JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Albrecht Durer, 1508
Albrecht Durer, 1508

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (John 17:1,9,20 ESV).

Jesus is our role model for prayer.

The Gospel of Luke records the most verses in which Jesus prays.  The first incidence of prayer is during his baptism when Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (3:21-22).  When crowds gathered following miracles of healing, Jesus retreated to a desolate place to pray (5:15).  When the Pharisee attacked him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus climbed a mountain and prayed all night—the following day he chose the twelve apostles (6:12).  Jesus, when praying alone among the disciples, posed the question:  “who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18). While praying with Peter, John, and James on a mountain top, Jesus is transfigured (9:28).  Jesus was praying when the disciples asked him:  “Lord, teach us to pray…” (11:1). On the night before his death, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41).

The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is not found in the Gospel of John.  Instead, in the same time slot in the passion narrative records the prayer in John 17 which is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  Although Jesus is best known for the Lord’s Prayer[1], chapter 17 records Jesus’ longest prayer—true intercessory prayers tend to be long.  In the Luke passage, Jesus prays his passion:  Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:42 ESV) which is paraphrased in Mark 14 and Mathew 26.  The focus in John’s prayer is on Jesus’ ministry[2].

The prayer in John 17 has three main sections:  an introduction (vv 1-8), prayer for the disciples (vv 10-19), and prayer for the rest of us (vv 20-26).

Introduction.  Verse one begins the prayer with these words:  he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father (v 1). This phrasing reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer which begins:  Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  Interestingly, the introduction begins with Jesus speaking about himself in the third person and then moves into the first person.  For example in verse 1 it reads—glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you—while verse 4 reads:  I glorified you on earth (v 4).  The two statements both underscore the close relationship between God the Father and God the Son—they glorify each other.  Verse 3 reminds us that eternal life consists in knowing the Father and the Son.

Prayer for the Disciples.  This section of the prayer reads like an ordination service.  Who are the disciples; what is their mission; and how they need protection in the world are all topics addressed.  Interestingly, their sanctification consisted of receiving the word—in other words, scripture! (v 17)

Prayer for the rest of us.  We are identified with these words:  those who will believe in me through their word (v 20).  Our appearance in this prayer is likewise a function of scripture—the word of God written down by the Apostles.

Two themes in Jesus’ prayer are praise (note the repeated use of the word glorify) and focus on the role of scripture.

What themes are found in your prayers?

Footnotes

[1] Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-24.

[2] Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 461.

QUESTIONS

  1. John 17 is a prayer. What is it about?  (Hint: Three parts:  vv 1-8, 10-19, 20-26)
  2. Where does this prayer take place? What is our expectation from the other Gospels?  (Hint:  Luke 22:39; Mark 14:32)
  3. How is Jesus described as approaching prayer? (v 1)
  4. What does this verse remind you of? (Hint: Matthew 6:9)
  5. What seems different? (Hint: Matthew 6:5-7)
  6. What claims does Jesus make in verse 2?
  7. What is eternal life? (v 3)
  8. What is glory? (ἐδόξασα; v 4) What does Jesus say about it? (vv 4-6).
  9. What does Jesus say about “the name”? (v 6) Who is addressed?
  10. What did Jesus teach? What did it consist of?  Where did it come from?  (vv 6-8)
  11. Who does Jesus pray for? Who not? (v 9)
  12. What does Jesus pray? (vv 11-12, 26) What does he mean by “in the name”?
  13. What is the petition in verse 13?
  14. What brings on hate? (v 14)
  15. What do you understand from Jesus’ references to the world? (κόσμος; vv 14-16, 18, 25)
  16. What is truth? (ἀλήθειά; v 17)
  17. Who sent Jesus? Who sends us? (v 18)
  18. What does Jesus mean by to consecrate? (ἁγιάζω; v 19)
  19. Notice the parallel between verses 18 and 19. What is not parallel?
  20. Who is Jesus praying for in verse 20?
  21. What is his petition? (v 21)
  22. Where does love come from? (v 26)

 

JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

Also see:

JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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Juan 17: La Oración de Intercesión

Albrecht Durer praying hands 1508
Albrecht Durer, 1508

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Después de que Jesús dijo esto, dirigió la mirada al cielo y oró así … Ruego por ellos. No ruego por el mundo, sino por los que me has dado, porque son tuyos No ruego sólo por éstos. Ruego también por los que han de creer en mí por el mensaje de ellos, (Juan 17:1, 9, 20 NVI).

Jesús es nuestro modelo de oración.

El Evangelio de Lucas registra el mayor número de versos en los que Jesús ora. La primera incidencia de la oración es durante su bautismo, cuando Jesús es ungido por el Espíritu Santo en forma de paloma (3:21-22). Cuando las multitudes se reunieron después de milagros de sanidad, Jesús se retiró a un lugar solitario para orar (5:15). Cuando el fariseo le atacó por sanar en el día de reposo, Jesús subió a una montaña y oró toda la noche—al día siguiente él escogió a los doce apóstoles (6:12). Jesús, al rezar el único de los discípulos, que plantea la pregunta: ¿Quién dice la gente que soy yo? (9:18). Mientras oraba con Pedro, Juan y Santiago en la cima de la montaña, Jesús se transfigura (9:28). Jesús estaba orando cuando los discípulos le preguntaron: Señor, enséñanos a orar (11:1). En la noche antes de su muerte, Jesús oró en el huerto de Getsemaní (22:41).

La oración en el huerto de Getsemaní no se encuentra en el Evangelio de Juan. En cambio, en el mismo intervalo de tiempo en el relato de la pasión registra la oración de Juan 17 que se refiere a menudo como la oración sacerdotal de Jesús. Aunque Jesús es mejor conocido por la oración del Señor[1], más largas oraciones de intercesión–oración verdadera capítulo 17 registros de Jesús tienden a ser largos. En el pasaje de Lucas, Jesús ora su pasión: Padre, si quieres, no me hagas beber este trago amargo; pero no se cumpla mi voluntad, sino la tuya (Lucas 22:42 NVI) que se parafrasea en Marcos 14 y Mateo 26. El enfoque en la oración de Juan es el ministerio de Jesús[2].

