Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Understanding Paul, part 6

Read Romans 15:22-33; Acts 21-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 CEB).

Decapitación_de_San_Pablo_-_Simonet_-_1887To sum up this series, I think it is beyond doubt that Paul is the most influential theologian in the history of Christianity. As this series has attempted to show, much of the problems that Christians run into when it comes to interpreting Paul arise directly because Paul is interpreted as a “Christian” theologian. Yet, the truth of the matter is that, while he was an Apostle of the Risen Christ, the Apostle Paul was NOT a Christian but a Jewish theologian. He just happened to subscribe to the Jewish sect known as “the Way” and believed that Jesus had called him to preach the Good News of an open Jewish covenant, through Christ, to all the Gentile world.

Throughout the centuries and especially in Christianity Today, Paul has become a conservative icon of the church and a guardian of the faith. Thus, his words and writings have been used to uphold church doctrine and dogma in support of slavery, against women clergy, and for the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. In fact, the Apostle Paul’s words on marriage are also the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine on clerical celibacy. For those supporting such doctrines and positions, Paul’s words have become a rallying cry; however, by and large the Apostle Paul’s writings have divided more people than they have united. While those seeking to keep things as the perceive they’ve always been find Paul to be their champion, others who are frustrated by the Church’s resistance to change find Paul to be irritating at best and downright egregious at worst.

All of this division, all of this animosity, all of this tension coming from a man who literally spent his life trying to unite people in Christ Jesus. While Paul was Jewish and firmly believed that Jesus was the JEWISH MESSIAH, he also firmly believed that this Christ, through his death and resurrection, had opened up the Jewish covenant to all Gentiles, through their faith in Jesus Christ. This set him at odds with both the Jerusalem church, as well as with the majority of Jewish people as a whole. Yet, rather than abandon one side for the other, Paul spent the rest of his shortened life and ministry trying to make peace with all parties and he tried to unite them in the grace, peace and love of the Risen Christ.

Throughout his ministry, Paul collected money from his Gentile church communities in order that he might bring a peace offering and financial support for the church in Jerusalem. In Romans 15 he wrote to the church community in Rome to pray not only that he be rescued from those who don’t believe in Judea, but that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (e.g. Jesus brother, James, among others) find his monetary gift to be acceptable. We also learn, in Acts 21, that Paul’s worries were founded as the church wanted him to prove he was a committed Jew by going to the Temple and going through a purification ritual with his fellow Gentile travelers. In complying with them to solidify the unity he was seeking, Paul sealed his own fate, was arrested by the Temple guards, was sent to Rome and was, eventually, martyred.

Paul literally died in order to bring unity to an already divided church. He was not the conservative icon of the church in his day, but a progressive (to use today’s language) visionary of an INCLUSIVE church. He believed and died for a church that would INCLUDE all people who share faith in Jesus Christ. He strived for a church that would live in LOVE and live out Christ’s commandment for us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Paul died to witness to his belief that we “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 5:28). This, for Paul, was the Gospel message and it should be the message that we, too, embrace as the Gospel Message.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.” – William Butler Yeats

PRAYER
Lord, build me into a peacemaker. Even as I hold firm to my convictions, keep me convicted to bear your grace in all things. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 5

Read 1 Corinthians 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Philippians 4:12 NLT)

Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_ProjectOver the past four devotions we have explored the Apostle Paul, we discussed how he is the most influential person in Christian history, discussed how he was practicing “situational theology” in order to address specific issues that had risen up in his church communities, how he sacrificed his life in order to unify the church in the midst of divisive opposition, and how he more than likely did not write all of the letters in the New Testament that are attributed to him. At this point, one may be still trying to understand what all of this means for us today. What can we actually know about Paul if we are not even sure what he did or didn’t write? Also, how do we know what Paul actually believed if his letters are merely responses to specific and contextual situations as they were arising in his church communities? In the end, I believe the best way to understand Paul and what he believed is to look at the undisputed letters, the ones that are universally accepted as being his, and see what key recurring theological components make themselves known to us.

