Galatians 4: Slave and Free

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

And because you are sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:6-7).

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is not transactional?

What if God were like a Facebook friend who after one “bad hair day” simply unfriended you?  Who would ever be comfortable in their relationship with such a god?  Could you ever really love God knowing that you were constantly being evaluated?  Or, turning the question around, could you ever really love God knowing that your love was purchased with wealth or fame?

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is a real relationship?

In Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul describes what it means to be a child of an (unconditional) promise.  When we are promised a gift (like friendship), we need only believe in the promise.  The promise is unconditional.  We do not have to do anything to earn the gift.  That is what the word, gift, implies.  The good news is that God’s grace is a gift.

Law works differently.  Law is a conditional promise.  If you obey the law, then you earn the reward promised under the law.  For example, if you apply to become a U.S. citizen, the law covering citizenship applies.  If you meet the conditions of this law, then you are eligible to become a citizen.  If you do not meet the law’s conditions and you desire the reward of the law, then you are a slave of the law (and your desire) until you meet those conditions.

With this argument concerning conditional (law) and unconditional (grace) promises, Paul is making two points:

  1. Being under law is like kids waiting to be old enough to inherit from their parents (vv 1-3).  Being under law implies immaturity.  Mature adults are under no such restrictions.  What adult would prefer to be a kid again?
  2. Being under gospel implies freedom from law, but it does not imply freedom from relationship.  We are God’s adopted children—children of the promise (vv 5-7, 23-28).  Free people do not behave like slaves because they are in relationship with their parents which includes having an inheritance (v 30).

Paul’s discussion of our freedom in Christ continues into chapter 5.

Paul’s discussion of the relationship between Abraham and his two wives, Hagar and Sarah, has generated a lot of discussion over the years.  Paul argues that being under the Mosaic covenant (the Law of Moses) is like being a slave to law.  Because Hagar was a slave woman, he equates the two (law and Hagar) in his allegory.  This causes heartburn for Jewish interpreters because the Jews were biological descendants of Sarah, not Hagar.

Paul’s argument revolves around God’s covenant with Abraham.  The Jews have not taken to heart the second half of the covenant to Abraham:  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV).  The covenant with Abraham required that Abraham become a blessing (וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה) [to the nations]—which essentially means that the Gospel needs to be told.  The Galatians were like Sarah (and the Jews were not) because they more completely fulfilled Abraham’s covenant obligations.  At a minimum, sharing the love of God has to start with sharing who God is!  Niceness is not enough; obeying the law is not enough (Galatians 5:14).

Our question is:  Are we children of Hagar or of Sarah?

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Gálatas 4: Esclavitud y Libertad

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Ustedes ya son hijos y hijas. Dios ha enviado a nuestros corazones el Espíritu de su Hijo, que clama: ¡Abba! ¡Padre! Así que ya no eres esclavo sino hijo/a; y como eres hijo/a, Dios te ha hecho también heredero (Galatas 4:6-7).

¿No estás contento de que nuestra relación con Dios no es transaccional?

¿Y si Dios fuera como “Facebook friend” que después de un “mal día” simplemente un-friend a usted? ¿Quién iba a ser cómodo en su relación con un Dios así? ¿Podría alguna vez realmente amar a Dios sabiendo que se estaban evaluando constantemente? O, volviendo a la pregunta alrededor, ¿podría alguna vez realmente amar a Dios sabiendo que su amor fue comprado con la riqueza o la fama?

¿No estás contento de que nuestra relación con Dios es una relación real?

En Gálatas 4, el apóstol Pablo describe lo que significa ser un niño de un (incondicional) promesa. Cuando se nos promete un regalo (como amistad), sólo necesitamos creer en la promesa. La promesa es incondicional. No tenemos que hacer nada para ganar el regalo. Eso es lo que la palabra, regalo, implica. La buena noticia es que la gracia de Dios es un regalo.

