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Monday, April 22, 2013

Acts 9: Suffering Servant

Suffering Servant

Acts 9:15

What has gone before...

Saul seemed near to death. Struck down with blindness, confronted by a man he'd thought long dead by crucifixion, his Jewish life of rigid righteousness and violent religious rule seemed gone in an instant.

All he could do was pray.

Meanwhile, God was preparing Ananias to go to Saul, to heal his blindness and commission him to be a witness for Jesus.

And to suffer.

Moving on...

"The Lord said to him, - Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." Acts 9:15-16 (ESV)

SUFFER: pascho "PAS-kho" (to experience a sensation or impression, usually painful)

Much of the Book of Acts is an account of how Saul suffered as a Christian. Jews plotted to kill him early in his ministry (9:23). Fellow Christians suspected him of being a spy (9:26). He was persecuted and driven out of town (13:50), attacked (14:5), stoned (14:19), stripped and beaten with rods (16:22), imprisoned and locked in stocks (16:24).

Saul remembered his ministry as being a time of "all humility and with tears and with trials..." (Acts 20:19). His final visit back home to Jerusalem was heavily darkened by foreboding:

"I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." Acts 20:22-23 (ESV)

Saul summarized his life of suffering:

"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)

For Saul, being a chosen instrument of God, a witness of the resurrection and lordship of Jesus, would mean a life of pain.

Saul never enjoyed suffering. He described his life as one of "serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials." (Acts 20:19)

Challenged by religious leaders who boasted of their accomplishments and popularity, Saul would later boast in the only thing he felt he could truly own: his weakness.

"On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses...I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:5,9-10 (ESV)

Saul didn't enjoy suffering, but he was content to suffer. He regarded every weakness as an opportunity to realize, and rejoice in, God's grace and power. During an expecially difficult time of trouble, God encouraged Saul:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Think back to a recent experience in which you suffered, either physically or emotionally. What effect did your suffering have on your walk with Jesus?

What seems to help you personally while dealing with persistent disappointment or pain?

What for you is often the purpose or benefit of suffering?

Ananias obeyed.

"So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, - Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. - And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened." Acts 9:17-19 (ESV)

Later, Luke records more detail concerning Saul's healing and conversion:

"One Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, - Brother Saul, receive your sight. - And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, - The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name." Acts 22:12-16 (ESV)

This detailed description of Saul's appointment by God uses a word that is different from that used earlier in Acts 9:15. Let's compare the two words:

"The Lord said to him, - Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel." Acts 9:15 (ESV)

CHOSEN: ekloge "ek-log-AY" (divine selection); from eklego (to select); from ek (out of) and lego (to "lay" forth, to relate in words, as in a systematic or set discourse)

"The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard." Acts 22:14-15 (ESV)

APPOINTED: procheirizo "prokh-i-RID-zom-ahee" (to handle for oneself in advance, to purpose); from pro ("fore", in front of, prior to, superior to) and cheir (the hand, in the sense of hollowness suitable for grasping; power, means or instrument); from chao (to "gape" or "yawn", a "chasm" or vacancy)

The two words both describe the same concept, but from two slightly different perspectives. In one sense we can imagine God speaking into existence His entire plan for Saul's life, even before Saul was born.

An example of God "speaking" His plan for specific individuals, long before they were even born, is seen in Jacob and Esau:

"When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad...in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls...she was told, - The older will serve the younger. - As it is written, - Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Romans 9:10-13 (ESV)

"Election" is the same Greek word as that seen in "chosen".

On the other hand, we can also imagine God "preparing in advance" all the circumstances and experiences necessary for Saul to fulfill His plan. This perspective imagines Saul as being held by God in the hollow of His hand, with all details and events under His control and power.

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." John 10:27-29 (ESV)

"Hand" is from the same Greek root word as that seen in "appointed".

Every circumstance and detail of my life
Has been spoken from of old in God's plan and
Securely held in His most powerful hand.

Milton Reynolds, 2013

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Why would it be important for Saul to keep in mind both perspectives, that of being part of God's plan from before he was born, and that of being held, moment by moment, in God's hand?

When in your own life have you felt the furthest away from being part of God's plan and held in His hand?

