Teaching Ministry of the ICOC

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The Teaching and Practice of Submission in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

by Cynthia P. Fetherman -- Denver, Colorado, USA

Introduction

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."—Isaiah 64:8

Clay in the Potter's Hand.jpg

Perhaps no analogy best exemplifies the spirit of submission as the molding of clay under the hands of the potter.   In this paper, the teaching and practice of submission in the life and ministry of Jesus will be discussed.  Submission will encompass several other names:  obedience, subordination, allegiance, reverence, trust and self-denial.  Submission is at the heart of discipleship.  It acknowledges the lordship of Jesus over every aspect of life.  The concept of submission involves relinquishing one’s individual rights in favor of another.  It is only through complete submission that a follower of Jesus is able to open one’s heart so the Holy Spirit may be received and dwell in it.  Partial submission is not an option for one who calls Jesus Lord.

Submission, self-denial, obedience and any other name by which this spiritual discipline is called requires progression.  Spiritual formation will be viewed through transformation—from hard clay to a vessel fit for use under the guidance of God, the potter.  As clay goes through several steps, so does the individual who yearns for the inner transformation promised by the prophet Ezekiel:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God." – Ezekiel 11:19-20

Upon reading this paper, I hope the reader walks away knowing that total submission is indispensable to the Christian walk.  The gift to be transformed from within is from God, as He gives the believer a new heart.  But the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission puts the believer on the path of making it possible to receive that gift.  Submission is not something obtained when someone becomes a Christian or a disciple of Jesus but a lifelong practice that paves the way for the transformation of the individual who is being changed from within-- from mere dust to a useful vessel under the hands of the Creator.  

The Teaching and Practice of Submission

"If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:34-35 (HCSB)

As a spiritual discipline, Thomas à Kempis (1955) defines submission as follows:  “…but if we desire that God be among us, we must sometimes set aside our own will (though it seem good) so that we may have love and peace with others” (p.40).

Submission is servanthood.  Submission is self-denial.  It is obedience and disregard of one’s own will in favor of another with the goal of establishing peace.  It is the pledge of allegiance to someone else.  It is the essence of discipleship to Jesus Christ.  

The word submission only occurs six times in the scriptures, yet underneath the entire story of the Bible lies the concept of submission.  The closest Hebrew root for reference is יָד yâd, (yawd), meaning “to give the hand, to pledge the fidelity of the giver.”  In the New Testament, the Greek root word of εὐλάβεια eulábeia, (yoo-lab'-i-ah), means, “reverence toward God, godly fear, piety.”  It is also used in the context of ὑποτάσσω hypotássō, (hoop-ot-as'-so), “to subordinate… be under obedience.”  Á Kempis (1955) notes:

"An old habit is not easily broken, and no man will readily be moved from his own will; but if you cling more to your own will or to your own reason than to the humble obedience of Jesus Christ, it will be long before you are a man illumined by grace" (p. 48).

Further, À Kempis (1955) speaks of Jesus’ example of obedience as:  

"I made Myself the humblest and lowest of all men, so that you would learn to overcome your pride through My humility.  Learn, therefore, you who are but ashes, to be humble for my sake; learn to break your own will and to be subject to all from the heart” (p.124).

I grew up playing with clay pots.  Not every girl in my neighborhood wanted a set.  But I did.  I remember my mother coming home one day with a clear, plastic bag in her hand filled with used newspaper.  I unwrapped them gently from the paper protecting them.  They were brown, clay pots, shiny from the glaze and painted with flowers.  They came with lids and a stove.  They were beautiful, a little girl’s treasured possession, and I showed them to anyone who would pay attention.  They eventually broke.  I outgrew them as I entered adolescence but the memories of playing with them are remembered fondly.  As I became a follower of Jesus later in life, my fascination of pottery was reignited as I read the scriptures.  Obedience to God is the ultimate act of submission.  As clay in the potter’s hands, we are to submit ourselves to the potter’s molding:

"Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" – Romans 9:21

Old Testament

From creation, God has laid before man the choice of submission—obedience or disobedience.  From the story of Adam and Eve to the nascent nation of Israel, submission has been presented as a choice between life and death.

"See, I Set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands… and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." –Deuteronomy 30:13 (NIV)

From patriarchs to judges, kings to prophets, we see people called by God to submission.

Genesis 12:1-4—Abraham’s ready obedience testifies to his submissive spirit to God’s plans for him and his family

Judges 7:15—Gideon displays self-denial as he sets aside his fear and trusts in God’s deliverance

2 Samuel 7:18—David sets aside his plans and expresses gratitude for God’s guidance at a time in his life when he may be most tempted to assert his power as king over Israel and with the people favorably disposed towards his leadership

Isaiah 6:5-8—Isaiah surrenders to God’s plan for him despite his acknowledgement of his personal shortcomings

Jeremiah 1:4-10—Jeremiah submits to God’s appointment despite difficulty of his external circumstances

New Testament

In the New Testament, submission is practiced and taught by Jesus.  We see the radical call to submit to Jesus’ discipleship in John 12:24-26:

"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me."

"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."—Mark 9:35

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple".-Luke 14:33

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."—Luke 9:23

More than teaching about submission, subordination, allegiance and self-denial, Jesus lived it to the point of sacrificing His own life:

“'Abba, Father,'” he said, 'everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.'”—Mark 14:36

"… Christ Jesus, 'who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!'” -Philippians 2:5-11

Submission is at the heart of discipleship to Jesus.  Beyond teaching about obedience, Jesus’ lifestyle was one of submission and obedience.

F.F. Bruce (1979) notes, 

"The person who enlisted in His cause, He taught, would need to deny himself (34), i.e. abandon the attitude of self-centeredness, and take up his cross, i.e. be prepared to face martyrdom, ….  He would have thus to be willing to lose his mortal life; and all this, for Christ’s sake and for the gospel (35), i.e. for the sake of spreading abroad the good news of the kingdom of God; for only in this way would he attain the true life, that of the age to come" (p. 1167).

"During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  And he learned obedience.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…."—Hebrews 5:7-8

We see the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission in:

John 1:30-John the Baptist makes way for Jesus and acknowledges Him as the Messiah spoken of by the prophets and awaited for by Israel.  Rather than keeping his band of followers, John the Baptist points them in Jesus’ direction.

John 3:30—John the Baptist tells his followers, “He must become greater.  I must become less.”

Mark 14:36-Jesus surrenders to God’s plan for His death and crucifixion.

Luke 23:46-Jesus surrenders His spirit to God on the cross.

Submission in the Gospels

It seems odd to pick the parable of the prodigal son to talk about submission, but the story has elements that highlight a lack of it—self-centeredness, a lack of regard for others, irreverence towards authority and allegiance to one’s interests alone.  Yet in the end, the story highlights the transformation which God is able to perform on the heart of one who takes the path of submission.

Jewish culture considered, "honoring your father and mother," a command of utmost importance.  The beginning of the parable sees this command violated as the younger son asks for his portion of the inheritance.  Moreover, Jesus’ audience was shaken from its cultural view of the younger son being the rightful heir (think: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, David and Joseph over their older brothers).  By highlighting the profligate ways of the younger son, Jesus’ audience is being asked to change their way of thinking.

As the younger son wastes away his inheritance, he reaches a point where his choice lands between starvation and going back to his father’s home, albeit in a different capacity.  His internal dialogue in vv. 17-19 shows that, while his previous actions may have been to cut off his family ties (vv. 12-13), in his time of need, he recognizes that he is still his father’s son (emphasizing the father-son relationship in vv. 17-19).  On his return journey, the son takes the path that would bring him home to his father.  The younger son recognizes the condition by which he must present himself before his father—unworthy, capable only of being a hired servant, a sinner who has dishonored and severed his allegiance to his family.  On this same path, the father meets the son and restores his position, regardless of how unworthy the son may be.  

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/Vattenriket_Kristianstad_Path.jpg

This story teaches us about the path—how the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission paves the way for God to meet us where we are transformed, not by anything we do but by how the Father treats us.  “It’s not the disciplines themselves but God at work through them that enables us to love him and love our neighbor more and more” (Johnson, 2017, p.79).

In the practice of spiritual disciplines today, we ought to develop an awareness of our own unworthiness as we make our way back to God.  We are sinners, servants who can only do our jobs.  Yet in practicing submission and obedience, God meets us along the way and transforms us—from how we view ourselves to how He views us—as children who belong in His family, worthy of the fattened calf, of restoration to His family, regardless of how we may have mistreated Him in the past.  In God’s story, the reconciliation facilitates the transformation.  It is a story of the prodigal father more than that of the prodigal son.  It expresses the lavish, extravagant scale by which God loves us—unconditionally—the gift we receive for the price of our submission.

It is the same call throughout the scriptures—travel the path of submission.  In this calling, one is asked to relinquish his own self-interest and submit to God to find life everlasting.  As God called Israel to submission in Deuteronomy 30, so Jesus calls all nations to discipleship in Mark 8:34-35:

"Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life…."—Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:35

Conclusion and Application

The practice of spiritual disciplines is merely a path.  On the journey to be reconciled to God, the practice of submission puts us on that path.  Submission is the physical manifestation of denying oneself, not giving in to our pride, not promoting self-reliance, but rather allowing submission to nurture hearts that would be open to being transformed into hearts of humility.  Submission allows us to take the journey back to God, to acknowledge our decisions’ shortcomings when we choose to live away from God’s family, and, recognizing our inherent need for God, to belong to His family; and that a life outside the family of God leads to spiritual starvation and death.

Calhoun (2005) lists the desired outcomes of the spiritual discipline of submission as follows: 

  1.  being free from the need to be in charge, 
  2.  teachability, 
  3.  esteeming and honoring others more than yourself, 
  4.  being free from a rebellious and autonomous spirit, 
  5.  surrendering and losing your life to find it, 
  6.  developing approachability, gentleness, humility, and 
  7.  expressing a deep regard for others and what they might have to offer (p. 118).

In the discipline of submission lies a heart of trust, obedience, self-denial, allegiance, subordination and reverence for the One who desires to reconcile all to His family.

The parable highlights the heart that God has displayed to His chosen people from the beginning—His prodigal love for Israel as He brings them out of Egypt, His prodigal promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, His prodigal love to all nations as He sends His only Son, making reconciliation possible.  It teaches that God will meet us halfway, if not more, when we submit and take the path back to be reconciled to Him.  

In the story of the prodigal son, I find myself as the younger son, concerned about myself and how I’m going to survive, how I’m going to live, and going back to my father so he can provide for me.  Like the younger son, even when I have tried to walk the path back to God, it is because I recognize that I need Him for how he can provide for my wellbeing.  What I fail to see is the extravagance of the father’s love as I have continued to love myself and looked to God to take care of me.

In St. John of the Cross’ spiritual direction, it is the internal purity of the soul—the destruction of all self-love for the love of God above all—rather than the externals of life’s action that are of paramount importance.

