Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church and a Christian author. Today we continue our study of the Beatitudes.

In the Beatitudes, we see that the promises of God are anchored in his unchanging character and we know this because God remains forever meek.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father. Thank you for your presence among us this morning. We are grateful that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this moment and in this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears to listen. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Scripture

Today’s scripture lesson comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:5. This is the Third Beatitude and a part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Listen for the word of God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

A famous confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees begins with a difficult question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 22:17) If Jesus answers yes, the Hebrews will be mad at him. If he answers no, he will have legal difficulties with the Romans. This question does not have an obvious answer.

Jesus answers:

“Show me the coin for the tax.  And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, Caesar’s. Then he said to them, Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:19-21)

In other words, Jesus redefined the question and challenged them to deepen their faith in God—in whose image they were created—and not to focus on political things that they cannot change.

The story of the response of Jesus to the difficult question is an example of a concept known by experts as fogging.[1] Fogging is an answer that responds only to the part of the question that you agree with. In this example, Jesus continues the conversation about taxes but he changes the focus to the coin used to pay the tax. The coin offers an opportunity to give a lesson about God without falling to a political trap and without appearing defensive in front of his opponents.

This last point is important for us because every day we talk with difficult people and fogging is a technique to remain civil during a conflict when it is much easier to become emotional or to feel the stress. It is useful because when we have an appropriate answer to a difficult person, we are not victims; we are not defensive; we are Christians that respect and utilize the wisdom of Christ. It is also an example of how to be meek like Jesus in our everyday life—meek is not weak or as Jesus said:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5)

Context

The Third Beatitude appears only in Matthew and in the Greek, the language of the Old Testament, meek means: “… Not [being] overly impressed with a sense of self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like the character of a person who applies the concept of “poor in spirit”, which we find in the First Beatitude, and which is shown not less than three times in Matthew:

  1. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29)
  2. “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Matt 21:5) [2]
  3. “And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent.” (Matt 26:62-63)

These three events—the invitation of Jesus to be disciple, his humble entrance into Jerusalem, and his silence during his trial—demonstrate the humility of Christ. The humility of Christ is also observed in the writings of the Apostles—Peter, James, and Paul.

From all of this evidence, it is obvious that humility is very important to Jesus in the New Testament. But, no one normally wants to be humble—we have to learn to be humble.

Is it possible that God also learned to be humble? (2X)

Analysis

This curious question over the God changes during the period of the Bible is very important in today’s theological conversations because if God changed during the history of the Bible, then he can change in our time as well.

I will be very brief. Here I will use an argument from the law and the prophets, like Paul and many other rabbis.

Point One: God acts as someone very meek in spite of the sin of Adam and Eve.

In the Books of the Law we see that God looks meek and gentle. For example, in Genesis before “God sent him [Adam and Eve} out from the garden of Eden” (Gen 3:23), “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21) like a mother prepares her kids for the first day of school. God had every right to zap them both and create new people, but he did not do that. He did not do that because he had compassion on them and made provision for them, in spite their sins and against his own rights and power. In this context, God appears meek.

Point Two: God is humble like his good friend, Moses.

Here in the Books of the Law, only Moses is described as humble, as we see in the Book of Numbers, where it is written:

“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3)

But, many times friends share very similar personal characteristics. Consequently, the implication is that probably God is also meek like his very good friend, Moses.

Point Three: The Books of the Prophets describe the Messiah as meek.

The Books of the Prophets are all the books of the Old Testament that are not among the Books of the Law. Here we find that humility is a characteristic expected of the Messiah. The most famous example was cited above in Matthew and comes from the Prophet Zachariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9)

It is obvious also in the prophets that humility is a characteristic of God reflected in his people, as an important part of his image. For example, we see in the Psalms:

“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps 25:9)

And we find in the Psalms our Third Beatitude, in so many words:

“But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps 37:11)

Therefore, we see in the law as in the prophets that God was meek and he did not need to learn to be meek because he was already meek in creation. This is very good news because the character of God does not change over time and is immutable yesterday, today, and always.

The implication is that, just like the character of God is immutable and does not change, the Bible is also reliable and the promises of God are good forever. Thanks be to God!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty Good, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit, we give praise because you do not change and offer your gracious love and consolation in painful times and times of loss. Cleanse our hearts of evil passions that lead us to sin and lead us to violence against other people. Give us a character that is deep in your wisdom. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1]  See: Savage (1996, 57-62).