When have you felt yourself to be the most close to God?

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Acts 9: Saved to Serve

Saved to Serve

Acts 9:8

What has gone before...

Saul, "breathing threats and murder", traveled to Damascus to rout Jewish Christians. His mind and heart were engorged with lust for violent, crushing punishment of people he regarded as traitors to Judaism, idolaters of a false god.

The writer of the Book of Acts described Christians as ones "belonging to the Way", reminding all of us to see our life as a road, with many changes in terrain and direction, but leading to a greatly desired destination.

Midway on his chosen road of retribution, Saul was brought to his knees with physical blindness and spiritual clarity. The Jesus he had sought to grind into forgotten history was suddenly very real, and very persuasive.

Moving on...

Blind, perhaps confused, probably frightened and emotionally spent, Saul seemed near death:

"Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank." Acts 9:8-9 (ESV)

There is no indication that Saul was aware of anything or anyone near him. He refused food and drink. To others he probably appeared nothing more than a silent, weak and blind enemy of Christ. But inside, great changes were happening.

Later in his life Saul (also called Paul) encountered a man violently opposed to Christ, just as he had been. The man, Elymas the magician, experienced a similar crisis of conversion:

Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, - You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time. - Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand." Acts 13:9-11 (ESV)

Mist and darkness...this likely was similar to what Paul experienced during those three days.

Paul's loss of sight seems to be directly connected with the work he would soon be doing. At the moment of the brilliant, blinding light, Jesus spoke directly to Paul:

"I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God." Acts 26:17-18 (ESV)

To effectively help others, Paul would temporarily experience physically what people were experiencing spiritually: blindness.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • What physical ailment or injury have you suffered that could compare with a spiritual condition?
  • To whom do you feel a special connection, or a special concern and empathy?
  • Is that connection due, in part, to a physical sickness or weakness that you've experienced?
  • In what way might God burn even a severe physical or mental disability into a reason for joy?

While Saul sat in his blindness, God spoke to a man named Ananias:

"Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, - Ananias. - And he said, - Here I am, Lord." Acts 9:10 (ESV)

ANANIAS: Ananias "an-an-EE-as" from Hebrew hananyahu (Jah has favored); from hanan (to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow or implore) and yah (contracted for Yehovah, the sacred name); from hana (to incline or decline, to pitch a tent or encamp) and yhwh (the self-Existent or Eternal; Jewish national name of God; from haya (to exist, be, become or come to pass)

Ananias carried a heavy name, a name weighted with service to God and allegiance to Judaism. Two other men in the New Testament are named Ananias. One, married to Sapphira, attempted to defraud the early Christian community (Acts 5:1). The other was the high priest who would later strike Paul on the mouth for claiming to have lived a life of good conscience (Acts 23:2).

The one man traded the value of his name in order to gain wealth above others. The other depended upon his name to secure power over others.

Who was the third Ananias, this man told by God to help Paul? Paul described him as "a devout man...well-spoken of by all the Jews." (Acts 22:12)

Ananias was a disciple of Christ, despite remaining on good terms with the Jews in Damascus. It seems likely that Ananias would have been at the top of Paul's list of "usual suspects" as he was headed to Damascus to arrest Christians. The Jews in Damascus certainly had heard of the conversion of Ananias...Jews would not have spoken well of someone they didn't know, describing him as "a devout man". And if Ananias was well known to the Jewish community, they would certainly have heard of his conversion to the Way.

Without offending the Jews in Damascus, Ananias had become a Christian.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • How did Ananias avoid offending the Jews?
  • What must happen in order for a Christian to get along with a community of non-Christians?

In a vision the Lord spoke directly to Ananias:

"And the Lord said to him, - Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." Acts 9:11-12 (ESV)

This word from God frightened Ananias:

"Ananias answered, - Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

EVIL: kakos "kak-OS" (intrinsically worthless, depraved or injurious)

"Evil" describes the essential character of Saul's actions in Jerusalem. The writer of the Book of Acts might have chosen another word that is also translated as "evil": poneros, meaning hurtful in effect or influence. But the word used to describe Paul's actions implies that his violence was entirely without mercy, without good purpose.

