite plenty of hints in the Old Testament; it’s why Pharisees were regularly so dismissive of gentiles. But God now wants his church to make it crystal clear: The good news is for everyone. No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all.

This was why he was in chains, Paul explained. Ep 3.1 In Acts he proclaimed Jesus had sent him to the gentiles—in temple, of all places. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to flog him and silence him, but Paul’s citizenship meant it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get him killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians, we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. His legal woes were entirely provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom. But Paul wasn’t so petty as to blame gentiles for his situation. Wasn’t their fault.

On the contrary: The gentiles drove him to rejoice.

Ephesians 3.13-17 KWL
13 So I request you don’t despair over my suffering for you—which is in your honor.
14 It’s why I bend my knees to the Father, 15 for whom every “fatherland” in heaven and on earth is named.
16 So he could give you power from his glorious riches, make you strong in his Spirit in the person within,
17 and settle Christ in your hearts, planted and established through faith in love.

When Paul wrote of bending his knees to the Father, Ep 3.14 Christians miss the importance of this, ’cause it’s an old Christian custom to kneel to pray. But first-century Judeans (and Christians) didn’t pray like that. They prayed standing up, facing the sky, arms outstretched. Mk 11.25, Lk 18.13 You didn’t kneel unless you were begging God to answer your petition—like when Jesus begged not to suffer, Lk 22.41 or Simon Peter begged God to raise a dead woman. Ac 9.40 Paul was begging God for his prayer requests. Begging the Ephesians would get “power from his glorious riches,” would be “strong in his Spirit,” that God’d “settle Christ in [their] hearts.” He wanted the Ephesians to become solid Christians. (’Cause they were good Christians, Ep 1.15 but could always be better!)

Every “fatherland,” Paul pointed out, is named for the Father. This is a bit of Greek wordplay, so it’s a little tricky to translate. Paul compared patír/“father” and patriá/“homeland.” He correctly pointed out the word patriá comes from patír. Originally patriá meant “family,” and the KJV translated it that way: “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ep 3.15 KJV But a patriá wasn’t just one small little family, but a national family—the ethnic identity of an entire nation. Back then, nations figured a significant part of their national identity was in being descendants of a common ancestor. You know, like Judeans all figured they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah: They were “the children of Israel.”

Nowadays we consider that idea racist… ’cause it is. Especially in empires like the Roman Empire, which were multinational; or nations like the United States, which are based on shared ideals and rights instead of culture and ancestry. And God’s kingdom is both of those things: It’s an empire where everyone’s adopted, Ep 1.5 where our common allegiance to Jesus and his teachings mean race should make no difference. And lest anyone forget this, Paul pointed out how every ethnic identity has its origin in God the Father. He put people-groups where he wants ’em, Ac 17.26 and now he wants ’em in his kingdom, the patriá of heaven. A one-world government, under God, indivisible.

30 July 2018

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

And how dispensationalists get this so mixed up.

Ephesians 3.1-12

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20

But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar.

This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains:

Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
He now revealed this mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 Through the gospel, the gentiles are to be
co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers in Christ Jesus’s promise.

This was outrageous news to bigoted Judeans who were certain God would wipe gentiles off the face of the earth, and populate his kingdom with only them.

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? A rather sick interpretation of the bible. Taking the book of Joshua global. But it didn’t take into account the rest of the scriptures. Messiah isn’t gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him. Ps 2.10-12 “King of kings and lord of lords” means other kings and lords are gonna exist in his administration, under him. And not all these kings are gonna be Hebrew! Messiah—we gentiles call him Christ—was always gonna be gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees kinda knew this, but like everyone who wears blinders when it comes to the bible, they didn’t wanna know this. They liked their wrath-filled idea way better. Had grudges against gentiles. Some of those grudges were centuries old; some of ’em were still pissed at the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years (now 3,500 years) before. They didn’t care for the Romans at all, nor their Greek, Syrian, Nabatean, and Samaritan neighbors. So they indulged their prejudices, spun the scriptures to imply God’s gonna decimate the gentiles, and though they couldn’t build physical walls like the Israelis today, built all sorts of cultural and mental blocks.

The idea the gentiles would share their inheritance from God, share their Messiah? In synagogue after synagogue, Paul discovered this gospel pissed them off. It’s like telling an Arizonan, “The feds wanna give the Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and any Christian who suggested such a thing. They did try to kill Paul in temple, y’know.

23 July 2018

Racism has no place in God’s kingdom.

That’s the whole point of including gentiles.

Ephesians 2.11-22

To remind you: Paul didn’t write Ephesians to his fellow Jews. He wrote it to éthnoi/“ethnics,” goyím/“nations”—words we usually translate with the Latin-derived word gentile, meaning “people of another nation.” Jews use the word to describe non-Jews. (And Mormons use it to describe non-Mormons.)

