Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with three traits for us to ponder

Through Jeses we are, His servant, called, set apartPaul begins his letter to the church in Rome by giving them an overview of his situation. He shares three characteristics about himself, his mission, and his calling. Though he does this to establish credibility for his message, and thereby encourage the recipients to take his words seriously, the attributes seem like a mini-biography, one with spiritual importance.

In Paul’s self-assessment, he says he is:

A Servant of Jesus: I like to call myself a follower of Jesus—as opposed to the more general description of Christian, which means different things to different people. Being a follower of Jesus shows commitment, yet it still implies I have some say in the matter, that I made a choice.

Being a servant, however, carries with it a deeper commitment. I need to move my mindset from being a follower to becoming a servant. Maybe you do, too.

Called to be an Apostle: Instead of focusing on the meaning of the word apostle, which could suggest a missionary, a church leader, or a passionate adherent (all of which describe Paul), let’s instead focus on the word called. What does it mean to be called by God?

While we may not have a calling at the same high level as Paul, all Christians are called, first to follow Jesus (as in “Come and follow me,” Matthew 4:19) and then to obey him (John 8:51). As we serve him he will tell us to do other things, too. These are our callings, even if we’re not traveling around the world as his missionary.

Set Apart for the Gospel: While being set apart could be a Spirit-led summoning of the highest order (Acts 13:2), it could also be a simple command to set ourselves apart from the world, to not be conformed to it (Romans 12:2). Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart in this way, while being open for him to also set us apart for something greater.

If we are a true Christian (as opposed to being one in name only), we will do well to adopt the attitude of Paul: that through Jesus we are his servant, called, and set apart.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 1, and today’s post is on Romans 1:1.]

Where Should We Go For Jesus?

Sometimes we may need to go far away for Jesus and other times we may simply need to go home

Where Should We Go For Jesus?Before Jesus returns to heaven, he tells his followers to go throughout the world and let others know about him (Matthew 28:19). Does that mean we’re all supposed to travel to a distant country for Jesus? It could be, but it might not.

Consider a different account, one where Jesus gives an alternate instruction.

Luke tells us the story of Jesus exorcising a legion of demons from a man. Jesus permits the displaced demons to enter into a herd of pigs. They do. The pigs go berserk, jump into the water, and drown. (We know the pigs die, but I wonder if the demons die along with them. It’s an interesting thought, but that question has deep theological ramifications to consider at a different time.)

The demonic influence is now gone from the man. In his right mind, and likely full of gratitude, the man asks if he can hang out with Jesus. Jesus says sure, why not . . . No, that’s not what Jesus says at all.

Jesus tells the man no way. Instead Jesus instructs the restored man to simply go home and let his family and friends know about what God did for him by restoring him to full health. The man obeys and tells the whole town about Jesus (Luke 8:38-39).

In both accounts Jesus tells his followers to go. One time it is to go to all nations and the other time it is to go home. While our mission field may be in a foreign country, it might also be in our own home or right next door.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 8, and today’s post is on Luke 8:26-39.]

Should We Embrace a Social Gospel?

Though many are quick to criticize the social gospel, we would be mistaken to do so

Should We Embrace a Social Gospel?The primary way we learn words is through divining their meaning from context and everyday usage. That’s how children learn to talk and how most adults expand their vocabulary. We presume their meaning, deduce their function, and discern how to use them. Basically we make educated guesses. And sometimes we make a wrong conclusion. Or at least I do.

Such is the case with the term social gospel.

Whenever I heard the phrase it was with negative connotations, so I assumed it was a bad thing. That was my first error.

Next, I assumed the negativity must arise from the social half of the term, certainly not the gospel half, the good news part. I then shifted social to socialize and envisioned a church that so majored in socializing that they forgot the gospel. As a result I assumed the social gospel was a social church that had forgotten its original purpose, morphing into a purely social organization, like a country club. I wanted nothing to do with a country club church, so I dismissed the social gospel as meaningless. That was my second error.

