Whelchel Sees Call in Work

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Hugh Whelchel.  2012.  How Then Should We Work?  Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington:  WestBow Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mental habits are hard to break.  One particularly insidious habit is to worship the “god of the gaps” (gog) rather than the sovereign, Triune God.

Gog worship shows up in several ways.  One is the gog worshiped only between 11 and 12 a.m. on Sunday mornings.  Another gog appears like insurance—a kind of Aflac god who handles all the problems that we cannot.  Still another gog is observed only indirectly (a shadow gog)—whenever anyone expresses a concept of God that is too large (or too inconvenient)—that person is labeled a fanatic or fundamentalist.  Gog worshipers are easy to make fun of until one shows up in the mirror:  Gog worship is the default setting of the postmodern world—even for an economist turned pastor like myself.

In his book, How Then Should We Work, Hugh Whelchel reminds us that God created the heavens and the earth—everything. Everything is not a spiritual concept; everything includes everything.  All that we do—whether inside or outside the church; whether inside or outside the home—should be done in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17).  God is as a powerful worker—he creates; he created everything (7).

Whelchel states his purpose as:  to explore the Biblical intersection of faith and work, attempting to understand the difference between work, calling, and vocation and how they should be Biblically applied in our daily lives(5).  His book is organized in 6 chapters which focus on carefully defining the concept of call. These chapters are preceded by a forward, preface, and acknowledgments and are followed by a biography of the author, notes, and suggested readings.

In the important area of defining call, Whelchel (75-77) cites 5 calls. He distinguishes the first call, the call to faith in Christ, as primary and cites 4 secondary calls—the call to family, church, community, and vocation.

Whelchel’s (56) concept of Biblical work focuses on 5 concepts, which are:

  1. The Four-Chapter Gospel (creation, fall, redemption, and restoration).
  2. The Cultural Mandate (The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15 ESV)).
  3. The Kingdom of God (being salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-14)).
  4. Common Grace (seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV).
  5. The Biblical Meaning of Success (as seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:1-13).

Whelchel’s observed in the Parable of the Talents that the reward was the same for the 5-talent or 2-talent servants—we need only worry how to use our talents, not obsess over how many talents we are given.

In his final chapter, Whechel asks:  how do we integrate our work and our faith in a way that is pleasing to God? The first of his 9 responses to this question is the most telling:  we must rediscover that our primary vocation is the call to follow Jesus (117).

Whelchel holds a master of divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary; he is a former technology worker; and currently serves as executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics (www.TIFWE.org) located in McLean, VA.  As he claims, Whechel’s book is: a Biblical primer on integrating our faith and work (xxviii). He reviews the literature on vocational calling at great length and why we should care. Missing here perhaps is a link that applies these insights in the era of gog.  Still, I found my own faith journey reflected in page after page.  Perhaps you will too.

Whelchel Sees Call in Work

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Spiritual Links and Tensions

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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)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The subjective tensions in our spiritual life track the objective gaps in our inward, upward, and outward relationships, and are deeply rooted in the witness of the Old Testament. In the inward gap, which arises between who we were and the person that God created us to be, we find in allusions to the person of Moses. In the upward gap, which arises between us and God, we find in allusions to the character of God Himself. In the outward gap, which arises between us and those around us, we find allusions to the messianic prophecies of Isaiah. Together, these gaps and tensions suggest how Jesus intended Old Testament prophecy to be fulfilled.

Focusing on the inward gap, the first three Beatitudes:

Honored are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Honored are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:3–5)

These Beatitudes focus on who we are and borrow their language, in part, from Isaiah 61:1. However, the influence goes further back to the attitude and person of Moses, as in: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3). The dominant motif in these three Beatitudes—meekness or humility—is expressed by Moses whose overall spirituality is well-defined in the Books of the Law.

Focusing on the upward gap, the second three Beatitudes:

Honored are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Honored are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Honored are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:6–8)

These Beatitudes focus on God and God’s core values expressed in Exodus 34:6:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exod 34:6).

The repeated references to God’s character in the Old Testament, especially Jonah 4:2, highlight God’s mercy and Christ’s atoning work on the cross (1 Cor 15:3).

Focusing on the outward gap, the last three Beatitudes:

Honored are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt 5:9–11)

These Beatitudes focus on what we do and draw us back to Isaiah 61:1:

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)

God’s sovereign work instituting shalom in a social context is unexpected—we do not expect to experience God’s presence in the context of persecution. Yet, even during persecution God is not only present, he is sovereignly at work to transform lives and to offer shalom, the heart of Christian spirituality.

