Thursday, November 7, 2019

Jesus Commands His Followers to "Love" God, their Neighbours and One Another

“Relationship” is Not a Word Found in the Bible, but the Word “Love” is!
(Does “relationship” = “love”?)

I am reading a book right now about the so-called “one another” teachings found in the New Testament. These are the passages that call upon Christians to “love one another,” “serve one another,” “pray for one another,” “encourage one another,” “spur one another on,” “accept one another,” etc. I appreciate so much the authors’ efforts to call on modern-day Christians to prioritize the “once another” focus that we read about in the early Jesus movement. Yet, I struggle at times with the authors’ terminology, particularly one word: “relationship.” I question the pervasive use of this very modern word, especially as I realized that, in my almost 40 years as a pastor-teacher in various congregations, I, too, had way too heavily used that word.

Is the modern idea of “relationship” even a biblical concept? The Oxford dictionary defines “relationship” as follows:

·      “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected”
·      “the state of being connected by blood or marriage”
·      “the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave toward each other”
·      “an emotional and sexual association between two people”

The first recorded use of the word “relationship” dates only back to the mid 1700s. As one author notes, “It’s hard to imagine anyone in the 19th-century discussing their ‘relationships.’” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “relationship” first appeared in 1744, but was not applied “specifically of romantic or sexual relationships” until 1944. It is unclear when the word began to be used to encompass all enduring social ties—maybe in the 1970s?

Here’s my first point: when you do a word search in committee translations of the biblical text, you won’t find the word “relationship” until some of the latest and more popularly “translated” English Bibles – for example, NIV (3 times), Holman Christian Standard Bible (5 times), and NET Bible (14 times). However, when you dig down into those translations to see what Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word they were translating as “relationship” you won’t find one. In other words, the translators added this word to the text by interpreting the passage and putting in into what they considered to be modern English.

Below are the occurrences of the word “relationship” in the NET Bible, translated in the late 20th– early 21st centuries. Below each quotation is what the Hebrew or Greek actually says. Like me, you might find the results startling and perhaps a little unsettling. Please remember that every translation involves interpretation. My point is that using the word “relationship”—because it is a modern, not ancient, concept—adds something to the text that the authors of the biblical texts did not even have in mind. They didn’t think or write in terms of a “relationship with God” or in terms of “relationships with other humans.” We, however, strive to take those passages that obviously speak of how we are to be with God and with our fellow human beings and with our fellow Christians and we speak of “our relationship with God” and “our relationships with other Christians.”


Josh. 22:24 We swear we have done this because we were worried that48 in the future your descendants would say to our descendants, ‘What relationship do you have with the LORD God of Israel?49

Heb: "What is there to you and to the Lord God of Israel?"

Is. 58:14 Then you will find joy in your relationship to the LORD,37 and I will give you great prosperity,38
and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.”3 Know for certain that the LORD has spoken.40

Heb: “Then, you will find joy over Yahweh…”

Ezek. 20:12 I also gave them my Sabbaths22 as a reminder of our relationship,23 so that they would know that I, the LORD, sanctify them.24

Heb: "to become a sign between me and them."

Ezek. 20:20 Treat my Sabbaths as holy33 and they will be a reminder of our relationship,34 and then you will know that I am the LORD your God.”

Heb: "and they will become a sign between me and you."

Zech. 9:11   Moreover, as for you, because of our covenant relationship secured with blood, I will release your prisoners from the waterless pit.

Heb: “Also, you, with blood of your covenant, I will release your prisoners from a pit [where] there is no water in it.”

Rom. 2:17   But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law36 and boast of your relationship to God37

Greek: “…and boast in God…”

1Cor. 1:30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus,31 who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

Greek: “And you from him are in Christ Jesus…”

1Cor. 7:5 Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.5 Then resume your relationship,6 so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Greek: “And again, you might be together again…”

Here are a few examples from the book that I’m currently reading.[1]
·      The title of Chapter One: “Relationships at the Center of the Target.”
·      “In this book we are affirming that relationships in the body of Christ—and particularly the nature of those relationships—are not in some peripheral area.” (14)
·      “…the nature of our relationships with other Christians must be of primary concern.” (15)
·      “Jesus makes it clear that relationships with others is intricately tied in with relationship with God.” (15)
·      “But if this passage introduces us to and lays the foundation for the idea that relationships are at the centre of God’s will…” (16)
·      “So relationships are at the centre of God’s will because it is in these relationships, that are anything but superficial, where we are fulfilling the very principle of Christ.” (18)
·      “How can we ignore the centrality of our relationships as we worship and serve a God who in his very. Nature demonstrated relationships to us?” (22–23)

I understand what the authors are saying, and I applaud them for calling us to consider how we are with God and with one another. However, in most of places where the term “relationship” is written, the word “love” could–and in my opinion, should–be substituted. Go back to the quotations above and do just that, starting with the title (and the point) of the chapter: “Love at the Centre of the Target.” To me—and maybe it’s just me—there’s now no ambiguity, especially if I allow the biblical texts to define/describe for me what it means to “love God,” “love my neighbour” and “love one another.”

I’m not saying we should throw the word “relationship” out and never again speak of “our relationships with one another” or “having a relationship with God.” However, I do think we overuse the word and that it does mean very different things to very different people. Love, when defined biblically, is less apt to be misunderstood. Indeed, we are not called to “have a relationship with God” or to be “in relationships with our neighbours and other Christians.” We are commanded to “love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength,” “to love our neighbour as ourselves,” and imitate Jesus’ love for his disciples in our love for one another. Where there is ongoing “love” there will be “relationship,” but it is possible to be in “relationships” where love is mostly, or completely, absent.

