Peace on God’s Terms

Life_in_Tension_web“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In order to extend shalom, one must find shalom. Shalom starts with God; works in our hearts; and then is extended to others.

The apple does not fall far from the tree: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9 ESV) In other words, peacemaking is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Out of our identity in Christ, we act.

Moving from theory in to practice is especially hard when it comes to peacemaking. Everyone one loves peace—on their own terms. Pax Romana was peace on Rome’s terms; Pax America is peace on Washington’s terms. In order to find shalom, we must seek peace on God’s terms. Shalom is a fruit of the Spirit, but the whole fruit basket is a package deal!

The Apostle Paul writes:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:19-24 ESV)

To find inner peace, two movements are necessary: throwing off sin (become holy) and taking on godliness (immitate God). Through the atonement of Christ, we are able not to sin. Through the example of the life of Christ, we are able to put on the righteousness of Christ (the fruit of the Spirit) which then spills over into our relationships with other people. This spilling over affects our relationships in the family, community, church, work, and the world (Graham 1955, 92-95).

The seventh beautitude influenced my life at a sensitive age. At age 19 on August 4, 1972, I wrote the following to my draft board:

“I can not fight in a war because as a Christian my highest duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that life is the sacred gift of God which is to be honored and respected by all men. I believe that every man has a constructive contribution to make to humanity and that each man has the right to fulfill this destiny. I believe there is a beauty in all life and that we should use love, concern, and non-violent methods to solve our conflicts. I believe all men are of one indivisible whole and that each man’s life is important to the life of the whole. I must live in peace to uphold my faith.”

The Vietnam war ended on New Year’s Eve of that year so my draft number (13) was never called. However, my stand against the war spilled over into my family life and strongly influenced later career choices [1]. I predicated my pacifist stand on the belief that Vietnam was an unjust war and therefore Christian participation was not justified.

Choices such as mine divided the generations in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not lead to lasting peace in the world—success is seldom within our control. As Christians, our call is to be faithful and to model faithfulness [2]. We may not institute world peace, but like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we can help the needy person who crosses our path [3].

 

[1] Neyrey (1998, 184) notes that it is this family context where Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

[2] Mouw (2010, 65) sees moral simplicity accompanied by openness to God’s grace as a path towards sanctification and cites the examples of Corrie ten Boom and Mother Teresa.

[3] Why is the Good Samaritan not called the Great Samaritan? He did what was necessary, not everything possible, to save a man’s life (Cloud and Townsend 1992, 38-39).

REFERENCES

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mouw, Richard J. 2010. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Trinity of Peace

Life_in_Tension_web“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were
for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were
glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
(John 20:19-21 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we focus on the peace as reconciliation among feuding folks—relief of the tension with our brothers and sisters, we miss the significance of God’s peace breaking out throughout the New Testament. Remember that shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). In other words, it also implies healing, restoration, reconciliation, and salvation—a return to Eden. It is not just hello and goodbye, as it is often used in Hebrew. It is reminder of the covenant and God’s work among us. Shalom implies inner peace, peace with God, and peace between brothers and sisters.

If this interpretation seems far-fetched, remember the beatitudes and Jesus’ call sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-21) start with the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:1-3 ESV)

Notice the inner peace referenced with the phrase: “bind up the brokenhearted”. This sounds a lot like comforting depressed people. Notice the peace with God implied in the phrase: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me”. God himself has initiated this mission of shalom. Notice the peace with brothers and sisters implied in the phrase: “to proclaim liberty to the captives”. In effect, we are witnessing a trinity of shalom breaking out.

Inner Peace. What could bring peace more quickly than physical and mental healing? Jesus’ first miracle after leaving Nazareth is in the synagogue in Capernaum (Peter’s home town; Luke 4:38) where Jesus drives out a demon out of a man (Luke 4:31-36). This happened repeatedly (Luke 4:41).

Jesus’ ability to heal transformed a person so dramatically that it was obvious just looking at them. For example, after healing the man with the unclean spirit in the Gerasenes, we see:

“And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” (Mark 5:15 ESV)

Wow. What power in shalom! The man healed was immediately transformed also into an evangelist (Mark 5:20), much like the woman at the well (John 4:28-30).

