The Glory, Importance, and Victory of Other People

While I was writing last week’s post, I noticed I’d come back yet again to the idea of other people’s importance to our lives with God. I feel like I’ve been writing about that a lot lately, starting with “The Glorious Weights We Carry” over a month ago, then in “Building People Up in Christ,” “The Reason For Relationship,” and most recently “The Crown of Victory.”

It’s clear that God cares deeply for people. We all benefit from His love immensely as recipients of grace, mercy, salvation, and ongoing relationship. Yet as human beings, we have a tendency to think about how much God cares for me and how His love changes my life. We think less often about what His care for all people means for how we should interact with others. But we’re supposed to become like God, and that means learning to see other people the way He does.

As I’ve studied the Bible over the past month, it struck me that the glory we anticipated is connected to other people. When Jesus builds us up, He expects us to respond by building others up. The type of relational oneness that Jesus and the Father want with us is the same type of oneness we should want to have with others in God’s family. Even the crown of victory we’re promised after faithfully completing our mortal lives is linked with other people who are also living lives of faith. Our individual lives with God are inescapably contextualized by our relationships within His church.

Carrying Others’ Glory

If we’re going to follow Jesus’s example, then we need to spend a lot of time focused on helping other people toward a good outcome. Paul says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, NET). The word translated “burdens” here is baros (βάρος), the same Greek word that’s translated “weight” in this verse: “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17, NET). I suspect C.S. Lewis was connecting these two scriptures when he spoke of our neighbor’s glory in a sermon from 1941.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 8

I often think about this sermon, and this passage in particular. We know that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and as a result “whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15; John 3:16). God deeply desires for all people to know the truth, repent, follow Him, and receive salvation (1 Tim. 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If we want to be like God, then we should deeply desire that as well. We need to remember that the people all around us have the same glorious potential that God grants to us.

So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.

Galatians 6:9-10, NET

We’re supposed to be doing good to other people. God never intended for there to be quarreling, backbiting, pettiness, and rivalries among His people. We’re supposed to care so much about other people, especially those in “the family of faith,” that we’ll carry their burdens and shoulder the weight of their glory along with our own.

Image of people in a circle holding hands overlaid with text from Colossians 3:12-14, NET version:   “Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do. Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection.”
Image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock

Build Others Up First

In 1 Corinthians, Paul counsels his readers to “flee from idolatry” in the context of whether or not they should eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul answers that specific question like this: you’re free to eat the meat as long as you’re not participating in idol worship and thereby having dinner with demons (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33). But Paul also points out there’s a much deeper issue here. The question is about an individual choice, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as the question of how the choice to eat this meat affects other people.

With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. … With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.”  …

But this knowledge is not shared by all. … be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 

1 Corinthians 8:1-2, 4, 7, 9-12, NET

Paul shifts the conversation. The most important thing here isn’t whether you have the freedom to eat the meat sold in the market place without asking about its backstory. The thing you need to worry about it how your choice affects other people in the family of faith.

“Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.  … So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in all things. I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-33, NET

I’m a Star Trek fan, so this makes me think of Spock’s statement that “The good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” That’s the attitude Paul is describing here. What does it matter whether you get to eat meat in the grand scheme of other people’s salvation? If you decide to do something because it’s technically allowed, even though you know it’s going to hurt someone else who might be “weaker” in the faith, then you’re sinning against Jesus Christ Himself. When we love as God loves, we’ll focus on the things that build other’s up before we focus on our own desires. In fact, just a little later in this same letter, Paul says, “Let all things be done to build each other up ” (1 Cor. 14:26, WEB). We need to make doing good to others the main goal of our actions and interactions, particularly in the church.

Copying Christ’s Attitude

Last week when we were studying the crowns of victory that God promises us for living faithfully, we looked at two verses where Paul describes other people as our glory, joy, and crown (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thes. 2:19-20). This description emphasizes that there’s no competition among believers. Even though our Christian lives are described like an athletic game that we need to strive to win, we’re not competing against other believers but alongside them.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had

Philippians 2:1-5, NET
Image of two people holding hands with the blog's title text and the words "If everything goes according to plan, we'll be spending eternity with other people in God’s family of faith. We can't wait until then to care about them, though. We need to be loving, encouraging, prioritizing, and building each other up now."
Image by Jantanee from Lightstock

Paul goes on to describe Jesus’s attitude as humble, service-oriented, sacrificial, and obedient (Phil. 2:6-11). Just like He and His servants admonish us to do, Jesus built other people up. He put their needs first, whether that meant correcting them sternly or showing unexpectedly generous mercy (Matt 16:22-23; Luke 7:36-48). He even died for all of us. And He expects those who follow Him to be similarly humble, forgiving, service-oriented, and sacrificial (Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:12-13; 1 John 3:16).

