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

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Compassion and Mercy,
Forgive me, Lord, for the sins of my youth where I fell short of the plans you had for me. When in your great compassion you were kind to me and patient,teaching me your law and demonstrating your grace. Forgive me, Lord, for the transgressions of my youth when I disobeyed your law when in your mercy you looked the other way and disregarded my attitude, teaching me forbearance and gentle persuasion.
Forgive me, Lord, for the iniquity of my youth when I failed to help those around me. When in your everlasting love you sent your son to die to me, atoning for my sin, my transgressions, and my iniquity so that I might grow to be a man mindful of compassion, mercy, and love that were modeled for me all the days of my life through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Chapman: Knowing Love’s Expression Can Heal

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

Gary Chapman.  2010.  The 5 Love Languages:  The Secret to Love that Lasts.  Chicago:  Northfield Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

According to the U.S. Census, the share of children born to unwed mothers rose from 27 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2007, with the rate more than doubling among white women over this period [1]. This one statistic implies that in our generation the prospects for children in the U.S. have plummeted. Think more poverty. Think more drug use. Think more suicides. Marriage is not just a romantic idea. Broken marriages are probably the most important social problem of our time.

Gary Chapman gets it.  In his book, The 5 Love Languages, he writes:  Keeping love alive in our marriages is serious business (13).  Relational and emotional sophistication is especially important in a society where

  1. Time is measured in milliseconds;
  2. Families are mobile and both spouses work; and
  3. Community ties are weak

because little or no backup exists.  In this context, if husband and wife fail to commute their love concretely and in a way that meet each other’s needs (fills their “love tank”; 20), then the marriage comes under stress.

Chapman observes that the period of “falling in love” lasts about 2 years (30). This implies a learning period that permits couples to learn about each other and sort out their relationship.  In Chapman’s experience as a marriage counselor, he observed that in healthy marriages couples expressed love in 5 distinct languages:

  • Words of Affirmation;
  • Quality Time;
  • Receiving Gifts;
  • Acts of Service; and
  • Physical Touch (18).

This observation is complicated by two further observations:

  1. We are all by nature egocentric and
  2. Couples seldom communicate love in the same language (15; 32).

When couples fail to learn to communicate love in their partner’s love language, both partners begin to feel that their emotional needs are not being met (the love tank empties) and they feel neglected.

A key challenge in many troubled marriages is learning to identify your partner’s primary love language and communicate love in that language (124).  Chapman sees 3 clues in discovering your primary love language:

  1. What actions or inactions of your spouse are most hurtful?
  2. What things do you most often request of your spouse?
  3. How do you try to express your love to your spouse? (128)

Areas of sensitivity, requests, and expressions of love all point to your primary love language.  Because we are not all alike, expressing love the way we hope to receive it may come across to your spouse like speaking Chinese to an English speaker (15).

How can we love someone that we hate? (151)  At this point, Chapman turns to his faith citing Jesus:  But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). While quoting scripture is fairly common, Chapman builds on it. He suggests:  try a little experiment—identify your spouse’s top 2 love languages and work for 6 months to offer them love through them without reacting to their comments or offering criticism.  Then, see what happens (153-162).  What do you have to loose?

Chapman is an interesting read. He peppers his advice with stories of couples experiencing the problem under discussion.  He also talks about his own challenges in marriage. Throughout this book I found myself applying his advice as I read along. Perhaps, you will too.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. Economics and Statistics Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2011.

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Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions, Part 2

Elliot_review_08032015Matthew A. Elliott. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the 1960s when I grew up, boys were expected to fight their own battles.

Back then I almost always won playground fist fights. It was not because I was particular big or strong; it was not because I had not learned karate; it was not because I looked for fights. The chief reason that I won was because I kept my eyes open and thought about what I was doing. Most bullies that picked a fight with me closed their eyes and swung as hard as they could. Their emotions were in full control and they lost. I won, in part, because my fighting strategy engaged my emotions and thinking more equally.

Differences in attitudes about the role of the head and the heart existed also in the ancient world. In his book, Faithful Feelings, Matthew Elliott divides his comments among Greek philosophy, the Old Testament, and the New Testament (NT).  In each of these contexts, remember the distinction between the cognitive theory of emotion (we get emotional about the things that we believe strongly) and the non-cognitive theory of emotion (random, unexplained, or physiological reactive emotions).

