Posts Tagged ‘BibleStudy’

Our church has been going through 1 Thessalonians as a sermon series for the Fall, and my bible study class decided to undergo the same journey (though we are 1 week behind). To be honest, I’m glad we are doing so, because frankly, the constraints of a sermon means that much is left unsaid on the passage, or given only a cursory treatment at best (especially if the preaching is not expository). In studying 1 Thessalonians for myself, I am struck by how we fall short of Paul’s approach to discipleship: for Paul, it is not just about the message we proclaim with our lips but also the practice of our lives that matter.

Paul writes: “You know how we lived [ἐγενήθημεν] among you for your benefit … and you yourselves became [ἐγενήθητε] imitators of us and of the Lord … As a result, you became [γενέσθαι] an example [“model”, NIV] to all the believers …” (1:5b-7; CSB). Notice how Paul can confidently assert that the Thessalonians knew his and his co-workers’ manner of life (“You know”) when he was with them. Indeed, he repeatedly emphasizes that his Thessalonian converts can testify to his manner of life when he was with them:

“You know how we lived among you” (1:5b; CSB)
“For you yourselves know … as you know” (2:1,2)
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers.” (2:10)

Wherein lay Paul’s confidence?  According to the apostle, it’s “because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1:5a; CEB), or, taking the καὶ explicatively:

because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech
but also with power; that is,
in the Holy Spirit
and persuasively

That is to say, not only did the Spirit empower Paul to expound the gospel, but the Spirit also enabled Paul to embody the gospel, which convicted/persuaded the Thessalonians to embrace the gospel, i.e., they stopped worshiping idols and began serving the living and true God” (1:9; NCV). What about us?  Are we living out the gospel in our lives? It’s not about being religious or a nice person, but embodily expressing a cruiformic pattern of life in allegiance/faithfulness [πίστις, 1:8] to Jesus as Lord and King (over against Caesar).

Later in his epistle, Paul assures the Thessalonians that he is “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (2:4a; CSB); to be entrusted with the gospel means being faithful to its message, its meaning and its mode of expressing it (more on this in our next post when we look at 2:3–6). Paul did not compromise his integrity or his fidelity to the εὐαγγέλιον for the sake of numbers or making the message more palatable to his audience. So, with his integrity intact, Paul truly embodies the gospel, and hence, on behalf of his apostolic co-workers, he can “offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thess. 3:9; NIV).

Let us choose, however, from among the living, not men who pour forth their words with the greatest glibness, …not these, I say, but men who teach us by their lives, men who tell us what we ought to do and then prove it by practice …
—Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius; Letter 52: “On Choosing our Teachers”

In particular, as a challenge to those of you are who are called to shepherd the flock that Jesus died for and entrusted to your care: are you a faithful model to the sheep?

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“Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘This people says, “The time [καιρὸς; LXX] has not come to rebuild the temple of Yahweh.’” (Haggai 1:2; LEB)

After the initial enthusiasm wore off and they encountered challenges (Ezra 4:4,5) the people became complacent and “the work on the temple of God in Jerusalem came to a halt.” (Ezra 4:24; NET) In the ensuing 16 years, the temple was all but forgotten, until the prophetic voice sounded forth from Haggai. Their complacency led them to live according to their own priorities and to make excuses for not rebuilding the temple: It is not the right time, the opportune time has not come yet.

So it is today: Christians offer a plethora of excuses as to why it’s not the opportune time to build up the church (1 Peter 2:5); instead, everyone is comfort-driven and busy looking after their own concerns. No wonder most churches resemble a country club, rather than “a holy nation, a people for his possession” (1 Peter 2:9; CSB).

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Judge Not?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2; ESV)

I’ve been musing on Matt 7:1-6 which was the sermon text last week at our church. If one has been a Christian for any length of time, one will know that the mantra of “Don’t judge me!” is often bandied about anytime loving admonishment is attempted on an errant believer. Of course, this sentiment is also very prevalent in society at large as a protective mechanism to deflect any and all concerns one might wish to call out regarding another’s moral behaviour or manner of living.

We all naturally bristle at self-righteous people who go around pronouncing accusatory barbs with an air of superiority and in an unloving, critical spirit, but if we’re honest, we have to admit to doing the same at times.  As such, this passage from the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” warrants a closer look.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the English word “judge” automatically evokes a negative understanding. In fact, one version (CEV) translates verse 1 as: Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you. However, the semantic range of κρίνω is much broader and encompasses these meanings: “discern, evaluate, separate, decide, distinguish, give preference, to approve, to interpret” in addition to “judge”.

As usual, context is determinative of meaning, and in the passage before us, it seems to me that what Jesus is teaching may be better stated thus: Be careful how you discern and evaluate another person’s actions—judge them fairly and not in a condemnatory spirit, for you wouldn’t want others to evaluate you unfairly. God alone has the right to judge, so do not presume to act for Him, lest you be judged by Him! With Matt. 7:1,2 serving as a thematic heading to the larger passage (7:1-12, with vs. 12 serving as a summary and conclusion, both in its nearer and larger contexts), the theme of discerning/evaluating carefully/fairly runs consistently from the example given in 7:3-5, through to the  exhortation in 7:6 to not be undiscerning (obviously we need to “judge”, i.e., undergo a process of discernment in order to know who are “dogs” and “pigs”).

