300th BLOG POST! Love: a simple command, not an easy one

I have been blogging on this site since 2010 and just realized that this is my 300th post (on my other site, http://razondelaesperanza.com, I’m up to 212). So in order to celebrate with a really important theme, here are some thoughts from my Romans commentary. Enjoy! And sign up to be notified when new articles come out. Gary

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10

For those Christians who can relax only when they have lists of rules to follow, the simple command to Love one another seems vague, subjective, even perilous. They feel more in sync with those who believed that a walk of 2000 steps (1 kilometer) did not transgress God’s law, but taking one step more was a sin (see Acts 1:12); or that one is obliged to forgive seven times, but not eight.

On the one hand, the law of love is liberating. At the same time an exacting master.

Why? Because it obligates us to seek the Spirit’s guidance and power, rather than check off holiness boxes or to consult huge 3-ring binders which purport to give God’s answer to every question. We pray, not to get God to help us keep our own rules, but to ask him to remake our minds. We are forced to use those minds – and we are gifted with a transformed way of thinking! (Rom 12:2) – about what is loving behavior. We are pressed to behave in ways that are new and strange to our old selves. We are led to do more than seems reasonable; to be cheerful and generous when others think we are being taken advantage of. We find that love means in this moment to speak courageously and in another moment to close our mouths.

We find this all over the New Testament. The Lord Jesus shows that love might mean washing someone’s feet – and you wouldn’t have found that in the Torah. James shows how the rule of love makes in impact on how we seat people in our meetings (James 2:1-4). Paul insists that if people were really loving, they would think through what to eat for supper (1 Cor 8:13). And all three seem to leave the question hanging: Were you acting in love, you would have known what to do in these situations!

Love – Christ is our teacher

The definition of a loving Christian is not one those happy souls who go around with smiles and hugs for everyone; not the one who does nice things for their friends. Rather, they are the ones who cross boundaries, make costly choices, and take daring action in the name of Christ.

“Love: a simple command, not an easy one,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Advertisements

Romans Commentary, Romans 12:1-13:14

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here: Shogren_Commentary on Romans

VI. Details concerning how the New Life in Christ fulfills the Law (12:1-13:14)

A. Christians offer themselves as living sacrifices (12:1-2)
B. Christians live in love in the Church and in the world (12:3-21)
C. Christians have a political responsibility (13:1-8a)
D. Christians live according to the principle of brotherly love (13:8b-10)
E. Christians live in two ages (13:11-14)

 

VI. Details concerning how the New Life in Christ fulfills the Law (12:1-13:14)

Preachers like to divide Romans into two sections: the doctrinal (1-11) and the practical (12-15). It is better to read the epistle as one integrated message – Paul teaches how the gospel changes lives through Christ, and he then goes into the details of what the new life looks like. He does not and cannot teach an ethic as such, as if one could compile a list of basic Life Principles to share with the world. Rather, the Christian life is presented as a “sacrifice” (12:1). The Gentile believers of Rome had had plenty of experience with sacrifices in their old lives, when they “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (1:25). Now they can worship the true God with the pleasing sacrifice of their very selves.

The apostle has already shown in Romans 6-8 that if a person tries to combine two good ingredients – Torah observance, the gospel – he will by no means end up with a superior brew. Rather, they will turn and poison him and ruin any possibility of pleasing God. Instead, the believer must be one with Christ and live and walk in the Spirit. Only then will he find power to fulfill God’s overarching purpose, which is that all people live in love – and love is the fulfillment of the Torah. And so supernatural love, directed from within, is the theme that holds Romans 12 and 13 together: “Love must be sincere” (12:9); “whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (13:8); “love is the fulfillment of the law” (13:10), the Torah.

Paul does not give hundreds of rules (by the process of “casuistry”), to try and show the path of righteousness for every possible situation; that is what the rabbis would attempt to do in the Mishnah, collated and published around AD 200. The Christian must know the Scriptures and submit to the Spirit in order to understand what love is – it is a life based on a dynamic interaction with God himself.