Paul's angry pride resulted in evil consequences because his angry pride was evil in nature.

The response of Ananias to the Lord was natural, but it was faithless. His response implied that the Lord had not heard of Saul's savagery, or that the Lord did not know that Ananias had heard of it. His response implied that the Lord did not know of the warrants for arrest approved by the chief priests. His fear revealed his inward belief that the Lord was asking something foolish or ignorantly.

Yet the Lord did not rebuke Ananias. More, the Lord revealed more of His plan for Saul, assuring Anania that all was going according to plan.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • What similarities can you see between the weak, human response of Ananias to our own prayer at times?
  • Is it better to consider carefully what we're feeling before attempting to voice prayer aloud with others?
  • Should we attempt to reshape our concerns into conformity with faith, in a form that better represents God as Sovereign, with all things under His control?

The Lord ordered Ananias to trust and obey:

"The Lord said to him, - Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." Acts 9:15-16 (ESV)

The Lord did not assure Ananias that Saul was "safe", or that there remained no danger now from Saul. But He did assure Ananias that He was in control of Saul, that Saul was a "chosen instrument".

CHOSEN: ekloge "ek-log-AY" (divine selection); from eklego (to select); from ek (origin, from, out) and lego (to "lay" forth, to relate in words, in a systematic or set discourse)

INSTRUMENT: skeuos "SKYOO-os" (a vessel, implement, equipment or apparatus; specially a wife, as contributing to the usefulness of the husband)

Saul was selected by the Lord to act as a vessel or tool, especially suited to "carry" an important cargo: The Name.

CARRY: onoma "ON-om-ah" (a "name", literal or figurative; authority or character); from ginosko (to "know" absolutely)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • At what point in life did Saul become an "instrument" of God? Before, or after his blindness on the road to Damascus?
  • What is the difference between "labeling" and "naming" a thing?
  • What is the Lord's "name"?

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Monday, April 8, 2013

1 Timothy 3: Aspiration and Desire

Aspiration and Desire

1 Timothy 3:3

What has gone before...

An overseer must be hospitable, one who is fond of guests, one who enjoys meeting new and different sorts of people, regarding new acquaintances as new friends.

In the same breath, Paul cautions Christians to avoid grumbling, grudgingly attempting to show hospitality to others while inwardly complaining of the cost or discomfort.

Hospitality is sharing with others what God has given us.

Entertaining others at our home, or together at a restaurant, can easily connect with another characteristic of the ideal overseer: one who teaches others. More than being willing to teach others, Paul describes an overseer as one who is competent to teach, one who himself loves to learn and joys in helping others to learn.

Teaching is to be more than a duty...it is to be a lifelong calling.

Moving on...

Following the seven broad categories of character qualities introduced in verse 2, Paul now lists specific behaviors that can either under-mine or under-gird a person's aspiration and desire to be a leader. Notice the difference between the two translations:

"Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." 1 Timothy 3:3 (ESV)

"Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous." 1 Timothy 3:3 (KJV)

The ESV uses five distinct descriptors, broken in two sections by a word of contradiction:

  • Not a drunkard
  • Not violent
  • But
  • Gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money

The KJV uses six descriptors, again broken in two sections:

  • Not given to wine
  • No striker
  • Not greedy of filthy lucre
  • But
  • Patient
  • Not a brawler
  • Not covetous

What are the original Greek words?

  • Me paroinos (not staying near wine)
  • Me plektes (not a smiter, not pugnacious)
  • Me aischrokerdes (not sordid, not with shameful gain)
  • Alla (contrariwise)
  • Epieikes (appropriate or mild)
  • Amachos (peaceable, not in battle or controversy)
  • Aphilargyros (content, not fond of silver)

The Greek text does indeed use six descriptors, each corresponding to those found in the KJV, with the passage broken into two opposing groups, separated by a word that means "contrariwise" or "other". Let's attempt to match the descriptors with those the original:

Greek ESV KJV
Not staying near wine Not a drunkard Not given to wine
Not a smiter Not violent No striker
Not sordid, not with shameful gain   Not greedy of filthy lucre
Appropriate or mild Gentle Patient
Peaceable, not in battle or controversy Not quarrelsome Not a brawler
Content, not fond of silver Not a lover of money Not covetous

The ESV is missing one descriptor: Not greedy of filthy lucre: Me aischrokerdes (not sordid, not with shameful gain).

