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The Public Reading of Scripture

Saturday, June 27, 2020

"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching."

1 Timothy 4:13

The Scriptures are meant to be read not only in private for our individual study but in public to shape the whole church family so that we can see ourselves together as part of God’s story. God’s people always need reminding of that story, where they fit into it and where it's all going. When we hear it read aloud we realize we are called to be part of the action. This is why the public reading of Scripture was such an important part of the worship of the early church, a pattern we would do well to emulate.

The usual Scripture reading in our Sunday worship service lasts about 1-2 minutes. To read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation takes about 80 hours. At that rate, most Christians who attend the Sunday gathering faithfully their entire lives will never hear the whole Bible read aloud. Usually, we have a short reading and a longer exposition of the text in the sermon. If you think about it, that's a bit like watching a preview for a movie every week but never actually watching the film; we're getting a rough explanation of what the movie is about but we never get caught up in the narrative of the story ourselves.

If the Bible takes about 80 hours to read and you read about 1-2 hours per week you will comfortably finish the Bible every year. Most Christians want to read more, so it's not an issue of desire. It’s an issue of strategy. OK, so what’s the strategy? According to Paul, in addition to our private individual reading, the church must be engaged in the public reading of Scripture. And this isn't just a New Testament thing! There were three pivotal moments in Israel's history which have the public reading of Scripture at their heart. 

READING AS REGULAR ROUTINE — (Deuteronomy 6:1-25) Entering the Promised Land

Deuteronomy records Moses’ speech to Israel just before crossing the Jordan River and inheriting the land promised to their fathers. Deuteronomy not only gives instructions and warnings on how to live in the land but also tells Israel's story, where they’ve been, where they're going and what the future holds. In this passage of the book (Deut. 6), God commands his people to love and serve him by keeping the Law fresh in their minds. The public reading of Scripture:

  1. Reminds us of our purpose — (vv.1-3) The Israelites were reminded of the big picture of God’s plan as they entered the Promised Land. Israel was chosen for the sake of the world. Their inheritance of Canaan was a sign of God’s claim on the entire creation. Retelling this story was vital lest they would forget the larger narrative of which their story was only a part.
  2. Reminds us of our allegiance — (vv.4-9) The "Shema" was Israel's prayer of allegiance to their King (v.4) accompanied by the command to devote themselves entirely to his service (v.5). They were to keep God's commandments in their “heart” (v.6) by constantly reciting and teaching them to their children and repeating them to themselves (vv.7-9). God's word was to be woven into the fabric of their life; the words were meant to travel from their "eyes" into their "mind" down to their "heart" to be worked out in their life ("hands"). 
  3. Reminds us of God’s presence — (vv.10-15) Just as Moses and Aaron constructed the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord dwelt within the tent, the same was to be true for individual Israelites. Through reading and reciting Scripture, they were to become living, breathing tabernacles, carrying within them God’s life and presence in visible ways wherever they went.

Israel was in a precarious position. They were about to enter the Promised Land but it could have all gone horribly wrong. Therefore, they needed to keep the story straight and fresh in their minds. They were to live that story (vv.1-3), pray it (vv.4-9), and not forget whose story they were a part of (vv.10-15). When their children asked about why things were they way they were, parents were to tell the story, passing God's word down the line (vv.20-25).

The same is true for us today. We were slaves but God intervened in his faithfulness and grace to rescue us from slavery and bring us to freedom. As Christians, we tell the same story of God's rescue. God, who was rich in mercy and grace, sent his Son to die on the cross and purchase our freedom from slavery. He then sent his Spirit to guide us to Promised Land. We must continue to tell that story so that, like Israel, we can be God’s means of rescuing others around us. We were saved not only for our sake, but like Israel, for the sake of the world.

