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Monday, July 30, 2012

Heart, Conscience and Faith...and Food

Heart, Conscience and Faith...and Food

Paul wrote to Timothy, expressing confidence in the young man's genuine faith, urging him to care for the church in Ephesus. Timothy's specific mission would be to oppose some who taught doctrine that was unfaithful to that taught by Jesus, including an unhealthy devotion to mythology and endless genealogies. Paul warned that the heretical teaching would result in an eroding of the church's strong foundation of truth.

Paul saw love as the ultimate goal, for his own ministry as well as for that of Timothy. But he carefully described the quality of that love:

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV)

LOVE: agape (love, affection or benevolence, specially a love-feast); from agapao (to love in a social or moral sense); from agan (much)

PURE HEART: katharos (clean) and kardia (the heart, the thoughts and feelings of the mind)

GOOD CONSCIENCE: agathos (good) and syneidesis (moral consciousness); from syneidon (to see completely, to understand or become aware, to be conscious or informed of); from syn (with or together) and eido (to see, to know)

SINCERE FAITH: anypokritos (undissembled, sincere) and pistis (persuasion, credence, conviction, reliance upon); from a (not) and hypokronomai (to speak or act under a false part, to pretend); from hypo (under) and krino (to distinguish or decide)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What defines a "pure" or "clean" thought? How does a conscience become "good" or "bad"? What outward behavior would be evidence of "pretend faith" in Christ?

Here Paul describes one's conscience as "good". Elsewhere he describes it as "clear":

"I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man." Acts 24:14-16 (ESV)

CLEAR: aproskopos (inoffensive, not leading into sin, faultless); from a (not) and proskopto (to strike at or surge against, to stub on or trip up); from pros (forward to, toward) and kopto (to "chop", to beat the breast in grief)

Paul defines further what makes a conscience "clear":

"It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

"Blameless" is translated from the same word as "clear".

Finally, Paul also describes one's conscience as "pure", using the same word used earlier to describe one's heart:

"I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day." 2 Timothy 1:3 (ESV)

CLEAR: katharos (clean)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Referring to the passages cited from Acts 24 and Philippians 1, what produces a "clear" or "blameless" conscience? Is a "clear" conscience the same as a "good" conscience, yet different than a "clean" conscience?

Paul saw love as a generous, benevolent action that results from three interwoven moral elements:

  • Heart: Clean thoughts and feelings
  • Conscience: Good self-awareness
  • Faith: Genuine trust in Christ Jesus, our Hope

Paul expected Timothy's ministry, his preaching, to absolutely affect the heart, conscience, and faith of people who were currently sinners, people who were...

  • Cultivating unhealthy, harmful thoughts and feelings
  • Living blindly, ignorant of their moral and spiritual condition
  • Pretending to trust Christ as Lord and Savior

These three moral elements seem universal in application. Even secular, non-religious, humanistic science and social researchers and specialists will focus on these three areas of human life:

  • Thoughts and feelings
  • Self-awareness
  • Trust

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What modern-day syndromes, disorders, diseases and paranoias stem from any or all of these three moral elements?

The result of clean thoughts and feelings, guided by good self-awareness and genuine trust in Jesus, is love, which literally means a love-feast.

A wonderful comparison between sharing food with others and enjoying God is seen in Psalms 36:

"How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!" Psalms 36:7-10 (ESV)

Three major feasts were mandated by God Himself:

"Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor." Exocus 23:14-16 (ESV)

Jesus compared God's love for us as a feast:

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, - Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast." Matthew 22:2-4 (ESV)

Specifically, the image of a feast represents the Holy Spirit of God, filling and fulfilling those who believe in Jesus:

"On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, - If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, - Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. - Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:37-39 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does sharing food and drink amongst ourselves deserve special emphasis? What aspects of our potlucks and backyard barbecues lend themselves especially toward enjoying God and loving people? What aspects tend to hinder or distract from the greater purpose of loving others? What new ways of sharing food and drink can we try as a church?

Image provided by Rich Moffitt, richmoffitt.org, Creative Commons License

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Tent of Witness

A Tent of Witness

The nation of Israel had rejected Moses and turned away from God Almighty, their Deliverer from oppressive Egypt, worshipping instead idols made of their own hands. God responded harshly, dooming them to a time of exile.