Greek Philosophy.

The Greek philosophers held a range of views about emotions.

For example, Plato’s division of the body, mind, and soul allowed later Stoics to divide the emotions from thinking—“passions were produced in the irrational part of the tripartite soul” (59-60). Things like magic arise as ways to manipulate these impersonal and irrational forces (61) and fear of emotional and irrational Gods was thought to account for unexplained suffering in the world (62).

In contrast to Plato’s tripartite division, Aristotle divided the person into just body and soul and believed that even the appetites of the body were subject to reason (hunger’s object is food) and intelligent behavior was open to reasoning and persuasion (66).

Old Testament.

Perhaps because the Hebrew mindset promoted unity of heart and mind, the Jewish attitude about emotions differed fundamentally from Greek thought.

Elliott (82) writes: “The righteous base their emotions on the knowledge of God.”  For example, the Hebrew word verb for to know (יָדַע) includes a much greater range of meanings than in English—“Emotional ties, empathy, intimacy, sexual experience, mutuality, and responsibility are all encompassed with the usage of this word” (82). Elliott observes that: “Prayer in the Psalms is not a ritual to conjure up emotion but, rather, a heartfelt cry based on beliefs about God and the world.” (83)  In other words, in Hebrew thought we see an integration of “knowledge and emotion…[which] includes knowledge that is heartfelt and emotional” (83). For example, Elliott (85) observes that biblical love is always a command—an odd idea if you believe love is just a warm and fuzzy emotion— and it is a manifestation of obedience to God which the most basic daily prayer in Judaism, the Shema, makes clear:

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

Here love is commanded and we find unity not only between the body and soul, but unity of God himself. Elliott (123) writes that:  “Israel’s God was emotionally stable.”  Heart and soul are words which simply emphasize different aspects of the unified person.

King Solomon (123) summarizes God’s emotional stability best when he writes:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Eccl. 3:1-8 ESV)

Elliott (115) concludes that “In Judaism emotion was a good thing…”

New Testament.

Elliott begins his analysis on emotion in the NT by noting a great deal of confusion and, as a result, errors in the literature about the nature of emotion.  He cites 4 errors:

  1. Mistakes in interpreting vocabulary or emotion words;
  2. Mistakes made in exegesis due to misinterpretation of emotion;
  3. A general neglect of emotion in NT studies; and
  4. A pervasive non-cognitive understanding of the emotions (125).

One mistake that he highlights is the use of the Greek word for heart, kardia (καρδία).  Much like the Hebrew word for heart (לִבּ), kardia has a wider range of meaning that in the English where the focus is narrowly on emotions.  Kardia “connotes the integration of mind, will, and emotions” (130).  Likewise, references to the mind (νοῦς) have a wider range of meaning in Paul’s work than the narrowly focused Greek mentality would suggest (132).  For Paul, heart and mind were words used for emphasis in a unified (holistic) person, not to suggest Platonic or Aristotelian division of the person.

This holistic view of the person leads to new insights into the meaning implied by the words of emotion.  For example, Elliott writes:

“What is love? I agree with Aquinas, Arnold, and other leading theorists that love is most general an attraction towards an object.  This attraction is the result of seeing a quality in an object that is good, valuable, or desirable. This definition is the only definition which will allow love to function as the root of all other emotions…” (135).

Notice how knowledge of a person is tied in with love of that person.  I may love someone who is hideously ugly because I understand that they had a horrible accident or because they are extremely kind or because they are a close friend or relative.

Thus, when Jesus commands us to love—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31 ESV)—he is using an emotion word, love, but he is not focused on commanding an emotional state (141).  Elliott writes:

“Emotions tell us the truth about what we believe and what we value. When the NT commands emotion it is exhorting the believer to have the values and beliefs out of which godly emotions flow.” (143).

The idea here is that in loving a person we are to treat them as worthy of love and as members of the family of faith.  This is not a warm and fuzzy kind of emotional state.