READING FOR REFORM & RENEWAL — (2 Kings 22:1-23:3) Renewing Loyalty to God

In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, while the temple was being repaired, someone found an old, dusty scroll called the “Book of the Law” which was probably the book we call "Deuteronomy." The king heard the story of Israel's past and future, the blessings that come from obeying the covenant and the curses for disobedience, not least of which, the warning of exile. The public reading of Scripture had three positive results in that generation:

  1. Warns us of danger — The priest realized how far Israel had fallen short of keeping the covenant. The prophetess then told them bad things would happen if they didn't start paying attention to the words of the Law and turn as a nation to God. King Josiah was horrified to see the danger Israel was in. What motivated all this soul-searching? Reading Scripture! Scripture has the power to convict us of our situation and warn us to change our ways.
  2. Motives us to reform — The king gathered all the people to the temple to hear the Law read aloud. He then called on them to reform and renew their covenant promises their fathers had made to God at Mount Sinai. Again, the public reading of Scripture was at the heart of this national movement. The priestly desire for inner purity, the prophetic word of warning and judgment, and royal leadership into covenant renewal and reform all came through the public reading of Scripture.
  3. Teaches us accountability — Sadly, the kings after Josiah undid all his reforms and the nation went from bad to worse until they were eventually exiled. This teaches us a valuable lesson. We cannot rely on the reforms of previous generations. Every generation must read and wrestle with the Scriptures afresh because every generation faces different challenges than the one before it.

If we aren’t reading our Bibles from cover to cover we will be missing bits of story. Not only this, but we will be prone to develop a lopsided faith and a blindness to our faults. For Josiah, it was the Passover (2 Kgs. 23:21-22), but what might we be missing today? The only way to find out is to read the Scriptures. What was read and heard was made real by Josiah's reforms and actions. Every generation of God's people must repeat the pattern of publicly reading the Scriptures along with honest self-reflection.

READING FOR UNDERSTANDING & REJOICING — (Nehemiah 8:1-12) Rebuilding After Exile

After many of the exiles came back from Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah led the Israelites in restoring the ruined temple and city of Jerusalem. They worked faithfully, often against violent opposition, to get the work done. But it wasn't just a building project — it was a spiritual renewal. How did they contextualize their efforts? By the public reading of Scripture of course! Notice three things about the public reading of Scripture in this section:

  1. Requires interpretation — Reading Scripture aloud is good but sometimes it requires some help to understand it. The priests helped Ezra translate (from Hebrew to Aramaic) and interpret (“give the sense”) the Scriptures as they read. The “people understood the meaning” of the Scriptures (v.8) partly because of their diligent efforts to explain them and partly because the people were listening reverently and prayerfully (v.6).
  2. Accompanied with prayer — The correct attitude to hearing and understanding Scripture is to do so reverently and with prayer. We can't hope to soak it in just by glancing at it once in a while. The only way for Scripture to penetrate our hearts is to join our hearts with prayerful consideration while hearing it. We must desire to be challenged by it and to resolve to keep it. If we approach Scripture with open hands and open hearts it will take root within us and change us in unexpected ways as it did for the returned exiles in Ezra and Nehemiah's day.
  3. Results in celebration — The reaction of this prayerful, reverent listening to the word was the same as Josiah's and Hilkiah's before in 2 Kings 22. The people began to "weep" and "mourn" because they realized how far they had fallen short of God’s commands (v.9). But the Levites told them not to weep but instead to rejoice and celebrate. Why? Because they had understood the message (v.11). The words of God were making their way into their minds and hearts. The message was sinking in and would begin to transform their lives. This was cause for celebration!

Part of the beauty of Scripture is that it continues to teach us new things when we approach it expectantly. It is a word that needs unpacking but when we understand it we should celebrate in its effects.

READING AS GOD’S WORK IN THE WORLD — (1 Timothy 4:6-16) Modeling Life as Christians

In the New Testament, Timothy was to model the total Christian life by immersing himself in the Scriptures, paying careful attention to living them out in his own life and also by teaching them to others. We should not take it for granted that people will always understand a passage of Scripture the first time they hear it. It should be read and unpacked. Like Ezra and the Levites before Timothy, evangelists today must "give the sense" of the Scriptures and make practical applications so that we can all have our “hope set on the living God” and the future he has in store for us.