He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, NET

Notice that while Paul charges his readers to encourage and build each other up, he also points out they’re already doing this. We might already be doing this as well, but a reminder is always good to help us continue doing the right thing. Supporting others in God’s family is important enough that even if we’re already doing it, we need reminders of it’s importance.

If we’ve stopped encouraging and building each other up–for example, started avoiding some people at church because we don’t like them–then we can take Paul’s words here as a nudge to get back on track. There will be people in God’s family and our local church groups we don’t get along with very well. There may even be some that, in extreme cases, we need to stop associating with for our mental or spiritual health (Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thes. 3:6-14). However, that’s the exception rather than the rule. God’s intention and command is for us to live in peace with others in the church and invest in good relationships with them.

 Let’s consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25, WEB

Nearly two thousand years ago, the apostle John wrote, “Little children, these are the end times” (1 John 2:18, WEB). That was true then, and we’re even closer now. This makes the admonition in Hebrews to assemble together and encourage each other as the Day of the Lord approaches even more urgent. (Of course, this includes the caveat, “if it’s possible to assemble;” health problems, location, and persecution can make assembly in person very difficult or impossible for some of us.)

If we can get together with other believers and participate in a church group, though, we should. We simply don’t have time to waste bickering, competing, or holding petty things against each other. We need to forgive, to encourage, to show love when we speak truth, and build each other up. And we ought to enjoy spending time together. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be spending eternity with these people. That thought should make us excited–it’s what Jesus and the Father want, and it’s what we should want as well.


Featured image by Ben White from Lightstock

The Crown of Victory

What do you think of when you think “crown”?

Probably a gold circlet that rulers wear on top of their heads, possibly very elaborate and adored with gemstones. Or maybe you think of the crown, or top, of your head. You might think of it as a verb, too, in the sense of crowning someone when they ascend to a throne.

I’m guessing a victory laurel wasn’t the first thing you thought of. We don’t give winners in the Olympic games laurel crowns any more; we give them gold, silver, and bronze medals. Back in New Testament Bible times, though, when someone read the Greek word typically translated as “crown” they were just as likely to think of victory as authority.

That changes things a little, doesn’t it? When Paul talks about us earning a crown, he’s likely talking about victory rather than ruling power. When Jesus warns in Revelation, “Let no one take your crown,” He’s not talking about them stealing the crown jewels but robbing us of victory. When the soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus, it’s a mockery of the authority and victory that He claimed, which ironically turned into a symbol for both.

What actually is a crown?

The word translated “crown” throughout the New Testament “refers to a wreath … worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office” (NET footnote on Rev. 3:11). This word stephanos (στέφανος) is both “a mark of royal or (in general) exalted rank” and “the wreath or garland which was given as a prize to victors in public games” (Thayer’s dictionary, G4735). While the royal imagery is included as part of the definition, in Classical Greek it was “not used of the kingly crown but of the crown of victory in games, of civic worth, military valor, nuptial joy, [and] festival gladness” (Zodhiates’s dictionary, G4735).

There were a few other words that Greek writers could have used for a similar idea. Stemma (στέμμα) comes from the same root as stephanos and means pretty much the same thing, but it only shows up once in the Bible (Acts 14:13, “garlands”). Diadema (διάδημα) is “a symbol of royal dignity,” but was more of a headband than a crown (Zodhiates, G1238). That word, diadema, appears in the Bible, but only in Revelation to refer to crowns worn by the dragon, the beast, and the triumphantly returning Jesus (Rev. 12:3; 13:1; 19:12). Korona (κορώνη) is where we get the modern word “crown,” but it doesn’t appear in the Bible. In contrast, stephanos appears 18 times in the New Testament, making it by far the most common word for “crown.” Here’s one of the passages where it’s used:

For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. Instead someone testified somewhere:

What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him?
You made him lower than the angels for a little while.
You crowned him with glory and honor.
You put all things under his control.”

