Archive for the ‘Jesus’ 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.

 

Eternal Life

August 26, 2018

One of the great things about going to seminary is that you learn some really helpful things about the Bible. I know you are thinking that this is obvious. But sometimes one learns something that simply changes the way you understand, well, almost everything. Learning the Greek behind the phrase “eternal life” is one of those bits of learning that change almost everything.

Most of us, I suspect, think the phrase “eternal life” refers to what happens after we die. Eternal life means going to heaven, being with Jesus forever. While that is not wrong, it is too small an understanding.

In the ancient world people thought in terms of ages, past ages, current ages, future ages. For us thinking about the Bronze Age, or the Golden Age. What helped me understand this was reading Lord of the Rings where the characters talked about the end of the age of Elves and the beginning of the age of Men. The world, itself, didn’t change but the way the world worked, how people lived, was changed.

The “eternal” in eternal life is  αἰώνιος, agelong, eternal. It is derived from the word for an age, a period of time. There is a sense of something that lasts verses something brief or insubstantial.

“Life” should also be read as a big idea. It means more than just the state of not being dead. Rather, life, live in the fullest sense of living.

So, when you come across the phrase “eternal life”, the speaker is not particularly concerned about what happens after they die. What they are referring to is a life lived fully in God’s kingdom, in God’s presence- now and in the future.

More than once in the gospels, someone asks Jesus what they must do to get or inherit eternal life. Jesus answers with parables, either the “Good Samaritan” or the “Rich Ruler”. Does your response to these stories change if the person is asking how to live fully- right now and forever- in God’s present kingdom?

How about these familiar verses from John 3:16-21?

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned,but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus has quite a bit to say about “eternal life” You might find it interesting to read what Jesus says.

Does thinking about eternal life as something that begins now, a way of participating in the world, change anything for you?


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