Posts Tagged With: wisdom

Jude: Show Mercy, But With Wisdom

The book of Jude, also known as Judah (N. T. Wright’s preference) or even Judas, was possibly written by the prophet Judas (not Iscariot), though more likely written by Judas the brother of Jesus (c.f., Matthew 13:55).  This view is favored because the author does not consider himself an apostle and he calls himself a brother of James, which most believe is the pillar in the Jerusalem church, the author of James, and the brother of Jesus.  Seemingly not wanting to ride the coat-tails of his brother, Jude does not refer to himself as the Lord’s brother.

This is a hard book to date, and much of the decision rides on whether one thinks Jude borrowed from 2 Peter or vice versa or neither.  If Jude borrowed from 2 Peter, then Jude can be dated as late as the 80s.  As authors tend to borrow and elaborate, most scholars think Peter borrowed from the shorter Jude, meaning Jude cannot be dated later than AD 65.

Hebrews, James, John, Peter, and Jude are sometimes called the General Epistles because, unlike Paul’s letters, they appear to be written to broad groups of people, addressing very general circumstances.  Jude is likely the most general of the General Letters.  It is hard to say who is being addressed, what ethnicities are present, where they are located, and who exactly are the false teachers being discussed.  Regardless, the message is clear and widely applicable.

Verse 4 may be the best summary of the message of Jude:

They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

People have arisen in the church(es) Jude is addressing that have turned the grace of God into an excuse to sin.  If wrongdoing is going to be forgiven, why not live how you wish.  This could have been a libertine version of Gnosticism that Jude was attacking, though as we see even still today people who love their sin more than their Savior have always used grace as a license to stay in their old ways.

“Shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves”

The ancient Egyptians of the Exodus.  Angels who rebelled and were cast out of Heaven.  The perverted people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Dumb animals who only follow their instincts.  Cain, who killed his brother.  Balaam, who would prophesy for the highest bidder.  Korah and his fellow rebels who dared to question the leadership of Moses.  Jude compares the false teachers in the midst of his recipients to this rogue’s gallery.  Not great company.

As I read Jude again, a book I do not spend a lot of time in, I was struck by this interesting passage:

With some people who are wavering, you must show mercy.  Some you must rescue, snatching them from the fire.  To others you must show mercy, but with fear, hating even the clothes that have been defiled by the flesh. (22-23)

Jude is clear.  Show mercy to everyone, even those on the fence thinking about walking away from the way of life you think is right and best, even to those trying to lead you astray.  But it would be unwise to think that all people are equal threats to your faith.  There are some who need you to be deeply invested in their lives, fighting for their very souls.  But there are others — like these false teachers — who, while we do not give them the ill treatment they deserve, must be treated with a healthy fear of what they can do to a person’s faith.  There is a distance that must be in place, lest one be pulled into their wickedness as well.  All must be shown mercy, but not all should be related to in the same way.

What caught your eye in this often-neglected book?

Advertisements
Categories: Jude | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 3: Qualified for Ministry

So what makes you think you are qualified for ministry?

That seems like a pretty reasonable question.  In fact, it is the kind of question I would expect to receive if I were in an interview for a sales person job or an opening for a management position at a factory or a job as a crane operator at the construction site down the road.  A person needs to have the appropriate credentials if they are to assume they can do a job.

Isn’t it the same in ministry?

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing academic training in ministry.  I have two earned degrees in theology myself.  But is a person qualified for ministry if they have a degree in the field?  If they are a dynamic speaker?  If they have the charisma to capture a room and motivate people to achieve a goal?  If they go to lots of conferences and enact cutting edge thinking and technology in their churches?  If they can attract a crowd and grow the membership of a church?  If they can lead a capital campaign that nets millions of dollars?  Now flip it.  Is a person disqualified from ministry if they do not have these traits and abilities?

Think like a Corinthian.  We know their culture.  Wisdom, knowledge and education is good.  The cult of the personality will take you far.  Recommendations from the masses will take you far.  Gather a group of people to you and have them follow your teaching.  Sure, others might call it pride and “being puffed up” but really its just confidence.  We even know that this kind of cultural thinking had seeped into the church in Corinth in various ways.  If a group of people think like this, won’t they want credentials and recommendations?

