Jesus as Servant

washing_feetI have been to a few councils for ministry ordination. One frequent passage that is brought to the candidate is Philippians 2: 7 which says that Jesus “emptied himself.”  What exactly did he do in that passage?

Did he empty himself of his deity?  That is contrary to the teaching of the church through the ages, and contrary to the scriptures itself.

There is a passage in John’s Gospel that sheds some light in this question. It is when Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples in John 13.

I could go so far as to say that Philippians 2 is a commentary on Jesus as a Servant. If not a commentary, a song: many hold that it is actually a hymn of the early church.

Here is John 13:1-5:

 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John speaks of what Jesus knows, that he is from the Father and returning to the Father.  That he has god-like power in that “the Father had given all thins into his hands.”  As the LORD, Jesus removed his regular clothing and took on the clothing of a house servant and set out to do a very humbling work – he washed their feet.

Philippians says:

…he made himself nothing  taking on the very nature of a servant… (2:7)

The link is made stronger in that Philippians begins with an challenge to believers to serve each other, to be humble and considers others first.  (Phil 2:1-4). This is to be done in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:5).

In John 13 Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….”

So there is an ethical link – Jesus act of foot washing (John) and his submission to death on a cross (Philippians) are motives and models of Christian service.  I do not believe that foot washing is now a sacrament, but a picture of the way of life of all who follow Jesus.  If he, the Lord, the Master lowers himself to serve, what should we do?

 

 

Sexuality: Asking the Right Questions

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This is a Bible study on Human Sexuality and Same-Sex relationships.  Often believers miss in the debate what the Bible does and does not say.  I discuss passages that teach positively on sexuality and then on negative passages regarding same gender sexuality.  I try to put it into the Biblical story line and I try to discuss certain FAQs

POSITIVE PASSAGES 

Genesis 1, 2   Humankind was created in two genders in the image of God.

1:27: So God created man in his own image,

In the image of God he created him;

Male and female he created them.

5:2b-3 When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

 God, who had declared his work to be “good” six times, said it was “very good” once.  However he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”    So he fashioned Eve.

Genesis 2:24 is the foundational text for biblical marriage.  That is, most of the biblical teaching on marriage looks back to this passage.

Genesis 2:24

    Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

             From this creative act, we see that marriage by God’s design was meant to be a life long union of a man and a woman. Note the verbs

  • Leave
  • Hold fast
  • Become on flesh

Jesus and the Apostles refer back to Genesis 2:24 as the key passages on human sexuality.

Mark 10:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12

  • I Corinthians 6:12-17,
  • Ephesians 5:31-33)

Exodus 20.  The Ten Commandments give a place of honor to the family. The Fifth Commandment, which comes with a promise of ling life, is that we are to honor our fathers and mothers.  We also point out that the 7th Commandment forbids adultery and the 10th Commandment forbids desires that violate the marriage bond.

New Testament.  Numerous passages in the New Testament affirm  the value and importance of family life.  Jesus affirmed the Wedding at Cana by his first miracle (John 2:1-11).  The Epistles address husbands, wives and children (I Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5:21-6:4; Colossians 3:18-25, Titus 2, I Peter 3:1-7).

NEGATIVE PASSAGES 

Leviticus 18 lists numerous sexual relations that were common in other cultures surrounding Israel, but were prohibited for God’s Covenant People.  The list includes close family relations, another person’s spouse, same gender sex (v. 22) and others.  Leviticus 20 contains a similar list, adding the civil penalty of death under Covenant law. (v. 13)

The 10 Commandments forbid adultery and coveting of another man’s wife.   Exodus 20:14, 17

Romans 1:18-32 is Paul’s description of libertine paganism.  Repeatedly the pattern is that the people reject the truth of God, and God judges them.  He does this by giving them over to the consequences of their desires.  In the midst of that downward progression is the Apostle’s negative assessment of same gender sexual relations (v. 24-27)

We note that Paul does not single out one group of sinners but declares all of us to be sinners.   Romans 3:22-23

      “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

I Corinthians 6:9-12 contains a prohibition of male prostitution and homosexual offenders.  See also I Timothy 1:9-10.