That said, we are indeed to be careful not to usurp God as the only rightful Judge (Rom. 14:10-13). Interpersonal relationships, especially in the community of God’s people, are always challenging. We are not to criticize, condemn, or complain about others, but at the same time, as a body of believers, we are commanded to carry out the “one another” exhortations. Part of this will entail loving correction based on careful and fair evaluation of the behaviour or situation. This is the tension we must live with, but thankfully we have the Spirit within to empower and guide us, as well as the mirror of the Word to remind us of our own failures and faults, so that we might speak the truth in love in all humility and gentleness.

I plan to write another post giving practical tips on giving and receiving feedback.

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When I purged my bookshelves and life of almost all Christian books, even my Bibles were not spared — all 15 Bibles were given away. Now that God is drawing me back, I am getting an appetite for the Word again. And though I can access any version from my phone, there are times when I want to go old school.

So I came across this one at 60% off and decided to get it for myself as a Christmas present:

It’s a misnomer to call it a “study Bible” — there are NO study notes and it’s real claim to fame is that the biblical books are arranged in chronological order. As for getting an actual study Bible, I’ve held off for now, as I have mixed feelings about study bibles. For one thing, one can become overly dependent on the study notes and short circuit independent study of the scriptures.

I’m actually using it for my daily Bible reading and love the refreshing experience of seeing the story of redemption unfold little by little each day.

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On Faith and the Spirit

At our LifeGroups gathering last night, our brother AW continued facilitating our exploration of faith and the Spirit. One has to admire his audacity and enthusiasm in attempting to cover two topics that are so core and vital – in such a brief span of time!

At the beginning, everyone seemed tired after another busy week of work, but once again, as the conversation began flowing, everyone seemed to get energized. In particular, I enjoyed hearing BG’s story of how he cried out in faith for God to save him when he lost control of his vehicle. I also appreciated his answer that one crucial way of developing our faith is through the regular reading of God’s Word. AW shared how she has never recalled a time when she didn’t believe God — wow! And here I am struggling with doubt almost daily!

The discussion was wide-ranging — which was great, but personally, I am one who requires structure and focus on just a few points when studying the scriptures. It’s slow and methodical for me …

I am grateful that these discussions whet my appetite for a deeper study of God’s Word. As I listened carefully to the comments made and the questions asked, I believe there would be less confusion if we keep in mind the distinction between the indicative (“what God has accomplished”) and the imperative (“what I must do [obey]”).

This brings to mind the “obedience of faith”, ὑπακοὴν πίστεως, a phrase that bookends Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome:

We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name (Rom. 1:5; HSCB)

Now to Him who has power to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all nations— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Rom. 16:25 – 27; HCSB)

It would have been very interesting and instructive if our discussion had just focused on a few specific passages like the above. I’m sad that I sold off the two detailed scholarly studies by Don Garlington, but thanks to the Internet, I was able to secure a copy of his Ph.D. thesis, The Obedience of Faith: A Pauline Phrase in Historical Context, as well as his subsequent studies that he expounds in four articles published in The Westminster Theological Journal.

Though I had earlier ranted about how I wasted my time and money on biblical and theological books, AW’s decision to discuss the Spirit made me wish I still had my copy of Gordon Fee’s magnum opus, God’s Empowering Presence, as well as Max Turner’s important study, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts. More recent works on the subject that I am tempted to acquire include:

  • Craig Keener, Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in the Light of Pentecost (Eerdmans, 2016)
  • Christopher R.J. Holmes, The Holy Spirit (New Studies in Dogmatics) (Zondervan, 2015)
  • Anthony Thiselton, The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today (Eerdmans, 2013)

Then I catch myself and realize that if I’m not careful, I’ll head down that path again: “You’ve gone crazy, Paul! You’ve read one book too many and have gone insane!” (Acts 26:24; VOICE)

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Bible *Study*

This morning I attended the church’s bible study class. In the past I had attended the men’s bible study a few times, but personally, I don’t care for segregated groups, so I decided to try this one instead. I was excited to learn that the class was studying 1 Corinthians – woo hoo!  This is one of my FAVOURITE portions of Scripture – but I was sad to discover that actually the class was about to wrap up 1 Corinthians, with today’s lesson on chapter 16. Darn!

There was lively discussion with many people participating – this is great!  Too often, we have one person dishing out the information and the rest just passively taking it in.  AW did a nice job providing some comments and observations for each section and then allowed others to add their questions and insights.

The class was composed of mostly our elderly saints and I really appreciated their desire to not only get something from God’s Word, but to also share from their own understanding and experiences. This is ultimately what we want as a body of believers: to wrestle with God’s Word TOGETHER so we can discern TOGETHER what it means and how it applies to us today, both personally and corporately.

