Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Epistle Passage – Tackling Paul and scripture from Romans once again.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12- 13)

I am really trying to come with a positive attitude to Paul’s writings to the Romans. It is not that I disagree with what Paul is saying. Nor is it because I do not understand what he means. The difficulty comes in wading through Paul’s style of discourse. Paul’s letter to the Romans has been studied by many. And once the reader gets past the stylized way that the book is written, there really is good theology here. And that might be part of where my struggle comes from; the theology is so complete and so pervasive that there is more that can be said and/or added. And nothing that should be taken away. Since I dislike simply commentating to reiterate the obvious, I find myself left with little to say.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Verse 14)

Should I simply “preach” what I assume you know so well, beloved reader?

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Verses 15 – 17)

If I thought you were all new believers (as this year’s RCL is compiled with that in mind), perhaps I could see my way to reiterating and underlying what Paul says. But I have to assume you are, for the most part, established believers. And have already chosen the course of your faith life.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Verses 18 – 21)

As an aid to navigating through these passages from Romans I have consulted with my favorite commentator, Albert Barnes. I can always count on him to give my thinking guidance and inspiration. He said of verse 18, “It should be borne in mind that the early Christians were comparatively few and feeble, and exposed to many trials, and that this topic would be often, therefore, introduced into the discussions about their privileges and condition.” He also says of verses 19 to 23, “Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been deemed more difficult of interpretation than this Romans 8:19-23; and after all the labors bestowed on it by critics, still there is no explanation proposed which is perfectly satisfactory, or in which commentators concur. . . . . The main design of the passage is, to show the sustaining power of the gospel in the midst of trials, by the prospect of the future deliverance and inheritance of the sons of God. “

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Verses 22 – 23)

It is interesting to consider that Barnes feels a more accurate translation of “creation” used verses previous to verse 22 was not creation per see but the new Christian. That the new Christian would have trials and tribulations that could and would only be resolved through the Lord God and Christ Jesus. And such difficulties are upon “the creature” (as referred to by Barnes) because of the fallen nature of the entire world, which Barnes feels is what the term “whole creation” refers to.

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Verses 24 – 25)

It is part of the indomitable human spirit to believe and hope. Not just in the sure things but the unseen uncertain things. In fact, sometimes the stronger hope is in the unseen and unknown. For there lies possibilities that are far beyond what is in our own comparatively limited experience.

As always, I owe a great deal to Barnes’ careful work with the scriptures. It seems amazing to me that a man who wrote some many decades before me could speak to my heart and open my thinking in terms of scripture passages. But that is no less amazing to me than the way these reflections seem to come together – where my thinking seems so scrambled but than aligns to give a coherent discourse on scripture. I can do little else but step back and praise the Lord God! The same Lord God that Paul wrote about; will wonders never cease!

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JUDGMENT . . . Applied to all humanity and for all time

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. “ (Reference: 1 Peter 4:4-6 )

This is sort of a hard verse to parse out, The writer of 1 Peter is taking great care to emphasis that both the living and the dead will be judged. There are several possible reasons that the writer is so carefully noting this. And since the faith communities that he is writing to were anticipating Christ’s return soon, and the judgment that would come, the theology expressed in this verse might be different than the one or ones we are more familiar with. So I am taking “tiny steps” in examining the theology. The Easy-to-Read Version puts verse six like this, “Some were told the Good News before they died. They were criticized by others in their life here on earth. But it was God’s plan that they hear the Good News so that they could have a new life through the Spirit.” So this makes it clear that, according to the writer of 1 Peter, those who have already died will be judged just like those who are, or more precisely, were then alive.

But still, I was not satisfied that I had seen this passage from all the possible angles. So I consulted Barnes. And his answer satisfied me. I am excerpting him at length. If you do not want to read through all of it, meet me at the end.

“Many, as Doddridge, Whitby, and others, understand this of those who are spiritually dead, that is, the Gentiles, and suppose that the object for which this was done was that “they might be brought to such a state of life as their carnal neighbors would look upon as a kind of condemnation and death” – Doddridge. Others have supposed that it refers to those who had suffered martyrdom in the cause of Christianity; others, that it refers to the sinners of the old world (Saurin), expressing a hope that some of them might be saved; and others, that it means that the Saviour went down and preached to those who are dead, in accordance with one of the interpretations given of 1 Peter 3:19. It seems to me that the most natural and obvious interpretation is to refer it to those who were then dead, to whom the gospel had been preached when living, and who had become true Christians. This is the interpretation proposed by Wetstein, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, and others. In support of this it may be said:

(1) that this is the natural and obvious meaning of the word dead, which should be understood literally, unless there is some good reason in the connection for departing from the common meaning of the word.