Clearly, there are a lot of details to go over in Elliott’s exhaustive inventory of emotions in the NT.  Elliott summarizes writing:  “Emotions are a faithful reflection of what we believe and value.” (264).

Matthew Elliott’s Faithful Feelings is a book that I have referred to this book frequently in my writing and speaking since I read it first in 2012. This book is of obvious interest to pastors, lay leaders, and seminarians interested in current controversies. Elliott makes an important contribution to the discussion of how to understand emotions in the Bible and to develop a better balance between head and heart in our faith.


How do you feel about this cognitive theory of emotion? Do you think that emotions and intellect really inform each other? How does this inform your attitude about theology?

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1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope, and Love

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

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).

Attitudes matter.  When we exercise spiritual gifts, do we seek to glorify God or ourselves?

One of the hardest things to do is to give God the glory and not focus on ourselves.  Praying an ACTS prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—is helpful, for example, because our impulse is to cut straight to supplication—the give me (gimme) part of prayer.  Because God already knows our needs, we are better advised simply to praise God and trust that he will meet our needs.  Focusing on the gimme part of prayer hints that we do not fully trust God; the same is true when we express our love for other people.

Two false views of love are very popular today.  One is a grasping, selfish—stalker—kind of love.  Stalker love says:  if I cannot have you, then no one else can either.  For example, Beetle musician John Lennon was murdered in 1980 not by an enemy, but by a fan who earlier in the day had even sought an autograph from him[1].  The stalker’s love is rooted in desire to possess, not to share affection or relationship.

Another false view of love arises not from the desire to possess, but to project self on the object of our desire. The classic example is that of a parent living vicariously through the child. Unfulfilled ambitions are projected onto the child and the child is then manipulated to live out a hidden script.  Alternatively, a child may simply never be allowed to wander outside the shadow of the parent to develop fully as a person.  These same dynamics can also occur for highly dependent spouses.  This false view of love is motivated by a desire to control explicitly or implicitly.

The context for Paul’s comments about love is the expression of spiritual gifts.  In chapter 12, Paul makes the point that the Holy Spirit is the source of all spiritual gifts (12 v 11) and the purpose of the gifts is to serve the body of Christ (12 v 7).  Here in chapter 13, Paul makes the point that spiritual gifts not motivated by love for one another are not so spiritual.  Speaking in tongues without love, for example, is like beating your own drum (gong or cymbal; v 1).  This same theme continues even in chapter 14 where Paul gives explicit advice about using gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy, properly in worship (14 v 4).

Clearly, like us the Corinthians do not have a proper attitude about gifts and they misunderstand the meaning of love.  Paul redefines love using the word, agape[2].  He does not use either phileo[3] often translated as brotherly love (think Philadelphia—the city of brotherly love).  He also does not use eros[4] usually translated as romantic love.  This humble, sacrificial definition of agape is unique to Paul (vv 4-7).

After defining agape, Paul goes on to suggest that he himself at one point held childish views which he gave up in adulthood—a polite way of suggesting they are childish in their view of love (v 11).  He then goes on to attribute this agape love to God himself, alluding to Moses’ encounter—face to face—with God on Mount Sinai (v 12; Numbers 12:8).  The argument is if God expresses a humble, sacrificial love, then we should too.

While Paul’s lesson here is about having a proper attitude about spiritual gifts, he also is careful to balance his view of agape love with faith and hope.  Love is not simply a warm, fuzzy feeling.   Paul balance faith, hope, and love in at least 4 other places in his letters[5].  Faith and hope balance love by anchoring it in our relationship with God.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_John_Lennon

[2] ἀγάπη (BDAG 39)—the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love–without limitation to very intimate relationships, and very seldom in general Greek of sexual attraction.

[3] φιλέω (BDAG 7742)—to have a special interest in someone or something frequently with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.

[4] ἔρως (BDAG 3145)—passionate interest…ardor fondness.

[5] See:  (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; Colossians 1:3-5; and Ephesians 1:15-21).