"For God, although he resides in the soul as a hidden God, cannot fully occupy the soul with the lustrous radiance of His love when there remains in it anything of a selfish self-love; a self-love or attachment to anything even to the slightest degree, which excludes love for Him and for His greater glory" (Kozlowski, 1998, pp. 336-337)

As I strive to get rid of all self-love in my heart and submit all of my self, relinquish all my desires and align my will to that of God’s for my life, I am reminded of similar vows I made to my husband when we got married—that all my thoughts, love and desires have been pledged to him in this life.  Comparing this allegiance to my marriage, my acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship in my life demands that all my desires, all my love be submitted to Jesus as well.  The parable of the prodigal son reminds me of my shortcomings in my understanding of the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

    Like the younger son, I have walked this path.  I had pledged my allegiance to God and made Jesus Lord of my life.  At some point in my discipleship, I decided to walk away from the Father.  Living an immoral life where I took control of my choices rather than choosing to be obedient to God and continuing to be a part of His family, I made my way back to the world with the illusion of having the freedom to make my own choices.  Along the way, I broke relationships, dishonored my pledge, severed my ties with God’s family.  It was months later when I finally broke down and realized how empty my pursuit has been.  I found myself with nowhere to turn except back to God.  The heart of the younger son in vv. 17-19 resonated with me.  I resolved to go back with the heart that I had nothing to offer God but my sinful life and my broken heart.  I would ask him to take me back and face whatever consequences came my way.  It has been over 20 years since He took me back.  I have been welcomed with the fattened calf, I have partaken of the great banquet and been restored to the family of God.  Truly God is gracious:  he took my sinful life and made it beautiful.  He took my broken heart and made it whole.  The privileges I enjoy now, being married to a son of God, having a family of my own, the gift of purity in our relationship, are expressions of the extravagance of God’s love for me.  I had nothing to do with it.  I only made the decision to take the path back to God—with a heart that was willing to submit and obey.

"…whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."—Matthew 5:19

Submission has not been an easy path for me.  A single mother in a matriarchal family raised me.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, my lack of submission showed in the way I treated authority, especially male authority.  This weakness showed in my relationships.  I justified my lack of submission with scriptures like Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” or with other religious-sounding arguments or twisting of the Scriptures’ meanings.  Over the years, I have studied, sought advice and practiced what I thought were ways that helped me develop a more submissive spirit.  The study of spiritual disciplines has shown me that I have quite a way to go on this path.  As I have grown older, I have come to rely on outward practices rather than dealing with my heart.  I have been content with outward expressions of submission rather than true reverent piety towards God.  As I reflect on my life, I look back on the innumerable times God has continued to open His arms and welcome me back when I have strayed from submission.

"Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life." – Proverbs 4:23 (CSB)

I have a very humanistic approach to my relationship with God.  I tend to deal with external behaviors and evaluate my faith accordingly.  As such, I tend to work from the outside and then make my way inside.  It is self-reliant.  I have found that spiritual formation is not an easy journey.  But perhaps the easy yoke Christ speaks of in Matthew 11:28-30 is a place for me to start.  I need to look at the spiritual disciplines as the true means to taking up the ‘easy yoke.’  This can start with the practical steps recommended by Calhoun (2005):

  •  seeking God’s will (no matter where it leads) and doing it
  • allowing others to mentor, disciple, teach, correct and guide you
  • being a good follower
  • laying aside the need to be in charge
  • willing and eager obedience to God and those to whom you owe obedience
  • being an eager learner, trainable and tractable (p. 118).

"Godly submission is rooted in God’s good and loving intentions for each one of us. …  Therefore, biblical submission does not … rob them of their freedom.  Submission is a way we allow God’s kingdom agenda to shape our choices, relationships and vocations.  And it always works in conjunction with personal freedom" (Calhoun, 2005, p. 119).

Corporally, we could emphasize imitating Jesus individually more rather than organizing activities that only serve to make us look like every church in our community.  In practicing submission, our congregation could nurture relationships in the family of God that would promote healthy guidance in our “one-another relationships.”  Our emphasis on external, corporate activities tends to drive the individual away from practicing spiritual disciplines as we lack the time and direction to develop them personally.  

We are part of an increasingly-connected global environment.  Every moment of our lives can be documented or filled with entertainment at the touch of a fingertip.  Peace comes at a premium as people tend to want to go to far-flung places, secluded and away from all that civilized life offers in order to find a break from the pace of their lives.  Living in a society that moves at such a frenetic pace, the parable of the prodigal son offers the world the peace that counters the prevailing culture—freedom through submission, victory in surrender, a full life if you relinquish everything.

To help us reach the world for Christianity, I believe the story of the prodigal son helps us understand that reconciliation with God is not dependent on our transformation of ourselves.  There is nothing we can do on our own to facilitate the transformation of our hearts.  It would be exhausting work if it was left up to us.  A heavy yoke versus Jesus’ easy yoke.  In the same way, sharing with others about God is not about what people ought to ‘do’ in order to be reconciled to God.  Rather, we ought to teach of the most important decision that the younger son has taken—that of walking the path that would take him home to his father.  God will do the rest.

"Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground.  Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’…."—Isaiah 45:9

In pottery-making, kneading is a very important first step.  After taking clay, water is added to it.  Water is distributed evenly but if the clay is really hard, it needs to be soaked in water.  Only after this step does the clay become moldable.  Likewise, it is only after the believer is immersed in the waters of baptism is one’s heart ready to be transformed by God.  

Clay in the Potter's Hand2.jpg

The next step is molding.  When a potter makes something, you learn to love everything about the finished product.  You love it because you made it—every curve, every contour, every shape, every imperfection.  In this way, God already loves us even as He makes us into His finished product—every shape, every imperfection is lovingly formed.  Working with clay also produces the best result when one works daily.  Working on it inconsistently would return the clay to its harder form thus requiring more effort from the potter next time.  So it is that the spiritual practice of submission aims for consistency.

In molding, the pressure needs to be even AND gentle—not too soft, not too strong.  The good potter knows that the pressure on the inside of the clay vessel needs to be the same as the pressure on the outside.  At times, we may feel hard-pressed but God knows how much pressure to put—inside and outside—as He molds us for His use.

Once it has taken the shape that the potter intended, the pottery is now put through the heating process.  The heating process allows the clay particles to stick together.   At the end of the first heating process, the pottery is not ready for use yet.  It’s formed but brittle.  One could compare it to our younger years of discipleship as God gently forms us and molds us. 

In order to be useful, it has to go through another heating process that requires more heat.  The temperature required during the heating process depends on the purpose or intention of the potter for the vessel.  The times in our lives when we feel the most ‘heat’—of suffering, persecution, we are being molded according to God’s purpose for our lives. 

Finally, the potter applies glaze to the pottery.  Glaze is not inherent in clay.  It can only come from the artist.  This is the grace we receive from God.  It is Jesus’ blood, the sacrifice of His life that covers us so we are reconciled with God.  It is not something we can do on our own; it can only come from the Father.  

When the potter is done, the original clay is no longer visible—only the glaze.  So it is with our lives, when God, the potter, is done molding us and transforming us, it ought to be Jesus who is on display.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."– 2 Cor. 4:7-10

It is easy to fight the process of submission, to fight the process of being transformed.  But as the clay needs to remain under the hands of the potter in order for the transformation to occur, so we should practice the spiritual discipline of submission for the inner transformation of our hearts to happen.  Let us then imitate our Lord’s attitude towards submission, as death was set before him: 

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to his hour.  Father, glorify your name!'” – John 12:27-28

 

 

Bibliography:

À Kempis, Thomas. (1989). The Imitation of Christ. Gardiner, Harold S.J. (Ed.) New York, NY: Image.

Bock, Darrell. (1996). Luke, Vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Silva, Moisés (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1995). The Cost of Discipleship. (Munchen, Verlag & Fuller, R.H., Trans) New York, NY: Touchstone.  Original work published 1937.

Bruce, F.F., gen. ed. (1986). The International Bible Commentary with the NIV.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2005).  Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.  Downers Grove, IL: IVP.

Easton, Burton Scott. (1926).  The Gospel According to St. Luke: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary.  New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Eerdmans Bible Commentary Third Edition. (1987).  Grand Rapids, MI: WM B Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Ferguson, Gordon. (1995).  The Victory of Surrender.  Woburn, MA: DPI.

Foster, Richard & Griffin, Emilie, ed. (2000) Spiritual Classics.  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Foster, Richard J.  (1988). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.  

Johnson, K.D. (2017).  Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World.  Christianity Today, 61(7), 77-79.

Kinnard, Steve G. (2006). The Way of the Heart: Spiritual Living in a Legalistic World.  Newton, MA: IPI.

Kozlowski, Joseph Paul. (1998)  Spiritual Direction & Spiritual Disciplines.  Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing.

Levine, A. (2014).  A parable and its baggage: what the prodigal son story doesn’t mean.  The Christian Century, 131(18), 20-23.

Powell, John S.J. (1978). Unconditional Love.  Allen, TX: Argus Communications.

Rolheiser, Ronald. (2014). Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. New York, NY: Image.

Tobkin, M.J. (1998).  The tension between justice and mercy in the parable of the prodigal son.  Journal Of Theta Alpha Kappa, 22(2), 26-43.

Willard, Dallas. (1988).  The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes

Lives. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Williams, B.J. (2010.  Brotherhood motifs in the parable of the prodigal son.  Restoration Quarterly, 56(2), 99-109.

Wirt, Sherwood, ed. (1983).  Spiritual Disciplines: Devotional Writings from The Great

Christian Leaders of the Seventeenth Century.  Westchester, IL: Crossway.


About the author, Cindy Fetherman:

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I was baptized in the US territory of Guam 24 years ago.  After moving to Denver from four wonderful years in Cambodia, I started pursuing my MABT in the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology.  I recently transferred to Lincoln Christian University and hope to pursue a MA in Biblical Languages as well.  My husband and I currently serve in our youth and family ministry and we hope to use what we are learning to serve in smaller churches in the future.

The Teaching and Practice of "Sanctifying the Ordinary" in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

With Special Attention to "Befriending Death"

by Renee Rheinbolt Uribe -- Bogota, Colombia

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“Why the World Needs to Get Ready for People Dying” -- today’s BBC news headlines. I believe that,  as believers, we need to take this a step further: “Why the church needs to get ready for people dying.” Not in terms of evangelism, but in the context of the body of Christ. As we well know, we do not “retire” from being a follower of Christ; he calls us to follow him until our last breath. Rolheiser describes this stage in the spiritual path as the season of Radical Discipleship: the struggle to give our deaths away. An important message for the modern followers of Christ. 

Definition of “Sanctifying the Ordinary” 

Harrison Warren (2016) gives a descriptive definition pointing to a sign she saw at a prominent New Monasticism community house, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes” (p. 35).  Kinnard (2018) writes, “To sanctify,” means ‘to set apart or to make holy.’ When we sanctify the ordinary, we take the commonplace, regular, everyday actions that make up the day and make them holy acts. We dedicate them to God. By doing this, we change our attitude about the small things”(Lecture Notes).  Canlis (2017),  in her book, A Theology of the Ordinary, adds:

"Have you ever been struck by the domesticity of the incarnation? When He comes to earth, God places Himself not in a palace but in a family. Faced with a world going to hell in a hand basket, God’s rescue mission is ... to be born? How ordinary is that? It is here, in the confines of a little family, unnoticed by the whole world, the new creation has begun. … This is how God works. This is His rule, not the exception. God enters into creation and engages with us there on creation’s terms. God works with our regular responses to Him in our ordinary lives. Mary’s visitation by the angel was extraordinary—to be sure—but no more extraordinary than the life of a girl who had already habituated herself to surrender, over and over again, to God in her daily life."

As Willard (1998) states, “There truly is no division between sacred and secular except what we have created," (p. 214). 