[2] Also: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9)

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.>.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

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

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, June 15, 2016 Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to the Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from the Centreville Presbyterian Church and a Christian author.

Today’s message focuses on a question: In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  We appreciate that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this moment and this place.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that hear. In the name of Christ Jesus, Amen.

Scripture

Today’s text comes from the Gospel of Mathew 5:3. This is the first Beatitude and a part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.

Hear the word of the Lord:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)[1]

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

In October 2014, I was invited to offer comments on my Book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, at the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia on the day of Eid.[2] In the Islamic Calendar, Eid is a day as holy as Easter on the Christian calendar and it celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham of his son, Isaac, by means of their own sacrifices of domestic animals, such as sheep.

This invitation made me very nervous. As a Christian, what would I say about the Christian faith to a group of Muslims? Consequently, during the three days before Eid, I began a period of prayer and fasting and asked God what I should say to the Moslems.

God responded to my prayer, but he said nothing about my invitation. Instead and much better, God gave me the inspiration to write a new book, Life in Tension, which I hope to publish later this summer.

In this example of answered prayer, I spent three days in prayer and fasting. In this way, I was open to her a word from God and God responded.

In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)

Analysis

Our text today gives another answer to this question, but this text is a bit more interesting and also more complicated in the context of the Bible. Listen again to today’s text:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)

Every Word in this Beatitude is interesting for different reasons, as we will see.

Blessed (2X). The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language and the Greek for blessed (the word μακάριος) means: “favor, blessing, fortune, happy (or joyful), and privileged”.[3]

In the Old Testament the most famous use of the word blessed appears in Psalm 1, where we read:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2 ESV)

Consequently, many times blessed is said to mean more honor or blessings, not only happy or joyful.

Poor in Spirit (2X). This expression is found nowhere else in the Bible,[4] but it explains the significance of the a phrase in Isaiah 61:1, where it is written:

“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)

Here poor means “brokenhearted”, “captives”, and “those who are bound” which is very similar to the phrase in Matthew for “poor in spirit”.

More important in the understanding of the word, poor, is that in Hebrew, which was the language of the Old Testament, poor also means “afflicted, humble, meek.[5] Consequently, the phrase in Matthew 5:3, “poor in spirit” appears to be a direct  translation of the word, poor, in Hebrew, which has a wider significance in Hebrew than in Greek or Spanish or English.

The Kingdom of Heaven (2X). In the Hebrew language, the covenantal name of God (YHWH) is holy and can only be used in a worship service. In other contexts, phrases such as “the Lord”, “The Name” or “The Kingdom of Heaven” are substituted out of respect for the holiness of the name of God.

After all this analysis, it is accordingly possible to interpret the First Beatitude as saying: God blesses those that are humble or, more appropriately, God blesses those that make space in their lives for him; because those that are humble have respect for other people, including God.

Being humble makes space for other people; as does forgiveness, grace, patience, generosity, mercy, compassion, and other fruits of the spirit.[6] All of the spiritual gifts make room in our lives for relationships, including our relationship with God.

In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)

Further Analysis

The idea of offering space for God in our lives (and, by implication, for other people) has a long tradition in the Bible. For example, the night after King Solomon had dedicated the first temple in Jerusalem, God said to him:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chr 7:14)

Today which country needs this promise the most? (2X)

After the Beatitudes, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7 ESV)

If we offer more space in our lives to Christ, he promises to come into our lives and save us from our sins, our fears, our pains.

In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit, we praise you for your gracious love and consolation in times of pain and loss. Cleanse our hearts of the evil passions that lead us to sin and lead to violence against other people. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

[1]“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/03/eid-al-adha-2014_n_5927040.html.

[3] μακάριος means “humans privileged recipient of divine favor” and can also mean “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a).

[4] The Luke’s Gospel, this Beatitude refers only to the poor (Lukes 6:20), but Matthew was an Apostle (and likely witness to the Sermon on the Mount) while Luke was a colleague of Paul and a Greek (and not a witness to the Sermon).

[5] “poor,afflicted,humble,meek” (BDB 7238).

[6] “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

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.>.

