Posts Tagged With: Gentile

1 Corinthians 16: Intentional Giving

We know from history that Judea was suffering from a famine at this point in time.  The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding area were suffering from a famine.  For the Christians their problems were only compounded by the growing animosity between Jews and Christians and how this cut them off from the normal infrastructure of life.

We can tell from this letter and others that Paul had made it part of his mission to help the Jewish Christians by collecting money from Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia in order to bring relief when he soon visited Jerusalem.  Paul is discussing this in this chapter.  As a matter of logistics, Paul recommends that the Corinthians set aside their surplus money each week in order to have a store of money for the collection when he finally does visit Corinth on his way to Jerusalem.

On the first day of each week, every one of you should set aside and store up whatever surplus you have gained, so that when I come I won’t have to take an actual collection. (16:2)

I am struck by Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians (and to us) to be intentional in their giving.  This isn’t spur of the moment.  This is not a plea to give what you can spare.  This isn’t “brother, can you spare a dime?”  This is planned, purposeful giving and sacrifice over a number of months.  That is a good example.

What big idea really sunk in with you as you read 1 Corinthians?  

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Ephesians 4: Put On The New Humanity

Back on Friday we saw that an important part of Paul’s specially tailored gospel message for Ephesus was that the cross has made the kingdom of God open to all people, Jews and Gentiles.  There is one new humanity irrespective of ethnicity.

Today, as Paul turns from the theological to the practical, from the God-part of the book to the Humanity-part, Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that God hasn’t just placed a bundle of blessings on their lap, they have a job in the new creation: make that new ethnicity-less humanity a reality in their everyday life as a church (4:1, 12, 22-24).  Paul brings this point home with the many “one another” phrases in this chapter (and also the very popular “one” passage in 4:4-6):

Bear with one another in love. (4:2a)

Be humble, meek, and patient in every way with one another. (4:2b)

. . . with your lives bound together in peace. (4:3b)

. . . held together by every joint which supports it [the church body] (4:16a)

We are members of one another. (4:25)

Be kind to one another. (4:32a)

Cherish tender feelings for each other. (4:32b)

Forgive one another (4:32c)

At the same time, we are not all the same.  Not only have we come from different backgrounds, God has equipped us with different gifts, abilities, and personalities (4:7, 11).  Yet, that diversity is unified by a common purpose:

The purpose of this [diverse gifting] is that we should all reach unity in our belief and loyalty, and in knowing God’s son.  Then we shall reach the stature of the mature Man measured by the standards of the king’s fullness. (4:13)

The “new humanity” we are called to become is best seen in the life and person of Jesus the King.  He died for us.  He saved us.  He is working inside of us and through us, all with the goal of becoming like him, not the world from which we have come (4:22-24).  That’s something that can create unity.

What phrase speaks loudly to you in this chapter?

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Ephesians 3: Ministry Is A Gift!

As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing.  Think of it like jazz.  There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony.  (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)

Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it.  These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel.  In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:

When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance.  They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)

Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike.  All are welcome.  This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews.  Gentiles are welcome too.  And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.

This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think.  Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it.  But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic.  The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.”  It got Paul beaten up more than a few times.  It caused churches to split.  It caused more than a little fuss.  Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power.  I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.

That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:

. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)

Wow!  There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.”  I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one.  Yet, not Paul.  Oh, to have that perspective!

What stood out to you today? 

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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?

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Romans 14: Handling Disagreements between Christians

Have you ever known a church not to have problems?  There is no such thing as a perfect church; where people gather together in community there is going to be friction, disagreement and hurt feelings.  Maybe just as important as the question “What should we all believe and do?” is the inevitable next question, “How do we best handle those times when we do not all believe and do the same thing?”

Review: The church in Rome (or, more likely, the collection of small house churches that fellowshipped with each other) was a divided community.  Much of the issue was ethnicity.  The Jewish Christians in Rome thought the culture and leadership of the church should be more Jewish.  The Gentile Christians had drifted away from Jewish religious customs and had assumed the leadership of the church.  From chapter 2, we know they were arguing over circumcision.  Now in this chapter we see they are arguing over diet and holy days.  The main issues were whether to eat meat (14:2, 21), drink wine (14:21), and whether to view certain days like the Sabbath as holier than other days (14:5-6).  The issue with meat might have been about whether to eat non-kosher food, in which case the Jewish Christians would have been the “weaker brother,” or it might have concerned whether is was appropriate for Christians to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and in this case the Gentile Christian more likely would have had the greater scruples.  Regardless, the disagreement in this church had reached the degree of judgment, condemnation, and exclusion (14:3).