When we read Paul’s undisputed letters of 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philemon and Philippians we notice certain things that are central to Pauline theological understanding. Paul believes that his authority as an Apostle comes from a private revelation of the risen Christ (Galatians 1:11-12, 15-17) and not from the approval of any other human being. Paul believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to bless the world through Abraham. Through faith in Christ, the whole world can now  be included in the Jewish covenant. What this means is that God, through Jesus Christ, brings about the salvation of the whole world (Galatians 3:3-9, 14; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11). What’s more, Paul believed that Christ would return and bring with him the reign and eternal presence of God (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). While all of this is now taken for granted, or completely overlooked, this is the beginning of the more profound and radical views that Paul held.

Paul is often held up as the conservative icon of the church, as partner in ministry with Peter, the reality is that Paul was pushing the envelope in ways that often set him apart from and in opposition to Peter (Galatians 2:11-16). He believed that God created all people equal. Where the world segregates and divides, Paul believed that in Christ was freedom and equality (Galatians 3:25-29). In an age that accepted slavery, Paul challenged a church leader to release his slave and accept them in an equal (Philemon 1:16). In an age where women were property, Paul viewed women as co-workers, deacons, and leaders in the church. He even acknowledged being personally supported by Phoebe (Romans 16:1). Most important, Paul believed in the unity of believers and he literally died trying to make that a reality (Romans 15:30-32). He believed that the spirit of Christ is the spirit of love, and that we Christians have been filled with that spirit (1 Corinthians 13). He saw all believers as making up the resurrected body of Christ. He also believed that, as the body of Christ, all Christians are called to serve the poor, heal the sick, and carry on the ministry of Christ in the world.

If we as Christians are going to take Paul seriously and take his writings as Scripture, we need to open ourselves to the kind of transformation he advocated. We need to begin to work for hope, healing, and wholeness in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. We need to start working toward the Kingdom of Heaven as revealed to us by Christ through his servant Paul. As can be seen, there is no doubt that without Paul, Christianity would not be the same. With that said, the truth is (and I believe Paul would agree) that the same is true about you and me. Without us, the body of Christ, there would be no church. Let us realize this, pick up the torch, and carry it forward brining the light of Christ into the darkness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me in my faith so that I may, like your servant Paul, bring your light into this dark and broken world. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 4

Read Romans 1:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“HERE IS MY GREETING IN MY OWN HANDWRITING—PAUL.” (1 Corinthians 16:21 NLT)

PWPaulInPrisonIf you have ever gone through high school or college you will most definitely remember that there were strict rules and regulations set to avoid academic dishonesty. When it came to test taking you weren’t allowed to be sitting too closely to anyone else, there was no talking allowed, and if you even dared to look over at someone else’s desk,  your grade would be forfeit. When it came to writing research papers, those rules and regulations got even stricter. You had to work on your own, you had to cite every idea you paraphrased or quoted, and your work absolutely had to be your own. In other words, stealing the paper from the internet or someone else writing the paper for you in your name would be unacceptable.

While these standards hold true today, they are relatively new in the world of academia. It used to be common practice that students of great teachers would continue on the legacy of their teacher by writing new material in that teacher’s name. This was both a way to show honor toward one’s teacher; however, it was also a way of lending credibility and authority to one’s own teaching. One of the most famous examples of a student doing this is Plato, who wrote a series of “dialogues” wherein he wrote as the great philosopher. This was so common place and accepted that we even have a pithy statement that highlights the practice, “Mimicry is the best form of flattery.”

An even greater example of this being done is in the case of the Apostle Paul. Traditionally, Paul is credited with writing Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Some even credit him with writing Hebrews, but that contention is rejected by most theologians and scholars across the board. What’s more, Paul’s ministry is detailed in the book of Acts which was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Some of the details are consistent with Paul’s own account, others are not exactly the same. Even more than that, Paul’s authorship is in dispute over Colossians and 2 Thessalonians and most mainline theologians reject Pauline authorship in regard to Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. There are a number of reasons why these letters are disputed, including difference of style, structure and a lack of the central, theological components that were so vital to Paul.

What is likely is that someone who was either taught by Paul and/or who was from one of his communities wrote these letters, giving him credit for the authorship and lending authority to it as well. Whoever the people were that wrote these letters, they were writing from within the Pauline tradition, even if their views sometimes opposed that of Paul’s. What’s more, whether or not Paul wrote them does not take away from them being authoritative as the communities that they were written in and, eventually, the Christian church as a whole found divine authority within them.