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

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Prayer Day 40: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

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

Padre Amoroso, vistes las aves que ni siegan ni recogen (Mt. 6:25-26). Envías el sol y la lluvia sobre justos e injustos sin discriminación (Mt. 5:5). Haces el día y la noche para bendecirnos con actividades y sueños (Gén. 1:5). Lanzamos nuestras obsesiones y adicciones a Tus pies. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, sana nuestras relaciones y suaviza nuestros corazones para que podamos crecer más como Tú cada día. En el nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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Blessed are Those Who Mourn

New Life
New Life

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, May 20, 2015 (translated from Spanish)

Welcome

Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul this afternoon at Trinity Presbyterian Church. My name is Stephen.  I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church.

Today’s message focuses on the need to take a new attitude about grief.  When we are in pain, do we turn to God or lean into the pain? (2X)

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  We especially give thanks for life, our health, and the riches of fellowship that we have in your church.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that hear.  In the precious name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

New Testament Reading

Today’s text comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:4.  This is the second beatitude and a part of the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount.  Hear the word of God::

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)[1]

The Word of the Lord.  Praise be to God.

Introduction

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

I remember in my case the death of my sister, Diane, in 2007.  I am the oldest in the family so she was 2 year younger than I.  For this reason the loss of my sister was especially difficult, but also because we were friends our whole lives.  My father was a student during much of my youth and we moved around a lot during those years.  Consequently, Diane was my only real friend until I was 8 years old. We learned about life together. Now, Diane was in heaven and I was alone with my memories.  The following year, 2008, I began my seminary studies.  Were those 2 events related?  Maybe yes; maybe no.  At this point, I believe they were.

What have you learned during your experiences of loss? (2X)

Old Testament Reading

The second beatitude comes directly from Isaiah 61:1-3 where it 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; 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– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:1-3 ESV)

We remember this passage well because Jesus read it during his call sermon in Luke 4.

Who receives consolation in these verses?  Two groups stand out:

  • “all who mourn” and
  • “those who mourn in Zion”.

The context of these verses is the Babylonian captivity which came in response to the sins of the Judeans.

But, why does God mourn? (2X) God mourns for our sins because our sins come between us and a Holy God (Gen 6:5-6)[2].  Our sins separate us from God.  Therefore, when we mourn our own sins God promises to offer us consolation.  Jesus Christ says:

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Analysis

There is a second reason why the second beatitude offers God’s consolation.  Grief is a kind of lamentation. A lament is a song (or prayer) of mourning and there are many laments in the Book of Psalms.

A lament has a important form consisting of 2 parts [3].

In the first part of a lament one tells God everything that burdens your heart.  All the pain, all the fears, all the anger.  It is important to be very honest with God.  It is good to be even angry with God because God is great and your anger makes it obvious that you take God really seriously. This part of the lament is finished when all the pain has been emptied.  At this point, the soul is quiet.

The second part of a lament arises exactly because the soul is quiet.  At this point, it is possible to recall the blessings of God in your journey of faith. This part of a lament consists primarily of praise. So it is ironic that a lament is for many people, many times the path to salvation. Here we see the consolation of the second beatitude:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

In my case, I was in the process of lament when I started by studies in seminary.  But, up to this point, I never put those two things together in my thoughts.  Did God use my pain to draw me closer to himself?

More Analysis

When we grieve it is true that we experience real loss. We need here to make a decision:  will we turn to God or lean into our pain? (2X)

This decision is important because pain is a powerful emotion which has the capacity to cause changes in our identity.  It is a Garden-in-Gethsemane moment in our lives (Mateo 26:36-43). In a real sense, our identity is a collection of all the decisions about pain in our lives.  Ultimately, is our identity in Christ or in our pain? (2X)

Over what do you grieve? (2X) Jesus reminds us:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, beloved Son, ever present Spirit, we praise you for your gracious love and consolation in times of pain and loss.  Cleanse our hearts of these losses, the fears, the shame, and the evil passions that cause us to sin.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1] “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)

[2] “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 ESV)

[3] Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

Robert Guelich The Sermon on the Mount

Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount:  A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a sermon, the Sermon on the Mount is relatively self-contained and not tightly related to the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. If this were not so, one would question the authorship of the sermon.  However, one would hope to see common elements in Jesus’ teaching on different occasions.  Guelich does not pursue this angle; instead, he develops theological themes.