Ancient Jews tended to highlight the primary physical difference between Jews and gentiles. Wasn’t skin color, ’cause Jews, then and now, came in every color. It was whether or not you had a foreskin. Following God’s instructions, Jews cut the foreskin off every 8-day-old male. Lv 12.3 Jews were therefore “the circumcised,” and gentiles obviously weren’t. In fact the popular Jewish term for a gentile, which we even find in the New Testament, was akrovystía/“foreskin.” Most bibles tend to be more polite, and translate this word as “the uncircumcised.” They really shouldn’t. The crudeness of referring to people as “foreskins” gives us a better idea of just how ancient Jews thought of gentiles.

’Cause to their minds, gentiles were unclean. Ritually unclean, ’cause when would they ever get the chance to hear God’s expectations for ritual cleanliness? But literally unclean too, ’cause for the most part, gentiles didn’t wash. Didn’t always bathe regularly. They’d eat anything. (The Romans even prided themselves on the weirdness of what they’d eat.) Touch anything, wear anything (or nothing), have sex with anything or anyone, worship a lot of icky gods whose priests demanded icky forms of worship. And they still had their dirty foreskins.

Hence Pharisee custom was to never, ever touch a gentile. After all, you don’t know where they’ve been.

We gentile Christians would like to imagine we’re not that offensive. But that’s because we weren’t raised with Pharisee prejudices. Instead we were raised with our own—and if we were raised by racists, some of our prejudices are pretty similar. People have it drummed into their heads from an early age: Foreigners are gross and dirty. Touch not the unclean thing.

And then Christ Jesus goes and turns these filthy pagans into family.

Ephesians 2.11-15 KWL
11 Therefore remember: Previously you, gentiles in the flesh,
called “foreskins” by those called circumcised (which was done in the flesh by hand);
12 you, at that time, were Christless. Alienated from Israeli citizenship.
Foreigners to covenants of promise. Having no hope. Godless in the world.
13 Now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away, became near through Christ’s blood,
14 for Christ is our peace, making both sides one,
destroying the barrier fence—our fleshly racism. 15 Clearing the field of doctrinal commands.
Thus he can build the two into one new person in him, making peace.

This wasn’t a radical new idea to the ancient world. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Huns, Rashiduns, and Ummayyads didn’t consider ethnicity to be a barrier to citizenship. But the Jews did—which is why Israel never became an empire, and Pharisaism struggled to spread. Thing is, since God created everyone, loves everyone, and wants to save everyone, racism is unnatural and has to go.

19 July 2018

From the lowest place to the highest heavens.

He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He wants us to follow Jesus.

Ephesians 2.1-10

Gotta confess: I grew up Christian. I said the sinner’s prayer at age 4. I have no real memories of being pre-Christian. So when the scriptures, particularly Ephesians, brings up one’s wayward pre-Christian life before God got hold of us, it’s not so easy to relate. I didn’t live that way.

Oh yeah, I had my hypocrisy phase in high school and college. But it wasn’t an apostasy phase; I didn’t quit Christianity and go pagan in rebellion, doubt, or apathy. I was just a sucky Christian. More Christianist than Christ-following; I held to religiosity when it suited me, and clung to cheap grace when that suited me. Like I said, hypocrisy.

So when Paul wrote about the Ephesians’ pre-Christian lifestyle, I understand what he’s talking about; I know plenty of pagans who live this way. My trouble is I don’t have a shared experience with them, so I don’t relate as well as someone who did have those experiences.

But y’know, that’s one of the great things about Christian diversity: Plenty of us have. And it’s those former pagans who can speak best to current pagans, and point ’em to Jesus. (Although I should point out I strive to be kind to them, so that tends to take me pretty far with them as well.)

And I do have the experience of being a lousy Christian, yet God didn’t give up on me and straightened me out. So there’s that.

But for ex-pagan Christians, this is more what they experienced:

Ephesians 2.1-3 KWL
1 You who were dead in your missteps and the sins 2 you previously walked in,
following this world’s age, following the head air-power—the spirit now working on apathy’s children.
3 We all used to walk backwards like that in our bodily desires, doing the will of our body and minds.
We were natural, raging children, same as everyone else.
4 God, being rich in mercy, loves us out of his great love. 5 Us, being dead in our missteps.
God makes us all alive in Christ: You’re saved by his grace.

Previously following our desires, our culture (“the world’s age”), and various idols (“the head air-power”), we were as good as dead, ’cause sin kills. Ro 6.23 But God loves us despite that, rescues us from all that, and grants us eternal life for no other reason than pure grace. He’s entirely justified in leaving us to our own destruction, but he’s predestined far better for us.