However, Stephen reminds his accusers that God did not leave them, even when they were unfaithful:

"Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen." Acts 7:44 (ESV)

TENT OF WITNESS: skene (a tent or cloth hut) and martyrion (something evidential); from martys (a witness or "martyr")

Three months after escaping from Egypt, the people of Israel entered the wilderness of Sinai. God called Moses up alone to the top of Mount Sinai and spoke directly to Moses, preparing him to confront the people with words direct from God's mouth. Moses returned from the mountain and warned the people of the powerfully severe holiness of the God that delivered them. (Exodus 19)

Moses was alone on the mountain for forty days and nights. The people huddled below and saw only a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. At the end of his vigil with God, Moses returned with tablets of stone and a mind filled with the commands, judgements and purposes of God.

And a pattern for a sanctuary, a "tent of witness".

"Make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." Exodus 25:8-9 (ESV)

SANCTUARY: miqdash (a consecrated thing or place, a palace, sanctuary or asylum); from qadash (to be clean)

TABERNACLE: mishkan (a residence, a shepherd's hut, a lair of animals; figurative for the grave; the Temple)

God gave Moses detailed, specific instructions regarding the materials, dimensions and appearance of a holy, clean house of worship, meant for the the presence of God Almighty Himself.

Tangible reminders of spiritual awareness abound. Christians have erected crosses on the buildings in which they meet and designed crosses to wear as jewelry. Figures of saints are the focus point for many prayers. Doves, Flames, Buddahs, Yings and Yangs all convey spiritual reminders to religious adherents.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is Christian imagery different in purpose or effect that that of any other religion? What imagery of faith do you prefer? What potential for harm has images and symbols?

Made of wood, precious metals and woven curtains, the tent was set up, taken down and moved at every encampment made by the people of Israel as they traversed the wilderness.

"Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob." Acts 7:45-46 (ESV)

The Tent of Witness was the consecrated place for worship. The priests served in the Tent, Moses encountered the direct presence of God in the Tent. The Tent was the visible, tangible, earthly presence of God Almighty for the nation of Israel.

"The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys." Exodus 40:34-38 (ESV)

The Tent of Witness remained the only house of worship, the only center of sacrifice and service, for the people of Israel through every generation, through every battle, as they crossed the wilderness, entered into Canaan, and took control of the land promised them by God.

Not until David reigned as king of Israel did any Jewish leader consider building a permanent temple building.

But God denied David's request.

"The king said to Nathan the prophet, - See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent. - And Nathan said to the king, - Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you. - But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, - Go and tell my servant David, - Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, - Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 2 Samuel 7:2-7 (ESV)

Why did God forbid David to build a permanent house of worship? Near the end of his life David confided in his son, Solomon:

"My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, - You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever." 1 Chronicles 22:8-10 (ESV)

A rapid review of history shows that David was a warrior only by the grace and will of God. Living in obedience to God was the reason David had shed much blood and waged great wars, although David had sinned in directing the death of his friend, Uriah.

David was a young, insignificant shepherd when God moved the prophet Samuel to anoint him king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). His only aspiration to greatness at that time was music...he was a skilled harpist. But David was also devoted to the Lord, the God of Abraham, believing Him to be God Almighty, Creator and Sovereign Ruler of all. When the idolator Philistine defied the armies of the living God, David became a warrior (1 Samuel 17).

David spent his entire lifetime fighting battles. His ministry, directed by God, could well be described as a ministry of killing people.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was God being fair by denying David the privilege of building a house of worship? Have you experienced unfair consequences of following Christ? In what sense was David's life of war a life of spiritual warfare? In what sense can we think of ourselves as warriors even now?

For generations, God had seemed contented with only a tent. Not until all enemies had been vanquished did God finally allow a leader of Israel to build a permanent temple. David's son, Solomon, was on the throne, the richest, most powerful ruler of his time. God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan:

"The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him." 2 Sam 7:11-15 (ESV)

Solomon faithfully obeyed.

"You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to David my father, - Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name." 1 Kings 5:3-5 (ESV)

Solomon spent seven years building a huge, grand temple for worship of God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. It was made of stone and cedar, furnished with gold, decorated with carvings.

Yet the Tent, and the Temple, were only shadows of the spiritual reality.

"The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, - Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?" Acts 7:48-50 (ESV)

The spiritual reality is that God created everything. All of that from which the Tent of Witness was made was created by God. All of the strength and wisdom and skill required to make the Tent and the Temple were from God in the first place. The breath required by every person involved was a gift of God.

