Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Pitfalls of Prejudice

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; these are the clans of Reuben. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the clans of Simeon. These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years. The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations. Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years. The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri. Aaron took as his wife Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab and the sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the clans of the Korahites. Eleazar, Aaron’s son, took as his wife one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites by their clans.

These are the Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said: “Bring out the people of Israel from the land of Egypt by their hosts.” It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing out the people of Israel from Egypt, this Moses and this Aaron.

On the day when the LORD spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, the LORD said to Moses, “I am the LORD; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”  (Exodus 6:14-30 ESV)

It seems odd to us to stop in the middle of this narrative of events to give a genealogy of the main characters of the events (Moses and Aaron).  But it is critical from an Israelite viewpoint because God has made promises along genealogical lines and the house of Levi will be granted the priesthood in Israel.  So the pedigree of Moses and Aaron must be given to establish their origins and we also have highlighted for us the origins of some key players in the near future (the sons of Korah and Phineas).

The kingdom of God is inextricably linked to Israel.  God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless all nations through him is still in play.  God has sent the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the Messiah, through the line of Israel and particularly through Judah and David.  We cannot understand what God is doing if we leave out the Jews.  Of all the peoples of the earth they will be at the forefront of God’s establishment of His rule once again on earth.  All non-Jewish peoples, the Gentiles, are brought into the kingdom on the coattails of Israel, being grafted into this vine (Romans 11) and made partakers of God’s promises.

This has implications for how we view all peoples.  We are so prone to prejudice, to pre-judging a people based on their appearance, ethnicity, language and beliefs.  From God’s perspective, however, we are all just different brands of the same product and equally loved.  His plan for all of us centers around Israel but is impartial toward all people.  Bias against anyone is like telling God He made a mistake…it is stupid.

Ephesians 6:10-20 –Conversations with God

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Father, we are in a war!  I don’t know how more plainly Paul could make that point.  The enemy is scheming against us.  Evil is afoot.  Flaming arrows are being shot at us.  We are in danger of losing ground if we don’t stand firm.  Being alert is paramount.

But you don’t want us to fight human beings.  In fact, we might actually be in chains as we do our fighting.  We might be in the weakest of situations personally or politically.  Nevertheless, there is an armor to don and a battle to fight and it is all on the spiritual level.

And so our armor is spiritual.  Truth, to keep us from succumbing to the lies of the Devil and his demons.  Righteousness, positionally and personally, to keep us from despairing.  The gospel message that brings peace to those who embrace it.  Faith, to ward off the evil one’s attacks.  Salvation, to keep us secure in the midst of battle.  The Word of God, to slice through the deceptions of our foe.  And prayer, to give us a lifeline to God who gives us boldness for the preaching of the gospel.

Keep me alert, Lord!

Ephesians 3:20,21 — Conversations with God

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Father, I’ll admit it…I think small.  If Jesus had told me to feed the 5,000 I would have done what the disciples did and have failed to see the possibilities with Jesus there.  But I’m also afraid to think big.  When I have had an occasion to try believing  something big and it didn’t turn out I’ve felt disappointment and foolish for expecting something so outrageous and it not happening.

I’m helped by Paul’s admission (he does include himself in the “we,” right God?) that he asks less of You than You are able to do.  I take from his words that he believed You were more than willing to do beyond what we ask or think.  That encourages me.  I have seen You demonstrate this on more than one occasion, but I still struggle to trust You.  I’m sorry.

I know that in the context Paul is immediately referring to Your ability to reveal Your love for us and generate our love for one another and fill us to Your fulness.  It seems impossible to me at times that such rich love and unity within the church is going to occur.  But Paul is urging me to think big.

So help me think big (or at least bigger) about unity and love right in my own congregation (with maybe a little left over for the rest of the church worldwide).  Help me think bigger about all You want to accomplish in Your world.  And, of course, answer this prayer even beyond what I was able to ask or think.

To You be the glory!

In Conflict the Third View Is Usually Right (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.  Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.  Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.  I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 10-19)

In most Bibles the heading for this passage is “Thanks for the Gift.”  But I am hard pressed to find straight out thanks in this passage.  In fact, if I got a thank you note telling me the recipient of my gift didn’t really need it I think I would be somewhat bummed or maybe angry.  This passage makes much more sense when seen in light of the conflict that has been raging at Philippi and when we assume that the conflict involves the very money given to Paul.

We know from chapter 1 that Paul has had to correct the impression some of the Philippians had that his imprisonment meant the possible death of the gospel.  He has prayed that their love would show an increase in knowledge and discernment.  If we suppose that one faction in the church (led, let’s suppose, by Euodia) felt it was crucial to send Paul money in order to preserve the gospel, then we could suppose that the other faction (led, we’ll say, by Syntyche) was opposed to sending a gift.  We know from 2 Corinthians 8 that the Macedonians (of which the Philippians were a part) were experiencing poverty.  It would have been easy for Syntyche’s group to argue that a gift for Paul was unreasonable at the moment because their own needs were so great.  It would have been easy for Euodia’s group to argue that this was selfish.