Peace with God. These days many people take peace with God for granted. This was certainly not a first century view. Jerusalem was destroyed first by the Babylonians for idolatry [1] and later by the Romans, presumably for sin, refusing the listen to the prophets and killing them (Matt 23:34-47). Remembers that Old Testament prophets served to remind the people of their obligations under the Mosaic covenant—in other words, their sin. Consequently, when Paul writes:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5 ESV)

He is reminding the Corinthian church that Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and only that sacrifice made peace with God possible. No sacrifice; no peace. If God would not spare Jerusalem because of their sin, why would he spare sinful Corinth? Or, for that matter, Washington or New York?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus can atone for our sin and bring us peace with God.

Peace among Brothers and Sisters. We normally think of peace in terms of reconciliation, in part, because peace on earth is so hard to obtain. Often cited in this context is Paul’s admonition:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18 ESV)

The shalom of Christ is, however, more generous than simply offering the absence of conflict. Jesus’ first miracle recorded in John’s Gospel shows Jesus rescuing the wedding of an impoverished couple of newlyweds from social embarassment. Notice that Jesus’ generosity has two dimensions—quantity and quality:

“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:6-10 ESV)

Notice the math here—six times twenty is one hundred and twenty gallons of wine. You might say Jesus gave them a truck loaded with wine! If that were not enough, the wine stewart—a local critic hired to maintain community standards—praises the wine’s quality! You might say Jesus offered them a named French estate wine when a mixed store brand was expected.

Shalom implies inner peace, peace with God, and peace between brothers and sisters. Jesus delivers so much more peace than we expect or deserve.

 

[1] “You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.” (Acts 7:43 ESV)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Prince of Peace

Life_in_Tension_web“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and
over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time
forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isa 9:6-7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) is divine attribute and mostly out of reach in the Old Testament. More typically, conflict was the norm.

In the Books of the Law, conflict between brothers is a theme repeated over and over. After the conflict between Cain and Abel, we see conflict between the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, over the birthright and inheritance (Gen 25:26-34). Later, Jacob’s sons are so jealous of the favoritism shown to their brother, Joseph, that they sell him into slavery (Gen 37:2-28). This brother’s theme clearly points, like the sublimated violence in our own time, towards an absence of shalom and the need for God.

Interestingly, when Stephen recites the Story of Israel in Acts 7, he lingers over the story of a young Moses attempting to reconcile two of his Hebrew “brothers”, but without success:

“One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, Why do you strike your companion? He answered, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? Then Moses was afraid, and thought, Surely the thing is known. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.” (Exod 2:11-15 ESV)

In effect, Moses tries emulate God’s reconciliation between Cain and Abel by making peace between his brothers, but his own sin gets in the way and his reconciliation fails—a murderer cannot easily make peace!

In the Books of the Prophets, peace remains out of reach. Two dominant types of conflict emerge.

The first type of conflict is between the Nation of Israel and God. The covenant with Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and reiterated in Deuteronomy 5, is repeatedly forgotten. Nevertheless, God offers a promise:

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” (Deut 30:1-3 ESV)

In other words, peace with God will be restored if you obey the commandments. Here is the invitation to pursuing holiness. But the destruction of Israel and the scattering of the people of Israel is also anticipated. God repeatedly sent the prophets to remind people of the covenant and to chasen the Nation of Israel to prevent this from happening.

The second type of conflict was internal to the Nation of Israel. King Solomon may have been a wise man, but he was an opulent ruler who laid a heavy tax burden on the nation. When he died and his son, Rehoboam, became king, the tribes of Israel sent delegates to the king asking him to go easy on the taxes. He asked his father’s advisers and his friends how to respond. His father’s advisers counseled lower taxes; his friends counseled higher taxes. Rehoboam decided to listen to his friends—implicitly rejecting both his father’s advisors and his father’s relationship with God. When he raised taxes, the tribes rebelled and the kingdom was split. Two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained loyal to Rehoboam (Judah); the other ten northern tribes rebelled to form a new kingdom (Israel). The leader of the rebellion, Jeroboam, became the king of Israel. Jeroboam was fearful that people visiting Jerusalem for religious worship would eventually return to Rehoboam so he set up alternative worship sites and recast new golden calf idols (1 Kings 12). These actions were later referred as the “sins of Jeroboam” (e.g. 1 Kings 14:16) [1]. The split of the kingdom was eventually followed by the destruction of both kingdoms and exile of many of the people.