Definition of “Befriending Death”

The reality is,  “Many Christians have an inadequate theology of ordinary life,” writes Gene Veith (1999). If we are not practicing the spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary;”  we are not truly ready to be followers of Christ to the end. The topic of death is not a favorite topic in our day and age, as Nouwen (1979) states, “Most people in our society do not want to disturb each other with the idea of death” (p. 68). But we are missing out on an incredible opportunity as followers of Christ by discussing this amazing stage of radical discipleship! I find wisdom in Nouwen’s (2015) teaching of “befriending your death.” He shares, “I have a deep sense that if we could move from a denying to befriending our death before we die, if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening enemy, we would be freer of fear, guilt, and resentment. (p. 104)

Biblical Overview  

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

What is evident throughout the Bible is that people die. The only ones mentioned that did not go through this last “dark journey of the soul” are Enoch and Elijah. Old age is a common theme throughout the Bible as well. The Biblical Narrative is bursting with older people serving God until “their dying day”. [It must be kept in mind that historical, anthropological, cultural,  and medical reasons might change the concept of what is “old” between ancient biblical times and now. Even modern societies face extreme differences.] The most common stories we are familiar with are Abraham (Gen. 21:1-5, Rom. 4:19 and Heb. 11:11); Moses & Aaron (Ex.7:7); Joshua and Caleb (Joshua 24:29; 14:6-11) and Daniel (Dan. 1:21). These are the most common example of spiritual “productivity” in the older years. The one that I have heard quoted the most is Caleb’s bold statement in Josh. 14:11-12: 

I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the Lord said.” (NRSV)

Alternatively, there are many examples of other elderly people, including Isaac, who became blind and weak in his old age (Gen. 27:1) and was manipulated by his wife and their younger son, Jacob. Joseph gave specific instruction in his old age as to what do to with his bones (Gen. 50:25, Heb. 11:22). Moses did not “Sanctify the Ordinary” on several occasions, including getting angry at the Israelites and hitting the rock in anger (Num. 20:9-13). The consequences of this is the denial of his entrance into the Promised Land (Deut. 34:4). 

Samson did not live a sanctified life but he did finish his life in an event that later had him put in the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11. He sanctified that moment by using all the strength God had given him to destroy the pagan temple and kill many enemies of God. 

Naomi “Sanctified the Ordinary” when returning heartbroken to her homeland; guiding her faithful daughter-in-law through the norms of the day of acquiring food and seeking a husband (Boaz). Referring to her grandson, Ruth 4:15 reads, “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him” (NRSV). Her “Sanctifying the Ordinary” not only gave her profound happiness in her old age but also eventually led to the birth of Christ. 

The book of Job addresses the conditions of pain and weakness better than any other. Yancey (1999) reveals, “the best man on earth suffering the worst, with no sign of encouragement or comfort from God” (p. 68). How did he deal with this powerlessness? As Job. 2:13 narrates, his three friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, with no one saying a word to him. Sitting on the ground, without saying anything is sanctified here. And then, in Job 42:11, after Job comes to a place of peace with his suffering and prays for his friends, what does he do? He invites everyone he knows over to eat. The cooking and serving of a meal is sanctified! 

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Yancey (1999) reminds us that Ecclesiastes is a “profound reminder of the limits of being human” (p. 161). The author of Ecclesiastes repeats time after time the importance of living the “ordinary” aspects of life with God in mind. In Ecc. 2:24-26, we read that with God’s help we can find satisfaction and enjoyment while eating, as well as in Ecc. 3:12-1; 4;18-20; 8:15-17; 9:7-10. Time after time the importance of the main aspect of life--eating --  is pointed out. Eating is an “ordinary” activity we must partake in several times a day, from birth until death! Eating would not be sanctified, if there were not all the other “ordinary” aspects of the process--planning, buying, cooking, killing animals (a must in biblical times), serving, washing dishes, etc. Summarized by these four words, a lot of work! Along these lines Schaeffer (1971) notes, “Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems.” (p. 124) 

Paul in his letter to the believers in Colossae expresses the same sentiment, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, NRSV). He writes as well as to the Corinthian believers, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31, NRSV) 

Another New Testament teaching concerning “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is found in 1 Cor. 7:33-34,

"But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband." (NET)

Married believers are instructed to view their commitments, due to their martial situation, as a service to God.   It is often helpful to look at the women in the Bible within the context of their Judeo culture.  Martha Peace (1997) shares illuminating information on this subject.  According to the Mishna, the ancient codification of Jewish law and tradition, the married Jewish woman was in charge of every detail of the running of her household—from grinding the flour to make fresh bread, to raising and teaching the children, making the wool for the family clothes, caring for the extended family, especially her mother-in-law, overseeing the work of the servants, and the list goes on and on (p. 115).  

Also in 1 Peter 3:1-4, it is interesting how silence is sanctified, in this situation of Christian women married to non-believing husbands:

"Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing;  rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight." (emphasized added, NRSV) 

Arnold adds, “People who love one another can be silent together,” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 165). 

The woman in Biblical times would understand well what it meant to “Sanctify the Ordinary,” since their daily activities would not change, but the heart in which they were carried out would. In the study of early Christian history, so many of these women who had no choice but to “Sanctify the Ordinary” (there was not an option of “forget dinner,” let's go through the drive- through at McDonalds) ended up being involved in the amazing transformation as Christianity spread like “wildfire.” This apparently small and obscure sect of Judaism ended up attracting millions of people from the many races and cultures which composed the Mediterranean world (Latourette, 1975, p. 65). From their homes they were able to influence so many of the pagan world’s “barbarous practices: abandonment of the elderly, abortion, child sacrifice, infanticide and exposure, the degradation of women, gladiatorial combat, cannibalism, slavery and many more social ills (Jacoby, 2006, p. 91). 

Barton confirms, ''But, perhaps above all else, Christianity brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death'' (as cited in Stark, 1997, p. 214). The Epistle to Diogenetus expresses the early Christians' sentiment and activity:

"Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God." (as cited in Camp, 2003, p. 179)

This Christian application of loving one another was felt deeply in the deeply pagan culture of the Roman empire. Stark (1997) declared, 'This was revolutionary stuff'' (p. 212). Christianity taught a different concept than the Roman philosophers, that regarded mercy and pity as defects in a person's character. For example, Plato removed beggars from his ideal state. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues--that a merciful god requires humans to be merciful. And in this climate, a deep compassion was developed for the weak and elderly.

“Sanctifying the Ordinary” in Jesus’ Powerlessness Prior to Death

The Gospels can be loosely placed in the genre of “ancient biography.” It is important to comprehend why there are not that many details of Jesus’ daily routines and why there is insufficient data. Powell (2009) reveals that the objective of ancient biographies was “to relate accounts that portrayed the essential character of the person who was the subject of the work. Indeed, the purpose of the biography was to define that person’s character in a manner that would invite emulation” (p. 84). Tenney states that though the Gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Jesus, no other Gospel delineated his humanity so clearly. He also describes this Gospel as “strongly theological, and it deals particularly with the nature of his person and with the meaning of faith in him." He also states,  “The discourses of Jesus in it are concerned chiefly with his person rather than with the ethical teaching of the kingdom. Personal interviews are multiplied, and Jesus’ relationship to individuals is stressed” (p. 188).  

“Everything He did during His earthly life was holy: he converted them into prayer and his ordinary daily activities had a divine and redeeming value.” (Fr. Rolly A., priest of Opus Dei) 

Jesus had to eat, sleep, perform normal bodily functions and other “ordinary” activities, some examples of which are mentioned in passing within the Gospels. I believe the women who followed him around helped him financially, but also helped with some of these “ordinary” and necessary functions always done by women in that culture: cooking, washing clothes, etc. (Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:41 and Luke 8:2-3); in other words, ''performed for them those solicitous domestic functions which are the supreme consolation of male life'' (Durant, 1945, p. 564). Also, Jesus lived in weakness when he came to this earth in human form. He was defenseless in the womb, as a baby, as a child and had to live an “ordinary” life, with others doing things for him. Harrison Warren (2016), “The one who is worthy of worship, glory, and fanfare spent decades in obscurity and ordinariness” (p. 16). Rolheiser (2014) succinctly describes, 

Up to his arrest, the Gospels describe Jesus as active, as doing things, in charge, preaching, teaching, performing miracles, consoling people. Then, after his arrest, all the verbs become passive: he is led away, manhandled by the authorities, whipped, helped in carrying his cross, and ultimately nailed to the cross. After his arrest, like a patient in palliative care, he no longer does anything; others do it for him and to him. He is passive, a patient. And in the manner he endured that passivity, he gave his death for us (p. 287).

I list some “ordinary” tasks which highlight Jesus’ passivity, not the outright violent acts:

John 18:28--was led by others (Matt. 27:2)

John 19:2--was dressed (in a purple robe) by others (Matt. 27:28 says that they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and Matt. 27:31 they took the robe off and put his own clothes on him again)

John 19:17-- starting with carrying his own cross (then Simon was forced to carry it Matt. 27:32)

John 19:23--soldiers took his clothes John 19:25-27--gave final instructions for his mother and his dearest friend

John 19:28-29--was thirsty and drank wine vinegar from a sponge put on a stick 

Main Text for Exegesis

John 21:17-19:

 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (ESV).

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After Jesus’ resurrection, he returns to visit many of his followers. The account in John 21 is a beautiful, “tightly unified narrative” (Wiarda, 1992, p. 1),  recounting his encounter with his closest friends -- especially Peter. First, he joins them in “ordinary” activities, including helping them with advice for the task at hand, fishing. Then, while they finished their fishing, he starts a fire and cooks a breakfast of fish and bread. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’” (John 21:12a, NRSV). After all these necessary but “ordinary” tasks, he speaks directly to Peter’s heart.  

“Peter’s encounter with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberius represents the first substantial conversation that is recorded in Scripture between the two of them following Peter’s denial of Jesus. As such, this may reflect the tension that appears to permeate their reunion” (Poon, p. 53)

He asks him three separate times, “Peter do you love me?” I would like to note loving Jesus is not dependent on physical strength.  But Peter is now certain: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17b, NRSV). Jesus repeatedly confirms that love for him implies love for others: “feed my sheep” (vs. 15b); “take care of my sheep” (vs. 16b) and “feed my sheep” (vs. 17b). In this context, how did Jesus show this care for his sheep? In many ways, by partaking in “ordinary” activities: being out with them in the early morning, helping them out with their job (with timely and practical advice), making a fire and subsequently, cooking bread and fish for their breakfast and concluding with a “heart to heart” talk. 

The author of Hebrews highlights Jesus’ attitude, which overflows in his interaction with Peter, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16, NRSV). And “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness” (Heb. 5:2, NRSV). 

As I research this text, it seems used more than anything as example of spiritual leadership. This is summarized in They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson (1996) “After modeling shepherd leadership, Jesus passed the model on to the apostles. Three times in one brief conversation, Jesus charged Peter (possibly as a representative of the entire apostolate): ‘Feed my lambs,’ Take care of my sheep’ and Feed my sheep.’ By implication he is saying “Adopt my spiritual leadership style” (p. 18). Davids (1990) parallels this text with 1 Peter 5:2-3,“to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (NRSV). He brings up some important points:

"After all, none of God’s acts of humanity was done out of necessity, but voluntarily, out of grace (p. 179). . . .  In fact, one could well argue that, following the pattern of the ancient world and especially of Judaism, teaching and leading was for the NT basically a matter of example rather than of lecture or command. Being an example fits well with the image of ‘flock,’ for the ancient shepherd did not drive his sheep, but walked in front of them and called them to follow." (p. 181)

I find there are two camps that use vs. 18 as an example in distinct manners of radical discipleship. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (NRSV). There are scholars and Christian writers who emphasis the prophecy of Peter’s death as a martyr, highlighted as the “last act” of radical and extraordinary discipleship. And then others, emphasize the ordinariness and powerlessness of the situation, more along the lines of living the last “journey through the dark night.” Rolheiser (2004) describes, “we are meant to give our deaths away, not just at the moment of our deaths but in a whole process of leaving this planet in such a way that our diminishment and death is our final, and perhaps greatest, gift to the world” (p. 19). Stott (2010) combines both ideas, “John tells us that Jesus’ words had a specific reference to Peter and his death but they embody a principle of wider application to growing old” (p. 109). Calvin in his commentary amplifies the passage as follows: 

"Another will gird thee. Many think this denotes the manner of death which Peter was to die, meaning that he was hanged, with his arms stretched out; but I consider the word gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life. Thou girdedst thyself; that is, "thou wast accustomed to wear such raiment as thou chosest, but this liberty of choosing thy dress will be taken from thee." 