However, therein lies the challenge: striking a balance between having one person (possessing spiritual gift of teaching) do most of the speaking and allowing all God’s people to share their ideas and insights (since we have the Spirit of truth in us to guide us). Furthermore, finding that right balance between an “academic” approach (canonical, grammatical-historical, contextual exegesis) seeking to handle the Bible according to sound hermeneutical principles and a more “devotional” / practical approach can be very challenging.

As a case in point: during the discussion of 16:1-4, someone had a strong opinion on tithing; the problem is that we are not going to be able to come to an agreement on the topic of tithing in such a short space of time. Secondly, such a discussion, however interesting and important, actually detracts from what the passage is about!

To consider the passage (1 Cor. 16:1-4) just briefly:

First of all, “the collection”, λογείας, is a hapax legomenon, occurring only here in the NT, but also found in various papyri and inscriptions, as noted in BDAG and Moulton-Milligan. The meaning of the word is “a collection (of money), particularly of an irregular local contribution for religious purposes” as opposed to a “regular tax”. In other words, this was an ad hoc gift in response to a specific need.

What was the purpose of the collection? To provide relief for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.

Theologically, however, the answer is much richer and has much wider implications. First of all, notice the various words that Paul uses to describe this giving:

  • “gracious gift”, χάριν (1 Cor. 16:3; HCSB; cf. 2 Cor. 8:7)
  • “sharing in this service”, κοινωνίαν τῆς διακονίας (2 Cor. 8:4; NIV; cf. 2 Cor. 9:1,12,13; Rom. 15:25, 31)
  • “share” [or fellowship, partnership, sharing], κοινωνίαν (Rom. 15:26)
  • “blessing”, εὐλογίαν (2 Cor. 9:5)
  • “ministry of this service [to God]”, διακονία τῆς λειτουργίας (2 Cor. 9:12; ESV)

Each of these terms that Paul employs would reward a more detailed study, but that would make this post way longer than it already is!

Furthermore, anyone who has read through the longer Pauline epistles would notice how burdened Paul was for the collection. Indeed, though he was an apostle, he did not ask for funds for himself, not wanting to be a burden to the churches, but chose rather to labour day and night as a tentmaker (1 Th. 2:9; 2 Th. 3:7-10; 2 Cor 11:23, 27). In fact, so important was the collection that Paul even mentions it during his trial (Acts 24 – 26): “After many years, I have come back to my people to bring gifts for the poor and to offer sacrifices” (24:17). Furthermore, Paul was willing to risk his life (Rom. 15:30, 31) to bring the collection to the saints in Jerusalem. Why was the collection so important to Paul?

In short: because this collection symbolized and gave concrete expression to the unity of the Church through the Gospel and as such, was an important component of Paul’s Gentile mission. It was a tangible way to express that we are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28) and therefore we are responsible to mutually care for one another irrespective of our socio-economic position or ethnic identity, thus challenging the prevalent patronage/benefactor system of his day. This was a radical thing in the Roman empire, where ethnic and economic class distinctions pervaded society and daily life. Imagine a progressive black church in New York whose members are politically left-leaning taking up a collection for a right-wing white church in Alabama whose members have come under hard times.

Ultimately, it is the “economy of God” that Paul draws upon to make his point: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Although he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9; ISV) In other words, it is a way of practically obeying our Lord Jesus’ New Commandment to love one another (John 13:34, 35).

Much more could be said, but the point is this: by staying close to what the text has to say, we will not be sidetracked into peripheral issues that the passage isn’t addressing. Secondly, we will be enriched by gaining a better appreciation of what Paul was trying to communicate to the Corinthians, and therefore, we will have a clearer understanding of the richness of God’s Word and what our specific response should be to this particular passage (1 Cor. 16:1-4). (And we have merely touched upon the Collection without looking at all the other aspects of the verses!)

The bottom line is this: we read/study God’s Word not merely for information, but for transformation – not only to understand the Word, but to obey it in worshipful response to God. But we must seek to understand it faithfully and accurately. While we may be eager to see how the Word applies to my life, we must patiently STUDY the passage first (after all, it is a “Bible Study” class!). Understanding God’s Word requires inspiration (supplication and the Spirit) and perspiration (study!).

Most of us have a haphazard approach to Scripture … what we want is a thrill, that is, we want the text to touch our hearts somehow. In and of itself, this is not necessarily wrong, except that our “felt needs” too often take precedence over biblical truth.

Grant Osborne, 3 Crucial Questions About the Bible (Baker; 1995), p. 74.

Let us approach the Word with enthusiasm and expectation, but also with humility and reverence!

P.S. – I am inspired by AW’s zeal for the Word: he led the men’s Bible study yesterday morning and the prayer meeting last night, and now this morning’s Bible study as well!  Wow, that’s a lot of preparation time and effort! Kudos for his enthusiastic example – an encouragement to all of us!

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