Does that Corinthian thinking sound that different from everyday American thinking?

So, what qualifies a person for ministry?

Perhaps we need — as some do — official references to give you? . . . You are our official reference!  It’s written on our hearts! . . . That’s the kind of confidence we have toward God, through the Messiah.  It isn’t as though we are qualified in ourselves to reckon that we have anything to offer on our own account.  Our qualification comes from God: God qualified us to be stewards of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit. (3:1-2, 4-6)

Paul appeals to two things as evidence to his qualifications as a minister:

  1. They only had to look at themselves.  How did they come to know about Christ?  Who brought them this far?  Their very lives were reference letters.
  2. They could see the marks of the Spirit in his life.  His power came from the power of the Spirit, not his own power.  His persuasive spirit was not his own, but God’s.  His charisma was the “charismata” (Greek for “gift”) that comes from the Spirit, not a charming personality.

One is qualified for ministry if there is within that person the Spirit who is changing the worshiper into the image of Jesus from one stage of glory to the next (3:18).

What caught your attention in this chapter?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 Corinthians 2: Communication Breakdown

My favorite Chinese restaurant is right around the corner.  I can walk to it.  It is a no-frills kind of place.  You can stay and eat there if you wish, though half the time the air conditioner is broken.  Most people pick up styrofoam containers packed full of General Tsao’s Chicken or Pork Fried Rice and head home to share with family.

They know me there.  They know my voice when I place an order by phone.  They know my favorite menu items.  They greet me by name (I guess that is an indication of the frequency of my visits!)  Recently, when the China-born owner and head cook was studying for his American citizenship test, he would ask me questions about how to pronounce politician’s names or to explain certain things about American life and governance (thankfully never the concept of the electoral college).  Only when he had finally taken the test and earned his citizenship did I break it to him that he had been relying on a non-citizen for answers!  (I am still a Canadian by citizenship, though I have been here over twenty years.)

Though I thoroughly enjoy his effusive presence, talking to my Chinese friend is not easy (and he likely says the same about me).  His accent is strong.  There are whole sounds he doesn’t even know how to pronounce.  His understanding of English grows every year, but just like most of us would experience if we moved to China, it is a daunting task to learn a new language and English is not an easy language to learn (I am sure he is doing better than I would do learning Chinese).  A few days ago it took me five tries to figure out he was saying the phrase “summer break.”  Yes, my summer break as a teacher is sadly coming to an end.  It is not infrequent or surprising that he and I struggle to communicate as well as both of us want to.  We are literally thinking in two different languages.  (Interestingly, two doors down the strip mall is the Italian printer who stamps Bibles with my students’ names and the school crest.  I have the same linguistic experiences with him too!)  I, for one, love a multicultural world!

In today’s short chapter, Paul reminds us that this is somewhat the same experience we will inevitably have with the people around us who have not accepted Christ and are not enlightened by the Holy Spirit:

We do, however, speak wisdom among the mature.  But this isn’t a wisdom of this present world, or of the rulers of this present world. . . . We don’t use words we’ve been taught by human wisdom, but words we’ve been thought by the spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people.  Someone living at the merely human level doesn’t accept the things of God’s spirit.  They are foolishness to such people, you see, and they can’t understand them because they need to be discerned spiritually. (2:6, 13-14)

It is like we are thinking in two different languages.  Our frame of mind is spiritual.  Our wisdom is spiritual.  Our truth and worldview and value systems are shaped in a fundamentally different way.  It is inevitable that we will not always be understood.  Confused looks will come.  Unspiritual people will naturally feel that their physical and material “language” is superior to our’s and that we should “learn their language.”  Exasperation and maybe even ridicule are destined to come as well.  We should not be surprised by this in the least.

What caught your eye today?

Categories: 1 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

1 Corinthians 1: “Christians are Ignorant”

“Christians are ignorant.”

“Christians are weak.”

“Christians are escapists.”

Ever heard those charges?  More and more, these insults are thrown around as simple truths.