Ley funciona de manera diferente. La ley es una promesa condicional. Si obedeces la ley, entonces usted gana la recompensa prometida por la ley. Por ejemplo, si se aplica para convertirse en un ciudadano de los EE.UU. , la ley que cubre la ciudadanía se aplica. Si usted cumple con las condiciones de esta ley, entonces usted es elegible para convertirse en ciudadano. Si usted no cumple con las condiciones de la ley y que desee la recompensa de la ley, entonces usted es un esclavo de la ley (y el deseo) hasta que cumpla con esas condiciones.

Con este argumento relativo a las promesas incondicionales (la gracia) y condicionales (ley), Pablo está haciendo dos puntos:

  1. Estar bajo la ley es como los niños que esperan para ser lo suficientemente mayor como para heredar de sus padres (vv 1-3). Estar bajo la ley implica la inmadurez. Los adultos maduros están bajo no tales restricciones. Lo que los adultos prefieren ser un niño otra vez?
  2. Estar bajo Evangelio implica la libertad de la ley, pero no implica la ausencia de relación. Somos adoptados hijos- hijos de la promesa (vv. 5-7, 23-28) de Dios. La gente libre no se comportan como los esclavos, porque están en relación con sus padre , que incluye tener una herencia (v 30).

La discusión de Pablo de nuestra libertad en Cristo continúa en el capítulo 5.

Discusión de Pablo sobre la relación entre Abraham y sus dos mujeres, Agar y Sara, ha generado una gran polémica en los últimos años. Pablo argumenta que estar bajo el pacto mosaico (la Ley de Moisés) es como ser un esclavo de la ley. Porque Agar era una esclava , que equivale a los dos (la ley y Agar) en su alegoría. Esto hace que la acidez de los intérpretes judíos porque los Judios eran descendientes biológicos de Sarah, no Agar.

El argumento de Pablo gira en torno a la alianza de Dios con Abraham. Los Judios no han tomado en serio la segunda mitad del pacto a Abraham: Haré de ti una nación grande, y te bendeciré; haré famoso tu nombre, y serás una bendición (Génesis 12:2 – 3). El pacto con Abraham exigió que Abraham se convierta en una bendición ( וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה ) [a las naciones] – que esencialmente significa que el Evangelio necesita ser contada. Los gálatas eran como Sarah (y los Judios no eran) porque cumplieron de manera más completa las obligaciones del pacto de Abraham. Como mínimo, compartiendo el amor de Dios tiene que comenzar con el intercambio de quién es Dios! Niceness no es suficiente, la obediencia a la ley no es suficiente (Gálatas 5:14).

Nuestra pregunta es: ¿Somos hijos de Agar o de Sarah?

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Guest Blogger: Jesse D. Colón

Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church
Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church

This morning we welcome our first guest blogger, Jesse D. Colón.

Jesse D. Colón Arroyo, is a loud NewYorican who loves God and Music. He studied music in Puerto Rico and served as the Director of Music Ministries for 7 years at the church his parents founded as a mission, “Evangelio de Amor”, alongside his older brother and current pastor, Justin.  He moved to Virginia with his wife and two children in 2011 and now currently serves as a Music Coordinator at Riverside Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Virginia.

Worship

What is worship?  As a music leader in church I found defining this word harder than I thought.  It’s a word used many times to describe a type of service in church and other times referred as the musical section within the order of a service.  But if we adhere to these definitions we’re limiting worship to something that happens a day of the week or an hour within the day. Is worship done with afterwards?  Though many may agree with this perspective, it is my understanding that God has more in mind.

Looking at the word

Oxford Dictionary explains its origin from Old English–“weorthscipe” ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth’ (worth-shipping)

This definition could lead us to understand worship as acts of recognition.  Something we say or do to demonstrate that the object of our worship is worthy.  Some people might be okay with leaving it here but this perspective is limited.   It could be made into a checklist of things to do, and as soon as we’re done with the list, one could interpret that we’re done relating with God.  This could not be further from what Scripture teaches us.  Yes. God is worthy, but a single act of recognition is not enough.  As reflected in the Jesus of the gospels, the God I serve is worthy of my time, worthy of my attention, worthy of my affection, worthy of my resources, worthy of my service, and worthy of everything I am or have. Worship is more than just an act but also an attitude, a way of living, and a life surrendered completely and wholly to God.  All the acts of recognition we can come up with are merely reflections of what worship causes in our lives.