What does Paul teach us (and the Romans) about how best to handle disagreements between Christians?

  1. Make people who are not like you feel comfortable by choosing to avoid arguments (14:1)
  2. Know that we don’t all have to agree on some matters and we shouldn’t make others feel unacceptable to God (14:3)
  3. Don’t make barriers where God has not (14:3)
  4. Hold on to the belief that God is capable of strengthening the faith of people who do not believe and act like you (14:4)
  5. Know that the genuine desire to honor God, not the action itself, makes what a person restricts himself from or participates in noble and worshipful (14:6)
  6. Remember that we are not living for ourselves and our own desires (14:7-8)
  7. Abstain from passing eternal judgments on others because that is God’s job, not ours (14:10-13)
  8. Be willing to sacrifice personal freedom in consideration of other’s conscience (14:14-15)
  9. Remember that the Kingdom of God is more so focused on internal virtues than external behaviors so abstinence or participation in the latter is less important than how we treat others (14:16-17)
  10. Strive to build each other up, not hurt the other (14:19-20)
  11. Know it is more loving to give up freedom out of deference for the other than to express your own religious freedom (14:21)
  12. Listen carefully to your conscience for guidance on how to act personally (14:22-23)

I have given a bit of thought to this topic ever since college and I always come back to the same conclusion.  It seems that the scruples of the “weaker brother” usually needs to be decisive in a disagreement.  The stronger sister can abstain or forego an action; the weaker brother cannot do something in good conscience he deems to be wrong.

What do you think?

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Romans 9: Who Is The Potter and Who Is The Clay?

Control freak!

There are a lot of us out there.  We like things a certain way.  It’s not so much that we are selfish and must have it our way, it’s more so that we are more comfortable when things go our way.  Life is more predictable.  Control freaks don’t like surprises.

On the other hand, control freaks really like performance-based systems.  Do something and get a predictable result.  One can know how they will be judged, so there are no surprises.  Performance-based systems like religious laws and customs because they bring, well, control.

The problem, though, is that we are not in control of the big matters of life, things like salvation, election, destiny, and calling.  Nor were the Roman Christians.  This was not their church, it was Christ’s.  They were not the ones who call people out of darkness, God is.  They were not the gatekeepers of the Kingdom, Jesus is.


To say it a different way, Paul reminds them that they are only clay in the hands of the Potter.  He will do what He will.

Who can stand against his purpose?  Are you, a mere human being, going to answer God back?  Surely the clay won’t say to the potter, “Why did you make me like this?”  Doesn’t the potter have authority over the clay? (9:19b-21a)

So the Potter has chosen to include Gentiles with their different way of life in this previously homogeneously Jewish Church.  That is God’s right.  It is up to us to accept and adapt.

We today should probably ask ourselves who the Gentiles of our world are. Who is God bringing into our churches or at least into relationship with Him even though they don’t fit our mold?  Are we trying to tell the Potter He can’t do things like that?

What do you think?

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Acts 22: I Was One of You

Have a blessed Ash Wednesday!

Christians are called to live in this world, yet not become a part of the world.  That is a hard balancing act.

Twice in today’s reading, we see Paul tell people he is, or at least once was, just like them (22:3-5, 19-20, 25).

Paul disputing with Jews and Greeks (mid-12th century)

A murderous mob of Jews has descended on Paul at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Some have heard he has defiled their sacred space with a unclean Gentile.  Others just hate this traitor and want to see him gone.  Either way they are ready to rip him limb from limb.  Had it not been for the intervention of the low-level Roman tribune, they would have had their way.  Paul uses the opportunity to address his accusers.  The gist of his remarks are that he once was just like them.  A Jew.  A well-trained one.  A law-respecting one.  He too once persecuted Christians.  He gets where they are coming from.  He once was just like them.

As the chapter continues, the tribune himself orders that Paul be flogged so as to expedite his interrogations.  Paul is quick to assert is rights.  He is a Roman citizen from birth.  He is entitled to a trial.  Again, though, we see Paul saying essentially, “I am just like you.”