It is impossible to have a full discussion on Pauline authorship in this limited space. There’s lots of scholarship on both sides of the authorship dispute. What I am hoping to impart here, is that there’s more to reading and interpreting the Bible than just simply reading it. It is absolutely important to our faith that we do read it as a part of our spiritual discipline; however, it is equally important to understand who’s writing, to whom they are writing, and the various contexts surrounding the writing. Once that understanding has been attained, it is then possible to apply the texts in ways that are both true to the intent of the author and transformative to us in our context. Next, to conclude this series, we will look at the authentic letters of Paul and gain an understanding of what he felt was vital to being Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.” (Philippians 1:21-22 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, as I discipline myself in reading the Scriptures, also give me wisdom and discernment so that I may understand and apply it. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 3

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.” (Philippians 4:1 NLT)

SAN PABLO10When we read the Christian Scriptures, what has become known as the New Testament, we tend to read it as one narrative written either by the hand of God, or by hands that were dictated to and put into motion by God. In fact, all of the Bible is really read that way. While it is certainly true that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God and by there relationship with God, I think that the way we typically read the Bible takes away from the richness of the individuals who wrote it, as well as their individual contexts and communities. This is no more true than it is with Paul and his letters.

When we read Paul’s letters we read them as Scripture. We look to them for authoritative doctrine and structure for the church. We read them looking for how God wants us, as the church, to live and act. We look to them for the boundaries that make up “the church”, and we look to define what is Christian and contrast it to what IS NOT Christian. When someone says or believes something that seems to go against the rubric of the Pauline Scripture as we interpret it, we tend to distance ourselves from that person and his or her beliefs. Often time the word “heresy” will get thrown away and the label of “false teacher” or “false Christian” will get thrown around.

While I am not saying that we shouldn’t be looking toward Paul’s letters for spiritual guidance, and I am not saying that Paul’s writings aren’t authoritative or useful as a rubric against false beliefs, I am also cautious about using any Paul’s writings, or any Scripture, that way. Paul, at the time, was doing what I like to call “Situational Theology”. He had started a number of Christian communities around Asia Minor and other parts of the Roman Empire and, like in all churches, conflicts and theological disputes arose between different factions (aka cliques) in the church. In the Galatian church, he had Jewish Christians not wanting to accept uncircumcised Gentile Christians into their church community. In the church in Rome, he was dealing with Gentile Christians who were being inhospitable to the Jews in their community, among other things. In another letter, Paul is letting Philemon know that it is not cool to own slaves and that Philemon should let his slave, Onesimus, go free.

Paul, in essences, is writing Christian theological responses to specific situations within specific circumstances. As a Pharisee-turned-Apostle, he is using his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, to address the behaviors, conflicts and situations in the local church communities he established. I do not, for one minute, believe that Paul ever foresaw his letters being called “Scripture.” Nor do I think he’d be comfortable with that, especially in light of how his words have often been interpreted.

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that Paul’s letter’s aren’t Scripture. They are because Christians have and continue to be divinely guided by Paul’s words. Nor am I saying that Paul’s words have no relevance to the church today. They obviously do, and they will continue to for all time. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to understand the context of Paul’s letters, we need to understand the key theological components of Paul’s central and core beliefs as a Christian Apostle, in order for us to be able to appropriately interpret them in today’s time and context. As with all Scripture, it is not enough to just take the word’s of Paul literally and apply them in heavy-handed and graceless ways; rather, we need to be prayerful and open in our approach to understanding the divine wisdom in the words of Christianity’s most influential theologian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, raise me up into a messenger such as Paul. Fill me with your hope and send me to proclaim that hope, the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who are hunger and thirst for it. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 2

Read Romans 15:25-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” (Galatians 6:17 NRSV)

paulWhen you count the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistles, over half of the New Testament was either written about him or by him. What’s more, every writer in the New Testament came after him and were influenced by his ministry in one way or the other. What that means is that when we read the Gospels, when we read the stories of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, we are reading accounts by people who were writing after Paul, and they were writing from a Christian perspective that was informed by Paul and his mission to the Gentiles.