(2) the apostle had just used the word in that sense in the previous verse.

(3) this will suit the connection, and accord with the design of the apostle. He was addressing those who were suffering persecution. It was natural, in such a connection, to refer to those who had died in the faith, and to show, for their encouragement, that though they had been put to death, yet they still lived to God. He therefore says, that the design in publishing the gospel to them was, that though they might be judged by people in the usual manner, and put to death, yet that in respect to their higher and nobler nature, the spirit, they might live unto God. It was not uncommon nor unnatural for the apostles, in writing to those who were suffering persecution, to refer to those who had been removed by death, and to make their condition and example an argument for fidelity and perseverance.”

I had thought perhaps that the writer of 1 Peter did mean “spiritually dead” but Barnes makes a good case for just plan having passed away. Or perhaps those who had passed away long ago, in the “before the gospel” time. And adjacent to that interpretation is that Christ went “down” to preach to those who died. But again, that did not seem right. No, I think Barnes has the best explanation and solid proof.

What then of us? It seems, beloved, living or dead we do not escape judgment. And more importantly what we believe alive will have great consequences when we have died. And as the Easy-to-Red Version points out, criticism that is received when one is alive pales in comparison to criticism by the God who judges after we have died!

We have heard/read several theories and versions of judgment – from “light judgment” that is tempered by mercy to heavy judgment that is unavoidable and comes with great consequences. It may be hard to know what type of judgment we should anticipate and prepare for. The solution, beloved, is easy. Live your life according to God’s agenda and direction, not any other. Then the judgment that comes will be merely a portal to what is beyond. Selah!

MURDER . . . CAPTIVITY . . . And other trials & tribulations

“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Reference: Revelation 13:10 )

Barnes says of this passage, “The general truth is, that people will, in the course of things, be dealt with according to their character and their treatment of others; that nations characterized by war and conquests will be subject to the evils of war and conquest – or that they may expect to share the same lot which they have brought on others.” Barnes goes on to explain that these verses are directed at nations who “invade other countries and to make their inhabitants prisoners of war . . [who] made slaves of other people . . [who] set up an unjust dominion over other people . . .[who were] distinguished for persecuting and imprisoning the innocent, or for depriving the nations of liberty.” Barnes further clarifies that he believes these verses were might to applied to the Rome of biblical times. The writer of Revelation and the biblical generation of that time found much to blame Rome for.

Barnes further notes that the power of the Rome of Barnes’ time was reduced to the near point of extinction; it was only 1848 and only by the intervention of France and Austria that it was saved. Barnes’ final comment about this is most chilling, and even more so if we allow an expansion of the definition of “Rome.” He says, “The period designated by prophecy for the final overthrow of that power had not arrived; but nothing can secure its continuance for any very considerable period longer.”

Leonard Schiemer, historic Anabaptist writes during a much earlier earlier time than Barnes, and his world view is smaller than Barnes’. In addition, his focus is more personal for him and his fellow believers, while Barnes is speaking from a place of relative safety. The emphasis is much different. While awaiting his death sentence he prayed and his prayer is recorded. He first laments that “supposed Christians” (I think we can safely assume he means the established church of his time, which stands much in the place of ancient Rome) have done much damage to the holy places of God and killed the people where they have found them. He continues saying, “And now that we remain as a little flock (Luke 12:32), they have driven us with reproach and disgrace into every country. We are scattered like sheep that have no shepherd. We have to abandon house and home, and are as the night ravens, which lodge in the rocks. Our chambers are in caves and cliffs, and snares are laid for us as for the birds of the air. We go about in forests, and are hunted with dogs. We are led captive and bound as dumb lambs which do not open their mouth. Acts 8:32. We are proclaimed rebels and heretics. We are led as sheep to the slaughter. Many sit in distress and bonds, and their bodies have perished. Some have been overcome by the severe sufferings, and died without any guilt. Here is the patience of the saints on earth; and thus must we be proved by suffering. Rev. 13:10.”