As an aside, we need the social part of church. We call it community. Community is critical. Consider the directive in Hebrews to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). This is a call to live in community more so than an order to go to church on Sunday morning. Also consider all the “one another” commands as a charge to pursue community.

Now back to the social gospel. I wouldn’t have shared my misunderstanding of the phrase except for the fact that I’ve met others who similarly reached the same wrong conclusion.

The social gospel, however, is actually a call to move faith beyond a personal conversion experience to help others on a grand scale, specifically through social reform. While some Christians want to segregate the two or dismiss making an impact on the world in which we live, the Bible has other ideas. The first half of the above verse says we are to encourage one another to love others and to do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

Furthermore Paul tells the church in Galicia to persist in doing good (Galatians 6:9). James talks about the importance of proving our faith by what we do. He even says that faith without action is dead (James 2:14-26).

Whether we wrongly assume the social gospel is about community or rightly understand the social gospel as helping others, we need to do both. The Bible says so.

Read the Bible as Literature

Studying scripture teaches us about classic literature and writing to inform our literary perspective

Read the Bible as LiteratureMy post “13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible” started out as a top ten list, but I couldn’t stop at a round number. I kept going and couldn’t pare my list down to just ten reasons. And if I had kept thinking about it, I would likely have come up with more.

A related topic is considering the Bible as literature, the classic of classics. So much of what we read today has allusions, though sometimes subtle, to scripture. We see biblical themes repeated in TV and movies.

Knowing the Bible helps us to more fully understand God but also to better appreciate literature and entertainment. Consider what the Bible has to offer:

  1. Variety of Genres: The Bible contains different styles of writing. Much of it is history, with some biography and even autobiography. There are several poetry portions (albeit without rhyming and meter), which reveal ancient poetic styles and can inform modern day poets. The books of prophecy reveal the future, some of which has already come to pass and other portions, not. Books of wisdom give as wise advice. Other sections reveal God, serving as the first theology text. The Bible also contains letters from teachers to their students. There are epic dreams documented for us to ponder. And two books, Job and Song of Solomon, read much like the modern-day screenplay.
  2. Multiple Viewpoints: The Bible contains four biographies of Jesus (gospels). The four respective authors reveal different aspects of Jesus based on their personal perception and target audience. Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s writing contain the most similarities; John is the most different. Similarly, 1 and 2 Chronicles provides a counterpoint to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Last, some of the prophets provide additional historical accounts to round out what we learn from the prior six books of history (1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings)
  3. Different Perspectives: Much of the Bible is written in the third person point of view, while some passages are in first person. I especially enjoy these first person accounts as it places me in the middle of the action, as if I am there, living it with the speaker.
  4. Multiple Levels: Reading the Bible is analogous to peeling an onion. Each time we unwrap one layer, we find another that gives us additional insight and added meaning. There are many tiers, virtually unlimited. We will never know all of what the Bible says, but we do strive to learn more of what it reveals. With each successive read we are able to connect different passages together and glean deeper insight into its stories, lessons, and writers – as well as the God who inspired it.

The Bible has much to offer, not only from a spiritual perspective, but also from a literary one. Reading the Bible as literature will increase our appreciation of other things we read, what we write, and the world in which we live.

What is your favorite genre of the Bible? How does reading the Bible as literature inform your perspective. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s May newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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John’s Unique Perspective of Jesus

Each of the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible reflect the perspective of its author. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain many similarities, John’s account is the most different. He offers a unique perspective on the life and teaching of Jesus.

Some refer to the book of John as the gospel of love because he mentions the word twenty times, more than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In considering variations of the word, the total is thirty-nine times, more than the other three combined. (In his much shorter letter, called 1 John, love and its variations occur twenty-seven times.) John, it seems, is all about love.

However, other key words are even more prevalent in the book of John. The word know appears sixty-six times in this book, while believe occurs fifty-three times. It would seem that John’s chief desire is for us to know and believe in Jesus. That would be a great reason for him to write an account of Jesus’ life.