La oración en Juan 17 tiene tres secciones principales: una introducción (vv. 1-8), la oración de los discípulos (vv. 10-19), y la oración para el resto de nosotros (vv 20-26).

Introducción. Verso uno comienza la oración con estas palabras: y alzando los ojos al cielo, dijo: Padre (v 1). La redacción del texto nos recuerda de la Oración del Señor, que comienza así: Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos (Mateo 6:9 NVI). Curiosamente, la introducción comienza con Jesús habla de sí mismo en tercera persona, y luego, pasa a la primera persona. Por ejemplo, en el versículo 1 se lee–glorifica a tu Hijo, para que tu Hijo te glorifique a ti, mientras que el versículo 4 dice: Yo te he glorificado en la tierra. Las dos declaraciones tanto de relieve la estrecha relación entre Dios el Padre y Dios el Hijo–glorifican unos a otros. El versículo 3 nos recuerda que la vida eterna consiste en conocer al Padre y al Hijo.

Oración por los Discípulos. Esta sección de la oración se lee como un servicio de ordenación. ¿Quiénes son los discípulos, ¿cuál es su misión y cómo necesitan protección en el mundo se tratan todos los temas. Curiosamente, su santificación consiste en la recepción de la palabra, es decir, de la escritura ! ( v 17 )

Oración para el resto de nosotros. Nos identificamos con estas palabras: los que han de creer en mí por la palabra (v 20). Nuestra aparición en esta oración es también una función de la escritura – la palabra de Dios escrita por los Apóstoles.

Dos temas en la oración de Jesús son la alabanza (nótese el uso repetido de la palabra glorificar a) y se centran en el papel de la escritura.

¿Qué temas se encuentran en sus oraciones?


[1]Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-24.

[2] Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 461.

Juan 17: La Oración de Intercesión

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JOHN 16: The Helper

Maple_leaves_11162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 25:5 ESV).

It is hard to image the terror of the disciples on the other side of the cross.  In John 16, we get a glimpse.

The chapter opens with Jesus facing a leadership crisis.

Jesus starts by saying:  I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away (v 1).  The word translated as falling away, σκανδαλίζω, means: to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin (BDAD 6682.1).  In other words, the disciples are at risk of breaking up as a group and losing their reason for being.

This theme is repeated at the end of the chapter.  In verse 32, for example, we see a word similar to falling away—scattered.  The Greek word is σκορπίζω which is translated as meaning:   to cause a group or gathering to go in various directions, scatter, disperse (BDAG 6717).

The particular significance of this word, σκορπίζω, is that it brings to mind a prophecy from Zechariah:   Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, they are my people; and they will say, the Lord is my God (Zechariah 13:7-9; also: Malachi 3:1-3).  Zechariah sees the scattering as a means to create a remnant of believers.

Between the falling away and the scattering references, Jesus discusses the coming persecution (v 2), his death (v 20a), and his resurrection (v 20b).  All of this discussion is accompanied by confusion—image how you would receive prophecy of a friend’s death. The key point of this section is Jesus’ discussion of the Holy Spirit which he describes as the Paraclete (helper—v 7) and the Spirit of Truth (v 13).

As Jesus describes the Holy Spirit, two separate tasks are outlined.  Among non-believers:  he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (v 8).  In convicting the world of sin, demonstrating righteousness, and bringing judgment, the Holy Spirit acts independently of the church (vv 9-11).  Among believers: he will guide you into all the truth (v 13a).  Part of this truth will take the form of prophecy (vv 13b, 15) and part will consist of pointing back to Christ (v 14).

Jesus ends by saying:  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (v 33).  This is the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the subject of chapter 16? (v 1)
  2. What are the disciples to expect? Why? (vv 2-3)
  3. Where is Jesus going? (v 5)
  4. Why is Jesus’ departure not a total disaster? (v 7)
  5. Who is the Helper (παράκλητος)? (v 7)
  6. What three things will the Helper do? (vv 8-11, 13)
  7. Why does Jesus relay this information? (vv 4, 14)
  8. What is Jesus telling the disciples in verses 16-23?
  9. What does Jesus say about prayer? (vv 23-27)

10.How do you interpret verses 28-31?

11.What is the take-away point given in verse 33?

 

JOHN 16: The Helper

Also see:

JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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Juan 16: El Paráclito

Maple_leaves_11162013Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Encamíname en tu verdad, ¡enséñame! Tú eres mi Dios y Salvador; ¡en ti pongo mi esperanza todo el día! (Salmo 25:5 NVI)

Es difícil imaginar el terror de los discípulos al otro lado de la cruz. En Juan 16, podemos hacernos una idea.

El capítulo comienza con Jesús frente a una crisis de liderazgo.

Jesús comienza diciendo: Todo esto les he dicho para que no flaquee su fe (v 1). La palabra traducida como flaquee, σκανδαλίζω , significa: hacer que se trajo a una caída, la causa del pecado (BDAD 6682.1). En otras palabras, los discípulos están en riesgo de ruptura como grupo y perder su razón de ser.

Este tema se repite al final del capítulo. En el versículo 32, por ejemplo, vemos una palabra similar a flaquee – dispersos. La palabra griega es σκορπίζω que se traduce en el sentido de: causar un grupo o reunión para ir en varias direcciones, esparcir, dispersar (BDAG 6717).

La importancia particular de esta palabra, σκορπίζω, es que trae a la mente una profecía de Zacarías: ¡Despierta, espada, contra mi pastor, contra el hombre en quien confío! —afirma el Senor Todopoderoso. Hiere al pastor para que se dispersen las ovejas y vuelva yo mi mano contra los corderitos. Las dos terceras partes del país serán abatidas y perecerán; sólo una tercera parte quedará con vida —afirma el Senor—Pero a esa parte restante la pasaré por el fuego; la refinaré como se refina la plata, la probaré como se prueba el oro. Entonces ellos me invocarán y yo les responderé. Yo diré: Ellos son mi pueblo, y ellos dirán: El Sennor es nuestro Dios (Zacarías 13:7-9; también: Malaquías 3:1-3). Zacarías ve la dispersión como un medio para crear un remanente de creyentes.

