Are You Spiritually Minded Yet?

One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.

Disunity is Ridiculous

Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)

Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.

The Mind of Christ

When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us. Read more

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The Importance Of Genuine Love

Loving other people can be hard. I mean have you met people? Try to have relationship with them and you find out they’re flawed, messy, and might hurt you. Sure they can also be encouraging, positive, and fill your life with joy, but they’re not like that all the time.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just have a relationship with God and not deal with other people, at least the ones that are hard to love? It seems like a nice idea to some. “Just me and Jesus,” they say and think that’s all they need.

But that’s not how God means for His church to function. He wants an individual relationship with you, yes, but He also wants you to be part of a church that He collectively describes as the body of Christ and the temple of God. And He expects you to love everyone in that church even when it’s hard.

Because God Is Love

If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21, WEB)

Those of us who claim to love God have to love the people around us as well. If we don’t love others it proves that we don’t really love God. The reason for this statement is clarified earlier in John’s letter:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, WEB)

Being born into God’s family and having a relationship with Him changes us. When we know the God of love, we learn to love as He does. If we can’t or won’t love other people the way God does, then we don’t really understand Him and haven’t really been born of God. Read more

When God Gives You Something You Can’t Handle

Have you ever heard a Christian say that God won’t give you something you can’t handle? It’s a nice, cozy idea in theory but it quickly clashes with real life.

What about my two Christian friends who committed suicide? Should they have been able to “handle” it according to this reasoning? And what about all the families I know who are reeling in the wake of unanswered prayers for a child who died? Are they being punished because God knows they can “handle” such a tragic trial? Or what about my personal battle with anxiety and depression? Am I failing to “handle it” when I turn to a counselor for help?

While the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle is taken from a scripture (1 Cor. 10:13), that’s not what that scripture actually says. Church people have twisted this verse into a feel-good platitude when there’s a lot more going on.

A Promise For Help And Protection

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In this part of 1 Corinthians, Paul is talking about what we can learn from Israel’s history. He talks about how Christ interacted with the ancient Israelites, the ways they displeased and tempted God, and the punishments they received (1 Cor. 10:1-10). Then he writes,

Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.

No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Cor. 10:11-14, WEB)

The Greek word translated “temptation” is peirasmos (G3986). It means a trial or “putting to the test” of a person’s character. When used of God, it means proving someone by bringing them “through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him.” When used of the devil, it means he’s soliciting someone to sin for the purpose of making them fall (Zodhiates’ Complete WordStudy Dictionary of the NT).

In context, the verse we’re talking about isn’t a promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle on your own. It’s a promise that He won’t let you be in a situation where your fall into sin becomes inevitable. He never sets us up to fail. Read more

Becoming One Flesh With Jesus Christ

Today’s post is something of a continuation to last week’s post, The Bridegroom’s Pledge. As Jesus Christ’s bride, the church is supposed to be getting ready for a marriage that will take place when He returns. If this were a human wedding, preparations for it would include things like picking a date and venue, mailing out invitations, and hiring a caterer. But none of those things are any use in preparing for a wedding to Jesus. He needs us to focus on something different, something that will strengthen a relationship He intends to last into eternity.

Diversity In Oneness

He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the church; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh.” This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the church. (Eph. 5:28-32, WEB)

In these verses, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about the husband and wife becoming one flesh. The Hebrew word for “one” is echad (H259). It’s the same word use in the Shema: “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one” (Deut. 6:4, WEB).

While echad can mean the number one, in these verses “It stresses unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness” (TWOT entry 61). A husband and wife don’t literally merge into a single being. And God (Elohim) consists of two Beings. But they can be called one because they’re united. That’s the sort of relationship we’re supposed to be developing with Christ. Read more

The Bridegroom’s Pledge

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.

Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.

A Promise To Come Back

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The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).

In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.

A Gift For The Bride

When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost. Read more

You’re Not “A Temple of God.” You’re Part of The Temple Of God

We’ve probably all heard that Christianity is about your individual relationship with Jesus. I’ve said that myself. But while God is very much concerned with the state of every individual heart and wants a relationship with you, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We get that idea from Western culture, not from scripture.

The Bible is written for all peoples and all cultures. But it was also written by people living in a Middle Eastern society, and those of us in the Western world can miss some things Biblical writers took for granted. It rarely occurs to us that Americanized Christianity might not be the same thing as Biblical Christianity, but our culture does color how we read the Bible and in some cases it leads to inaccurate assumptions.

When I was reading Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, one of the misconceptions that really stuck with me had to do with the verses about spiritual temples. We tend to read the verses that say “you are a temple of God” and think the “you” is singular” and treat “temple” as plural, assuming that we are each one of God’s temples. But we’re wrong.

Confusion of Plurals

There are three passages where Paul talks with the Corinthians about them being God’s temple. They’re 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; and 2 Cor. 6:16. Richards and O’Brian only talk about one of these, but I checked the others in the Greek and their point holds true for all three. They write,

Biblical Greek could differentiate between you singular and you plural, but we miss this in our English translations. … We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy spirit. God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the spirit (p. 108)

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