A. Christians offer themselves as living sacrifices (12:1-2)

After he has reminded the reader about God’s mercies in Romans 9-11, Paul returns to the theme he had merely touched upon in 6:13 – “rather offer yourselves to God”. Now he shows that this is a way of life, to offer our whole person to God, not to earn acceptance, but because God has already forgiven and changed us by his “mercy” (see the same Greek word in 2 Cor 1:3). Let us explore some of the terms of this walk: for example, the word offer is a semi-technical term for offering a sacrifice (see its ironic use in Josephus, Wars 2.6.2 §89). Paul also calls the sacrifice living, that is, it is not an animal that is killed and then burned on an altar, for Christ’s people are, for the first time, truly alive: “live in accordance with the Spirit” (more…)

Published in: on September 28, 2018 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Church attendees should be seen and not heard…not!

In one of the only glimpses we have of an early church meeting, Paul observed: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26). We would not say that 100% of the people always stood to lead the worship, but it certainly gives the impression that a broad percentage might. [1]

This verse was heavy in my mind when I wrote on Romans 16:

Today’s American church has become professionalized, and only a handful are allowed anywhere near the microphone. By contrast, the early believers did not meet as a megachurch, but as a network of house churches of fewer than 100 people. When Paul describes a meeting, he envisions a worship service where everyone had the chance to participate, not just by singing and giving money, but by teaching, leading a song, or giving a supernatural message.

Some indigenous tribes have used an object called a “talking stick”; in meetings, it was passed from hand to hand – whoever had the stick had the right to speak his mind.

talkingstick1

Traditional talking stick

Today’s church microphone has become the “talking stick” that is the domain of a few pros, usually men. (more…)

Romans Commentary, Romans 9:1-11:36

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

Outline:

V. The Historical Problem of the New People of God and God’s Ancient People Israel (9:1-11:36)
A. The unbelief of Israel and the election of the Gentiles is in accordance with Scripture (9:1-10:4)
B. Israel can receive righteousness of Christ if only it believes (10:5-21)
C. Both the chosen Gentiles and the eschatological remnant of Israel will be saved (11:1-36)

V. The Historical Problem of the New People of God and God’s Ancient People Israel (9:1-11:36)

Romans 9-11 is a unit and must be read as such. Paul returns to the fellow Israelites about whom he spoke in chapters 2-3. Again there are frequent quotations of the Old Testament (see 3:10-18) and an “apostrophe” to address an imaginary opponent (compare 9:19-21 with 2:1-24). It is possible that in chapter 9 Paul is using previous material, perhaps a sermon he had used within a synagogue. Nevertheless, the whole section is well connected with the rest of the letter, especially God’s “call” to receive the gospel (see 1:5, 6, 7; 8:28-30). It is not something tacked on, interrupting the flow from chapters 8 to 12 with some random thoughts on salvation history.

Paul starts out in Romans 9, apparently in a black mood concerning Israel’s fate. Yet he finishes Romans 11 with joyful praise. Despite this surprising conclusion, “…one can hardly claim that Paul did not know at the outset how his discussion would end” (Käsemann, p. 257). The pivot of his argument lies in 10:1 – “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” And his study of the Scripture plus a fresh revelation of a divine “mystery” intersect at the same conclusion, that one day, “all Israel will be saved” (11:26a).

The section offers solutions, but it is also necessary to reconstruct what were the questions that Paul was trying to solve. We propose the following:

  1. What is the relationship between God’s calling of the Christian (8:29-30) and his ancient call of Israel to be his chosen people (9:12; 11:29)?
  2. If the author of the gospel is the God of Israel, then why does only a small minority of Jews believe it?
  3. If the Jews fail to see Jesus Christ in the pages of their own Bible, then does that mean that the Old Testament is invalid for the Christian?
  4. Is this the end of Israel’s status as God’s ancient people?