Entre la flaquee y las referencias de dispersión, Jesús habla de la persecución que viene (v 2), su muerte (v 20a), y su resurrección (v 20b). Toda esta discusión se acompaña confusión de la imagen por la forma en que recibiría la profecía de la muerte de un amigo. El punto clave de esta sección es la discusión del Espíritu Santo, que él describe como el Paráclito (v 7), y el Espíritu de la Verdad (v 13) de Jesús.

A medida que Jesús describe al Espíritu Santo, dos tareas separadas se describen. Entre los no creyentes: él convencerá al mundo de pecado, de justicia y de juicio (v 8). Al condenar al mundo de pecado, lo que demuestra la justicia, y traer juicio, el Espíritu Santo actúa en forma independiente de la iglesia (vv. 9-11). Entre los creyentes: él os guiará a toda la verdad (v 13a). Parte de esta verdad se hará en forma de profecía (vv. 13b,15) y parte consistirá en señalar de nuevo a Cristo (v 14).

Jesús termina diciendo: En este mundo afrontarán aflicciones, pero ¡anímense! Yo he vencido al mundo (v 33). Esta es la paz que sobrepasa todo entendimiento (Filipenses 4:7).

Juan 16: El Paráclito

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Christ and Culture

Christ_culture_110132013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit speaks Gospel into culture.   And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to peak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4 ESV).  Here the Holy Spirit communicates the Gospel among all people groups through languages that previously separated us under the curse of Babel (Genesis 11:7).  Language marks culture.  Much like Pentecost is God’s antidote to Babel, the Gospel is an antidote to culture.

To see this, define culture as the history of our collective decisions[1].  If we consistently made rational decisions based on complete information and an objective decision process, then cultural differences would not exist because we would all act the same.  We are not the same because we make poor decisions and base those decisions on prior experiences.  Consequently, as time passes our societal laws, customs, values, and morals (the lessons learned from our collective history) grow more and more unique.  And this uniqueness separates us from one another.

Because resources are limited and contested, bad decisions, which are more costly than good decisions, leave a larger cultural imprint.  Bad habits trump good ones.  Because pain screams while God whispers, culture can seem like the history of collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain.  Cultural isolation temporarily eases our pain as we look inward, but wounds not cleaned fester.  When the church acts as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, it amplifies God’s voice and speaks Gospel into the context of cultural pain[2].

Culture is to groups what personality is to individuals.  Personality is defined in habitual behavior.  When we tell our personal stories, these stories consist mostly of recounting our wounds, obsessions, injustices, and learning experiences.  It is the rare individual blessed only to recount mountain top experiences.  The ministries of presence, fellowship, and care allow us to amplify God’s voice, like the church more generally, in personal reflection.

What does the Gospel have to do with culture?  If culture is primarily the history of our collective mistakes, griefs, shame, pains, and injustices—in a word, sin, then confession and forgiveness of sin are redemptive and transformative.  Christ redeems us from the guilt of sin and the Holy Spirit transforms our lives abating sin’s pollution.  Our worldly cultures are sanctified.  So Apostle Paul can write:  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).   When the church speaks Gospel into culture, it becomes an instrument of Pentecost.

What if we cling to worldly cultures rather than sanctify them?  In effect, we are arguing that our personal and collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain count for more than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  We are relishing our wounds or hiding behind them rather than submitting them to Christ.  Alternatively, Christ is seen as only human, but not divine.  When Paul prays for relief from a personal affliction, God responds:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  When we hold worldly cultures close to our hearts, we frustrate Christ’s work of sanctification, grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and yield to the itchy ears rather than proclaim the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:3).

What if we become prodigals—insisting on our inheritance without God’s truth and substituting worldly cultures for Christ and His sacrifice?  Think here of overtly idolatrous cultures, such as atheism or hedonism[3].  This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:24 when he talks about God giving them over to their shameful desires.  In this context, Paul takes up the mantle of a covenant lawsuit prophet evoking covenantal curses.  Rejecting the new covenant in Christ evokes the curse of law—reaping what we sow[4].  The Good News is that in Jesus Christ prodigals who return home and repent can be forgiven—not getting what we deserve.  The Apostle John writes:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

At Pentecost we remember that Christ, not culture, is our true shelter from the storm.


[1]Jonathan Edwards (Freedom of the Will (1754). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press, 2009, p. 38) employs a similar starting point (a recursive decision process) in setting up a discussion of free will.

[2]Contextualization is actively studied in missionary circles.  For example, see,: James E. Plueddemann.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic, 2009.

[3]Some view modernism from this perspective.  Nikita Khrushchev once said:   Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin).  Khrushchev apparently believed that the USSR had constructed a Tower of Babel.

[4]This is more than just a Pauline rant. The hermeneutic of the prodigal in Romans allows Paul to create space for the redemption of Jews who have rejected Christ (Romans 11:11).  Pentecost redeems worldly cultures, even Jewish culture.  Luke (12:10) and Mark (3:29) are less gracious and consider blaspheming the Holy Spirit (rejecting salvation through Christ) unforgiveable.

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Defending the Hope We Have

photoBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, November 17, 2013

SERMON SERIES REMINDER

Good morning! It is good to see everyone again.

Today we finish up our sermon series on John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity.  For those of you who have not had time to read the book, I would encourage you to pick up a copy and take a look—it is well worth the time.

PRAYER OF INVOCATION

Let’s begin with a word of prayer:

Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit, we praise you for your compassionate love and presence in our lives.  Make your presence especially known to us this morning.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

SERMON TEXT

Our scripture reading today is taken from 1 Peter 3:13-17.  Hear the word of the Lord:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV).

Here ends the reading.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever had a close friend who was a seeker?  You know, someone who is obviously curious about God—seeking—but unable to take the step of faith.

I have—my friend’s name was Dave.  Dave and I used to get together for lunch perhaps once a month to shoot the breeze about politics, bank regulation, and religion—especially religion.  We read C.S. Lewis together, watched R.C. Sproul videos, talked about Billy Graham, and debated back and forth for years.  Dave was curious, but as a retired lawyer he was also skeptical.  He just could not accept the idea of the God of the bible.  At best, he would admit that the existence of God was logical, just not the God of the Bible.