For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

Hebrews 2:5-9, NET, bold italics a quotation from Psalm 8

Here, we see both the authority and victory meanings of stephanos. God granted to human beings a certain amount of authority at creation, but the one with all authority is Jesus Christ. He is also the one who gained victory by His suffering, earning a crown of glory and honor. And because He earned that crown, there’s an assurance that we can follow right along after Him and get a crown for ourselves.

Image of a leafy crown hanging from a fence post overlaid with text from Rev. 3:11-12, NET version:  “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it.”
Featured image by Pexels from Pixabay

Competition and Reward

Because crowns were awarded to victors in athletic games, Paul uses the word “crown” when talking about our Christian life as a competition. We’re “competitors” who “strive in the games” like athletes (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 2:5). It’s not a competition where there’s only one winner, though–it’s more like the sort of thing where all who reach the goal are counted winners. We’re not “in competition” with other people, especially not other believers. But we are striving toward a victory.

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.

So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NET

The word translated “competitor” here is agonizomai (ἀγωνίζομαι). It literally means “to contend for victory in the public games,” but it also took on a more figurative meaning: “straining every nerve to the uttermost towards the goal” (Zodhiates, G75). That’s the level of commitment we’re all supposed to have to following Jesus. And, as James points out, when we strive faithfully there is certainty of a reward at the end.

Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.

James 1:12, NET

This is a promise. If you compete well–in other words, strive faithfully to follow God–He will be faithful to give you the victor’s reward. Similarly, Peter tells leaders in the church that if they’re faithful and humble, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away” (1 Pet. 5:1-6, NET). In the letter to the church in Smyrna, Jesus promises, “Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself” (Rev. 4:10, NET). By the end of his life even Paul, who wrote about exercising rigorous self-discipline lest he be “disqualified,” knew for certain that the Lord would give him (and others) a crown of victory.

Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:8, NET

You Are Our Crown

There’s one more way that Paul uses the word “crown” in his New Testament writings.

So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends!

Philippians 4:1, NET

For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? For you are our glory and joy!

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, NET

If we still thought competing for the victory might imply some competition between believers, this should put that idea to rest. Paul calls his brothers and sisters in Christ his joy, crown, and glory! We’re not all Paul, of course, but I think we can relate to this statement as well (particularly since he says “our” in Thessalonians). This isn’t a statement only Paul can make; our fellow believers can (and should!) be a source of joy, victory, and glory to all of us.

I’ve thought about our Christian life as a battle before (I am, after all, working on final edits for my next study guide, The Armor of God). But I’d never thought about our relationships with other believers being connected with the crown of victory promised to those following Jesus Christ and God the Father. It’s a fascinating thought, and it ties us right back again to the post I wrote a couple weeks ago about the weight of glory and the connection C.S. Lewis drew between our glory and our neighbors. If we’re carrying each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) and shouldering the weight of our neighbors’ glory (Lewis), then it makes sense we’d celebrate them as part of the anticipated victory.

Our future in God’s kingdom will involve a certain amount of authority, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the ultimate authority of the Father. We will, after all, judge angels and serve as priests (1 Cor. 6:2-4; Rev. 1: 6). But the focus now and in the future isn’t on our authority; it’s on service (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:10-12). Even the crowns we’re promised are symbols of victory and gladness more than symbols pointing out we’re in charge. It’s a humbling thing to think about, and also a joyful one. I imagine Jesus and the Father eagerly awaiting a celebration, wanting to welcome us into the family and crown us as victors who followed in Jesus’s footsteps to overcome the world. And I pray we’ll all be there together in glory and joy. Keep striving for victory! Let no one take your crown.


Featured image by James Chan from Pixabay

Building People Up in Christ

I like building things. I built a small table for my houseplants last year, and I enjoy the times I’ve bought furniture from somewhere like Ikea where it comes in a box and I have to put it all together. There’s something satisfying about taking a bunch of pieces that don’t seem like much on their own and putting them together into something useful and attractive.

God likes building things too. At least, I assume He does based on the satisfaction He expressed after creating the universe and the ongoing pleasure He takes in creation. He also talks about His work with His people as a type of building, and He invites us to join Him in building each other up.

Building Words

I started thinking about this topic while looking up some of the Greek words Peter uses when talking about what “the God of all grace” will personally do for us. Here’s that verse:

And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you

1 Peter 5:10, NET

As I looked up the Greek words translated here as “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish,” it seemed like they could all be used when building something. I wanted to dig into this a little more and see if my hunch was correct.