The Greek word for gird is zonnumi: to dress, clothe oneself, put on a belt or sash. Calvin adds another layer of meaning to this text, “gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life.” This brings to mind Francis de Sales words,

    

 

 

"The great virtues and the small fidelities are like sugar and salt. Sugar may have a more    exquisite taste, but its use is less frequent. Salt is found everywhere. The great virtues are a rare occurrence; the ministry of small things is a daily service. Large tasks require a great sacrifice for a moment; small things require constant sacrifice. . . In the realm of the spirit we soon discover that the real issues are found in the tiny, insignificant corners of life. Our infatuation with the "big deal" has blinded us to this fact. The service of small things will put us at odds with our sloth and idleness." (cited by in Foster, 1998, p. 135) 

In the context of Calvin’s interpretation, Peter had the option to add “salt” to his life daily. Springing from his profound love for Christ, he would care for the sheep, maybe most of the time in small and insignificant ways. But the context of the “being led” and “being dressed”  message, I find, Stott (2010) describes as follows: 

"Jesus himself taught dependence grows as we grow. . . . We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others. And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us." (p. 109-11)

Brother Lawrence, whose impact on believers has been noted for centuries with his teachings on “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” adds, “We begin to need His help with every little thing and at every moment, because without it we can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the devil wage a fierce and continuous war on our souls. . . . Although this total dependence may sometimes go against our human nature, God takes great pleasure in it” (1980, p. 60).

Old Man in Sorrow

Follow Me (Jesus). . . “Only A Suffering God Can Help”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Nouwen (2015), when discussing the theme of old age, uses Van Gogh’s (1890) Old Man in Sorrow to illustrate this stage, “The old man is ‘worn out’, Vincent notes ‘on the threshold of eternity’” (p.  103). Following Christ can lead us to places we do not want to go: excruciating, vulnerable and even haunting places. In the US Evangelical context, following Christ has a message of “doing great things for Christ” and “winning the world in this generation.” I have not perceived a message of preparation for old age and powerlessness.  Martyrdom, yes, but not “getting old for Christ.” Nouwen  (1979) has a few choice words in this regard, “ Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding” (p. 72). Even though with Billy Graham's recent death at the age of 99, there could be greater interest. That is why I am highlighting Jesus’ words to Peter “but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” and then Jesus continues with a short command “follow me.” Jesus had just given Peter a full-blown personal example of how to let others do “ordinary” tasks for you with an obvious sanctification “stamp.” As Nowen (2015) so beautifully expresses, “Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide” (p. 6). 

Tagliaferre (2010) provides insight:

"Curiously, one of the last things spoken by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John to Simon Peter was, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) Studies indicate that physical dependence is the great fear among aging steeple. Aging requires that one adapt to physical deterioration and awareness of pending death while relinquishing leadership to future generations. But more than that are the changes in intellectual, relational, and spiritual transitions that also must be accommodated with age.” (p. 257)

In a personal way, I find this teaching extremely helpful as I face the later part of my life (and my husband’s), as well as my parents’ (and in-laws) elderly years. The focus on this paper is not to discuss projects for the elderly but the spiritual call for each follower of Christ as we approach this next stage of discipleship, radical discipleship. To follow Christ’s example when facing the powerlessness that accompanies terminal illness and old age is our ultimate charge. Ecclesiastes illustrates what is coined by St. John of the Cross as the “dark night of the soul:” 

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets (Ecc. 12:1-5, NRSV).

Those ordinary things in this stage are sanctified, even if someone else must do them for us--if we are doing them out of our spiritual walk and journey. I am someone who needs to hear this lesson. I am renewing a “more productive” time after dedicating almost twenty years of serving God with the ordinary, as a mother and wife. If it were needed to again focus much more on the ordinary, to possibly care for my parents or my in-laws (who all live in the US), if the need were to arise, this would come at a price, leaving our mission work in Latin America. But as I have experienced extreme weakness due to prolonged illness, challenging pregnancies and for other reasons, all these experiences and lessons (past, present and future) are all building blocks to prepare for the last stage of my walk with Christ. 

Villacorta (2017) describes this inner struggle within the context of our Western culture, which flourishes within our congregations, “The external forces of a power production driven society are counter to the idea of a spirituality of waiting” (p. 60). He continues, “Since our human nature resists powerlessness it will do most anything to strike back even to the point where our character, spiritual life and relationships with others are compromised” (p. 67). Brunner (1955), when discussing hope, shares, “There is no optimism in the New Testament; optimism is the mark of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 50);  also, “That is one of the fairy tales of our age, --that men need the idea of progress to make them active. What we really need to make us active is love and if we have love we need no other stimulus” (p. 57).  Nouwen (2002) illustrates the struggle at hand, “the long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.  Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints (or true carriers of  Jesus' legacy) ( last words are mine, pp. 77 & 79).  

Rolheiser (2014) brings up, “Aging: an art form?”(p. 298). Nouwen does make it sound like that! He also mentions “our death is meant to be our last and greatest gift to our loved ones” (p. 285), and brings up the question, “How can I live now so that when I die, my death is an optimal blessing to my family, my friends, the church, and the world?” (p. 285). If we are willing, following Christ leads us down a road of accepting death, not fearing it, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),  and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15 NET).

Within my spiritual community in Bogota, Colombia, where I have been an active member for two and-a-half decades, there are many applications of this spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” especially in the extreme-illness or in the old-age stage. But many people here have been examples to me, they are actually why I am aware of this application of this specific spiritual discipline. I have been close to many brothers and sisters who have passed away during all these years, but two women who passed away last fall have touched me in an especially profound manner.

One was a woman who was baptized almost 25 years ago, Virgelina. She was already almost 50 years old at the time and, at around 60 years of age, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. For her last 15 years she had been such an amazing example of a spiritual woman, even when bedridden: devoted to prayer; always willing to love more one more person; soft of heart, always giving her best. She was poor, but so rich in heart. Her life touched so many people throughout the years. At her funeral it was so obvious that her death was a blessing to her family, friends, the church, and even to people who had not ever met her! 

The other person is my sister-in-law, who died at the young age of 48. She lived two decades in a lesbian lifestyle and one day called me up and said “I am ready to turn my life over to God.”  Soon after this she got baptized. Six months after her baptism, she found out that she an aggressive type of breast cancer. She bravely faced her surgeries and chemotherapies, while touching people’s lives with God’s love at every turn. Every Sunday she would sing out to God in worship with so much enthusiasm!  During this time, she helped so many people she knew come to know God and get baptized (including one of her former partners). A month after her total recovery from the breast cancer, it was discovered she had lung cancer (that later metastasized to the brain). As she realized there was no other road for her life but to “befriend death”, her example of radical discipleship was amazing! [Even though she was rebuked by many a Christian accusing her of insufficient faith.] Her last few weeks, others had to help her with dressing, eating and getting from here to there. It was obvious that these ordinary tasks were sanctified! Even though it was challenging for her to lose the ability to care for herself, she made such an effort to thank each person for every little or big thing they did for her. I had the privilege of observing what Nouwen describes as, to “go through the birthing canal,” while her closest family and friends were encouraging to “push through.” To her last breath, she was encouraging others, even joking. During her lifetime we were not that close, but observing her last journey into the “Dark Night of the Spirit” was a gift to me, personally, as well as for hundreds of others. The funeral home was too small for the hundreds of attendees. It was a sad time but simultaneously, so happy! It was as if we were unwrapping the gift that she had given us, through the way she lived and the way she died. 

In the way these women lived and died they paved the way that shows, “the effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed.” (Willard, 1988, p. 138). The core teaching of Jesus and his last words to Peter come alive in the lives of Virgelina and my sister-in-law. This teaching of the spiritual discipline in “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is vital as we grow older as followers of Christ;  but we must start NOW. Chambers cautions, “If we refuse to practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature. When the crisis comes, we ask God to help us, but He cannot if we have not made our nature our ally. The practicing is ours, not God’s. God regenerates us and puts in contact with all His divine resources, but He cannot make us walk according to His will” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 118).  But we must continue or return to the “path” of spiritual discipline and realize the joy ahead of us when we are experiencing powerless in the elderly stage of life or due to extreme illness.  Remembering the example of Jesus,   as Peter did:

"Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Heb. 12:2-3, NET). 

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There is joy in depending on others for the ordinary tasks of life, because if our heart and mind are in the right place, we continue in our worship of God. Nouwen (2015) expresses these closing thoughts like no other could: 

"Remember: You belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime -- long or short -- is only a part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: “I love you, too.” (p. 48)

 

References

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/john/21.htm

Anderson, L. (1997). They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership For The 21st Century. Howard Pub.

Brunner, E. (1955). Faith, Hope, And Love. Lutterworth Press.

Camp, L. C. (2004). Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity In A Rebellious World. Brazos Press.

Canlis, J. (2017). A Theology Of The Ordinary. Godspeed Press.

C. (n.d.). Posts about Sanctification of ordinary life on Catholics Striving for Holiness. Retrieved from https://catholicsstrivingforholiness.com/category/sanctification-of-ordinary-life/

Davids, P. H. (2009). The First Epistle of Peter. Eerdmans.

Durant, W. (1944). Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization III. Simon and Schuster.

Foster, R. J. (1988). Celebration Of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth. HarperSanFrancisco.

Horton, M. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable Faith In A Radical, Restless World. Zondervan.

Jacoby, D. (2006). The Letters of James, Peter, John, Jude: Life to the Full.  Discipleship Publications International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2006). The Way Of The Heart: Spiritual Living In A Legalistic World. Illumination Publishers International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2018). Sanctifying The Ordinary: 24-7 Discipleship. Lecture notes in LCU course BT 654. 

Latourette, K. S. (1975). A History Of Christianity. Harper and Row.

Lynch, E. K. (1974). The Practice Of The Presence Of God. Carmelite Press.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Direction: Wisdom For The Long Walk Of Faith. HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Formation: Following The Movements Of The Spirit. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The Wounded Healer. Double day.

Peace, M. (1996). The Excellent Wife. Focus Pub.

Poon, R. (2006). John 21: A Johannine Model Of Leadership. Journal Of Biblical Perspective In Leadership. Leadership 1, no. 1 (Fall 2006), 49-70.

Powell, M. A. (2015). Introducing The New Testament: A Historical, Literary, And Theological Survey. Baker Academic.

Rolheiser, R. (2017). Sacred Fire: A Vision For A Deeper Human And Christian Maturity. Doubleday.

Rolheiser, R. (2014). The Holy Longing: The Search For A Christian Spirituality. Image.

Schaeffer, E. (1971). The Hidden Art Of Homemaking. Tyndale House.

The School of the Parish. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://world.regent-college.edu/profile/the-school-of-the-parish

Sleeman, D.K. (2018, March 02). Why The World Needs To Get Ready For More People Dying. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43159823

Stark, R. (1997). The rise of Christianity: How the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries. Harper Collins.

Stott, J. R. (2015). The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. IVP

Tagliaferre, L. (2010). Lessons From Sedona. iUniverse. 

Tenney, M. C., & Dunnett, W. M. (1987). New Testament Survey. Eerdmans.

Veith, G. E. (2010). The Spirituality Of The Cross: The Way Of The First Evangelicals. Concordia Pub. House.

Villacorta, W. G. (2017). Tug Of War: The Downward Ascent Of Power. Cascade Books.

Warren, T. H. (2016). Liturgy Of The Ordinary - Sacred Practices In Everyday Life. Intervarsity Press.

Wiarda, T. (1992, 04). John 21.1-23: Narrative Unity and Its Implications. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 14(46), 53-71. doi:10.1177/0142064x9201404604

Willard, D. (2002). Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. NavPress.

Willard, D. (1999). The Spirit Of The Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperSanFrancisco.

Yancey, P. (2002). The Bible Jesus Read. Zondervan.

 

Photo Credits

Christ appears to his disciples. https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5671097233Chr

Elijah, By Janmad (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Elijah_17th_c_Weremien_Sanok.jpg

https://nomadicboys.com/vietnamese-savoury-pancakes-recipe-banh-xeo/

J James Tissot, Baked Fish 2, https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/7022212959

Death of Peter, Luca Giordano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin LaBar, Joy Poster. https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinlabar/4959216347

 

Renee Rheinbolt Uribe was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but raised in Guatemala by medical missionary parents. She has been a follower of Christ since the young age of 13 and a missionary in Latin America for over three decades (serving in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Colombia). Her undergrad degree is in International Relations. Due to her lifelong love of learning,  with her three kids now in college, she has gotten her MA in Intercultural Studies (Missiology) as well as a MA in Bible and Theology. She met the love of her life on the mission field, Flavio Uribe and they have been based in Bogota, Colombia for over 25 years. She is currently taking Masters courses at Lincoln Christian University in ministry and biblical studies. 

An Introduction to the Old Testament Text

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by Dave Pocta -- San Antonio, Texas, USA 

When we open our bibles, we often take for granted what is in front of us. For centuries, scribes and scholars have meticulously unearthed ancient texts.  They have preserved, catalogued, studied and compared them to accurately provide us with God’s Word.  This paper is a very brief introduction to the languages, textual traditions, early translations, and recent discoveries that laid the foundation for the blessing now known as the Old Testament. 

Biblical Languages

The Hebrew bible (Old Testament) was originally written by several authors ranging from roughly the 15th to fifth century B.C. in the Hebrew language with small segments in Aramaic.  (Primarily Daniel 2:4b-7:28 and Ezra 4:8-6:18, 7:12-26.) Aramaic was spoken by the Jews after the exile, which explains its appearance in these books with later dates. Documents in the original language are called manuscripts and copies of them are transmissions. Documents in other languages are called versions, as they are translations

Example of Aramaic papyrus

Example of Aramaic papyrus

Languages vary in communication style, flow, and structure. We would therefore prefer to possess the earliest manuscripts in the original language to ensure accuracy and avoid the translators’ interpretations. The two extremes in translation would be “word for word” translations which tend to be more literal but often can lose the exact meaning of the text, or “thought for thought” translations, which attempt to capture the meaning but lose the nuances of specific words. This makes evident the difficulty in translating a translation. For example, translating the Old Testament from Latin into English introduces the difficulties of moving across two language barriers instead of translating from Hebrew directly into English. The science of studying manuscripts to remove scribal copying errors and obtain the most likely original text is known as textual criticism. The intention of textual critics is to provide a precise original language text that can be used as a basis for translation into any language.

Textual Traditions

Ironically, the oldest manuscript of the complete Hebrew bible that we have is the Leningrad Codex (codex meaning ‘book’ as opposed to scroll), which is dated to 1008 A.D. Another important Hebrew codex is the Aleppo Codex, named after the city in Syria in which it was located. It was considered a model codex, used for Jewish high holidays and settling matters of dispute amongst scholars. Unfortunately, it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1947. Both of these come from a strong Jewish scribal tradition and are known as the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were a group of scholars that flourished between the 7th and 11th century A.D. They had meticulous practices of preserving the text and required the destruction of worn copies (They didn’t see the need for older copies because the text was firmly established.) They were also responsible for vowel pointing. The original Hebrew text was consonantal only. The Masoretes were concerned about the pronunciation of the language, as it wasn’t being spoken much anymore; and they added vowel pointing to preserve the proper way of reading the Hebrew. 

Other portions and fragments of the Hebrew text have been found which have significantly earlier dates, such as the Nash Papyrus. It contains parts of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and 6.  Scholars debate its date. Some believe it was pre-exilic while others give it a first or second century A.D. date. These fragments serve as a snapshot of the early text. They provide some confirmation and some potential conflicts with the Masoretic text. 

Early Translations

Even though we lack early complete Hebrew manuscripts, we have a number of early witnesses. These are translations that give us insight into the original text. 

The Samaritan Pentateuch – Sometime after the exile, the Samaritans became an independent faction from the Jews. Their scriptures were written in a script variant of the Hebrew (called the Paleo-Hebrew script) and are now called the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Samaritan Pentateuch serves as a second Hebrew text of the Pentateuch and carries some six thousand variations from the Masoretic text. Most of these are orthographic (spelling differences) and some are additions that were introduced by the Samaritans to preserve their cult. (I.e. the command to build a sanctuary on Mount Gerizim was inserted after Exodus 20:17).  It should be noted that about nineteen hundred variants agree with the Septuagint (see below) against the Masoretic text. 

The Septuagint – Hellenism spread the Greek language as universal in the Diaspora. An Alexandrian Jew named Aristeas writes to his brother in the Letter of Aristeas that Ptolemy II Philadelphus, while serving as King of Egypt (281 B.C. to 246 B.C.), desired that his library have a copy of the Jewish Law. He sent to Eleazar, the High Priest, in Jerusalem for translators. Eleazar selected six elders from each of the twelve tribes and sent them with Hebrew scrolls to Ptolemy II.  Supposedly, the seventy-two men translated the Pentateuch in seventy-two days on the island of Pharos; it was read to the Jews in Alexandria and approved as accurate. We aren’t sure how the rest of the Septuagint was translated, but we do know that it was done by multiple translators because parts of it tend to be literal (word for word) and other parts are more free (thought for thought). The Septuagint (abbreviated LXX, which means “according to the seventy”) is significant as it was widely recognized as the bible of the early church and many viewed the translation as inspired.  

Fragments from Deuteronomy, manuscript of The Septuagint. John Rylands Library, Papyrus Greek 458

Fragments from Deuteronomy, manuscript of The Septuagint. John Rylands Library, Papyrus Greek 458

Other Early Translations – Language influences necessitated other translations for the Jews and early Christians. As previously noted, many post-exilic Jews spoke Aramaic. The Aramaic translation is known as the Aramaic Targums. The Syriac Translation is known as the Peshitta.  The early Egyptian Christians read the Coptic Version. We also have the Ethiopic Version, the Armenian Version, and the Arabic Versions that bring perspective on the early text. Of special note is the Latin Vulgate. (Vulgate meaning “common language”) There were a number of Latin versions of the scriptures floating around the church by the fourth century A.D. Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome, an eminently qualified scholar in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, to translate a uniform and reliable text. Jerome’s Vulgate was pronounced the “authentic Bible of the Catholic Church” at the Council of Trent on April 8, 1546.  

Recent Discoveries

With a basic understanding that the oldest complete Hebrew text we possess is from the early 11th century, we can now appreciate the significance of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Stumbled upon by a shepherd boy in 1947, the eleven caves of the ancient Qumran community have yielded hundreds of manuscripts and fragments. The most significant find was a complete scroll of Isaiah that dates to the second century B.C.! This answers the accusation that the Isaiah messianic prophecies could have been written after Jesus’ life, as it pre-dates his birth. Fragments from every book in the Old Testament except for Esther have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  

Today’s Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew text that is primarily used today is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). It was edited from 1967 to 1977, published by the German Bible Society, and its text is based on the Leningrad Codex.  Its attached apparatus contains the notations of variants from different manuscript traditions. Many view the Aleppo Codex as the most authoritative codex of the Masoretic text. The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is in the process of producing an edition that will contain the exact reproduction of the Aleppo Codex as its foundational text and a significant apparatus with major variants from other sources. Thank God for the archeologists, linguists and scholars who have preserved the Holy Scriptures!

Bibliography

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

Jacoby, Douglas. How We Got the Bible (Audio Series). 2005.

Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Third. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.

Soulen, Richard N., and R. Kendall Soulen. Handbook of Biblical Criticism. Third. Louisville, KY: 

Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Wurthwein, Ernst. The Text of the Old Testament. Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

Photo Credits

1. Eduard Sachau, public domain; photo taken in 1909 of Aramaic papyrus containing a contract for a loan, dated to regnal year 5 of pharaoh Amyrtaios, in 400 BCE. From Elephantine (Upper Egypt), 28th Dynasty, Late Period. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmyrtaios_aramaic_papyrus_Sachau.png

2. Manuscript of Septuagint with 8 fragments of the Book of Deuteronomy. From the 2nd Century B.C. Source: Papyrus Rylands 458. Public Domain, {{PD-UK-unknown}} {{PD-US}} https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AP._Rylands_458.jpg

 

YADA': The Unique Heart of True Christianity

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By Dr. Glenn Giles -- Denver, Colorado, USA

For many years I have been contemplating the special-ness of our movement in the area of the heart –-  what I believe to be a very special relational aspect of true Christianity. I have called it the “heart” ever since I studied the Bible to become a Christian in Milwaukee. What I experienced at that time was different than what I had experienced in any religious group before. It was, in fact, the difference between being a person who knew about God and had some association with him, and being a person who truly knows God through a true personal relationship with him.

https://pixabay.com/en/heart-red-shiny-design-love-jesus-1218006/

The challenges our movement experienced over a decade ago caused me to search the Scriptures to better understand that which I had been calling “heart”. Over a period of several months, I came to understand that the “heart” is what is involved in the OT concept of yada’, the Hebrew word for “know”. In this article I will attempt to explain that concept, a concept that I think distinguishes us from nearly all other movements of today that I am aware of1, a concept that I would urge everyone to hold on to and never surrender; a concept, which, when experienced, is basically the watershed of spiritual life and death.

      Matthew 7:21-23 states:
      "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he        who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers’” (emphasis mine).
For a long time I had felt this passage was talking about a personal relationship with God but did not understand the depth of what it meant until I studied out the Hebrew word yada’. The big question is, “What does it mean to be known by God and to know God”? 

The Greek word here in Matthew 7:23 is ginosko. Of the 946 times yada’ is found in the Hebrew OT 2 , over 490 times it is translated by _ginosko_in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) 3 . Hence, ginosko is the major Greek word used for yada’. The Greeks, however, did not have a word that translates yada’ with its full meaning. The closest term the Greeks had was ginosko. The Greek term ginosko designates predominately an intellectual concept which is not the predominate concept involved in yada’. The major emphasis of yada' includes subjective dimensions of knowing, not just the objective.4 Groome states,
“. . . in Greek philosophy ginoskein has a predominant meaning of ‘intellectual looking at’ an object of scrutiny and strongly connotes objectivity . . . For the Hebrews yada’ is more by the heart than by the mind, and the knowing arises not by standing back from in order to look at, but by active and intentional engagement in lived experience . . . the Hebrews had no word that corresponds exactly to our words mind or intellect.5 “Yada’” has the basic meaning of “to perceive, know”6. Its semantic range is broad and also embraces definitions such as “find out”, “know by experience”, “recognize”, “acknowledge”, “know a person, be acquainted with”, “be skillful”, “teach”, “make known”7, as well as “to notice”, “learn”, “to know sexually, have intercourse with, copulate”, “to have experience”, and “to take care of someone” 8. This word for the most part involves knowledge gained through experience.9 It thus basically indicates experiential knowledge.10 This is contrary to much of our modern day understanding of “knowledge” and its acquisition which largely involves pure thought by one’s own contemplation or mere verbal transmission of information from teacher to student in a classroom setting. That is not to say that yada’ does not include these types of knowledge and teaching but that it has as its major dimension experientially gained or relationally gained knowledge.

With respect to “knowing” God, the Old Testament use of this term is enlightening. Consider the following verses:

  • Jer. 16:21 states,
    "Therefore I will teach (yada’) them--this time I will teach (yada’) them my power and might. Then they will know (yada’) that my name is the LORD”. Here knowing God comes from him causing them to experience his power and might.
  • Ezek. 30:8 states “Then they will know (yada’) that I am the LORD, when I set fire to Egypt and all her helpers are crushed”. Here, knowledge of God comes through experiencing his character of justice and wrath. This concept of “knowing that I am the LORD” occurs over 65 times in Ezekiel alone, indicating relational knowledge coming through experiencing his judgments.
  • Hosea 2:19-20 states: "And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in loving kindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know (yada’) the Lord” (NASB). Here one sees that knowing the Lord is a result of experiencing his righteousness, justice, loving kindness, compassion, and faithfulness.
  • Hosea 6:2-3 states, “He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him. So let us know (yada’), let us press on to know (yada’) the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth” (NASB). Here, knowledge of God is obtained through experiencing His reviving them and giving them rain. They would not know God, however, if they did not press on in faithfulness to experience his character. Knowing God comes from experiencing God’s faithfulness, mercy, and provision.
  • One of the most important passages in the OT is Jer. 31:34. It reads, "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know (yada') the LORD,' because they will all know (yada') me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (emphasis mine). The word "For" here indicates that knowing the LORD comes about as a result of a person experiencing the LORD's forgiveness and his forgetting their sins. Knowing God thus comes by experiencing his grace.11

All of these passages indicate that knowing God involves interpersonal experience with his character. God is allowing people to know him through experiencing his character. Knowing God, however, also involves our response to him. It is associated with one’s obedience to him (I Sam. 2:12; Job. 18:21), fear of him (I Ki. 8:43; II Chron. 6:33), serving him (I Chron.28: 9), belief in him (Is. 43:10), trust in him (Ps. 9:10; Prov. 3:5-6)12 confession of one’s sin (Ps. 32:5), and knowledge of the Torah or his Word (Ps. 119:79)13. It thus “involves not just theoretical knowledge but acceptance of the divine will for one’s own life”14.

 Knowing God can be summarized as coming from one’s personal life experience of the relational blessings or discipline of God as a result of one’s trusting in and following him.  Knowing God involves experiencing his character and willingly submitting to him as LORD. 

So we see that when used in the New Testament, in a Hebrew context (Matthew was written to a Jewish audience), the word “know”  (ginosko in Greek) takes on more than an intellectual concept. It takes on an experiential interpersonal relational meaning.
So when we see the statement in Matt. 7:23,  “I never knew you”, it is not talking about intellectual knowledge but character or relational knowledge. This fits perfectly into the context of Matt. 7:15-23 which states:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize (epiginosko, an intensive form of ginosko)15 them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize (epiginosko) them. "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew (ginosko) you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Our knowledge, our yada’ of people, occurs when we experience their character (verses 15-20). You can be sure that people are false prophets if they do not produce good fruit. God’s knowing of us also occurs by his experiencing our character (verses 21-23). Even though one might do things, things which are good, there can be an interpersonal relationship, a heart knowing, which is lacking. As is typical of Matthew, relationship with God was more than outward show or actions, it must involve the heart (e.g., Matt. 15:8-9). 
    
God tests us to see what is in our heart to “know” us. Consider Deuteronomy 8:1-2:

"Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know (yada’) what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his command" (emphases mine).

Note the use of the word “know” here. Surely an all-knowing God “knew” what was in their hearts from an intellectual perspective!  So what does this mean? Our study of yada’ would indicate that God wanted to experience what was in their hearts through experiencing their obedience. This is how God knows them and can know us! It is not just about raw works but about relationship, experienced through our actions toward God and his toward us. He wants to know us personally and wants us to know him personally. He wants to experience our character. He wants to live out life with us, it seems. Just as his love for us would not be real unless his heart and actions worked together to allow us to experience his character, so our love for him is not real unless our heart and actions work together to allow him to experience us.  No wonder James 2 states that faith without works is dead and that works complete our faith! Works complete our personal relationship with God! They do not make us merit that relationship (that is a totally erroneous perspective). Obedience is our allowing God to experience us. This is how God knows us.

When I reflect back on what I have experienced in our movement, it brings me great joy to see how those who studied the Bible with me prepared me to meet my God, prepared me to experience (yada’) Him, and prepared me to allow him to know (yada’) me! I am so glad they helped me dig deeply into what sin16 I had so I could really experience His character of forgiveness, grace, and love. No wonder Jesus said, “. . . he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47). The more we admit our sin, the more we will be able to love God, and know him, and God know us! I am so glad people helped me to come to a place of brokenness over my sin. God’s love became so real when that happened, as I experienced his offer of grace in an incredible way.

I am so glad that people helped me to understand that experiencing God involves listening to him through the reading of his word and that God experiencing me involves my praying and crying out to Him. No wonder David was a man after God’s own heart. I can see it in the Psalms where he opens up his heart to God and God experiences what is in his heart. I am so grateful that my leaders were hard on sin. They were protecting my yada’ with God. I am so thankful that many of my disciplers in the past insisted on my obedience to God!17 They were (whether or not they knew it) helping me with my yada’ with God and others. I am so grateful that people who discipled me helped me to learn what total openness is and urged me to express it! Relationships do not exist without it, whether they are relationships with others or with God. No wonder John 3:20-21 states:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Living by the truth means you are open with your life. Your deeds are seen plainly, you are an open book to allow God (and others) to test your character and actions and work through you. Yada’ helps make sense of this! Loving the light, loving Jesus, means being open and allowing others and God to experience your character.


It is no wonder Jesus could say in John 8:31-32, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know (ginosko) the truth, and the truth will set you free”.  It is experiential knowledge that is spoken of here. Truth is to be experienced. Jesus is the truth and Jesus is to be experienced. Experiencing this truth will set one free. Holding to Jesus’ teachings is the first step. It is a way of loving him! It is a way of having an interpersonal experiential relationship with God. Holding to his teachings makes you his disciple and this actively engages you in yada’!


Yada’ helps me understand that loving God means obeying him. He indeed knows (yada’) us relationally when he is loved. He experiences our character when we love him. I Jn. 5:3 states, “This is love for God: to obey his commands”. Love is connected with actions and heart and one’s being. Mark 12:28-31 states, 

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?' 'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these.'"

The love God wants is not intellectual assent but love that comes from all your heart, all your soul (person), all your mind, and all your strength. In other words, the love God wants to experience from us involves our whole being (including our body and its actions). To love someone else will also mean that your heart, mind, soul, and body are all involved, just as when a person loves himself. Loving someone is the act of allowing them to know you. Receiving love from them is an act of your experiencing or knowing them. 

Are you engaged in yada’? Is God knowing you? Are you knowing God? What will God say to you on that judgment day? Will he say “I never knew you” or “I don’t know you” or will he say “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share your master's happiness!”?  Are you letting God experience the real you? Are you allowing yourself to experience the real God?
    
Brothers and Sisters, this is, I believe, the greatest blessing I experienced as a result of those in our movement who discipled me and studied the Bible with me. It helped me to know God and God to know me. It helped me to become a true disciple, a true son of God.  It helped God to become my true father. I owe them my life. I owe God my life. I hope you have also experienced this blessing, this salvation. Let us never give up yada’!

1That does not mean there are not those out there who have experienced what we (or I) have but that generally I am just unaware of them in my experience.

2The information on Hebrew words occurrences in this paper are from John R. Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, The Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament With the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 120, hereafter designated as HECOT. This reference in on page 617.

3Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds, translated by J. T. Willis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), vol. 5, 453, hereafter designated by TDOT. Cf., Edwin Hatch and Henry Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), vol 1, 267-70.

4Thomas H. Groome, Christian Religious Education (San Francisco: Harper & Roe, 1980), 141.

5 Groome, 141. W. Schottroff (TLOT, vol. 2, 514) concurs stating: . . . the meaning of yada’ in Hebr. would be insufficiently stated if one were to limit it strictly to the cognitive aspect . . . without simultaneously taking into account the contractual aspect of the meaning, e.g., the fact that yada’ does not merely indicate a theoretical relation, a pure act of thought, but that knowledge, as yada’ intends it, is realized through practical involvement with the obj. of knowledge. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis , 5 vols., edited by Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), vol. 2, 410, (hereafter designated as NIDOTT) also concurs stating, “The fundamentally relational character of knowing (over against a narrow intellectual sense) can be discerned, not the least in that both God and human beings can be subject and object of the vb.”

6 The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, translated by Mark E. Biddle (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), vol. 2, 508, hereafter designated as TLOT.

7Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs in A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 393-94, hereafter noted as BDB.

8 TLOT, vol. 2, 390-92.

9 Lawrence O. Richards, Christian Education: Seeking to Become Like Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 33.

10 There are only a relatively few times it means “intellectual” knowledge.

11To know God is, as Terence E. Fretheim states, “is to be in a right relationship with him, with characteristics of love, trust, respect, and open communication”, NIDOTTE, vol. 2, 413.

12 TLOT, vol. 2. 518.

13 NIDOTTE, vol. 2, 413.

14 TDOT, vol. 5, 478.

15 This word is also, the majority of the time, the Greek translation of yada’ in the LXX.

16Most religious groups today do not do this and do not prepare people to yada’ God, nor him to yada’ them.

17I admit the way it was done was not always correct or for the right reasons as one tended to obey just because some one said to and not because it came from the heart, nor was there always an understanding of experiential/relational knowing of God. I do believe, however, that many began their Christian walk with yada’ but gradually gave it up for serving and following men. I believe and pray that they can re-establish their yada’ and if we can now look to the future through the concept of yada’ and urge people to obey God as a way of knowing him and being known by him, we will save many from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

Photo Credits: heart courtesy of www.pixabay.com; Torah Scroll by Lawrie Cate (Flickr: DSC03551) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Including the Context of Redemptive Grace in our Teaching and Preaching

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Ed Anton -- Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA 

Ed and Deb Anton

Ed and Deb Anton


I come to you from a perspective, really, chiefly, as an evangelist, as a church leader. A lot of times I find myself incidentally in the Teaching Ministry. We all teach, whether we’re leading a Bible talk or putting on an MTA (Ministry Training Academy) or similar event.  We all do teach in some way or another.
More importantly than just teaching, the big picture is that we want to see the church grow up into the full stature of Christ. This is massive, and we have an amazing opportunity to take the church from an adolescent phase, in some cases, to a bullet-proof, rock-solid maturity where we can stand, and not just stand, but make a stand, to really change the world. 
In Colossians 1: 3 (ESV) Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel…”
We can hear the word “gospel” and it can kind of just fall off of us, with familiarity, and the contempt that comes from familiarity. But every time we hear “gospel,” we should be blown away that we get to have the gospel! It’s the most counterintuitive construct of religion that has ever existed under heaven, and we’ve got it! There is no other approach to man and God that is an approach of a covenant of grace, and that’s the good news, that’s the gospel: that we’re saved not by works, we’re saved by love. Because God loved us, and intervened and disrupted and interrupted, before anything that we could have done that was wondrous or Spirit-filled, we, in our depravity, were saved by love. And not only that, he arranged time and space so that our eyes could be flung open and we could even see how it is that he saved us by love, and ultimately be brought to a place where we surrender over completely to that, and live forever in that covenant.


We’re pretty good as a movement – as a matter of fact, I would say that we are phenomenal as a movement -- at being able to help people appreciate how big grace is, as they come to the waters of baptism. Nobody, nobody can touch it. Do you think that somebody who has this kind of little-surfacey-altar-call has actually instilled the beauty of love and the beauty of grace and the beauty of debt-free living by just -- “Come forward??” Thoughtlessly, in some cases, or only with emotion? But we, unlike any other great pursuit of Christianity right now, we really do understand, as the woman in Luke 7 understood: she who has been forgiven little loves little, but she or he who has been forgiven much loves much. And when we are forgiven, my goodness, we get it!
I was having a discussion with a group of  very mature brothers the other morning, and we were in Hebrews 9, where there is this beautiful passage that talks about how, in the Old Covenant, the blood of bulls and heifers could not cleanse the conscience; but it did actually cleanse from the outward manifestation of sin. But in the New Covenant, we are cleansed not only from unintentional sin, but from sins that lead to death. That’s the difference in Hebrews 9 there: not only does it cleanse our debt, but also cleanses us from sins that lead to death. By the way, in the Old Covenant, do you know what the recourse was, if you committed an intentional sin? Death. Or Goodbye from Community.
But we actually have the mechanism through grace, by which, not only is our debt forgiven, but our consciences are clean. Why? It says, so that we may serve the living God. So we grow up in that kind of maturity, we head into baptism with that kind of maturity, realizing we have been saved by love -- and boy, have we been saved, and how much it is that we have been saved by!
I asked the brothers at this breakfast, “Do you have any conscious issues that hold you back from serving God from sins that you committed prior to your baptism?” And one after another with an honest take, they said, I do not. I said, that’s terrific. How about sins that you committed after baptism? and everyone said,  “Oh I do. Over the top. I even wonder if I should even be at this breakfast right now having a discussion with you guys.” 
So something is happening with our maturity. My goodness, we come out of the gate great! Our “K-through-Eight” education in the Kingdom of God, we got it going on! But when you get to the secondary school level, then something happens, the wheels fall off the cart. We have not been able to appreciate the power of grace after baptism.
I think one of the things that’s helpful for us to realize too, If we’re going to be brought from “Immature” to “I Mature,” is the idea that Christ died for my sins (Romans 4:25) but he was raised -- for what? 
He was raised for my justification.
He died for my sins, but was raised for my justification. 
There’s two really amazing things that happen (among many others) when you are regenerated in Christ. When you are baptized, not only are your sins credited to Christ, but his righteousness is then credited to you. Not just credited to you, but then, through the Holy Spirit, the ability to attain to that righteousness, and not just to claim it as a legal standard, but actually to grow into and live out that righteousness, is given to you as well. You come out of that baptism not just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned, but you come out of that baptism, really regarded in the heavenly realms, just-as-if-I’d healed the leper; fed the 4000; fed the 5000; raised the widow of Nain’s son, so she could have life and family again; just-as-if -I’d brought Lazarus back; just-as-if-I’d lifted the woman bent over for all of those years; just-as-if-I’d…!
Jesus came as a man and lived an entire life of street-cred righteousness, not for no reason -- he was even baptized – why? To fulfill all righteousness. Why? Because he was bundling all of that up and giving it to you. As you rise up. But most of us, we walk out of our baptism thinking: “Yes! I’m a blank slate! I’m a vacuum! Yes! I have nothing on my record whatsoever!” 
But you do. You have the righteous record of Jesus and the Spirit that will only accelerate that in your life. But when we don’t recognize the addition portion of grace and only the subtraction portion of grace, it’s very easy to remain rather immature. So what we’ve been trying to do is, in this past year, really help in everything we do, whether it’s a quiet time or a discipleship time, a devotional, or in some public discourse of preaching and teaching, to bring home the gospel of grace. Going on here in Col 1:6, it says, this gospel  “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (ESV)
Now I know we say this all the time, “Oh I don’t get grace, in the church we don’t get grace.” I really think we can nail this thing. I think that we are in such a great position as a body of Christ to be able to take grace and to see it turbo-charged, not only for the benefit of our maturity but also our spread of the good news as well. 
Why?  because other churches, or families of churches,  that may go after grace, they’ve never actually gotten obedience. We already have that down: “What’s the Bible say? I’m getting after it, halleluia, amen, I love it, it’s clear, I’m getting it, and I’m fired up about it, 
And yeah, on some bad days I may feel dutiful;  but if it’s obedience, I’m getting after it.”

Do you realize how rare that is?? But that is our culture! Yes! the blessings of obedience! Yes, the clarity of what we need to do with the word of God! Now what if we poured gasoline on that, and created a fire with the grace of God burning within us?

Here’s, sadly, what I’ve neglected in all of my Biblical exegesis teaching, expository preaching, and teaching.  I have completely neglected the redemptive or the grace context of the Bible. What do I mean by that:  Do we not believe that this whole Bible is orchestrated together, just right, by God? Do we not? Do we not realize that all of it is fitting together and all of it tells a vital story? And that story is: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they live happily ever after. There is an epic narrative that is the story of God and you. Creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Fall, redemption, restoration – restoration, of course, being the consummation of all things. 
Here is what I have neglected as I have tried to teach the Bible in probably the last 15 to 18 years: as I teach context, context, context, over and over again, as I teach, how to read the Bible, context, context, context, and my context is historical: what was the historical setting, who was writing to whom, where did they live, what was going on, was there idolatry, was there pagan religion, what was the situation that was there? Learn it,  bring it to life, make it memorable, let the movie of your mind play as you hear what it was that they heard, as they listened to Jesus at his feet, or as they received the letter from Paul in their fellowship -- what must that have been like? I felt like I was pretty good at that.  I knew where to go and to get the resources and really bring it to life. 
And then the literary context as well: why this, why here, how does it flow in the bigger story, what is going on, how does it connect, to see some of the really cool connections within the flow of that book or argument or psalm, or song,  how does this help us to understand the greater whole? 
But that’s where it stopped. And for anyone who would then go and walk back and try to look at the redemptive context, I was critical of those people. I was thinking they were freewheeling it a little bit too much. Just get in the text, stay in the text, trust the text, and that’ll do the trick. 
But that was my own definition of what it meant to “be in the text, stay in the text.” To “be in the text and stay in the text” is to look at the full text. It’s to look at the whole story, the full story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and ultimately they live happily ever after. 
There may be things in the Old Testament that may not look at all like grace or like “boy gets girl back” or “they live happily every after.” You may not see any of that there. But when you watch a romantic comedy and you watch it a couple of times, and then you see the bone-headed move by that guy, and how he pocket-dialed the girl --  all it is showing is the fallen nature of that relationship. Knowing what’s going to happen later, it helps you appreciate, despite that bone-head move, that there’s still going to be the white picket fence, the happily ever after. Despite that call that he made and left on her answering machine. That’s what the Bible is for us, it’s not just a one-act play. We need to look at it in its totality. If we take our eyes off that, we’re going to stop marveling. We’ll end up looking at the little story, and you know what we’ll have? All we’ll have is: “You need to be careful that you don’t dial somebody in the middle of the night.”  And then the lesson becomes a moralizing lesson. “You need to put up better boundaries, you need to fix your phone, You need to be more diligent about not calling in the middle of the night.” But that’s not the gospel of grace. And if that’s all that we preach – “Don’t call in the middle of the night, be like Joseph, be like David,” wihout looking at the full context, then all we’re doing is what’s called “moralizing.” We’re putting together a moral tale, and what we’re saying, is, if you try harder, if you do better, then I’m going to approve of you better, and so is Jesus. 
“Ding!” 
And subtly, when we do it, then I do it in my quiet times as well, and in my discipleship times. I think, here’s a great scripture. Now try harder. Here’s another great scripture, now try harder. If that’s what it’s going to be, we’re going to be forever young. And that’s not a good thing. We’re going to be the Peter Pan church of Christ. But I believe, as we can start to be able to appreciate the fullness of the redemptive context, we can move from a gospel of grit -- “if I do good, then I’ll be worthy” – to a gospel of grace: “I am worthy, therefore I do good.”

Even the way Paul does it: if we’re looking at Ephesians, in Ephesians 1, 2, and 3, there is not a single command in all those chapters. No imperatives, almost all indicatives, and it’s all amazing. You’re chosen, you’re predestined, you’re Spirit-filled, you’re marked, you are adopted, you are redeemed, you’re his sons, you’re the ones he loves, you are his workmanship, you are his masterpiece; therefore -- and in Chapter Four is the pivot point -- therefore live a life worthy of the calling by which you’ve been called. “Live a life worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called” is in the context of,  “look at who you are, you have been redeemed, this is who you are in Christ.” Identity drives duty, duty doesn’t develop identity; and with that identity given to us, the more we can recognize this, we think, oh my goodness, this is who I am, what wouldn’t I do for Jesus? Oh my goodness, I want to run through a wall for Jesus! Knowing who I am right now, come on! Bring on the commands, bring on the clarity, I can’t wait to see it, I wanna go after it and live the life that I was always meant to live, knowing what it is that I have been made in Christ! And when that fire begins to burn, and we preach the gospel to ourselves, over and over and over again, every quiet time, every discipleship time, not leaving out the greater redemptive context in all that we do…[we will become mature].
One last thing I want to mention here: grace is an interesting concept, because you may think that there is much of Christendom that is better than you are at preaching grace. But let me level it. I don’t really think they are. And it’s not because I am chauvanistic in this, but because I really have tried to study this. And basically, the best that most of Christendom has done, to try to make grace more of a motivator, is to make grace a credit card with a higher limit. I think you can go ahead and test that – whatever sermon, book, whatever you want to look at. It is kind of a simplistic way of putting it, what it comes down to. In the first century, the people that would have heard “charis,” grace, they would have understood it as something very different [that what most of Christendom understands today]. As a matter of fact, “charis” – it’s like, today we say money makes the world go around. In the first century you would probably say, “charis” makes the world go around. Because “charis” is the idea that grace -- (when you get a chance, read through 2 Corinthians 8 and you’ll see all aspects of this) -- “charis” is not only the free gift, given from a benefactor to a beneficiary, but it’s more. 
This is the way it would have been understood through the ears of someone living in Corinth or Athens or Berea or wherever; it would not only be the gift given, but when you use the word grace, it would have been applied to the welling up in your heart of gratitude. That was also called “charis.” The reception of it and the gratitude was grace. 
But that’s not where it ended, there was another aspect of grace that was immediately part of the equation and could not be ripped away, and it was the immediate overwhelming desire, even beautiful obligation, to give in return. How can I give back in return, someway, somehow? How is it that can I do that? It creates a tighter and tighter bond of intimacy that gets ever deeper and strengthens the relationship between the two parties. It is, in the first century, in an honor-and-shame society, one of the great shames, to break that cycle of grace. And likewise for us. 
So grace actually has teeth, beautiful teeth – teeth that bring you -- or hooks, even -- that bring you to a place where you always wanted to be. It creates a wonderful obligation of intimacy and excitement. 
I recently had this as an experience. Deb and I had a van. It had 331,000 miles, it died, it was too bad, we were going to go down to one car. But then we had a brother in our ministry come to us and say that he was going to trade in a really nice car that he had, a big car (and we needed a big car) and he said, you know, instead of trading it in, I’m going to give it to you guys. We’re like, Aaaah! You know, you feel weird in those situations, you get weird, you get proud; but we decided: we’re going to kind of swallow deep and receive this gift. You know what it did to our relationship? It didn’t weird it out. My ears were always open to what encourages that family: Yes!! we found something that encourages them! Not like, ‘Ohhh, we gotta make the donuts…” It was like, Yes! We found something! Let’s do this! Let’s go by! Let’s do this! Let’s share! Let’s mention! And then to see the joy in their eyes as well; and then it created that dance of grace that only strengthens things again and again and again. If we can understand this, I think this is a component of grace that we’ll look forward to developing more over time. 
Let me just close with this idea, that if we’re going to go on to maturity, I’m not suggesting that we throw out any old hermeneutics or any old exegesis, I’m just saying let’s do the extra work, not just the historical or literary context. Do the extra work and really look at the redemptive context. Maybe this makes it more profound, how boy lost girl, and it makes you appreciate it what’s going to happen later when boy gets girl back. Or maybe it is actually a picture of them living happily ever after, and we paint that beautiful picture of Jesus’ return and what that’s going to be like for us, and with that identity, my goodness, what wouldn’t we want to do to be able to serve this great God! But if we don’t make this our culture, every quiet time, every discipleship time, every public discourse, then we are going to so easily fall into a pattern of performance. Not because it’s our church’s issue, but because it’s everybody’s issue. This is not unique to us. You didn’t get an A in Physics from your teacher on Day One, and then he said,  “Wow, I bet now that you know that that’s your identity, you’re really going to live up to it.” Nothing happens that way in the world! This is a rare, counter-intuitive thing, we have to really fight to be able to get to this place.