The Beatitudes are a key to Jesus’ own spirituality. A complete spirituality needs to answer four important questions (Kreeft 2007, 6) The questions are: Who is God? (metaphysics); Who are we? (anthropology); How do we know? (epistemology); and What do we do about it? (ethics) The Beatitudes answer three of these four questions: Who is God? (God is merciful . . .); Who are we? (we are meek like Moses); and What do we do about it? (we offer shalom). Jesus’ resurrection answers the fourth question: How do we know? (because Christ rose from the dead).

Knowing that the Beatitudes are anchored in the Old Testament, not only highlights God’s immutable character traits in Exodus 34:6, it ties Christ’s divinity to them. The Beatitudes and their scriptural context assure that we do not shape Jesus into a likeness of our own image. This is why the early church focused intensely on the Beatitudes (Guelich 1982, 14) and why the Beatitudes deserve renewed study today.

References

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

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine Press.

 

Spiritual Links and Tensions

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Blessing Those that Persecute

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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

(Rom 12:14)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Increasingly even in America, Christians find themselves the target of isolation, discrimination, persecution, and shootings. Few will forget the shooting of young, female, high school student in 1999 for professing faith in Jesus Christ, yet it happened again in 2015.⁠1 During 2015 alone, a woman was jailed for publicly espousing Biblical views on marriage (Ellis and Payne 2015); a church was the site of a mass shooting (Wikipedia 2015a); and Christians were publicly beheaded by Islamic extremists. From the cross, “Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Like the crucifixion, persecution reminds us of who we are, who we belong to, and what we are about.

Who We Are

Persecution links our identity to Christ, as Jesus reminds us: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:12) Persecution for righteousness sake validates our faith and places us in the company of prophets.

Who We Belong To

Like the prophets, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) and undocumented aliens here on earth, as the Apostle Peter writes:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 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 Pet 2:10-12)

Honorable conduct and good deeds mark us as Christians so as the body of Christ people should see something different about us, especially in persecution (Isa 51:1).

What We Are About

Persecution is part of the mix of trials that we should expect to experience (Rom 8:34-39), as the Apostle Peter writes:

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 Pet 3:13-17)

Are we zealous for what is good? Do we suffer for righteousness sake? Persecution trains us to lean on Christ—the source of our goodness and righteousness— and not our own abilities, prejudices, and strength.

When Jesus teaches us about being salt, it is attached to a warning: “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) If we lose touch with Christ, we are like an unplugged vacuum cleaner showing potential, but no power—trampling is a good analogy for the persecution of a church that has lost its way.

Footnotes

1 http://www.CassiereneBernall.org. Also: (Saslow, Kaplan, and Hoyt, 2015).

Blessing Those that Persecute

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Christian Paradox

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He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, 

that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 

By his wounds you have been healed. 

(1 Pet 2:24)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus teaches us to practice humility while pursuing righteousness even if we suffer shame, persecution, and death, as he did on the cross. Because death is the penalty for sin (Gen 3:3), Jesus’ righteous death on the cross allowed him to pay the penalty of our sin (1 Pet 2:24; 1 Cor 15:3) and his resurrection identified him as the son of God. This linking of sin to the penalty of death is critical to understanding Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. Out of 189 verses in the Bible that use this term, 89 are found in Ezekiel, which refer to the prophet himself. The term in Hebrew literally means “son of Adam” (Ezek 2:1). In the more famous passage in Daniel 7:13, the Hebrew expression is the more familiar “son of man.”

Christ’s atoning death runs against our usual assumption that our debt for sin is, not against God, but against our neighbor. For example, discrimination, a form of persecution against our neighbor, results in tensions over racial, ethnic, class, and gender equality, as the Apostle Paul taught:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial and ethnic equality], there is neither slave nor free [economic equality], there is no male and female [gender equality], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28)

Being one in Christ means that we model our lives after both Christ’s humble life and death so that humility replaces pride, discrimination, and persecution in our own lives, as evidenced in our treatment of others.

Modeling humility, Jesus offers many alternatives to violence in dealing with persecution, including:

1. Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt 5:39)

2. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44).

3. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matt 5:41)

4. Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matt 7:1)

5. …render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matt 22:21)

Refusing to defend oneself (one’s honor) could lead to perilous outcomes in a first century legal context because one was expected to offer one’s own defense, but it is absolutely necessary if persecution is to become a ministry opportunity, as we are told:

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. (Luke 21:12–13)

We see this principle illustrated firsthand when Stephen refused to offer his own defense before the Sanhedrin and chose instead to defend Christ (Acts 7).

