Walking Worthy – an exercize in definition

WalkingIt is tempting to go only to the dictionary to define terms.  When you do that you find a number of definitions for most words, and the more used the word, the greater number of definitions.  How do you decide which is the meaning intended?  Context.

So I applied that to Ephesians 4:1-6

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

What is meant by walking in a manner worthy of the calling?  Well you have consider where these words are found.  Ephesians is largely about the people of God (the church) and what we are called to be in the world.  There are themes of election and unity along with attitudes of accepting and serving.

As I looked at this passage, it seemed to me that “a manner worthy” is at least partially defined with verses 2 and 3.  Here are attitudes that we need to have in the church: humility and gentleness, bearing and loving, unity and peace.  The walk worthy of the church is to live in harmonious unity as a community.

What then is the calling?  I think this is where the “ones” come in from verses 4-6.  We are called to one body, which exists by the work of God the Holy Spirit, and called to one hope, faith and baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus.  All this is at the call and direction of God the Father.

I went to a concordance and found within Ephesians this many references to the various “ones” in verses 4-6: Body (8); Spirit (15); Hope (3); Lord (26); Faith (10); Baptism (1); God (33); Father (10).  These words have enough uses in the context of Ephesians to give a clear indication of which definition and what application Paul has in mind.  

In short we are called to the great commandments:

  • Love God and
  • love others (especially as the church in the world)
  • by living in a manner characterized by humility and patience.

 

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Timothy was no John Wayne; Neither are you.

timothyAs I study the passage which is the context for I Timothy 1:7, I am making a discovery. The verse is about courage:

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Where is this “power, love and self-control” to come from.  In John Wayne movies the hero is a rugged individual who needs no help really.  If he has a side kick, John Wayne was always the senior partner.  Timothy was apparently a more timid man – the opposite of John Wayne.

Most of us are like Timothy, and probably none of us are like John Wayne, even John Wayne.  In other words, we need support.  To illustrate I color coded all those who supported Timothy, to keep him from fear and to give him power.  The strength comes first of all from God and Christ through the gift of the Spirit, and by Paul as his father and mentor and by his mother and grandmother.  You see it is pretty crowded here.

Here is the passage color coded to fit the diagram:

notalone

“Are you free of evangelicals?”

Sign.smBut what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

         This is a Gospel verse.  The word “Gospel” comes from old English and it means Good News.  We are here at Bethany Evangelical Free Church.  The word Evangelical – do you know what it means?

Some people think it means a group of people who vote a certain way.  A pastor friend of mine says that they get this call from time to time:  “You are an Evangelical Free church, does that mean you don’t have any Evangelicals there?”  They think Evangelical Free is like Sugar Free.

Gospel is English for this word Evangelical.   “evangel” is a Greek word that means good news. This is important because the Christian message is not about how to be good.  Lots of people think that the reason to be a Christian is to learn how to be good, how to be a good neighbor and how to earn a place in Heaven.

We have the word Evangelical in our name. We have the word Gospel in our message to remind us that the Christian message is not what we do for ourselves.  It is what God does for us. That is the Good News.  It is not about being good or becoming good, it is about being welcomed by God as if we are good.

Saving ourselves would be bad news – just ask all the people who know you if you are perfect.  Only what is perfect is fit for God.  So earning your way to God’s blessing is bad news, receiving God’s approval and blessing is the Good news.

The Pregnant Vocabulary of Micah 6:8

Micah68Another part of the Favorite Verses series is Micah 6:8.  What I am noticing is that the words are loaded with associative meaning in this verse.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

“mortal” is ‘adam“.  Translated a man or here in the NIV, ‘mortal’.  Remember this association when we get to walking humbly, and how the first couple (adam includes male and female – Genesis 5:1-2)  walked with God in Eden until they upset justice by not keeping a command.

“good” is how God described the created world in Genesis 1. The parts of creation were in place and working properly – except for “adam” being alone.