The counterweight to conflict in the Old Testament is the emergence of messianic texts, such as Isaiah 9:6-7, that link the Messiah and heaven to the idea of shalom: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. We place a higher value on things, like shalom, that we normally lack. In the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of heaven he sees:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa 11:6 ESV)

The outbreak of shalom—an end to predation and the play of a little child—is a sign of God’s mighty work among us.

 

[1] Animosity between the Northern and Southern kingdoms continued until New Testament times when Jews openly discriminated against Samaritans—part of the Northern Kingdom.

REFERENCE

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Make Peace—Embody Shalom

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The seventh beatitude focuses on peacemaking. Here we move from tension with ourselves and tension with God to tension with others.  Peacemaking embodies them all.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

The absence of peace on earth begins with sin and its consequences. In response to Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, God curses him with these words:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)

The first example of peacemaking in scripture follows shortly thereafter and demonstrates God at work. We read:

“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7 ESV)

God sees Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and intervenes to reconcile them. God cautions Cain to get a handle on his own desires. In other words, Abel is not the problem. Cain ignores God; projects his anger on his brother; and kills him. Cain becomes an object of pity because he can neither control his emotions nor his behavior. Jesus himself uses this illustration later in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger and murder (Matt 5:21-26).

Through this example in Genesis, we see God himself modeling peacemaking through self-control, advising how to avoid sin, and being available to help others. Notice how God’s intervention deals with the three sources of tension here: within ourselves, with God, and with other people! Peacemaking is according seen as a divine attribute and messianic title (Isaiah 9:6-7) which utilizes each of the three dimensions of spirituality. Peacemaking clearly embodies the Hebrew concept of shalom which encompasses each of these dimensions [1].

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom (εἰρήνη) has similar scope, but focuses more often on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, peace, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and needs to be modified to encompass shalom [2].

The Apostle Matthew understands the different aspects of shalom in Jesus’ teaching. Two are found in chapter 10 of his Gospel:

“And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matt. 10:13 ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

Verse 13 builds on the Hebrew custom of saying both hello and goodbye with the word, shalom—if your hello does not stick, then take it with you when you leave! Verse 34 clearly focuses on the more political interpretation of shalom—peace. Peacemaking can be a positive or a negative attribute depending on the object [3]. Both were important in the Roman-occupied Palestine of the first century. Still, it is the Apostle John that most clearly captures the tension in shalom when he writes:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV)

World peace in the first century meant Pax Romana which promised tranquility but delivered a brutal occupation.

Clearly, Jesus sees shalom and its embodiment, peacemaking, as transformative. In spite of the brutality of Roman occupation, Jesus commands them:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44-48 ESV)

Here we see the parallel between enemy love and peacemaking through the link to the promise—”so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:45) which reads almost the same as: “sons [and daughters] of God” (Matt 5:9). The word, love (ἀγαπᾶτε), appears here in the imperative form. In order to treat an enemy as a brother, one needs to settle one’s heart, be faithful to God’s command, and practice shalom. Then and only then, will you be like your father in heaven and be able to transform your enemy into your friend.

Make peace—embody shalom.

 

[1] I am not the first to notice these three dimensions of peacemaking and relationship with shalom: “Peacemaking, therefore, is much more than a passive suffering to maintain peach or even ‘bridge-building’ or reconciling alienated parties. It is a demonstration of God’s love through Christ in all its profundity (John 3:16’ Rom 5:1 and 6-11). The peacemakers of 5:9 refers to those who, experiencing the shalom of God, become his agents establishing his peace in the world (Shcniewind, Matthaus 48).” Guelich (1982, 92).

[2] For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

[3] What is the object of the peace? Justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Living Out Our Faith

Life_in_Tension_web“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul
to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:1-4 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Reducing tension with a holy God sometimes increases our tension with an unholy world.