God is love and it is our love (for God, one another and our neighbours) that demonstrates that we are Jesus’ disciples. One of my “favourite” (and most challenging of) passages is Ephesians 5:1–2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

[1] Please note that I am not being critical of the authors of “One Another: Transformational Relationships in the Body of Christ.” I have nothing but the utmost respect for their lives and the scholarship of each of these men. However, I’m using these quotations as examples of a way we’ve misunderstood and/or misrepresented (and to some degree “softened”) how God is calling us to be “with God” and “with each other.”

Friday, August 30, 2019

What Does the Old Testament Say About Homosexuality?

I'm in the process of researching and writing a grad paper for my OT exegesis course at Trinity Western on a very controversial and emotional topic: What Does the Old Testament Say About Homosexuality, and Why Does It Matter Today? 

Much ink has been spent by scholars in the last 30 years to explore and expound on this topic. After examining the crucial texts in the Hebrew Bible (and there are really only four, though some would include an additional 2 or 3), I've read literally dozens of scholarly (and popular) articles and books espousing their "truth" on the subject representing every point on the continuum of opinion. 

Once my paper is in final form, I plan on posting it a section at a time. These should begin to appear on this blog by the end of September at the latest, and hopefully earlier. I know that not everyone will agree with my conclusions, but I hope to be able to present a cogent, readable and clear rationale for my position. Of note, this paper will not include what the New Testament says about homosexuality (that will require additional research and writing) though there will be some brief references to the NT texts in question.

Whatever position you presently hold, whatever conclusions you have drawn, I hope you will use these postings as an opportunity to re-examine the subject as objectively as possible. Even if you don't like my paper, I will provide references and a bibliography that will lead you to sources written by both affirming and non-affirming scholars. Below are two quite readable, yet conflicting presentations: Gushee has changed his mind from non-affirming to affirming. Wold is clearly and boldly non-affirming.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Communion Talk - VCOC August 4, 2019

What is Communion All About?

For me, the single most important claim that is made about Jesus in the NT is found in John 1. In vv. 14, 16–17 we read:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John, and the earliest Christians, believed that Jesus is the one and only Son of God who became flesh and lived among humanity full of grace and truth. That’s amazing and exciting but it is not yet the most astounding and life transforming claim made in the NT about Jesus.

Are you ready to hear it? It is found in John 1:18, which reads:

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known”

The one and only Son of God became flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth in order to make the unseen God known to us! Let that sink in for a minute or two. It means that we can know God as well as possible, by knowing Jesus! People ask, “Is there a God?” “If God exists, can I know who this God is?” “If so, can I know what this God is like – what he thinks, what he wants, and what he thinks of/feels about me?”

John would answer, “Yes, absolutely. Just read my account, where I tell you about the God who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth." Jesus made the same claim for himself in John 14:6–8:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Yet, amazingly, Philip immediately responded to Jesus by saying, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” What?! Are you kidding me? What I’d want to say to Philip and the other apostles is this: “Come on, guys, get your act together. Open your eyes. The Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Right there, in front of you, for the last 3 years, is God in human flesh. You are seeing the unseen God!”

Here’s how Jesus responded: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).

But maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to criticize the apostles here. Perhaps I don’t really get it either–when I still want God to show himself to me, when I'm still confused about what God is like, desires, and thinks of/feels about me; and when I wonder whether God really loves and accepts me "just as I am".

That’s why I need the communion–to remember Jesus, who he is and thus to be reminded of who God truly is! And when I look at God as revealed in Jesus’ life – his deeds and his words – and his death, what is God like? John, who knew God intimately through the life of Jesus, summed up God’s essential nature in 1 John 4:7–9, 16, which reads:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him…So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them

God IS Love. There is no hate in God. He loves all people, all the time. Everything God does is motivated by love, and thus demonstrates his perfect love. And there is no greater demonstration of God’s love than what we are remembering by sharing the bread and the fruit of the vine. Truly, God IS love and that’s I need to remind myself of every time I share in the communion.

Why is it so important that I keep God's essential nature clearly in my mind? Because God wants me live out my faith NOT motivated by fear, but motivated by love! Listen to these words of John from 1 John 4:17–18:

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

God’s love is perfect. And perfect love–the love God has for me–as clearly and consistently shown in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, has NOTHING to do with judgment or punishment and thus God’s love casts out fear.

When you look at Jesus today, what God do you see? Do you see ‘a’ god who is constantly evaluating you to determine if you measure up, if you’ve been spiritual enough, if you’ve done enough good, if you’ve repented completely enough and, if God has determined that you've fallen short, will not welcome you into his eternal presence? Or do you see ‘the’ God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who loves with a perfect love? He wants you and I to live unafraid of judgment and punishment and to cast off our fear-based faith and embrace a love-fueled life of faith.

That, to me, is what I want communion to be about as I move forward in my Christian journey. I want to cast off the fear, as I am reminded, through Jesus, that God is love, perfect love, and that fear has no place in my heart, because God loves me perfectly. For “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

If you will, please pray along with me:

“Thank you, God, for loving us perfectly, so perfectly that you gave your son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Thank you, Jesus, for loving us perfectly so that you did not regard equality with God something to be held on to, but you emptied yourself, and you took on the very nature of a servant and were made in human likeness and you humbled yourself to the point of death on a cross. Therefore, Jesus, as we take this bread and fruit of the vine, we join with the heavenly host and give you praise because…You are worthy…because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and you have made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God. So to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. May we honor you, God, this week by living out our faith, motivated not by fear of judgment but motivated by your perfect love for us. May all the redeemed of God say, ‘Amen!’”

Jesus Commands His Followers to "Love" God, their Neighbours and One Another

“Relationship” is Not a Word Found in the Bible, but the Word “Love” is! (Does “relationship” = “love”?) I am readin...