Living Testimony

Life_in_Tension_web“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…”
(1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The New Testament is full of a allusions to persecution which are mostly edited out when passages are cited in worship services and other uses.

For example, the citation above is normally cited entirely out of context as: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). The snipet is entirely upbeat and usually cited as the reason to argue apologetically for the faith. At least three things are missing when this is done. First, there is no recognition of the context of persecution. Second, there is no recognition of Peter’s admonition to speak “with gentleness and respect”. Finally, the verbal defend often highlighted entirely misses the point that the entire letter focuses on “lifestyle evangelism”—living out the faith, not talking about the faith, and only that one phrase mentions a verbal defend.

In fact, one could argue that practicing for a verbal defense is contrary to scripture, because Jesus says:

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12 ESV)

The tension that we feel with others over our faith is expected because of the work and power of the Holy Spirit manifested in our lives. Notice the order of events in this admonition:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

It is the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us that leads us to become witnesses.

Because it is the power the Holy Spirit that leads us into this tension, it is neither our propensity to be vocal nor a desire to take risks that leads us to witness for Christ. The opposite is also true. It is neither our shyness in front of people nor our risk aversion that holds us back in witnessing for Christ—in our joy in salvation we want to tell the whole world! However, fear can quelch the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Barthel and Edling (2012, 101) note:

“When individuals in groups are motivated by fear of the opinion of other people (what others personally think about them) more than the fear of God, their hearts grow cold to the Spirit of God. Lacking God-consciousness, there is no restraining the motivation of the heart; only world passions and popularity with crowd control. This is common in church conflicts. Defensiveness, self-righteousness, and pride rule the day when people vien in to the fear of man.”

It is interesting that where we frequently pray for protection the early church prayed for boldness in their witness [1]. The problem facing the church of Laodicea, so common today, seems to have come later. As the Apostle John prophesied:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16 ESV)

Finney (1982,74-76) lists six consequences of quelching the Holy Spirit in our lives:

  1. Darkness of mind—the truth makes no useful impression.
  2. Coldness towards religion.
  3. Holding various errors in religion.
  4. Disbelief.
  5. Delusion regarding one’s spiritual state.
  6. Attempts to justify wrongdoing.

In this list we observe problems of tension with ourselves, with others, and with God. Fear of others, particularly persecution, leads us to abandon our faith both in God and in ourselves in a kind of downward spiral. Is it any wonder than in our times of timid faith, many are are burdened daily with debilitating anxiety and treated for depression even on sunny days? One wonders if increasing persecution is less about other people than it is about our own weakness and doubt—like a feeding frenzy observed among wounded fish.

Barthel and Edling (2012, 89) observe churches in conflict snapping to their senses when leaders are reminded of the need to remain God-centered and to reframe conflict around well-choice questions for reflection. Of course, this rings a bit like sound pastoral advice for us as individuals as well.

What is your favorite scripture passage?

[1] “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31 ESV)

REFERENCES

Barthel, Tara Klena and David V. Edling. 2012. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Finney, Charles. 1982. The Spirit-Filled Life (Orig pub 1845-61). New Kensington: Whitaker House.

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Persecution Can Be Transformative

Life_in_Tension_web“And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution
against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the
regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In my grandparents’ home, every meal began with prayer and ended with a scripture reading. During my college years at Iowa State University, I used to travel to visit them on the weekends. At one point when it was my turn to pick a scripture passage, I read the story of Stephen. Well, sort of. I could not read the story without breaking out in tears…

The charge against Stephen was twofold:

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:13-14 ESV)

Stephen never disputed the charge and offered no defense. Instead, he accused the Jews of false worship and not keeping the law (Acts 7:48,53) effectively validating their charges. What drove them crazy, however, was when he reminded them of Jesus’ words during his trial:

“But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64 ESV) [1]

Jesus was paraphrasing Daniel 7:13. This was clear a claim of divinity. Stephen’s stoning was spontaneous and illegal under Roman law (John 18:31). Yet, it was approved by Saul (Acts 8:1). Persecution requires a persecutor.

By his own words, Saul was an zealous persecutor (Phil 3:6). Saul is introduced in Acts 7:58 with the execution of Stephen. In Acts 8 we are told that he not only approved of Stephen’s stoning, he led the persecution of the church in Jerusalem that followed (Acts 8:1, 3). Saul’s persecution is described with the word ravage (λυμαίνω; Acts 8:3) which suggests a path of self-destruction as in the proverb: “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” (Prov. 19:3 ESV)

In leading the persecution of the church, Saul both assists in scattering the Jerusalem disciples to the regions of Judea and Samaria—fulfilling the commission of Christ in Acts 1:8. For example, we read: Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4 ESV). In doing so, at his worse Saul still acts as an unwilling, unknowing instrument of the Holy Spirit. However, when Saul sets his course to oppose Christ’s commission in the scattering by going to Damascus, he meets the risen Lord who, unlike in the case of Judas Iscariot (Matt 28:5), graciously prevents him from self-destruction. Even before his conversion, the Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, accomplished God’s will and his own call (Acts 9:15-16).

