Give Yourself to Others …

Posts Tagged ‘principles

The point of Christianity is not the perfection with which we live our lives, but rather, the forgiveness, which masks our imperfections.

I have to start with a little Greek lesson … old news for some, news to others.

The English word, church, comes from the German word, kirche, which is actually the word for cathedral, or the building.  The word in the Greek NT is ekklesia, and actually refers to a called assembly.  Among it’s earliest uses is a as a reference to gatherings of the citizens of a Greek city, when they gathered to vote on city ordinances.

There is no basis in how ekklesia is used in the NT to understand it as an formally organized group.  All of the evidence is that when used, it refers to all of the Christians in a local area or everywhere globally.  Even in the earliest days of the ekklesia in Jerusalem, all of the evidence is they met is numerous homes, scattered around town.

Assuming you accept this, so what?

Well, the so what is that many well-known evangelists … from Billy Graham to Francis Chan, often speak about the importance of being a part of a local church.  I’m not going to bother to repeat all of the NT citations they use.

But the problem is they infer a modern day understanding of “church” when the inference is not there.

When we give our lives to God, we become part of God’s family.  The NT admonitions about the ekklesia do not have to be understood in a modern context.  The ekklesia exists because people who share this relationship with God, quite naturally, will want to spend time together and sometimes collaborate to do good things.  But that is truth, whether the group is 3 or 30 or 300 or 3,000.

You do not have to meet in a building, you don’t have to have a preacher or a pastor.  You don’t even have to have a church checking account!  Imagine that!

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with “mega-churches” as they’ve come to be known.  But there is also nothing wrong with gathering with a couple of Christian friends at the coffee shop, or your home, or at the beach, or around the camp fire.  Such a gathering is as much ekklesia as is a gathering of 10,000 at Saddleback Church in California.

It seems to me Jesus knows us well enough to know we need to be around other Christians.  We can encourage each other.  Teach each other.  Advise each other.  Worship with each other.  So we should be together.

But there remains a lot of freedom to find the gathering most helpful to each person maturing and remaining faithful to Jesus.

I discovered a new movie today, Happy.  check it out at http://www.thehappymovie.com.

What’s interesting to me is the ultimate conclusion of the film.  The director takes you thru the typical set up of “What do you want most out of life?”  The most common answer is “to be happy.”  Then, you get all the research on what happiness is, how it can be measured, etc.  There are numerous stories about happy people in places and circumstances which will likely surprise you.

But the conclusion?

The single thing that makes most people happy is to be kind and serve others.  Wow!

I’ve only just begun to contemplate the implications on the message of Jesus.  For all the years, the world has sought happiness, and now the world is discovering (ever so slowly) that Jesus had the answer along.

Sometimes, we have to find new words to make the same points, because if we use the same words we’ve always used, we think we’ve heard it before, so we kind of “tune out.”

Most Christian believe they have some understanding of what it means to live a Christ-like life.  Most Christians believe they understand the message of the gospel of Jesus.  But why then, do so many Christians have such a difficult time doing the things that Jesus would do … that is, loving others, the way Jesus loved us (John 13:34).

One way of answering that question is to recognize that being like Jesus is inconvenient.  And here in the US, life is all about convenience.  We shop online because it’s more convenient that going to the store.  We shop in stores because it’s more convenient than shopping online.

Starbucks has been known to have stores across the street from each other, because it’s more convenient for customers not to have to cross the street to buy a fancy (or even a plain) cup of coffee.

But being like Jesus … giving ourselves to others, for their good, expecting nothing in return … is inconvenient.  It requires me to go out of my way to do something for someone else.  It means conforming to another person’s scheduling preferences, rather than my own.

Spending my money on someone else, rather than myself, is inconvenient.

Spending my time with someone else, rather than doing what I want to do, is inconvenient.

Sometimes we have to make reasonable choices, but if we only do what’s convenient for us, then we should also ask who is master of our life — me or Jesus.

Among theologians, both professional and amateurs, there is sometimes a debate over Solo Scriptura, or the idea that everything about God is contained in the Scriptures … variously defined as either the Old Testament and/or New Testament text.

First we have to recognize that the “word of God” as used in the NT Text is not a reference to scriptures.

Second, even the NT Text itself seems to minimize the value of written text. Hebrews 10:16 emphasizes that God will write his covenant with us in our hearts — in contrast with the old covenant which was written in stone.

Third, the NT Text cannot possible be comprehensive in it’s presentation of or about God, the Son and the Spirit. No human text could possibly contain everything there is to know about the subject. You might argue the NT Text contains everything we NEED to know — which is a credible position — but not everything THERE IS to know.

Fourth, the NT Text itself says that a legal or command oriented approach to righteousness is not what the new covenant with God is about. However, what does a reliance on the Text result in? A perpetual argument about what the Text means — which cannot be what God desired. And in fact, it seems to perpetuate a Pharisaical approach to our relationship to God, which is repeatedly condemned in the NT Text, especially in the reports in Mark about Jesus.

The only time Jesus is quoted as describing his own words as commands occur in John 13 and John 15. Both times, his command is to love one another as he loved us.

For me, everything flows from that. If it doesn’t, then it’s not from God.

This is the reason, for me, the debate over IM is so misguided.

Because for anyone to condemn or even chastise me for using IM — whether a little or a lot — requires you to judge my heart. And no one knows my heart, except God. Some times I don’t even know my own heart.

So, back to the initial focus of this post … a Solo Scriptura approach to understanding God is limiting. I won’t say I have a better source than the NT Text. I don’t.

But I also know that God is not constrained by or limited to what is written in the NT Text.

A friend of mine was recently fired from a job at a local congregation, where we both worship.  At least we both did until the firing — now only I worship there.

As I’ve reflected on the points of conflict and points of view that led to the firing, I’ve reached some conclusions, which I’m choosing to share here.

First, it’s mildly troubling when congregations of faith begin to base their actions upon state law rather than principles of Christian faith.  I’m not saying congregations should ignore state law, but rather, the standard of behavior should not be what the state says is proper, but rather, what God says is the way to treat people.  When it comes to treating people right, God’s example of loving one another should trump human rules.

Second, from where I sit, looking the circumstances of my friend’s termination, the people involved are looking at the same set of facts, but reaching dramatically different conclusions about motive, intent, etc.

Only God knows our heart — it says that in the Text, somewhere — but I find people often reaching conclusions about someone’s intent or motive.  And that’s not what a disciple of Jesus should be doing.

I know there have been, and probably will be again, times in my life when I try to the right thing for someone, but I just blow it.  When I think is the right thing, turns about to not just be not the right thing, but a terribly wrong thing.  Was I wrong to try?  Did I sin?  Did fail my friend?  Did I fail God?

I wanted to do the right thing, but I missed the mark.

Isn’t that what Paul wrote about at the end of Romans, chapter 7.

My conclusion, for now, about those involved in my friend’s termination, is that as a group, they are not looking at the possibility that they may not know the intent and motives and point-of-view of the others involved.

The result has been a lot of tension, anxiety, and potentially hard feelings.

I don’t think this situation has been handled as well as it could have been.  But I don’t doubt the intent or effort to do so — only that the choices made have not worked out the way they expected.

I also think that many, many times, when we think we’re faced with a serious conflict and/or confrontation, we haven’t gone to enough effort to appreciate someone else’s point-of-view.

From my point-of-view, this is the practical wisdom of what Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-20.

Okay, here’s where I am:  what does it mean to love?

I mean, let’s face it, love is so overused — used to mean so many different things — that it has become almost meaningless.  Can anyone dispute that?

In the New Testament, as well as the Greek language, there are several words which we translate as “love” in English.  Specifically, they are:

eros — the root word for erotic.  Obviously, a reference to the physical aspects of infatuation, sexual arousal, etc.

phileo — “brotherly love.”  This is the beginning of Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love) and philanthropy.  It is also used to describe the affection between friends.  So there is this sense of reciprocated care between two people.

agape — this is the word Jesus used in John 13 and 15, which I talked about last time.  He used it in a lot of other places as well.  It’s the word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13.  The King James Version translated it “charity” in 1 Cor 13.  One of the best definitions I’ve run across is from Bill Clark:  giving yourself to others for their good, expecting nothing in return.”  I think you could also say “requiring nothing in return.”

That’s the way Jesus loved us.

Another point — note the different standards for love when Jesus cites the Old Testament:  Love your neighbor as yourself; compared to Jesus’ new command in John 13:  Love one another as I have loved you.

Have you ever taken note of people who seem to really dislike themselves?  Treat themselves pretty poorly?  Well, if we stick with the love your neighbor as yourself standard, if you’re one of the folks who don’t think much of themselves, you might treat others as poorly as your treat yourself.

However, then consider how the standard changes if you move to Jesus’ new command in John 13: Love one another as I have loved you. Wow, what a difference.  Now, it’s not how I treat myself that becomes the baseline, it’s how Jesus treated me.  While I don’t like the “advertising” connotations of “what would Jesus do”, it is the right question.

How do I love you the way Jesus loves you?

That is a standard to try to live by.

That’s what really matters!


So, I started looking for the single premise from which everything else comes.  That may not seem like the right question for you, but it seemed right to me — and in fact, still does.

Eventually, I settled — likely to no one’s surprise on the following passage from Matthew 22:34-40 (quoted here from The Message)

The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

After all, we’ve got Jesus saying everything in God’s Law comes from these two commands.  It seems pretty clear.

One of my personal guidelines is that the simplest answer is generally the best answer.  Answers cannot always be simple, but those are still the best ones.  And this passage seems to fit that requirement.  Although I confess, I’m continually a little amazed how many believers seem to refute that these are the most important commands.  They both seem to, and often admit to, placing other, more detailed commands ahead of these.  But ultimately, each of us is accountable for what we individually believe — so, to each his, or her, own.

After finally settling on these, I began contemplating what they really mean.  They are such fundamental principles that they may be simple to quote, but they are very difficult to fully apply to life.

My contemplations resulted in two dilemmas, which I could not easily resolve:

  • What does it really mean to love God?

