Category: Food for Thought

Communicating the Gospel: One-to-One

Posted by on 07/07/2018 in:

Communicating The Gospel

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.—Luke 1:1–4

Communicating the Gospel is not only a big task, but a big responsibility. So, of course we want to know the best way to communicate it! The Preacher’s Commentary on Luke, by Bruce Larson, gives great insight for preachers and teachers alike by examining Luke’s methods for communication the Gospel.

Here’s an excerpt for you to read!

COMMUNICATING ONE-TO-ONE

The Gospel of Luke

Luke is the only one of the Gospel writers who did not know the physical Jesus. He was not present during our Lord’s three-year ministry and did not witness His death and Resurrection. His sources for this Gospel are eyewitnesses of these events. He visited the people who actually saw the physical Jesus: His family, His disciples, His friends. These are the sources of his information.

The second verse of the first chapter of the story tells us that Luke is reporting these events “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us. He is not concerned about eyewitnesses who aren’t ministers. By ministers he does not refer to clergy, but to those people who are ministering and doing the will of God. We Protestants believe strongly in the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers”—that every Christian is a minister, serving Jesus Christ wherever he or she happens to be, in laboratories, schools, offices, shops, or neighborhoods. Ministers like this were Luke’s sources.

An Illustration

The story is told about a man who was so intrigued by a Christian friend at work that he came to him one day and asked how he could find God. His friend said, “You need a theologian. You’d better talk to my pastor.”

When he talked to the pastor he was told, “I’m not a theologian, I’m just a poor preacher who learned some things in seminary. I suggest you see my seminary professor.”

Undaunted, the man made an appointment to see the seminary professor. At the start of the visit, he asked, “Are you a theologian?” “No, no,” was the reply. “I am just a teacher. I get my material from all these theology books in my library. You’d better go and see some of the authors of these books.”

When he finally arranged an interview with one of the important authors, his first question again was, “Are you a theologian?” “No, no,” answered the author. “I’m just a scientist who observes life and who writes about what I see. If you want a theologian, talk to somebody who is living out the faith day by day.”

I think this points up what Luke is implying. He got his story from the authentic theologians of his time. Beyond being eyewitnesses, they were living out their faith day by day.

What Sets Luke’s Gospel Apart

Perhaps the genius of Luke’s Gospel is that it is written to one person, to Theophilus. I am convinced that Luke is the most universal of the four Gospels because he is the most personal. The personal is universal; the general is vague. Some time ago I was in downtown Seattle shopping and I observed a man standing in front of one of our large department stores talking about Jesus. He was shouting at all those passing by. He was ranting about salvation to the world and nobody was listening. Though he was shouting loudly about the Good News, no one stopped and no one heeded. His message was so general it was meaningless.

Just For You

In contrast, the secret of genuinely effective communication is caught by one of the television commercials advertising a brokerage firm. When somebody whispers the firm’s name in a crowd, all conversation stops. When someone says, “Listen, this is not for the world, this is just for you,” the whole world—waiters, cab drivers, passersby—stops. We all want to eavesdrop on intimate conversation.

Luke’s Gospel, written just for Theophilus, had this quality. He is saying, “This is good news just for you, Theophilus.” And the whole world has been reading ever since Luke’s words to Theophilus. Whenever I am asked about speaking or writing effectively, I say, “Try to imagine one person sitting across the desk from you, and write your book or sermon to that one person. If your writing is for groups of people or for the world, it’s going to be vague. The more personally aimed your speaking or writing is, the more universal it is.”

LEARN MORE

The Preacher’s Commentary Series (35 Vols) brings together a team of skilled and exceptional communicators to blend sound scholarship with life-related illustrations. With all this applicable information, you will be on your way to teaching and preaching God’s Word sooner than you would be flipping through all those pages of commentary off your shelf.

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Freedom from Wifi

Posted by on 07/05/2018 in: ,

Freedom From Wifi

DID YOU KNOW…

that you don’t need wifi or data to use our app? No, really. You can use every single part of our app while your phone is on airplane mode.

STUDY THE BIBLE ANYWHERE

The reason we designed our app to work without Wifi or data is so that YOU can study God’s Word anytime, anywhere. We all know what summer is like: long road trips, camping, flying… all without an Internet connection.

An Internet connection shouldn’t determine how deeply you can study the Bible.