What does the Bible say?

The first appearance of the word “worship” in scripture is in Genesis 22:5 when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering to God.  The Hebrew word used is shachah which literally means to prostrate or bow down.  In Genesis 24:26 we can understand this meaning because it’s very direct in saying: “Then, the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.  Interpreting these passages support the perspective that worship is an act of offering up or sacrificing something to God.  But we should ask ourselves: what does God want us to offer or sacrifice? In the passage of Genesis 22, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac because it was all a test of obedience and trust in God.  1 Samuel 15:22 explains it clearly: “…Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

God wants us. From creation to Moses and the Ten Commandments to Jesus dying on a cross, it’s always been about God reaching out and us reciprocating.

I think this couldn’t be any more clear as when we read: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). 

What’s more revealing is that worship is what we live for and what makes us human. Thomas G. Long expresses in his book Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship [1]:

“Worshiping God is not simply a good thing to do; it is a necessary thing to do to be human.  The most profound statement that can be made about us is that we need to join with others in bowing before God in worshipful acts of devotion, praise, obedience, thanksgiving and petition.”(17)

A passage that gives light to this statement is Isaiah 43.  This is a beautiful chapter where the prophet is revealing God’s word to the people of Israel and he starts by saying in the first verse:

“But now, this is what the Lord says-he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israeleveryone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:1,7).

Granted that this was written specifically to Israel, if we understand that today we are his children and his people, then here’s what we were made for.  Worship is not something we do on Sunday mornings, but what we were made for–we were created to bring God glory.  This reminds me of a Tim Hughes song called “Living for Your Glory” where there’s a part he sings: “in everything I say and do, let my life honor You, here I am living for Your glory”.

Walking this Path

I don’t know who coined the phrase “We are what we Love”.  However, I think it gives us insight on how we can start to live this life of a worshiper described in Romans 12:1–to feel completely whole and human as God intended us to be from the beginning.  Bob Kauflin expresses in his book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God [2]: “while it’s simplistic to say worship is Love, it’s a fact that what we love most will determine what we genuinely worship”(25). Kauflin goes on to say:

“For years we’ve read or experienced firsthand the “worship wars”-conflicts over music styles, song selection, and drums. But far too little has been said about the worship wars going inside of us. And they’re much more significant. Each of us has a battle raging within us over what we love most –God or something else.”

The Great Commandment says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27).

No matter what stage or season in life we might find ourselves the life of a worshiper is constantly asking this question:  do I love the Lord my God with all that I am? That is worship.

Worship Workshop

On Saturday February 8, 2014 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Jesse D. Colón (Jesse@RiversideChurch.com) and Noemi Simmons (Noemi@Riversidechurch.com) are hosting a Worship Workshop at Riverside Presbyterian Church (www.RiversideChurch.com).  A continental breakfast and lunch will be served.  If this is interesting to you, please contact Jesse or Noemi for more details.

_________________

[1] Thomas G. Long. 2001.  Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship.  Herdon:  Alban Institute. (www.Alban.org).

[2] Bob Kauflin.  2008. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God.  Wheaton: Crossway.

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Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson.  2006.  Soul Virgins:  Redefining Single Sexuality.  Atlanta:  Sexual Wholeness Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I feel out of place in church–a single friend at seminary shared with me about a year back [1].  Married couples, especially older people, are uncomfortable having me around because I am 20-something and not married.  It’s like I have some kind of disease.  If that were not bad enough, he continued, I am not sure how to relate with the single women that I meet.

I remember experiencing those same feelings when I was single. So when my friend recommended Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson’s book: I was curious and looked up a copy.