What was Stephen's point? Stephen was declaring that people tend to worship the gift, rather than the Giver.

He was accusing the Jews of idolatry.

The Jews placed inordinate pride in the appearance of the Tent and the Temple, rather than worshipping the God Who Provided the Tent and the Temple. For the Jews, as well as all fallen humans, their perceived strength and glory lay in what they believe they have made themselves.

We forget that God's hand made all these things.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What things in your life have you found to be the things you most often worship beside God? What things frequently capture your heart and mind, blurring your awareness of God?

Image from jewishencyclopedia.com, Public Domain

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Spiritual Building of Faith

A Spiritual Building of Faith

The apostle Paul was part of a team of preachers and elders first assembled in Antioch. They responded to clear direction by God, going to Jerusalem to minister to the poor with food, money and preaching. (Acts 11)

Returning from that missionary trip, Paul brought with him a new addition to the team, John Mark. (Acts 12)

The church in Antioch then sent the missionaries to preach worldwide, traveling from region to region. Midway through the journey, John Mark suddenly left the team, returning to Jerusalem. (Acts 13)

The team met major success, as well as near death in the area of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Many Jews and Gentiles became newly converted Christians, fervent and faithful. Others became hostile, threatened by the sudden changes in community and social rule. (Acts 14)

The break with John Mark must have been unexpected and disappointing, especially for Paul. The co-leader of their team, Barnabus, urged bringing John Mark back into the ministry, but Paul was adamantly against it, even to the point of breaking away even from Barnabus and forming a new partnership with Silas. (Acts 15)

Soon after, Paul met Timothy and immediately took on the role of mentor and spiritual father. Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled from city to city, preaching to Jew and Gentile, and encouraging churches previously founded by their team. God gave Paul a strong desire to into the region of Macedonia, and it was here that Paul left Timothy, assigning him to remain at Ephesus as pastor. (Acts 16)

"As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (ESV)

The broken relationship between Paul and John Mark, and the strong father-son connection between Paul and Timothy are described in Scripture only briefly. At first glance the incidents seem minor, too insignificant to matter. But the fact that they were recorded at all makes them important to consider.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What significance does the break in fellowship between Paul and John Mark have? Why would Holy Scripture include this brief mention of a falling out between mature Christians? What experience have you had with broken relationships, especially between you and another Christian?

Paul charged Timothy to preach against three specific areas of concern.

DIFFERENT DOCTRINE: heterodidaskaleo (to instruct differently); from heteros (other or different) and didaskalos (an instructor); from didasko (to teach); from dao (to learn)

MYTHS: mythos (a tale of fiction, a "myth"); from myeo (to initiate, to teach); from mysterion (a secret or "mystery", as silence is imposed by initiation into religious rites); from muo (to shut the mouth)

ENDLESS GENEALOGIES: aperantos (unfinished or interminable) and genealogia (tracing by generations, "genealogy"); from genealogeo (to reckon by generations); from genea (a generation or age) and logos (something said); from genos ("kin") and lego (to "lay" forth, to relate)

Paul urged Timothy to remain at Ephesus as preacher and pastor, specifically to lead Christians out of misguided teaching, fantasy-based faith and endless lines of lineage.

The "different doctrine" issue concerns teaching that does not agree with that taught by Jesus Christ:

"If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing." 1 Timothy 6:3-4 (ESV)

The "myths" Paul warns against seem to refer to made-up stories meant to affect behavior, but are not supported by truth. Elsewhere Paul describes myths as sneaky, deceptive manipulations by old women:

"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths." 1 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)

IRREVERENT: bebelos (accessible, heathenish or wicked); from basis (a pace or "base", the foot) and belos (a threshold)

SILLY: graodes (crone-like); from graus (an old woman) and eidos (a view or form)

"Endless genealogies" describes listing one's ancestors for the purpose of gaining religious, social or legal supremacy over others:

"Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." Titus 3:9 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you describe any modern instances of these three misguided motives for religious behavior? How does heresy, mythology and genealogy affect your faith? How do they threaten the worth and honor of Christ?

Paul supported this charge with two reasons for the concern, one negative and one positive.