JESUS AND SEXUALITY:

It is often  said that Jesus did not talk about homosexuality.  However he did talk about marriage and sexuality. The most important passage is Matthew 19:1-12  The Pharisees  came with a question.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

The issue at hand was the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4

“If a man marries a woman who become displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.  That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord.  Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving to you as an inheritance.”

The School of Shammai  held that divorce was only proper if there was some indecency of a sexual nature.  The School of Hillel  held that any cause for displeasure on the part of the man was grounds for divorce. In Matthew 19 this long standing debate was brought to Jesus.

JESUS’ APPROACH OUGHT TO BE OUR APPROACH.

  1. Jesus answered their question with another question:

He said, “Haven’t you read?”

  1. Jesus went to the text behind the text.

He turned to Genesis 1,2, and 3.  He cited Genesis 1:27, that God made them “male and female”.  He cited Genesis 2:24 that said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

  1. Jesus clarified the disputed text.

They responded to his first answer by asking, “Why did Moses command divorce?”  Jesus pointed out that Moses did not command, but permitted divorce.

While not dismissing Deuteronomy 24, he looked backward past Deuteronomy.  He said, “From the beginning it was not so.”  Moses allowed divorce because of hardness o heart.

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Asking the Right Question.  The controversy over Divorce was over the wrong question, so our current debate is often over the wrong question.  It is not “What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?”  It is, “What did the Creator intend for Human sexuality?”

Most of the articles and debates center on the 8 or so passages that deal directly with Homosexuality.  The controversy is over the interpretation of these Old and New Testament passages.

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Q & A.

What about Sodom?  Genesis 19:1-29 describes the judgment against the city of Sodom.  The term “sodomy” has come from this account.  We need to see that Sodom was under judgment before the angelic visitors entered the city.  So there were a number of sins that fell under judgment. Ezekiel 16:49-50, II Peter 2:6-7 and Jude 7 all refer to Sodom has having participated in a cluster of sins, including sexual perversion.  It is also important to note that Abraham prayed to God for mercy for Sodom (Genesis 18).

What about Abominations?  Often Old Testament scripture is cited which calls same gender sexual practice ad abomination.  There are over 20 passages condemning one practice or another as an abomination.  Also on the list is: prostitution, adultery, divorce, prayers of the unfaithful, dishonesty, materialism, unbelief, idolatry, greed and others.

We should reject the approach that only calls some of that God calls sin an abomination.  All sin is an offense to God.  However, if we are repulses by one particular sin and not by others, we are not responding out of concern for God’s holiness, but out of our own fears.

We also reject the approach that ignores the prohibitions of a Holy God.  While certain laws of ceremony, diet and dress are not binding in our time, the moral demands of God remain in effect.  If we reject these commands, do we also reject the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments?

What about Sexual Orientation?  It is claimed that homosexuality is caused by an inborn orientation that is not a choice.  If God makes someone gay, who are we to say it is wrong?

We do live in a fallen world, and so things that exist are not always as they should be.   Children are born with propensities to disease.  Some people have a natural susceptibility to alcoholism.  Our drives can be weaker or stronger depending on our physical make up.  That those differences do exist does not make them good or right.  It is nonsensical to say, “I am born to be an alcoholic, so let me drink!”

In fact, all of us face a struggle with our sexual desires.  Jesus said that to even look at another person with lust in our hearts was to be guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:27).  Our human nature, corrupted as it is by sin, is not an accurate barometer of what is right.  In fact, we need to resist those impulses that are harmful and strengthen those which are good.

The Scripture gives none of us hope in overcoming these conflicts by our will power (Romans 7).  It is only by the working of God’s Spirit that we can overcome these desires (Romans 8).  We also make a distinction between inclination or temptation and sinful actions.  (I Corinthians 10:12-13)

Finally, science has not shown a genetic cause for homosexual feelings.  There may be evidence of an inclination or propensity.  We are all moral agents who are responsible to respond appropriately to our inclinations and desires.  For some things, such as lust, the Scripture tells us to say no, even if it is a natural part of our make up.

What about Jesus?  Didn’t Jesus side with the downtrodden and the outcast?  Some refer to Jesus’ compassion as a reason to accept all people and all lifestyles.  Two texts are frequently cited.