Not surprisingly, the book starts by defining terms.  For example, a soul virgin is: one who continuously seeks to value, celebrate, and protect God’s design for sexuality—body, soul, and spirit—in oneself and others (7).  Clearly, the book assumes that you want to live within the will of God in singleness and that marriage is a goal.  Furthermore, the authors seek to:  help Christian single adults sort through and find better answers about their sexuality—to not just repress or tolerate their sexuality but to redefine and celebrate it (15).  In other words, because God created us as sexual beings, our sexuality has a purpose that extends beyond physically obvious reasons.

Soul Virgins is thorough book with lots of details about how to deal with sticky situations and topics that one probably has not discussed with one’s parents.  The book divides into 3 parts:

  1. Intimacy with God (6 chapters),
  2. Intimacy with God’s people (5 chapters), and
  3. Intimacy with God’s possible soul mate (4 chapters).

These 3 parts are further divided into 15 chapters.  Before these parts are definitions, acknowledgments, and an introduction.  After these parts are an appendix, notes, and brief statements of where to go for more information.

The word-pictures provided are worth the ticket of admission.

For example, the authors picture balanced intimacy and sexual wholeness as a wheel with 5 spokes representing the 5 aspects of our intimacy:

  1. Spiritual intimacy
  2. Emotional intimacy
  3. Mental intimacy
  4. Social intimacy and
  5. Physical intimacy (188).

Healthy relationships have boundaries on each aspect of intimacy that, if offended, result in future problems.  For example, I can remember in high school sharing my dreams about having a family someday with a friend on a date—this would be an example of mental intimacy (190-191).  What would have happened if stead of sharing our dreams we had escalated right into physical intimacy and eventually married but disagreed on the question of having a family?  Clearly, the authors’ thoroughness in going through 5 spokes is very helpful in facilitating productive dialog.

The authors describe another helpful picture as the relationship continuum bridge.  This bridge breaks relationships into three stages:

  1. connecting (friendship and early considering),
  2. coupling (late considering, confirming, and committing), and
  3. covenanting (marriage).

These stages can be pictured as a suspension bridge with two spans (8, 32).  The authors reserve true sex (anything involving body parts hidden by a bikini) for marriage.  Intimacy during the other two stages (connecting and coupling) necessarily involves establishing and respecting boundaries for the 5 spokes of intimacy.  For example, the authors cite a case of a client who wanted to bring his girl-friend to a counseling session after they went out for only 3 weeks—an event too intimate for their relationship at this point (social intimacy spoke).  This invitation was compared to inviting his friend to meet his parents after going out only three weeks (191).

The authors know their subject matter.  Doug Rosenau (www.SexualWholenss.com) is a licensed psychologist and Christian sex therapist.  Michael Todd Wilson (www.MichaelToddWilson.com) is a licensed professional counselor and life coach who had never married at the time this book was written.  Both hail from Suwanee, GA.  The primary authors are assisted with particular chapters by Vickie George (marriage and sex counselor) and three never-married singles:  Erica Tan, Anna Maya, and David Hall.

Soul Virgins is a helpful book.  I wish that this book had been available when I was single and when I led high school/college groups in graduate school.  Rosenau and Wilson not only discuss the touchy subjects that young people want to know about, they review the Biblical basis for their views. Soul Virgins focuses on providing guidance on relationships.  Singles, parents, and leaders can all benefit from this book.  I know that I did.

[1] I am paraphrasing his comments.

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Galatians 3: Law and Gospel

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for the righteous shall live by faith (Galatians 3:10-11 ESV).

The question of the relationship between law and Gospel is one of the hottest debates today; perhaps, this could be said of the entire history of the church.

F.F. Bruce, in his Commentary on Galatians (1982. NIGTC.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.  147-191), divides chapter 3 of Galatians into 7 sections:

  1. The primacy of faith over law (vv 1-6)
  2. The blessing of Abraham (vv 7-9)
  3. The curse of the law (vv 10-14)
  4. The priority and permanence of the promise (vv 15-18)
  5. The purpose of the law (vv 19-22)
  6. Liberation from the law (vv 23-25) and
  7. Jews and Gentiles one in Christ (vv 26-29).