“act” is a word in Hebrew that can mean simply to do in a general sense, but it is also used many time to “make” or “offer” a sacrifice.  In the the previous verses the prophet gives voice to the question of the people: what offering should we bring?   The answer seems to be to bring justice.  I don’t think this is a denial of the role of sacrifice and worship, but that those actions were to encourage and accompany a life of just living. The following section lists some of the injustices of the people.  The Prophets often say that worship does not compensate or cover up an unjust life (See Isaiah 1).  Isn’t this an interesting comparison to Romans 12 – where the apostle says that our reasonable worship is to “offer” ourselves as living sacrifices and follows that with a chapter with many practical applications of the command to love God and love Others.

“mercy” is the Hebrew word “hesed” which can mean kindness, or mercy. It can also refer to a covenantal idea.  God has committed himself to merciful faithfulness to his people.  As a result he expects merciful faithfulness.  Our faithfulness is to God and our mercy is for others.

“love” is the same verb as the great commandment, to love the Lord your God.  There is no separation between loving God and loving mercy.  “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for his maker.” Pv 14:21.

“walk” is a widely used metaphor for our course in life. (e. g. Psalm 1 ) The original couple walked with God in Eden, until they with a profound lack of humility attempted to “become like God” by breaking the solitary prohibition that they had been given.

To “do” – Romans 12

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

To ‘love” – Matthew 22:34-40

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

To ‘walk” – Deuteronomy 5:22-23

32 So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – A Fresh Look

scenes 040.smThis is one of the Favorite Verses I am preaching on this summer.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

 

Heart – the whole inner person is in view – not just sentiment as in English.  Compare to two other verses in context. Among the range of meaning is:  inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding, conscience, soul (Step Bible).

3:1   My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments

3:3  Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart

Understanding – one of the meanings of this word is the capacity to understanding.  If you read it as “information” it can sound as if one should not know anything. but the Wisdom theme of Proverbs is very much about learning wisdom and discernment. We are not, in the words of Psalm 32, to be like a pack mule that needs constant external direction by a bit in our teeth, but we are to be instructed so we can make wise decisions. (Psalm 32:8-9).  If we accept the word as “capacity to understand” it speaks of not finding our wisdom only from ourselves.

Notice that Heart and Understanding are somewhat parallel words on the inner person.

I have summarized this line of thought:

 Trust with your heart; Don’t trust in your heart.

That is, the object of trust and direction is the Lord, not the inner life.

All – With all of your heart (v. 5) and in all of your ways (v.6) live by faith.  There is no room here for holding back a reserve of non-trust.  That is, the verses does not permit us to think that one part of our life is spiritual and the other is going along to get along in life.  We are to live a categorically faithful life, not life of categories.

Path/Way – Two words are used for path, both can be literal or metaphorical.  “In all your paths acknowledge him” this word for path is “derek” which is used over 700 times in the OT.  “and he will made straight your paths” this word for path is “orak” which is used about 70 times.  The idea of a path or way is commonly used in Wisdom literature, the prophets and in Deuteronomy to talk metaphorically about the course or direction of your life in a moral and spiritual sense.

Smooth/Straight – the translations divide evenly on translating this word.  Smooth suggests straight in a vertical dimension, and similar to Isaiah 40 on making a smooth path.  This is the path that is easy.  Straight suggests straingt in a horizontal direction and fits with the frequent command that one turns neither to the left or to the right. This is the path that is true.

I wonder if this “straightening” of our path is a rescue operation:

 “So you find your way in life hard?  Are you lost?  Is it because you are divided in your faith and selective in your willingness to be instructed?  Trust him fully and he will remove the potholes and direct you out of your lost condition.”

 see Isaiah 40:3-5; Psalm 1; James 1:2-8; Matthew 5:8; Deuteronomy 6

 

God’s Thoughts – Psalm 139:17

LionMouseHow precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!