How does Scripture become the vehicle of God’s power in the world? When it’s read aloud, heard reverently, interpreted correctly, understood and acted upon. God’s power is brought to bear in and through us to the world by the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Living With God

Saturday, June 20, 2020

If God lived in a house, who would be allowed inside? This is the question posed at the beginning of Psalm 15. One might expect the answer to be a list of ritual requirements like washing one’s garments (Ex. 19:10-15). Surprisingly, the LORD’s reply searches the conscience and the heart. There are certain inner qualities that one must possess to access the divine presence. The psalmist’s words are not far off from Jesus’: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). Let’s take a look at Psalm 15.


O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?

Who may dwell on Your holy hill?

The word “tent” may conjure up two pictures in your mind. You may recall the tent of meeting where God was formally worshiped by Israel with sacrifices offered by priests. This was the very place where God met his people, the nexus of heaven and earth (Ex. 29:42). Later, a temple was constructed by Solomon on the “holy hill” of Zion (1 Kgs. 8:1ff). 

The other image you may picture is one of simple hospitality expressed in the words “abide” and “dwell.” Combining these two ideas, this “tent” is a meeting place where God and his people can live together. The worshiper is God’s eager guest, his sojourning (the same word as “abide” v.1) to God’s house, a homecoming of sorts (23:6; 27:4-5). But the question remains, “who” is allowed this great privilege of meeting with God in his home?


His Character: True (v.2)

He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,

And speaks truth in his heart.

The man whose life is characterized by “integrity,” meaning wholeness or completeness, is welcomed into God’s house. His outward behavior and profession is consistent with his inner comportment. He is true, that is, he is not a phony. He loves what is right and does what is right consistently. He speaks from his heart and is what he says, because he knows “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt. 12:34).

His Speech: Restrained (v.3)

He does not slander with his tongue,

Nor does evil to his neighbor,

Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

The man who values his “neighbor” enough to do him no harm is welcomed into God’s house. His speech is not slanderous (Lev. 19:16), that is, he refuses to spy things out and spread things around. He doesn’t pick up a “reproach” against his neighbor only to drag him through the mud. The Psalmist’s words are a commentary on the proverb, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” (Prov. 10:12)

His Allegiance: Total (v.4ab)

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,

But who honors those who fear the Lord;

Verse 4a looks at first like a Pharisaic attitude of self-righteousness but by v.4b is seen in truth to be loyalty. The idea isn’t that he measures himself by others to find his justification (2 Cor. 10:12) but rather that he casts his vote for God and those who “fear” Him. He reveres the LORD and admires those who do the same. Abraham’s treatment of the king of Salem compared to the king of Sodom reflects this (Gen. 14:17-24).

His Dealings: Honorable (vv.4c-5ab)

He swears to his own hurt and does not change;

He does not put out his money at interest,

Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

This man makes a vow and, even though keeping it may result in “his own hurt,” he “does not change” his mind. The oath made here is not to someone else’s hurt (see Jephthah [Jdg. 11:35] or Herod [Mk. 6:26]) but to “his own.” If he makes a promise to his neighbor but later realizes his error, he could beg for release (Prov. 6:1-5). Instead, because he is a man of his word, he keeps his vow so no one else has to pay the cost.

An Israelite was allowed to lend out “money at interest” to foreigners (Deut. 23:20) but was not permitted to profit from a fellow Israelite, especially the poor (Lev. 25:35-38). Extortion was forbidden and generosity was encouraged (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34). Remarkably, no distinction is made in this psalm between a brother or a stranger in need. He treats everyone the same. You might say the man who is welcome in God’s house truly loves his neighbor as himself (Lk. 10:25-29ff).

His Place: Certain (v.5c)

He who does these things will never be shaken.

This psalm is not just about being welcome and gaining admission into God’s house, but dwelling there (v.1). The instability of being moved (“shaken”) is only remedied by trusting in God (Psa. 16:8; 46:5). When we have steadfast faith in God’s word, God creates these very qualities (vv.2-5b) within us (we will do “these things”). The result of such faith? We will not only be welcome into God’s house but we “will never be [moved]”.

(adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

Spiritual Endurance

Saturday, June 13, 2020

“By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

(Luke 21:19) 

The Greek word hupomonē is normally translated “patience” or “endurance” but there is no single English word that fully captures its rich meaning. In Greek literature it was used to describe the endurance of a man forced into labor against his will but worked on, the endurance of a man who suffered the sting of grief but continued on, the endurance of a soldier who fought a losing battle but battled on. It also was used to describe a plant living in an inhospitable environment against all odds. You’ve probably seen those little shoots, stubbornly lifting their leafy heads to the sun out of a drainage pipe or a sidewalk crack. What you’re seeing is hupomonē, staying power.

This word is also used in the New Testament many times to describe the disciple of Jesus. It is mostly translated “patience” or “endurance”. But, as we shall see, it has many nuances of meaning that can inspire us to stronger commitment to our Lord.

  • Hupomonē is connected with tribulation. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). Our spiritual commitment is tested when we encounter “afflictions” (2 Cor. 6:4). The Thessalonians were commended for their patience amid persecutions (2 Thess. 1:4). This word is used throughout the book of Revelation to encourage Christians to remain faithful when their life was on the line (Rev. 1:9; 3:10; 13:10).
  • Hupomonē is connected with our faith. When our faith is tested it produces “patience” (Jas. 1:3). This patience perfects and strengthens our faith to endure difficulties in the future.
  • Hupomonē is connected with our hope. When trouble comes and we face it with unwavering trust in God it produces “patience” and patience produces experience which produces “hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Humans are capable of enduring incredible hardship when they possess hope. When hope for a better future remains we can endure outward suffering because we enjoy inward comfort (Rom. 15:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3).
  • Hupomonē is connected with joy. Beyond just hoping for a better tomorrow, the Christian can suffer trouble and persecution with joy in present. The Christian life is marked by joy and thanksgiving despite difficult circumstances (Col. 1:11-12).
  • How can a person be joyful, possess such hope, endure trials with such faith? Because the most common use of hupomonē in the New Testament is in connection with the  goal of glory. For the Christian, the greatest things are to come after this life (Lk. 21:19; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; 2 Tim. 2:10,12; Jas. 1:12; 5:11; etc.).

Hupomonē is not simply the patience which waits passively for the storm to pass. It is the spirit which stares down the storm. It is the spirit which bears difficulty, not with resignation, but with blazing hope because it knows glory is coming. Hupomonē is not the grim patience that waits for the end but the radiant patience that hopes for a new beginning. Hupomonē is the background upon which courage and glory are painted. Hupomonē is what keeps your feet stubbornly, joyfully plodding on against the wind. Hupomonē is what transforms the hardest trials into quests for victory. Hupomonē is that grit and determination within Christians in the first century that enabled them to deny Caesar as Lord and affirm Jesus as Lord.

Hupomonē is what enabled Paul and Silas to not just endure being beaten with the absence of murmuring but to explode in joyful songs of praise in the darkness of their jail cell (Acts 16:22-25). Hupomonē is what empowered the apostles after being flogged for speaking in the name of Jesus to rejoice “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” It’s what motivated them to continue “every day, in the temple and from house to house, [to keep] right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42)

Hupomonē can endow parents to stay committed to the love, hard work, patience and discipline that their children need when times of trouble come (Eph. 6:1-4). Hupomonē can keep married couples devoted to one another in faithfulness, purity and self-sacrifice when there seems to be no love left in the marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Hupomonē can allow a spirit of joyful obedience to move the employee to serve his employer (Eph. 6:5-8) and the employer to be fair to his employees (Eph. 6:9). 