Every verse is carefully parsed in book after book because the content of these 29 verses seriously affects our attitude about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the secular society.  Clearly, a one-page reflection cannot address all that is being said here.

For example, we read in verse 2:  Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (v 2).  Here the Apostle Paul makes the assumption that the Galatians know firsthand the work of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. The inference is that this experiential knowledge of the Holy Spirit is not only evident, but the sole source of eternal salvation. This question alone condemns religions focused on law as insufficient to warrant salvation. Among Christians, this statement would likely identify you as a charismatic. Do you think Paul is a charismatic?

In this same vein, one could argue that verse 28 defines the basis for social progress over the past 2,000 years, but especially in the modern and postmodern eras.  Paul writes:  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Tim Keller, in his study guide (Galatians for You. 2013. Good Book Company. 92-93), observes that Paul has broken down three important barriers:  the cultural barrier (neither Jew nor Greek), the class barrier (neither slave nor free), and gender barrier (neither male nor female).  Do you think Paul is politically correct?

Paul’s comments about who is chosen probably got him in the most trouble. Verse 6 quotes Genesis 15:6: And he [Abraham] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Abraham is not righteousness of himself, he is counted as righteous. Why?  Because he believed God’s promise of providing him an heir. Why is this remarkable?  Abraham was 100 year old at the time and his wife was 90.  This principle of justification by faith alone expressed here (v 11) and in Romans 3:20-27 was the foundation of the protestant reformation [1].  This is because time and time again parts of the church have erred in adding other requirements, especially cultural requirements, on believers beyond that of faith in Christ.  What cultural add-ons to faith can you identify today?

Does justification by faith alone mean that we can ignore the law?  Certainly not! (v 21). The law of Moses was given to restrain evil, to instruct us, and to guide us until we come to faith (vv 24-25).

Elsewhere Paul wrote:  But whatever gain I had [under law], I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7 ESV).

[1]Martin Luther was nearly martyred for his faith at the Diet of Worms; but his own journey of faith began with understanding of this passage (Roland H. Brainton. 1995.  Here I Stand.  New York:  Penguin Group.  49-50, 146-149).

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Gálatas 3: Ley y Evangelio

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Todos los que viven por las obras que demanda la ley están bajo maldición, porque está escrito: Maldito sea quien no practique fielmente todo lo que está escrito en el libro de la ley. Ahora bien, es evidente que por la ley nadie es justificado delante de Dios, porque el justo vivirá por la fe (Galatas 3:10-11 NVI).

La cuestión de la relación entre la ley y el Evangelio es uno de los debates más calientes de hoy, tal vez, esto podría decirse de toda la historia de la iglesia.

F.F. Bruce, en su Commentary on Galatians (1982 NIGTC Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 147-191), divide el capítulo 3 de Gálatas en las 7 secciones:

  1. La primacía de la fe sobre la ley (vv 1-6)
  2. La bendición de Abraham (vv. 7-9)
  3. La maldición de la ley (vv 10-14)
  4. La prioridad y permanencia de la promesa (vv. 15-18)
  5. El propósito de la ley ( vv 19-22)
  6. Liberación de la ley ( vv 23-25) y
  7. Judios y gentiles uno en Cristo (vv 26-29).

Cada verso se analiza detenidamente en un libro tras otro , porque el contenido de estos 29 versículos afecta seriamente nuestra actitud sobre el judaísmo , el cristianismo , el islam y la sociedad secular. Es evidente que un reflejo de una página no puede hacer frente a todo lo que se está diciendo aquí.

Por ejemplo, leemos en el versículo 2: ¿Recibieron el Espíritu por las obras que demanda la ley, o por la fe con que aceptaron el mensaje? (v 2). Aquí el apóstol Pablo hace la suposición de que los gálatas sabemos de primera mano la obra del Espíritu Santo en sus propias vidas. La inferencia es que este conocimiento experimental del Espíritu Santo no sólo es evidente, pero la única fuente de salvación eterna. Esta pregunta solo condena a las religiones centradas en la ley como insuficientes para justificar la salvación. Entre los cristianos, esta declaración probablemente se le identifica como un carismático. ¿Crees que Pablo es un carismático?