So, test it out. Put your device in airplane mode right now and start studying. You don’t need to be distracted by texts, phone calls, or the Internet anyway.

SHARE #READSTUDYANYWHERE

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Four Aspects of Living a Life Worthy of Your Calling

Posted by on 06/15/2018 in: ,

​​I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love Ephesians 4:1-2 (KJV)

Paul calls out four particular aspects of how to “walk out” a life worthy of your calling, and they are more than personal qualities. For the life worthy of the calling of God is a life in the fellowship of the people of God; and if this is to be maintained these four virtues are vital.

LOWLINESS

The first, emphasized by the characteristic all (cf. 1:8; 4:19, 31; 5:3, 9; 6:18), is lowliness. Very significantly, the Greek noun tapeinophrosynē does not seem to have been used before New Testament times, and the corresponding adjective tapeinos nearly always had a bad meaning, and was associated with words having the sense of slavish, mean, ignoble. Lessons of humility had been taught in the Old Testament, and such a passage as Isaiah 66:2 in the Septuagint is a notable exception to the general pre-Christian use of tapeinos, but to the Greeks humility was not a virtue. To them, as indeed to most non-Christian people in any generation, the concept of ‘the fullness of life … left no room for humility’.

In Christ lowliness became a virtue. His life and death were service and sacrifice without thought of reputation (Phil. 2:6–7). Because the Christian is called to follow in his steps, humility has an irreplaceable part in the Christian character (cf. Acts 20:19), and also for the reason that he has been brought to see the greatness and glory and holiness of God, so that he cannot but be overwhelmed by the realization of his own weakness and sinfulness.

MEEKNESS

The second word, meekness (prautēs), was used in classical Greek in the good sense of mildness or gentleness of character. The adjective (praos), especially, found an important use in describing an animal completely disciplined and controlled. Meekness in the New Testament is used of a person’s attitude to the word of God (Jas 1:21), but more often of one’s attitude to other people (1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 3:2).

It is closely connected with the spirit of submissiveness which becomes the keynote of this letter when, in 5:21, the apostle turns to speak of human relationships. Moses is aptly described in Numbers 12:3 as ‘very meek’. For, as Mitton puts it, meekness ‘is the spirit of one who is so absorbed in seeking some worthy goal for the common good that he refuses to be deflected from it by slights, injuries or insults directed at himself personally, or indeed by personal considerations of any kind’.

PATIENCE

Thirdly, there is patience (makrothymia), a word sometimes used of steadfast endurance of suffering or misfortune (as in Jas 5:10) but more often, as is the case here, of slowness in avenging wrong or retaliating when hurt by another. It is used of God’s patience with humanity (Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:15), and the corresponding and consequent quality that the Christian should show towards others (1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:2).

FORBEARANCE

Forbearance, the fourth requirement, is also a divine quality (Rom. 2:4), the practical outworking of longsuffering. ‘It involves bearing with one another’s weaknesses, not ceasing to love one’s neighbours or friends because of those faults in them which perhaps offend or displease us’ (Abbott). It is ‘that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace’ (Stott).

Such forbearance, and indeed all these four qualities, are possible only in love. For love is the basic attitude of seeking the highest good of others, and it will therefore lead to all these qualities, and include them all (see vv. 15–16 and on 1:4). Paul has prayed that his readers may be ‘rooted and grounded in love’ (3:17), and now he exhorts them to do their part, and to go on to possess all these virtues in love.

Tyndale Commentaries Full Set (49 Vols.)

This excerpt is adapted from the Tyndale Commentaries Full Set (49 Vols.). Are you looking for a biblical resource that is longstanding and trustworthy? Then look into this commentary set! Written by some of the world’s most distinguished evangelical scholars, each book offers clear, reliable, and relevant expositions.

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The Significance of the Priestly Blessing: Numbers 6

Posted by on 06/12/2018 in: ,

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.’
‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”
Numbers 6:22-27 (NIV)

Blessing Rooted In Israelite Culture

The act of blessing is deeply rooted in Israelite culture. It bears a wide range of meaning. On the one hand, Jacob’s stealing of Esau’s blessing and the latter’s inability to acquire another from his father, Isaac (Gen 27:30-38), provides a glimpse into the near magical power of blessing. In that story, to bless is to bestow power for fertility and well-being, which, once spoken, takes on a life of its own. On the other hand, the expression of divine blessing appears to be no more than a stereotypical exchange for “Hello.” The book of Ruth provides an example of how the invocation of divine blessing was part of the everyday language of greeting, for example, when the harvesters welcome Boaz with the words, “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:4).