Most likely the translators consider "Not a lover of money" to include the missing descriptor, since both have to do with "gain" or money:

  • Me aischrokerdes (not sordid, not with shameful gain)
  • Aphilargyros (content, not fond of silver)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what ways could each of the character qualities seen in verse two be eroded, or enriched, by the behaviors described in verse three?

Look at the distinction between "aspiring", "desiring" and "being":

"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be..." 1 Timothy 3:1-2 (ESV)

ASPIRES: orego "or-EG-om-ahee" (to stretch oneself, to reach out after or long for); related to oros (a mountain)

DESIRES: epithymeo "ep-ee-thoo-MEH-o" (to set the heart upon, to long for); from epi (superimposition, distribution, over, upon) and thymos (passion, as if breathing hard); from thyo (to rush, breathe hard, blow, smoke, sacrifice, immolate or slaughter)

MUST BE: dei einai "die I-NAHEE (it is necessary, as binding, to exist); from deo (to bind) and eimi (I exist, I am)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is "aspiration and desire" the cause, or is it the result, of these seven character qualities?

If a person desires the "noble work" of overseeing a church, yet lacks an essential quality, what should change? The desire or the personality?

By presenting these characteristics as pre-requisites for the office of overseer, is Paul suggesting they are optional, or different, for Christians who are not seeking leadership roles? Do you believe that you are qualified for leadership? Why or why not?

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Monday, April 1, 2013

1 Timothy 3: Above Reproach And Well Thought Of

Above Reproach And Well Thought Of

1 Timothy 3:2

What has gone before...

Paul exalts the "office of overseer", which means spiritual health inspector.

"Office of overseer" is often translated as "visitation".

The first "episcopate", or group of church overseers, were probably the apostles, called by Jesus.

Paul commended those who "aspire" or stretch out after and set their hearts upon the office of overseer, describing the work as a "noble task", something "beautifully good".

Moving on...

Paul describes the the ideal overseer. The passage reads like a job-hunter's resume, listing knowledge, skills and abilities essential for the "noble task" of inspecting and protecting Christian churches.

"An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:2-7 (ESV)

We will study each term in detail, but to begin, look at the first and last descriptors:

ABOVE REPROACH: anepilemptos (not arrested, inculpable); from a (not) and epilambanomai (to seize); from lambano (to take, to get hold of)

"Inculpable" may be unfamiliar to some. It means to not be deserving blame, from culpare (to blame).

A good example of someone being "seized for arrest" is seen in Luke's description of the religious rulers in Jerusalem:

"The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor." Luke 20:19-20 (ESV)

"Catch" and "above reproach" share the same root: epilambanomai (to seize).

To be "above reproach" means having no reason for arrest, no reason for punishment, no cause for social shunning.

WELL THOUGHT OF: kalos (beautifully good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use) and martyria (evidence given); from martus (a witness or "martyr")

Paul used "kalos" in the previous verse, describing the office of overseer as a "beautifully good" task. Here, Paul is asking the church to look closely at a candidate for leadership, evaluating their reputation with those outside of the church.

It seems that Paul began this "job description" with a general heading: Above Reproach, and ended it with a summary: "Beautifully Good Reputation".

Having a "beautifully good reputation" is important in order to avoid falling into "disgrace":

DISGRACE: oneidismos (contumely, insolent or insulting language or treatment); from oneidizo (to defame; to rail at, chide or taunt); from oneidos (notoriety, a taunt of disgrace); related to ginosko (to "know" absolutely)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Paul's "job description" for the office of overseer seems to depend upon a person having a good reputation with the unbelieving community as well as with Christians. If Jesus was "above reproach", why was He crucified? What Christian ethics might offend unbelievers? How can a Christian be "well thought of" by unbelievers yet still support biblical ideals? Is the world's definition of "disgrace" the same as that of God's? If we all struggle with our sin nature, how can any of us hope to be "above reproach"?

The Grindstone by Kathryn Decker, Creative Commons License