En este mismo sentido, se podría argumentar que el versículo 28 define las bases para el progreso social en los últimos 2.000 años, pero especialmente en las épocas moderna y postmoderna. Pablo escribe: Ya no hay judío ni griego, esclavo ni libre, hombre ni mujer, sino que todos ustedes son uno solo en Cristo Jesús. Tim Keller, en su guía de estudio (Galatians for You. 2013. Good Book Company. 92-93), observa que Pablo ha roto tres barreras importantes:  la barrera cultural (a judío o griego), la barrera de clase (ni esclavo ni libre), y la barrera de género (varón ni mujer). ¿Crees que Paul es políticamente correcto?

Los comentarios de Pablo acerca de quién es elegido probablemente le puso en más problemas. El versículo 6 cita Génesis 15:6: Abram creyó al Senor, y el Senor lo reconoció a él como justo. Abraham no es la justicia de sí mismo, se cuenta como justos. ¿Por qué? Porque él creyó en la promesa de que le proporcione un heredero de Dios. ¿Por qué es este notable? Abraham tenía 100 años de edad en ese momento y su mujer tenía 90 años. Este principio de la justificación por la sola fe expresada aquí (v 11), y en Romanos 3:20-27 era el fundamento de la reforma protestante [1]. Esto se debe a que el tiempo y la hora de nuevo partes de la iglesia se han equivocado en la adición de otros requisitos, especialmente los requisitos culturales, a los creyentes más allá de la de la fe en Cristo. ¿Qué complementos culturales de la fe puede identificar?

¿Tiene justificación por la sola fe significa que podamos ignorar la ley? ¡De ninguna manera! (v 21). La ley de Moisés fue dada para frenar el mal, para instruirnos y guiarnos hasta que llegamos a la fe (vv 24-25).

En otro lugar Pablo escribió: Sin embargo, todo aquello que para mí era ganancia [bajo de la ley], ahora lo considero pérdida por causa de Cristo (Filipenses 3:7 NVI).

_____________________

1/  Martín Lutero fue casi martirizado por su fe en la Dieta de Worms, pero su propio camino de fe comienza con la comprensión de este pasaje (Roland H. Brainton. 1995.  Here I Stand.  New York:  Penguin Group.  49-50, 146-149).

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Whelchel Sees Call in Work, not just Ministry

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Hugh Whelchel.  2012.  How Then Should We Work?  Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington:  WestBow Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mental habits are hard to break.  One particularly insidious habit is to worship the “god of the gaps” (gog) rather than the sovereign, Triune God.

Gog worship shows up in several ways.  One is the gog worshiped only between 11 and 12 a.m. on Sunday mornings.  Another gog appears like insurance—a kind of Aflac god who handles all the problems that we cannot.  Still another gog is observed only indirectly (a shadow gog)—whenever anyone expresses a concept of God that is too large (or too inconvenient)—that person is labeled a fanatic or fundamentalist.  Gog worshipers are easy to make fun of until one shows up in the mirror:  Gog worship is the default setting of the postmodern world–even for an economist turned pastor like myself.

In his book, How Then Should We Work, Hugh Whelchel reminds us that God created the heavens and the earth—everything. Everything is not a spiritual concept; everything includes everything.  All that we do—whether inside or outside the church; whether inside or outside the home—should be done in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17).  God is as a powerful worker—he creates; he created everything (7).

Whelchel states his purpose as:  to explore the Biblical intersection of faith and work, attempting to understand the difference between work, calling, and vocation and how they should be Biblically applied in our daily lives (5).  His book is organized in 6 chapters which focus on carefully defining the concept of call. These chapters are preceded by a forward, preface, and acknowledgments and are followed by a biography of the author, notes, and suggested readings.

In the important area of defining call, Whelchel (75-77) cites 5 calls. He distinguishes the first call, the call to faith in Christ, as primary and cites 4 secondary calls—the call to family, church, community, and vocation.

