Posts Tagged With: flesh

2 Peter 1: Real Knowledge

Well, folks, we are on to the third last book of the year.  One more month and we will have met a great goal of reading through the New Testament this year.  The reading plan we are using takes us now to Peter’s second letter, out-of-order as we read 1 Peter a month ago or so.  I am sure they have put 2 Peter here because of its many connections to the book of Jude.  If you would like to review the short introduction the Petrine letters I wrote back when we came to 1 Peter, you can find that here.

What does it mean to know God?  What is real spiritual knowledge?  

As we will learn more about on Monday, there were false teachers in the churches Peter was addressing.  Most people identify these as early versions of Gnostics, Christians who mixed their Christianity with significant doses of Greek philosophy and mystical kind of thinking.  These dualists made a strong contrast between the flesh and the spirit and, given the emphasis in this chapter on moral purity, they often taught that one showed their spiritual strength by engaging in sin with the body so as to show that their spirits were pure enough to remain unaffected.  Gnostics spoke often of having “knowledge,” which for them meant an intellectual and spiritual understanding that allowed them to rise above the mundane matters of physical life.  These false teachers had definite ideas on what it meant to have “knowledge.”

But so did Peter.  As he uses the word “knowledge” five times in this opening chapter and refers to “truth” and the “mind” as well, we know Peter wanted to weigh in on what true “knowledge” is.  Knowledge gives us everything we need to live a godly life that runs away from the “corruption of lust” (1:3-4).  Knowledge is one element necessary in living a fruitful life, a partner to character traits like virtue, patience, self-control, faith, and love (1:5-8).  In short, for Peter “knowledge” is an embodied understanding and skill that allows its possessor to live an earthly, physical life in the nitty-gritty in a way that glorifies God and maintains a high level of moral quality.  Knowledge is as much about the hands as the head.  Knowledge is lived, not simply believed or thought.  Truth is a lived, physical reality.  That would be a definite contrast to Gnostic thinking.

God has bestowed upon us, through his divine power, everything that we need for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue. (1:3)

What did you notice anew in this chapter?

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John 6: Eat the Word

Jesus went up onto the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  It was nearly time for the Passover, a Jewish festival. (6:3-4)

I noticed for the first time ever that this story all about eating is set at Passover time.  A year or two after this at the exact same time of year, Jesus will use food once again to make a point about what really makes true life possible.

In today’s story we can see that it is almost Passover and a crowd is in the countryside with nothing to eat.  Then Jesus provides the feast.  This would be like getting up Thanksgiving morning with nothing in the cupboards and no turkey in the fridge, then to have Jesus show up unexpectedly with boxes and bags of already-prepared side dishes and a beautifully roasted turkey.  Oh yeah, we are going to follow this guy around!

But as we see, Jesus was not about to let himself be hijacked by anyone’s agenda.

When the people saw the sign that Jesus had done, they said, “This really is the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”  So when Jesus realized they were intending to come and seize him to make him king, he withdrew again, by himself, up the mountain. (6:14-15)

Jesus’ point in this Passover story is the same it will be a year or two later when his followers are still looking for an earthly king who will overthrow the Romans: you don’t really need what you think you need.

The crowd follows, but they are just looking for more food (6:26).  So Jesus decides to take a walk into absurdity to make his point.  They don’t need to feast on another fish sandwich.  They need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  This is the point at which people think this man has lost his mind and leave (6:66).  Of course, Jesus was not talking about cannibalism, and when understood in the entirety of this chapter it may also be a bit of a stretch to read communion imagery into the passage.  Jesus tells us at the end of the chapter what he means by this grotesque idea:

It’s the spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help.  The words that I have spoken to you–they are spirit, the are life. (6:63)

They don’t need food.  They don’t even need Christ’s flesh.  What they need is not physical.  They need the spiritual.  They need Jesus’ words.  They need to feast on the message of his preaching.  They need to be changed from the inside out by the life-changing words of this man they are so willing to follow into the wilderness.  This is where they will find satisfaction.

And Peter realizes it:

Who can we go to?  You’re the one who’s got the words of life of the coming age. (6:68b)

What did you see in a new way in today’s passage?

Categories: John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

BONUS: An Introduction to John’s Letters

Though never identified in the letters, the author of the Johannine letters is almost certainly the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and author of the Gospel of John.  Based on writing style, there is good reason to think the writer of Revelation is a different John.  The John who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John was one of the inner circle of apostles and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).  Though he started his adult life a fisherman, he ends it as one of the pillars of the new, growing Christian church, a highly respected leader in the Ephesus area in particular.

“The Apostle John” by Rembrandt

The Johannine letters are likely some of the latest parts of the New Testament.  Some date John’s letters to the late 80s.  If this is correct, the first generation of those who had actually seen Jesus were dying and John was pure royalty.  Given that no specific recipients are mentioned in 1 John, the first epistle was likely a circular letter distributed among a diverse group of Christians, especially in Asia Minor around Ephesus.  Given the general nature of the teachings of the letter, that makes perfect sense.  Second and Third John are equally as general and universal.

Most scholars situate the Johannine letters in the context of Gnosticism.  This false version of Christianity really blossomed in the second century AD but it was likely an early version John was addressing.  Gnosticism taught that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good.  The fleshly body was wasting away and either an impediment to holiness or a temporary object of no consequence to be used and abused because only the soul really mattered.  Gnosticism derives its name from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge,” because the truly spiritually enlightened ones have a special knowledge that sets them apart from their more earthbound peers.  With these beliefs, a good Gnostic could not believe Jesus was fully human and flesh.  One version of Gnosticism called “doceticism” taught that Jesus only seemed to be flesh and another version called “Cerinthianism” taught that the man named Jesus gained his spiritual nature at baptism and lost it before he died.  We will hear John attacking this sort of thinking in his letters, 1 John especially.  As the flesh was evil, one was supposed to either deny his fleshly desires through asceticism (seen earlier in Colossians) or indulge the flesh in licentiousness.  This latter version seems to be the one John addresses.

