Relational Ethics

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Humility is one of the Christ’s defining characteristics, which we know from the first three Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew. In these Beatitudes, Jesus focuses on tension within ourselves and honors disciples who live humbly, mourn their fallen state, and embody a spirit of meekness. Such disciples will receive heaven and  earth,  a merism⁠1 meaning everything (Matt 5:3-5). While we normally talk about humility in individualistic terms, the biblical context for humility comes in relationships with our families, churches, and communities.

The Christian Family

In Christ, we honor each individual regardless of status or age as being created in the image of God. The Apostle Paul’s writing is particularly clear on this point. He 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.” (Gal 3:28) No ethic group is better than any other; no economic class is better than any other; and no gender is better than any other. But Paul goes further in his household codes:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:1-4)

He is essentially saying that because we are all created in the image of God, no age group is better than any other. Neither a new born nor a senior standing at the gates of heaven is better than one another. Christians are to value life stages equally, honor the stage you are in, and not cling to any particular stage as if it were intrinsically preferred. 

In this sense, Christianity is a holistic faith that values maturity and embraces each stage of life with equal joy. This makes particular sense in a Christian context because our faith is rooted in history. Creation is the beginning and the second coming of Christ will be its end. Knowing the end is in Christ, we can journey through life in Christ meeting the challenges of each stage in life without fear.

Family Function

Consider the problem of raising children. Research by Stinnett and Beam (1999, 10) reports six characteristics of strong families:

  1. Commitment—these families promote each other’s welfare and happiness and value unity.
  2. Appreciation and Affection—strong families care about each other.
  3. Positive Communication—strong families communicate well and spend a lot of time doing it together.
  4. Time Together—Strong families spend a lot of quality time together.
  5. Spiritual Well-being—whether or not they attend religious services, strong families have a sense of a greater good or power in life.
  6. Ability to Cope with Stress and Crisis—strong families see crises as a growth opportunity.

Here we see humility being worked out in a family context. A key point in unifying these different models of behavior as it pertains to raising children is that adults are present and fully attentive to the children. 

The Family as an Emotional Unit

Family systems theory focuses on “the family as an emotional unit” rather than on particular individuals (Gilbert 2006, 3). This focus runs counter to most counseling approaches which assume the clinical model where the individual is treated as autonomous. Problems with their origin outside the individual obviously cannot be solved by treating the individual alone but that is the common practice. Family systems theory is often applied to other emotional units, like offices, churches, and groups, where relationships are intense and span many years.

The emotional unit is sometimes compared to the plumbing system in your house. If the water pressure rises to the breaking point, the leak will show up in the weakest link in the system. For families, the weakest link is usually a child so when parents quarrel continuously, it is often a child that starts acting out (nail biting, bed-wetting, fighting in school, teenage troubles, etc). If the child is sent to a therapist alone, the problem is not resolved, but when the parents stop quarreling, the child often stops acting out (Friedman 1985, 21).

Families matter more than normal (individualistic) intuition suggests. A death in the family may leave one person with chronic migraine headaches; another may develop back pain or experience a heart attack; a third may exhibit psychiatric dysfunction. While pastors and chaplains may not be surprised by this observation, standard medical and counseling training and practices focuses almost exclusively on the individual.

Humility as Emotional Maturity

Humility is not shyness and is not a natural trait—it is a learned trait that often comes with emotional maturity. It can also often healing within emotional units because anxiety is infectious ( Gilbert 2006, 7).

Anxiety transmission is more rapid and intense in tightly “fused” groups where individual are relatively close and unprocessed emotions run wild, so to speak ( Gilbert 2006, 21). Anxiety transmission is less rapid and intense in groups with individuals who are “differentiated” where individuals are able to separate feelings from thinking and emotions are less readily shared (Gilbert 2006, 33). Gilbert’s grandfather, who farms, attempts to be a “calming presence” when he is working with his cattle; otherwise when spooked, cattle will stampede (Gilbert 2006, 22).