In his book, UnChristian, Davide Kinnaman (2007, 29-30) cites 6 themes in non-Christian skepticism about Christians:

1. Hypocritical. We say one thing and do another.
2. Christians are: “too focused on getting converts.”
3. Homophobic. “Christians are bigoted and show distain for gays and lesbians.”
4. Sheltered. Christians are: ”old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality”.
5. Too political. Christians: “promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.”
6. Judgmental. People doubt that “we really love people as we say we do.”

Thinly veiled behind each of these criticisms is a concern about Christian holiness. For example, if we are say that we are Christian and act like everyone else, especially when it comes to matters of sexuality, we are seen to be hypocritical, not holy. Or, if we live out our faith, then our live style is taken as judgment on those that do not. People know who we are.

When one discusses holiness issues within the church, one is frequently jabbed with the question—where is the grace in your worldview? In view here is the passage from the Gospel of John:

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17 ESV)

Here grace and law are seen as opposing each other. Two points can be made about this passage.

  1. Grace is a divine attribute and often used as a synonym most of the time for divine forgiveness, as in the forgiveness conferred on us by God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  In its concreteness, the law aids in holiness being helpful in educating in righteousness, in law enforcement, and in outlining holiness in daily living, according to John Calvin (Haas 2006, 100).
  2. Grace and truth (law is a kind of prescriptive truth) go together. Almost no one in this context brings up the second part—truth. The idea of objective truth—God’s truth—is not a popular idea these days, but it is a precondition for any kind of serious scientific inquiry [1].

The Apostle Paul also provides interesting comments on this question. He writes:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means![2] How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)

Grace is not an excuse for a libertine lifestyle. We are accountable for our actions and non-actions [3].  Law helps maintain our accountability.

The Law of Moses is often divided into two parts: the holiness code and ceremonial law. Because the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, the ceremonial law could no longer be fulfilled. Consequently, when Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17 ESV)

Jesus’ fulfillment is, in part, a replacement of the ceremonial law that could no longer to fulfilled in the absence of the temple. But the holiness code itself—especially the prohibitions against sexual immorality—was never abolished or abrogated.  For example, the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 removed the requirement that a person become a Jew before becoming a Christian, but reaffirmed the prohibition of sexual immorality for gentile Christians, the primary complaint today against the holiness code (Acts 15:19-20).

If you think that the holiness code is obsolete, consider the clean up in New York City that occurred in the 1980s. Two criminologists, James O. Wilson and George Kelling, started the clean up with what they called the “broken windows” theory. They argued:

“Crime is inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and a sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street if faces, sending the signal that anything goes. The idea is that crime is contagious.”

So New York City waged a war on broken windows and graffiti in the neighborhoods and subway. Minor infractions of law were not tolerated. And crime throughout the city began to fall precipitously to everyone’s surprise (White, 2004, 158).

The broken windows theory is to cities what the holiness code is to individuals.  King Solomon famously wrote of the “little” sins:  “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song 2:15 ESV)  Make your bed; brush your teeth; sweat the details. Little things matter—they form and reflect your attitude.

What we do and how we conduct ourselves matters. As Christians, we need to be a good example to our families and those around us—especially when it hurts. Who is going to honor God and our marriages if we do not?

We need to live into the faith that we have in Christ.

[1] The existence of one set of physical laws in the universe offers interesting insight into the question of God’s existence.

[2] Wallace (1969, 482) writes: ”Obviously Paul’s usage of μὴ γένοιτο [by no means] is not the same as Luke’s. Here it indicates, as it usually does, his repulsion at the thought that someone might infer an erroneous conclusion from the previous argument.” Greek instructors love this phrase (μὴ γένοιτο) because it is an example of the rare optative mood not readily found in English.

[3] The “we” here makes an important point. Christians are to pursue holiness; holiness is not a requirement that we impose on others. Requiring others to pursue holiness leaves us open to the charge of being judgmental cited earlier.

REFERENCES

Haas, Guenther H. 2004. “Calvin’s Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, 93–105. Edited by Donald K. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

White, James Emery. 2004. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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Prune, Intensify, and Apply

Life_in_Tension_web“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that
everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that
you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matt 5:27-29 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When Jesus says “Blessed are the pure in heart”, three actions come into view: to prune, to intensify, and to apply.