  • Restore–G2675, kataritizo. This word means to make something “sound” or “complete,” often in the sense of “repair” or “frame for one’s self” (Thayer). It’s not specifically used for building a structure, but “the fundamental meaning is to put a thing in its appropriate condition, to establish, set up, equip, arrange, prepare, mend” (Zodhiates). It’s used for things like mending nets (Matt. 4:21) and God “framing” the world (Heb. 11:3). Paul also uses this word when talking about church unity (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11).
  • Confirm–G4741, sterizo. This word means “to make stable, place firmly … strengthen” (Thayer) and to permanently fix something in place (Zodhiates). Some translations equate it to the English word “establish” (Rom. 1:11; 1 Thes. 3:2, 13). Reading the dictionary definitions and how it’s used in scripture makes me think “stabilize” could also be a reasonable translation as well.
  • Strengthen–G4599, sthenoo. This word means “to make strong, strengthen” (Thayer) and it is only used in 1 Peter 5:10 (Zodhiates). The opposite, asthenes, means “weak” or “sick” (Mark 14:38; Luke 10:9; Rom 5:6).
  • Establish–G2311, themelioo. This word does have to do with building things. It means “to lay the foundation … to make stable” (Thayer). It can be a foundation for anything from a house in Christ’s parables (Luke 6:48), to the earth itself (Heb. 1:10), to our lives being grounded in faith and love (Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:23).

So my hunch was partly correct. One of the words has to do with laying a foundation for something you’re going to build and another involves “framing” something appropriately and/or “perfecting” a project. The foundation-laying word’s close relative themelios is also used in this famous building passage:

So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22, WEB

This verse has the Greek words usually used to talk about building houses. Words with oikodomeo as the root word (including epoikodemeo, “being built,” and sunoikodomeo “built together”) all have to do with building and constructing (G3618, Zodhiates). This word is most often used for building houses, but it can also mean to rebuild and metaphorically refers to building people up in much the same way we use that English phrase today.

I like looking into Greek word definitions like this because I think it’s important to understand how the New Testament writers talked about the way God interacts with us. By looking at these words that have to do with building, we deepen our understanding of the constructive work God is doing with His church as a whole and as individuals. He starts from the ground up, laying a sure foundation as He builds His temple. He also makes sure He’s constructing things properly, keeping us stabilized as He works.

Our Involvement In Building

If you read last week’s post, you might remember I quoted C. S. Lewis about the future potential of human beings. He said that we’re all destined either to be glorious children of God or “a horror of corruption” without God. Then he added, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations” (Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”). In other words, we’re always choosing whether we participate in God’s constructive work and build other people up, or if we’re a destructive force in their lives. Additionally, we make the same choice in relation to our own lives.

We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

1 Corinthians 3:9-17, NET

In this lead-up to one of the famous “you are God’s temple” passages, Paul emphasizes the roles people play in building. A teacher like Paul can lay a foundation, but must always remember that they’re really just helping Jesus Christ who is the only real Foundation. And then we all get to build on that foundation, being careful how we build on it for ourselves and when teaching and helping other people to build.

Paul continues using the building analogy later in 1 Corinthians. He tells us to remember, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1, NET). He cautions that even if something is lawful, that doesn’t give us license to go and do it because “not everything builds others up” and building others up should be a priority (1 Cor. 10:23, NET). Even if we’re doing something well, like giving a great prayer in church, it’s useless unless other people understand the language we’re using so the prayer can build them up (1 Cor. 14:4, 17).

For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, NET

Building With Jesus

Image of a building plan sketched out with a pen, along with the blog's title text and the words "God starts from the ground up, laying a sure foundation as He builds His temple. He also makes sure He's 
constructing things properly, keeping us stabilized as He works with us and inside of us."
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

One of the inescapable truths of Christianity is that we can’t do anything on our own. That most definitely includes participating in building God’s temple. Jesus is the foundation for all good efforts to build ourselves or others up. And we don’t just build on Him; we build in Him.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for those who have not met me face to face. My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:1-6, NET

Remember what Paul said in Ephesians: “you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21, NET). We don’t just start with Jesus and then keep going on our own–the whole building project happens in God, “for in him we live and move about and exist” (Acts 17:28, NET). This goes beyond asking, “What would Jesus do?” or thinking about Him walking alongside us. Our whole lives ought to be totally immersed in Him. And when we think about other people in His church, we should think of them as likewise being part of His body (1 Cor. 12:12-14).