His answers are:

  1. If even one single Israelite believes in the gospel, then God must still be calling Israelites to faith.
  2. The Old Testament Scriptures show that God’s chosen people Israel constantly rebelled and refused to believe.
  3. The same Scriptures, if properly interpreted, predicted this outbreak of unbelief among the Jews, the call of Gentiles to faith, and the ultimate bright future of Israel.

God will use the conversion of many Gentiles, in part through Paul’s mission, to provoke Israel to jealousy; in the end, all the survivors of the nation of Israel will be redeemed (more…)

Published in: on August 11, 2018 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Prayer for our nation

Here is a prayer I use:

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.

Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion us into one united people. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Gary again – May I suggest that many (most?) of us would pray it this way:  that we will apply the “good stuff” to ourselves, and the negative things to The Other (the other race, the other language, the other political party).

That would make it look something like:

And so forth.

No. I cannot imagine that we can dissect a prayer like this and go before the Lord with a straight face. Woe to the worshiper who speaks or even implies such proud exceptionalism in their prayer.

“Prayer for our nation,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Sanctification as singlemindedness

Just ran across this from Calvin. By “integrity” he doesn’t mean what we usually do (ethical consistency) but “singlemindedness”, the opposite of “doublemindedness”.

Let us set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim. Let it be regarded as the goal towards which we are to run. For you cannot divide the matter with God, undertaking part of what his word enjoins, and omitting part at your own pleasure. For, in the first place, God uniformly recommends integrity as the principal part of his worship, meaning by integrity real singleness of mind, devoid of gloss and fiction, and to this is opposed a double mind; as if it had been said, that the spiritual commencement of a good life is when the internal affections are sincerely devoted to God, in the cultivation of holiness and justice.

But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due alacrity, while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord…

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.6.5

Don’t critique Calvin before reading a bit of his writings! The reader can listen to the Institutes as audible files from librivox.org.

We might also add this from Wolfgang Schrage concerning how the wretched man of Romans 7 is a thing of the past for the Christian:

The human contradiction…the dichotomy and division within the self, is a thing of the past. The radical nature of this new being implies an undivided integrity of God’s claim upon us.

From The Ethics of the New Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988], 187; see also my “Are you a wretched man or woman? Should you be?”

“Sanctification as singlemindedness,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Preachers: don’t believe everything you see!

Have you seen the memes that go like this?

A pastor friend just mentioned something that I had also wondered, that the figure 365 seemed really high! So I ran it through my Bible software, and within a few minutes found that the number indeed was way off.[1]

“Fear not” is a Kings-James-ism; the NET and the NASB versions each have it a few times, the other modern versions do not, including the New KJV; the earlier English versions do use it: Douay-Rheims, Coverdale Bible, Geneva Bible. So, checking the KJV, I would say that are exactly 70 examples of the phrase “fear not.” But only around 44 are in the sense of, “Fear not, because God is with you,” as said by God or some messenger. The other 26 examples are more mundane: “Fear not, your baby is almost born” (Gen 35:17) and other things.[2]

33 “fear nots” are from the Old Testament, 11 from the New Testament; Isaiah is the winner with eight instances; taken together, the Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke have four.

#1 is this well-known verse: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Gen 15:1

#44, the last, is Rev 1:17 – “And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last.”

Even if one expanded the search to include other versions of the phrase (“do not be afraid,” for example), one does not attain the magic number of 365.

That is to say, the Bible has 365 “Fear not” passages if and only if you own nine copies of the King James Bible.

Of course, if one wanted to say that there are hundreds of verses which, whether they use the specific phrase “fear not” or not, serve to allay our fears with God’s promises, they will get no argument from me! To begin with, Matt 6:34 – “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” My point here is not to be finicky with regard to the semantics, but rather that, (1) it’s too easy to pass along “facts” without checking them, and (2) that preachers especially, more than are the laity, are under an obligation to check the facts before repeating them.

