Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: apostle Paul

Writing as a slave of Jesus Christ

When the apostle Paul wanted to write to Christians at Rome, he could have introduced himself by listing his credentials and experience, then said: “You see how important a man I am and I have something important to say. So listen up!”

But that’s not what he said; he introduced himself as a slave, putting himself at the very bottom of the social ladder. (Our Bible may say “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” but the word Paul used was doulos, meaning slave.)

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Image by Hawksky from Pixabay

In order to honour Jesus who gave us the message, we need to interpret the message into words the recipients will find easy to understand. Most people won’t waste their time searching through a thicket of unnecessary words in the hope of finding a message. We need to skip the pompous words and bombastic writing style that some Christians think is the way to impress readers with the weightiness of their subject matter. The weight of those words will sink your message.

We need to consider ourselves as servants of the people for whom the message is intended. Paul wrote, in I Corinthians 9:19-52: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. . . I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

In all his epistles, Paul challenges the new believers notions of ethnic, economic or social superiority, telling them that none of these things matter in the kingdom of Christ. In Philippians 3:8 he says: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”

“All things,” that would include everything about who I am: education, social status, family, ethnic origin, even my church affiliation. Boasting of any of these things will not gain us a hearing with the people to whom we want to bring the message of Jesus.

This may sound alarming for those of us who are firmly committed to our church, its doctrines and history. But there is nothing there for us to boast of, we did not create the doctrines and history. We are children of the most high God, brothers and sister of Jesus Christ, we are living honest and pure lives. Where will it get us to boast of that? The people around us already suspect that we think we are better than they are.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” God says in Zephaniah 3:11-12: “then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.”

The mountain of God is holy, but we did not put it there, nor did we receive our spiritual heritage as an inheritance from our fathers. It is a gift of God that we have received and others are just as eligible to receive it, regardless of their background.

If we assume that other people think just like we do, our message is compromised before we put a word on paper. In order to be “all things to all men” we need to get out of our bubble, our comfort zone, and learn how other people think. That means that we need to listen and to read before we begin to speak and to write.

The words of Paul are timeless because he did that in his day. He was thoroughly acquainted with the Jewish way of thinking and with the Greek way of thinking. His discourse in Athens consisted almost entirely of quotations from Greek philosophers. He gained a hearing because those words were familiar to the men he was speaking to. Then he disrupted their complacency by introducing the resurrection of Jesus.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” That is our challenge today. To be servants, poor and afflicted, harmless and non-threatening. And yet be wise enough to see the chinks in the walls of complacency that people build around themselves and try to widen them a little to let the light of the gospel shine in,

If we are in earnest about the cause of Christ, let us come down to the bottom rung of the social ladder and become the slaves of Christ and of all mankind.

She never gives up

Saturday afternoon Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament. She is 19 and the first Canadian ever to win a grand slam tennis tournament.

A comment made by one of her opponents has stuck in my mind: “She never gives up.” In several matches she seemed to be faltering, on the verge of being defeated. Then Ms. Andreescu would re-focus, buckle down and do what she needed to do to win the match.

The New Testament writers, especially the apostle Paul, often drew analogies from the popular sports of their day. Here, in abbreviated form, is the way Adam Clarke explained the last four verses of the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians:

They which run in a race run all – The apostle alludes to the athletic exercises in the games celebrated every fifth year on the isthmus which joins the Peloponnesus, or Morea, to the main land; and were thence termed the Isthmian games. The exercises were running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus, etc.; to the three first of these the apostle especially alludes.

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Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

But one receiveth the prize? – The apostle places the Christian race in contrast to the Isthmian games; in them, only one received the prize, though all ran; in this, if all run, all will receive the prize; therefore he says, So run that ye may obtain. Be as much in earnest to get to heaven as others are to gain their prize; and, although only one of them can win, all of you may obtain.

Is temperate in all things – All those who contended in these exercises went through a long state and series of painful preparations. To this exact discipline Epictetus refers, cap. 35:“Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? – Consider the requisite preparations and the consequences: you must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which you dislike; you must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the necessary and prescribed times both in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cooling; take no wine as formerly; in a word, you must put yourself under the directions of a pugilist, as you would under those of a physician, and afterwards enter the lists. Here you may get your arm broken, your foot put out of joint, be obliged to swallow mouthfuls of dust, to receive many stripes, and after all be conquered.” Thus we find that these suffered much hardships in order to conquer, and yet were uncertain of the victory.

They do it to obtain a corruptible crown – The crown won by the victor in the Olympian games was made of the wild olive; in the Pythian games of laurel; in the Nemean games of parsley; and in the Isthmian games of the pine. These were all corruptible, for they began to wither as soon as they were separated from the trees, or plucked out of the earth. In opposition to these, the apostle says, he contended for an incorruptible crown, the heavenly inheritance. He sought not worldly honour; but that honour which comes from God.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly – In the foot-course in those games, how many soever ran, only one could have the prize, however strenuously they might exert themselves; therefore, all ran uncertainly; but it was different in the Christian course, if every one ran as he ought, each would receive the prize.