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he will grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ will dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you will be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you will be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21, NET

God has a constructive plan for us. He invites us to be living, breathing, actively involved parts of the building project that He holds dearest–the construction of a family. We’re blessed to be involved in this building, both for ourselves and for our fellow believers. I like reading Paul’s prayers as models for how we ought to pray for others in God’s church. (Also notice that this verse brings us right back to thinking of glory in the people of God’s church, just like we were focused on last week.) Since God cares about building up every part of His church, we ought to care about that as well and focus at least as much on other people’s growth as we do our own.


Featured image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Build My Life” by Pat Barrett

Women Who Speak In Scripture

One of the things I hoped for when I began a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing at a Christian-founded university was that I’d get a chance to study some Biblical rhetoric. This semester, I’m taking classes on Classic and Contemporary rhetoric. In one of them, we read texts by women written during the Renaissance where they used rhetorical strategies to prove that women have a role in teaching scripture.

It was both fascinating (and a little discouraging) to read Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz using the exact same arguments to defend her ability to teach the scriptures in 1691 that I’ve used in the 21st century. I agree with her that when Paul calls for women to remain quite in church (1 Cor 14:34; 1Tim 2:12), his “prohibition applied only to public speech from the pulpit” not to writing or even to teaching (The Rhetorical Tradition, 2nd ed., p. 788). It’s absurd to think that Paul meant women should never speak or teach when he also gives instructions for how and when it’s appropriate for women to pray and prophecy in church (1 Cor. 11:1-16) and since he directly instructs women to teach other women (Titus 2:3).

Stepping away from Paul’s writings for a moment, we see examples of women speaking, leading, and teaching throughout scripture. Deborah, the Queen of Sheba, Abigail, Ester, Rahab, and Hannah are all mentioned by de la Cruz, and she could have added Miriam, Ruth, Huldah, Anna, Philip’s daughters, and Priscilla as well. We also read another text in my class from 1666 written by Margaret Fell–one of the earliest Quakers and a highly influential teacher. She points out that there’s no indication in scripture that the apostles despised or rebuked women like Priscilla for teaching (The Rhetorical Tradition, 3rd ed., p. 860). Furthermore, God Himself said that His daughters would prophesy (Acts 2:14-18), so who are human beings to say women should not speak when they’re inspired by the Lord?

Fell also points out something I hadn’t thought of before. Women’s words are recorded throughout scripture and men often base sermons on their words. Fell accused men in the churches of her day of hypocrisy in this area, saying, “you will make a Trade of Women’s words to get money by, and take Texts, and Preach Sermons upon Womens words; and still cry out, Women must not speak, Women must be silent; so you are far from the minds of the Elders of Israel” (The Rhetorical Tradition, 3rd ed., p.865). Even if ministers today aren’t profiting off their work the same way the priests Fell criticizes were, many will still use Biblical women’s words as a sound foundation for teaching while telling modern women not to teach.

Last week, I wrote about a woman from the Bible named Hannah in my post “What Potential Does God See In You?” She’s one of the women whose example and words–including her recorded prayer–are still used to teach people today. God saw her and regarded her with favor though she was initially judged harshly by the priest. And Hannah is far from being the only example of women whom God takes notice of and whom He gives a key role in His plan. Let’s look at some others today.

Huldah

King Josiah was one of the very few righteous kings in the years following David’s reign over Israel. He became king at just eight years old, and when he was 26 he asked his scribe to make sure the priests had the funds needed to repair the temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 22; 2 Chr. 34). While working in the temple, the priests found a book of the Law. They read it to Josiah, and he tore his clothes in grief when he realized how badly his nation had strayed from following God. He told his advisers, “Go inquire of Yahweh for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found.”

So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the second quarter); and they talked with her.

She said to them, “Yahweh the God of Israel says, ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, “Yahweh says, ‘Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.’” But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Yahweh, tell him, “Yahweh the God of Israel says, ‘Concerning the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before Yahweh, when you heard what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard you,’ says Yahweh. ‘Therefore behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.’”