Stephen was the first among many Christian martyrs (Foxe 2001, 10), but other early Christians risked their lives in living testimony through service, as during a plague in Alexandria in the third century Christians refused to abandon the city and remained to care for the sick. A recent example of such fearless service was seen among Christian doctors working during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Less  so with the AIDS epidemic (Kinnaman and Lyons 2007, 110).

A life of fearless service is possible because in Christ’s resurrection life follows death—the origin of Christian paradox.

References

Foxe, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

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

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

Christian Paradox

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prosecute Righteousness

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Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For many Christians, persecution poses a perplexing question—“Why are good people persecuted?” (Graham 1955, 98)—to which the Book of James responds:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2–4)

The paradox of the suffering servant at the heart of the Christian worldview was first expressed by the Prophet Isaiah: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11) In effect, what James is saying is that persecution for righteousness’ sake both shapes us in sanctification and marks us as disciples of Christ, who was himself persecuted unto death.

Here the Greek word for persecution means: “to harass someone, esp. because of beliefs, persecute” (BDAG 2059.2) and it often associated in the Old Testament with a military engagement vigorously pursued (e.g. Deut 11:4). The Greek word for righteousness means: “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness,  righteousness.“ (Guelich 1982, 93) As we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we expect others to persecute us, as scripture reminds us (1 Pet 4:16).

The injustice of Jesus’ persecution is noted by one of the other men being crucified (also Isa 53) as Luke’s Gospel records:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

Note that this story mentions both the idea of righteous persecution and the reward of heaven, as cited in the Eighth Beatitude.

Persecution (unto death) in the Old Testament begins with the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain kills Abel because God accepted Abel’s righteous sacrifice and rejected his own (Gen 4:3–9). Post-resurrection persecution in the New Testament begins with the stoning of Stephen who accused the Sanhedrin of false worship, persecution of the prophets, and murdering God’s Messiah (Acts 7:48–53). Persecution is likely also to be our fate, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37)

Persecution is often edited out of this passage in public readings, but it is fundamental to our life in Christ.

Jesus reminds us that a student is not better than his teacher—he was persecuted; we will be persecuted (Matt 10:24–25). But even in the midst of persecution, Jesus admonishes us to—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)—suggesting that persecution is an ministry opportunity.

References

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

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

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

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

Prosecute Righteousness

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Prune, Intensify, and Apply

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. 

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent 

has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. 

For it is better that you lose one of your members 

than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

 (Matt 5:27-29)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sixth Beatitude focuses on a clean heart—“Honored are the pure in heart”—but, how can I remove the impurities? Jesus provides three methods: pruning, intensifying, and applying.

Prune

Jesus gives us two metaphors of pruning—cutting away unnecessary or unwanted growth to make a plant stronger and more fruitful (John 15:2). The first metaphor involves eyes: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) The second metaphor involves hands: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:30) In both metaphors, we remove sin from our lives by pruning.

The eye gouging and hand chopping metaphors could also have been heard by Jesus’ audience as a messianic call to arms. When the Prophet Samuel anointed Saul messianic king of Israel, he said to him: “And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.” (1 Sam 10:1) Notice the hand metaphor in this blessing. Saul’s first act as king was to save the besieged city of Jabesh-gilead from an Amorite king whose condition for surrender was: “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” (1 Sam 11:2) Understanding the story of Saul, Jesus’ metaphors might be interpreted as saying: stand on your own two feet.

Jesus’ pruning metaphors imply that sanctification—casting off sin and taking on godliness—is serious business: eyes and hands are parts of the body—parts of us—that are not easily discarded. If the threat of sin were trivial, then a better analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair. But if sin threatens both our physical and spiritual lives, then amputation is an acceptable option and the analogy is not hyperbolic.

Intensify

Jesus widens the scope of commandments under the law by drilling into the motivation for breaking them, intensifying the scrutiny given to sin. For example, when Jesus talks about adultery, he focuses on the lustful look that corrupts the heart, not the sinful act that follows. As evangelist Billy Graham (1955, 78) reminds us:  “What does this word adultery mean? It is derived from the same Latin root from which we get our word adulterate which means corrupt; to make impure or to weaken.” If sin begins in the heart, then sanctification must strive for purity of heart, and not only avoiding sin, but pursuing godliness, as the Apostle Paul writes:

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

The likeness of God, of course, refers to the divine image in creation, as implied in the word, godliness, used by Paul in admonishing Timothy: “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7).

