Monday, August 29, 2011

Act Right

            Paul gives more direction on how to live here in Philippians 2:1-18. Recalling Christ’s attitude, he tells the church in Philippi to live as children of God and to hold firm to the word of life. This is the same instruction that we as the universal church of God need to hear on a daily basis; situation to situation.

            Paul begins chapter two with a series of questions in order to ask the church to do him a favor and be wholeheartedly in agreement with each other in love and working toward the same purpose. He asks them to be like Christ in personality by not seeking self glorification, but exhibiting submission to God even at the cost of one’s own life. He says that by submission to God the father, Christ was elevated to the highest place of honor in heaven and that in the same way, we are to submit in order to gain favor in God’s kingdom. Paul goes on to tell the church in Philippi how important it is that they follow his instructions in working hard to show a change in their lives by obeying God in their lives. He admonishes them to do everything with a good attitude so that Christians don’t gain a bad reputation among non-believers and then tells them to stick closely to Jesus so that when he returns, they can all share in the joy that is to be found at that time.
            This passage is important to Christians as a bare-bones version of how to act. We as followers of Christ are supposed to exhibit the same attitude of servant-hood that Christ demonstrated time and time again throughout his time here on earth. We are also called to be an example of that type of person to the world in how we act so that the world can see that we are different. All too often, Christians look exactly like the secular world in the way that we talk and act in public. Paul recognized this as a long-standing problem with humanity which is why he says that it is important to follow his instructions. In the present day, we can also use this as a reminder that everything we do in front of people is a representation of Christ to them. If we act just as quickly angered and self-gratifying as the rest of the world, we won’t be able to claim Christianity as life changing. If we don’t pour our lives out like an offering to God, we cannot say that we are any different and therefore are not children of God.
            When I read this, I’m personally convicted to examine my life and the image I emit in front of coworkers, family and on the internet via social networking. When people look at my life, do they see Jesus working in me or do they see another religion that is restricting and a cause for avoidance? I think that it is our responsibility and should be our longing to resemble Christ so that no one can criticize Christians as unclean, crooked or perverse. This is what God wants for us and this is how we find favor in his sight.
The Dread

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Instruction for them is instruction for us

 There is a lot of teaching here in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 from Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul covers three main topics in these verses: a statement of why they are doing what they are doing, a point-of-view adjustment for the letter recipients and finally a note on what the church’s role is in this world.
            So, looking at the three sections in pieces, Paul starts this selection with his statement about what his true motives are. He says that it is their (the church and himself) responsibility to work hard and that God will see how sincere their hearts are in searching. He says that if they seem crazy, it’s only to glorify God and not to draw attention to their own actions. Paul then draws a parallel between the Christian life and the life and death of Jesus. He says that since Christ has died for the entire world, they believe that all Christian believers have died to their old lives and are re-defined as living for Christ. This moves into his second section in which he says that, as Christians, we have to look at our lives as new in nature and in purpose. Living with this perspective on life will keep us from evaluating things from a human perspective. He ends chapter five with a section that functions as a replacement identity for the church in Corinth. He basically says that God’s whole point in sending Jesus was to reconcile people to him; in the same way, Christ is sending us to continue the work he started in bringing God and people back together. He says “we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us” (NLT v. 20).
            This passage was extremely important for the church in Corinth as they were dealing with all types of immorality and non-Christian traditions penetrating the church there; as people who were fairly new converts they were slowly losing their mission focus without a solid Christian leader living among them. This passage gave them a point of reference on how they should be assessing ideologies and traditions that were leaking into their church. This portion of Paul’s letter also gave them a sense of purpose and belonging in that he gives them the title of “Ambassadors for God”; they are the one’s pleading with people to come back to God through accepting Jesus and what he did to bridge the gap between man and God.
            This message is just as applicable in our lives as it was to the church in Corinth. We all too often as materialistic, western Christians forget that evangelism and calling people back to God is a central mission accepted by us when we accepted Christ and that in deciding to become disciples, we are also deciding to make disciples. It is all too easy in this age of communication and technology to forget that we are dead to our materialistic selves and our identity is now in Christ as the continuation of his message of love. Paul also gives a word about directing glory to God and not bragging about how spectacular our ministry is, but rather having a sincere heart for lost people. This charge for this ancient church is the same charge for our church.
            My reaction to this passage was that of a student listening to a teacher. Paul writes in such a direct way (this being a letter) that everything he says is instruction for my life. All we have to do is place his instruction in current day terms and settings which, strangely, is similar to the sinfulness of the church of Corinth. I know I can learn something from Paul and I think that any Christian can also grow by applying Paul’s instruction based on its validity and not on his reputation.
The Dread

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Universal Salvatory Love

In Romans 3:9-20, we see a summation of what the Mosaic Law is now good for under the new covenant of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to the world to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it and make it whole. Therefore, the law is not purposeless after his incarnation, but rather serves a new purpose for believers in Christ.
            The passage starts with a question: are Jews any better than Gentiles? Now, up until Christ’s ministry, the Jews looked down on any Gentile as one who is not of God’s chosen people; because of this prejudice, any Jew hearing this question would immediately say “yes, we are better than Gentile’s, because  we are of God’s chosen people”. In answer to his own posed question, Paul blows their legalistic minds with a radical, Christ-like answer of “No, not at all” (verse 9, NLT). He then goes on to quote a handful of different scriptures from Psalms that all have the general theme that every member of mankind is fallen and sinful. Continuing, he says that the law that was set up by Moses is no longer in place to regulate that sin nor is it there to determine the punishment of sins that everyone is prone to. Instead, the laws are there to reveal to us as humans our great fault and our intense need for a savior. He ends the section in verse 20 by saying that no one can get back on God’s good side by simply following the law; he then sums it up once more with a statement that the law is just a mirror for us to view our faults in.
            This passage is extremely important to the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The mark of Christianity, as Jesus set it up, was to be inclusive of every human in the world by way of a common love for God. This universal love is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion; it is not bound by geographical location or by human blood lines, but it is accepting of anyone and, indeed, everyone. That universality must include the Jews, but the rub here is in that they have worked their entire society and lifestyle around the Mosaic Law. This passage is here to show that Jesus did not come to negate their way of living (in all actuality, Jesus was a pious Jew). Instead, the law can be kept in place and abided by as long as it is regarded only as a tool for self reflection and not the way of salvation in itself.
            This is applicable to our current lives in that we as western Christians tend to get legalistic and exclusive just like the Jews in the times surrounding Jesus’ life. We are bias of newcomers to our churches and we tend to be kind of stuck up. In effect, we are doing what the Pharisees did and using the “rules” that we make up for ourselves to exclude people from the Kingdom of God. Instead, we should take the advice of Paul here and use the righteous lifestyle that was modeled by Jesus as a mirror in which to soberly examine ourselves to gage where we are in becoming more Christ-like.
            My personal reaction to this passage was a burst of excitement. I feel like I belong to a church that really has this concept down and I know from experience that this, unfortunately, is a rarity. In the future, I hope to be in full time ministry of some type and I expect to lean on this verse to keep myself in check when I start feeling “holier than thou”.

The Dread