The cultic use of divine blessing, as in vv. 24-26, functions someplace between the two examples noted above.

The cultic use of the priestly blessing was widespread by the late monarchical period. Similar cultic language is richly attested in other liturgical literature. Psalm 129:8, for example, concludes with a priestly blessing on the worshipers, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you. We bless you in the name of the Lord” (see also Pss 128:5; 133:3; 134:3).

The Hebrew inscription “the Lord bless you and keep you and be with you” was found on a jar at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the upper Sinai, dating from the eighth-century. This inscription indicates the use of a blessing very similar to Num 5:24-26 already in the middle of the monarchical period. The discovery of the priestly blessing in a burial cave in the area of Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom (contemporary Keteph Hinnom) is even more striking. The blessing is written on two silver amulets that date from the late seventh century.

An amulet is an object believed to give magical powers of protection against evil to the one who wears it. The discovery of such an amulet in a grave raises further questions of whether the priestly blessing was meant to function in association with the dead. Baruch Levine suggests that the priestly blessing may have protected the dead on their way to Sheol.

The Blessing’s Structure

The priestly blessing has a simple structure, consisting of three lines, each of which contains two verbs: bless-keep (protect), shine-grace, lift-peace. The name “Yahweh” appears once in each line, in association with the first of the paired verbs.

Yahweh bless you and keep you;
Yahweh make his face to shine upon
you and be gracious to you;
Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you—
and give you peace

Two readings are possible from this structure.

The six verbs could be interpreted to describe distinct actions of God. They can also be interpreted in pairs. The first verb in each line summarizes an activity of God upon the worshiper, and the second describes the results of God’s actions. The use of the name “Yahweh” as the subject for only the first verb in each sentence favors the interpretation in which the verbs are paired. The result is a threefold blessing.

The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and security (guarding).

The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person (to lighten or shine upon the worshiper) and thus temper judgment with mercy (to be gracious).

The third asserts that God will pay attention (lift his face), thus providing fullness of life (peace). David Noel Freedman notes a variety of subtle stylistic devices in the Hebrew that aid in carrying out the meaning of the priestly blessing. These include a progression in the numbers of words (3, 5, 7) and consonants (15, 20, 25) in each line. The progression is framed by an opening (“The Lord bless you”) and a closing (“and give you peace”) cola of the same length (7 syllables in Hebrew).

Blessing Within the Context

Numbers 6:22-23, 27 frames the priestly blessing within the context of Numbers 5–6. These verses take the form of divine instruction for the Aaronide priesthood. Numbers 6:22-23 indicate that the blessing is meant to function as a concluding benediction (vv. 22-23) to the instruction for camp purity in chaps. 5–6. Numbers 6:27 clarifies that it is God (rather than the priests) who blesses Israel.

The literary setting has puzzled scholars, prompting some even to suggest that the text has been displaced from Lev 9:22, where Aaron is also described as blessing the people from the door of the tent of meeting. But the function of the blessing as a concluding benediction on the camp and the congregation does correspond to other cultic uses of the priestly blessing in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 129:1), suggesting that its present context is less arbitrary than many have suspected.

The overall design of Numbers 5–6 provides additional guidelines for interpreting the priestly blessing in its present context.

The placement of the priestly benediction at the door of the tent of meeting follows naturally upon the inward movement of the laws of defilement. These laws began with contamination requiring expulsion from the camp (5:1-4), followed by three types of relationships within the camp with the power to defile. These relationships moved in an ever-closer orbit to the tabernacle at the center of the camp—from defrauding in general (5:5-10), to adultery (5:11-31), and through to the Nazirite vow (6:1-21). The location for expiatory rituals has tended to follow the same movement. The laws of defrauding and adultery require that the offender be presented “to the priest” (5:9, 15), while the defiled Nazirite must go “to the door of the tent of meeting” (6:10, 13). The door of the tent of meeting is also the location for the priestly blessing on the congregation (see Lev 9:22).

The priestly blessing has at least two functions in its present literary context.