18 July 2018

“To follow thee more nearly.”

He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He wants us to follow Jesus.

Ephesians 1.15-23

Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.

I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?

Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ephesians’ good behavior and faith, prayed God’d grant ’em more wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and power. Partly because knowledge is power; partly because God gives us access to supernatural power, and we oughta learn how to tap that, and minister more mightily.

Ephesians 1.15-19 KWL
15 For this reason I too—hearing the about your trust in Master Jesus and the acts of love towards all the saints—
16 I don’t stop giving thanks for you, working my memories of you into my prayers
17 so the God of our Master, Christ Jesus, the Father of glory,
might give you the spiritual wisdom and revelation to understand him—
18 flooding your hearts’ eyes with light, so you’d understand.
It’s the hope of your calling. It’s the saints’ glorious inherited riches.
19 It’s the over-and-above greatness of God’s power for us believers, through the energy of his powerful strength.

Ephesians is the rare letter where Paul doesn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting the church for its misbehavior. To be fair, this may be because Ephesians is a form letter (as I explained previously) so Paul couldn’t offer customized correction to any one particular church. Not that this hasn’t stopped commentators from leaping to the conclusion Ephesus was the one church in ancient Christendom which was following God properly. I expect they made the same mistakes as every Christian does. But I also expect they were getting a lot right—otherwise Paul would’ve felt the urgent need to write ’em something custom. But he didn’t. He wrote this.

And in it, he prayed the church and its Christians would grow. He made a regular practice of such prayers. He knew from experience they’d need the help. Ephesus especially: They lived in a city which manufactured new religions on a daily basis. (Some of which featured really bizarre versions of Jesus.) They needed to know the truth and hew to it, lest someone lead them astray with some strange but appealing novelty. You know… like nowadays. ’Cause Americans are so easily led astray by churches which claim God promises us a safe, comfortable, unchallenging, prosperous life.

17 July 2018

Adoption in the Roman Empire—and God’s kingdom.

How we literally become God’s kids. And no, I’m not using “literally” wrong.

Ephesians 1.11-14

Last time I focused on predestination, God’s great plan to save the world, which Paul spelled out for everyone who read his letter to the Ephesians. We get redemption, forgiveness, goodwill, God’s riches, etc. Ep 1.7-10

We get this through adoption. The plan was for God to adopt us as his kids.

Ephesians 1.4-6 KWL
4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy—
spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation!
In love, 5 through Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself—
according to the goodwill of his will,
6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love.

The problem is adoption nowadays, doesn’t look all that much like adoption back in the first-century Roman Empire. So this passage makes less of an impact than it should. Lemme fix that.

In every culture there are kids without parents. They had biological parents, but those parents are unable, unfit, or unwilling to raise children. So their children are on their own… unless someone else steps in to care for them. (Someone other than the state.) And adoption means these people wanna be parents, not just mere guardians: They wanna take these children into their family, take legal responsibility for them, and have the very same rights biological parents have over their biological children. The kids become their children.

True, some folks in our culture have hangups about adoption. They figure these kids aren’t the adoptive parents’ real children. As you can tell by how they constantly describe that relationship: “Their adopted son,” or “Her adoptive mother”—just to make it clear biology isn’t involved, so there’s not a full parent/child relationship here.

’Cause for some folks there’s a stigma connected with adoption. They’re bothered by the idea people haven’t passed down their own genes, and are raising “strangers,” or someone whose ancestry or background might be deficient, unsavory, or unwell. In some cases they seriously believe if the adoptive parents can’t produce their own biological children, it’s because God doesn’t want them to have children, so adoption is an end-run around God’s will. And sometimes it’s because others have a hangup—so rather than deal with that, they pretend their adoptive kids are their biological kids, and the secretiveness creates the stigma.

The stigma isn’t a recent thing. It’s a very old thing. But it’s a very European thing. Medieval Europeans were the ones who were all hung up on bloodlines: Men, especially men with wealth, wanted to be certain their kids were legitimately their kids, their parentage made absolutely certain. (Well, as certain as you could in those days before genetic testing.) If there was anything irregular about a birth, the kid was “illegitimate” or a “bastard,” and anyone with “legitimate” parentage would try to make sure the illegitimate inherited nothing. Some of these graceless customs are still embedded in European law, and greedy heirs still try to take advantage of them.

But the ancient Romans had no such hangup. They regularly adopted children. A Roman paterfamilias/patriarch could, and did, adopt anyone he wished. Family members, non-family members, close friends, employees, slaves; didn’t matter. A patriarch could choose absolutely anyone and declare them his daughters or sons. And so they were—with full legal rights and responsibilities as a daughter or son.