Prune. Jesus says later in the sermon on the mount: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) In case you are hard of hearing, he repeats the idea again in the next verse: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt. 5:30 ESV). Pruning consists of removing the sin from your life.

Jesus is serious about pursuing holiness and he assumes that it is hard work. Think about the analogies that he employs—tear out your eye, cut off your hand. These are not easy actions to take. Eyes and hands are part of the body—parts of us. Still, when our lives are threatened, amputation is a acceptable option. If sin were no big deal, the analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair.

Intensify. Jesus does not water down the requirements of the Mosaic law, he intensifies it. In his comments about adultery, he discounts the actual commission of the the act and focuses on the corruption of the heart. The sin begins, not with the act, but with a lustful look or intent. Billy Graham reminds us:

“What does this word adultery mean? It is derived from the same Latin root from which we get our word adulterate which means’corrupt; to make impure or to weaken.” (Graham 1955, 78).

If sin begins in the heart, then purity of heart is an absolute necessity in pursuing holiness, but more is required. We must not only avoid sin, we must focus our desires on Christ. The Apostle Paul writes:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24 ESV)

We must actually practice godliness [1]. Paul admonishes Timothy to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7 ESV) and so must we.

Apply. If the heart and mind both make us a unified person, then all of us is affected when we pursue holiness and practice godliness. In the Hebrew mindset it makes no sense to talk about faith being separated from action. When James, the brother of Jesus, writes:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25 ESV)

James would almost certainly share Jesus’ assumption that unity of person implies unity of faith and action. In fact, one meaure of sin in this context would precisely be the amount of sunshine between what we say and what we do. After all, Jesus was the first one to use the word, hypocrite, to mean two-faced—saying one thing and doing another [2]. Prior to Jesus, an hypocrite was an actor on the Greek stage.

This unity of faith and action reflects the unity of our Triune God whose love is simply a reflection of his person [3].

So we must prune, intensify, and apply if we are to be pure in heart and see God.

 

[1] Bridges (1996a, 7) writes: “The Pursuit of Holiness [also a book title] dealt largely with putting off the old self—dealing with sin in our lives. The Practice of Godliness [also another title] focuses on putting on the new self—growing in Christian character.

[2] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matt. 23:25 ESV)

[3] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5 ESV)

REFERENCES

Bridges, Jerry. 1996a. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996b. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

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A Right Spirit and Clean Heart

Life_in_Tension_web“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
(Ps. 51:10-11 ESV)

When we think of the word, holy (ἅγιος in Greek), we usually think of moral purity, which is one definition. The other primary definition is: “pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to [set apart to] the service of God” (BDAG 61). This is also the word for saint.

The idea of holy as both separation and moral purity is fundamental in the Old Testament understanding of who God is. The Book of Genesis begins by saying: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1 ESV) In the act of creation God performs two acts of separation: non-being is separated from being and the heavens and the earth are created separate from one another. God then continues by creating other separations—darkness and light; morning and evening; dryland and water; male and female; and so on. And these separations were declared to be good.

Today, we often refer to separations as boundaries. Boundaries have the characteristics of being clear and concrete. Later in Exodus 20, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, the law provides boundaries defining who is and who is not a member of the household of God. Members follow God’s law; non-members break the law. These laws are not imposed; they are voluntary taking the form of a covenant between the people of Israel and God. The covenant language is obvious because the commandments begin with a reminder of the benefits of participating in the covenant: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod. 20:2 ESV) In other words, you were slaves, now you are free—you owe me!

In the second giving of the covenant in Deuteronomy (second book of the law), the benefits are laid out in greater detail in the form of blessings [for following the law] and curses [for not following the law]. For example, we read:

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field….” (Deut 28:1-3 ESV)

Further down we read the parallel antithesis:

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…” (Deut. 28:15-16 ESV)

Psalm 1 builds on these blessings and curses:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” (Ps. 1:1 ESV)

The job description of a prophet in the Old Testament focused on reminding people of the consequences of ignoring their covenantal obligations.

