Shining as Lights on Fire for God

If we want light in our homes today, we just have to turn a light switch and the lamp comes on. Back in Bible times, though, a lamp involved fire. You had a container for the oil, a wick to carry that oil, and when the wick was lit the fire gave light. In the familiar parable of the 10 virgins, the reason they needed to have oil was to keep the fires in their lamps burning.

In this parable, 10 virgins take lamps and go out to meet the bridegroom. I assume they were friends of the couple, probably the women who watched with the bride as she waited for her groom to arrive on an unknown day at an unspecified time (in keeping with Jewish tradition). The five foolish virgins took lamps, but not extra oil. The five wise ones had lamps and extra oil. When the bridegroom took longer to arrive than they’d expected, all ten of them fell asleep.

When the shout announcing the bridegroom’s arrival woke them, the wise virgins had enough oil to keep the flames in their lamps burning but the unprepared women’s lamps were going out. In the time it took them to run out and buy more oil, the “bridegroom arrived and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut.” When the other virgins showed up and knocked, they did not get in. They weren’t even recognized (Matt. 25:1-13).

Jesus ends this parable by saying, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.” It’s one of the kingdom of heaven parables (like we talked about last week) which teaches us something about what we must do if we want to be citizens of God’s kingdom. In this case, one thing it teaches is that we need to be prepared, with our lamps burning and properly fueled.

We’re Supposed to Shine Like Lamps

The idea of Jesus’s followers having or being light comes up more than once in the gospels (Matt 5:14-16, to mention one). We’re supposed to shine as lights, having been illuminated by Christ’s light.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness. Therefore see to it that the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part in the dark, it will be as full of light as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

Luke 11:33-36, NET

Jesus’s intention after “lighting” us is not to hide us in a cellar or snuff us out with a basket or bowl (NET footnotes). He wants us visible, shining with His light. Therefore, we need to be constantly watchful to make sure the light in us does not become darkness (the “therefore see to it” instruction is an ongoing, “present imperative” [NET footnote]). Like our eyes take in light to let us see, our minds take in Christ’s word to let us live in His light. Internalizing His words puts light inside us too, so it can shine out. If we internalize other (especially ungodly) things, though, that can change the way we shine. What we let into our eyes, hearts, and lives matters to God and it can affect the way our lamps are burning before Christ’s return.

Fueling our Lamps with the Word

If we want to fill our eyes with light and keep our lamps well fueled, we have a source for light readily available. Whether you use print Bibles, apps, or search online, for most of us in the modern world God’s word is right at our fingertips. The more time we spend with His word, the more exposure we get to the Light.

Your word is a lamp to walk by,
and a light to illumine my path.

Psalm 119: 105, NET

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130, NET

For the commandments are like a lamp,
instruction is like a light

Proverbs 6:23, NET

One of the ways that we fulfill Jesus’s instruction to shine as lights in the world is by internalizing the light that God has given us through His word. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,” so if we want to walk with Him in the light we need to listen to Him (1 John 1:5-7, NET). Getting “dressed for service” and keeping our “lamps burning” as we watch for the Master’s return (Luke 12:35-38) involves filling our minds with God’s commands, instructions, and teachings while asking Him to help us understand His mind through His spirit. It is only by spending time in God’s Light that we can be light (Ps. 36:9; 43:3).

Clothed With Jesus’s Light

When writing his second letter to Timothy, Paul urged him “to rekindle God’s gift” because “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6-7, NET). The spirit in us is like a fire, and we can either stir it up (i.e. rekindle) or let it die down to coals. That’s up to us. God gives us His spirit and His word, but whether or not we are on fire for Him is a choice we get to make.

And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.

Romans 13:11-14, NET

The statement “our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers” is as true for us today as it was for Paul’s first readers. The work God the Father and Jesus began in us will come to completion either with our deaths or at Christ’s return (Phil. 1:6), and that time is getting closer each day. We mustn’t waste any more time before we put off darkness and clothe ourselves instead with the true Light of Jesus Christ (John 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). The more time we spend with Him and becoming like him, the more we will shine as lights on fire for God.