It provides yet another safeguard against defilement by blanketing the camp with the power of divine blessing. It also concludes Numbers 5–6 with a description of the ideal camp. The ideal is where God pays particular attention to persons, where blessing and security drive out the power of death, and where the achievement of wholeness and peace is possible.

The Central Message of Blessing

The priestly blessing (Num 6:22-24) is the most familiar passage in Numbers 5-6. The central message of the blessing is stated in the closing Hebrew word, שׁלום (šālôm), translated “peace”. In English, “peace” connotes the absence of war. It can also describe a state of tranquility. These meanings are also in the Hebrew. But the peace of God in the priestly blessing embraces even more aspects of life, including good health, security, inner harmony, wellness, material prosperity, and a long life. The broad and rich meaning of “peace” in the priestly blessing reinforces the role of holiness in the life of Israel to bring about both social and physical health.

It is noted in the Commentary that the priestly blessing provides an ideal vision of the camp and that it functions as a conclusion to the laws of defilement in Numbers 5–6. The ideal of the priestly blessing continues in contemporary Jewish and Christian worship. It is included in most lectionary cycles as a topic for preaching. The blessing of God also continues to be the last word in many of our Sunday liturgies as a closing benediction.

The central task in preaching this text is to explore what blessing means.

Is the bestowal of a blessing sacramental, or is it no more than a socially polite activity? Also, what is it that we receive at the close of a worship service? Is real divine power transmitted in blessing? Or, is the preacher simply telling us that the worship service is nearly over? The latter point creates a problem for interpreting the priestly benediction. Notice how the introduction to the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-23) stresses that only priests can bless. It is not a casual activity. Additionally, the conclusion (Num 6:27) indicates how close the text is to the world of magic. The author must clarify that the priest does not possess the power to bless independently of God. The need for such clarification underscores that divine blessing has independent power that can be let loose in the congregation.

New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary

This excerpt is adapted from the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (10 Vols.). This series offers critically sound biblical interpretations. Also, it is written by scholars, pastors and laity representing diverse traditions and academic experience. Therefore, this collection of commentary meets the needs of preachers, teachers, and all students of the Bible.

We have the 10 volume set available for purchase on our website! So, learn more about the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. See how it works in the app, and add it to your library today, here.

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Praying for Lost Friends and Family

Posted by on 06/11/2018 in:

Praying for Lost Friends and Family

Praying for lost friends and family is a difficult task. We so badly want to see them saved. But, at the same time, we don’t always see God answer in the way and timing that we want. Praying for lost friends and family requires endurance, strength, hope, patience, and love.

The CSB Disciple’s Study Bible contains great articles on a variety of discipleship topics. Here is an excerpt from this study Bible on praying for lost friends and family.

PRAYING FOR LOST FRIENDS AND FAMILY

The purpose of the Disciple-Making Pathway is to help believers grow in their faith and become more like Christ. As we become more like him, we will be burdened for our lost friends and family and will desire to see them come to know Christ in a more intimate way.

E. M. Bounds wisely said:

“You can’t rightly talk to men about God until you first talk to God about men.”

What this means is that our efforts to share the gospel must begin with and be saturated in prayer. Before we can even consider sharing the truth of God with those who do not believe, we must be diligently praying for them. Here are some specific things for which to pray.

1. That God would open their eyes to the truth of the gospel.

“When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” (Mt 13:19)

“In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2Co 4:4)

Satan will do everything he can to blind unbelievers to the gospel. Pray that God would open their spiritual eyes to see the truth.

2. That they would seek to know God.

“He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Ac 17:27)

God will reveal himself to those who seek after him. Pray that your lost friends and family would have a hunger for God.

3. That they would believe the Scriptures.

Someone who does not know Christ will not understand the truth of the Word.

“But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.” (1Co 2:14)

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.” (1Co 1:18)

Pray that they would have a hunger for the Word of God and that they would believe the truths of the Scriptures.

4. That God draws them to himself.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn 6:44)

We must always remember that, although God uses us as the instruments to share the message and help lead people to him, only he can convict and convert them. One cannot receive Christ until God first draws them. Let us therefore pray that God will draw them to himself.

5. That the Holy Spirit works in their lives.

“When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.” (Jn 16:8)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come.” (Jn 16:13)

Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict them of sin and cause them to repent and believe.

6. That God would send someone to lead them to Christ.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:37-38)

Perhaps that someone is you. Pray that you or someone else could be used to show and share the gospel.