"I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (ESV)

SPECULATIONS: zetesis (a searching, a dispute or a theme); from zeteo (to seek, to worship, to plot)

Heresy, myths and endless genealogies are harmful pursuits for Christians for one negative reason:

They promote worthless searching

How do heresy, myths and endless genealogies promote worthless searching? Paul will later describe the results of such empty spiritualism:

"If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain." 1 Timothy 6:3-5 (ESV)

"Controversy" is the same word used earlier, translated as speculations. Worthless searching is characterized by conceit, ignorance, controversy, quarreling, envy, dissension, slander, suspicians, friction, depravity and materialism.

If the Holy Bible is not a faithful record of the words of God and the life of Jesus Christ, people are left with only themselves as a guide for life. If Jesus Christ is not regarded as the Son of God, the Savior and Lord of all, then people are left with only themselves as the master of their fate. Believing there is no Source of truth, people can only generate questions with no answers.

Paul is describing a slippery slope that begins with heresy, myths and endless genealogies, causing worthless searching and questioning, and ending with depravity and greed.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? At what point do questions become worthless? Is it always good to ask questions? What kind of questions are obviously from a proud heart? Is God ever treatened with the word, Why?

The negative result of heresy, myths and endless genealogies is the worthless searching they cause. The positive effect of rejecting heresy, mthys and endless genealogies is the strong structure of truth that is built by faith in God. Paul described this as "the stewardship from God that is by faith."

STEWARDSHIP FROM GOD: theos (a deity or magistrate) and oikodomia (confirmation); from oikodome (architecture, a structure); from oikos (a dwelling or family) and doma (an edifice or roof); from demo (to build)

Paul often described Christians as a "building of 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, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it." 1 Corinthians 3:9-10 (ESV)

Paul taught the truth about God, as Jesus taught him, and this truth becomes the foundation of a spiritual "building", a structure of faith in God. Heresy, myths and endless genealogies erode that faith, crumbling the foundation, causing Christians eventually to reject Jesus as Lord and Savior, causing them to imagine themselves as gods.

How is "God's building" erected?

"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)

Truth becomes a foundation of life when it is taught, reinforced and enjoyed in music and speech. A primary reason for gathering together regularly as Christians is to provide a time and place to hear the truth of God's Word. Worship and preaching, music and speech, teaching and learning all contribute to a strong, spiritual building of faith in Jesus Christ.

"You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what way can heresy and mythology creep into a Christian's life? What activities organized by our church effectively support worship and preaching of God's Word? What things should we consider changing? What "red flag" would alert a Christian to the possibility that "endless genealogies" were starting to erode their faith in Jesus?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Images of Pride

Images of Pride

Stephen compares the nation of Israel's rejection of Moses with that Jesus, despite signs and wonders that declared both to be heaven-sent prophets. God responded sternly to His people's disregard.

"God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: - Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon." Acts 7:42-43 (ESV)

Stephen was quoting from the Book of Amos:

"Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god, your images that you made for yourselves, and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus, - says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts." Amos 5:25-27 (ESV)

Stephen was on trial for his life, facing angry, fearful Jews who were accusing him of heresy and blasphemy spoken against their holy prophet, Moses. Yet Stephen knew that their hearts were no different now than when their nation was younger, lost in the wilderness. Moses had led them out of Egypt with power miraculously granted him by God, yet the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God's direct commands given to Moses for them. Amos prophecied of generations of idolatry and exile.

SIKKUTH: melek (a king); from malak (to reign, to ascend the throne)

KIYYUN: kiyyun (a statue, and idol); from kun (to be erect, to set up)

STAR-GOD: kokab (a star, round and shining) and elohim (gods, the supreme God, magistrates, or used as a superlative: exceeding); from kabbon (to heap up, hilly) and eloah (a deity); from el (strength, mighty); from ayil (strength, a chief, a ram, an oak); from ul (to twist, to be strong, a powerful body)

Stephen's defense has evolved into prosecution. Beginning with an argument showing how their revered forefathers trusted the words of God's promises of deliverance and freedom, Stephen showed how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, coming to the Jews in the manner and power of Moses. But now the court's prey has become the hunter and the judge, throwing back into their faces their own history of spiritual adultery and insult toward God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What personal situation can you imagine, or have you experienced, would be similar to this exchange of harsh and agressive words? What behavior in someone else, perhaps a child or friend, can you imagine requiring this level of finger-pointing and denunciation? When is it fair to dredge up ancient history?