A spiritual bond is formed between the persecuted and persecutors. Charismatics refer to it as one of the chains of Satan because turning into our pain is a clear choice to turn away from God [2]. Forgiveness breaks this bond and makes room for God’s Holy Spirit to work in our lives (Rom 12:19). Interestingly, the Apostle Paul never forgot Stephen and mentions him in his speech before the Sanhedrin when he is arrested in Jerusalem in which recounts his own conversion (Acts 22:20). Was Paul God’s answer to Stephen’s prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”? (Acts 7:60 ESV)

The Book of Acts reports that the Holy Spirit worked through persecution to establish the first gentile church in Antioch. We read:

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.” (Acts 11:19 ESV)

The key word here is scattered (διασπαρέντες). The only other place in the New Testament where this word appears is in Acts 8:4: Now those who were scattered [by Saul’s persecution] went about preaching the word. The word suggests an action of the wind—in English we say scattered by the wind [3]. The word for wind in the Greek is pneuma (πνεῦμα). This word is also translated as Holy Spirit. The inference is that the Holy Spirit established the church at Antioch by means of persecution. Because the apostles remained primarily in Jerusalem at this point, God went ahead of them to establish his church in “all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV), much like God has used the Pentecostal movement in our own time to reach much of the known world.

The implication here is that persecution is used by God to shake things up and to form not only individuals but also His church.

 

[1] Also see: Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:69.

[2] Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane gives us a clear template for dealing with pain (Matt. 26:39-44 ESV).

[3] The allusion here is to Luke 8:5-15, The Parable of the Sower.

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Prayer Day 15: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit. We praise you for creating and re-creating our world. Bless the church with the Holy Spirit’s continuing presence and spiritual gifts that we may minister with power and grace to a fallen world. And in all circumstances grant us peace. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, Amado Hijo, Espíritu Santo. Te alabamos por crear y re-crear nuestro mundo. Bendice la iglesia con la presencia continua y los dones espirituales del Espíritu Santo que podemos servir con poder y gracia en un mundo caído. Y en todas circunstancias da nos paz. En el precioso nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

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Prayer Day 2, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Heavenly Father:  We praise you for creating heaven and earth; for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen.  We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future.  We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is ever present with us; who sustains all things; who showers us with spiritual gifts.  Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, te alabamos para creación de los cielos y de la tierra; para creación de todo que es, que fue, y que sera; para creación de las cosas visibles e invisibles. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismo en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret; nuestro modelo en la vida, redentor en el muerto, y la esperanza para el futuro. Te alabamos por el Espíritu Santo, quien está presente con nosotros que duchar nos con dones espirituales y sustentar todo las cosas. Abierta nuestras corazones, iluminar nuestros mentes, fortalecer nuestros manos en su servicio. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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The Holy Spirit

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

“I believe in the Holy Spirit.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Holy Spirit, sometimes called the Holy Ghost, is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit goes by a number of names and descriptions in scripture including: Spirit of the Lord (Judg 3:10), Spirit of God (Matt 3:16), Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), Spirit of Life (Rom 8:2), Spirit of the Living God (2 Cor 3:3), Spirit of Wisdom (Eph 1:17), Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:19), Eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14), Spirit of Glory (1 Pet 4:14), Spirit of Prophecy (Rev 19:10), Helper (John 14:16), and God of Endurance and Encouragement (Rom 15:5).

The wide range of titles suggests that the Holy Spirit plays a wide range of roles and suggests a God of power who is anxious to confer many different spiritual gifts. The Apostle Paul writes:

no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (1 Cor 12:3–6)

By gifting and empowering spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit makes Christian unity possible because these gifts make the Christian life, community, and mission service possible.

The Holy Spirit sometimes makes avian (or bird like) appearances. In creation, for example, we witness that: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) The word for hovering here in the Hebrew later describes an eagle (Deut 32:11). In all four Gospels, the Holy Spirit descends in baptism on Jesus like a dove—a fitting symbol of God’s peace [2]. For this reason, in part, the Holy Spirit is often associated with the sacrament of baptism.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit saying: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) The Greek word for helper here transliterates as the Paraclete, which also means advocate, intercessor, and mediator [3]. The verbal form of Paraclete also means to comfort, to encourage, to console, and to exhort [4]. John 14:26 equates the Paraclete to the Holy Spirit.