Hupomonē can keep the ship of faith sailing through storms of doubt and fear. But how is hupomonē developed? As we orient our lives toward the cross, trials will come but through those trials, our faith is being built up. Hope will increase and joy will abound as we look forward to the glory of being with our Lord.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

The Sin of Partiality

Saturday, June 06, 2020

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

James 2:1-13

Just before the heart of his letter (2:14-26), James blends the dual themes of wisdom and working faith in outlining the sin of partiality (2:1-13). James describes what it means to be “partial” in 2:1: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”

At the outset, he draws the reader’s attention to “our” Lord, a possessive word, meaning Jesus is ours because he has given himself to us and for us and we have accepted him as our, “glorious Lord.” Describing Jesus as “Lord” (or master) would highlight our need to emulate and obey him (Heb. 5:8-9) while describing him as “glorious” would remind us that Jesus defeated death and is reigning as King Most High. How can we “hold” our “faith” in such a “glorious Lord” while treating people with personal favoritism when our “glorious Lord” never did? The question answers itself.

Another theme that James revisits several times in his letter is the disparity between the rich and poor and how, generally speaking, the rich hold the poor in contempt (1:9-11; 5:1-6). Here (2:1-13) James puts forth a hypothetical situation (“if” 2:2) wherein the believer has the perfect opportunity to exercise his wisdom and faith by welcoming each guest with equal honor despite their social status. Not only is it against wisdom to play favorites in the brotherhood but this kind of discrimination is also against God’s law, thereby violating our faith in Jesus. 

There are three ways in which James gives his reproof against the sin of partiality.

Favoritism shows a complete disregard for Jesus (2:1-7). James calls those who make such distinctions “judges with evil motives” (2:4). In fact, it was the rich who usually oppressed poor believers (5:1-7), dragging them to court and even blaspheming the name of Jesus (2:6-7). To favor a wealthy man over a poor man for whatever reason not only dishonors “the fair name by which you were called” (2:7) but also dishonors “the poor man” whom God chose to be “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (2:5). Jesus came to make the poor rich (2 Cor. 8:9), not financially but spiritually, and those who wear the name of Jesus ought to have that same attitude of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the less fortunate (2 Cor. 6:10).

Favoritism shows a complete disregard for the Law (2:8-11). Who said Christians are not under Law? We certainly are! Part of being citizens in a kingdom necessitates that there be a law. Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, is King making the words that issue from his throne a “royal law” (2:8). If we are to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) then we must abide by our King’s “royal law” which is summed up, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a law of love. Loving others unconditionally as God has loved us is a theme repeatedly emphasized by Jesus (Mt. 22:34-40Jn. 13:34-35) and his disciples after him (Rom. 13:8-10). Partiality is the polar opposite of our King’s command to love. Love must be shown to all without qualification. So people who play favorites in the kingdom violate the very foundation of the law of the kingdom and, in effect, have “become guilty of all” that the Law teaches (2:10).

Favoritism shows a complete disregard for the Judgment (2:12-13). Lastly, James warns his audience to “so speak and so act,” that is, love in word and deed (1 Jn. 3:18), “as those who are judged by the law of liberty” (2:12). Christ's law is a law of freedom as well as love. The law that Christ delivered was unlike the Mosaic Law in that Christ’s law actually liberates people from their sins instead of enslaving them in their sins (Rom. 8:1-2ff). Yet we need to be careful how we use that freedom. Paul warns the Galatians not to “turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” in the very context of loving one another (Gal. 5:13-14). We have been freed from sin to love! (Gal. 5:6) We must live by this law of liberty and love because, in the end, we will be judged by it (2:13; Lk. 6:37-38). Our mercy for one another (2:13), or lack of it, will be returned to us in the judgment (Mt. 5:76:14-1525:34-40), which is why God said long ago, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6Mt. 9:1312:7).

Brethren, let us live to honor our “glorious Lord Jesus” (2:1-7), respect his “royal law of love” (2:8-11) and live in view of the eternal judgment (2:12-13). There may be a brother or a sister in the church that, for whatever reason, you don’t necessarily get along with. Remember the command to love him or her still stands and your very salvation is at stake. Time and time again, the Scriptures explicitly point out that God does not give special treatment to one individual over another. Peter once stated, “...God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him” (Acts 10:34; cf. Jn. 9:31). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

The Wrong Kind of Ambition

Saturday, May 30, 2020

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”

(James 3:16

There is such a thing as healthy ambition. For example, one who aspires to the office of an overseer desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1); we ought, like Paul, to make it our ambition to be pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9); we are commanded to make it our ambition to lead a quiet and dignified life working with our hands and minding our own business (1 Thess. 4:11).

