Category Archives: theology

A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 4

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)

Here is a fascinating application of God’s perspective on work.  Fascinating because it is addressed to someone who has no choice in the work he or she does because he or she is owned by another human being.  Nevertheless, there is an understanding that the slave can do legitimate work for this master and so fulfill the Cultural Mandate.  We may suppose that if the master were asking the slave to do something contrary to the will of God that this would not be fulfilling the Cultural Mandate, which requires that we work under God’s authority to better the world.

But assuming that the master has the slave doing legitimate work, the slave is to do so with sincerity of heart, being motivated out of love for God and for one’s fellow man in accord with the Great Commandments.  He or she is not to do it begrudgingly, simply to avert the master’s anger, but is to do it as serving the Master, the Lord God, who is the ultimate rewarder of good work.

Though it is not clearly stated in this passage, we may assume from what Paul says elsewhere (Titus 2:9,10) that he is also concerned that the way a slave works in subjection to his or her master is a reflection of the gospel and its transformative power.  The Great Commission is always a factor in how and why we work.

Ephesians 1:18-21 — Conversations with God

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Enlighten me, Lord.

What is the  hope of my calling?  I am hoping for a complete transformation of my soul’s aspiration and my body’s limitations.  I yearn for a time when my heart beats only in time with Yours.  I want to desire nothing in heaven or on earth besides You.  And I want my body to only respond to Your commands and be completely ruled by righteousness.  I hope to enjoy endless fellowship with You, learning ever more and more of Your greatness.  I hope for an end of pain and suffering and a fullness of joy that cannot be contained.  That is my hope for my calling.

What are the riches of the glory of Your inheritance in us?  It must be the uniting of all who love and are loved by You.  I, of course, want to immediately go to all the material blessings of heaven, a new body, no aches or pains, no suffering, everlasting life, pleasures beyond my wildest imaginings.  But it is the relationships that must be the most important.  It is knowing You and knowing one another at a level never before experienced in so sustained a way.  To be able to express our hearts without fear or shame will be amazing.  I want to live that way now, but am fearful.  Help me, Lord.

What is the surpassing greatness of Your power toward us who believe?  Did Paul mean “power for us who believe” (works of power You might do on our behalf), or “power in us who believe” (resident ability to change spiritually or accomplish Your works ourselves), or “power toward us who believe” (undefined).  The Greek preposition iseis, which could be translated “in” or “to”.  If the latter is intended it would seem Paul is focused on what You have wrought on our behalf.  This might seem supported by what follows in that it talks about raising Jesus from the dead and seating Him with Your authority in the heavenly places and making Him head over all things and particularly the Church.

If Paul meant “in” us it would seem that what follows would have more to do with what we have been enabled to accomplish.  However, Paul says Your power toward us is in accordance with the power You worked in Christ.  If could be he is arguing that the same power You used to raise Jesus and seat Him with authority is the power operative inside us.  But there should be more of a connection than that.

What is similar to your powerful resurrecting and seating of Jesus and Your power in us?  Is it that You have raised us to new life and seated us with Christ in the heavenlies, thus giving us life and authority with Jesus?  The power in us then would be the life changing presence of Christ’s resurrected life that makes me more holy and loving, and the reality of a heavenly authority and blessing that gives me confidence to take on the world.  Do I have both those?

Whether I feel them or not, I have them and Paul was praying that I might be enlightened about that.  Open my eyes even wider, Holy God!

Lessons From the Old Testament: Not by Might, nor by Power

Zerubbabel displays a plan of Jerusalem to Cyr...

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So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)

One of the consistent messages of the Old Testament is that despite the fact that we are made in God’s image, despite the fact that we can do amazing things with the abilities God gave us, and despite the fact that God loves us immensely, when it comes to accomplishing the purposes of God we are severely handicapped.  God communicated this to Jacob when, after wrestling with him all night at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32), and after abiding Jacob’s lies and other means of making his life work out the way he wanted it to, He finally touched Jacob’s hip and disabled it.  Jacob needed to know that he could not depend on his own resources to accomplish even what he wanted to accomplish, much less accomplish the purposes of God.

This is the reason for David’s frequent self-description in the Psalms as “needy” (Psalm 40:17, for example).  This is why we read in the Psalms, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:10).”

And when God is instructing His people Israel about the restoration of their exiled nation, He makes a point of noting to Zerubbabel, one of His appointed leaders, that it is not Zerubbabel’s strenth or might that will accomplish this.  Does this mean that Zerubbabel’s leadership is unnecessary?  Absolutely not!  Rather, it is an invitation to Zerubbabel and all leaders to look to God for strength and wisdom to do what is required.