7. That they confess Christ as Savior and Lord.

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.” (Rm 10:9-10)

“But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1:12-13)

8. That they would trust Christ, and confess him as Savior and Lord!

CSB DISCIPLE’S STUDY BIBLE

The CSB Disciple’s Study Bible will help you engage with and apply God’s Word to your daily life as a disciple of Jesus. Designed to equip you to follow Jesus and disciple others, it features discipleship-themed study notes, as well as tools and resources like the F260 Reading Plan, introductions with outlines and timelines, full-color maps, and discipleship articles from the team at Replicate Ministries.

Learn more about the CSB Disciple’s Study Bible and add it to your library by visiting our website.

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Fellowship That Produces Joy

Posted by on 06/01/2018 in: , ,

Fellowship That Produces Joy

“How about coming over to the house for some fellowship?”
“What a golf game! Man, did we have great fellowship!”
“The fellowship at the retreat was just terrific!”

That word fellowship seems to mean many things to many different people. Perhaps, like a worn coin, it may be losing its true impression. If so, we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.

True Christian fellowship is really much deeper than sharing coffee and pie, or even enjoying a golf game together. It is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually. One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship that believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome, his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. In Philippians 1:1-11, Paul used three thoughts that describe true Christian fellowship: I have you in my mind (Phil. 1:3-6), I have you in my heart (Phil. 1:7-8), and I have you in my prayers (Phil. 1:9-11).

I HAVE YOU IN MY MIND (1:3-6)

 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4)

Isn’t it remarkable that Paul was thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaited his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind went back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he had brought him joy.

Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my fellow Christians when they think of me?

I HAVE YOU IN MY HEART (1:7-8)

“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart” (Philippians 1:7)

Now we move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really having them in our hearts. (Someone has observed that many people today would have to confess, “I have you on my nerves!”) Paul’s sincere love for his friends was something that could not be disguised or hidden.

How did Paul evidence his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His bonds were proof of his love.

Paul’s love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced.

He considered his difficult circumstances an opportunity for defending and confirming the gospel, and this would help his brethren everywhere.

I HAVE YOU IN MY PRAYERS (1:9-11)

“And it is my prayer…” (Philippians 1:9)

And what did Paul pray for the Philippine believers?

He prayed that they might experience abounding love and discerning love. Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wanted his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to “distinguish the things that differ.”

Paul also prayed that they might have mature Christian character, “sincere and without offense.

This means that our lives do not cause others to stumble, and that they are ready for the judgment seat of Christ when He returns.

Paul also prayed that they might have mature Christian service. He wanted them filled and fruitful (Phil. 1:11).

He was not interested simply in church activities, but in the kind of spiritual fruit that is produced when we are in fellowship with Christ.

The difference between spiritual fruit and human religious activity is that the fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ.

“I have you in my mind … in my heart …  in my prayers.”

This is the kind of fellowship that produces joy, and it is the single mind that produces this kind of fellowship.

Adapted from BE Series Commentary by Wiersbe. Like this content? Learn more about this series here.

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Return to the World of the Bible

Posted by on 05/28/2018 in:

Return to the World of the Bible

Studying archaeology can help us return to the world of the Bible. Read this short article from author and archaeologist David Chapman to find out how.

TANGIBLE REALITES

One of the benefits to reading the Bible is to understand the culture behind the text. For example, when I am reading a text, I’ll read about somebody drinking, and I immediately think of the cups that I would drink out of or the streets that I would walk down. I import my 21st-century assumptions into the Bible.

One of the great things about archaeology is that it reminds us to start thinking like the people who received the Word of God in the Old and the New Testament. It helps us reenter that world, and to think along with them, and hear the Word of God coming to us in the culture in which it was initially written. That’s a huge aspect of archaeology that really helps every reader of the Scriptures.

REAL HISTORY

Archaeology helps with biblical understanding in another significant way.

I frequently take groups over to Israel to see the various archaeological sites from the Bible. One of the things that people often report is when they go there, they see that This is real history. This is really happening.

I was raised in a Christian home and read the Bible from as early as I can remember. There’s a way that reading the Bible can kind of be like reading a great work of historical narrative or maybe even a fictional story. It can feel like reading Tolkien, with its maps in the back and all of this vivid imagery. It’s easy to become a little distant from the real narrative truth that God is really engaging in real history throughout the Bible.