Featured image by Hans Benn from Pixabay

Gleaning Firstfruits

Before getting to today’s topic, I just wanted to mention how much I’ve enjoyed doing an actual count-down this year instead of just putting Pentecost on the calendar. It’s helped me focus my Bible study and kept me in mind of the timing for God’s calender rather than feeling like Pentecost sneaked up on me. Today is the 7th Sabbath in our count, which means Pentecost is tomorrow!

And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. (Lev. 23:15-16)

Though this is one of the easiest Holy Days to see evidence of in the New Testament (largely due to the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts), I think we’ll spend most of our time today in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Ruth.

Lawns of Gleaning

Pentecost, also called the Feast of the Firstfruits/Harvest/Ingathering, is a harvest-time festival. The count to this day begins with a wave-sheaf “of the firstfruits of your harvest,” and the offerings on the day of Pentecost include “two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah” of “fine flour” “baked with leaven” that are described as “the firstfruits to the Lord” (Lev. 23:10, 17). After a lengthy passage of instructions for Pentecost, there is a verse that does not quite seem to fit.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)

This is a repetition of a command also recorded in Leviticus 19:9-10, a command so important to God that He not only gave it twice, but He put one of those commands in the passage describing His most Holy Days. We can get some idea of how this practice works, and perhaps why it is so important, by looking at the book of Ruth.

‘Ruth Gleaning’ watercolor by James Tissot (1896)

There’s a note in my study Bible that says, “by New Testament times” the book of Ruth was being “read at the Feast of Harvest (Pentecost) because much of the story is set in the harvest fields.” It was one of five books “read publicly at the Feasts of Israel.”

I dare say we all know the story. Naomi and her family moved to Moab during a famine in Israel. There, her two sons married. About 10 years later, Naomi’s husband and sons were dead and she returned home to Israel accompanied by her daughter in law, Ruth. We jump into the story as Ruth and Naomi arrive in “Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22).

So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:2-3)

As we read further, we see Boaz went above and beyond what God’s law strictly required a landowner to leave for the poor. He offers Ruth protection and water, and asks her not to glean in any other field where he could not guarantee her safety (Ruth 2:8-9). Behind-the-scenes, he told his reapers to let grain fall for her on purpose and not to stop her if she wanted to glean even among the sheaves of grain (Ruth 2:15-16).

Unmerited Favor

There is much of Christ’s character visible in how Boaz treats Ruth when she first arrives in his field. Like Boaz did for Ruth, Jesus offers us His personal protection. He asks us not to stray from His laws because they are designed to keep us safe from the consequences of sin. He says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). Our response to this unearned favor ought to be much the same as Ruth’s.

So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)

This is much the same question David asked God in Psalms 8:4 and 144:3 — “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Every human is small and insignificant compared to God, and those of us who God has chosen for His particular attention are unimportant even by human standards.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:27-31)

"Gleaning Firstfruits" marissabaker.wordpress.comGod is gleaning His firstfruits from the world’s rejects. He is taking people who are nothing and turning us into something glorious. He is taking strangers — like the Moabite Ruth — and adopting them into His family through Christ’s sacrifice.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. …Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:13, 19)

Our Redeemer

The adoption process by which we become God’s children is, as we discussed last week, linked inseprably to Christ’s redeeming work (Eph. 1:5-7; Rom. 8:23; Gal. 4:3-7). There is a parallel for this as well in the story of Ruth, in the role Boaz plays as a kinsman redeemer.

And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” (Ruth 2:19-20)

My study Bible says this last phrase could be translated “one that hath right to redeem.” We find the basis for the practice of a kinsman redeeming land in Leviticus 25: 25, 48-49. To prevent an inheritance from leaving the family, someone who was closely related, financially able, and willing to fill this role could redeem land that was sold. In some cases, as here in Ruth, when the man who the land originally belonged to had left a childless widow, the redeemer was expected to marry her per the command in Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

We see all this played out in Ruth 4:4-10 where Boaz must offer a more closely related kinsman the opportunity to redeem Naomi’s family’s land and marry Ruth.  This man refuses (which, being the hopeless romantic I am, I suspect was Boaz’s plan all along).