Why then did Job, who was a righteous man under the law, suffer? (Job 1:1)

One answer is that existence of evil (Job 1:9). Another answer is the foolishness of men and women (Prov 1:7). The best answer is that we born in sin and require God’s intervention to obey the law. We read:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another…” (Job 19:25-27 ESV)

The possibility of a redeemer is prophesied by Moses (Deut 18:15) and hinted at in God’s core values expressed immediately on giving the law in the form of forgiveness (Exod 34:7). But King David, in his prayer asking for forgiveness, most clearly sees God’s role in our moral condition when he writes:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Ps. 51:10-11 ESV)

David recognized that divine intervention was required for human compliance with the law.

God later intervened through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-10). Consequently, our moral purity rests on the work of Christ.  In Christ and Christ alone, we are blessed to live within God’s law and able in true humility to worship God.

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Be Holy For I am Holy

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God is holy; we are not. Our tension with God often starts with guilt over this holiness gap. This gap, which is more of a chasm, points to our need for Christ because we cannot bridge it on our own [1]. The existence of this gap is explains why the gift of the Holy Spirit is foundational for our faith and for the establishment of the church. But first, let’s talk a bit more about the gap.

What does it mean to be pure in heart? The Greek word for pure, καθαρός, means “to being free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin” (BDAG 3814 (3c)). The Greek expression, pure in heart (καθαρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ), is only here in the New Testament but arises in the Old Testament—

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4 ESV)

—in the context of worship in the temple in Jerusalem. In view here is the holiness code of Leviticus where God admonishes us many times: “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44).

The emphasis on the heart in English translation is somewhat misleading because the response expected is not limited to emotions, which the English infers. The Hebrew expression for heart, לֵבָב, means “inner man, mind, will, heart” (BDB 4761). This is not wordsmithing trivia. Immediately following the Shema [2] we are commanded—”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5 ESV)—which emphasizes this point (heart, soul, might) through repetition [3]. Jesus reminds us of this verse in Matthew 22:37 where he gives us the double-love command (love God; love neighbor; Matt 22:36-40)

The promise of seeing God, if we remain pure, is a promise of forgiveness (Ps. 51:10-11) and salvation (Job 19:27), but it is also a call to ministry. Seeing God figure prominently in the call stories of both Moses (Exod 3:6) and the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 6:5). Similarly, Paul is blinded by light in his call story which parallels the call account of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 1:28) [4]. Seeing God blinds us and threatens our very existence, as unholy beings.

The promise of seeing God is also a promise of restoration of the relationship with God, as we first saw in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8-9), which is also a picture of heaven. For example, in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, we read:

“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev. 22:3-4 ESV)

In some sense, holiness is the mark of God on our souls, as well as our foreheads. This surprising idea is not a new idea; it is an old one. In Genesis we read:

“Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, She is my sister’? And she herself said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this. Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Gen. 20:4-6 ESV).

What is most surprising here is that Abimelech is a gentile, not a Jew. Yet, God works in his heart to keep him from sinning and speaks to him directly.

It is indeed ironic in this beatitude to see Jesus, a “friend of … sinners” [5], placing a high value on and teaching about holiness knowing what was to come. John’s Gospel ends with Jesus offering the Apostles a commission—”As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV)—and anointing them with the Holy Spirit—”Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 ESV). Clearly, purity of heart was a prerequisit for ministry and the Holy Spirit brought purity of heart within their reach. Still, the Apostles had to appreciate and desire the gift.

 

[1] The exclusiveness of Christ arises, in part, because he is both God and man which is a necessity for bridging both the holiness gap and the gap between mortal and immortal beings.

[2] ”Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut. 6:4 ESV)

[3] The unity of heart and mind (or body, soul, and mind) implies that having a pure heart is a holistic statement of purity—purity throughout our entire person or being. Benner (1998, 22) notes that when the Bible refers to a division of the person, the division is for emphasis, not to infer that the person can be divided into separate and distinct parts.

[4] The Acts 26 allusion is the most complete: ἀνάστηθι καὶ στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (arise and stand on your feet; Acts 26:16 BNT) which compares with Ezekiel’s words: στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (stand on your feet; Ezek 2:1 BGT)

[5] “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, He has a demon. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35 ESV)

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Jesus Models Image Ethics

Life_in_Tension_web“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does,
that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus loves image ethics.