Whelchel’s (56) concept of Biblical work focuses on 5 concepts, which are:

  1. The Four-Chapter Gospel (creation, fall, redemption, and restoration).
  2. The Cultural Mandate (The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15 ESV)).
  3. The Kingdom of God (being salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-14)).
  4. Common Grace (seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV).
  5. The Biblical Meaning of Success (as seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:1-13).

Whelchel’s observed in the Parable of the Talents that the reward was the same for the 5-talent or 2-talent servants—we need only worry how to use our talents, not obsess over how many talents we are given.

In his final chapter, Whechel asks:  how do we integrate our work and our faith in a way that is pleasing to God? The first of his 9 responses to this question is the most telling:  we must rediscover that our primary vocation is the call to follow Jesus (117).

Whelchel holds a master of divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary; he is a former technology worker; and currently serves as executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics (www.TIFWE.org) located in McLean, VA.  As he claims, Whechel’s book is: a Biblical primer on integrating our faith and work (xxviii). He reviews the literature on vocational calling at great length and why we should care. Missing here perhaps is a link that applies these insights in the era of gog.  Still, I found my own faith journey reflected in page after page.  Perhaps you will too.

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MacNutt Prays Expectantly; Brings Healing

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Francis MacNutt.  2009.  Healing (Orig Pub 1974).  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Chess. On the chessboard of life, what piece are you; what piece is Christ Jesus?

If you are Christian, our creator God is the crafter of the chess pieces; not one of them.  Still, when we pray, God is often assigned the role of a pawn in our lives.

For example, I have a neighbor who thinks of prayer as nothing more than happy thoughts that bounce off the ceiling.  In a world where people talk about prayer as nothing more than happy thoughts, what is authentic Christian prayer?

Francis MacNutt, in his book—Healing, observes that:  most traditional [Christians] have little difficulty in believing in divine healing.  What was difficult to believe that healing could be an ordinary, common activity of Christian life (10).  Citing Matthew 10: 7-8 [1] and a talk by Alfred Price in 1960, MacNutt observes:  if the church still claimed Christ’s commission to preach, what happened to the second commission to heal and cast out demons? (9)  In his own experience with healing prayer, about half of those he prayed for with physical ailments experienced healing or substantial improvements and three-quarters of those prayed for with emotional or spiritual problems experienced healing (11).

What is your experience with healing prayer?

Francis MacNutt is a Dominican priest, a leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and founder of Christian Healing Ministries[2].  He studied at Harvard University and Catholic University of America in Washington DC, and holds a doctor of philosophy degree in theology [3].  His book divides into four parts which are preceded by a preface and followed by appendices and an epilogue.  The four parts are entitled:

  1. The Healing Ministry—Its underlying Meaning and Importance;
  2. Faith, Hope, and Charity as They Touch Upon the Healing Ministry;
  3. The Four Basic Kinds of Healing and How to Pray for Each; and
  4. Special Considerations.

Although I often skip appendices and epilogues in my own reading, here it would be a mistake.

The epilogue includes the fascinating testimony of a Lakota (Sioux) Indian who attended a healing service in South Dakota and experienced miraculous healing of a mouth full of cavities (264-266).  As I read this story on a Saturday, I was experiencing an extreme toothache (I had trouble eating because of the pain); needed medication just to finish the reading; and I had already made a dentist appointment for Monday morning.  However, the story induced me to pray to God about my tooth—something that I had never done before.  Before Monday morning the pain was gone and my dentist found no evidence of an infection.  Meanwhile, the arthritis in my right foot that normally bothered me was mysteriously absent.

In talking about healing ministry, MacNutt cites 5 basic arguments why prayer cannot lead to healing:

  1. We want nothing to do with faith healing—faith healers are religious quacks (32-33).
  2. My sickness is a cross sent from God—as if God wanted you to suffer (33-34).
  3. It takes a saint to work a miracle and I am no saint—asking for healing is a sign of excessive pride (34-35).
  4. We do not need signs and wonders anymore; we have faith—the apostolic era is over (35).
  5. Miracles do not take place; they only represent a primitive way of expressing reality—a pre-scientific explanation (36).