 The authors are really writing about Jesus as he really walked and where he walked. And so when you walk through the land visually, when you discuss the land visually, it reminds you constantly that these events really happened. God really did bring a people out of Egypt. And that makes things even more vivid for people.

When I’m in class teaching, showing slides of archaeology and discussing it, students will often say that it just reminds them of how real Scripture is and that God really did this.

ESV ARCHAEOLOGY STUDY BIBLE

David Chapman is one of the primary contributors for the ESV Archaeology Study Bible. Start using this resource today to begin your return to the world of the Bible. Visit our website to learn more about this study Bible and add it to your library today.

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Running the Wrong Way

Posted by on 04/23/2018 in:

Running Away from God

A German proverb says, “What is the use of running when we are not on the right road?” No matter how much effort we expend in travel, our efforts are wasted if we’re not heading in the right direction.

RUNNING AWAY FROM GOD

This proverb illustrates a profound Biblical truth—working strenuously to be righteous and religious is wasted effort if we’re not moving in the right direction. In Isaiah 58, for example, God notes that the people are praying and fasting, but they are headed in the wrong direction. Their religious fervor is not about God, even though it looks like it is. Their religion is all about themselves, because they are merely “eager for God to come near them” (v. 2).

If they were really interested in getting to know God, their focus would be on the people God called them to love: the poor and the needy.

THE ILLUSION

Instead, we find them indicted for exploiting workers, quarreling and violence (vv. 3–4). They are not, in short, loving their neighbors. How can they love God whom they have not seen when they are failing to love the neighbor right in front of them (see 1Jn 4:20)? It’s clear that they are running in the wrong spiritual direction. Running away from God, even though their piety makes it look like they are running toward God. As the proverb says, that’s just wasted effort.

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How do you think this looks for us today? In what ways is it easy to appear that we are running toward God while running the wrong way? Share with us in the comments!

This blog is adapted from the NIV Understand the Faith Study Bible. You can learn more about it, see how it works in the app, and purchase it on our website.

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The Personal Cost of Extraordinary Religious Experiences

Posted by on 04/16/2018 in:

The Personal Cost of Extraordinary Religious Experiences

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV) — 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Extraordinary religious experiences often come at personal cost.

When Jacob wrestled with God, he hobbled away lame. When Paul entered paradise, he came away with a thorn in his flesh. Few remarks in Scripture have generated as much scholarly discussion as this one. Whatever the thorn was, the net effect for Paul was torment (v. 7). The present tense suggests frequent bouts. Paul’s stake was not an isolated episode. It repeatedly came back to plague him—like the school bully who waits each day for his victim to round the corner.

THERE IS SUFFICIENT GRACE FOR OUR THORNS

The request Paul makes is for the thorn to be taken away (v. 8). Paul wanted nothing more to do with it. He does not make his request for selfish reasons. Verses 9-10 make it clear that whatever this painful disability was, it hampered Paul’s ministry and, to his way of thinking, the spread of the gospel. The reply Paul received was undoubtedly not the one he was hoping for: He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you” (v. 9).

The tense is perfect, denoting finality (eirēken). What God said to Paul was not subject to change or revision. The first thing to observe is that Paul’s request was not granted. The stake was not taken away. Instead he was provided the grace to bear it. This grace, Paul is told, is sufficient for him. The promise is that whenever the messenger of Satan afflicts him, he will be given sufficient strength to bear up.

In certain circles within evangelicalism today, there is a belief that it is God’s will that everyone should be healthy and happy and that if healing does not occur in answer to prayer it is because a person lacks faith. This thinking clearly runs contrary to Paul’s experience. Without a doubt Paul had great faith, but his request for the removal of the stake was not answered. This is not to say that he didn’t receive an answer. He most assuredly did—My grace is sufficient for you. But it is not the answer the mindset focused on self and what God can do for me wants to hear. Yet hear we must, lest our witness to the world lack credibility and theological soundness.

God’s grace is sufficient because his power is made perfect in weakness (v. 9).

This aphoristic phrase is commonly taken as the theme of this letter—and not without cause. The fact that suffering is the typical lot of the gospel minister is a point that Paul tries repeatedly to drive home to the Corinthians (see the introduction). Those who preach the gospel “carry around . . . the [dying] of Jesus” and are “always being given over to death” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11).