When we look at the conflict with this paradigm, the remarks Paul makes here in this passage take on the air of a brilliant third way between the two conflicting views.  To the group who wanted to send the gift (and won, in a sense, the conflict), Paul says he didn’t need it, because he has learned to be content in any situation and can handle all times of plenty or want in Christ’s power.  The other group might be congratulating themselves at this point as they hear the letter read.  But Paul’s next comments silence their congratulations.  He says it was good for them to send it, not because he needed it but because of the blessing that returned to them from God.  And God’s pleasure in their fragrant offering is only exceeded by His riches in Christ Jesus that are able to supply all their needs.  Both groups are wrong in their view.

In other words, Paul is not landing on either side of this conflict, but on a different side, the side that rejects the selfish agendas of each warring party and argues for a third view, the view of unity.  Both sides have legitimate concerns but need to see that the concern for unity is paramount.  When two people or two groups have competing views a third view is usually the right one.  It is the view that seeks to see the good in both views and see the best in finding ways to love each other despite the conflict.

Unity Through Right Thinking (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 8-9)

Have you ever been around someone whose focus was on things noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable?  Instead of looking for the things in others or in life that are wrong, impure, ugly and despicable, they are not discouraged but believe, instead, that God has His hand on the world and people still and that He will bring glory to Himself through it all.  This is not only an astounding attitude to have because of the peace it affords to one, it is an astounding attitude to have because it so contributes to peace among other people.

Paul knows, as we have seen, that anxiety does not lead to inner peace, nor peace within the Body of Christ (4:6).  The anxious people among the Philippians, concerned as they were for Paul and the gospel, had managed to frighten many others into sending Paul money in hopes of rescuing the gospel.  Paul commended their love but not their discernment.  Their love needed to abound in knowledge and depth of insight (1:9-11).

Here, Paul is giving a guideline for how love’s knowledge and insight might abound.  Think on the things that are worthy of praise.  Think on the things that are excellent.  Paul saw opportunity in his imprisonment because he thought this way and it resulted in those in Caesar’s household hearing the gospel.  Paul saw benefit in being humbled because it was a way of knowing Jesus in his suffering and being conformed to his death as a prelude to resurrection (2:5-11; 3:10,11).

So Paul again becomes the example of this positive mindset that he can point the Philippians to and command them to follow. And the promise is the presence in their lives of the God of peace.  The God of peace will bring both an inner strength to the individual that Paul embodied, and will bring to the relationships one has a freedom from conflict.  I will not be focused on pursuing my own agenda because of fear, anxiety and negative anticipation.  I will be able to see God at work in all situations, and I will see my unity with you and all other believers as paramount to the progress of the gospel.

Joy and Peace in the Gospel (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4-7)

It seems a little odd that right after Paul mentions the names of the prime combatants in the church conflict (with whom, of course, most everyone has taken sides) and asks other leaders to help them resolve it, that Paul would not stay more immediately with this topic.  But in point of fact, he is on topic.

The enjoinder to rejoice in the Lord is tantamount to saying, “Rejoice in what God rejoices about,” which is the saving of souls who are in darkness by holding out the word of life in unity with one another.  The gentleness that is to be evident to all is that gentleness of interaction with one another in the Body of Christ that views one another as more important than oneself, that is concerned not only for one’s own interests only but also for the interests of others.

And that kind of selflessness extends itself to unbelievers, also.  They sense that the most important thing to you is not your personal agenda, your pet doctrines or behavioral distinctives, but the person in front of you — them.  When that is the case, it is not the individual who is offensive but only the gospel itself.  And that is what we want.

The flip side of this is freedom from anxiety.  The Philippians had been anxious about Paul’s imprisonment because they felt the gospel was limited by his personal limitations.  It was not, of course, as we have seen.  Confidence in the gospel and in the Lord’s ability to have it make progress, frees us to make good decisions in love, not desperation.  And that helps us stay in unity, as well.

When we hand over all our concerns to God in prayer and experience His incomparable peace guarding our hearts and minds, we are ready to be a part of the progress of the gospel.  We are able to see each other not as enemies to our selfish ambitions but sisters and brothers who can stand firm in one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.

NOTHING is more important than the progress of the gospel.  NOTHING!

Dealing with Disunity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 1-3)

We learn at last the key players in the conflict at Philippi.  Two women (remember, women played key roles in the church at Philippi from the very beginning, Acts 16), two fellow warriors at Paul’s side, are not of the same mind.  We will see more clearly what they are fighting about at the end of the letter.  But for now, Paul appeals to other leaders in the church to help bring unity after begging the two women to pursue the same.

Paul has just finished teasing out the implications of the true gospel and it is this gospel that each player in the conflict agrees about.  This is what they can stand firm over in the Lord together.  This is what has brought them the certainty of reward in the kingdom.  To what greater issue could they give their attention?  And yet they were divided over such a lesser concern.

How were Paul’s true companion and Clement and the rest supposed to help these sisters come to unity?  Paul doesn’t spell it out.  But he is quite familiar with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18 (see 1 Corinthians 5) and no doubt mentions the overseers and deacons at the opening greeting to his letter to highlight their authority and responsibility for bringing church order.  Perhaps the next step was to challenge these women with the authority they possessed from God when they agreed together in prayer about the solution to this problem.

What are you out of sorts about with someone at your church?  Were you wronged and needing to confront them in love just between the two of you to find a solution?  Are you the wronger?  Have you enlisted the help of wise witnesses you both trust to help you resolve this, if indeed you cannot find a solution on your own?  Have you taken it to the authorities of the church to prevent this leading to further disunity?  Nothing is more important than the unity of the church behind the true gospel.