Nope, ancestry made no difference to the Romans. Because back then, ancestry wasn’t really provable. All you really had was the mother’s word—and as anyone who’s watched The Maury Povich Show knows, some mothers don’t have the most reliable word. So the Roman culture adjusted to this reality: A man was a child’s father because he formally got up in front of family, friends, and priests, and declared, “This child is mine.” It wasn’t a claim; it was a declaration. Any blood relation can weasel out of their parental duties. But if you stood up and claimed that child as your own, that meant something. Still does. And should.

And that is the cultural idea the Romans, Ephesians, and Jews had in the first century. And what the authors of the New Testament meant when they wrote about adoption—particularly about God adopting us Christians as his children.

16 July 2018

Predestination and the Ephesians.

God has a wonderful plan for your life… if you choose to accept it.

Ephesians 1.1-10

Eleven years ago I led a year-long bible study on Ephesians.

Seriously, a year. Every Sunday I took about two or three verses and analyzed the pants off ’em. Some of the participants in our group loved it, ’cause they’d never dug into the scriptures to such depth. Others figured I could’ve whipped through that letter in four weeks, ’cause every other bible study they’d been to had done so. Taking 50 weeks (’cause you gotta take a week or two off, y’know) felt to them like overkill.

Meh; maybe. I will say I’ll take considerably less than a year in this go-around. So let’s start.

Ephesians 1.1-3 KWL
1 Paul, by God’s will an apostle of Christ Jesus,
to those in Ephesus who are holy and trusting Christ Jesus.
2 Grace to you. Peace from God our Father, and master Christ Jesus—
3 blessed God, and Father of our master Christ Jesus!
God’s the one who blesses us,
in every supernatural blessing in the high heavens, in Christ!

The “to Ephesus” in verse 1 was blank in the original. That’s because Paul’s letters were form letters: His secretaries copied them and sent them to multiple churches. Paul sent this copy with Týhikos, Ep 6.21 who was from Asia Minor, Ac 20.4 and since Ephesus was Asia’s capital, stands to reason it’d go there.

Paul wrote Ephesians late in his life, as indicated by his being a prisoner Ep 3.1 in chains, Ep 6.20 possibly awaiting trial before Nero Caesar, who ultimately had Paul beheaded. It’s considered a later letter also because its theology appears to be way more thought through than Paul’s other letters—yep, even Romans. In fact some scholars kinda wonder whether Paul wrote it, and whether some other clever student or fan of Paul wrote it instead, pretending to be Paul so the letter would get read.

Me, I figure those scholars are trying to make a name for themselves by pitching controversies. (And some of them did succeed, y’know.) The idea Paul never grew more mature in his beliefs, or that he only wrote them down once-and-for-all (or twice, considering the same subjects in Galatians and Romans) is naïve. How many Christian authors do you know who only discuss a subject once-and-for-all? Some of ’em rehash their favorite ideas in every single book. And unless they’re intellectually lazy (and let’s be blunt, a number of ’em are) you’re gonna see those ideas evolve. Not necessarily change, but get deeper. Show greater insight and complexity. Get a little more patient with people who think differently than they. They also grow as writers, too.

Those who assume Paul never grew in maturity, as a Christian and as a writer, tend to be two sorts of people. The ones I bump into most often are the cessationists, who don‘t understand how revelation and prophecy work, and therefore have no idea how it worked when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul. They assume Paul got all his revelation once-and-for-all… then wrote letters. They’ve no clue—because they won’t listen to the Spirit!—that he doesn’t work like that. Some revelations we’re simply not yet ready for. Jn 16.12 We’re not mature enough; we’re not patient enough; we haven’t learned enough. We’ll trip over ourselves like Jesus’s teenage students. Not for nothing did Jesus wait till John was in his 70s before giving him his Revelation.

The other sort consists of lazy writers. They don’t try to grow as writers; they figure they know what they’re doing, or they’ve achieved enough success at it, and don’t make any efforts to get any better. And they assume everybody gets that way. Everybody peaks in their thirties, and as they age, they take their younger, unrefined selves, turn that into their persona, and milk it for what they can get out of it. You’ve seen actors and musicians do this. Writers do it too. Christians do it too. More immaturity.

Spirit-led Christians grow. Which is why I like Ephesians: We get to take a look at how Paul grew. Hope we’re growing too.

15 December 2017

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.

2 Peter 3.1-9

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

02 November 2017

Tongues trigger emotion. Don’t let that misdirect you.

It’s an emotional experience to pray with God’s power. But we’re called to more than that.

1 Corinthians 14.20-21.

Praying in tongues is an emotional thing.

