Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.

 

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wisdom from the Lord

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Proverbs 9:10-12

Wisdom in scripture is all about life. It is taking scripture as God’s written word, and particularly our relationship with God, and through that, our relationship with others quite seriously. Proverbs may be the marquee wisdom book of scripture to read, but we need all of scripture. And particularly we need to begin to understand the fulfillment of wisdom, Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Jesus and him crucified is called the power and wisdom of God, and Jesus is said to be wisdom from God for us, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption, so that our boasting can be only in him (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

So wisdom is really all about life. It is where the rubber meets the road, right where we live, no less. It is not theoretical, but practical, down to earth.

We need to take it particularly serious as it’s given to us in all of scripture, and particularly as it’s fulfilled in Jesus himself. That means we have to walk lightly with consideration and thought over our ways. Taking care that we give wisdom in our lives not just lip service, but the place it deserves. Remembering that wisdom itself is fulfilled in a person: Jesus. And that we are in him. So that it is both given to us in scripture, and as close as the breath that we breathe, by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

temptation to doubt God and God’s word

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Genesis 3

A basic problem Christians and just people in general face is the temptation to not really believe what God says. Christians and surely others will have some kind of belief or faith in God, but they don’t really take what God’s word says seriously. Maybe they don’t listen, or it just seems too good to be true, and not real to life. I should say we, because I face the same struggles, temptations, and at times, just plain blindness, and frankly the darkness which comes with that.

In the story of early humankind, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the serpent either inhabited by the devil, or else simply the devil himself, disrupts everything by putting into question God’s word, and thereby God’s character in terms of goodness, as well. God’s prohibition I think was a heads up not to succumb to the temptation to be independent of him, God dealing with the basic temptation he knew humankind would face. Eve listened, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then Adam her husband followed. And they were driven out of the garden, out of shalom, because of this act of disobedience. And lacking that basic faith in God, humankind has been in dire straits ever since.

And now we follow in their train doing the same thing over and over again, and inclined to keep doing it. And that’s true even after we come to faith in Christ. Romans 7 talks about indwelling sin, and apart from grace and the Spirit, under the law, that sin inclines us entirely in the direction of going our own way rather than in the way of God’s will, his good, loving intention for us. But the gospel in Jesus by his death sets us entirely into a new possibility bringing forgiveness and new life with the beginning of the new creation which is to be fulfilled when the new heavens and earth become one at Jesus’s return.

I am still so tempted time and again to doubt God and God’s word, but in ways that are surely subtle and not readily obvious. It’s like sometimes that God and God’s word is not relevant in the discussion or consideration of real life. But that’s the problem: we are so used to living apart from God and God’s will. That’s like second nature to us. And when it comes right down to it, we even can doubt God’s goodness and the gospel.

We need to return again and again to scripture, and especially the fulfillment of it in Jesus and his death and resurrection. And see that God’s commitment to us is one of complete love, that what he gives to us in creation now broken because of “the fall,” he wants to restore in the new creation completely with much more. Into a full, complete relationship with him by the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus.

The good news in Jesus is the heart of this. And Jesus’s death and the life that comes out from that is at the heart of that good news/gospel, taking us back once more to God as God really is. The God we can entrust our lives too, the lives of our loved ones, and indeed even the world itself. Believing fully in that God, and learning to rest in him and his word in and through Jesus.

grace is the answer, period (in Jesus, of course)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Much much Christianity, I’ve seen over the years. And grace has been sprinkled on all of that. First though, it would be good to give a definition or description of grace. Grace is God’s gift and favor to those who don’t deserve it, and could never earn it. Back to the original thought: Christianity is New Testament Christianity insofar as it is imbued with grace. And to understand that, we need to contrast it the same way the New Testament itself contrasts it: with law.

The law condemns us, because none of us lives up to its demands, or even can do so. The law ultimately points us to our need for a Savior. And that’s where God’s grace come in through Jesus and the cross, Jesus’s death. It is on the basis of Jesus’s death, by that and that alone by which we can be saved. And that is God’s gift of grace to us received by us through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And as the Titus passage above makes clear along with the Ephesians 2 passage, that opens us up to a new life. But grace alone is the means to forgiveness and new life in and through Jesus.

Jesus, or Moses?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:17

Law and grace is a theological theme from scripture. It is interesting how both John in John’s gospel account, and Paul handle this theme (see Paul’s treatment in Romans 7 for one example of his teaching on it).

The Law/Torah ends up being preparatory for the grace that would follow in Jesus. Essentially the Law is both directive, put in place for a new nation, Israel, certainly for individuals as well as the nation as a whole, and the Law was the means of convicting the people of their sin, that they are sinners, and thus the preparation needed for people to receive the needed salvation in Jesus. So the Law is important in its function and place. Another example from Paul, the Law a temporary guardian/disciplinarian to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), and see the entire book of Galatians.

We may think this is not an issue for us today. After all, aren’t we Christians, and not Jews? How could we be followers of Moses rather than Christ? Inadvertently so, I’m afraid. It’s our tendency to think that the answer is to know more and do more, and that’s essentially the effect of the Law front and center. And again, it’s needed in its place to convict us as sinners (Romans 3:20).

This is a big subject, a glimpse of it here, hopefully. Christ brings the grace and truth which Moses evidently didn’t and indeed couldn’t. Truth follows grace, which I think is a hint that what we’re talking about is more than truth as knowledge, but truth in life, ultimately found in Jesus himself (John 14:6) and yes, in his death. By his death we die as well, so that our salvation not only from, but to and for is begun only in and through Jesus.

scripture is God’s written word, and the means to an end, not the end itself

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

Genesis 1:6-8

can you join him in spreading out the skies,
    hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

Job 37:18

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

First of all, it’s not important what I think, and my own thoughts can’t be ascribed to others I’m associated with, like Our Daily Bread Ministries where I gladly do factory work, among other things, helping finish the Our Daily Bread devotionals for mailings. At the same time, I ought to do so with not only an awareness of the church at large, but the realization that it’s what the church believes which determines what we believe as individuals. God doesn’t guide individuals as to the doctrine or meaning of scripture and the gospel, but in actuality, the entire church, and individuals from that.

That said, I want to make a point which I believe to be true regardless of what differences we do have when it comes to the doctrine of scripture. Scripture is God’s word written, pointing to God’s Word, Jesus. The entire point of scripture is never in the least an end in itself, but to the end of pointing us and the world to Jesus, and the good news in him:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

The fact that scripture reflects thoughts of the time it was written, like the sky being a solid material substance when we know it is not, doesn’t matter at all (article on that). On all nonessentials not having anything to do with the gospel, the Bible, I believe, is relatively indifferent. That can be tricky, because that doesn’t mean we jettison any of the history of scripture, just because we can’t verify it, or think that what has been verified contradicts the written record. At the same time I am not going to lose sleep myself over the grammar of a biblical writer not being completely up to snuff with the grammar of their time, nor something besides the point seeming to not square with what might be found elsewhere, even in scripture itself.

I’m sure of the few readers who might read this, that a majority might not track with me, and prefer to see scripture as inerrant in every part in its original manuscript, the usual explanation. I hold that there is wisdom to be found in every part, but a wisdom that is always tied to and fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus, and specifically in Jesus crucified. Of course now resurrected as well, with all the promise that brings.

And so I’m becoming more of a gospel-centered person, I take it, rather than a word-centered one, though the word is central to our understanding of that good news. At the same time acknowledging an inherent wisdom found in the word. I trust in and through Jesus, true for us all, in him.