Of course, this does not necessarily help us to understand who Paul actually was or what he actually believed. Furthermore, this doesn’t help us to better interpret Paul for Christianity today. Over the last two millenia, Paul has been interpreted and reinterpreted. In fact, often times, Paul has even been misinterpreted. As a result of the misinterpretation of Paul’s theology, other people will flat out reject Paul. I have often heard people say that what Paul thought didn’t matter. I have heard some say, “We should be following the teachings of Christ, not of Paul.” While I think that, on the surface, Paul would agree with that statement, I also think it comes from an ignorance of just who Paul the Apostle is, and how he came to believe what he did.

While Paul didn’t spend time writing about the life of Jesus, it would be a huge mistake to say that he wasn’t influenced by the life and teachings of Jesus. He was a Pharisee, knowledgeable in the law of Moses and steeped in traditional Judaism, who came to experience the risen Christ and believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of Judaism. He spent years in Arabia (Galatian 1:17) learning of this Jesus and his teachings, before returning to Damascus to begin teaching about Christ himself. Paul felt strongly that, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the Jewish covenant had been opened up to Gentiles as well. What’s more, the Gentile didn’t have to be circumcised or follow special dietary laws. They were accepted by God by virtue of their belief in Jesus.

While many Gentiles were glad to be accepted into the Jewish covenant by virtue of their newfound belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord, many of the Jewish Christians were not so certain that this Paul’s teachings were so correct. They argued that Jesus was a Jew who came to the Jews. While they were completely okay with accepting Gentiles in should they decide to convert to Judaism, these Jewish Christians were not okay with accepting them in willy nilly, just because they “believe” in Jesus. As such, there arose a division between Paul and those Christians who disagreed with him.

Paul stood up against opposition and, in his letters, defended not only his position but also his authority as an apostle. At the same time, he also respected those who opposed him, such as Jesus’ half-brother James, and did all he could to find common ground with them. He even raised money to support the Jerusalem church and chose to deliver that monetary support of the Jerusalem Church’s ministry himself, at risk to his own life. While firm in his convictions, Paul always sought to be a uniter, regardless of the cost. The question for us Christians today is this, are we up to that challenge? Do we firmly believe in the Gospel o Jesus Christ? Are we firm in our convictions of Christ’s radical love and inclusivity of all people who accept him as Lord and Savior? Are we committed to being an agent of unity even amidst opposition? This is what Paul lived and died for, and what we are called to live and die for as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” – Paul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:10-11 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me to be not only firm in my convictions, but also humble enough to seek unity in mission with those who may not share in them. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 1

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB)

St.-Pauls-GrottoWhen asked the question, “who is the most influential figure in the founding of Christianity?”, I think most people would answer that Jesus of Nazareth was. Actually, I would say that the most influential figure in the founding of Christianity is the Apostle Paul. Granted, I do not think that Paul meant for some of his letters to be interpreted as they have been; however, there can be little doubt that it was Paul’s letters and his work as a missionary that sparked the transformation of a little, obscure Jewish sect into the major world religion that it is today. The question is how many of us in the Church actually read Paul, let alone understand him? I just finished a devotion series on the Fruit of the Spirit and I found that, perhaps, some of Paul’s words, allusions and illustrations fall flat for many of us who are far removed from his time and his culture.

For instance, in Galatians 5:22-26, we read about the Fruit of the Spirit. Paul ends his listing of the fruit with this, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26 NRSV) But what does he mean by this? What does it mean that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh?” Paul couldn’t possibly mean that the only way to follow Jesus is to be crucified like Jesus was, could he?

In order to understand this, one must understand Paul. Paul the Apostle was born as Saul of Tarsus and was raised as a pious and devout follower of Judaism. He was so devout that he actually studied and memorized the Torah and became a Pharisee. This means that Paul not only knew the Law of Moses and the Scriptures, but he was an authority on them. At first, Saul did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and he did not agree with the new teachings of this supposed Messiah’s followers. So he hunted them down and persecuted them; however, that would all change when Jesus appeared to Saul and chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles…meaning that he was to bring God’s covenant to the non-Jews.

Once Paul had that vision, he took his knowledge of the law, his belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, and his personal experience with the Risen Christ to the Gentile world. He preached to them, he lived with them, he built church communities with them and, on more than one occasion, he nearly died doing so. Saul of Tarsus, both metaphorically and spiritually speaking, had died. His hatred for the Christians along with all of his flaws had been, again metaphorically speaking, been crucified or put to death. He was now Paul the Apostle, chosen by Christ to be a servant-leader of the Gentiles.