In December 2006, we had lunch together as usual.  Two weeks later, Dave’s wife called me.  She told me that Dave had gotten pneumonia; was on a ventilator; and was not responding to treatment.  Should she turn off the ventilator?  She asked.

I was dumbfounded.  Dave was gone.  He had not accepted Christ.

I felt like I had failed Dave and failed God.  Above my bed hangs an original painting depicting the crucifixion of Christ given me by Dave’s widow.  It was a wedding gift which meant nothing to her but everything to me.  It is for me a reminder of the seriousness of our faith and the need to share it.

As the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:15) reminds us:  always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (2 X).

BACKGROUND

Our scripture lesson today comes from Peter’s first letter to the churches in what is now modern Turkey.  Peter probably wrote this letter from Rome [1] in the early AD 60s before he was martyred by Emperor Nero for the faith [2].

These churches were undergoing severe persecution [3] in the midst of a society that was both multi-cultural and poly-theistic.  Today we might describe their society as postmodern—that is, minus the illusion of modernity.

The hostility of the Roman empire to the Christian message arose primarily because Christians maintained the wild idea that only one God exists and we come to him only through Jesus Christ.  Multiple gods were no problem—they could be bought off with feast days and bribed with sacrifices. You see, the Romans considered themselves very tolerant of foreign gods—at least the tinnie-winnie variety.

TEXT
 
Three points in our scripture reading today have direct bearing our witness.  We are to:
  1. Be zealous for the good (v 13);
  2. Be prepared to offer a defense for our hope (v 15); and
  3. Speak with gentleness and respect (v 15).

Let me address each in turn.

The first point is:  Be zealous for the good. 

It is interesting that Peter sees the Christian lifestyle as our first and most important witness [4].  Listen to what Peter says in chapter 2:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV).

Do you catch the spirit of what Peter is saying?  We are to be holy, not only because God is holy, but because it is a witness to those who are not.  In other words, be a holy disease that will infect other people!

Be zealous for the good.

The second point is:  Offer a defense. 

The word used here is apologia (ἀπολογία) which means to offer a defense or to speak against [5].  Our word, apologetics, is derived from the same root at apologia, but is used more specifically to defend a particular doctrine or point of view.

What is interesting about Peter’s statement about apologetics is that his emphasis is on living the word, not speaking it [6].  Basically, Peter spends most of his letter, particularly chapter two, talking about righteous living and he devotes only about one sentence about offering a verbal defense.  In fact, in verse 16 after he mentions offering a verbal defense he returns to his emphasis on living the word:

having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16 ESV).

Shame them! We are to shame our critics with our good works!  In some sense, for Peter offering a verbal defense is a matter more of spin control than vigorous argumentation.  The point is that while no one is argued into the kingdom of God, having been loved into the kingdom people need to know that Jesus is the source of that love and why it all makes sense.

Offer a defense.

The third point is:  Speak with gentleness and respect.

This third point follows from the first two.  If people notice that you are zealous for the good and can coherently articulate your faith, then you have their attention.  However, if your attitude is wrong then they will resist your message simply out of stubbornness.

Psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, worked with patients using hypnosis and succeeded with patients no one else could reach. What is interesting about Erickson’s approach is that he never gave his patients advice or asked them to do anything.  Instead, he would hypnotize his patients and tell them stories.  For example, instead of advising someone to take an aspirin for a headache, he would tell a story about a man who took an aspirin which cured his headache.  The point is that people’s resistance to advice and suggestions is so strong that even under hypnosis they refuse to listen! (Rosen 1991).

Speak with Gentleness and Respect.

APPLICATION

Let me offer a couple of points about how to share your faith from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.

Let me start by saying that you need to share your faith, not my faith or John Stott’s faith.  Your faith is the most important witness for two reasons.

First, you have the most credibility with the person that you are talking with.  How you came to faith matters more to them than anyone else’s journey of faith.  Tell them how and why you came to faith.

Second, the tough part in witnessing is not reading a book;  the tough part in witnessing is not the mechanics of witnessing; the tough part in witnessing is understanding your own faith walk (2X).  The best way to understand your own walk is to talk about it or, better yet, to write it out in the form of a spiritual autobiography.  If you need suggestions, Richard Peace has written a book called, Spiritual Autobiography.  Check my blog (http://bit.ly/19KoqU0) for a review of Peace’s book.

Stott summarizes his book making two points.  Stott’s first point is that the great privilege as children of God is relationship with God (2X); Stott’s second point is that our great responsibility as children of God is growing that relationship (2X).  Stott observes:  everyone loves children, but no one wants them to stay in the nursery (Stott 2008, 162).  It is the nature of relationships either to grow or to decline; relationships never stay in one place.  Stott sees our growth needing to occur in two dimensions:  understanding our faith and practicing holiness (163-166). Clearly, I could talk at great length on both issues, but let’s move on.

FINAL POINT

After my friend, Dave, passed away I felt like I had failed him and failed God in my witness.  However, that was not the end of the story.

Several months after Dave died, his widow spoke to my wife, Maryam, about our visits and she made the point—Dave was concerned about my Christian naiveté—he was hoping that he could convince me to give it up. Of course, he failed—I enrolled in seminary about two years later.

Our privilege as Christians is to share the Gospel but we must leave what happens after that to God.

CLOSING PRAYER

Will you pray with me?

Almighty father. We thank you for blessing us in a thousand ways—more ways than we can imagine.  Thank you especially for granting us faith.  Help us to live out our faith; to be willing to defend it; and to speak about it with gentleness and respect.  In power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words we speak and illumine the words that people hear.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.


[1]Peter (1 Peter 5:13) refers to Rome as “Babylon” (Perkins 1998, 11) which parallels the Apostle John references in Revelations (e.g. Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast (Revelation 18:2 ESV)).

[2] Rome burned in AD 64.  Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and a great persecution began.  Peter was himself martyred by Nero during this period (McKnight 1996, 28-29). Nero’s reign ended in AD 68. Bartlett (1998, 230-236) reviews concerns of recent authors that the Apostle Peter was not the author of this epistle. The arguments against apostle authorship stems from an assumption that a Galilean fisherman probably would lack a sophisticated style, theology, and knowledge of Greek.  This assumption is never defended and stands in contrast with the picture of an articulate Peter speaking on Pentecost in Acts 2 who is able to convince 3,000 men to come to faith through a single speech.