  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 12?
  3. What is the context for chapter 13? What does this suggest about the topic of the chapter?
  4. What does false love look like? Alternatively, how might spiritual gifts be misused? (v 1)
  5. The three words for love in Greek are: agape, philo, and eros.  What do they mean?
  6. What validates prophecy, knowledge, faith, generosity and martyrdom? (vv 2-3)
  7. What are the attributes of agape love? What are the opposite of these attributes? (vv 4-8)
  8. What is the key attribute of agape love? (vv 8-10, 12) Who does this remind you of?
  9. What does it mean to be a man and not a child? (v 11)
  10. What does the mirror analogy remind you of? (v 12; Numbers 12:8)
  11. Why does Paul group faith, hope, and love (v 13). What is different about Paul’s use of faith, hope, and love here?  (See: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; Colossians 1:3-5; and Ephesian 1:15-21)
  12. How is this chapter misused?

1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope, and Love

First Corinthians 14

First Corinthians 12

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JOHN 13: Foot Washing

By Stephen W. HiemstraOld_shoes_10192013

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 ESV).

What does it mean to be a disciple?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs a sign and then explains it.  Here the sign is dramatic—Jesus assumes the role of a slave and washes the feet of the disciples.  He then gives them a commandment:  love one another (v 34).  Both the sign and the commandment are equally dramatic.

John uses the word commandment four times in his Gospel.  In the first two uses, Jesus responds commands from and to God the Father:  but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life (John 12:49-50).  The third and fourth commandments are the same: love one another (v 34 and John 15:12).   Washing feet—an attitude of service—is the sign that goes with the love commandment.  Love is the only commandment in John’s Gospel.

The idea that Jesus commanded us to love one another is not in dispute.  In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor.  On these two statements of love hang the law and the prophets.  In other words, the double love command summarizes the entire Old Testament.  Similar statements can be found in the writings of Paul, James, and Peter.

Still, the foot washing sign raises some interesting comparisons.  For example, Jesus is not the first foot-washer that we meet in John Gospel—that honor goes to Mary in chapter 12.  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.  In chapter 12 Judas objects to Mary’s foot washing; in chapter 13 Peter objects.  Was Jesus so impressed with Mary’s service that he required it of his disciples?  Were the disciples so unhappy with the idea of radical servanthood that they betrayed Jesus?

The other interesting comparison is between foot washing and communion.  John’s Gospel is the only Gospel account to discuss foot washing at the last supper and he neglects to mention communion which is the focus of other accounts (Luke 22:13-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).  By contrast, John’s miracle of the feeding of five thousand where Jesus says–I am the bread of life (John 6:35 ESV)—has the sacramental feeling of communion.

Here John appears to have provided us a radical model of discipleship which substitutes a model of discipleship focused on service both in intimate moments (the last supper) and in public moments (the feeding of the five thousand).  This reading suggests that John’s communion is an outsider’s communion (the feeding of the five thousand) rather than an insider’s communion (disciples only) because it fits his model of discipleship better.

One further comparison is worth mentioning.  The foot washing incident in Luke 7:36-50 involves an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment.  In that incident, it is Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, who objects to the foot washing.

Jesus’ lesson on foot washing is a hard teaching–a disciple is one who serves; one who loves.  Left to myself, I object.  Do you?


  1. What does it mean to be Christ’s disciple?
  2. What do we learn about the time and place of this chapter in verse 1?
  3. What is the context within which Jesus washes the disciples’ feet? (vv 2-3)
  4. How was Jesus dressed as he washes their feet? (v 4).
  5. Why does Jesus wrap a towel around himself? (vv 4-5)
  6. What happens in the dialog between Jesus and Peter? (vv 6-10)
  7. Why did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? (vv 12-17)
  8. Why is Jesus troubled? (vv 11,18-30)
  9. Why is the foot-washing discussion (vv 12-17) bracketed by Jesus’ hints about Judas?
  10. Why does Jesus talk about his relationship with the father after Judas left? (vv 31-32)
  11. Why does Jesus give the love commandment? (vv 34-35)
  12. Why does Jesus dwell on where he is going? (vv 33-36-37)
  13. What is your take on the discussion with Peter? (vv 36-38)  Why is it significant?  Or not?
  14. Who started the foot washing in John’s Gospel? (Hint:  see chapter 12) Why is it important?


JOHN 13: Foot Washing

Also see:

JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation 

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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