As far as Paul is concerned, this is true for all believers. We are born and raised by our parents, we have our own desires and things that we want to grow up to be. We begin to live our lives according to what we see to be our future; however, at some point, God appears to us and shows us something greater than we could have ever imagined. When we experience that, we cannot help but be changed. When we experience that we cannot help but realize that the old has passed on and something new has begun. If you have yet to experience this, God is waiting for you to open yourself up to God’s presence. Once you’ve experienced it, there is no turning back and no telling the kind of signs of the Kingdom God will work in and through you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER
Lord, show yourself to me. Reveal your purpose for me and transform me into a new creation. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Self-Control

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” (Proverbs 25:28 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_Self-ControlFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Self-Control. When we think of the fruit “self-control”, we often relegate it to one’s ability to control his or her behavior. For example, we’ll often hear something such as the following: “Joe Smith was a person who had great self-control. He never got angry at people, he always behaved himself in the classroom, and he never got caught up in the party scene.” Or we might hear this: “Johnny had gotten over-weight, but with his great self-control, he was able to stop overeating and was able to lose all of it.” I, for one, get the latter a lot. People will often chalk my weight loss up to my steel-like will-power and my incredible self-control. God knows, neither my will-power or my self-control is fully functioning. I am human after all.

But self-control really goes beyond just behavioral patterns and/or abilities; rather, as I see it, self-control is at the core of faithfulness. Jesus exhibited great self-controls; however, if we read the Gospels, we do not see in Jesus someone who was always in control of his emotions or someone who ALWAYS said and did “nice” things. If we have read the WHOLE of the Gospels we see Jesus get angry, we see him curse people out (literally…just check out Matthew 23…yikes), we seem him display violent anger in the temple (Matthew 21:18-19,12-13; Mark 11:12-18; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22), we seem him curse fig trees (see previous references), and proclaim to entire towns and cities that Sodom was better off on the day of judgment than they were (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:12; 17:29).

Yet, no one exhibited more self-control than Jesus. He showed an immense amount of self-control throughout his life and his ministry. He never lost focus, he never gave up, and he never changed direction, even though he know the ultimate direction he was going in. Self-control is really likened to what we call “disciplined.” Jesus was well disciplined because he knew who he was, whose he was, and what God was calling to do.

Christians are called to have discipline and/or self-control. This doesn’t mean that we should sit back and just accept the abuse of others, never getting angry, and/or always saying “nice” things to people in order to not “hurt their feelings”. Sometimes, as Jesus well knew, people need their feelings hurt. I think it is important to stress that; however, we should not overreact emotionally to things either. We should always pause and reflect before responding. We should not aimlessly live life, but have the self-control to be disciplined and to follow through with our commitments. We should have the self-control to avoid doing things that are bad for us and the self-control that compels us to take better care of our bodies, take better care of our minds and take better care of our souls. Reading the Bible, going to church, and allowing the Holy Spirit in to shape your life into Jesus’ life. That all takes the fruit of self-control. Therefore, self-control is vital to the life of the Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God has equipped you to handle difficult things. In fact, [God] has already planted the seeds of discipline and self-control inside you.” – Joyce Meyer

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of self-control in my life. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_GentlenessFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness. In a recent trip to California, I stopped by what used to be the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. On the grounds of that beautiful work of architecture is the memorial garden in which stands two statues of Jesus. One is of “The Lost Sheep”, with Jesus holding a lamb on his shoulder and sheep looking eagerly toward him. The other is of “The Smiling Jesus,” with Jesus playing with children. While these were both familiar and beautiful images of our Lord and Savior, does the “Gentle Jesus” image show us who Jesus really was?

I think the honest answer is both yes and no. We like to think of Jesus’ Gentleness in idealistic ways. One of the ways we do this is by picturing Jesus in such ways that match up with the images illustrated above. Then when we get angry, we often guilt ourselves because we view that anger as not being of God. We view it as the antithesis of gentleness. Yet, when we look at the big picture of Jesus’ life, he was not always grinning and gentle either. Just look at the “Cleansing of the Temple” account in Matthew 21 and also to Jesus’ reaction to his opponents in Matthew 23-24. Even Jesus, sometimes, got angry and he certainly was not ALWAYS gentle.