Y’see, when we pray tongues, it’s usually because we aren’t sure what to say to God. We’re too overwrought to say anything. Or there are so many thoughts in our head, and we can’t sort out what to prioritize. Or we don’t even know what’s going on, so we can’t articulate anything, but we know we oughta pray. Or we have prayed, but it wasn’t enough. For these and many other reasons, the Holy Spirit has granted us the ability to let him say it for us. Ro 8.26 But y’notice in all the circumstances I listed (and the dozens I haven’t), emotion’s a big part of it.

Here’s the catch. It’s also possible to pray tongues when we don’t know what to pray—but initially, feel nothing. That’s right. We haven’t resorted to tongues because we wanna pray; we’ve resorted to tongues because we wanna feel. We’re seeking the emotion which comes along with prayer-tongues. Less so God.

And the symptom of that problem is when we’re not praying with our minds.

1 Corinthians 14.14 KWL
When I pray tongues, my spirit prays. My mind isn’t fruitful.

When we’re praying tongues (or rote prayers,) we should engage our minds. Prayer’s about communicating with God, not getting a heavenly buzz. So there should be some communication on our part, right? Some thought about what to tell God, how to praise him, our needs, others’ needs, even what scriptures we’ve been turning over in our minds. Never pray brain-dead. Turns too easily into dead religion.

Okay. The anti-tongues crowd don’t really care about any of this stuff. They’re just looking for an excuse to ban tongues. So whenever they get any hint we’re praying brain-dead, they pounce. Blow it up into something profoundly awful, some form of egregious sin. If we pray tongues, but in any way aren’t praying mentally (that is, enough for their satisfaction), they figure ’tis better we didn’t pray at all.

Which is completely wrong. Tongues are good! They build us up, 1Co 14.4 because they’re prayer. Since when is prayer bad? Okay, yes, when we have wrong motives. When we’re praying for the wrong things. Jm 4.3 But God doesn’t have to answer such prayers with yes. And if we’re listening to him as we should be, the Holy Spirit can always straighten out our defective motives.

Hence Paul and Sosthenes’ simple solution to the problem of mindless prayer:

1 Corinthians 14.15 KWL
Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.

Anyway. I bring up mindless prayer ’cause I’m focusing on the emotional dimension of tongues. It gets to the core of why the apostles had to correct the ancient Corinthians about their prayer practices: They, too, were praying in tongues for all the wrong reasons.

16 October 2017

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16

I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck.

I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads.

Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified—which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands (except maybe 10) are out, and New Testament instructions are in.

Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to do holy communion. Those instructions we totally follow. But not the head-covering bit. Why not?

I’ll jump to the punchline right now: Because it’s cultural.

In the ancient middle east, men had shoulder-length hair, and women had floor-length hair. Women didn’t cut their hair; they let it grow. If you remember the stories where women cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair, they didn’t have to bow their heads all that much for their hair to reach his feet. Their hair was plenty long enough.

Custom was for them to cover it with headscarf of some sort. Not burkas, but the custom of covering up did originate from the apostles’ particular part of the middle east. Go further east and it evolved into burkas. Go west and it became hats.

Originally these veils had practical purposes: Kept one’s hair clean. Kept it from getting snagged or pulled. Over time it became a modesty thing: Women who uncovered their hair would get the same reaction as if they uncovered their breasts—then and now. You can see why the women who cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair got such a startled response.

So that’s how things were in the first-century middle east. But in the rest of the Roman Empire, women didn’t bother to grow their hair as long, nor cover it. They’d walk around with their heads exposed—startling middle easterners. Much like it startles westerners when we encounter a tribe where people don’t bother with clothes, or otherwise have very different standards of modesty.

For Paul and Sosthenes, their attitude about veils reflects the middle eastern standard of modesty. But to their minds, this wasn’t just a middle eastern standard. It was a universal standard. God himself had meant for women to cover up.

Hence this passage, where they try to defend the idea.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16 KWL
3 I want you all to know Christ is the head of every man,
the man the head of his woman, and God the head of Christ.
4 Any man praying or prophesying against his head, disgraces his head.
5 Any woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled, disgraces her head.
One may as well shave her: 6 If a woman isn’t veiled, cut her hair short.
And if it’s disgraceful for a woman to cut her hair short or be shaved, then be veiled!
7 A man isn’t obligated to cover his head—being God’s image and glory.
But a woman is her man’s glory, 8 for man isn’t out of woman, but woman out of man—
9 for the first man wasn’t created through the woman, but woman through the man.
10 This is why the woman’s obligated to exercise power over her head—because of the angels.
11 Still, neither a woman with no man, nor a man with no woman, in the Master:
12 Just as woman came out of man, likewise the man comes from woman. And all out of God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it appropriate for an unveiled woman to pray to God?
14 Doesn’t nature itself teach us when a man has long hair, it dishonors him?
15 —and when a woman has long hair, it’s to her glory? That hair gives her a covering?
16 If anyone wishes to debate this…
well we just don’t have such a custom. Not in God’s churches.