2 Kings 22:14-20, WEB

Though this group included the high priest, he didn’t ask God for advice directly. Prophets and priests had different roles–the priests served in the temple and a prophet or prophetess delivered God’s messages to people. At this time, the go-to person for making inquiries of God was a prophetess named Huldah. She delivered God’s message, and King Josiah listened (2 Kings 23:1-30). There was no question of whether or not God could speak through her because she was a woman; He simply did, and that was that.

Priscilla

The first time in the Bible that we hear of Priscilla and her husband Aquilia is when Paul went to Corinth (Acts 18). They were tentmakers like Paul, and so he stayed with them to practice his trade while he preached Jesus Christ. When Paul left, Priscilla and Aquilia went with him to Caesarea. They stayed in that region while Paul went on to preach in Galatia, and they were there in the city of Ephesus when Apollos showed up.

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Acts 18:24-26, WEB

Here, both Priscilla and Aquilia explained the way of God. She was teaching alongside her husband. In his letters, Paul sends greetings to them both and describes them as his “fellow workers” (Rom. 16:3-4; 1 Co. 16:19-20; 2 Tim. 4:19). Not once does he tell Priscilla to stay silent or stop teaching and let her husband do all the talking. That’s particularly worth noting because sometimes people will argue that Paul’s instruction for women to be silent applies only to wives (the Greek word could be translated either way), but both Priscilla and Huldah were married when they acted as teacher and prophetess. The more evidence we look at, the clearer it becomes that silence for women is situational (e.g. they shouldn’t disrupt church services, and typically don’t hold public/authority roles in the church).

Thoughts for Further Study

There are so many more examples we could look at. We could go to Exodus 15 where Moses’s sister Miriam is called a prophetess. We could turn to Judges 4-5 and read about Deborah the prophetess, a judge and leader of Israel. We can read in 1 Samuel 25 of how Abigail’s words and actions turned King David away from vengeance. Or we could travel in the New Testament to Luke 2 where Anna the prophetess proclaims Jesus to those looking for redemption. Then we could go to Acts and read about Philip’s four daughters who prophesied. We can also look at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans and see how many women he mentions helping forward the gospel including Junia, who is “notable among the apostles,” and Phoebe who is “a servant of the church in Cenchrea” (the word translated “servant” is the same as the one translated “deacon” in 1 Tim. 3).

One of the things I appreciated about both Sor Juana’s and Margaret Fell’s writings is that they were careful about how they used scripture. Rather than saying Paul was wrong or that his words could be dismissed as outdated, they argued from scriptures that Paul’s letters were misinterpreted. That misinterpretation led to hundreds of years of women needing to fight for the roles in modern churches which God already gave us in His Bible. Thankfully, women are far more fully involved churches today than they were several centuries ago. Even so, I still occasionally hear things like, “Is it okay for you to have a blog where you’re teaching? Women shouldn’t do that, you know.”

There are ways that God has different roles for men and women to play (see, for example, Paul’s words on how marriage pictures Christ and the church). This includes some differences in how they serve in the church. Women in the Old Testament didn’t serve as priests in the temple, but they did serve as prophetesses and they continued that role into the New Testament. And while we don’t see women spoken of as pastors or church leaders in the New Testament, they are clearly serving in the congregations and sharing the gospel. It makes sense that there’d be plenty of areas where our serving roles overlap. We’re all children of God and we’re all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28). God pours out His spirit on all of us alike, and gives us gifts and roles to serve and build up the church congregations (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 12).

Women have always been closely involved in God’s church and in His plan. They prayed, taught, sang, preached, and followed Jesus. In His time here on earth, He interacted with women as equals in a way that shocked His disciples (John 4:27). He included women in the gospel and pointed out that their actions should be recorded (Mark 14:3-9, for example). Women traveled with Him during His ministry, and they’re the ones He appeared to first after His resurrection and entrusted with taking the news to His disciples (click here to read that account across gospels). In Acts, women and men both received the gospel, got baptized, and endured persecutions together (Acts 5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:1-2; 17:4, 12). God even uses feminine imagery for the church as a whole, calling it calling it a Bride fully involved in serving alongside her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. He doesn’t have a problem with women being fully involved in His church; He thinks it’s a good thing.

Featured image by Ben White from Lightstock

Why Millennials Might Feel Alone In Their Churches

I had a strange moment at church several weeks ago. As I was sitting at a table fellowshipping after services and looked around, it hit me that I was the only person in my 30s in the whole room. That day, there wasn’t anyone there in their 40s, either. The 50-and-older and younger-than-30 age groups are well represented in my congregation, but there’s a whole generation that’s missing.