[3]See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7 (Perkins 1995, 15-16).

[4]Bartlett (1998, 238-240) appears disappointed with lifestyle ministry, particularly as it affects the role of women.  He assumes lifestyle ministry is submissive and ineffective without demonstrating that a more assertive ministry is consistent with Gospel witness or, for that matter, effective in evangelism.

[5]BDAG (964, 2):  the act of making a defense, defense.  See also:  2 Corinthians 11 and Philippians 1:7.

[6]Bartlett (1998, 291) rightly observes that a defense could include legal proceedings, but the context here is more general.

REFERENCES

Bartlett, David L.  1998.  “The First Letter of Peter” pages 227-319 of New Interpreter’s Bible:  A Commentary in Twelve Volumes.  Vol. XII.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

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

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

McKnight, Scot.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  1 Peter.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Peace, Richard.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Perkins, Pheme. 1995.  Interpretations, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.  Louisville:  John Knox Press.

Rosen, Sidney.  1991.  My Voice will Go with You:  The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson (Orig pub 1982). New York:  W.W. Norton & Company.

Stott, John.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

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JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel (Isa 5:4-7 ESV).

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is simple, yet disturbing.

At one point when I was working as a chaplain intern in a psyche ward, I overheard a young woman pleading over the phone with her parents to be transferred to another hospital.  The reason?  She had been given a New Testament and had read all the way to chapter 15 of John’s Gospel.  Reading about the vine and the branches she had interpreted the metaphor to mean that, because she had had no children (no fruit in her mind), she stood under God’s judgment. So, she wanted to be transferred to another hospital!

While most of us probably have not understood the metaphor of the vine and the branches quite the same way as this young patient, yet the metaphor is a challenging description of a life of discipleship.  For example, verse 6 speaks to the exclusively of Christ in salvation and judgment: If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (v 6).  Neither notion is popular today.  Yet even verse 2 is enough to generate serious controversy:  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (v 2).  Branches bearing no fruit get taken away;  branches bearing fruit get pruned!

Most discussions of this metaphor of the vine and the branches seem to skip both verses and head immediately for verse 7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (v 7).  We all love to ask for things!  Yet, verse 8 makes it clear that it is the fruit that we bear that makes us Christ’s disciples.  Looking back at verse 7, we note that the sentence is conditional–if you abide in me and my words.  The Greek word for abide means stay or remain.  Bearing fruit is evidence that you abide in Christ.  The key to answered prayer is to abide in Christ and bear fruit, as repeated in verse 16.

The love commandment in verse 12 may also disturb a careful reader.  The measure of love is found in verse 13:  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (v 13).  Jesus did just that–he died on the cross; Jesus is our model.  This implies that a life of discipleship requires sacrifice, maybe even death.  This implication is underscored in verse 14 when Jesus says:  You are my friends if you do what I command you (v 14).  Jesus kept the Father’s commands;  we are to keep his.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the love commandment embodies not just warm fuzzy feelings on sunny days but also obedience to the entire witness of scripture–especially the law.

Disturbing also is John’s discussion of the world.  Jesus says: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (v 18).  The life of Christ’s disciple is to be modeled after Christ–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that we are promised the Spirit of Truth, the Helper–the Holy Spirit–who will bear witness to Christ (vv 28-29).

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the metaphor used in verses 1 and 2?What are the different parts in the metaphor?  What does it say to you? (Also see Isaiah 5:4-7)
  2. Verse 3 uses the words clean. Why?  (Hint: prune and clean are the same word in Greek)
  3. What does the word, abide, mean in verses 4-7?What does it mean to you?
  4. How does Jesus extend the metaphor introduced in verses 1-2 in verses 4-7?
  5. How is God glorified? (v 8)  What does glorified mean?
  6. What does it mean to abide in Christ’s love? (vv 9-10)
  7. What is Jesus’ commandment? What is its measure? (vv 10-14,17)
  8. What is the difference between a servant (δούλους) and a friend? (v 15)
  9. What view of election do you get in verses 16 and 27?

10.Why does the world hate us?  (vv 18-25)

11.Who is the helper? (παράκλητος; v 26)

12.What are we to do? (v 27)  Why?

JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Also see:

JOHN 16: The Helper 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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Juan 15: La Vid y Las Ramas

Art by Sharron Beg, Clothesline
Art by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)

Por Stephen W.  Hiemstra

¿Qué más se podría hacer por mi viña que yo no lo haya hecho? Yo esperaba que diera buenas uvas; ¿por qué dio uvas agrias? … La viña del Senor Todopoderoso es el pueblo de Israel (Isaias 5:4-7 NVI).

La metáfora de la vid y las ramas es simple, pero inquietante.

Una Historia

En un momento , cuando estaba trabajando como pasante de capellán en una sala psique, escuché a una joven suplicando por teléfono con sus padres para ser transferidos a otro hospital. ¿La razón? Le habían dado un Nuevo Testamento, y había leído todo el camino hasta el capítulo 15 del Evangelio de Juan. Leer sobre la vid y las ramas que había interpretado la metáfora en el sentido de que, debido a que ella no había tenido hijos ( no hay fruta en su mente ), se situó bajo el juicio de Dios. Por lo tanto, quería ser trasladado a otro hospital!

Mientras que la mayoría de nosotros probablemente no han entendido la metáfora de la vid y las ramas de la misma manera que un paciente joven, sin embargo, la metáfora es una descripción reto de una vida de discipulado. Por ejemplo, el versículo 6 habla de la exclusiva de Cristo en la salvación y el juicio:  El que no permanece en mí es desechado y se seca, como las ramas que se recogen, se arrojan al fuego y se queman (v 6). Ninguna idea es muy popular hoy. Sin embargo, incluso el versículo 2 es suficiente para generar controversia seria:  Toda rama que en mí no da fruto, la corta; pero toda rama que da fruto la poda para que dé más fruto todavía (v 2). Las ramas que no llevan fruto consiguen quitados; las ramas que llevan fruto conseguir podado!