         Matthew 7:1   “Judge not, that you be not judged. Yet Jesus did himself judge religious hypocrites.  See Matthew 7:6, in the immediate context where Jesus talks of dogs and pigs, which is a form of judgment.

John 8:1-11 has the story of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus said to those throwing stones, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  This is a warning too all those who pass judgment on others.  Yet He also said to the woman, “Go, now and leave your life of sin.”  In this story both sides of the conflict needed to repent.

We believe in the forgiveness of sin.   Forgiveness is a central teaching of the Christian Faith.  Not that sin is ignored by God, but that God graciously forgives those who seek his mercy.

Romans 3:22-23, cited earlier, indicates that all are equally under God’s wrath, and all have access to forgiveness without distinction.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 both condemns sexual sin and offers cleansing from sin in Christ.  There is great hope in the statement:  “But such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”

We do not believe that forgiveness is a license to live as we please.  Many passages, including Romans 6 and I Corinthians 6:12-20 show us that we are to live in obedience to God’s command and holiness.

Summary:

The Bible positively defines human sexuality as good, as part of God’s created order, as a mean to companionship, child bearing, and as an expression of a covenant relationship between a husband and a wife.  Otherwise we are called to live in celibacy.

The Scriptures consistently reject any practice that moves away from this design.  That includes adultery, fornication, polygamy (though this was tolerated for a time), bestiality, prostitution, same gender sexual activity, rape, incest and more.  There is not a hint of affirmation in the Scriptures.

The Scriptures affirm male and female genders as part of God’s creation, and the creation of families for love, and for raising children and caring for the aged.

The Scriptures call us to treat people with respect, and yet to speak what is true to the world around us.

Scripture Overview

  1. Positive Statements:
  • Genesis 1,2
  • Mark 10:1-12
  • Matthew 19:1-12
  • I Corinthians 6:12-17
  • Ephesians 5:21-33
  • Excuse 20
  • John 2:1-11
  • I Corinthians 7
  • Colossians 3:18-25
  • I Peter 3:1-7

Negative Statements:

  • Leviticus 18, 20
  • Exodus 20:14,17
  • Romans 1:18-32
  • I Corinthians 6:9-12
  • I Timothy 1:9-10
  • Genesis 19 (Ezekiel 16:48-50, II Peter 2:6,7; Jude 7)

Forgiveness of Sins

  • Romans 3:22-23
  • I Corinthians 6:9-20
  • Romans 6
  • I John 1

A Christian’s Attitude toward “sinners.”

  • John 4:1-42
  • John 8:1-11
  • Matthew 7:1-6
  • Luke 5:27-31
  • Luke 18:9-14
  • Romans 12:9-14

David E. Carlson, Bethany EFC, Madison, WI

dcarlson301 @ gmail.com

That’s Harsh! Matthew 23

controversialist

John Stott wrote a book called “Christ the Controversialist” which captures the section of Matthew from chapter 21 to 23.  In chapter 23 Jesus is recorded as laying into the religious leaders who opposed him and lays down a series of 7 “woes” on their brand of religion.

In the 21st Century we are supposed to be accepting.  Jesus does not model universal acceptance.

In the realm of spiritual conversations, we are not supposed to engage in diatribes, but that is one commentators description of the literary form and vocabulary Jesus uses.

Some say that this passage is anti-Semitic.  That is hard to hold in that Jesus himself and the apostles and the first generation of Christians were all Jewish.

What are we to do with this?

First, let’s avoid spending our time identifying all the others we can blame.  I could preach a long sermon against the 1st Century Pharisees, but that has the aspect of a history lesson, and not a very relevant one at that.

Second, lets try to point the finger at ourselves.  What in these accusations apply to me?

Here is a short list

  • You do not practice what you preach. v. 3
  • Everything you do is done for people to see. v. 5
  • You shut the door…in people’s faces v. 13
  • You make the trivial into the essential (v. 16-22)
  • You clean the outside…but the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. v. 25
  • You hypocritically honor the prophets of old. v. 27

This is not a finger to point at others, but at ourselves.