Technically, I suppose we do have some younger millennials and older Gen Xers, so it’s more like two halves of two generations. But there’s a whole two decades’ worth of people that’s represented by just a few people. I can find people my age and a little older if I travel to other congregations across the country, but it still seems like a pretty small number. And from what I’ve heard talking with people in other church groups and denominations, low numbers of Millennials and Gen X in Christian churches is fairly common. If you’re a Millennial who feels alone in your church, there’s a good chance it’s (at least in part) because you’re the only person there in your age-range.

Of course, I already knew that I’m the only person in my congregation in my 30s before that moment a few weeks ago. And I don’t really feel “alone” because I have great relationships with other people in the congregation who are younger than me or who are my parents’ age. But this time, I started to dwell on the idea of being the only one here since I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful that weekend (as I shared a couple weeks ago, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression again). I started worrying about whether or not my church group would vanish some day, decades from now, as the older people grew older and younger people moved away. I wondered if the younger people who are here would be ready and able (and if there’s enough of us) to step-in and take over service roles in the church in the years going forward as the people in their 50s, 60s, and older need or want to cut-back on their responsibilities. I started feeling sorry for myself, thinking about how this is one of the reasons I’m still single.

I journaled about these thoughts and mentioned them to my counselor, who reminded me this isn’t an uncommon thing to see when looking at Christian groups today. As I started writing this blog post, I did a little more digging into the numbers of Millennials and Generation X in churches. I found that a Pew research study in 2014 reported the number of people who say that religion is important to their life drops as the generations get younger. The younger the generation, the less likely they are to identify as Christian, believe in God, or place a high priority on any religion (click here for more info).

Image from PewForum.org

A more recent worldview survey released in 2021 by Arizona Christian University reported that “Millennials Seek a Nation Without God, Bible and Churches” (click here to read). Though 57% of Millennials (which this survey defines as those born between 1985 and 2002) identify as Christians, the report also noted that only 16% “can be classified as born-again Christians based on their beliefs about personal salvation.” This report also reminds readers that what’s going on with Millennials is continuing a trend away from belief in the Bible and God that began gaining ground with Gen X. It’s definitely a trend I’ve noticed among my Millennial peers and Generation Z as I interact with them at university.

My counselor is the one who suggested I blog about all this rather than keeping it just in my journal. It’s a relatable topic, since there are so many Christians in their 40s, 30s, and younger who feel like I did when they look around their churches. There just aren’t that many of us here. I’m not sure what the right word for this feeling is. “Lonely” or “alone” doesn’t seem to fit because we can still have great relationships with people older than and younger than us. No one in a healthy church ever needs to be alone since the church can provide a community and support system (though of course we can still feel lonely even when surrounded by people we genuinely like). “Underrepresented” is probably closer to what Millennials in the church face, but it seems a little odd to use in this context; as if Churches should recruit based on age rather than welcoming all faithful believers who are called by God.

As I’ve been working through my most recent struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve been asking questions about my thoughts. Questions like “Is this helpful or useful?” and “Is this encouraging?” Musing on how lonely or underrepresented I could feel isn’t either of those things. But is there something helpful or useful that could come from thinking about the dwindling number of faithful people as we look at more recent generations? Perhaps there is.

I think it’s useful to acknowledge that people from certain age groups are less common in the churches for a few reasons. Firstly, it helps those of us in that age group know why we feel like there aren’t very many of us in the churches, and lets us know we’re not alone in that feeling. Knowing which generations seem less interested in and committed to faith also gives us a chance as churches to examine ourselves. The diminishing numbers of younger people is likely a sign of the increasing secularity of the world as we draw closer to the time of Jesus’s return. Even with that being the case, we should still see if there’s anything we ought to change and improve in order to be more faithful and therefore a better environment for new people (of all ages) whom God is calling. To give a few possible examples, we might guard more closely against hypocrisy, embrace enthusiastic worship services, preach a stronger message of personal responsibility, or show how meaningful a life of faith can be.