PERFECTING POWER IN WEAKNESS

Paul’s statement is a rather startling one: God’s power neither displaces weakness nor overcomes it. On the contrary, it comes to its full strength in it (en + astheneia). At issue is how God manifests his power. Paul’s opponents claimed that it is best seen in visions, ecstasies and the working of signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:12). Paul, on the other hand, maintained that God’s power is most effectively made known in and through weakness. Indeed, God’s power is made perfect in weakness (teleitai = “to find consummation” or “be accomplished”; v. 9). As one commentator notes,

“There is a certain finishing and perfecting power in weakness” (Carpus 1876:178).

Not that we are to cherish our infirmities. Weakness of itself will perfect nothing. But when the human vessel is weak, the divine power is especially evident, and the weakness proves to be a fine discipline (B. Hanson 1981:44).

So far from hindering the gospel, Paul’s stake actually served to advance it. This is why he aims to boast only in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:5)—and he does it all the more gladly (v. 9). Paul not only has accepted his weaknesses and learned to live with them, but he also takes pleasure in them. Why? Because these very weaknesses afford the opportunity for the power of Christ to rest on him (v. 9). This is why Paul can go on to say, “I am content with my weaknesses”.

WHEN WE ARE WEAK, WE ARE STRONG

Paul concludes with for when I am weak, then I am strong (v. 10). His statement has the character of a settled conviction rather than a rote repetition of God’s answer. But what does it mean? How can one be weak and strong at the same time? The paradox is noted by all. But the point throughout has been that Christ’s power is perfected in, not in spite of, weakness.

How so?

We often think that without human strength we are destined to fail and without personal courage we are bound to falter. Yet good as these are, such qualities tend to push us to self-sufficiency and away from God-dependency. Samson was superlatively endowed with strength, but in the end this very strength brought about his destruction. Human strength is like the flower of the field that has its day in the sun but then shrivels up and dies. Enduring strength lies in God alone.

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This blog was adapted from the 2 Corinthians volume of the IVP New Testament Commentary, written by Linda L. Belleville. Want to learn more about the IVP New Testament Commentary? You can read about it and purchase it on our website.

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Bridging the Divide

Posted by on 04/02/2018 in:

On Sunday at church, I was across the room from my son. He started running toward me, which any parent will attest is a great moment. While there are times he has run all the way to me, grinning ear to ear and laughing, today was different. He got part of the way, stopped, and broke into tears with arms stretched out to me.

GOD, THE FATHER

Which got me thinking, isn’t this how we are before God, the Father? Throughout history, religions have been built upon an idea that, with enough work, we are able to reach god. We live by the rules, meditate, and strive to “better ourselves”. Even in a Biblical context, we are consumed by the law and making ourselves worthy. We define our lives around practices that we hope make us holy. We do all this to earn standing before our god, to cross the “great divide“. Sometimes, this might appear to work. We find success and prosperity, admiration of other believers, or pride in our accomplishments.

THE INFINITE DIVIDE

However, the gap between imperfect man and an infinitely, perfect God is, by definition, infinite. No matter how many steps we take, how hard we work, or how “good” we are, the divide is still infinite. And this isn’t just something we can see through the lens of the New Testament. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that “all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8) David wrote in Psalm 14, “the children of man…have all turned aside…there is none who does good, not even one.” Paul quotes this in Romans 3, adding “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” Justification requires crossing the infinite void, and we simply cannot.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:4-6

We are infinitely separated from our God, and every step we can take will not get us any closer. But God’s love is infinite, and therefore infinitely capable of bridging the divide. From before the foundations of Earth and time, God chose to demonstrate his “great love,” by giving his Son to be the offering for sin, and we get to share in that righteousness.

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

Paul goes on to add, “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our own efforts do not get us anywhere. Just like my son, we eventually have no recourse except to throw our arms open and, in faith, cry out to God. And just as I didn’t leave him to “buck up and try harder,” our God has not left us to work and earn a place with Him. He pursued us to the cross. In so doing, He has made us alive and “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” 

We were infinitely separated from an infinite God. But in His great love, He is bridging the divide and drawing us to Himself.

Does this topic remind you of any other passages of Scripture? Share in the comments below!


This blog was written by Adam Hewitt, Sr App Developer at Olive Tree

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