He is describing, beloved, the lengths to which the historic Anabaptist believers had to go to in order to be safe. They were hounded and chanced, hunted down and killed, by the state and the established church of the time – which was Roman Catholic. Looking at the history of Roman papacy, both through Barnes’ and Schiemer’s eyes, it is not surprising to discover that some strains of Catholicism have harassed it own members. Schiemer and his fellow believers were part of the Catholic church (that was the established church of the time, and quite before it lost some of its power and sway.) When they broke away, and declared faith that went against the established order, response was swift and deadly.

However, these stories of oppression, persecution, violence, and death are common amongst sects and denominations of Christianity. And those who consider themselves “the saints” in these stories patiently endure and hold firm to faithfulness. But if the stories of Christian saints are filled with endurance under persecution, there are also stories of Christian who have persecuted.

We have then a mixture of stories that cannot be ignored. We endure because God has called us to that. But God does not call us to be oppressors and persecutors. And if we find ourselves in that role, taking people into “captivity” and causing “death” with the “sword” of intolerance, prejudice, hatred, aggression, and violence – we must be aware that we maybe victim to it also.

And not only those who profess Christianity, but as Barnes says all nations. Let us never forget that all nations are still under the judgment of God, whether or not they actively profess God or not. And the truth of Barnes’ statement does not rest only on God’s judgment, but the level of tolerance found in the leadership of each nation. If we have been intolerant of other nations, why should we expect tolerance of us from them? And sadly, as Scheimer says, it is the “little flocks” that suffer most gravely.

May you, beloved, have the courage, conviction, patient endurance and faithfulness to live the lives of the called saints. Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . And hold on to hope

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth–to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Reference: Revelation 14:6-7 )

Albert Barnes says (amongst other things), “The design of this portion of the chapter Revelation 14:6-7, also, was to comfort those to whom the book was addressed, and in the same way to comfort the church in all the persecution and opposition which the truth would encounter. The ground of consolation then was, that a time was predicted when the “everlasting gospel” would be made to fly speedily through the earth, and when it would be announced that a final judgment had come upon the anti-Christian power which had prevented its being before diffused over the face of the world. The same ground of encouragement and consolation exists now, and the more so as we see the day approaching; and in all times of despondency we should allow our hearts to be cheered as we see that great anti-Christian power waning, and as we see evidence that the way is thus preparing for the rapid and universal diffusion of the pure gospel of Christ.”

Historic Anabaptist Adrian Corneliss (who died in 1552) wrote (in part), “Hence, faint not at the tribulation in which we are, but adhere to the Lord, and the tempest will soon attack you; but, my dear friends, remember, as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ, since eye hath not seen, nor ear hear, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Eph. 3:13; Matt. 7:25; 2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:9.”

Remember beloved, Barnes comes some 250 to 300 years later than the historic Anabaptists. And where they has but learning in biblical scholarship that came naturally to them, Barnes had devoted years of education and study to. And Barnes was not persecuted or oppressed for his beliefs and scholarship, but was recognized and appreciated. And yet there is a common theme that weaves its way through both commentaries. What Corneliss hoped for himself and his fellow believers, Barnes states is for all believers. That hope should not be abandoned, but held onto. And that while we may be in tough times now, there will be a time when faith will be fulfilled and rewarded.

It is a legacy passed on from generation to generation that belief and worship of God alone should be maintained no matter what may come. So we hold on to hope and true belief and worship. It seems to me though that as each succeeding generation grows into faith, it is harder to hold on to hope. The historic Anabaptists held on in opposition to their persecution. Barnes’ generation held on as scholarly understandings deepened, Christianity was spreading, and there was a growing conviction that Christ’s return would be realized. But in 2014 we are still holding on. And the Christianity that was known in Barnes’ time is splintering into diverse groups of believers. Yet somehow we must hold on to hope and faithful worship. May your faith in the one God and the hope that our Lord gives to us be renewed afresh each day. Selah!

CONCERNING FLESHLY AND SPIRITUAL WHORING . . . Being on the “correct” side of things! Part II

For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries. Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” (Reference: Revelation 18:3-5 )

Did you read the first verse of this passage carefully beloved? The writer of Revelation says that all nations have became “Babylon” – or at least the overall trend of the nation. Barnes reminded me that this is a symbolic adultery meaning that the nations have been wooed away from spiritual purity, and have indulged and become dependent on luxuries and indulgences – both in terms of commerce and lifestyles.

What is concerning to be beloved is that word “all.” We have read enough warnings, admonitions, and exhortations to know to flee such things. But the word “all” is damning, because it means no city or nation, no people or generation are exempt. Barnes says of the warning “. . . so that you will not receive any of her plagues . . .” that “The judgment of God that was to come upon the guilty city would make no discrimination among those who were found there; and if they would escape these woes they must make their escape from her.”

Historic Anabaptist Walter of Stoelwijk also gives warning concerning this passage. He says, “Woe unto such perverse men, who depart from righteousness, from light to darkness, from life to death, and go from Jesus Christ to antichrist, seeking consolation from Satan, and not in God.”

But where can we go? How do we escape the symbolism that a nation has embraced? How do we live in purity and holiness in “Babylon”? If you thought I had a good and thought out answer, I am sorry to disappoint. I fear, beloved, the best way to do this is to live carefully day by day. Each choice we make has the potential of taking us one step closer to “Babylon.” Or, it can keep us ever removed from the adulteries and lifestyle. Our spiritual and faith practices keep us away from those “excessive luxuries” and from the “plagues” that our nations suffer from. I do not mean to imply though that we are in imminent peril. But neither should we become complacent about our daily lives. We know how we should live – let us do so!

May the God who calls the Lord’s people out of Babylon walk with you each day showing you the save places to journey. Selah!

SUFFER FOR DOING GOOD . . . Boshart on Barnes, and Barnes on I Peter

“Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” (I Peter 3:16b-17 from I Peter 3:13-22)

As I pondered and considered this verse, focus came to rest on the phrase “if suffering should be God’s will” and there is stayed. After trying to divert myself to another aspect of the phrase, I gave in and thought “This is where my focus needs to be”. But now what? And as I often do when in doubt I consulted Albert Barnes. But to my surprise I actually disagreed with some of what Barnes had to say. I was slightly surprised, but then Barnes did write in a different era than we are in now, and with that change in era came changes in theological thinking. So what I propose to do in interact and comment on what Barnes said. You will know it is me, because I will place my comments in italicized [square brackets].

“For it is better, if the will of God be so (verse 17a) – That is, if God sees it to be necessary for your good that you should suffer, it is better that you should suffer for doing well than for crime. [I, and perhaps you too gentle reader, do not believe that God would think it is for our own good to suffer. God does not want us to suffer, but if we suffer because the world that we live in is a place where people suffer, God will be with us and thus partnering with God our suffering will not be in vain.] God often sees it to be necessary that his people should suffer. [No, God does not. It is not necessary but inevitable, and while God weeps when we suffer, we often learn lessons or mature because of the suffering. And God is there to help us through it.] There are effects to be accomplished by affliction which can be secured in no other way [This is true, but it does not mean that God deems it necessary for us to suffer, but the Divine will bring good out of the bad the world inflicts] ; and some of the happiest results on the soul of a Christian, some of the brightest traits of character, are the effect of trials. [This is true too. But only because our Lord can redeem the darkest of experiences.] But it should be our care that our sufferings should not be brought upon us for our own crimes or follies. No man can promote his own highest good by doing wrong, and then enduring the penalty which his sin incurs; and no one should do wrong with any expectation that it may be overruled for his own good. If we are to suffer, let it be by the direct hand of God, [Here again Barnes and I diverge. The hand of God does not direct suffer but neither does God defuse it. We endure it because of God’s presence is with us.] and not by any fault of our own. If we suffer then, we shall have the testimony of our own conscience in our favor, and the feeling that we may go to God for support. If we suffer for our faults, in addition to the outward pain of body, we shall endure the severest pangs which man can suffer – those which the guilty mind inflicts on itself.”

I suspect that Barnes and the writer of I Peter are closer in thinking on this passage than I and Barnes, or I and the writer of I Peter. Maybe my view of God is a softer and gentler one, and that may be a good thing or it may not. It is not likely to change though. Until that very inevitable event, I will continue to believe in a God that weeps when we weep and is joyful when are joyful, rejoice when we do good for the Lord and despairs when we work against God’s plans and intentions.