John wrote 1 John to expose false teaching and counter any wrong thinking about Jesus that had cropped up.  As one of the last eyewitnesses of Jesus, John could testify that Jesus was indeed flesh.  John also believed that the libertine worldliness of pre-Gnostic Christianity was eroding the true Christian witness.  In 2 and 3 John, John encourages faithful Christians to extend hospitality to evangelists he would have sent out even if powerful, possibly-Gnostic leaders in his church opposed him.

Categories: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

BONUS: An Introduction to Colossians

If one thinks that Paul wrote the other Prison Epistles, most agree that Colossians was authored by the Apostle Paul while in prison likely in Rome sometime before AD 61 when Colossae and the Colossian church were ravaged by an earthquake.  Interestingly, Paul had never been to Colossae when he wrote this letter.  Epaphras, who likely started the church in Colossae, had just come to Paul in Rome and reported on the progress of the church and its challenges (1:8).  Paul writes this letter in response as a form of encouragement.

Much of the background of Colossians revolves around a false teaching in the church or some to come their way that is often called the Colossian Heresy.  The Colossian Christians are or will be tempted to leave the simple gospel of grace through Christ alone for a set of teachings that emphasize asceticism (2:16, 21), everyday wisdom (2:8, 23), veneration of angels (2:18), and the insufficiency of Christ to fulfill the fundamental needs of life (1:15-20; 2:9).  Over 45 different theories have been given for who exactly these false teachers were in Colossae.  These theories usually include bits of Judaism, Gnosticism, Greco-Roman philosophy, and pagan religions from that area mixed together with Christianity.

This is the first time we have come this year to Gnosticism so an explanation is in order, especially as many who study Colossians believe the heresy was an early version of Gnosticism mixed with Judaism.  We know that by the second century AD there was a Christian philosophy in place in many churches that accepted a dualistic worldview.  A Gnostic thought the world was composed of two parts: the evil and degrading physical layer of life, and the pure and edifying spiritual aspects of life.  A human, for instance, was a good spiritual being trapped in an evil prison of flesh.  Sin comes as we follow our physical desires, and redemption can be found by listening and developing our spiritual self.  (You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “Hey, I know Christians who believe that today!”  Yes, there is a dualistic Christian worldview that still exists today, but I would question whether it is biblical.  Is God not the Creator and Redeemer of all we are?)  Consider how Gnosticism would affect beliefs and ethics.  They did not believe that Jesus was physical.  Jesus did not die a physical death on a cross, it only seemed that way.  Our greatest mission is to escape this physical world, not redeem it.  There were also two opposing views on how to deal with this physical body we live in: 1) deny your flesh and beat it into submission to your superior spiritual willpower, and 2) indulge your flesh and satisfy your physical desires wantonly showing that you have the spiritual strength within your pure soul to wallow in the mire of life and not be affected adversely by your physical behaviors. If an early form of Gnosticism was present in Colossae, the details of the letter suggest it was of the ascetic variety.

Personally, I don’t think we can downplay the fact that the main threat to the early Christians in Asia Minor at this time were Christian and non-Christian versions of Judaism.  Note that circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, holy days, and food laws — all hallmarks of Judaism — are mentioned often in Colossians.  In my opinion, the likeliest explanation for the Colossian Heresy is that the young Gentile Christians of Colossae were being be swayed away from the gospel of grace alone in Christ by a legalistic version of Jewish Gnosticism that emphasized law observance, physical asceticism, and the belief that the work of Jesus was not enough to save people.

In this letter, we will see Paul warn the Colossian Christians that there is nothing fulfilling or lasting in this “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8) because true fullness, power, wisdom and life are found in Christ (2:3, 9-10; 3:4).  His desire is that “you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (4:12).

Categories: Colossians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ephesians 2: Reborn

In every letter Paul gives a grand statement of the gospel, always stated a bit differently for the context of that letter.  Chapter 2 is that chapter in Ephesians.

Paul reminds his readers what they were according to the “flesh” alone.

You were dead because of your offenses and sins! . . . We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do.  What was the result?  We too were subject to wrath in our natural state, just like everyone else. (2:1b, 3)

So, then, remember this!  In human terms — that is, in your “flesh” — you are “Gentiles.”  You are the people whom the so-called circumcision refer to as the so-called uncircumcision. . . . Well, once upon a time you were separated from the king.  You were detached from the community of Israel.  You were foreigners to the covenants which contained the promise.  There you were, in the world with no hope and no god! (2:11-12)

Before they came to Christ, the Ephesian church, which must have been largely Gentile, were dead, fleshly, destined for punishment, locked out from the promises and blessings of the Jews, without hope.

Can you remember when the same could have been said about you?

Then . . . because of the great grace of God, not because of anything we had done, lest we boast (2:8-9), we were reborn.  This idea of being new birth is very important to Paul at this point.  He punctuates that idea twice in this chapter with creation and resurrection language:

He made us alive with the king. . . . He raised us up with him, and made us sit with him — in the heavenly places in King Jesus. (2:5-6)

The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], so making peace.  God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, though the cross, by killing the enmity in him. (2:15b-16)

With rebirth the Ephesians are not the same person.  They died hopeless objects of wrath; they were reborn children of the King.  They died alienated Gentiles; they were reborn part of a greater humanity that does not see ethnicity and the hostility that too often comes with such differences.  They are no longer defined by their flesh.  They are new creations.

Can you remember when you were very aware that the same could be said about you?

That is the gospel.

What struck you in this chapter?

Categories: Ephesians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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