We can also understand John’s unique perspective by looking at words he uses infrequently. For example, angel only appears three times in John, far less than Matthew’s nineteen times and Luke’s twenty-four times (Mark, five times).

The book of John contains only a few of Jesus’ parables. In fact, the word parable is not found at all in John, compared to sixty-six times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

So John’s purpose in writing his biography of Jesus is so that we would know and believe in Jesus and to then live a life of love. Angels and parables are not so important to these central themes of knowing, believing, and loving.

The Feet that Bring the Good News of Peace

As I read the prophetic book of Nahum, I see a familiar sounding passage:
“Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!” 
[Nahum 1:15a]

I find a similar text in Isaiah:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace…” [Isaiah 52:7]

The book of Romans even quotes Isaiah:
“As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  [Romans 10:15]

But these are not what I am thinking of.  Knowing that “good news” means “gospel,” I do some searching and find:
“Your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”  [Ephesians 6:15]

I get excited when I see themes repeated throughout the Bible; it adds emphasis and reinforces the timelessness of the message.

May we all be people who bring peace!

What Does the Bible Say About Easter?

Happy Easter! Today is the time when we remember — and celebrate — Jesus overcoming death and rising from the dead.

Each account of Jesus in the Bible records this:

Matthew: The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’.”  [Matthew 28:5-7]

Mark: “Don’t be alarmed,” [the angel] said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”  [Mark 16:6]

Luke: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’.”  [Luke 24:5-6]

John: simply confirms that the tomb where Jesus’ body lay was found to be empty; recording that he then appeared to Mary Magdalene, ten of the disciples, and lastly to Thomas. [John 20]

Have a Happy Easter!

Which Gospel Should I Read?

The Bible contains four separate accounts of the life of Jesus; they are called Gospels.  The question is often asked, “Which one should I read first?”  That is a hard to answer, as each one has its own strengths:

The Gospel written by Matthew does much to connect Jewish history and understanding to the life of Jesus.  It is great as a bridge from the old to new testaments of the Bible and for those interested in better seeing the connections between Judaism and Christianity (and the connection is strong and significant).

The Gospel written by Mark is the shortest and most concise.  It is a great source to quickly gain an essential understanding of who Jesus is and what he did.

The Gospel written by Dr Luke contains details and information not included by Matthew and Mark, serving to nicely round out and fill in our understanding of Jesus.  (The second chapter of Luke contains the familiar Christmas story of Jesus’ birth.  Even if you’ve never read Luke, you have likely heard the Christmas story, as recited by Linus in the popular animated TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”)

Last, but not least, is the Gospel written by John.  It contains more unique content than the other three accounts.  John was a disciple of Jesus and part of the inner circle, so he was an eyewitness to what he recorded.  His writing is poetic in nature and is great for those who want to mull over and contemplate what he says (and conversely frustrating for readers in a hurry).

Each account has its particular purpose and strength.  Pick the one that seems best for you to read first — then read the other three!

The Armor of God is For Protection

In the Bible, there is the instruction to “put on the full armor of God.”

To the casual reader, this might seem like a call to arms or a provocation for military action.

Yet I don’t see this as a militant statement, but merely a memory aid to help people remember key items needed to prevail in spiritual conflict, namely: truth, righteousness, sharing the gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God (the only offensive tool of the group).

Paul, in Ephesians 6:11-17, seems to be painting a word picture using the soldier of the day (which readers would have been most familiar with) connecting his essential gear with these key spiritual elements. Then, to recall Paul’s list of six items, readers needed only to envision a soldier in uniform and associate each spiritual element with its physical counterpart. For example:

  • Belt: truth
  • Breastplate: righteousness (that is, right living)
  • Shoes: a readiness to share the gospel of peace
  • Shield: faith
  • Helmet: salvation
  • Sword: the word of God (the spoken word of God)

It’s not about a physical fight (which many people have missed throughout the ages), but instead a spiritual conflict for which followers of Jesus must be prepared to engage in using: truth, righteousness, sharing the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Bible. This is what is meant by the metaphor of the armor of God.