Yet, the moments where he was not gentle also have a context to them. They were moments that called for righteous anger and Jesus used it both to stop what was happening, to hold people accountable, and to teach them a better way. With that said, Jesus had a gentle nature about him overall. He loved all people, he cared for people who needed care, he instructed people who would be his followers, and he saw the image of God in all people.  Even when he was angry and/or displaying anger, he was always doing so with the intent of instructing, as well as with the intent of putting an end to the harm he saw certain people inflicting upon others. So even his anger was driven by his gentle heart.

It would be easy for me to simply say that we are to “strive” to have Jesus’ gentleness; however, that would be inconsistent with Paul’s understanding of the fruit, which by now I am hoping you can see for yourselves. Jesus didn’t strive to be gentle…HE WAS GENTLE by the nature of his relationship with God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and gentleness (along with the other fruits) were born through that relationship. The same is true for us. If we have a deep and committed relationship with God, if we are receptive of and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, then we will bear the fruit of God’s gentleness. This is nothing we earn or strive to do on our own power…but something that happens as a result of the power of God in our lives. If you are not gentle and do not bear the fruit of the Spirit, then it is time to check where you are in your relationship with God. We all fail to maintain that relationship, and none of us are perfect in it, but those of us who have a relationship with God and are receptive to the Holy Spirit, are being perfected in God’s love and are bearing the fruit that comes from that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – St. Francis de Sales

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of gentleness in my life. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Faithfulness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and He will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and His rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26, NLT)

FruitOsp_FaithfulnessIn his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Faithfulness. When I think of the fruit of faithfulness, I think of the prophet Daniel. If you remember the story of Daniel, he was one of the Jews who were exiled to Babylon as a result of the corruption of the Kings of Israel. During exile, Daniel rose to prominence in the Babylonian Court under King Nebuchadnezzar II. There the King learns that Daniel had the ability to interpret dreams and he employed Daniel to do just that. Daniel faithfully served Nebuchadnezzar until the king went mad, something which Daniel predicted would happen.

The king’s successor was even more foolish than his predecessor and ended up losing his kingdom to the Medes and Persians. King Darius of Persia took notice of Daniel and eventually elevated him to high office; however, out of jealousy, court officials tricked King Darius to pass an edict that prohibited the worship of any god or man for a 30-day period. Out of faithfulness to God, Daniel refused to obey such an edict and prayed to God three times a day while facing in the direction of Jerusalem. Of course, it wasn’t long before Daniel was caught in the act and accused before King Darius who was forced to punish his favorite official…by his own decree.

Thus we come to the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den as punishment for his faithfulness to God. He did not let anything get in the way of his relationship with God, not even the threat of punishment or death. And it was in his faithfulness that Daniel witnessed to God’s faithfulness as well, for the lions lay down and do not eat Daniel! In reality, it is not that God just became faithful or that Daniel just noticed. Neither of those are true. Daniel had known God’s faithfulness all along, despite being exiled from his homeland and being under the oppression of foreign rulers.

When reflecting on faithfulness, we really have a three things to consider. First, when we think of faithfulness we cannot over look the example of God’s faithfulness with us. We need to be open to it, to see it in all of the blessings we enjoy, and to even see God’s faithfulness in the trials and tough times we face as well. The latter part is particular challenging for us as we tend to question God’s faithfulness when we are going through tough times. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that questioning God is ever a bad thing. It is not; however, it is a good discipline for us to struggle in the midst of those questions to see how God has blessed and been present with us in spite of the trials we’ve endured. God is always with us. God is always faithful.

Second, we should live our lives in faithfulness as well. Faith begets faithfulness. If we have faith we will remain faithful to God. We will not compromise our faith or our relationship to God…no matter what the world (our friends, our country, etc.) is calling us to do. Finally, when the holy spirit nurtures faithfulness within us, we will be faithful in our human (and animal…yes they count too) relationships as well. We cannot be faithful to God if we are unfaithful in our human relationships! You may be wondering, “who could ever live up to such a standard?” On our own, none of us could; however, as Paul states from the very beginning, this is the fruit that the Spirit-filled life will bear.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” – Augustine of Hippo
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of faithfulness in my life. Amen.