Ultimately, we can’t force people into churches to fill some kind of quota we set up in our minds. God the Father is the one who calls people, though we do get to participate in sharing the gospel. Prayer is the best thing we can do in response to worries, questions, or loneliness related to the decreasing interest in faith among young people or our feelings of being alone in our churches. We can pray that each of us, as individuals and as parts of church communities, be drawn into closer and more meaningful relationships with each other and God. We can pray for the gospel to reach more young people and touch their hearts. And if we are feeling lonely, we need to be praying about that as well. One of David’s psalms says, “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6, WEB), and He can do that for each of us.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Are there any generations that seem to be “missing” from your church group? Or maybe you’re part of a group that does have a lot of people in their 40s, 30s, and younger and you’d like to share what that’s like. Let’s discuss in the comments!

Featured image by Anggie from Lightstock

Psalm 133: Unity Like Oil and Dew

Psalm 133 is a beautiful passage of scripture. It’s always been one that puzzles me, though. I like metaphor and poetic imagery, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn from the analogy used in this psalm. It’s short, so I’ll quote the whole thing here:

Look! How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers truly live in unity.
It is like fine oil poured on the head,
which flows down the beard—
Aaron’s beard,
and then flows down his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which flows down upon the hills of Zion.
Indeed, that is where the Lord has decreed
a blessing will be available—eternal life.

Psalm 133:1-3, NET

The dew and oil analogies are linked by the word “flow.” There is something about unity among brothers that is like the way anointing oil flowed over a priest or dew flows down a mountain. I spent the past week studying this, and here’s what I’ve found so far. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this psalm in the comments!

Oil

The anointing that this psalm speaks of is recorded in Leviticus 8 and Exodus 29, though only the Leviticus passage records the oil being poured rather than just sprinkled (Ex. 29:1, 4, 21; Lev. 8:1-2, 20).

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. … He then poured some of the anointing oil on the head of Aaron and anointed him to consecrate him.

Leviticus 9:10, 12 NET

In this context, oil is used for consecration; to put something or someone “into the realm of God’s holy things” (NET footnote on Lev. 8:10). That’s what’s happening in the scene that David described when he was explaining true unity among brothers. The “brothers” in this psalm could refer siblings, of course, but in scripture “brothers” tends to be a phrase used to describe a group of people connected by belief in God (see, for example, Acts 2:29, 37; Rom 12:1; James 5:7-12). The familial unity we’re looking for here operates on a physical and a spiritual level.

Unity among physical and spiritual family members is connected to holiness and to priesthood. Indeed, Peter tells the New Testament church that God is building all of us up together “to be a holy priesthood” and that we are chosen as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). God wants us to be holy, to be united, and to be part of His “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

Dew

When David talks about the “dew of Hermon,” geographically he’s referring to Mount Hermon located in “the distant north” relative to “the hills of Zion” (NET footnote on Ps 133:3). Typically, Mount Hermon is used in the Bible as a landmark (Deut. 3:8-9; Josh. 11:3, 17; 1 Chr. 5:23) and we don’t have much information about why David chose it as the mountain to mention in this Psalm. Given Mount Hermon’s location, it’s unlikely that dew which formed there would make it to Zion. This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle.

Thankfully for us, David gives us a clue how we’re supposed to interpret dew in this passage by saying the locations he mentions are “where the Lord has decreed a blessing will be available.” Connecting dew (an important source of water for plants and animals, and by extension people) with blessing is fairly common in scripture (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:13; Zech. 8:12). Conversely, holding back dew was a punishment (2 Sam. 1:21; 1 Kings 17:1; Hag. 1:9-10).

Your dead will come back to life;
your corpses will rise up.
Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground!
For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew,
and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits.

Isaiah 26:19, NET

As we can see in this and the other scriptures I linked to, dew is connected with blessings and growth. God even promises to “be like the dew to Israel;” healing and helping them grow and thrive (Hos. 14:4-6, NET). Unity fits into all this as well, helping the blessings that God gives like dew to flow out to more and more people.

Blessings that Flow

The blessings that come from brothers living together in unity don’t just stay in one relationship, or one family, or even one church group. They flow and spread like consecrating oil and growth-enabling dew. Unity is a good, excellent, valuable (H2896, tob), pleasant, delightful, and sweet (H5273, na’iym). It’s something precious; something which we grow into.

to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4:12-13, NET

We ought to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thes. 3:12, NET. Also Phil. 1:9). Like the holiness of a priest ought to result in service to the congregation and the dew which waters the ground ought to result in growth, so ought the relationships between believers result in unity, peace, and love that grows and spreads.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay