Friday, July 17, 2020

United with Christ: Rom 6:5

Of baptism, Paul writes, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). To this, Paul adds the promise, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5). I have always understood this verse to mean that, if we have been baptized in Christ, then we have been united with him in his death and shall also be united with him in his resurrection. However, the Greek word used here for “united with” means to be planted together and to grow along with. Reading this verse this way, the promise becomes, “If we have been planted together with Christ and are growing beside him in his death, the so will we also be in his resurrection” (my translation). Being united with Christ in his death is not a one-time act, but a process which we must embrace daily in our lives.

This understanding of this verse is further supported in the surrounding context. First, in verse 5, the verb “have become” in the Greek is in the perfect tense, which indicates an action that happened in the past and whose effect is still felt today. Our baptism put us in the state of being united with Christ in his death, and we are to continue in that state even today. Secondly, in verse 11, where Paul says “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11), the verb to “consider yourselves” is in the present tense which, in the Greek, represents an ongoing action. We are to daily consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ. Furthermore, in writing to the Corinthians, Paul testifies, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31).

In many ways, the Christian life is not a life of one-time events. Instead, it is a life that is to be lived in continual relationship with Christ. The Christian life is a life that daily embraces the process of death and resurrection by which we become more like Christ. Paul calls us to daily remember that we have been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) and to learn to live, not according to our old way of life, but acceding to our new life in Christ. We are daily to experience the reality of the promise that, having died with Christ, we have been “freed from sin” (Rom. 6:7). As we live such a life, we will grow alongside Christ in both his death and his resurrection, and we will experiencing the freedom from sin and the power of that newness of life which his death, burial, and resurrection bring to us.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Growing in virtue: Rom 1:29-31

In describing those who are under the judgment of God, Paul writes that they are “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers,  haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful” (Rom. 1:29-31). In verse 31, Paul uses two interesting Greek words that are here translated as “without understanding” and “untrustworthy.” In each case, Paul takes a common Greek noun and prepends it with a negation and the preposition “with” to mean “without.” Literally, Paul says that these people are without understanding and without trustfulness. It is not that they are not understanding or not trustful, but that they lack understanding and trust as virtues in their lives. There is a deficiency in their character when it comes to understanding and trust.

This reminds me of what Peter said, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Salvation is not the end result in a person’s life. Rather, God intends that, as we walk with the Lord, we begin to add virtues to our life, virtues like understanding and trustfulness, as well as the other virtues mentioned here by Peter. Throughout our Christian life, we should be adding, nurturing, and maturing Christian virtues in our life. Our life is not to be static, but a dynamic life as we grow in God. Peter goes on to give a promise to those who pursue growth in their life, stating, “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). Let us not remain children forever, lacking in virtue and abounding in vice. Rather, let us press on to maturity, adding virtues as we eradicate vice from our lives.

David Robison

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

An instrument or a vessel? Acts 9:9-16

After Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he was left blind and had to be led “by the hand” to the city. Paul remained In Damascus “three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). Finally, in a vision, the Lord appeared to a disciple named Ananias. The Lord told him to go to Paul and lay his hands on him “so that he might regain his sight” (Acts 9:12). However, Ananias balked at these words saying “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name” (Acts 9:13-14). However, the Lord responded, saying that Paul was “a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

What is interesting in this verse is the Greek word translated here as “instrument.” This word is usually translated as “vessel.” The difference between these two translations of this one word is significant. An instrument is important because of what it can do, while a vessel is important because of what it contains. God was not looking to Paul for what he could do for the Kingdom; instead, he was looking to Paul as a vessel in which to carry his presence to the world. The same is true for us today. What we do is not nearly as important as whom we contain. This reminds me of what Paul said to the Corinthians, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7). The treasure is not the vessel but the contents which it carries.

In our lives, it is often tempting to compare ourselves with others. However, in comparing our selves with others, we often use the wrong measuring sticks for our comparison. Often, we compare ourselves by comparing our works or accomplishments with those of others. Alternatively, maybe, we compare our abilities with the abilities of others. Either way, when we use such measurements, we do not measure ourselves, and others, according to the wisdom of God. Instead, we ought to measure ourselves against people such as Ignatius, who was also called Theophorus, or “the God-bearer.” Are we carriers or bearers of God? If not, then what we do and accomplish will have little value without God’s presence dwelling within us. Let us strive, not to be someone, but to carry someone. Let us strive to be God bearers.

David Robison

Monday, July 06, 2020

Lessons from a Magician: Acts 8:9-24

In the book of Acts, Luke tells us of a man in Samaria named Simon who practiced magic and claimed “to be someone great” (Acts 8:9). All the people in Samaria gave attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God” (Acts 8:10). However, when Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem, and when Simon saw them laying hands on people and the people receiving the Holy Spirit, he offered Peter money, asking, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:19). However, Peter rebuked him, saying, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23) To this, Simon responded by saying, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8:24).

Four things are of interest in this passage. First, while Simon had seen Phillip working “signs and great miracles” (Acts 8:13), it was not until he witnessed the Holy Spirit being imparted through the laying on of hands that he sought to buy such authority. From Simon’s perspective, the ability to impart the Holy Spirit was far more powerful than the ability to work miracles. Simon must have seen something remarkable when people received the Holy Spirit that was more impressive to him than seeing people being healed. The laying on of hands, and the prayer for the Holy Spirit, was answered by God with a manifestation that could easily be seen and recognized by those who observed it.

Second, the Greek word used when Peter spoke of Simon thinking he could buy the Holy Spirit, though it can be translated to think, it can also be translated as being customary or to be according to common usage. Simon was asking according to what he thought was customary to ask. However, his aim was far from the mark. One cannot live and operate in the Kingdom of God according to the custom and ways of the world. What works in the world is often at odds with how the Kingdom operates and how we are called to live in relationship with God and his people.

Third, the tense of the Greek word here translated “to buy” is in the middle voice, which means to buy or possess for oneself. Simon’s motives were not that he might have this authority for the benefit of others but rather that he might use if for his own purposes; that he might use it to increase his standing among the people of Samaria. Peter challenged him that he was thinking only of himself and not of others and, certainly, not of God.

Finally, Simon’s response to Peter was not repentance, but a deflection of responsibility. He responds, “[you-all] pray for me.” Simon asked others to do what he himself ought to have done. He asked others to beseech God, not for his forgiveness, but that the things spoke by Peter may not come upon him. Simon’s heart was not to repent, but simply to avoid punishment. We too, must be careful that, when responding to the conviction of God, we seek God with true repentance and not simply with a vailed attempt to avoid the consequences of our sins.

David Robison

Monday, December 23, 2019

Standing in the truth: John 8:44

One day, Jesus was rebuking those who claimed to be the dependents of Abraham while, at the same time, seeking to kill him, one who spoke truth to them, something which “Abraham did not do.” (John 8:40) Instead of having Abraham as their father, Jesus said that they were of their “father the devil.” (John 8:44) Jesus goes on to describe the devil as being one who “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44) Here, what Jesus did not say is just as important as what he did say. Jesus did not say that the devil did not know the truth, nor that he did not believe the truth, but that he did not stand in the truth. In fact, Jesus uses the imperfect tense of the verb that refers to a past continuous action. Literally, Jesus said that the devil “was not standing in the truth.”

We sometimes hear people saying that they are “standing on the truth,” referring to some promise that they are trusting in. However, to stand in the truth is more than merely hoping for some promise to be fulfilled. It involves ordering our lives according to the truth, making the truth the foundation of our lives, and the wellspring of our every thought and action. We are not to stand upon the truth, rather, we are to stand in the truth. This represents a continuous and consistent standing in, and acting upon, the truth of God. To those who are willing to do so, to stand in the truth, Jesus promises, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Collateral Damage: John 8:7

There is a story in the book of John, where the Scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. In asking Jesus what was to be done with her, they were hoping to trap Jesus into saying something contrary to the Law of Moses. Jesus, at first, refused to answer and, instead, stooped down and began to write on the ground. However, as they persisted in their demand for some response, Jesus stood up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone...” (John 8:7) This is how this verse is typically remembered and quoted. However, in Greek it reads a bit different. Translating the Greek sentence structure more literally, this passage reads, “He who is without sin among you, the first at her to throw a stone.” (NASB Greek Interlinear). Jesus command to the one without sin was not that they should be the first to cast a stone, but that they should be the first to cast a stone “at her.”