Why’s this a controversial passage? Simple. All those Christians who ignore it, no matter what they claim to believe about the bible and its authority, demonstrate in practice what they really think: They get to pick and choose which parts of the bible they consider universal standards, and they haven’t chosen this one. Because uncovered heads don’t offend them. Now, homosexuality might totally offend them, so they’ll preach against it on the regular. Veils? Despite the clear and obvious teaching of the apostles? Meh.

Some of ’em will come right out and say it, and some of ’em will avoid ever saying it for fear it undermines everything else they teach about scripture, inspiration, and literal interpretation. Yet their practices expose all: Contrary to Paul and Sosthenes, they figure head-covering isn’t a universal, eternal, God-decreed standard. It’s merely the apostles’ personal cultural hangup. So it can be dismissed in the present day. Otherwise they’d have serious qualms about flouting this instruction—and they totally don’t.

This isn’t the only situation where they treat the scriptures as if it’s all relative. It’s just the most obvious. Use it as a litmus test if you like. I do.

15 September 2017

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

On the misdeeds of the wealthy in James’s day.

James 5.1-8.

This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day.

Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us. So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people.

Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming—an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and CE. And in these last days, we’re to live like the kingdom’s arrived—not like it hasn’t, and never will.

So when James rebuked the people of his church for living the same old lifestyle during “the last days,” he meant they weren’t acting as King Jesus’s followers should. Whether today or during the End Times. That should be our takeaway as well: If you’re wealthy, do try not to behave like these people.

And do try not to read this passage through your End Times filter. Read it for what it says.

James 5.1-8 KWL
1 Come now, wealthy Christians: Lament loudly about the sufferings which you’re going through.
2 Your wealth has decayed. Your clothes became moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have tarnished. Their poison will be your testimony:
It’ll eat your flesh like fire. You stockpiled for the last days.
4 Look at the wages of the workers who reap your fields—withheld by you, so they cry out.
The reapers’ roar has entered the ear of the Lord of War.
5 You all lived comfortably, luxuriously, on the earth. You fed your hearts on the day of slaughter.
6 You all condemned, murdered the Righteous One, who doesn’t resist you.
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

Okay. In James’s day, the wealthy Christians in his community were suffering. In part because their wealth had come to nothing. And more suffering was coming—because they’d ethisavrísate/“accumulated wealth” (KJV “laid up treasure”) instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing with it: They weren’t paying their employees.

Some people use this verse to knock the rich in general; to promote a little class welfare. This isn’t about all the wealthy; it’s not James knocking the rich for being rich. James got on their case because their workers were suffering, and crying out to God. So this is a prophecy from James, who’d been told by the Holy Spirit why the wealthy in his church were losing their money: God was judging them for their evil.

Yes, evil. It’s against God’s Law to not pay your employees. In fact the Law stipulates we have to pay ’em the same day they worked. None of this saving up till payday, like we do nowadays.

Deuteronomy 24.14-15 KWL
14 Don’t tyrannize needy and poor employees,
whether relatives, or foreigners who live in your land or within your gates.
15 Give their wages that day. Don’t let the sun come down on them first.
For they’re poor. They carry their soul in their hands.
Don’t let them call the LORD about you, and let it be sin upon you.

The unpaid reapers Jm 5.4 had told God on their bosses. This triggered Kyríu Savaóth—which is a half-translation, half-transliteration of YHWH Chevaót/“the LORD of Armies” (KJV “LORD of hosts”), our God when he’s about to do battle. These people’s ruin was God’s judgment on their misdeeds.

In that day. Not in the End Times. God isn’t always gonna wait till the End to open up a can of whup-ass. The cycle of history happens over and over again for this very reason.

Hence if the wealthy exploit the poor in this generation, there’s every chance God may take away their wealth again. It may not be the End Times… but it’ll definitely feel like the End Times for these people.

09 August 2017

Criticism and self-promotion destroys. Humility restores.

Plus how “Christian businesses” aren’t really.

James 4.11-17.

Continuing on his whole theme of pride and its destructiveness, James went after those Christians who took it upon themselves to critique and condemn others, and those Christians who exaggerate their big plans which ultimately aren’t gonna come to anything.

Starting with the bit about badmouthing Christians. You know the type. Every church has ’em. Sometimes they’re even in leadership.