Versículo Siete

La mayoría de las discusiones de esta metáfora de la vid y las ramas parecen saltar ambos versículos y la cabeza de inmediato para el verso 7:  Si permanecen en mí y mis palabras permanecen en ustedes, pidan lo que quieran, y se les concederá (v 7). A todos nos gusta pedir cosas ! Sin embargo, el verso 8 deja en claro que es el fruto que tenemos que nos hace discípulos de Cristo. Mirando hacia atrás en el versículo 7, se observa que la sentencia es condicional – Si permanecen en mí y mis palabras permanecen. La palabra griega para cumplir significa quedarse o permanecer. Fruto es la evidencia de que permanecéis en Cristo. La clave de la respuesta a la oración es permanecer en Cristo y dar fruto, ya que repite en el versículo 16.

Inquietante

Inquietante tambien por un lector atento es el mandamiento del amor en el versículo 12. La medida del amor se encuentra en el versículo 13:  Nadie tiene amor más grande que el dar la vida por sus amigos (v 13). Jesús hizo exactamente eso – él murió en la cruz, Jesús es nuestro modelo. Esto implica que una vida de discipulado requiere sacrificio, tal vez incluso la muerte. Esta implicación se subrayó en el versículo 14, cuando Jesús dice:  Ustedes son mis amigos si hacen lo que yo les mando (v 14). Jesús guardó los mandamientos del Padre, hemos de mantener el suyo. Es difícil evitar la conclusión de que el mandamiento del amor no sólo encarna cálidos sentimientos difusos en los días soleados, sino también la obediencia a todo el testimonio de la Escritura – sobre todo la ley.

Inquietante también la discusión de Juan del mundo. Jesús dice:  Si el mundo los aborrece, tengan presente que antes que a ustedes, me aborreció a mí (v 18). La vida del discípulo de Cristo ha de ser el modelo de Cristo – lo bueno, lo malo y lo feo.

La buena noticia es que se nos promete el Espíritu de la Verdad , el Consolador – el Espíritu Santo – que va a dar testimonio de Cristo (vv 28-29) .

Juan 15: La Vid y Las Ramas

Sitio del autor: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Sitio del publicador: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Boletín de autor: http://bit.ly/Advent_Mas_2018

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Head and Heart

Head_and_heart_11132013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In early 2008, the French investment bank, Société Générale, announced that a single trader fraudulently lost over $7 billion making it the world’s largest rogue trader incident. The loss led France into recession.  Later that spring at a risk managers’ conference in Chicago, I overheard chief risk officers in the halls quietly shaking their heads and saying that rogue traders simply could not exist because of standard corporate checks and balances.  Basically, the trader had made so much money prior to the losses that other staff simply looked the other way when the imprudent risks were being taken.

Working as a chaplain intern in an emergency room (ER) in a Washington hospital in 2011, I noticed a disturbing link among the patients.  More than half of all patients admitted to the ER had problems stemming from relational problems and poor life-style choices.  Overweight patients came in with diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and cardiac problems.  Men passed out on the street from excessive drinking or other drug abuses.  Elderly patients were dropped off by relatives late on Saturday afternoon—too late to find a ride home over the weekend.  Young men and women fearful of contracting AIDS came in to be tested.  Among psyche patients the link was even more pronounced.  For the most part, the doctors treated the presenting diagnosis and released them.

The common denominator in each of these examples is that the bankers and the patients did what felt good at the time, as psychologists would predict.  Behavioral psychology teaches that even an amoeba will response to a positive stimulus by repeating the behavior that evoked the positive stimulus and doing less of the behavior associated with a negative stimulus.   This is the standard behavioral learning model.  In this respect, the Apostle Paul lamented:  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18 ESV).

Matthew Elliott[1] (141) asks an interesting question:  how can Jesus command us to love one another (Mark 12:30-31) if love is simply an emotion found in the heart?  How can I obey this commandment if my emotions are just a product of who I am?  Elliott’s answer:  If emotions are merely physiological impulses, they can be ignored, controlled or trivialized, while, if they have as their essential element thinking and judgment, they are an essential part of almost everything that we think and do (31).  In other words, what we think affects how we feel—especially over time.  We get emotional about the things that are important to us[2].

If we accept Elliott’s cognitive thesis of how emotions work, then emotions are a poor guide for behavior when our theology is wrong or weakly held.  If my life centers on the great ME instead of the great I AM, then my emotions will naturally reinforce my theology.  In other words, bad theology leads to bad emotions, which, in turn, leads to bad behavior.  Jesus said:  the tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ESV).

Sadly, inattention to theology leads to the same result.  The story of Hannah Arendt’s coverage for the New Yorker of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 is instructive[3].  Arendt was a German Jew, student of philosopher Martin Heidegger who wrote her dissertation on Augustine, and a holocaust survivor who escaped from the death camps.  Arendt went to the Eichmann trial thinking that, because he was the architect of Hitler’s final solution, she would meet a hate-mongering, fire breathing Nazi.  Instead, what she found was a petty bureaucrat who was unable to think for himself.  She was dumbfounded and devoted the rest of her life to a study of evil.  What was the conclusion of her study?  Wickedness may be caused by an absence of thought[4].  When we refuse to think for ourselves, we find ourselves doing things we are later not proud of and hanging with the wrong people[5]The tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ESV).

At one point, a colleague that I had counseled thanked me for saving his marriage.  What had I done?  Very little–we talked for only 5 minutes.  We prayed together and I asked him to pray for his wife.  He did.  He later reported that he could not remain angry with his wife after praying for her.  In other words, feelings of love followed actions of love.  So when Jesus commands us to love our neighbors he is talking about actions—practiced theology.  Hopefully, the feelings will follow.


[1]Matthew A. Elliott.  Faithful Feelings:  Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Kregel Publications, 2006.

[2]Andrew D. Lester.  Anger:  Discovering Your Spiritual Ally.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2007, page 29.

[3]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Arendt.

[4]Hannah Arendt.  The Life of the Mind. New York:  Harcount, Inc, 1977, page 13.

[5]Eichmann was sentenced to death by a civilian court in Israel and was hung for crimes against humanity in May 31, 1962.