PS – To mention another “fact”: I have lately seen “Prophecy Experts” claiming that unless the United States backs the permanent unification of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Palestinians, then they will fall under God’s final judgment. This is based on “… there will I deal with and execute judgment upon them for their treatment of My people and of My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations and because they have divided My land” (Joel 3:2).[3] In my opinion this is a poor interpretation indeed of the Joel passage; but my point here, again, is that the preacher who hears this being passed around is under obligation to determine for him/herself whether this really means that Jerusalem must be the capital of the modern State of Israel and not (simultaneously) the capital of a Palestinian state.

NOTES:

[1] Here is one example among many: https://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-warren-why-god-encourages-christians-to-fear-not-365-times-in-the-bible-163029/

[2] Here is the list of 44: Genesis 15:1, 21:17, 26:24, 46:3, Exod 20:20, Deut 1:21, 20:3, 31:6, 31:8, Josh 8:1, 10:25, Judges 6:23, Ruth 3:11, 1 Sam 12:20, 22:23, 2 Kings 6:16, 1 Chron 28:20, 2 Chron 20:17, Psalm 78:53, Isaiah 7:4, 35:4, 41:13, 41:14, 43:1, 43:5, 44:2, 54:4, Jeremiah 46:27, Lamentations 3:57, Daniel 10:12, Daniel 10:19, Joel 2:21, Zech 8:13, Matthew 1:20, 28:5, Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10, 5:10, 8:50, 12:7, John 12:15, Acts 27:24, Revelation 1:17. The verse mentioned in the second meme, Joshua 1:9, has “fear not” only in the older Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheims.

[3] Here is one of the more extreme versions of this idea, but in all honesty I have not found anyone who takes this viewpoint do anything better with these key Old Testament passages. David Jeremiah takes a similar view.

“Preachers: don’t believe everything you hear!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Gossip, anyone?

“Let’s pray first!” I overheard the two sitting at the next table at my favorite coffee shop, before they sipped their coffees and nibbled at their bizcochos. I smiled, pleased to hear people stopping to pray in a public place.

My smile was soon to fade.

  • So they bowed their heads.
  • And prayed.
  • And as soon as they finished, launched right into an angry running attack on a person who wasn’t present. The target was another church member who was engaged in some sort of ministry with them.
  • And kept it up for a good 45 minutes.

(It’s cool – they’re just “networking”!)

Now, I promise, I was trying hard not to eavesdrop, but they were very passionate, and I didn’t want to give up my comfy chair just to avoid hearing them.

I have just spent some time in Romans, and 1:29-31 seemed relevant here – I have marked the sins that this pair may have been committing.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. [And if they were not telling the strict truth about their “frenemy,” one could tack deceit on to the list]

And if we do what we’re supposed to – read the Bible in its context (more…)

Romans Commentary, Romans 6:1-8:39

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

 

IV. The Miraculous New Life in Christ (6:1-8:39)

Ask citizens of the Majority World, “What is the main human dilemma?” and they might respond with legitimate concerns: economic inequality, or perhaps corruption, political oppression, lack of education, destruction of the environment. But according to Romans 1-5, our most basic and universal and intractable predicament is that we all, Jew or Gentile, are cut off from God through deliberate or even unconscious rebellion, meriting his anger. The only solution is forgiveness and reconciliation, freely offered through Christ. All other issues are secondary, all further discussion mere commentary. (more…)

Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Book Review: Lisa J. Radcliff, Hidden with Christ – Breaking Free from the Grip of your Past

Capture.PNG

Ideally, a young girl should grow up surrounded by love; the adults in her life should be dependable; they should respect boundaries; they should alleviate fear rather than stir it up. We instinctively feel that all of these shoulds ought to be a given. But the sad reality is that a large percentage of girls, and boys, are sexually abused.

It has been repeated so often that it has achieved the status of a mantra: Most molesters are people known to the child, be they relatives, family friends, teachers, community leaders, and even religious leaders.

And to multiply the evil, many in society and church have chosen the path of least resistance, going on the presumption that adults are more believable than children; that men are more believable than women; that abuse is caused more by the victims’ behavior or dress than the choices of the perpetrators.

Lisa Radcliff has lived this whole narrative (more…)