Friedman (1985, 27-31) describes differentiation as the capacity to be an “I” while remaining connected. Differentiation increases the shock-absorbing capacity of the system by loosening the integration. The ideal here is to remain engaged in the system but in an non-reactive manner—a non-anxious presence. Great self-differentiation offers the opportunity for the entire system to change by reducing the automatic resistance to change posed by homeostasis (a tendency to resist change).  Family leaders (including pastors in church families) who develop greater self-differentiation can accordingly bring healing in the face of challenges in dysfunctional organizations.

1 Another famous merism is:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)

References

Friedman, Edwin H. 1985. Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue.  New York:  Gilford Press.

Gilbert, Roberta M. 2006. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory:  A New Way of Thinking about the Individual and the Group. Front Royal (VA):  Leading Systems Press.0

Stinnett, Nick and Nancy  Stinnett,  Joe Beam, and Alice Beam (Stinnett and Beam). 1999. Fantastic Families: 6 Proven Steps to Building a Strong Family. New York: Howard Books.

Relational Ethics

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

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Prayer for Leaders

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Christine's WeddingBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God,

All praise and honor are yours

for you have led us

out of the wilderness of life and

into the Promised Land.

Your salvation begins here and now, and extends into eternity.

We have unfortunately not often accepted your leadership.

We have strayed from the path of life into the jungle of our own desires and

sought refuge in a thousand idols.

Forgive our militant stubbornness, murderous pride, and unlimited insolence.

Thank you for your patience, unrelenting guidance, and your many spiritual gifts.

By the power of your Holy Spirit,

save us from ourselves–our thin skin, laziness, and pride–and

raise up Godly leaders in our land.

who will turn to you in their pain and follow your lead.

Teach us humility before we destroy ourselves.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen

Prayer for Leaders

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

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37. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webLoving Father,
We give thanks for the life and death of Jesus who lived a humble life and bore our sins on the cross. Help us to practice humbleness and hospitality with all people. Help us to put on Christ’s righteousness and defend your honor, not ours. Help us to pay our taxes, to turn the other cheek, to treat our enemies with love and respect, to go the extra mile seeing it as a ministry opportunity, to judge the actions but not the intentions of those around us.  Help us to end racial and ethic inequality and practice gender and economic equality in all we do. In the power of your Holy Spirit,  may conflict and bickering and gossip end with your sacrifice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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18. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father,

We give thanks for the gift of faith and the call into ministry which reaches out to our family, friends, and beyond. Guard our hearts in times of weakness, hardship, and temptation. Keep our mind sharp that we offer you our praise with clarity, coherence, and dedication, not tainted by vain desires, cultural confusion, or subtle idolatries. Grant us a spirit of meekness, a spirit of humility seated deeply in our character—not loosely held, superficially worn, or overshadowed by cherished sins. Place in us hearts eager to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Give us the strength to provide a sacrificial hospitality to those around us. In the face of suffering, make your Holy Spirit especially visible that we would not fail in our ministry due to temptations to be relevant, powerful, or spectacular in the eyes of those in our care. In the strong name of Jesus Christ, Your Son and our Savior. Amen.

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16. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Cover for Prayers of a Life in Tension

16. Prayers of a Life in Tension

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Amazing Lord,

Teach me to be like you—to love your grace like Christ and to love your laws like Moses and to have confidence in your compassion, meekness, and strength. For there is none like you: glorious and loving and yet truly humble. For you and you alone are Holy—creator of all that is, that was, and that will ever be; creator of heart and mind.  Help me to build on the work of Christ—to comfort the afflicted, to aid the poor, and to offer gentleness and hospitality in place of worldly crudeness and war. Grant me the strength to learn and to apply what I learn; grant me eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that is open to prayer. In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach me to be like you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Also see:

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

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7. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webOh dear Lord,
I give thanks that you are ever near to me—not too proud to linger with your servant and call me friend. Bless me with your spirit of humility and generosity—generous in time, generous in friendship, and generous in sharing yourself. Keep me safe from bad company; keep me safe from pious arrogance; keep me safe from my own sinful heart. Let me always be ever near to you, now and always, through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Prayer Day 26: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Gracious God. Give us the humility to pray for our daily needs. Walk with us during every step we take. Help us to be satisfied in all circumstances and to recognize your presence also in abundance. May we follow your example and be generous with those around us. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dios Misericordioso. Danos la humildad para orar por nuestras necesidades diarias. Camina con nosotros durante cada paso que tomamos. Ayudanos a estar satisfechos en cada circunstancia y a reconocer tu presencia también en abundancia. Que sigamos tu ejemplo y semos generosos con los que nos rodean. En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo, Amén.

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Jesus: Be Humble, Be Salt and Light

Life_in_Tension_web“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt 5:13 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The importance of Jesus’ teaching on the poor in spirit comes in his expanding on it and living it out.  What comes immediately after the Beatitudes? What were some of Jesus’ last acts during his time on earth?

The Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew interprets the Beatitudes in the context of discipleship with special reference to Isaiah 61:1 which reads:

“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…” (Isa 61:1 ESV)

The Hebrew for “to bring good news to the poor” is rendered in two words [1]. The word for poor (ana) can mean “poor, afflicted, humble, meek” (BDB 7238) [2]. The other word means bring good news. Matthew with his focus on discipleship turns after the Beatitudes to the task of bringing good news. The task of disciples is evangelism which itself expands on the first Beatitude [3].

Matthews uses Jesus teaching about salt, found also in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34, to point to the centrality of evangelism. Salt is a gregarios; its usefulness comes only in combination with food. No one puts salt on their table to ingest alone. Salt is used to enhance the flavor of foods and to preserve them. Matthew’s point is that: “The disciple is to the earth what salt is to food.” The disciple who refuses to be salt, is useless and stands under judgment—”good only to be thrown out and trampled” (Guelich 1982, 126-127). Matthew goes on to reinforce his discipleship theme with a second metaphor about light (Matt 5:14-16). Clearly for Matthew the tension between the disciple and the world is real, ongoing, and at the core of the mission. Luke’s discussion of enemy-love, which immediately follows the Beatitudes (Luke 6:27-25), also embodies this tension [4].

Jesus himself exhibits “poor in spirit” through at least two significant acts of humility on the night of his arrest: the foot-washing ceremony at the Last Supper (John 13:4-5) and the prayer in the garden at Gethsemane (Matt 26:39).

The Gospel of John records the Last Supper in great detail. Details begin John observing that Jesus’ was aware that he would be betrayed and would die (John 13:1-3). Under such circumstances, we might expect him to be withdrawn, paralyzed with fear, or bitter. Instead, Jesus begins an object lesson about humility:

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:3,4,14 ESV)

Foot-washing was the ultimate act of humility in the first century. Animals commonly shared the same roads as people and most people either wore sandals or walked barefoot. Dirty, stinky feet were the norm and slaves did the foot-washing. This is why Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet (John 13:8). He was also probably not anxious to get a lesson in humility because he was Jesus’ right hand man and leader among the disciples.

Luke overlooks the foot-washing, but records the lesson in humility. He writes:

“And He said to them, The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called Benefactors. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Both passages focus on the importance of humility in Christian leadership.

While Jesus’ object-lesson in foot-washing demonstrated humility among Christian leaders, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrated humility before God. Jesus prays: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew records Jesus repeating this prayer three times (Matt 26:39,42,44 ESV) [5].  While this prayer can be taken as piety or courage [6], it demonstrates the ultimate humility to be willing to die for others, including God, for purposes that are not fully understood [7].

The early church clearly got the message about being poor in spirit.  For example, humility is a character trait instrumental in the Apostle Paul’s ministry. He writes:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that humility is a core principle in his ministry practice.  His evangelism depended on his humility.  This point was made over and over in his work with the church in Corinth where he refused to accept a salary, in part, so that the Gospel could be freely and rightly preached [8].

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matt 5:3 ESV)

 

[1] לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים (Isa 61:1 WTT)

[2] This word is familiar because it appears also in Numbers 12:3 cited in a previous post (Jesus’ Mission Statement Gives Us Hope; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Uq).

[3] “The first Christian missionary was not Paul, but Peter and Peter would not have preached a ‘missionary’ sermon at Pentecost if he had not been a student of Jesus for three years.” (Schnabel 2004, 3)

[4] Luke’s focus on enemy love right after the Beatitudes may lead some to jump immediately to the double love command in Matthew 22:36-40.  But enemy love is qualitatively different—evangelism hangs on loving one’s enemies—people you have no attachment to.  The real question for the modern church is:  why is the double love command not the centerpiece of the Beatitudes?  The fact that it is not suggests that the priorities of the modern church have been misplaced.

[5] Also see Mark 14:36 and Luke 22:42 which place the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

[6] Neyrey (1998, 110,152) sees both courage and piety.

[7] The Apostle Peter and Jesus’ brother, James, both echo Jesus’ humility citing Proverbs 3:34: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” (1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6).

[8] Act 18:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 11:6-9.

REFERENCES

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.

Schnabel, Eckhard J. 2004. Early Christian Mission. Vol 1: Jesus and the Twelve. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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Jesus’ Mission Statement Gives Us Hope

Life_in_Tension_web“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)

Recorded in Matthew 5:17, Jesus’ mission statement links the law, the prophets, and the fulfillment of both. In Jewish thinking, the term, law, brings to mind the first five books in the Old Testament—the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers. The term, prophets, loosely refers to the remainder of the Old Testament. In other words, Jesus takes as his task to fulfill all of the Old Testament scripture.

Law.  The word, law, is often short for Law of Moses.  Because “poor in spirit” can mean humble,  Numbers 12:3 comes to mind.  It reads: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3 ESV). The verses that follow set Moses spiritually apart from both Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ brother and sister, because he had a unique relationship with God—one that exceeds the relationship of a normal prophet [1]. The Hebrew word here (ana), translated as meek, can also be translated as poor, afflicted, humble, or meek [2].

Two important points follow from this word association. First, poor in spirit meaning humble draws us uniquely closer to God—Moses close. God spoke to Moses directly, face to face, not in riddles or dreams (Num 12:6-8). This is like a return to the Garden of Eden in terms of intimacy with God—God our father in heaven close. Second, in case you missed it in the first Beatitude, Jesus uses the word, meek, a second time in the third Beatitude. If he were speaking Hebrew, then he could have used the same word twice—an emphatic statement. The blessing of poor in spirit was: the kingdom of heaven. The blessing for meek was: inheriting the earth. What does the Bible start? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1 ESV). In other words, being poor in spirit or meek in God’s eye gets you heaven and earth.

Of course, the opposite of humble is proud. While there are a lot of proud rulers in the Old Testament, Pharaoh is the archetype of a proud ruler, especially when you are thinking of Moses. What does God say through Moses to Pharaoh? Moses said:  “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me.” (Exod 10:3 ESV) Pharaoh refused and things ended badly for him [3].

Prophet. While Matthew 5:17 is a quite general statement of Jesus’ intent to fulfill all of scripture, Luke 4:18-19, which records Jesus’ call sermon, quotes almost verbatim from Isaiah 61:

“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…” (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

When Isaiah writes about bringing “good news the poor”, he uses the same Hebrew word for poor (ana) as used in Numbers 12:3 [4]. This passage is significant for at least two reasons. First, the use of the word, anointed, flags this passage as a messianic prophesy. Second, one might also ask whether the term, “broken-hearted”, is actually the better analogy to “poor in spirit” than “poor”. This suggests that a Isaiah 61 is indeed an important source not only for his call sermon but also for the Beatitudes.

Fulfillment. The word for fulfillment in the Greek text here (πληρόω) is generally translated as meaning: to bring to a designed end, fulfill a prophecy, an obligation, a promise, a law, a request, a purpose, a desire, a hope, a duty, a fate, a destiny (BDAG 5981, 4b). It was common for rabbis in Jesus’ day to preach from the law using the prophets to interpret what was meant. One might then perhaps say that the law had been “fulfilled” in following it correctly. However, the Gospel of Matthew uses fulfill more frequently than the other Gospels [5] and most often in reference to the fulfillment of prophecy (12/17), not mere compliance with law. In other words, for Matthew the focus in fulfillment is an action—to live out the prophecy in the sense of taking the next steps [6].

The law and the prophets are fulfilled in the faithful life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus honors the poor in spirit who follow his lead in life, death, and  eternal life.

 

[1] “And he said, Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num 12:6-8 ESV)

[2] (עָנָי; BDB, 7237).

[3]  “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained.” (Exod 14:28 ESV)

[4] The Greek Septuagint also uses the same word for poor as in Matthew 5:3 (πτωχοῖς (Isa 61:1 BGT)).

[5] Matthew [17 times] 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 9:16; 12:17; 13:35, 48; 21:4; 23:32; 26:54, 56; and 27:9. Mark [5 times]1:15; 2:21; 6:43; 8:20; and 14:49. Luke [7 times] 1:20; 3:5; 4:21; 7:1; 21:24; 22:16; and 24:44. John [15 times] 1:16; 3:29; 7:8; 12:3, 38; 13:18; 15:11, 25; 16:6, 24; 17:12-13; 18:9, 32; and 19:24, 36.

[6] Guelich (1982, 163) sees Jesus, for example, fulfilling Jeremiah 31:31-34 where God promises to write the law on our hearts.

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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2 Corinthians 6: Accredited in Christ

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry… (2 Corinthians 6:3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Having a bit of Irish in me, seminary introduced me for the first time to the story of Saint Patrick.  Up to that point, I associated Saint Patrick primarily with green beer.  In fact, Saint Patrick is credited by some with saving the Christian faith.  However, Saint Patrick did not start out as a saint.  Born into an aristocratic British family in the late fourth century AD, at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates and sold into slavery.  For six years he worked herding cattle living as a slave in the Irish wilderness.  There he learned humility being forced to depend on God; learned to speak the Celtic language; and learned to love the Celtic people.  Patrick began to pray for the Irish to reconcile with God.  In response to a dream, he escaped his master and returned to England where he studied to become a priest.  He was later commissioned as bishop and returned to Ireland as an evangelist.  Patrick and his colleagues were so successful in starting churches in Ireland that they later turned their attention to the continent of Europe and began the process of revitalizing the church there [1].  Patrick’s walk with the Lord, like that of Joseph, began in adversity and a life of hardship [2].

The Apostle begins his discourse in chapter 6 with Biblical citation from the Prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ (Isaiah 49:8-9 ESV)

The phrase “time of favor” translates the Greek word, kairos (καιρός), which means decision time or time of crisis [3].  In order to bring the unsaved to the point of the day of salvation, Paul is willing to undergo all manners of hardships—great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger—and personal disciplines—by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love (vv 4-6) to accredit himself with the unsaved.

Why? Paul’s appeal is to the Christians of the Corinthian church.

Keeping Paul’s audience in mind, he then goes on to admonish these Christians to separate themselves from the idolaters who remain among them.  Paul is not asking them to separate themselves from all unbelievers (that would make evangelism rather difficult), but rather:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 ESV) [4]

Idolatry was a particular problem for the Corinth church because the religions of the day practiced temple prostitution and embraced syncretism—recognizing and practicing multiple religions.  This placed them in direct violation of the Second Commandment—do not practice idolatry (Exodus 20:4).  Paul asks:  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (v 16).  Idolatry and syncretism are important problems today, in part, because modern and postmodern religious movements masquerade as lifestyles, entertainment, political movements, and fads whose religious elements are subtle—they function as religions kind of like an SUV functions as a car even though its legal (or regulatory) treatment is different.

Paul is therefore placing his lifestyle of obedience and hardship in contrast with the lifestyle of opulence and sin practiced by his opponents in the Corinthian church.  Consequently, when I wear a Celtic cross, I am reminded not only of the Presbyterian Church but also the humility of Saint Patrick that helped bring it into being.

[1] George G. Hunter III. 2000. The Celtic Way of Evangelism:  How Christianity can Reach the West…Again. Nashville:  Abingdon Press.  Pages13-25.  Also see:  Philip Freeman.  2004.  Saint Patrict of Ireland:  A Biography.  New York:  Simon & Schuster (PhilipFreemanBooks.com).

[2] Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 39).

[3] καιρός (BDAG, 3857) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology.

[4] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing. Pages 330-340.

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