We recognize that as a people we are hampered by our own sinful ways of responding to others, our own inner fears and failures, and our own lack of wisdom, at times, to always choose the right path.  And there are some obstacles that we cannot overcome no matter how righteously and wisely we are acting.  All of this combined makes it imperative that we look to the Lord for help.

Hezekiah did not have the resources to deal with attacking Assyria when they stood outside the walls of Jerusalem demanding surrender (2 Kings 18).  He brought the problem to Yahweh and Yahweh delivered His people.  Jehoshaphat faced much the same dilemma (2 Chronicles 20) and trusted in Yahweh in much the same way Hezekiah did.

Other leaders, however, trusted in their own wisdom and reacted out of their own selfishness and woundedness and failed to properly lead their people.  The examples of this are unfortunately very much more prominent in our biblical record than is comfortable.  Saul chose to sacrifice without Samuel, David chose to stay at home instead of going to war and committed adultery and murder, Solomon married into idolatry, his son listened to the advice of his young contemporaries and threw the kingdom into division, and the list goes on and on.

When will we realize that it is not by our might nor by our power that God’s purposes will be accomplished?  Rather, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (The Day of Atonement)

Leviticus 16

Nine days after the feast of Trumpets, on the 10th day of the 7th month, Israel was to observe the Day of Atonement, or literally, the day of covering.  This was because on this day the top of the ark of the covenant, which represented the throne of God, was to be covered with the blood of sacrifice in order to satisfy the just demands of the Holy God, Yahweh, so that He could forgive the sins of His people.  Even though they were bringing sin offerings throughout the year, this ceremony represented the need for one over-arching sacrifice to truly cover their guilt.

The day consisted of fasting, sabbath rest and a holy convocation or coming together before the sanctuary.  God wanted the people to focus on their sin and the awful requirements for atonement.  The process was even different for Aaron or whoever the high priest was that year.  He did not wear his usual priestly garments during the ceremony (except for the turban), but rather a unique set of white linen garments put on only after an entire bath in the Holy Place (the section of the tent in front of the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was located).

As the people watched, the high priest brought a bull and a ram for a burnt and sin offering.  This was for his own atonement.  He would also bring two goats as sin offerings for the people and cast lots to see which would be offered to Yahweh as a sin offering and which would be sent out in the wilderness as a scapegoat.  Then he alone entered the sanctuary, removed his normal garments and bathed, then put on the linen garments.  He then came out and slew his sin offerings and brought blood from these offerings as well as hot coals from the altar outside and some incense in with him to the Most Holy Place.  He put the incense in the coals to create smoke that would conceal to some extent the cover on the ark of the covenant so that he wouldn’t die.  This seems to be a representation of the fact that a clear, unobstructed view of God’s holiness would be dangerous to us.  Then he sprinkled blood from his sin offering on the cover or lid of the ark and some before or in front of it.

The people could see none of this, but at this point the high priest would come out of the sanctuary and offer in sacrifice the goat chosen as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  He would re-enter the sanctuary with blood from this goat and sprinkle it on the cover or lid of the ark and in front of the ark in the Most Holy Place.  This was also meant to cleanse the sanctuary.

Then the high priest would come out to the Holy Place, still unseen by the people, and put some of the blood from this sacrifice on the altar of incense to cleanse it (though some believe he came all the way out of the sanctuary and cleansed the altar outside). 

Then he would come outside and get the goat chosen to be abandoned in the wilderness, lay his hands on it and confess Israel’s sins over it.  The man chosen to take this goat would then escort it to the wilderness as a symbol of the people’s sins being taken far away.  God’s forgiveness was thus represented by the death of one goat and the removal of another, signaling how completely Israel had been forgiven.

The high priest would then re-enter the sanctuary, remove his linen garments and bath and redress in his normal garments, come out and offer the burnt offering for himself and the one for all the people and make sure it was entirely burnt up (no one would eat any portion of this sacrifice).

What kind of sense do you think you would have watching this about how seriously God deals with sin?  How comfortable would you feel that this had to be done every year?  This makes all the more wonderful the complete answer God had coming in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary with his own blood, not needing a sacrifice for his own sin because he was sinless, and cleansed forever the sin of those who trust in him (Hebrews 9).

Our day of atonement has been observed once and for all!