Apply

In the Jewish mindset, it makes no sense to separate heart and mind or faith from action, as we read in James:

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

As a devote Jew, James would almost certainly share Jesus’ conviction that unity of person (heart and mind) implies unity of faith and action (Dyrness 2001, 81). In fact, the gap between what we say and what we do is a good measure of the amount of sin in our lives. After all, Jesus was the first person in scripture to use the word, hypocrite, to mean two-faced—saying one thing and doing another (Matt 23:25). Prior to Jesus, an hypocrite was just an actor on a Greek stage.

Unity of faith and action is, of course, a divine attribute, as we see in the life and work of Jesus Christ. In life, Jesus modeled God’s sinless nature for us (Heb 4:15). In death, Jesus redeemed us from our sin (Gal 3:13). In resurrection, Jesus gave us the hope of salvation (1 Cor 15:20). And, in ascension, intercedes for us before Almighty God (Rev 22:3). Following the ascension at Pentecost, Jesus conferred on the church and on us the Holy Spirit to assist us in overcoming our sinful nature (John 16:7–8).

Because part of our sinful nature is to focus only on ourselves, it is helpful to distinguish self-help efforts from sanctification. Self-help focuses on us while sanctification focuses on modeling Christ.

So when we act in unity of faith and action, we echo the Trinity:

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)

In this manner, we model God’s sinless nature to those around us. Modeling Christ, we must prune, intensify, and apply if we are to be pure in heart and see God.

References

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

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

Dyrness,William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

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

Prune, Intensify, and Apply

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Jesus Models Image Ethics

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So Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, 

the Son can do nothing of his own accord, 

but only what he sees the Father doing. 

For whatever the Father does,

 that the Son does likewise. 

(John 5:19)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The creation account in Genesis offers an ethical framework that Jesus employs repeatedly in his teaching, as in Genesis:

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

Because we are created in the image of God, our behavior should likewise follow God’s behavior—a kind of image ethic. For example, when God blesses us, we should bless others (Gen 12:3). This behavioral pattern is simple—God does A, we do A; God does B, we do B—and this pattern appears several places in Jesus’ teachings, such as in the Lord’s Prayer where we read:

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

The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” models this pattern while the phrase—“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12)—reverses the pattern because we know God’s will.

In discussing forgiveness, Jesus pauses to repeat himself, for emphasis:

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

In six simple verses (Matt 6:10–15), Jesus reverses this pattern (we do A, God does A; we do B, God does B) four times when God’s will is well known (God is merciful so he obviously forgives), as when God’s character traits inform us.

Accordingly, an important application of this pattern is to reflect and anticipate all of God character traits:

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

If God is merciful, then we are merciful; if God is gracious, we are gracious . . . Among the fruits of the Spirit, the Apostle Paul lists:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22–23)

Almost all of God’s character traits are found on this list, albeit kindness only hints at mercy.

Do you want a blessing? Be a blessing! (Gen 12:2)

Simple. Clean. Convicting. Jesus loves image ethics.

Jesus Models Image Ethics

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Show Mercy, Receive Mercy

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Honored are the merciful, 

for they shall receive mercy. 

(Matt 5:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mercy highlights our tension with God because our flesh delights neither in practicing mercy nor in offering it. Rather than practice mercy, we prefer people to keep their promises and pay their bills; rather than ask for mercy, we prefer to pretend that we are sinless. Born in sin, mercy draws attention to our lack of holiness and our finitude, highlighting our tension with God.

Mercy is one of God’s signature character traits  (Wilkins 2004, 208; Guelich 1982, 88). It appears in the Golden Rule, in the Lord’s Prayer, and, most significantly, in a short list of God’s attributes given to Moses immediately after the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exod 34:4–7)

The Sinai context here is important because God exposes his character traits to Moses as a set of core values to be used to interpret the law correctly. Experienced lawmakers know that laws taken out of context can be misinterpreted and they frequently publish commentaries to assure proper interpretation. To interpret God’s character correctly, start by recognizing that God is merciful. God demonstrates his mercy in that Jesus willingly died on the cross to save us from our sins—our atonement through Christ confirms his divinity precisely because it exemplifies God’s mercy (1 Cor 15:3).

Mercy appears in many grammatical forms in scripture, but the adverbial form used in the Fifth Beatitude is used nowhere else. This form can be used to declare or be presented as a cause (Wallace 1996, 460–461). Merciful means “being concerned about people in their need, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate” (BDAG 2487) and is derrived from the same root as compassion. Mercy and forgiveness appear as two sides of the same coin (Guelich (1982, 88),  as we read:

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! (Ps 25:6-7)

The Psalmist talks about mercy, love, and goodness, which together constitute forgiveness.

