Monthly Archives: October 2012

Believers and Creation – James 1:17-18

The biblical story presents life in all of its fulness. From creation to incarnation to resurrection to new creation, the human story presents not just souls or spirits in isolation from the visible world, but whole people who are valuable in their entirety and relate to God as complete persons. We are also people who have intimate connections to other creatures of this world, and we are people who enjoy life now and in the future within a rich, physical context. The flip side is that both humanity and the rest of the created world suffer the effects of sin, according to Genesis 3, Isaiah 24, Hosea 4, and elsewhere.

Romans 8:18-25 is the classic New Testament passage that demonstrates the human connection to the rest of the world in creation, judgment, and new creation. Creation “groans” alongside believers, waiting for the day of resurrection and new creation. But Romans 8 may have an overlooked “cousin” in James 1:17-18 as well.

In James 1:17-18, creation appears to be tied together with new creation, and both humans and the broader created order are in view. The God who created the world by the power of his word now recreates believers through the powerful word of the gospel. God is the “Father of Lights” who gives good and perfect gifts to his creatures (we might think about the beautiful depiction of God’s ongoing provision for his creatures in Psalm 104:24-30 here). This same benevolent and powerful creator gives us new birth through “the word of truth” (most likely, the good news of Jesus). The creator God who recreates believers sees these believers as the “firstfruits of all creatures,” suggesting that the renewing work that touches believers’ lives previews the work of recreation that God will bring to the rest of the created order. If this interpretation is correct, human experience of creation and redemption is located within a greater creation-wide backdrop. Human creation and destiny is tied to the creation and destiny of the entire world.

If humanity and the world around us shares such close bonds throughout our past, present, and future, we should value other creatures and the rest of the created world. Christians should be champions of the long-term care and cultivation of this beautiful world that is given life by God, sustained by God, and will be restored by God as part of his saving work in Christ.

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Common Misinterpretations

There are certain Bible passages that often get misinterpreted.

How does this happen? Several things in particular go awry. First, we tend to read the Bible on a fairly superficial level in general. Second, we tend to ignore the surrounding literary context of a passage. Third, we instinctively read our own cultural values into the verse.

Here are four commonly misinterpreted verses:

1. Habakkuk 1:5 – “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”

This verse is sometimes used in missions to create anticipation about how God could work in ways that amaze us (we could probably go to Ephesians 3:20 instead to communicate that idea). But the verse in Habakkuk is news of judgment – God will use one of Israel’s enemies to judge Israel, as part of God’s goal to discipline Israel.

2. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Readers tend to assume an individual context here – that we should take care of our bodies by staying physically fit, by avoiding immorality, by not committing suicide, by not getting tattoos . . . . 1 Corinthians 6:19 does use similar language in a different context to warn against sexual immorality. But the context of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 shows clearly that God’s concern is for unity in this passage. He will judge anyone who divides the church (his temple) through selfishness, personal ambition, or false teaching.

3. Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Sorry, athletes, entrepreneurs, and aspiring celebrities – Paul is not saying, “Give your dreams to the Lord, and he will make them come true” here. Paul’s point is that no matter the circumstance, in fact, especially in difficulties, God gives us the strength to carry on and even to thrive. Paul is in prison and is learning what it means to go without abundant food and comforts. But God is strengthening him through it all, giving him peace and contentment.

4. 1 Timothy 5:8 – “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Many people see the verse as a call to provide for spouse and kids. I have even heard some speakers use this verse to critique stay-at-home dads. But the context shows that this is a command for believers to take care of elderly relatives, instead of just expecting the church to do that for them. We tend to miss this because we live in a culture in America that doesn’t typically value the elderly. We think of “family” as being spouse and kids, and that’s it.

Why does all of this matter? Is it that big of a deal to misinterpret a few verses here and there? When we misinterpret verses, we may come away with a distorted view of God, our world, or ourselves. Or, we may miss something important that God wants to teach us through the proper interpretation of the verse.  A careful and informed reading of the Bible takes hard work, but the potential benefits are worth the effort.

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Son of Man – Judge of the World

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One of the “divine prerogatives” (divine rights) that Jesus receives from the Father is the right to judge the world. This is made clear in John 5:19-30, where Jesus states that he has the power both to give life and to judge:

“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22, ESV). “And he (the Father) has given him (the Son) authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).

Here are two interesting observations to be drawn from this passage:

1) The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 1:36), is the same one who judges – Jesus. This fits into the two advent ministry of Jesus found elsewhere in the New Testament (especially 1 Thess 4:14-5:11 and Heb 9:27-28), in which Jesus comes to the world a first time as sacrificial Savior and a second time (in the future) as conquering King.

2) Jesus explains that the reason he has the authority to execute judgment is because of his identity as the Son of Man (John 5:27). This directs us to Daniel 7:13-14:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

The parallels between John 5 and Daniel 7 are intriguing. Jesus talks about the Father giving all judgment to the Son (John 5:22; 5:27). The same picture emerges in Daniel 7, where the Son of Man is presented with a kingdom by the Ancient of Days. In both cases, all people in the world answer to the Son of Man and his authority. The kingdom given to the Son of Man in Daniel 7 involves dominion over “all peoples, nations, and languages.” Jesus is given “all judgment,” so that “all may honor the Son,” according to John 5:22-23.