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Two-Fold Means of Salvation

In Genesis 3:15 God promises to defeat the Tempter, Satan, through an offspring of the woman, Eve, as a means of restoring the lost Garden of Eden, God’s Kingdom.  We are not told what the conflict between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman will look like, but it will be continual until the offspring of the woman bruises (or crushes) the head of the serpent.  With the final finishing off of the serpent there will no longer be an enemy of God and mankind to lead us astray.  This does not address our own ability to lead ourselves astray, but you have the whole rest of the Bible to explain that aspect of it.

What is fascinating is how what follows God’s pronouncements to the serpent, the woman and the man, is a demonstration of the nature of how one finds his or her way back into relationship with God.  We are told that some time after God speaks this way Adam names his wife Eve because she is the mother of all living.  Now it is not that he didn’t understand that Eve was going to have children before the “Fall,” but there seems to be a new sense of urgency and understanding here.  Why didn’t he name her before this event?  The most likely explanation, assuming the naming did follow the disobedience, is that Adam is responding to God’s message of hope in 3:15 with faith.

His faith encompasses the contours of the promise.  The offspring of his wife is going to overcome the offspring of the serpent.  There is going to be perpetual conflict, but it will be resolved with the death of the offspring of the serpent.  This makes all births a potential arena for this conflict.  Who will be the ones who will represent the spirit of rebellion and self-direction that the serpent displayed?  Who will be the ones who stand in harmony with God and against the principles of the serpent?  Whoever they may be Adam has come to believe that this is going to be the agency God uses to restore His kingdom.  And so Adam names his wife in accord with this promise.

The question, however, is this:  Is faith in the promise of God enough to restore us to right relationship with God?  And the answer is, “NO!”  Faith is the key to the restoration of this relationship.  We can’t work hard enough to restore it.  Adam doesn’t go out and begin looking for people to help or in any other way seek to demonstrate that he is now aligned with God.  He trusts God’s words and God’s character, the very thing he failed to do when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see previous post, Lessons From the Old Testament: What Satan Wants For Us).  But it isn’t enough to start doing good and expect that everything is now hunky dory with God.  It is not even enough to demonstrate faith in God’s goodness and promise.  How do we know?

What happens next instructs us that restored relationship with God has another crucial component.  Sacrifice!  In response, it seems, to Adam’s act of faith (naming Eve), God clothes the couple with animal skin.  That, of course, means He had to take the life of the animal or animals in order to get their pelts.  Innocent creatures had to die so that Adam and Eve’s nakedness might be covered.  One life had to be substituted for another.  And though it does not even hint of this, the preparation for the idea of the offspring of the woman being a sacrifice has begun.  The bruising of his heel takes on a new dimension throughout the rest of the Old Testament as we see the insufficiency of animal sacrifice to take away sin beg for something more.  When we reach Isaiah 53 we are given more explicit hope.

So, right here in Genesis we have explained for us the two-fold means of salvation.  We must have FAITH in the promise of God, and this salvation must be paid for by SACRIFICE.  No other religion on the face of the earth has these two requirements.  Every other religion requires works of good deeds as a sort of “payment” to God for our salvation.  And even where forgiveness is offered for failure to perform all that is required, it is never offered on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice that pays the penalty in our place for our own disobedience.  Thus, only Christianity makes possible a salvation that does not depend  on our performance and is thus for everyone, and also shows the absolute severity of the consequences of sin by requiring a just penalty.  That God ends up paying the price Himself is the height of true love meeting the demand of true holiness.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Need for Futility

Adam working in the field. Series History of t...

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To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
(Genesis 3:16,17)

Is it possible that Murphy’s Law is really Yahweh’s Law?  Why is it that what started out as a perfect world is now the farthest thing from perfect?  The author of Ecclesiastes is way more on the mark when it comes to describing life than the positive thinking books of our last century.  “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Why does God impose on Eve and all women pain in childbirth?  The birth of a child should be unmitigated joy.  Bringing a new life into the world should be the apex of all blessings.  But instead it has this aspect to be dreaded.  And it signals that in the raising of children there will be continued opportunities for pain.  Yes, there is crazy joy also, but that is what is so futile about it.  We can’t make sense of such a mixture and though we’ve gotten used to it after all these millennia, it still startles us with its illogical ferocity.

Why does God make the growing of food such a frustrating pain?  Does there always have to be the growth of weeds where you want to grow something useful?  And why do weeds grow better and in more stringent circumstances than the good stuff?  We fight weeds, bugs, bad weather and our own fatigue to put something edible on the table.  We spend millions trying to figure out ways to stop the fertile enemies of our crops.  It’s ridiculous!