And yet now Paul is different.  He has discovered there is something more important to God than law.  He has learned that the Messiah has come in the form of Jesus.  He is a Roman, but his ultimate allegiance is to a different Lord than Caesar.

I once was just like you.  Now you can become one like me.

Some will like that message because it brings hope and purpose.  For other it will only be scandalous and the heat will be turned up.

What struck you anew in this chapter?  

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Acts 11: No Need to Argue

Why did you do it? (11:3)

That was the question the Jewish followers of Jesus back in Judea asked Peter about visiting and eating with the Gentile Cornelius and his household.  This sort of thing was not done.  God’s people are Jewish not Gentile, or so they thought.  Why would Peter of all people extend table fellowship to uncircumcised and therefore unclean Gentiles?

So Peter tells them his story.  I am amazed at how it ends.

“As I [Peter] began to speak, the holy spirit fell on them, just as the spirit did on us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word which the Lord had spoken: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the holy spirit.’  “So, then,” Peter concluded, “if God gave them the same gift as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was I to stand in the way of God?”  When they [the Judean brothers and sisters] heard this, they had nothing more to say.  They praised God. (11:15-18)

It sounds so easy.  Everything was so clear-cut for them all: We Jews had this experience.  Then those Gentiles did too.  So that confirms God’s will here.  Nothing more to say.  Praise God for His generous grace!

When Christians today argue with each other over who is acceptable to God or not, I am afraid it is rarely that easy to resolve.  Each side has a whole litany of reasons why there is “more to say.”

It seems to me that the best way to explain why consensus was so easily attainable in this passage is that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” mentioned here in Acts 11 was manifested as speaking in tongues.  It did say in 10:46 that Cornelius’ family spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit “fell on everyone.”  Therefore, this phenomenon was immediately observable and objective.  They must have been thinking: We received this.  They received this.  That is how God works.  So, there is nothing more to say.

I am afraid it just isn’t that easy today.  How I wish it could be.  For many of us the tradition we come from does not believe speaking in tongues is still a common experience at salvation (or that it ever happens anymore).  Maybe we could point to the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life as a testimony to divine election and approval, but that is not completely visible, it takes a long time to develop, and even non-Christians are observably and objectively patient and gentle many times.

What I really want to say is maybe we just need to stop worrying about who is accepted by God and not.  Most of those debates involve groups of people who both claim to have faith in Jesus.  Maybe we should focus our attention on other matters, like those who don’t believe at all.  But there will always be people amongst us who would say like Peter did, “I can’t do that.  I have never done that before.  I don’t think that is right.”  And for those people these debates are very real and important.  I just wish the way to resolution could be as easy as what we are seeing here.

What do you think?

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Acts 10: God Leads the Way

This was not Peter’s plan at all.

Go to a group of Gentiles?  Eat with them?  Even baptize them?  No, this is not Peter’s plan, at all.

But it was God’s.

All throughout this chapter God through His Holy Spirit is leading the way:

  • Long before Peter came along, Cornelius and his household had developed a reverence for God and a life of prayer and giving (10:2)
  • The messengers from Cornelius’ household were sent by God to Peter, not vice versa (10:5-6, 20)
  • God brought Peter the vision of the sheet and animals
  • The Spirit coaxes Peter along: “It’s all right; get up, go down, and go with them.  Don’t be prejudiced.” (10:20)
  • Peter says his change of perspective came because “God showed me I should call nobody ‘common’ or ‘unclean.“” (10:28)
  • Out of the ordinary pattern we see in Acts, the Holy Spirit fell on the household before they were baptized (10:44-48), which is best understood as God showing proactively that these Gentiles were acceptable and baptism should be extended by a reticent Peter

As one of you said in a recent comment, this book is more about the acts of the Holy Spirit than the “acts of the Apostles.”  And yet, it is the acts of the Apostles too, in that they are the vehicles of God’s gospel and grace in a partnership between God and humanity.  They have to obey and go.  Still, this is God’s mission to rescue a lost world.  Like Peter, too often we wouldn’t choose to go where God sends.  We wouldn’t reach out to the people He chooses.  Leave it to God to broaden our horizons!

May we find the places in life where God has already been working.  May we set out to simply play the part that is needed next.

Lord, send us to the Corneliuses of our neighborhoods!

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