What are the implications of Jesus’ right to judge?

1. When we think of the kingdom of God – the kingdom given to the Son of Man in Daniel 7 and the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus in his earthly ministry, we should think of a kingdom that in the end will be displayed in all power and authority. As part of the worldwide recognition of Jesus as King, other kingdoms and powers will be crushed (as in the greater context of Daniel), and allies of those kingdoms will be judged.

2. According to John 3:16-17, Jesus came to the world the first time not to condemn but to offer himself as a sacrifice for his enemies. This offer of peace with the rightful ruler of the world is a demonstration of God’s great love for the world. Now is the season for declaring allegiance to Christ, now is the time to have sins forgiven through his sacrificial death. The one who will judge is providing the gift and opportunity of resurrection to life rather than resurrection to judgment (John 5:29; Daniel 12:2).

Jesus understood his ministry according to Old Testament categories. There is so much to be gleaned from a careful study of Jesus against this Old Testament context. And there is so much to be gained from trusting in Jesus as the Son of Man, who both offered his life for us and is coming again in glory.

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Sportsmanship

Last night my son’s team (which I coach) competed in the 10-11 year old league soccer championships in our local area. It was the final game of a long season, and both teams had played well throughout the season. Nothing would be better than winning the game, right? What would it look like if something did matter more than winning? I think I got a glimpse of that last night.

After a 0-0 score in regulation and a scoreless 5 minute sudden-death period, the game went to penalty kicks. (Don’t you hate that? The poor kids have to deal with such incredible pressure to decide a game that both teams deserved to win. And that’s not even considering the poor parents and coaches who have to deal with their own nerves while watching the shootout unfold.) After the first five shots for each team, the score was tied, so it would go to the 6th kickers, the 7th, and so on, as needed.

The first act of sportsmanship came when my 6th kicker missed the goal with his kick and was distraught. His friend from the other team came over immediately to comfort him and let him know that it was OK. What matters more than winning? Being there for a friend in need.

After the other team did not score on their 6th kick, my 7th kicker had his turn. He kicked a bullet shot into the goal. We all went to congratulate him on a beautiful shot, and then I went to prepare my goalie for her turn to defend. I noticed that there seemed to be some delay, and though I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, it appeared that the opposing team’s goalie had not been ready for the previous shot. The commissioner of the league was officiating, so we just waited to see what would happen. After a few moments, the officials said “play on,” and the shootout continued. Our goalie stopped the other team’s shot, so our team was declared the winner of the game.

Winning was fun. The kids were excited. Emotions of relief, joy, and satisfaction were bubbling over. What could matter more than winning?

Later at the town’s ice cream shop, I saw one of the coaches (a friend of mine) from the opposing team. I asked him about the penalty shot that had caused the confusion so that I could find out what had happened. He said that it was true that his goalie wasn’t ready. As the commissioner and the officials were trying to decide what to do, my friend, the opposing coach, had basically told the official, “It was a good shot that probably wouldn’t have been stopped anyway. We’re not contesting it.” Looking back, he would have had every right to request a “do-over.” And I’m sure the league commissioner would have granted that request. But in that moment, it appears that my friend responded to the question, “what matters more than winning?” with the answer “sportsmanship,or even more fundamentally, “following the lead of the One who knows something about giving up personal rights.”

Philippians 2:3-8 – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.”

 

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Identity, Life in Christ, and Same-Sex Attraction

Vaughan Roberts, a respected evangelical biblical scholar and minister in England, recently gave an interview with Evangelicals Now about his ongoing quest to live as Christ’s disciple while dealing with the temptation of same-sex attraction. Roberts shares personal, biblical, and profound insights that are helpful for all of us, no matter what our struggles, for living a Christ-centered life.

Three insights from the article stood out in particular:

1) When we think about our approach as a church to the reality of same-sex attraction, we need to be sure to keep pastoral goals at the front and center: “The problem is largely caused by the fact that most of our comments on homosexuality are prompted, not primarily by a pastoral concern for struggling Christians, but by political debates in the world and the church. We do need to engage in these debates, but it’s vital that we’re alert to the messages that some of our brothers and sisters may be hearing.”

2) When we think about our identity – what defines who we are at our core – we need to think clearly and biblically, finding our identity in Christ: “No one battle, of the many we face, however strongly, defines us, but our identity as Christians flows rather from our relationship with Christ.”  Notice how Paul also roots the believer’s identity in Christ alone in Philippians 3:8-9:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss, compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

3) Roberts sees the difficult road of celibacy as a sometimes lonely and frustrating path, but he recognizes the great joy and fulfillment in Christ that can be growing behind the scenes as we die with Christ and experience his resurrection power: “Yes, the pain is real — I can’t deny that. The world, the flesh and the devil all conspire to make sin appear very attractive, so it will be hard for believers to remain godly in this area for the sake of the kingdom of God. To do that you need a clear understanding of the call to self denial in the kingdomand the dynamic of resurrection life proceeding out of sacrificial death. Christ does call us all to a life of costly suffering as we take up our crosses for him, but, just as it was in his experience, that way of the cross is the path to life: ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (Mark 8.35).”

This again brings Philippians 3 to mind: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).

There is great wisdom in this interview – I encourage you to read the whole thing here.

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