Jesus repeatedly talks about mercy, as when we read:

1. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice (Hos 6:6). For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13,12: 7).

2. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt 23:23)

3. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? (Matt 18:33)

Jesus clearly values mercy more than legal compliance or punishment. He also talks about mercy using other words or phrases, as in:

1. So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:12)

2. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt 6:12)

In the first example of the Golden Rule, he uses the reciprocal form (do as you would have them do) also used in the Fifth Beatitude (give mercy, receive mercy) suggesting through parallel construction that a parallel concept is also being discussed (France 1985, 110).

The reciprocal form of the Fifth Beatitude makes a convincing case for mercy. Mercy is not earned by being merciful, but mercy suggests God’s presence and we are blessed when we offer it.

REFERENCES

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

France, R.T. 1985. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

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

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Show Mercy, Receive Merc

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

 

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Lament over Sin

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Those who sow in tears 

shall reap with shouts of joy! 

(Ps 126:5)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Second Beatitude says those who mourn will be comforted, but what does God mourn for? In Genesis, God grieves over human wickedness:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Gen 6:5-6)

Human sin grieved God so much that he sent the flood, sparing only Noah, his family, and two of each animal (Gen 6:7-8).

Books of the Law

Elsewhere, studies of the word for mourning used in Matthew 5:4 in the Greek, associate it most often with grief over death. For example, Abraham mourns over the death of his wife, Sarah (Gen 23:2), and Joseph mourns over the death of his father, Jacob (Gen 50:3).

By contrast, studies of the word for crying used in Luke’s Beatitude (Luke 6:21) in the Greek, associate it most often with prayer in the midst of suffering. For example, a significant point in the life of Moses arose when as a baby he cried lying in the basket floating in the Nile. On hearing Moses’ cry, the daughter of Pharaoh is moved to rescue and to raise the child as her own, disobeying her father’s edict to drown all Hebrew baby boys—including Moses (Exod 1:22; 2:6). Later, Moses cries to the Lord in prayer to heal his sister, Miriam, who has been afflicted with leprosy, and she is healed (Num 12:13). By contrast, crying in the sense of whining or self-pity evokes God’s anger (Num 11:10).

Books of the Prophets

The focus of mourning shifts in the Books of the Prophets from death of a person to anguish—crying out over the fate of the nation of Israel (e.g. Jer 8:18–19).

Israel cried out to the Lord in anguish primarily because of the ups and downs of leadership in the four hundred years after the nation left Egypt. During these years Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and Joshua led them into the Promised Land with strong charismatic leadership. But leadership weakened as they entered a period of the judges when, as today, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg 17:6) During the time of the judges, a cycle of sin, trouble, revival, and restoration became the normal pattern (Younger 2002, 35). The turning point in this pattern arose when the people turned and cried out to the Lord to keep his promises:

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

In the Book of Judges this pattern of sin, trouble, revival, and restoration is repeated at least five times (Judg 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:6–7; and 10:10). 

Later during the period of the exile of Judah to Babylon, mourning becomes prominent as the first of two parts in a lament. A lament starts with grief, but ends in praise. Jeremiah, the Mourning Prophet, wrote  the  Book of Lamentations; we also read many lamentations in the Psalms, as in: 

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Ps 130:1–4)

The heart is first emptied of bitterness; then, it opens to God (Card 2005, 19). This lament form also appears in the Second Beatitude, where Jesus says—“Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4).

This mourning over sin, godly grief, appears as Jesus begins his journey to the cross (2 Cor 7:10). In the same way that God mourned over sin when preparing the great flood, Jesus mourns over the hardness of heart of the Pharisees on the Sabbath:

And he said to them, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill? But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, Stretch out your hand. He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:4-6)

Here when Mark writes about the hardness of heart, he is comparing the Pharisees to Pharaoh (Exod 4:21).

The narrative in Mark 3 is also significant because it explicitly links human suffering to sin and God’s grief. Mark 3 “is the only passage in the gospels where Jesus is said to be angry. (Elliott 2006, 214). Jesus gets angry, because “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27) and he cares about the well-being of people more than he cares about Sabbath observance (Lester 2007, 14–16, 106).  Because Jesus cares about suffering people, we should too.

Reference

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NAVPress. Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel. Lester, Andrew D. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Younger, K. Lawson. 2002. The NIV Application Commentary: Judges and Ruth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Lament over Sin

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020  

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More Humility: Monday Monologues, Podcast on March 9, 2020

Stephen_W_Hiemstra_20200125b
Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on humility. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

More Humility: Monday Monologues, Podcast on March 9, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020

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