          This psalm is filled with thoughts about God.  From verse 1 to verse 24 there are amazing statements.  We could easily spend our time on each one of these verses.  I could preach for a Month of Sundays on this Psalm and there would be more yet to say.  But I want to today concentrate on three of the thoughts that are in this psalm

Thought  #1 –

You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me

            The psalm says “You hem me in…”  The word used suggests the idea of when an army building up a fortification around itself.  It is saying that the Lord surrounds us in fort and behind.  He protects us from the danger we see to that which creeps up on us from behind.

God protects us with his strength.  There is a show on TV about the government building a machine that watches us all the time.  It is starting to feel like there is no privacy any more.  So how is it that God can know and be fully interested in you, at the same time he knows and is fully aware of me?  And he is fully aware of the person sitting near you, and everyone in this room, and all those who are in Childrens’ Church.  You may be thinking about hip surgery and the little one is worried about a diaper change. Add to that the idea that God is in front and behind of every person on the earth.  Everyone who is born into his kingdom is protected.  How can God multi task to this extent.

God protects us by his tenderness.  When it says, “You lay your hand upon me” it is a tender and kind had.  God is able to be powerful against our enemies, but he is able to be close and comforting to his people.  And so the Psalmist says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

If we try to understand God’s amazing love and at the same time his terrible wrath, we can’t do it.  If we try to comprehend his power and his care at the same time, we fall short.

        Thought  #2

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

            Have you ever seen the sun rise?  Have you ever seen that from the side of a mountain? We visited the Grand Canyon last summer, and we arrived at the edge of it at sunrise.  The early moments were misty and colored with shadows.  The sun began to break through and you could see the light working its way across the landscape.  This is the wings of the dawn; the break of day spreads its wings lie a bird and covers the landscape from East to West.

What if you could ride along with the dawn, on its daily path?    What if you could pick up and settle on the far side of the sea – from the shores of Lake Monona to the South China Sea.  God is still there.  But not only is he there – where we are or where we might go, he is there go guide us and to guard us.

 Thought  #3

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
 

            The Psalmist is thinking about what God knows about him.  God saw him when his body was not yet formed.  How could God know what did not exist?  How did God know that the Psalmist’s parents would meet, and marry and conceive him when they did?

Have you ever thought about this?  My parents met after a church service. My mother’s father was a deacon in the Swedish Baptist church in St. Paul.  They would invite young men to dinner after church.  My dad had recently moved from the family farm in North Dakota to Saint Paul. He came to dinner and met my mother.

What if Dad decided to go to Fargo or Minneapolis or Kansas City instead? What if he did not go to church that Sunday?  What if Mom had stayed home?  Or gone out with friends to lunch?  What if…what if…what if.  Then I would not be here today.  Move that backward a few generations, how impossible it seems that God would know you would be born.

Then add this – God knows already how long you will live.  He knew that before you were born.  So he will know about all the car accidents, as well as the heroic medical help.  He will know the close calls on the interstate and the friend who invited you to exercise, which added years to your life.  How can god know our choices before we know them?  Are we robots who are only following a program?  Is your life like a song on a CD, it plays what has been set down. Or do you, when you choose, actually choose?

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

Do You Have a Favorite Verse?

snip.logo.redWe gave a survey to the congregation to find out their favorite verses in order to construct a summer sermon series.  There was quite a range of passages. I will be working on these in June, July and August.

I have attached a document with all of the suggestions here – Favorite Verses.

I’d like to know if the readers of Fresh Read have favorites.  It might be a good source of material for the blog.   I have often found that it is worthwhile to study what we think we are most familiar with, and we discover how little we know.

First on the list is Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble
.

This was the text at the first funeral I presided over as a pastoral intern.  The man who died was not a regular part of the Chicago congregation, but received discreet financial assistance from time to time.  I have learned by talking to other pastors, that in addition to the official church funds for benevolence, there is often an unofficial case load of people who just can’t quite make it at times on their limited incomes.

Sometimes God’s ever present help comes through his people, or strangers.