Although we frequently think of the Holy Spirit in highly personal terms, the supreme act of the Holy Spirit began at Pentecost in the founding of the church. We read:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2–4)

The word for Holy Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek means both spirit and wind. The church’s evangelism and service illustrate the Holy Spirit’s continuing provision for reaching the world.

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, and John 1:32.

[3] (BDAG, 5591).

[4] (BDAG, 5590).

 REFERENCES

Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

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1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

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

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (vv 4-6).

Are your talents a gift?

The Apostle Paul is not shy about discussing the role of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he begins a 3-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts.  Hays (207)[1] sees this chapter divided into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction (vv 1-3);
  2. Manifestations of the Spirit (vv 4-11);
  3. Body analogy (vv 12-26); and
  4. Application to gifts and offices of the in the church (vv 27-31).

In his introduction, Paul grabs the bull by the horns and says:  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (v 1).  This direct approach is most interesting—these days we often read of churches torn up by controversies—often outright sin—that were allowed to grow in the shadows.  Paul does not let mold grow in the shade; he confronts controversy head on.  And he claims all things for Christ—no one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit (v 3).

In discussing manifestation of the Spirit, Paul sees a Trinitarian (Spirit, Lord, and God) variety of gifts, services, and activities (vv 4-6).  In claiming all gifts, services, and activities for God, none is excluded and none is more important than the other.  Theologians get excited about Paul’s Trinitarian statement because it seems off the cuff rather than the focus of his comments.  In other words, Paul experiences God in three persons even though his does not articulate a formal theology of the Trinity (Hays 210).

Paul use of the body as an analogy for the church is interesting, in part, because he reframes the analogy from his peers.  Ancient authors often used the same analogy to argue for hierarchy in the social order; Paul uses it to illustrate diversity and interdependence (Hays 213).  In undertaking his discussion, he tailors his comments to the particular needs of the Corinthian church which becomes obvious in comparing the list of spiritual gifts with other lists that he provides, for example, in Ephesians 4:11-13 and Romans 12:6-8.  Neither alternative list, for example, cites speaking in tongues (v 10).  Clearly, Paul’s emphasis in listing gifts is not on the list, but on the legitimacy and use of each gift to build up the body of the church.

In wrapping up his comments, he exhorts the Corinthians to strive to work in building up the church and in attaining the “higher gifts” (vv 27 and 31).  One suspects in reading this section that Paul prioritizes spiritual gifts, in part, because Corinthian priorities were different.

One clue to this deficiency is Paul’s switch in words used in the Greek for gifts.  In verse one, a gift is πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; mostly in the sense pertaining to wind or breath) already in verse 4 Paul switches to χάρισμα (BDAG 7896; that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift).  In switching from an emphasis on the receiver of the gift to an emphasis on the giver, Paul highlights the role of the Holy Spirit.  A spiritual gift is a talent used to build up the body of Christ.

Are you musical?  Do you work well with kids?  How might your gift be used to build up the church?

[1] Richard B. Hays.  2011. Interpretations:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

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Prayer Day 16: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Loving Father. You clothe the birds that neither spin or reap (Matt 6:26). You send the rain and the sunshine on the just and the unjust without discrimination (Matt 5:45). You make the day and the night to bless us with activities and with sleep (Gen 1:5). We cast our obsessions and addictions at your feet. In the power of your Holy Spirit, heal our relationships and soften our hearts that we might grow more like you with each passing day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Galatians 3: Law and Gospel

Law and Grace by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. Do you have questions from chapter 2?
  3. Why does Paul call the Galatians foolish? What does Paul mean by foolish?  (See Titus 3:3,9)
  4. What question does Paul ask in verse 2? Why is it interesting? (vv 3-6)
  5. What is Paul’s point about Abraham? (Hint:  Genesis 15:1-6)
  6. Who is considered a child of Abraham? (v 7)
  7. What is the condition of faith that counts for Abraham and us? (vv 8-9)
  8. What is the curse of the law? (v 10; Deuteronomy 27:26, 28:58-59, 30:10)
  9. Was Christ cursed of God? Why? (Deuteronomy 21:23)
  10. Why were the Galatians blessed? (v 14)
  11. What is Paul trying to say about the covenant with Abraham? (v 15)
  12. What is the difference between inheritance by law and inheritance by promise? (vv 18-22)
  13. What is Paul’s point about guardians and law? (vv 23-26)
  14. What is the effect of baptism? (vv 27-29)

 

Galatians 3: Law and Gospel

Also see:

Galatians 2: Jews and Gentiles 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

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

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