Oftentimes, in the midst of our anger, judgment, and sin, we lose sight of the people who bear the weight of our sins and who are harmed by our unrighteousness. Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, refers to this as “our shadow.” Our shadow represents the effect our lives have on others. Our attitude, judgments, and behaviors affect others in ways we often don’t see or understand, either for good or for evil. In this story, the scribes and Pharisees, in their rush to condemn Jesus, failed to see the collateral damage their judgmental spirit was causing on the people around them. Their hatred of Jesus blinded their eyes to “her.” The same is often true of us. In our self-righteousness, we fail to see those we are hurting; we fail to see “her.” Jesus wants us to open our eyes, to see our shadow, and to consider the influence and impact our lives, emotions, and behaviors are having on the people around us. If we can do this, then maybe we will become more careful in our own lives; maybe we will learn how to use our shadow for good rather than evil.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Seed for sowing: 2 Cor. 9:10

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is instructing them on how to prepare their offering for the brethren in Jerusalem who are experiencing a famine. Paul then encourages them, saying, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10 NASB). There are two things in this verse that are interesting in the original Greek language. First is the word Paul uses for “seed.” The most common word for seed is the Greek word from which we get our word for sperm. However, here, Paul uses another Greek word from which we get our word for spore. In the Greek, there are two kinds of seed; one for planting and one for sowing. In our Christin life, we must be diligent in planting the seed, which is the word of God, into our lives that it might bear fruit. However, we must also sow that same seed into the lives of others. James writes that “the  seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18 NASB). This is done not only by sharing the word of God but also through our behavior and good deeds. As believers, we are called to plant and cultivate the garden, which is our soul, as we simultaneously sow the seeds of the Kingdom in the lives of others as well.

The second think of interest in this verse in the Greek is the word that is translated here as “harvest.” This word refers to the offspring of reproduction. This should remind us that we can only reproduce in others what we first have conceived within us. We cannot reproduce love in others if we do not have love in us. We cannot reproduce righteousness in others if we do not have righteousness in us. And we cannot sow the seed of the Kingdom in others if we have not first sowed it into our own hearts. The Kingdom life is meant to reproduce, which means that we must first have that life in us before we can share it with others.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Five loaves and two fish: John 6:1-22

In John 6, we read the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. In the story, Jesus multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the multitude of people who had come out to hear him. Later that day, Jesus sent his disciples on ahead of him to the other side of Sea of Galilee while he went up into the mountains to pray. Later that night, Jesus would walk across the water to join the disciples in their boat. The next morning, the people returned to the same place, hoping to find Jesus again, but they were all gone. John records, “There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23). In the Greek, the phrase "after given thanks" is a participle. Therefore, this version can  also be translated, “they came near the place where, the Lord having given thanks, they eat the bread.”

If it were me that day, I would have said, “the Lord having multiplied the loaves” or “the Lord having performed a great miracle." However, what was foremost in the minds of the people who returned was not the great miracle Jesus did, but how he had first given thanks for the five loaves and two fish. What was so surprising or memorable about someone standing up to offer God thanks for what he had provided? Could it be that they had long since ceased to offer God for the little they had? Had their estimation of God’s provision, or lack thereof, caused them to become ungrateful for what little they did have? What about us? Do we thank God for what we have or complain about what we do not have? Perhaps if we would give thanks for God’s provision, he might break it and bless it and cause it to multiply. Jesus’ thankfulness opened the door to God’s miracle provision for the multitude that day. I believe that our thankfulness can also open to us God’s miracle provision in ways we cannot even expect.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The heavens have been opened: John 1:50-51

When Phillip called Nathaniel to come and meet Jesus, Jesus surprised him by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48) Nathaniel was impressed and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49) However, Jesus responded to Nathaniel by saying, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51) What is interesting in this verse is that the Greek word translated here as “opened” is a perfect participle. In the Greek, the perfect tense represents a past action whose effect continues to today. In other words, this verse could be translated, “The heavens having been opened, you will see…” Jesus was not saying that Nathaniel would occasionally see the heaves open and close and the angels ascending and descending. Rather, he was saying that the heavens had already been opened, and as such, Nathaniel would see the ongoing interaction between heaven and Earth. Jesus inaugurated a new era of an open heaven. The heavens have been, and remain, open, and heaven is invading Earth. What hope this gives us in our daily lives.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Encouraging one another: Col 4:17

At the end of his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul writes, “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.’” (Col. 4:17) It is unclear as to who Archippus was, but he may have been the same Archippus that Paul mentions in his letter to Philemon: “To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.” (Philemon 1:1-2) In this verse, Archippus may have been the son of Philemon and Apphia. Either way, Paul issues a gentle rebuke to Archippus for neglecting the ministry (service) he received from the Lord. What is interesting in this passage is that the Greek word translated “Say” is a second-person plural imperative (command). Paul was not speaking this command to a single person or a select group of leaders in the church; he was speaking to the entire church. Paul was saying, “You all say to Archippus…” The point is that we all have a responsibility to encourage and exhort one another. It can be tempting to want to relegate all ministry to the professional ministers, but God is calling each one of us to minister to each other and to encourage each other with the word and love of God.