But what would happen if life carried on as it was created?  What would happen if families were always healthy, well-fed and free from pain?  Utopia, right?  But the unfortunate thing about a Utiopia, a perfect environment like the Garden of Eden, when it is populated by spiritual rebels against the Creator, is that we will choose to see the perfect environment as the perfect reason to think that we are okay.  And if we are okay, why do we need God?

Christ came to save miserable people, but I’m not miserable.  I’m quite happy with the world and myself as we are.  God may tell me that I need to pay attention to Him for my soul’s sake, but unless I am in pain, I don’t care.  This is why the sage of Proverbs says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD ?’ ” (30:8,9)

It is sad to admit, but I like comfort so much that I will not risk taking strides forward in growth or in pursuing the Lord unless I am in pain.  Unless the prospect of further discomfort is not present in my life I will not seek Him.  I will find all my sufficiency in my life and my perfect environment.  I will convince myself that I do not need God.  As one of our own sages has said, “It is only when I am flat on my back that I am forced to look up.”

Paul told us that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  He told us that even though the whole world is groaning in pain right now because it has been subjected to futility by God, a day is coming in which not only we will be set free from the futility but the world will as well (8:19-23).  Futility pushes us to long for something better.  The world’s futility pushes us to long for a restoration of Eden.  Our own futile enslavement to wrong thinking and acting pushes us to long for renewed minds and bodies.

I desperately need the futility of a painful life.  I need to long for the kingdom and for a perfect relationship to God.  I need the kind of motivation futility brings me.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Futility is the mother of spirituality.

Lessons From the Old Testament: What Satan Wants For Us

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”  “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

I do not know what the serpent looked like, nor why Adam and Eve were not surprised that he could talk, but I am convinced that he was possessed by Satan, who, in effect, spoke through him (Revelation 12:9).  And Satan’s strategy was brilliant and effective.  His goal was to get the humans to buy into his own mindset of rebellion against God, his Creator.  I am assuming that he was a created angel of God and that he rebelled before humans were created (Revelation 12:7).  Now God allowed him into the garden to test Adam and Eve.

God had already set up the test by restricting Adam and Eve from eating of the tree in the middle of the garden called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It is the nature of this test that the restriction could not be there because there was something wrong with the tree.  It wasn’t poisonous (God’s good creation of the garden surely contained nothing deadly for humans), but God restricted Adam and Eve from eating its fruit simply to see if they would obey Him for no other reason than He said so.  He wanted them to trust Him.

So Satan, through the serpent, begins implementing his strategy by misstating  God’s restriction: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Though this is a deliberate misstatement because God only restricted them from one tree, the seed is sown that God is a restrictive God.  Isn’t that the strategy Satan uses with us?  “All these requirements God has for you are so contrary to your nature and seem designed to take all the fun out of life,” he suggests, and our flesh is very alive to that suggestion.

When the woman answers the serpent she gets it right that only one tree is restriced but she presumes that it is restricted because it is dangerous in and of itself.  This is suggested by her addition of the prohibition against touching the tree, a prohibition that God did not give her.  This sets her up for the next one-two punch from Satan.

He now directly contradicts God and asserts that Adam and Eve won’t die if they eat from the tree.  But the kicker is the asserted real reason God has restricted them.  “He knows,” Satan avers, “that when you eat from it you will become like Him, able to determine right and wrong for yourselves, and God doesn’t want any rivals.”  This, of course, is a direct attack on God’s character and veracity, and especially paints Him as a selfish and unloving Creator.

We know that Eve’s heart has been corrupted at this point, because as she observes the tree and decides that its fruit is good (that doesn’t make sense if the tree can’t be touched without a lethal result) and that it is desirable to make her as wise as God, she decides to eat.  After all, if God is not really for her but is holding back from her something so valuable, then He can’t be trusted to take good care of her.  The only one who can be trusted to take good care of her is herself.  She has become her own God.

This is what Satan wants for us.  He wants us to believe in how divine we really are (and by extension, how divine he really is).  He wants us to worship ourselves (and then ultimately, him).  He wants us to cut our ties with God, throw off His protective chains and destroy ourselves in the process for his benefit.  He is in a war with God.  To establish his own sovereignty he feels the need to corrupt God’s sovereignty by co-opting His otherwise willing subjects.  And we are an expendable cost in the battle.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Who do you believe?