Not as one that beateth the air – Pugilists were said to beat the air when they had to contend with a nimble adversary, who, by running from side to side, stooping, and various contortions of the body, eluded the blows of his antagonist; who spent his strength on the air, frequently missing his aim, and sometimes overturning himself in attempting to hit his adversary, when this, by his agility, had been able to elude the blow. We have an example of this in Virgil’s account of the boxing match between Entellus and Dares, so well told Aeneid. v., ver. 426, etc., and which will give us a proper view of the subject to which the apostle alludes: viz. boxing at the Isthmian games.

To such a combat as this the apostle most manifestly alludes: and in the above description the reader will see the full force and meaning of the words, So fight I, not as one that beateth the air – I have a real and a deadly foe; and as I fight not only for my honour but for my life, I aim every blow well, and do execution with each.

But I keep under my body, etc. – This is an allusion, not only to boxers, but also to wrestlers in the same games, as we learn from the word υʽπωπιαζω, which signifies to hit in the eyes; and δουλαγωγω, which signifies to trip, and give the antagonist a fall, and then keep him down when he was down, and having obliged him to acknowledge himself conquered, make him a slave. The apostle considers his body as an enemy with which he must contend; he must mortify it by self-denial, abstinence, and severe labour; it must be the slave of his soul, and not the soul the slave of the body, which in all unregenerate men is the case.

Lest – having preached to others – The word which we translate having preached, refers to the office of the herald at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contest, pronounce the name of the victors, and put the crown on their heads.

Should be a castaway – The word signifies such a person as judges of the games reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God. Had this heavenly man lived in our days, he would by a certain class of people have been deemed a legalist; a people who widely differ from the practice of the apostle, for they are conformed to the world, and they feed themselves without fear.

Seek the heavenly prize

Last Sunday Tiger Woods won the Masters golf tournament. An amazing triumph for a man who a few years ago thought his days of playing golf were over. Four surgeries and long months of rigorous training later, he is outplaying the best in the world.

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He has had to endure pain, ridicule and scorn, and overcame them all. His reward? Another green jacket, a pile of money and tons of praise and publicity.

Those are things that will perish with time. The apostle Paul wrote about sports and said that Christians should train like athletes, not heeding the protests of their body. But, he said, they do it to win an earthly prize, we do it to win a heavenly prize.

The other big news story of this week is the fire that broke out Monday afternoon at the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. President Macron cancelled a televised speech, politicians stopped campaigning. By noon the next day wealthy families in France had pledged 700 million Euros to rebuild the cathedral. That is more than one billion Canadian dollars. Obviously this 800 year old building has a great significance for a great many people.

But, the apostle Paul says: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”

What then should a Christian consider to be the most precious of all earthly objects? Not something to be worshipped, but the thing that is the most significant for Christian life?

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It is the cross; the cross where our Saviour died, and where we must also die to the impulses of our body. Beyond the cross lies the resurrection. For Jesus it was at once a bodily resurrection and a spiritual resurrection. For us the spiritual resurrection comes first, the bodily resurrection later.

May we never trivialize the cross by calling the petty difficulties of life a cross. That is not the cross to which Christ directs us. The cross of Christ is an instrument of death. In order to become what God wants us to be, what he created us to be, everything that hinders must be nailed to the cross and left there to die.

That means all our human desires, hopes and ambitions must be taken out of the way. Just thinking of that brings agony and fear. Yet beyond the cross lies a new life, with blessings we cannot imagine and will never experience if we shrink from the cross.

Leenart Bouwens, an anabaptist preacher and colleague of Menno Simons and Theodore Philippe in the 15th century, baptized more than 10,000 persons. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but it is said that one time a couple came to him desiring to be baptized. After visiting with them he said “You need to go home and die first. I never baptize living people.”

The cross of Christ is still the way we must take to win the heavenly prize.

The Christian art of soft persuasion

Jesus said: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We want to share the gospel; let’s not get distracted into wolf hunting. That’s not what Jesus has called us to do; He has called us to demonstrate an alternative to the wolves.

Not everyone out there in the world is a wolf. Many are confused, some are deceived, but that does not make them wolves. For this reason we need to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. It is one thing to point out the snares in false teachings, but if we attack everyone who we deem to be deceived, we are acting like wolves.

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The gospel is unchanging from age to age and culture to culture. Yet the words we use to explain the gospel must be adapted to the understanding of the hearers. Before we can present the gospel in a meaningful way to someone of a different culture, we must first unpack it from the baggage of our own culture. Here is where we are most apt to stumble. We are blind to our own culture. Why would we even think of changing what is right and good and workable, we ask?

To other people our culture is blatantly obvious. We have preconceived ideas of how a Christian should conduct himself. We like to shake hands, but hugging makes us uncomfortable. We are accustomed to keeping a generous amount of personal space between ourselves and the person we are speaking to. These things make us appear cold and aloof to people of a warmer culture.