But there is an evil kind of ambition that is self-centered, self-serving and self-important. The word eritheia is used seven times in the New Testament, each time in connection to the Church’s ruin and division. In Romans 2:8 it is used to describe those whose ambitions are “selfish” resulting in the severe judgment of God. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 it occurs in the middle of a string of sinful behaviors (“disputes” NASB) that are ruining the unity of the Corinthian church. 

This is not surprising considering eritheia’s presence in Paul’s representative list of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:20 where it is again translated “disputes” (“strife” KJV, “selfish ambitions” NKJV). Paul used it to describe those who preach with the wrong motives (Phil. 1:16) and live with the wrong spirit (2:3). James indicted the divided Christians he wrote to on the same grounds of harboring “selfish ambition” (Jas. 3:1416) that characterized wisdom which is not from above but is “earthly, natural and demonic.”

Obviously, eritheia is no good and tears up God’s work of uniting humanity in the body of Christ. Discovering the origins and evolution of this word further help us understand its New Testament uses and the dangers of “selfish ambition.”

Eritheia was derived from erithos which was a perfectly respectable word in its day, meaning “a day laborer”. The word was specifically connected with spinners and weavers of wool (erion) which is where eritheia finds its derivation. It then came to mean “labor for wages.” What’s so wrong with a person being paid for honest work? (1 Cor. 9:1-14) Here we begin to see the degeneration of a good word into an evil one that parallels the uncanny human capacity to turn a good thing into a bad thing.

Eritheia began to take on the meaning of work that is done purely to get a paycheck and nothing else; that kind of work underneath which is no spirit of service but only one question: “What do I get out of all this?” The word then came to describe people who were running for political office, not out of a sense of civil duty and service rendered to the State, but purely for their own selfish profit (honor, wealth, power, etc.). Some things don’t seem to have changed much.

Again, eritheia took on two additional nuances of meaning later on. First, it came to be used to describe political party squabbles; the kind of jockeying for a better position of power which has become so common in secular and church politics (see Lk. 22:24). Second, it took on the meaning that the New Testament writers have used, namely that “selfish ambition” which any concept of love, honor or service is absent. 

Eritheia is the self-centered, ‘me first’ politics that destroy God’s building, ravage God’s vineyard and divide God’s body. Churches that have divided over various things can probably trace the schism back to its source and find eritheia alive and well on one or both ‘sides’ of the issue.

Corinth had divided into factions just like our secular politics, red and blue, liberal and conservative. Each side was more concerned with their own position of primacy all the while Jesus, their exalted ‘Lord,’ took a back seat. Paul’s writings to them were to help these squabbling spiritual infants to see their ugly factious behavior through the lens of the cross. Surely they would see eritheia has no place in the body of Christ!

Certain preachers, like those Paul encountered in Philippi, preached the gospel not to spread the blessing of salvation in Christ to serve their fellow man but purely for selfish motives (Phil. 1:15-18). They were preaching Jesus as Lord but their heart wasn’t motivated by love to exalt Jesus but rather by eritheia to exalt themselves. Many preachers today fall into the same trap of displaying their own piety and knowledge in preaching. We must discipline ourselves lest we too be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). As one commentary stated, no preacher can show at one and the same time that he is clever and that Christ is wonderful.

Selfish ambition is characteristic in Paul’s works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) and in James’ wisdom from below (Jas. 3:13-18). It is characteristic in us when we measure things by how we can personally benefit. May Christ help us crucify this ugly behavior which is so flagrantly out of step with His gospel of selfless sacrifice!

The evolution of this word is a commentary on human nature. It began by describing the work a man does for an honest day’s pay and came to describe the work which is done for pay alone. This word should warn us to be careful how we view our work. Do we go to work not only to provide for ourselves and our family but to also help with the needs of others? Are we laboring for our true Master and the true reward? (Col. 3:22-25). Let us not ask, “What can I get out of this?” and instead ask, “What can I put into this that will bring honor to Jesus?”

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