Stepping back a chapter and looking at Ruth’s request that Boaz play the part of a redeemer, we read about a practice that seems rather unusual. Since Naomi counsels this action and Boaz knew how to respond, I assume Ruth asking him to be her family’s redeemer (perhaps even this method of asking) was not considered unusual in their culture. Per Naomi’s instructions, Ruth lies down at Boaz’s feet when he is asleep and waits for him to notice her.

And he said, “Who are you?” So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.” (Ruth 3:9)

Looking at the Hebrew for “wing”, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary for the Old Testament says “the idiom to spread (one’s) wings over means to take to wife.” This same word is used in Ruth 2:12 when Boaz tells Ruth, “The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth is asking Boaz for a type of protection that mirrors the relationship between God and Israel. The comparison is drawn even more strongly reading God’s words to Israel in Ezekiel 16.

“When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God. (Ezk. 16:8)

In the same way, we who are part of the church have been “betrothed you to one husband” — Jesus Christ — and will be married “to Him who was raised from the dead” after He died in order to redeem us (2 Cor. 11:2; Rom. 7:4).

Taken together, the book of Ruth and the Feast of Pentecost teach us about the glorious unmerited favor that God pours out on us. We were strangers like Ruth and were not only invited to partake in what God provides, but cared for deeply and betrothed to His own Son, who gave His life to redeem His firstfruit Bride.

 

What If …

Instead of my usual Bible Study type post for Saturday, I thought I would share a few of the Bible-related thoughts that have been rolling around in my mind lately. It would be awesome if these sparked a discussion in the comments 😉

Green and Blue

What if the sky and oceans are blue and plants are green because those are God’s favorite colors? I know about the scientific explanations for why chlorophyll in plant leaves is green and how the atmosphere scatters blue light, but I’m thinking about when the science behind the colors was created. I’m sure God could have set up the world so it looked purple and orange, or red and yellow, or any other combination of colors.

The really cool thing is, if you Google “Which colors are the most relaxing?” the top results are green and blue. Psychologists, designers, and certain philosophies all agree these are the most calming, peaceful colors. Blue triggers feelings of serenity, lower blood pressure, and people are more productive in a blue room. Green is calming, refreshing, and the easiest color for our eyes to look at. Isn’t it amazing that God surrounds us with colors designed to make us feel better?

Planks in Eyes

Reverendfun.com 01-23-2001What if the parts of the Bible we avoid the most are the parts we need to listen to the closest? Perhaps the verses that make us angry are the ones which should inspire us to search for planks in our eyes (Matt. 7:1-5).

Here’s  a couple examples I’ve been thinking about. The Bible teaches that women are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24), not teach in church(1 Tim. 2:12), and maintain a physical appearance that clearly shows they are women instead of men (Deut. 22:5; 1 Cor. 11:2-15). Perhaps feeling threatened by such verses is a sign that we could be doing better at exercising Godly femininity. Similarly, there are plenty of verses instructing Christians not give the people of God a bad name by resisting human governments (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:17). Yet these verses are often ignored or scoffed at by those in the church who are most vocal politically. It bothers me.

Jesus and the MBTI

For my last “What if …?” I want to talk about a question that has lead several people to my blog recently. Looking at a summary of search terms used, I see “Jesus infj,” “is Jesus an infj?” and “was Jesus an infj.” Since people are ending up on my blog because of this question, I thought I would address it. To me, it seems almost sacrilegious to claim we’ve pinned down Jesus’s personality type. If there was ever anyone who couldn’t be classified or put into a single box, I think it would be Him. If, however, we accept the idea that personality types exist and people can be categorized by them at least loosely, having a specific personality type could have been part of Jesus’s experience when living a human life. With that as our foundation, I think it would be safe to say Jesus is most like the group David Keirsey called “Idealists.” Of this type, Keirsey says in the description on his website,

Idealists (NFs), as a temperament, are passionately concerned with personal growth and development. Idealists strive to discover who they are and how they can become their best possible self — always this quest for self-knowledge and self-improvement drives their imagination. And they want to help others make the journey.

From there, we have four Myers-Briggs types: the Teacher (ENFJ), the Counselor (INFJ), the Champion (ENFP), and the Healer (INFP). Though I’ve read arguments that go back and forth on whether Jesus was an introvert or an extrovert, I’m not going to offer my opinion or try to narrow this down any more.