MacNutt’s review of these arguments against the possibility of healing is helpful in establishing a balanced conversation—especially if you have witnessed the healing power of prayer first hand.

Prayer for healing needs to be specific in MacNutt’s experience.  As such, he list 4 types of healing needs (130), including prayer for:

  1. Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
  2. Emotional (or relational) healing.
  3. Physical healing. And
  4. Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression).

Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many charismatic writers lump all healing needs into deliverance prayer.

The Apostle Paul writes:  the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26 ESV).  The Holy Spirit is the conduit between us and the Triune God in prayer.  Healing prayer is accordingly the work of the Holy Spirit and an important sign of God’s sovereignty at work in our lives.

One of the signs of God’s answer to healing prayer is that more healing is offered than is asked for—this is God’s abundant grace overflowing into our lives [4].  My healed toothache is not unique.  Although I prayed about tooth pain, I experienced healing both in teeth and feet—a sign of God’s abundant grace.

Reading Francis MacNutt’s Healing helped expand my prayer life. Stepping out to pray for healing fully expecting God to intervene and heal is risky. Healing prayer assumes we truly believe that God exists, cares for us, and is powerful enough to intervene in our lives—things that I and most postmodern Christians struggle with.  MacNutt’s clinical writing style and systemic thinking makes him a credible writer and makes the book helpful in advising people about healing prayer.  I commend the book. I have gifted friends with this book for years.

_____________

[1]The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay (Matthew 10:5-8 ESV).

[2](www.christianhealingmin.org)

[3] After leaving the Dominicans, MacNutt received a special dispensation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_MacNutt.

[4] The Apostle John writes of recognizing the risen Christ through the miracles of abundance:  abundant wine (John 2), abundant loaves of bread (John 6), and abundant fish (John 21).

 

 

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Galatians 2: Jews and Gentiles

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 ESV).

Are you led by the spirit?

One of the most striking things about the Apostle Paul is that he was led by the Holy Spirit.  Paul writes:  I went up [to Jerusalem] because of a revelation (v 2). In Acts 16:7-9, 14, we read that Paul was forbidden by the spirit to enter Bithynia and later had a vision of a man of Macedonia bidding him to come.  Following this vision, Paul entered Macedonia where he met a woman named Lydia in Philippi—an unlikely place to start a church because it was a Roman city.  Yet, the Philippian church was not only established, it became one of Paul’s strongest supporters.

Why would the spirit lead Paul to Jerusalem and into open controversy even with Peter over the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?

Paul’s ministry was on the line.  He writes:  set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain (v 2).  Paul was teaching that salvation was available to anyone—Greek or Hebrew—through Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone (v 4).  Others were teaching that one needed to become a Jew and obey the law of Moses in order to become a Christian (v 16).

After Paul shared his teaching with church leaders in Jerusalem, it was resolved that Paul and Peter taught the same Gospel.  However, Paul’s ministry focused on Gentiles while Peter’s focused on Jews (vv 7-9).  Paul was reminded, however, that he needed to remember the poor—which he was happy to do (v 10).

The Jerusalem discussions did not, however, settle the problem.  Peter and others, such as Barnabas, were pressured to adhere to Jewish dietary regulations (vv 12-13).  The pressure must have been great because Peter himself was one of the first to argue for evangelization of Gentiles and he personally witnessed a Gentile Pentecost in Jappa (Acts 11:1-18).  For this reason, Paul felt compelled to confront Peter openly during a visit to Antioch about his backsliding on the question of eating with Gentile converts (vv 11-14).

What was the heart of Paul’s concern?  Our salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not through obeying the law of Moses (v 16).  Our faith is in Jesus alone; our faith is not in Jesus plus other things.

While the Holy Spirit may lead us into different ministries and we must all care for the poor, Christian unity lies in Christ alone.

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