Christians sometimes don’t accept the theories and beliefs that others hold as settled fact.  Some Christians even talk about science like it is an enemy of faith (which might just be a bit ignorant, frankly).  Christians can be viewed by some as weak when we don’t fight back or refuse to pursue our own glory and advancement.  And to those who don’t accept it, our belief in an afterlife seems like nothing more than wishful thinking and a way to escape our frustrations and disappointments.

The reality of the situation, according to Paul as he starts 1 Corinthians, is that God did intend for it to be this way.  God has always chosen the unconventional way of working.  Only criminals die on crosses; the gospel was scandalous to Jews.  And humans can’t kill gods; the gospel sounded foolish to Greeks.  Yet this is exactly the message with which God sent his ambassadors into the world.  Why?

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the shrewdness of the clever I’ll abolish. (1:19)

God’s folly is wiser than humans, you see, and God’s weakness is stronger than humans. (1:25)

God gladly plays the underdog.  He’ll take the B-string.  He’ll do things that sound backwards and foolish, but . . . when they bring about change, when those things make all the difference, when they render other things ineffectual, it will be God and His wisdom that stands supreme.

So, yes, for a time we may very well seem ignorant, weak, and even like escapists.  God’s wisdom is still being revealed in its glory.

When has your faith made you feel inferior?

Categories: 1 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ephesians 5: Imitators of God

So you should be imitators of God, like dear children. (5:1)

In the first part of Ephesians 5 before Paul gets to the household code of conduct (5:21ff), Paul gives seven characteristics of God we would do well to imitate if we are going to be God’s children, growing in His image.  See if you can find them in chapter 5 while you read.  For variety, my son put these seven traits into a word cloud.

How is it possible for fallen people to become like our magnificent Father?

Be filled with the spirit! (5:18b)

What from this chapter resonated with you?

Categories: Ephesians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

James 3: Doing Wisdom

When we think of wisdom, we usually think of the mind.  We might see wisdom as more practical and everyday than knowledge.  I once was taught this simple definition: wisdom is knowledge applied.  Still, in this way of thinking wisdom is a matter of the mind.

I am struck by how earthy and everyday James’ description of wisdom is in today’s passage:

Who is wise and discerning among you?  Such a person should, by their upright behavior, display their works in the humility of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and contention in your hearts, don’t boast and tell lies against the truth.  This isn’t the wisdom that comes from above. . . . The wisdom that comes from above is first holy, then, peaceful, gentle, compliant, filled with mercy and good fruits, unbiased, sincere.  (3:13-15a, 17)

Chock full of action words, James describes wisdom in 3:13-18 as much as a matter of the hands as a matter of the mind.  Much like faith and love in chapter 2, wisdom is what one does and does not do.  Wisdom is seen and identifiable.  As practical as it can be, wisdom is how we treat others.  It is behavioral.

What struck you from today’s chapter?

Categories: James | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mark 9: The Enigmatic Teacher

(We have just finished half of the first book.  Good job!  Keep it up!)

So Jesus calls a woman a dog.  And tells people to get ready to die.  He scolds his most loyal follower and calls him Satan.  He says the way to be first is to be last.  Today he seems to condone maiming oneself (Surely not literal, right?  Go read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” if you think physically blinding oneself would eliminate a spiritual problem like sin).  This Jesus is such an enigma!

I understand why it says twice in today’s chapter that his followers were confused:

They held on to this saying amount themselves, puzzling about what this “rising from the dead” might mean. (9:10)

They didn’t understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. (9:32)

I am convinced that much like the apostles were finding out, following Jesus is not as easy and clear-cut as we sometimes make it.  I think, as someone said on here last week, that is why this whole enterprise is called “faith.”

However, we know, by the end, because of the Holy Spirit most of all (contrast the apostles in Acts 1 and Acts 2 and ask yourself what is the only thing that changes), that they did get it.  The tough shell of their everyday thinking cracked open and spiritual wisdom was birthed.  Timidity gave way to boldness.  Those that ran from the cross, ran to their own crosses — sometimes literally.  A Pharisee became the greatest missionary ever.

There is hope for us still.  Because God is good.  Because today is “Friday” but “Sunday’s” coming.  Because God’s not done with us yet!

What is one thing about Jesus that you have begun to understand a whole lot better than you did before?  

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.