 

Teaching the Old Testament Genres

Rolan Monje -- Manila, Philippines

Taught as part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Rolan Monje teaching at the Reach Summit, July 7, 2010

Rolan Monje teaching at the Reach Summit, July 7, 2010

I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

I remember asking a congregation of fairly mature Christians, “Who among us has read the entire Bible?” Only about half raised their hands. Later on in fellowship, many confessed: “Bro, bro -- I got bored, or bogged down with the Old Testament!”
Viewed as distant, difficult, antiquated, the Old Testament is frequently neglected in preaching and teaching in the church. It is sometimes rarely studied in quiet times: even those who make the noble resolution to read the Bible in a year can start “fired up” in Genesis; still be okay in Exodus; then get confused in Leviticus;  get discouraged in Numbers; and give up in Deuteronomy. 
Many Christians feel familiar with parts of the Old Testament, or grow up hearing the stories, but these are just stored in their memory banks without much significance. 
As we address the hunger for spiritual meat in our churches, let’s be reminded that
teaching the Bible should engage the whole Bible. Three-quarters of the Bible is the Old Testament -- 929 chapters as compared to 260 in the New. 
Contrary to prevailing attitude, we as leaders need to show that the Old Testament contains much relevant and meaningful application for today as the New. 


Think about Jesus and Paul: what did they have to say about the Old Testament? 
In 1 Corinthians chapter 10, the apostle Paul warns Christians --  how? by referring to Old Testament scriptures, using history. He draws from the Exodus, he recounts things from Numbers,  he puts them all together, and what is his hermeneutic conclusion? “Now these things happened to them as an examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (v.11, NIV) Clearly, Paul valued teaching from the Old Testament. 
Jesus’ fundamental statement in Luke 24 is even more pointed. In verse 44, he says that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.  Here, the Old Testament points to Jesus -- his person, his nature, his purpose, his character. During his ministry, Jesus constantly appealed to the Old Testament as a source of authority,  including stating that he was to fulfill it; it was all about him. All these examples should point us to the importance of the Old Testament. 
The challenge for us, therefore would be similar to the storehouse analogy in Matt 13:52: “Therefore, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”  Jesus is telling them that the truths they were to teach included both the new treasures of Jesus’ teaching and the old truths from Jewish teaching. In other words, a trained teacher should be able to draw spiritual truths from various places and all kinds of contexts. 


II. OLD TESTAMENT GENRES  

The Bible is one book but it’s also a library of books,  so it’s filled with various literary types or genres. One important key to the proper interpretation of scripture is recognition of genre. This is vital to Old Testament teaching. From the get-go, our members need to be made aware of the great number of genres we can learn from, even from the Old Testament alone. 
Think about  it! There are so many types of narratives:  you’ve got epic; short story; sayings or aphorisms; riddles; ironies; taunts;  wisdom passages of different kinds; blessings, curses, imprecations; law; different types of law; apocalyptic literature; poetry --  multiple types (I identified fifteen types of Psalms in my book); prophecy; histories, reports, genealogies, and even romance! All of these I’ve mentioned are just Old Testament genres.  
The New Testament adds two basic genres to this list: gospel, epistle, or perhaps a sermonic letter in Hebrews.
There’s so much to learn and draw from, in the Old Testament alone! 


Next, I’d like to make a case for the genre of Biblical narrative. Although you find stories in the New Testament,  there’s a lot to teach from in the stories of the Old Testament: the parting of the Red Sea; Daniel in the Lion’s Den;  David and Goliath. These were written for adults to read and reflect on, not just children. 
Teaching through story is one of the most effective ways devised by human beings since the beginning of time. Older generations know this. I know for a fact that if I ask my grandfather for some cash, he’s going to say, “Rolan, let me tell you about World War Two.”
“Wow, Grandpa, I just need some cash,”  and he’s gonna tell me a story!
But to guide, instruct, to inform and to change minds, we need stories. Story is a powerful vehicle  - everybody likes a good story. People crave stories. That’s why people watch movies, read novels, they devour the latest scoop in magazines.  In your sermons, people will listen more to a story than to an abstract lesson. The sheer number of stories in the Old Testament gives preachers an automatic edge. Thirty to forty per cent of the Old Testament is story -- so let’s leverage the stories to catch people’s attention and change their hearts!

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR TEACHING THE OLD TESTAMENT GENRES 

1)    Familiarize. 
It’s important that we become fully acquainted and comfortable with all the Biblical genres of the Old Testament.  This takes work and it starts in our quiet times. For some, this entails learning more about Old Testament history, geography, culture. With certain passages, for example, you need to increase your knowledge of ancient Hebrew manners and customs. I believe the extra time is worth it. We must learn how to summarize things well, too, because there’s a lot of learning in the Old Testament. When we pick out points of history, geography,  etc.,  we need to give enough information without drowning our audience in detail.
2)    Demonstrate.
We need to show the people in our preaching and teaching how to approach each genre. When you preach, you’ve got to vary your genres. Show people that interpreting poetry is different than interpreting prose. Much education comes before we get to edification. It’s probably best to start with familiar stories and passages, because that will demand less background and information. Don’t go home right after this class, for example,  and shock your people with something apocalyptic from Ezekiel right away! The more you practice the Old Testament, preaching the Old Testament, segments from the Old Testament,  you will develop a feel for it, so that your preaching becomes what it’s supposed to be: interesting and profound, fluid and artistic.
3)    Challenge people. 
We have to exhort people to study out genres outside their comfort zone.
People appreciate it when you as a leader exert extra effort to teach lesser known books and difficult passages. As you generate interest, it encourages people to dig deeper in their quiet times, and learn to allow extra time for Bible study. Not everyone will respond immediately, but you then create a culture of becoming better students of scripture.
4)    Amplify.
Lift up from each genre some big ideas for Bible-wide themes. Big ideas allow your sermons to stick. Big ideas also build interest in further study. How about teaching "covenant" from the Prophets, or "righteousness" from the Patriarchal narratives? I love teaching humility from the book of Psalms. How about using those avoided genealogies & family registers to teach on purity? These are things we usually skip,  but they make a good case for purity. When it comes to evangelism,  many times we think,  “I want to preach on evangelism, how can I make it stick in another way?”  Teach the Prophets, highlighting their strong desire for all nations to worship Yahweh. The prophets were adamant that it’s not just Israel that should praise the Lord -- his word should reach the ends of the world. The prophets were passionate about this. 
5)    Connect.  
Call people to action by building significance and relevance. This is where you make a bridge from the “then” to the “now.”  Some areas to explore: 
-    What does this passage teach about God’s attributes?  
-    What can we learn about God, who he , what makes him tick, what makes him sick?
-    What can we learn about God’s actions?
-    What does this teach about how our minds, convictions, actions should be?
-    How can this teaching develop the church and impact seekers?

To conclude: the Old Testament has a great deal to offer us in both individual learning and congregational teaching. In exploring the genres of Old Testament literature,  we find much potential for creative and effective Bible teaching. Admittedly, many leaders find it easier to preach on the New Testament rather than the Old, but while the majority choose to plow the well-worn fields of the newer canon, I pray that many of us today will find a renewed passion and confidence for teaching the older – so let’s teach both testaments and impact people for God! Amen! 

Resources
Steven Mathewson (2002). The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. Baker Academic.
Walter Kaiser (2007). The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching. Baker Academic.
Ellen Davis (2005). Wondrous Depth: Preaching the Old Testament. Westminster John Knox Press.

From Rolan Monje: www.addtoyourlearning.com (website); www.ipibooks.net (books) 

Falling in Love with the Old Testament

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            I remember asking a congregation of fairly mature Christians, “Who among us has read the entire Bible?” A meager half or so raised their hands. Later during fellowship, many confessed they got bogged down or bored with the Old Testament—bizarre images, debatable practices, unintelligible laws, and names you won’t even try to pronounce.

            Viewed as difficult and antiquated, the Old Testament (OT) is frequently neglected in many Christian circles. Rarely do we hear sermons from the OT. It’s seldom studied in Quiet Times. Remove Psalms and Proverbs, and Christians’ engagement in reading the OT can be virtually nil. Even those who make the noble resolution to read-the-Bible-in-a-year may start pumped up in Genesis but lose interest before they get very far.

            Contrary to prevailing attitudes, the Old Testament contains much relevant and meaningful application for today. Here’s some motivation to fall in love with the other three-quarters of our Bibles.

1. The Old Testament reveals Jesus Christ.

            The Old Testament was the Bible Jesus read and cherished. Indeed, it was Scripture for him. During his earthly ministry, Jesus constantly appealed to the OT as a source of authority. He used it to defeat temptation, teach about God and his kingdom, instruct his followers, and challenge the norms of society. Significantly, he used OT passages to reveal who he was. He even stated that he was to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

            After his resurrection, Jesus made this fundamental statement: “...everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” -- Luke 24:44, (ESV). A vital teaching! Speaking of the OT, Jesus asserts that the text points to him—his person, his nature, his purpose, his character. Want to know Jesus in a deeper way? Read the OT as it reveals J.C.

2. The Old Testament undergirds Christianity.

            Remember when Paul described the “Holy Scriptures” as able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,”  -- 2 Timothy 3:15 (NIV)? He was referring to the Old Testament, which provides the necessary background to the New Testament. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the New without a good grasp of the Old. How can we come to apprehend more fully valuable concepts like salvation, sacrifice, and a redeemer? The OT provides the vocabulary.

            Those who study the Old Testament make discoveries that bring them to appreciate the New Testament more. Reading Deuteronomy illuminates the gospels. Pore over the Psalms and you’ll see Hebrews come alive. Want to unlock Revelation? Try the keys from Zechariah, Daniel, and Ezekiel! The New Testament assumes knowledge of the Old Testament and builds upon its foundations.

3. The Old Testament story is our story as well.

            Israel’s historical account is one of redemptive history. It’s an epic story of how God worked in antiquity to raise up a holy nation, a people dedicated to himself (Exodus 19:5-6). Apostle Peter notes the parallels with believers, claiming that the purpose of God’s people is the same in both testaments (1 Peter 2:1-10). Similar to Israel back then, the church is God’s holy people today.

            In 1 Corinthians 10, Apostle Paul warns Christians by referring to Israelite history. He recounts Exodus and Numbers. And his hermeneutic conclusion? “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come," -- 1 Corinthians 10:11 (ESV). Clearly, Paul not only valued teaching from the OT; he understood, like Peter, that Israel’s story is ours too.

            Elsewhere, Paul maintains that the OT is God’s word for righteous living (2 Timothy 3:14-17). He adds that this word must be proclaimed (2 Timothy 4:1-2). That’s because the average Christian can totally relate to the ancient Israelites’ temptations, sins, struggles, and victories. Their vicissitudes represent what all believers go through today. Our journey reflects theirs.

            So there you have it. If you haven’t been reading the Old Testament, you’re missing a lot! This is not to say that reading the OT is always easy and simple. Is it a bit of a challenge even for more mature believers? Admittedly, yes. Can it sometimes be boring? I suppose so. Yet when we consider the immense benefits of studying the OT, it’s totally worth the time and effort. It’s just like falling in love.

            May you someday also share about your love story with the Old Testament.

 

 

 

 

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