You Did It Unto Me…

The Bible compares the global church to a single human body, with many distinct parts that are each important to the whole. When one part of that body suffers, Paul writes, every part suffers with it.

The horrific reality is that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe today are suffering as they are persecuted for the name of Jesus. At the hands of governments hostile to the Christian faith and, increasingly, non-state terrorists, Christ-followers have been martyred. In fact, Open Doors USA’s analysis suggests that 2015 may have been the most violent year for Christians in modern history.

To stand in solidarity with the persecuted church, we ought to do all we can to stop these horrific situations of persecution. Whenever possible, we should strive and pray for circumstances such that Christians would not be forced to leave. When they make the decision that fleeing is their only option, though, local churches in receiving countries also must do everything possible to welcome these refugees.

About 340,000 professing Christians of one tradition or another have been admitted into the United States as refugees between 2003 and 2015, more than of any other religious tradition. Many of them have been persecuted particularly because of their faith in Jesus.

Imagine that you were forced to flee your country because you insisted on following Jesus. Wouldn’t you hope that a Christian brother or sister in the country to which you fled would be there to welcome you, to help you adjust, and to lament with you what you had lost?

In the end, this is not just about standing with our brothers and sisters. It is about standing with Jesus Himself. Jesus takes personally the persecution of His church. When He confronted Saul, who had persecuted Christians, on the road to Damascus, He asked him, “Why do you persecute me?” He explained to His disciples that, at the final judgment, those who had fed, clothed, and welcomed “the least of these” brothers and sisters will learn they had done so to Jesus Himself.

Reflection Questions:

1. Imagine that you were forced to flee your country because of your Christian faith—where would you go? What would you take with you? How would you hope to be received in the country in which you sought refuge?

2. What practical steps could you take to serve refugees who are persecuted for their faith?

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My Wish

If you’re a human, you have a father. Some of you just thought, “Duh!” Others thought fondly of Dad, and some of you went, “Ugh.” We all have fathers, but we don’t all have good dads.

When the Chicago Tribune asked Gary LeVox about fathering two daughters he said, “It’s just awesome to live for somebody else. It made me a man—a better person. It’s my full responsibility to provide for them.” So when Rascal Flatts sings My Wish, and when people play it around the world at graduations and daddy-daughter dances, it’s not just words; it’s a soundtrack for a real life.

My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to
I hope you know somebody loves you and wants the same things too
Yeah, this, is my wish.

Good fathers everywhere have a similar wish for their kids. Sadly, too many kids didn’t feel this from them. But here’s the thing: all of us actually do have a good Dad. We were adopted as sons and daughters when we chose to follow Christ. We have a heavenly Father who makes a way out when we’re carrying more than we can handle, who guides our steps, and who won’t give us a stone when we ask for bread. His wish for you is abundantly more than you could ever ask or imagine. He hopes you know somebody loves you.

Ask Yourself: How has my view of my dad affected my view of God? Do I trust God as a loving Father who always comes through?

Emulating the Supreme Model

God has given great men and women to the church. The biblical giants serve as valuable models—despite their imperfections. Were we to elevate Paul, Abraham, or David above Christ, we would be guilty of idolatry. The same would be true if we exalted Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, and others above Christ. We respect these saints, but only insofar as they are faithful to Christ and point beyond themselves to Christ. This was certainly the style of the apostle Paul, who labored tirelessly for the cause of Christ. We love and honor him for that labor. Likewise, we honor the giants of church history. But even the theological “giants” are sub-apostolic, never speaking or writing with an authority equal to an apostle.

At the same time, we recognize that a vast gulf separates Augustine from Jim Jones. People like Augustine and Luther have contributed theological insights of such magnitude that their names are representative of key thoughts. Few in church history are worthy of such recognition. The suffixes “ian,” “ist,” or “ite,” (e.g., “Calvinist”) are valuable to identify truth but have little positive and much negative value when applied to personalities. We know that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were not crucified for us.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Thank God for role models who have influenced your life; then thank Him for the Supreme Model who died for you.

Winning Life’s Battles with God’s Help

There is a life-long battle that is being waged over our lives. On one side is the influence of that old sinful nature – those old lingering tendencies, temptations and sins that have been difficult for us to overcome. Over time as we mature in our walk with God, the influence of the sinful nature weakens. On the other side is the growing influence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. These are two opposing forces as described in Galatians:

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Galatians 5:16-17

God’s word encourages us to “live by the Spirit.” In other words, we must allow the influence of the Holy Spirit to win over the influence of the sinful nature in our lives.