We use words, expressions, examples that we believe are universal. They are not. We can’t understand the questions people ask, they seem so strange to our way of thinking. Our way of thinking is equally foreign to them.

Once we learn to recognize that the baggage we have carried all our lives is not essential to the gospel, then we can begin to share the message in a way that others can understand. We become soft and gentle sheep, submissive to the will of God, portraying the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions.

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“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Adam Clarke’s take on this is that Paul is saying that he assumed every shape and form consistent with innocency and perfect integrity; giving up his own will, his own way; his own ease; his own pleasure; and his own profit that he might save the souls of all. He did not accommodate or water down his message to the beliefs of others, his goal was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save souls. It was not to get ease, but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls.

The scandal of divided Christianity

For years I have been reading statements that go something like this:

“The greatest stumbling block to Christian missions is the confused message coming from the divisions among those who call themselves Christians.”

I would like to propose a radical solution. Jesus said “I will build my church.” Why don’t we just let Him do it?

That would mean that we would all need to have an experience like Paul had on the road to Damascus. We would need to abandon all of our own ideas about how to build the kingdom of God and ask “Lord, what would thou have me to do?”

Some years later, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers [servants] by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

Let’s stop giving honour to people as builders of the church, become mere servants taking all our direction from God, and giving all the honour to Him.

Christ in you, the hope of glory

Jesus spoke the following words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The words were shocking, no doubt deliberately so.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53-58)

Many who had been following Jesus turned away. These mysterious words didn’t sound at all like the Messiah they had been taught to expect. When Jesus asked the twelve if they would also turn away, Peter responded “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostle Paul explained the mystery like this in Colossians 1:26-27: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The key to understanding Messiah’s kingdom is that the citizens of this kingdom are people who have Jesus Christ inside of them, ruling their lives from the heart. Every time a person is born again, the Lord Jesus Christ is incarnate within them.

This was Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:16-18: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He repeats the promise in His prayer in the 17th chapter of John: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Paul explains the promise a little further in Romans chapter eight: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Verses 9-11).

The promise is that the believer will have both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ dwelling in him or her. “He (the Holy Spirit) shall be in you / I (Jesus) will come to you.” “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you / And if Christ be in you.”

I believe this is what the apostle John is speaking of in the following verses: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t think he is saying that it is enough to believe that Jesus once walked this earth in human flesh. We must know that He is here right now, in my flesh and your flesh, if we are Christians.

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is in every Christian, no matter our ethnic background, social or economic status. This is the identifying mark of the true Christian, recognizable only by other Christians.

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables

Old wives’ fables really are the words that the Apostle wrote. I thought perhaps this was some colourful turn of phrase courtesy of the translators. But no, this is an accurate translation of the Greek.

Why do we associate old women and questionable stories? I have a theory. Older women tend to think of themselves as custodians of the established standards of what is right and proper in their communities. When they hear of some happening that appears to be in contravention of those standards, they want to make sure that others know what is happening so they can do something to set things to right. It seems like a quasi-noble intention.

Too often, though, they don’t get the facts quite right, and then they begin to embroider a bit on the story they thought they heard. And the embroidery becomes more elaborate with each retelling. In the end, their noble intentions often do more harm than good.

We do well to heed the Apostle’s admonition. For sure, we should never repeat such a story without doing a little independent research to find the source of the story and verify the information.

That goes for stuff that comes floating into our inbox via the internet. I recently received prayer requests for persecuted Christians in India where a Buddhist mob had torched ten churches and had intentions of torching many more. Another prayer request came on behalf of 22 missionaries awaiting execution in Afghanistan.

It turns out that the first story has been circulating since 2010 and was not true at that time, or any time since. India is a predominantly Hindu nation, it is dubious whether there are enough Buddhists in India to form a mob big enough to burn ten churches. In addition, the location named in the message does not exist.

The second story is even older, having been around since 2007. It is also fictitious. One would begin to think that there is a conspiracy afoot to get well-meaning Christians excited about things that aren’t happening, in order to make them look like fools. If that is the intention, it appears to be working.

Someone once said: “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.” That is a little extreme, but a little skepticism can be a healthy thing. If you ever have a question about some startling news that has been forwarded to you via email, Snopes.com can probably tell you the history of the story and whether it is true or false.

A Christian’s greatest enemy is inside of him

The apostle Paul knew it: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”

John Newton knew it: “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if I found a toad or a serpent was put in my food or on my bed.”

A Christian today may constantly fret over the evils in the world around him, all the while doing his best to ignore that there is something inside of him, part of his very being, that is in alliance with the external powers of evil. We may try to flee from the external evils, but wherever we flee to, the internal evil is still with us.

It is altogether vain to seek within ourselves the strength to overcome this evil. That strength cannot be found within, we must look beyond ourselves to find that power.

Paul knew where to find it: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” and ” But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

So did John Newton: “But though my disease is grievous, it is not desperate; I have a gracious and infallible Physician. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

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