James 4.11-12 KWL
11 Don’t badmouth one another, fellow Christians.
One who badmouths or criticizes a fellow Christian, badmouths and criticizes the Law.
If you criticize the Law, you aren’t a doer of the Law, but a critic.
12 Only one is the Law-giver and critic, with power to save and destroy.
Who are you to be your neighbor’s critic?

This passage confuses people because of the different ways we interpret katalaleíte/“you all speak evil.” After all there’s many ways to speak negatively. Might be minor nitpicking (“Her pasta sauce is bland”) or gossip (“Her husband’s banging the nanny”) or full-on condemnation (“She’s a liar”). There are lots of ways to speak negatively.

Most of the time I hear this passage used to rebuke gossips. But considering the context—James went straight to talking about the Law—it clearly doesn’t mean minor badmouthing. It’s the full-on condemnation. The stuff where Christians are accusing one another of sin. And not following the process Jesus outlined, Mt 25.15-20 but trying to work the court of public opinion. Good old-fashioned backstabbing.

Part of the problem with how people interpret this passage has to do with dispensationalism: The belief the Law used to be how God saved people, but thanks to Jesus we’re saved by grace, and therefore the Law no longer counts. So much wrong with that idea: God always saved people by grace, and the Law didn’t save anyone, but was granted to a saved people to show ’em how now to live. Yes, Jesus fulfilled large parts of the Law, but as anyone who knows their 10 commandments can tell you, plenty of it still applies. The Law still defines right and wrong.

If you think the Law no longer counts, you won’t see the problem with badmouthing and criticizing the Law. Heck, you’re already doing it yourself. And James’s instruction will go right over your head. You will—as many a Christian has—skip the Law parts, and figure it’s only about saying mean things. Stop backbiting, Christians!

08 August 2017

Pride and coveting destroys. Humility restores.

Our lifestyle should reflect wisdom from above, not covetousness from within.

James 4.1-10.

At the end of chapter 3 of his letter, James was making the point zeal and argumentativeness don’t come from God.

James 3.14-18 KWL
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

Just because Christians split this teaching into separate chapters, doesn’t mean James was done with his idea. That’s the context for the next 10 verses. Righteous fruit is sown by peace… and wars and battles don’t come from the same place. They don’t come from above.

James 4.1-4 KWL
1 Where do the wars and battles all of you have, come from? Not there!
They come out of your hedonism, the “field experience” of your limbs.
2 You all covet, and don’t have. You murder, act in zeal, yet you’re powerless to achieve it.
You fight and wage war, yet don’t have—because you don’t ask.
3 You ask, yet don’t receive because you ask for evil!
—so you might spend it on your hedonism.
4 Adultresses! Haven’t you known friendship with the world is enmity with God?
So whoever wants to be a friend of the world, is rendered God’s foe.

As leader of the Jerusalem Christians, James naturally had to deal with all their fights and spats. No doubt some of ’em escalated into violent physical confrontations, ’cause “eye for eye” and all that. With his experience, James knew precisely what sparked the bulk of these fights: People wanted their own way. They hadn’t submitted to God. (They sure wouldn’t submit to one another.) They had their own ideas how things should be, who should answer to whom, and what God “owes” us.

Even Christians who should know better, try to get away with this. Years ago my pastor bought a luxury car, and spent the bulk of a sermon trying to explain God permitted him this extravagance. It was a pretty pathetic defense. It was little better than what we hear in Prosperity Gospel churches—how God wants his kids to have the best of everything, so what’s wrong with a little mammonism? Years later the pastor gave his car away; that defended his purchase far better than his sermon ever did.

But my point, and James’s, is that our idonón/“hedonism” (KJV “lusts”) are our real motives for our behavior. Not wisdom from above. Jm 3.15-17 ’Tain’t from above; more like below.

04 August 2017

Tongues and unfruitful minds.

Plus the unfruitful cessationist interpretations of this passage.

1 Corinthians 14.13-19.

This is a passage Christians like to quote. For different reasons.

For Pentecostals it’s to quote the apostles—specifically Paul—when they wrote, “I speak tongues more than all of you.” Then argue, “See? Paul did it. Why can’t we?” And then, more often than not, proceed to do it contrary to everything else Paul taught about building up the church.

For anti-Pentecostals, it’s to point to the statement, “Pray that you can interpret,” then loudly object, “People ought never speak in tongues tongues at church unless they follow up with an interpretation.” Then they proceed to ban even the tongues which might be followed up with interpretation, just to be on the safe side. If they’re full-bore cessationist, they’re pretty sure tongues are devilish anyway.

Well, let’s look at the passage in question.