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The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

Slave Ship, Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC

The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA,  August 24, 2003

Greeting

Good morning!

A key point when we face pain and suffering is that God remains with us.  We are not alone.

The prime example of this principle comes in the story of Daniel[1].

Now after Daniel survived a night in the lion’s den, King Darius was astonished that Daniel was still alive.  So, he summoned Daniel into his throne room and asked Daniel why the lions had not eaten him.

“It was easy, your Excellency,” Daniel said. “I went around and whispered in each lion’s ear — ‘After dinner, one of our elders will say a few words.'”

Scripture

Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Amen

 Psalm 51:10-12 RSV

Illustration

Let’s start this morning with a little mind experiment.  Think of someone that you respect.  What is special about this person?  Are they strong? Are they good looking?  What led you to respect them?  Chances are that many of the people you have in mind have suffered serious pain in their lives.

Larry’s Funeral

In July I attended a funeral of a colleague, Larry.  Larry was special.  No one was a stranger around Larry.  Larry had the glow.

At the funeral people talked about Larry’s lust for life and his joy.  Larry was known for his singing.  He was known in the office because he remembered co-workers’ children and asked about them.  About third of the church was filled with colleagues of Larry from other parts of town.

At the funeral, people talked about Larry’s strength.  He was a father and a grandfather.  He could throw a football an entire city block—twice the distance of his own brother.  What really stuck out at this funeral was the long list of testimonials—Larry clearly touched many lives.

Why do I mention this?

Larry was black and confined to a wheelchair for the time that I knew him.  Underprivileged, handicapped, and killed at age of 48 by the disease that crippled him, Larry was no stranger to hardship.  In spite of everything, he persevered in winning the golden crown award in the fellowship of saints.

Challenges Grow Us

We respect people that overcome difficult challenges.  In his book, Where is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey reports that leaders, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, George Washington, and Queen Victoria, were all either orphaned at an early age or experienced severe childhood deprivation[2].

Why God?

The problem of pain sums up with the question:  If God is all powerful and all loving, why does he allow such pain and suffering? In shining light on this question, I will divide my comments into three parts.  First, I will look at the nature of pain.  Second, I will review Biblical views on pain and suffering.  Finally, I will conclude with a few words of wisdom.

What is Pain?

Pain communicates.  When we put a hand on a hot stove, our hand seems to shout:  get me out of here[4].  When we do something stupid and suffer ridicule from our friends, we experience a different kind of pain.  In the physical world or a social context, pain demands immediate attention.  It teaches us what to do and what not to do.

In discussing the spiritual side of pain, it is helpful to distinguish avoidable from unavoidable pain.

Avoidable Pain

Avoidable pain challenges our intelligence more than our faith.  When we drive without a seat belt and have an accident, God is not normally blamed.  Instead, the wisdom of wearing a seat-belt becomes painfully obvious.  Not all avoidable pains in this life, however, are equally obvious.

Sin.

The relationship between sin and pain is well understood.  Sin occurs when we do something that we should not do.  The obvious case is murder.  The immediate consequence of murder is the pain of imprisonment or death.

Iniquity.

Iniquity is more insidious than sin.  Iniquity occurs when we fail to do something that we should have done (Proverbs 3:27).  Iniquity can not only produce pain, but also a consuming guilt and shame.

When I think about iniquity, I remember a puppy that we had when I was in high school.  This puppy was very enthusiastic and slipped out of the house one morning as I was walking to school.  That morning I was late and the puppy did not catch up to me until I was quite a distance from home.  Upset with him, I sent him home.  Obediently, the dog immediately ran across the road and was struck dead by a passing car in front of my eyes.  I had done nothing wrong, but what I failed to do cost that innocent puppy his life.

More than sin, iniquity challenges modern society.   Consider, for example, the effect of technology on our ability to work 24-7.  As work fills our lives with good things, we have less time to raise our children, care for our elderly parents, and commit time to God.  The workaholic has no special proclivity to sin, but finds iniquity a constant challenge.

The Learning Process.

In the example of the workaholic, it is ironic that something good (like work) should lead to something bad (like iniquity).  This problem arises because the normal learning process breaks down.

Psychologists describe learning as responses to positive and negative stimuli.  We are attracted to positive stimuli and we avoid negative stimuli.  In other words, if it feels good, do it!  Or, as my doctor always tells me, if it is hurts, don’t do it!

The learning process breaks down when a positive stimulus is associated in the short run with pleasure and in the long run with pain.  Such phenomena are described as social traps.  Smoking, alcohol or drug addiction, cheating on our spouses and compulsive attention to work are all social traps.  In each case, the immediate gratification of our desires leads us where we would not normally choose to go.  Because the learning process breaks down, social traps require spiritual instruction.

Unavoidable Pain

Because God gives us the freedom to make decisions, bad decisions can generate avoidable pain.  The problem is that we cannot always avoid pain caused by other people’s decisions and the natural world has rules that all of us must respect.  Accidents happen.  Unavoidable pain is accordingly a consequence of free will and life in the natural world (Lewis, p. 34).  Still, the tendency to blame God for our pains has been with us since the time of Job.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis (p. 90) describes suffering as: any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes.  Like Lewis, I use the terms pain and suffering interchangeably because of personal experience.  When my wife, Maryam, began her battle with breast cancer eight years ago, her surgery and physical recovery were completed within weeks.  The immediate pain went away.  The scars on her soul and mine, however, never completely healed.

Perceptions of Pain

During World War II, anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher noted that only about one in three soldiers injured on the battlefield requested morphine while about four out of five civilians with similar injuries made this request.  This led him to conclude that physical injuries and the perceived pain are not directly linked (Yancey, p. 177).

Beecher’s conclusion makes sense because morphine calms a patient’s anxiety.  We can infer from Beecher’s observations that soldiers and civilians differ in their morphine use primarily because their sources of fear differ.  For the soldier, a trip to the hospital meant that he would likely survive the war.  For the civilian, the trip to the hospital meant pain and potential disabilities.  In effect, the soldiers’ joy in leaving the battlefield came associated with physical injuries that would terrorize a civilian.

Because fear magnifies our pain and suffering, pain management and a full recovery require that we deal with the spiritual side of healing.

Biblical Views of Pain and Suffering

God works to grow our faith and relationship with Him.  Sin thwarts this objective but God typically does not immediately punish us.  The point of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was to redeem us from God’s judgment and to bring the hope of eternal life—the Good News of the Gospel.   The Biblical view of God’s relationship with His creation can accordingly be interpreted as an antidote to the pain and suffering of the natural world.

The Beatitudes

To understand how Christ’s earthly ministry could end with the cross and the resurrection, it is helpful to begin with the Beatitudes—the happy attitudes.  In Mathew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
(Mathew 5:3-4 NIV).

Notice that Jesus starts his sermon with suffering[7].  What could be more ironic than: happy are those who suffer?

Billy Grahm on Pain

In his book, The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham describes the mourners in the second Beatitude as those who mourn of their own spiritual inadequacy before God[8].  This is not a spirit of self-pity.  Rather, it is someone who has sensed the presence of a Holy God and found the comparison with self unbearable.  Mourning of spiritual inadequacy is accordingly followed by mourning for repentance (P. 20-21).  More to the point, we are all born under sentence of death, mourn under pain of death, and need the comfort of redemption.  Suffering accordingly plays a key role in our understanding of Christ’s redemptive ministry.

Pain And Suffering As A Wakeup Call

The Beatitudes give us hope that redemption, not suffering, is at journey’s end.  It is accordingly not surprising that the Bible disputes the common notion that God uses pain to draw attention to our sins.

The clearest example of this principle is found in chapter 9 of the book of John.  When Christ heals the man born blind, he answers the question of sin directly: who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered:  Neither this man nor his parents sinned, …but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:1-3 NIV)[9]As in Christ’s ministry to the blind man, the point of our pain and suffering is not to draw attention to sin but for God to build a stronger relationship with us (Yancey, p. x).

Spiritual Warfare

In the Bible, great pain accompanies great joy.  In Mathew’s account of Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph flee in the middle of the night to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s attempt to murder the Christ child[10].  Although we love to celebrate the joy of Christmas, the original Christmas story was marred by genocide and the stench of death.  Great pain accompanies great joy[11].

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Consider the life of Ludwig Van Beethoven.  During the period when he was losing his hearing, Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony, the Choral Symphony, taking the text from Friedrich von Schiller’s poem, Ode to Joy.  On its opening night in 1824 Beethoven conducted the orchestra. The music was so beautiful that some of the musicians cried.  Yet, Beethoven heard none of it.  He was so deaf that when the symphony ended a member of the orchestra had to get up and draw Beethoven’s attention to the audience who had already begun to applaud.  Had Beethoven given into depression in his deafness rather than looked to God for inspiration, the world would have been robbed of one of its greatest musical treasures.

Beyond Pain

Just like we must look beyond the pain of crucifixion to see the joy of the resurrection, we must look beyond the suffering in our own lives to see the perfect future that is in Christ.  Just as James writes:

Consider it pure joy, my friends, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-5 NIV).

This Biblical view of pain accordingly turns the stimulus-response world of human psychology upside down.  Normal learning is disrupted because a positive response (that is, joy) follows a negative stimulus (that is, suffering).  In Christian psychology, the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.  This is why Paul writes: but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Words of Wisdom

In confronting pain and suffering, we are not alone.  We are not alone!  As the Apostle Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39 NIV)

Like Daniel in the lions den (Daniel 6:10-24), we testify to our faith by how we cope with pain and suffering.

Why Me?

The temptation in time of great adversity, of course, is to turn inward[13] and ask:  Why me?  The consequence of turning inward is that we end up blaming God for our problems and we become slaves to fear.

Stressful Year

During about a 12 month period in 1992-93, I lost my job, my son was born with a kidney defect, and my wife went through her first battle with breast cancer.  This was the hardest year of my life and I reacted by retreating into my work.  Out of deep seated fear, I worked every waking hour to learn new skills and to advance my career.

Initially, this approach worked.  I found a better position and was later promoted.  As time passed, however, the office situation changed.  Technical skills became less important and I found myself less able to adjust—I lacked self-confidence and fear prompted me to turn ever more inward.  It took me almost a decade before I was able to trust God enough to pull out of my shell.  While these years were not exactly wasted, I vowed before God that I would never again let myself become a slave to fear.

Where is God Leading Me?

Instead of asking why me, a better question to ask is:  where is God leading me?  Focusing on God’s plan for our lives is not only better theology; it diverts our attention away from our suffering and directly reduces our pain.  The change in attitude is also critical.  We are no longer victims of our own fears, but servants of an almighty God who are both willing and able to cope with the adversity.

An important byproduct of our own suffering is an increased capacity to minister to those suffering around us.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).

The strength that we gather from a life at the foot of the cross therefore allows us to be available to those who suffer around us.  Can you listen?  Can you empathize?   In the words of Paul: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi [14]

Lord, grant that I may seek rather

To comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved;

For it is by giving that one receives,

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen

Benediction

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.

(Romans 15:13 RSV).

 Footnotes


[1] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel.

[2] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel. Zondervan:  Grand   Rapids, Michigan.  P. 141.

[4]God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  Lewis.  P. 93.

[7] It is interesting that in the much shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Luke 6, Luke also highlights these two among the four Beatitudes he lists.  Mathew lists nine Beatitudes.

[9] Likewise, Job learns to depend on God in adversity (McGee, pp. 188-89; Job 42:1-3 NIV).  Similarly, Paul write:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).

[10] Mathew 2:16-18. Exodus 1:15-22.

[11] Similarly, in speaking of the second coming in Romans 8:22, Paul describes it as the pain of childbirth which is immediately sweep away by the joy of holding a newborn baby.

[13]If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Ecclesiastes 4:10.  Also, Cloud and Townsend, p. 216.

[14] Graham. p. 24.

References

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend.  1992. Boundaries.  Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  University of Michigan Press:  Ann Arbor. 1980.

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

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain.  MacMillan Publishing Company:  New York.

McGee, J. Vernon.  1991. Job.  Thomas Nelson Publishers:  Nashville, TN.

Skinner, B.F. 1971. Beyond Freedom and Dignity.  New   York:  Bantam Books, Inc.

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