Stephen quoted the prophet Amos predicting future worship of "images".

IMAGES: selem (a phantom, an illusion, a resemblance or figure, an idol)

The Old Testament describes several instances of image worship.

"When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places." Numbers 33:51-52 (ESV)

The Cannanites had forsaken the Almighty Creator God, worshiping figures carved in stone and cast in metal.

In the face of terrible sickness and death, the Philistines believed images would turn God's wrath away.

"You must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land." 1 Samuel 6:5 (ESV)

The Philistines had taken the Ark away from the Jews, hoping it would empower them in the same way it had seemed to empower the nation of Israel during the days of King David. Instead, the Philistines experienced tumorous disease throughout their region. Their priests and diviners recommended returning the Ark home to the Jews, with five golden images of the sickening tumors and five golden mice, expecting that this would express their submission to the Jew's god that had caused the epidemic.

The essence of images used for worship can be an expression of pride as well as submission:

"His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it." Ezekiel 7:20 (ESV)

"His beautiful ornament" refers to the great temple in Jerusalem. Built to remind themselves of the greateness of God, it became a symbol of their own personal wealth and superiority over others.

God's response to proud self-worship?

"I make it an unclean thing to them. And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it. - Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord." Ezekiel 7:20-27 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How do you recognize pride in yourself? At what point do you have to admit that you are worshiping yourself? Have you ever experienced great loss and humiliation, similar to that experienced by the Jews when God responded to their pride?

Image by Jimmy Brown, Creative Commons Licence

Monday, July 2, 2012

True Child in the Faith

True Child in the Faith

1 Timothy 1:1 - Study 1

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." 1 Timothy 1:1-2 (ESV)

Paul described Timothy as his "true child in the faith."

TRUE: gnesios (legitimate of birth, genuine); from genesis (nativity, figurative of nature); from genea (a generation, an age); from genos (pronounced ghen'os, meaning "kin"); from ginomai (to cause to be, "generate", to become or come into being)

"True" means genuine, a person living a life of faith that is as deep as the person's heart and mind. Just as an infant is born into the world, with eyes and ears, heart and mind, that are uniquely its own, so is this person's faith. Every experience is filtered through eyes and ears born of faith. Life-long habits and preferences are formed in accordance to that faith.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? At what point is it clear that a person's faith is genuine? How does human sin, inevitable even in a Christian's life, affect a person of genuine faith? At what point is it clear that one's faith is not genuine?

Paul used this same word to describe two other men he had mentored.

"To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior." Titus 1:4 (ESV)

"I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Philippians 4:2-3 (ESV)

COMPANION: syszygos (co-yoked, a colleague); from syzeugnymi (to yoke together, to conjoin in marriage); from sun (union, with or together) and zuegos (a couple, a team of oxen yoked together or a brace of birds tied together); from zygos (a coupling, as in servitude to law or obligation, or the beam of a balance that connects the scales); from zuegnumi (to join, as by a "yoke")

"Companion" most likely represents the proper name of an elder in the Philippian church. Paul was describing a close friend of his, Sysygos, as being genuinely connected, joined together with Paul in true faith.

One other instance of "gnesios" occurs in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth.

"We urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything...in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you...see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine." 2 Corinthians 8:6-8 (ESV)

"Genuine" is the English translation of the same Greek word, gnesios, translated elsewhere as "true".

The "grace" that Paul is urging for the Corinithian church is the opportunity to give generously toward helping other Christians that were suffering.

"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints." 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 (ESV)

Despite their own poverty, the Macedonian churches overflowed with generosity, giving beyond their means to help people who were in worse shape than themselves. Paul was urging the Corinthian churches to do the same, "to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine."

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is the offering plate a reliable indication of how true or genuine is a person's faith? When hearing the report of someone's poverty or hunger, is a generous gift of money always the right thing to do?

The essence of the meaning of "true" is the miracle of birth. For Paul, faith was true if it was "gnesios", inborn within a person. Jesus also described the spiritual birth of faith.

"To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12-13 (ESV)

WILL: thelema (a determination, a choice for special purpose, decree or volition); from thelo (to determine)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How does your journey to faith demonstrate God's will or determination in your life? To you, what influence does "blood" and "the will of the flesh" and "the will of man" have on genuine faith?

Image provided by M@rg, Creative Commons License.