Three Interpretative Lenses

Guelich views the Sermon on the Mount through 3 interpretative lenses: Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Under Christology, the Sermon sets forth Jesus as Messiah who fulfills not just a single prophecy, but all of scripture. With ecclesiology, we see a messianic gathering of Apostles and other disciples who are both reconciled and saved through the Jesus Messiah and distinguished from unattached crowds and critics, such as the scribes and Pharisees. Under eschatology, Jesus announces blessings for the poor and destitute which both congratulate them for their faith but also promise a new identity and relationship with God as they lean into these blessings (27-30).  The tension between the kingdom’s appearance already and not yet informs and complicates each of these interpretative dimensions.

Still, the problem of a tightly woven treatise is that the balance of themes is internal to the argument and the same balance is hard to maintain in commentaries on it.  How do you follow particular threads?  How do you understand them relative to other threads?  Complexity breeds complexity. Each of Guelich’s chapters follows a stylized format:

  • Translation;
  • Literary Analysis;
  • Notes; and
  • Comments (7-9).

The comment section is usually broken up into 3 or more sub-sections unique to that chapter. Guelich sees the Beatitudes as providing structure to the sermon by anticipating later admonitions and warnings.  In the remainder of my comments, let me follow the first Beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) through this framework.

Translation

Consistent with Guelich’s translation (62), for example, the first Beatitude reads:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)  He notes that the same basic beatitude is also found in Luke 6:20 (34) and appears in the second person, not the third person[1].

Literary Analysis

In his literary analysis, he observes that:  “The content [of a beatitude as a literary form] consists of the blessing and a description of the recipient, usually identified by an attitude or conduct befitting the blessing” (63).   He notes that a total of 44 beatitudes appear in the NT. For example, the Apostle Paul (63) writes:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom 4:7-8 ESV)

Paul’s beatitude is a direct quote from Psalm 32:1-2. The implication of Jesus’  use of the beatitude form is that he is building on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in his sermon.

Notes

In trying to establish a translation for the Greek word, makario, Guelich sees Luke’s Beatitudes more as eschatological blessings while Matthew’s form more of an entrance requirement for the kingdom (65).  In other words, is one blessed now (congratulations) or blessed in the future (as in heaven)?

And who exactly are the poor in spirit?  In a Greek sense, the poor are socioeconomically poor (68). In a Hebrew sense, poor means desperate.  Guelich  writes:

“…the poor in Judaism referred to those in desperate need (socioeconomic element) whose helpless ness drove them to a dependent relationships with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication.” (69)

Are they voluntarily poor, spirituality poor, or humble? (72).

Comments

Guelich sees poor in spirit having both Christological and ecclesiological components. The focus on the poor in spirit depicts Jesus Christologically as fulfilling God’s promise through Isaiah 61:1 (97).  In response to John the Baptist’s concern about his messianic ministry, for example, Jesus cites Isaiah 61:1 responding:

“And he answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 ESV)

Poor in spirit also shows his disciples turning to God ecclesiologically being “stripped of all self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness” (98).

Admonitions

Guelich sees the Beatitudes functioning as a unit together in anticipating the admonitions that follow rather than a one-to-one correspondence (92).  Poor in spirit as humble surely anticipates:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt 6:1-2 ESV)

The term, poor in spirit, does not appear overtly in this context so the linkage is subtle.

Warnings

Here again, we see in the warnings an echo of the first Beatitude, not an overt reference.  For example, Jesus says:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3 ESV)

The problem here is the opposite of humility—pride.  Someone poor in spirit as humble probably would not be as quick to make this mistake.

Assessment

Robert Guelich has written a careful and engaging commentary on the Sermon on the Mount that is unlikely to be superseded quickly.  It is perhaps surprising to note that this commentary predated (1982) personal computers that have made scriptural study much easier.  This observation only makes his accomplishment all the more amazing.

[1]“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)

 

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Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

 

Robert Guelich The Sermon on the MountGuelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount:  A Foundation for Understanding.  Dallas:  Word Publishing. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sermon on the Mount is a surprisingly oblique, but self-contained, section in Matthew’s Gospel spanning from chapter 5 through verse 8:1. In the sermon, Jesus presents a kind of ordination service for the Apostles with crowds in the background looking on. What does he tell them?  What are his priorities? How are we to interpret what is said?

Introduction

In his commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, Robert  Guelich starts by recognizing the enormity of the task, but lays out his reason for writing with these words:

Yet the absence of an extensive, critical, exegetical commentary in nearly four decades of biblical studies despite the vast literature on the Sermon provides both an opportunity and a need in New Testament (NT) studies (11).

