Incognito: My Brother’s Keeper

President Barak Obama spoke to a crowd of over 20,000 at the University of Wisconsin library mall in Madison on September 28, 2010.  In his address, he used a parable about a car driven into the ditch by his predecessors.  But what struck our interest was his comment:  “I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper.”

this reference goes back to Genesis 4:9.  Cain murdered his brother Abel over a religious argument – The Lord accepted the offering of Abel but not that of Cain.  So in rage he killed his own brother.  Later the Lord confronts Cain and we have this:

Genesis 4:9  ESV
    Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

    He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Cain’s negative, cynical, murderous attitude speaks for itself.  It is not footnoted in the text with an attached moral, but it is clear that we are to understand that we are our brother’s keepers.

The President applied it to political policy regarding programs to achieve fairness and access to health care.  He also felt the need to re-state the negative as an affirmation, and to add both genders.

Translations & Ephesians 1:5

If you have the bible in translation, realize that it is also a commentary on the text.  If you compare several, you can gain insight.  Here is a test case, using a rather meaningless phrase from Ephesians 1:5.

  According to the purpose of his will

This phrase is a literal translation of the original.  As is often the case in translation, a literal word for word translation does not say much of anything.  So I have looked for other translations that capture the meaning of these words.  Here are two of them.

 The New Century Version says,

“That is what he wanted and what pleased him.”     

 This shows that our adoption was something that God wanted to do.  When parents tell their adopted children the truth, they often say, “We chose you.”   God chose us.  Why?  It is not because he had to, but because he wanted to.  It was something that pleased him.

The New Living translation says:

“This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”  

 This is the translation I like best.  I get no real sense from reading “according to his purpose”.  But when I hear that God wanted to adopt me, and that it gave him pleasure to adopt me, that is meaningful.

 A good place to compare translations in English and other languages is

We need a Fresh Read! Ephesians 1:4,5

Ephesians 1:4,5 has been the grist of theological debate for centuries.  It is such that we can not read these verses without girding our loins for battle over election, predestination and all the related cascade of issues.  It is almost that for a pastor who wants to preach Ephesians, you can hear the cry “Don’t open that closet McGee!”

Ephesians 1:4-5  ESV
    even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  [5] he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

   The concept of Fresh Read is to let the text talk, not the history of the discussion of the text.  What we see in these two verses are the words “chose” and “predestined.” 

  but notice that the emphasis on this passage is not so much on the abstract theology, as the purpose of God. 

  “We” were chosen “to be holy and blameless”.  “We” are predestined “for adoption.”   If we abstract the words chosen and predestined out of this passage, we are quickly going to find ourselves joining Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Arminius, and many more in a theological food fight.

  If we read the words “chosen” and “predestined” in context, then we are moved out of theological abstraction to what God has purposed to do with us.  He has purposed to make us “holy and blameless” and for “adoption.”

  The text reaches back to before the creation of the world.  So before Genesis 1:1, whatever that might mean, God has chosen.  Was there time before there was a creation? (Science suggests that time is a dimension, and would say that there would be no time before creation or the big bang.)  The initiative is clearly with God, not with us, because we had not, nor had our ancestors, nor had our world come into existence.

  Did God choose a purpose only?  That is, did God choose to make someone “holy and blameless” and someone ‘for adoption?”  The subjects would be unknown, but the object decided in this view.  It would seem not because of the “us”.   He chose “us” before the foundation of the world.

  Since we read Ephesians 1:3-14 as an extended introduction to the book, we can find in later passages the call to a holy and blameless life (e.g. 5:1-14).  This emphasis is forward looking.  In other words, you or I can ask, “What does God want for me?”  The answer is that we are to become “holy and blameless” and to be adopted.

  Our before-the-world-began calling (hidden in the unsearchable mind of God) is  to live toward the purpose God has intended.

Overture – Ephesians 1:3-14

What is this?

Verses 3 through 14 form one sentence in Greek.  Many scholars agree that this introduction  is an Old Testament style “berakah“, or blessing.  There are other examples such as: Genesis 14:20; Psalm 72:18-19.  Praise or “blessing” is directed toward the Almighty for his character and actions.

I believe it is also an Overture.  In a musical composition the overture serves as the preview of what is to come.  My wife and I recently attended a showing of the Pirates of Penzance, and we were able anticipate some of the action from the musical score.

There are connections between verses 3 through 14 and the rest of the book of Ephesians.  In sermon preparation, the following pattern emerges of later passages expanding on the introductory sentence.

The point for all this is that to understand the introductory sentence, look within the book of Ephesians to related passages.  This is not a wooden or exact correspondence, but the process of looking internally is fruitful for the reader.

v. 3 – “Blessings in the heavenlies” / 1:20-23; 3:14-21

v. 4 – “Holy and Blameless” / 4:1-5; 5:1-14

v. 5 –  “Adoption” / 2:11-22

v. 6 –  “Grace” / 2:1-10

v. 7 –  “Redemption” / 2:1-5; 4:1-5

v. 8 –  “Wisdom” / 3:7-13; 5:15-21

v. 9-10  – “Unity” / 2:15-22; 4:1-5; 4:9-15; 4:25-32

v. 11 –  “Inheritance” / 1:18-19

v. 12  – “Hope” / 4:17-32

v. 13 –  “Gospel” / 3:6-21; 2:1-10

v. 13-14  – “Holy Spirit” / 6:10-20

Bless and Blessing – Ephesians 1:3

Ephes. 1:3
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

   Greek is the language of the New Testament.  In Greek the same word is used for praise and bless.  Verse 3 says that we bless God because he has blessed us with every blessing.

     In English we use two words.  We say that we praise God because God has blessed us.  I began to wonder why this is important.   What the bible says is that God “Blesses” us by giving us the gifts of salvation.  We do not give anything for those gifts.  We do not pay for them.  All we can do is offer words of praise, and live a life of praise to God.

     In other words – God’s blessing is a gift and our blessing is a word.

      God’s words and our words are different.  When we use words they can be meaningless or they can be lies.  They can be incorrect.

       God’s words are always meaningful.  His words are always true.  He is never wrong.  God’s words are also actions. 

            Do you know how God created the world?  He spoke.  “God said, ‘let there be light’…..God said, ‘let there be sky” and “let the waters separate’ and “Let us make man in our own image.”

          God blesses us, and his word is an action.  His promises are true.  What he has said that he has given us has already been given to us Our only response can be to Praise him with our words and with our lives.