Many times, this is easier said than done. Our sinful nature prods us to make decisions to satisfy self-centered ambitions and passions. This is called temptation, and James describes it like this:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” James 1:13-14

Not until a decision on our part is made to give in to a temptation does it become sin.

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:15

Amazingly however, as a part of God’s profound love and grace extended to all Christians, God forgives us and cleanses us from all of our sins. We are absolutely 100% forgiven.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

But there is still a danger in allowing sin to go unchecked. While God forgives us and cleanses us, He does not necessarily eliminate the destructive path of consequences and circumstances sin leaves behind. While God will always help us through difficult times, even when brought on by our own decisions, our best course of action is to do all we can to avoid making those decisions in the first place.

I Corinthians describes two important aspects in effectively dealing with temptation and sin:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” I Corinthians 10:13

First is that we’re not alone in our struggle. You can know that there are other Christians, whether 30 days or 30 years into their walk with God, who still struggle with sin and temptation common to yours.

Second, is that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond a point where we’re unable to make a decision to avoid sin. He will always provide a way of escape. Our job, as challenging as it may be, is to find that way out in the midst of our temptation.

The following section provides a Bible-based strategy for effectively dealing with sin and temptation. Putting this plan into action is one more way of giving God first place in your life!

God’s Place, My Prize!

First place – it is the focused ambition of all who compete. Whether an individual or team competition, the best score or time wins, and first place always brings the top prize to the one who achieves that privileged distinction. Always, that is, with one important exception.

Before our salvation, we usually hold first place in our own lives – living for ourselves, fulfilling our own selfish ambitions, promoting our own agenda. But when we become a Christian, first place is no longer our position to hold; it belongs to God.

Giving God first place in our lives began on the day of our salvation, but allowing God to remain first in all areas of our life is an ongoing process. When we do so, we live a fulfilled and blessed life in Christ here on earth, and inherit an eternal life of unspeakable blessings with God in Heaven forever.

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. I Corinthians 9:25”

Suggestions for Making Sense of the Epistles

The Basic Rule of Hermeneutics for the Epistles

A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or readers. This is why exegesis must always come first.

The Second Rule

Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s word to us is the same as his word to them.

The great caution here is that we do our exegesis well so that we have confidence that our situations and particulars are genuinely comparable to theirs. This is why the careful reconstruction of their problem is so important. For example, it is significant for our hermeneutics to note that the lawsuit in 1 Corinthians 6:1 – 11 was between two Christian brothers before a pagan judge out in the open marketplace in Corinth. We would argue that the point of the text does not change if the judge happens to be a Christian or because the trial takes place in a courthouse. The wrong is for two brothers to go to law outside the church, instead of handling things internally, as Paul’s own rhetoric (vv. 6 – 11) makes perfectly clear. On the other hand, one could rightly ask whether this would still apply to a Christian suing a corporation in modern-day America, for in this case not all the particulars would remain the same — although one’s decision should surely take Paul’s appeal to the non-retaliation ethic of Jesus (v. 7) into account.

These are some of our hermeneutical suggestions for reading and interpreting the Epistles. Our immediate aim is for greater precision and consistency; our larger aim is to call us all to greater obedience to what we do hear and understand — and to an openness and charity toward others when they differ with us. Perhaps if we were truly to do so, the world might pay more attention to our Savior.

What Does the Bible Mean for Us? Hermeneutical Questions in the Epistles

We come now to what we referred to previously as hermeneutical questions. What do these texts mean to us? This is the crux of everything, and compared with this task, exegesis is relatively easy. At least in exegesis, even if there are disagreements at particular points, most people agree as to the parameters of meaning; there are limitations of possibilities set by the historical and literary contexts. Paul, for example, cannot have meant something that he and his readers had never heard of. His meaning at least has to have been a first-century possibility.

However, no such consensus of parameters seems to exist for hermeneutics (learning to hear the meaning in the contexts of our own day). All people “do” hermeneutics, even if they know nothing about exegesis and don’t have a clue as to the meaning of these two words! It is no wonder that there are so many differences among Christians; what might be a cause for wonder is that there are not far more differences than actually exist. The reason for this is that there is, in fact, a common ground of hermeneutics among us, even if we have not always spelled it out.

You are in fact involved in hermeneutics all the time. What is it that all of us do as we read an epistle such as 1 Corinthians? Very simply, we bring our own form of common sense to the text and apply what we can to our own situation. What does not seem to apply is simply left in the first century.

Our problems — and differences — are generated by those moments where some of us think we should obey exactly what is stated and others of us are not so sure.