Because NT scholarship is written both in German and English, Guelich’s studies in the U.S., Scotland, and Germany—his doctorate is from the University of Hamburg—suggests he has good preparation to write such a commentary[1].  At the time he wrote, Guelich was a professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Literature Review

Guelich’s literature review (14-22) is relatively brief but includes some interesting points.  Citing Kissenger, Guelich notes that in early church (Ante-Nicene) writings chapters 5-7 of Matthew are cited more frequently than any other 3 chapters in the Bible (14).  Augustine was likely the first to use the term, Sermon on the Mount (15).  In his book, Summa, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between “counsels” and “commandments” (advice versus obligation) placing Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon under “counsels” (15).  Luther preached a series of sermons on the Sermon focused on “polemics against the papists” (16) while Calvin’s primary interest was on Jesus’ interpretation of law (17).  Guelich describes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship as one of the better known treatments of the Sermon which, of course, focused on what disciples should do rather than on theological interpretation [2].

Organization

Guelich’s commentary is written in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction (pages 13-40);
  2. The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 4:23-5:2; 41-60);
  3. The Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 5:3-12; 62-112);
  4. The Role of Discipleships (Matt 5:13-16; 119-131);
  5. Jesus and the Law (Matt 5:17-20; 134-170);
  6. The Greater Righteousness (Matt 5:21-48; 175-265);
  7. On Doing Righteousness (Matt 6:1-18; 272-316);
  8. The Life of Prayer (Matt 6:19-7:12; 321-379);
  9. The Narrow Gate (Matt 7:13-27; 382-411); and
  10. Epilogue (Matt 7:28-29; 414-419).

These chapters are preceded by a brief preface and followed by a bibliography and indices of authors and scriptural passages.  The Beatitudes, which appear in Matthew 5:3-11, are treated primarily in chapter 3.

Let me turn briefly to the questions mentioned above.

What does Jesus tell them?

Guelich (36-39) breaks the sermon into 3 parts:  the Beatitudes, admonitions, and warnings. He sees the Beatitudes serving as a theological introduction expanded on in the admonitions and warnings of Matthew 5:17-7:27. Guelich sees the admonitions ending with the Golden rule in Matthew 7:12.  The warnings then follow in 7:13-27.  Ironically, the Lord’s Prayer appears among the admonitions in Matthew 6 and he sees the prayer providing structure to the remainder of the chapter and the first 12 verses of Matthew 7.

What are Jesus’ priorities?

Jesus is addressing the Apostles to inaugurate his vision for discipleship in the new age of the Kingdom of Heaven, summarized especially in Isaiah 61 (37):

“…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)

These priorities are captured in the Beatitudes.  They are credible, in part, because they appear almost verbatim in Luke 4:17-20 where Jesus gives his “call” sermon.

How are we to interpret what Jesus said?

Guelich describes his interpretation method as “critical, historical” commentary. He writes:

“…this commentary offers a critical exegesis in that it makes use of the literary and historical critical tools include text, source, form, tradition, redaction, and structural criticism”. (23)

Guelich’s skill as an interpreter is reflected in the wide range of critical methods that he employs.  For example, he carefully distinguishes 3 sources in Matthew’s Gospel: Q materials appearing in Matthew and Luke; Matthew’s redaction (things attributable only to Matthew); and other NT sources, such as Mark.  This careful inventory of sources provides Guelich the ability to infer author intent and other things when discussing particular Gospel writers.  He sees the end of the Sermon (Matt 7:28) being borrowed from Mark 1:22 and the prelude to the Sermon (Matt 4:23-5:2) appearing at Mark 1:39 (414-415).  This insight places the Sermon early in Jesus’ ministry.

Assessment

Robert Guelich’s commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, is one of the most carefully written and interesting commentaries that I have ever read.  In part 2, I will focus in more depth on particular issues that he raises.

 

[1] Guelich’s BS is from Wheaton College, his MS from the University of Illinois, and S.T.B. is from Fuller Theological Seminary.  He has done post-graduate studies at University of Aberdeen (UK) and the University of Tübingen.

[2] See my review of the Cost of Discipleship at:   Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge:  Following After Christ (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-y9).

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Books, Films, and Ministry

Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

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Prayer Day 40: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

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

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

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

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

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Whelchel Sees Call in Work, not just Ministry

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

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, not just Ministry

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