1 Corinthians 14.13-19 KWL
13 So tongues-speakers: Pray that you can interpret.
14 When I pray tongues, my spirit prays. My mind isn’t fruitful.
15 Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.
16 For when you praise in your spirit, and the place is full of newbies,
how will they say amen to your thanksgiving, since they don’t know what you said?
17 You did give thanks properly, but others weren’t built up.
18 I thank God—and I speak tongues more than all of you.
19 But in church, I want five words in my mind to speak so I can also instruct others.
(That, or tens of thousands of words in tongues.)

Yes, my translation reads a little different than others you might’ve read. That’s because we have different biases. When others translate this passage, they imagine the apostles were contrasting. To them this passage is about speaking tongues versus speaking ancient Greek—or English, or Spanish, or whatever the locals speak.

That’s not at all my attitude, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the apostles’ attitude either. They spoke tongues; they never forbade it; they ordered the Corinthians to not forbid it either. 1Co 14.19 The issue wasn’t tongues versus no tongues; it was proper versus improper. It was using tongues for personal worship, not group worship, nor to create a “spiritual” atmosphere.

If you’re convinced the apostles were trying to contrast between tongues and no tongues, it’s really easy to make it sound that way by slanting your translation. First of all, the word de/“and.” Ancient Greek used it to connect sentences which had a common theme, much like today’s English uses paragraphs. When you translate, you can drop every de entirely; it shouldn’t change the meaning of the translation any. But when you translate de as “but,” like the KJV and many other translations, you’ve introduced a contrast which isn’t in the original text. And here’s what you get. (I highlighted every word in the passage which translates de.)

1 Corinthians 14.13-15 NIV
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.

Plus if you translate i/“or” as “than,” you get:

1 Corinthians 14.19 NIV
But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Those four little words make four big differences, ’cause now people have the idea tongues are negative and undesirable—that in our churches, people should speak English only.

Bias, man. It’s a sneaky little critter.

23 June 2017

False teachers and agitated students.

If you’ve got an ax to grind, it didn’t come from Jesus.

James 3.13-18

Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturity

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.

Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.

Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus made us that way. Once the Holy Spirit got into us, he fixed our thinking, so now all our thoughts are godly ideas. All our impulses are divine urges. All our prejudices are holy “checks in our spirit.” And we’ll take on anyone who says otherwise. We’ll fight ’em.

Which betrays the problem. The aggressive attitude which wants to take on all comers, James wrote, does not come from God. Comes from instinct and selfish human nature. Comes from clever human ideas. Comes from devils. But not God, ’cause God’s wisdom produces good fruit. And if any would-be Christian teacher produces argumentativeness and picks fights—i.e. bad fruit—don’t let ’em teach!

James 3.13-18 KWL
13 You who are wise and understanding: Show it—
by a good lifestyle, their good works, in wise gentleness.
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

If there’s no peace in your church, this’d be why. Your teachers aren’t teaching religion, the acts which further a true relationship with God. They have ulterior motives, and they’re teaching that. So of course the Christians are erratic.

22 June 2017

The uncontrollable tongue.

Nobody really has a bridle on it. Not even James.

James 3.3-12

In talking about the sort of mature Christian who’s got the self-control necessary to teach others, James went off on a tangent about how out-of-control the tongue can get. Which, if you think about it, is a little ironic. Wasn’t he talking about teachers?

Well, anyway. This just after he briefly wrote how mature Christians oughta be able to control ourselves. Under the Holy Spirit’s power, of course, ’cause it’s profoundly difficult to get such hold of ourselves without him, since self-control is one of the Spirit’s fruit. Ge 5.23 For Christians, it‘s totally doable.

It’s just we don’t do it. Cause we demand the “freedom in Christ” to do as we please, say what we wish, and unwittingly hurt one another and hinder God’s kingdom.

James 3.1-6 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.
3 If we put bridles in horses’ mouths so they heed us, we steer their whole body.
4 Look also at ships: They’re large, and driven by strong winds,
steered wherever the urge of the pilot wants—by the smallest rudder.
5 Likewise the tongue: It’s a little body part, but claims huge things.
Look how it lights a big fire on a big forest! 6 The tongue is fire.
The tongue places an unrighteous world in our body parts, staining the whole body,
setting the cycle of creation on fire, set on fire by ge-Henna.

Y’know, James was there when the tongues of fire fell upon the apostles at Pentecost in the year 33. He was among the brothers of Jesus who were praying for the Spirit to come. Ac 1.14 So it’s interesting he used the term “fire” to describe the tongue. At Pentecost, it was a positive sort of fire; it was the Spirit’s empowerment. In contrast, James described the human tongue, when not under the Holy Spirit’s direction, as fed by his culture’s favorite metaphor for hell, the landfill outside Jerusalem where trash fires burned day and night.

The popular saying may be “Talk is cheap,” but nobody really believes that. Talk is seldom cheap, and more destructive than ever we realize. That’s James’s point.