Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Unity of the Church

October 21, 2018

Christians are often concerned about our responsibility to preserve the unity of the church. This is an important task. Our unity does matter. Sometimes, however, unity becomes the end in itself. We make unity the most important task of the church.

Paul talks about unity in Ephesians 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

What Paul has to say here about unity is helpful. Firsty he talks about our responsibility to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.  We don’t create unity. Unity is of the Spirit. But we do have a role in maintaining unity. We need to take that seriously.

Then Paul talks about the gifts that Christ gives. Some of us are apostles some prophets, some pastors and teacher. But why? Why are we given these gifts?  “[T]o equip the saints…..for building up the body of Christ”.

And then Paul says something important, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” It seems to me Paul is telling us our task is to grow in faith. Christ gives these particular gifts so that all of us may grow up, that we mature, that we become like Christ. Unity is the result of that maturity in Christ.

We grow, we are built up into the body of Christ and as we mature in Christ-likeness, unity is the result. Unity in the church, locally and globally is important. But unity comes from the Spirit and not solely by our efforts. We are to be growing, maturing. Our concern is to becomes faithful disciples of Jesus.

So how do we preserve the unity of the church? By doing our best to be faithful as we understand the will of God. As all of us grow in faith, as all of us strive to be more faithful, unity will result. Don’t forget, there are many things we in the church do agree on. We are one in Christ not because we all agree but because Christ makes us one.

This is important when we consider issues that may split the church. We are not called to hold the church together at all costs. Christ is in charge of Christ’s church. We are called to be faithful, to mature, to grow. Because none of us is fully mature, none of us completely faithful, there is not total unity in the church.

But we are growing, each at our own pace, each out of our particular traditions and circumstances, and so we need to be gentle with one another. We must, as Paul says, “speak the truth in love” to each other. We need to disagree well- knowing that our disagreements will be temporary. We are all growing. We are all maturing. And someday we will be fully united with Christ and with each other.


Plot Twist

October 14, 2018

We don’t often talk about plot twists in Biblical texts, but the book of Job has a couple worth noting.

Job’s friends are well known for their unhelpfulness. But as unhelpful and annoying as they are, they do seem to accomplish one thing. As Job listens to their assessment of his  situation and their suggestions for how to fix things, he realizes that they are wrong. All along Job has contended that he doesn’t deserve what has happened to him. His situation initially is expressed as despair. What can he do? Almighty God has acted and Job has no recourse. But as Job talks with his friends, he moves from despair to demanding to be heard. Perhaps in having to defend himself against his friends, Job realizes he can present his case to God. He’s terrified of course and fully expects to die, but he insists and persists. It is an important shift, from despair to demanding to be heard. Job uses courtroom language, he has a case to present. Job speaks less to his friends, and speaks more to God.

“But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God…Let me have silence, and I will speak. and let come on me what may. I will take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hand. See, he will kill me: I have no hope; (or though he kill me, yet I will trust in him) but I will defend my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. Listen carefully to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. I have indeed prepared my case; I know that I shall be vindicated.

“Only grant two things to me, than I will not hide myself from your face; withdraw your hand from me, and do not let dread of you terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you reply to me. ” (13:3,13-18, 20-22)

The book continues with Job and his friends continuing to talk until chapter 31 which ends “The words of Job are ended.” And so we might think the book is over, or we might be expecting God to now respond. But no, oh no, there is one more friend- Elihu. He has waited to speak out of respect for his elders but now he scolds the friends and Job for six more chapters.

Then finally, finally, God shows up. After 37 chapters of all these men talking, trying to explain God and God’s ways, God shows up. And God’s response is essentially, “I’m God, creator of all that is and I’m not explaining myself to you.” And Job’s response is “Yes you are God and I am not.”

In some ways the exchange between God and Job is an unsatisfying plot twist. We don’t get the answer we want. At least I don’t get the answer I want. Why do people suffer? For Job it appears to be enough that God shows up.

We do learn what is not the answer to the problem of suffering- the common belief that good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. This is clearly said to be wrong. Not only by Job. God makes it quite clear, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken what is right, as my servant Job has.” (42: 7)

There are many things we could and should discuss, but a couple of points seem important today. We are clearly warned away from simplistic, mechanistic explanations about suffering. Do good and you are rewarded, do bad and you are punished is not an adequate explanation. It seems wise to avoid that line of reasoning.

Job has spoken “what is right”. But what of all that Job has said is the “right” part? Are Job’s speeches demanding a hearing and justice what God affirms? Or is it what Job says in response to God’s revelation to him. “See, I am of small account: what shall I answer you? ” (40:4) “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you: therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:3,6).

Or is it all okay? Does the creator of all that is understand our frustration, our anger when we don’t understand, when we feel like God isn’t treating us fairly? Does God come to us in the midst of that anger and despair, in the midst of our questions? The book of Job tells us yes. But God does not come with tidy answers or a formula to be applied to life. But with the presence of God’s own self. I wonder if what Job got right, is that Job was honest with God. No false piety. No theological abstractions. Job trusted God to hear him in the very midst of Job’s bewilderment, his pain, his anger. And Job was right about that. God heard. God hears. God responds.

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