Now, I get it that my love for God should be all consuming — at least that’s how I understand the implications of the heart, soul, strength and mind references.  But what can I really do for God.  Sure, I can worship him, as I should.  But I also have no illusion that God does not need my love in order to be God.  God is not changed by my love for him.  Much more likely is that I am changed by my love for God.  So, I didn’t know exactly the implications of loving God so completely.

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?

Some folks get preoccupied with the “who is my neighbor? question, but the story of the Samaritan, to me, pretty much clarified that, at the very least, my neighbor is anyone with whom I come into contact, anyone, anytime.

But the other question is what does it mean to love someone the way I love myself?  I mean, I know some people who really treat themselves poorly.  And what would this verse mean about how they treat others.  Surely, it’s not a basis to treat other poorly, just because I have a bad attitude about myself, or whatever.

So, I struggled with what the standard is for loving.

And a related question is the question of what is even means to love.  There are six different Greek words for love, but us English speakers are stuck with just one.  Got to find a better word for love, too.

I should have added a subtitle:  the trouble with bible study.

That’s probably a little misleading — intended to get your attention.  In my view, there are a couple of problems with most bible study.

And as background, let me describe my upbringing and education.  I was raised in a religious family.  We attended worship every Sunday, and until well into my 40’s, I probably attended some kind of Sunday morning bible class 50 our of 52 weeks a year.  In college, I had a minor concentration in Bible, which included two-years of Greek study.

I learned a lot over those years.  And in the broad scheme of things, I know the Text of the bible as well as or better than most.  But that’s beside the point.

Something no one ever said to me — straight out — is that studying an English translation of the bible is, by definition, studying someone’s opinion of what it says.  Because translating any text is a judgement.  Sure there are a lot of passages, where the meaning in pretty clear.  But if the meaning of a passage is controversial in anyway, then you can bet the translator is expressing an opinion.  That’s one reason why most translations are done by groups — so the groups have to argue and compromise on how the controversial passages translate from Greek to English.

Just a couple of examples:  baptism is a really poor translation of the Greek word, baptizo.  It should be translated “immersion” or “submersion.”  But the originally King James translators couldn’t translate it that way, because the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were already baptizing by pouring and sprinkling.  So, they transliterated the Greek word to make a new English word, that they could define their own way.

Ekklesia is the Greek word generally translated “church.”  It really means “assemble.”  It was used to describe the assembly of the citizens of Athens when they gathered to vote on public issues.  Those Athenians were certainly not at “church.”  Church comes from the German word, kirche, which translates as cathedral.  By translating ekklesia as church, the King James translators kept the people coming to the cathedrals.

Next, have you ever tried to analyze the meaning of something your wrote 10 years ago?  Not likely.  We kind of know what we meant.  And most writing is not intended for granular dissection and analysis.  The Supreme Court often seeks to determine “Congressional Intent” when evaluating the cases before them.  They often find that while the language of a given statute is poor, the Congressional Intent is very clear.

I got so tired of the debates of the minutiae of biblical exegesis that I started looking for the big picture — what was God trying to tell me?  What was his intent.  I try to read long passages of the Text and then reflect on what it seems to be saying.  I think that gives me a clearer picture of what the writer was trying to get across.

In addition, like anyone who reads the Text, there are some passages that seem to be saying things that conflict with each other.  Rather than say that’s a huge problem, I thought there must be some more fundamental premise that allowed one writer to make one statement and a different writer to write something that, on the surface, conflicted with the first writer.

So that became my quest — what is the fundamental premise of the Text?

It’s always a little arrogant to think that writing about one’s own personal experience might be useful to others.  But here I am doing that very thing, for that very reason.  My purpose is only to provide encouragement to those readers who can relate to my story, or those who are willing to think only for themselves, doubting anything said by anyone else.

So, here goes.

1 Peter 3:14-16

14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

For reasons, I’ve never really known, this passage really stuck in my head — going back at least to my teenage years.  Especially, the middle verse where it says be prepared to give answer for the hope you have.

In my gut, I felt like not all the things I was being taught in my Bible classes at church, really met that criteria.  In retrospect, I was being taught very clear rules, but not very clear rationale for those rules.  Many times the scriptures, provided to me as evidence for the rules, did not, to me, say the things my teachers were telling me it said.

Maybe, you would write that off to teenage rebellion — and I would not entirely dispute that.  However, I’ve never let that passage go … ever.

And when I ask for a reason, I want a reason that is simple and obvious to anyone.  The reason should not require a Ph D in hermeneutics or theology.  A simple person, simply reading the Text, should be able to see the rationale.

Is that too much to ask?

I didn’t think so.  And as a result, I became pretty skeptical listening to preachers and bible teachers, ever since.  No different today.

In my experience, there seem to be a lot of believers who are afraid to question what they think.  Raising a question about one’s faith seems to cast doubt on one’s entire faith.  I never bought that.  Questioning what you believe is the only way to know that you really believe it.  That it’s really part of who you are, and not just something with which you’ve been indoctrinated by parents, teachers and other very well meaning folk.

That was step 1.


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