May you gentle reader suffer as little as possible in this world that sometimes seems set against us, and may God be with you encouraging you to keep up your good work and good conduct. Selah! And shalom for your day.

WITH ABSOLUTE PURITY . . . . Commentary from a “pure” source

“Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.” (I Timothy 5:1-2 from I Timothy 5:1-22 )

In the past I have mentioned Albert Barnes as a biblical commentator that I have great respect for. While I have had disdain for other commentators, I can not remember a time when I have disagreed with what Barnes has said. He did his exegetical work in the 1800’s so often his comments do not translate well to our modern times. And he has more patience with Paul than I do.

When I was considering what to say about this passage, I looked at some of the online commentaries available, and, not having consulted Barnes for a while, I went to see what he had to say, and found the comments I have pasted below. [Barnes’ commentary on I Timothy 5:1-2 ] They are pure Barnes – minus the scripture citations he used to support his statements. I have used all the comments he has on the two verses because his treatment of Paul is more generous than I would or could be. Barnes’ mindset is closer to Paul’s than mine. And Barnes simply is a very good writer. I knew I could not improve on what he said, and nor would I. So sit back and read with me what Barnes wrote, and see if what he wrote resonates with you. Shalom.

Rebuke not an elder – The word “elder” here is not used in the sense in which it often is, to denote an officer of the church, a presbyter, but in its proper and usual sense, to denote an aged man. This is evident, because the apostle immediately mentions in contradistinction from the elder, “the younger men,” where it cannot be supposed that he refers to them as officers. The command to treat the “elder” as a “father,” also shows the same thing. By the direction not to rebuke, it is not to be supposed that the minister of the gospel is not to admonish the aged, or that he is not to show them their sins when they go astray, but that he is to do this as he would to a father. He is not to assume a harsh, dictatorial, and denunciatory manner. The precepts of religion always respect the proprieties of life, and never allow us to transgress them, even when the object is to reclaim a soul from error, and to save one who is wandering. Besides, when this is the aim, it will always be most certainly accomplished by observing the respect due to others on account of office, relation, rank, or age.

But entreat him as a father – As you would a father. That is, do not harshly denounce him. Endeavor to persuade him to lead a more holy life. One of the things for which the ancients were remarkable above most of the moderns, and for which the Orientals are still distinguished, was respect for age. Few things are enjoined with more explicitness and emphasis in the Bible than this. The apostle would have Timothy, and, for the same reason, every other minister of the gospel, a model of this virtue.

And the younger men as brethren – That is, treat them as you would your own brothers. Do not consider them as aliens, strangers, or enemies, but entertain toward them, even when they go astray, the kindly feelings of a brother. This refers more particularly to his private conversation with them, and to his personal efforts to reclaim them when they had fallen into sin. When these efforts were ineffectual, and they sinned openly, he was to “rebuke them before all” that others might be deterred from following their example.

The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.

The elder women as mothers – Showing still the same respect for age, and for the proprieties of life. No son who had proper feelings would rebuke his own mother with severity. Let the minister of religion evince the same feelings if he is called to address a “mother in Israel” who has erred.

The younger as sisters – With the feelings which you have toward a sister. The tender love which one has for a beloved sister would always keep him from using harsh and severe language. The same mildness, gentleness, and affection should be used toward a sister in the church.

With all purity – Nothing could be more characteristic of Paul’s manner than this injunction; nothing could show a deeper acquaintance with human nature. He knew the danger which would beset a youthful minister of the gospel when it was his duty to admonish and entreat a youthful female; he knew, too, the scandal to which he might be exposed if, in the performance of the necessary duties of his office, there should be the slightest departure from purity and propriety. He was therefore to guard his heart with more than common vigilance in such circumstances, and was to indulge in no word, or look, or action, which could by any possibility be construed as manifesting an improper state of feeling. On nothing else do the fair character and usefulness of a youthful minister more depend, than on the observance of this precept. Nowhere else does he more need the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the exercise of prudence, and the manifestation of incorruptible integrity, than in the performance of this duty. A youthful minister who fails here, can never recover the perfect purity of an unsullied reputation, and never in subsequent life be wholly free from suspicion; compare notes,”