Because we are created in the image of God, God is our model for ethical behavior. In Genesis we read:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

The pattern is simple—God does A, we do A; God does B, we do B. Jesus applies this pattern in the Lord’s Prayer several times. For example, we read:

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10 ESV)

The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” models this pattern. Also, we see:  “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12 ESV)

Here Jesus gets stuck and repeats himself, in case one is hard of hearing:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15 ESV)

In six simple verses (Matt. 6:10-15), Jesus repeats this pattern four times! Does a harden heart preclude one from salvation from sin? These verses certainly hold up that possibility.

An obvious application is to reflect all of God character traits:

“…The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

If God is merciful, then we are merciful; if God is gracious, we are gracious…Notice how the fifth beatitude reverses this pattern:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7 ESV)

The inclusion of the fifth beatitude of mercy to the exclusion of God’s other character traits establishes mercy as God’s priority. Breaking the pattern through reversal also adds emphasis.

Do you want a blessing? Then, be a blessing! [1]

Simple. Clean. Convicting.

Jesus loves image ethics.

 

[1] One is reminded here of Abraham’s blessing: “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.” (Gen. 12:2 ESV)

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Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Life_in_Tension_web“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is no accident that we feel the tension with God over the question of mercy. We do not want to admit to our sins (or our need for forgiveness) because we spend most of our lives trying to hide our sin from other people. We deny our sin from morning to night. And it is painful, in turn, showing mercy to other people —we would much rather have them fulfill their promises and pay their debts.

Our problem with mercy is that it requires action.  We would rather talk about love because it is a squishy sort of emotion.  Easy on the action; easy to redefine; easily to confuse with.  We are always in compliance with a law of love, at least in our own minds.  Mercy requires concrete action.  Billy Graham wrote:  “What are some of the areas in today’s world toward which we can show mercy? First: We can show mercy by caring for the social needs of our fellow men…Second: We can show mercy by doing away with our prejudices…Third: We can show mercy by sharing the gospel of Christ with others.” (Graham 1955, 61-65).  Concrete. Doable. Undeniable.  Highly personal.

God’s priority is showing mercy. Jesus cites the Prophet Hosea twice [1] in Matthew after citing the beatitude:

“For I desire steadfast love [2] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 ESV)

The heart of paganism in the church lies in trying to bribe God with sacrifices other than the sacrifice of our own hearts.  We prefer to bribe God with sacrifices (”burnt offerings”) than own up to our own sin.   Arguing that we are basically good (denying original sin), in effect, denies Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.  That is to say, we don’t need Christ’s mercy and, as a codicil, we do not need to practice mercy with those around us. The echo of Cain’s question still haunts us: “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9 ESV)

It is interesting that in the Gospel of Luke, the double love command (love God; love neighbor; Matthew 22:36-40) is cited, not by Jesus, but by a lawyer (Luke 10:25-28) who then proceeds to narrow the definition of neighbor [3]. He asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 ESV) Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end, Jesus pulls a Jedi mind trick asking: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36 ESV) Notice how Jesus substitutes the question—”who proved to be a neighbor” for the question—”who is my neighbor”. Jesus turns a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor). To this question, the lawyer responds: “The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37 ESV)

Notice how in the story of the Good Samaritan we started out talking about love, but ended up talking about mercy? God’s identity—

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

—includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first. Jesus’ brother James makes a similar observation saying:

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13 ESV)

Judgment requires truth (אֱמֶֽת) which in Exodus 34:6 is translated also as faithfulness. Mercy also comes before truth and judgment. Interestingly, James has in the citation above restated Jesus’ beatitude in the negative—essentially it is now in the form of a curse—it is a curse to be judged without mercy.

The link of mercy and judgment necessarily brings us back to the atoning work of Christ. The Apostle Peter clearly linked these two ideas when he wrote:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

It is the mercy of God to provide us a path of salvation to Himself.

[1] Matthew 9:13 and 12:7.

[2] There is tension in the Greek and Hebrew texts on this word. The Greek reads mercy (ἔλεος) and the Hebrew reads love (חֶ֥סֶד).  The citations in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 go with the Greek.  The translation of Hosea 6:6 in the English Standard Version (ESV) goes with the Hebrew.

[3] Today, the lawyer would not only try to narrow the definition of neighbor, he would narrow the definition of love.

REFERENCES

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

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