Relying on Others

You’re running late for an important appointment and your ride isn’t here yet. You expected everything to be prepared ahead of time and, when you arrive, you find everyone rushing around at the last-minute. The presentation is going well, until the projector lamp goes out. When you ask for a replacement bulb, your assistant sheepishly shrugs their shoulders.

If you haven’t presented at a meeting or seminar, these events may be foreign to you. But we’ve all depended on someone to meet their commitment, pick up the slack, or come through in a pinch. We need to rely on one another.

In a more essential way, that’s true for the church, the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul says it like this:

…Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

There is something foundational in relying on those in the church. The Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, frames the nature of our relationships with Christ and each other:

But, speaking the truth. Having already said that we ought not to be children, destitute of reason and judgment, he now [charges] us to grow up in the truth. Though we have not arrived at man’s estate, we ought at least…to be advanced children.

The truth of God ought to have such a firm hold of us, that all the contrivances and attacks of Satan shall not draw us from our course; and yet, as we have not hitherto attained full and complete strength, we must make progress until death.

He points out the design of this progress, that Christ may be the head, “that in all things he may have the pre-eminence,” (Colossians 1:18,) and that in him alone we may grow in vigor or in stature. Again, we see that no man is excepted; all are [commanded] to be subject, and to take their own places in the body.

…A healthful condition of the church requires that Christ alone “must increase,” and all others “must decrease.” (John 3:30) Whatever increase we obtain must be regulated in such a manner, that we shall remain in our own place, and contribute to exalt the head.

…If each individual, instead of attending exclusively to his own concerns, shall desire [interrelationships], there will be agreeable and general progress. Such, the Apostle assures us, must be the nature of this harmony, that men shall not be [permitted] to forget the claims of truth, or, disregarding them, to frame an agreement according to their own views…

Then, he explores the functioning of that vital, shared relationship:

From whom the whole body. All our increase should tend to exalt more highly the glory of Christ. This is [proven] by the best possible reasons. It is he who [provides for] all [that we lack], and without whose protection we cannot be safe. As the root conveys sap to the whole tree, so all the vigor which we possess must flow to us from Christ.

There are three things here which deserve our attention:

The first [has already] been stated: All the life or health which is diffused through the members flows from the head; so that the members occupy a subordinate rank.

The second is, that, by the distribution made, the limited share of each renders the communication between all the members absolutely necessary.

The third is, that, without mutual love, the health of the body cannot be maintained.

Through the members, as [channels], is conveyed from the head all that is necessary for the nourishment of the body. While this connection is upheld, the body is alive and healthy. Each member, too, has its own proper share, — according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.

Finally, Calvin declares the result of this organic interdependency when all is properly functioning:

Lastly, he shows that by love the church is edified, — to the edifying of itself in love. This means that no increase is advantageous, which does not bear a just proportion to the whole body. That man is mistaken who desires his own separate growth. If a leg or arm should grow to a prodigious size, or the mouth be more fully distended, would the undue enlargement of those parts be otherwise than injurious to the whole frame?

In like manner, if we wish to be considered members of Christ, let no man be anything for himself, but let us all be whatever we are for the benefit of each other. This is accomplished by love; and where it does not reign, there is no “edification,” but an absolute scattering of the church.

In context of this scripture, Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom explored the consequences of our not clinging to, but rather dividing, Christ’s body, the church:

…If therefore we desire to have the benefit of that Spirit which is from the Head, let us [stick like glue] one to another. For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we [grow] cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the “fullness of Christ.” But if we are appointed to build up others also, what shall not be done to them who are first to make division?

Nothing will [serve] to divide the Church [so much as the] love of power. Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. [More accurately], though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less [stinging] than they who mangled His body.

For that [i.e., Christ’s Crucifixion] indeed was brought to pass for the benefit of the world, even though it was done [by men] with no such intention; whereas this [i.e., church division] produces no advantage in any case, but the injury is excessive. These remarks I am addressing not to the governors only, but also to the governed.

…This injury is not less than that received at the hands of enemies, [or rather, more than that], it is far greater. For that [, i.e., injury at an enemy’s hands,] indeed renders [the church] even more glorious, whereas this, when she is warred upon by her own children, disgraces her even before her enemies. Because it seems to them a great mark of hypocrisy, that those who have been born in her, and nurtured in her bosom, and have learned perfectly her secrets, that these should [all] of a sudden change, and do her enemies’ work.

Therefore, rely on Him and serve others.

Johnny Q. Public – Body Be (Official Music Video,) YouTube, Gotee records, Lyrics, Available on Amazon

Honoring Our Feet

Peculiar topic, no? Have you ever thought of someone’s opinions as second-rate and subtly (or so you thought) told them so? Have you been slighted or brushed off for some unfathomable reason, only later putting two and two together? Though we expect this treatment in the world, we shouldn’t expect it in the church. However, it’s there and He doesn’t like it. Through the Apostle Paul, He says:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:21-26 English Standard Version (ESV)

There is a lot in this admonition. First, let us consider the key word: honor. We know honor more sharply by what it is not:

dis·hon·or [disˈänər]

VERB

bring shame or disgrace on:

“the politician dishonors her good campaign by resorting to sniping.”

synonyms: disgrace, shame, discredit, bring into disrepute, humiliate, degrade, debase, lower, cheapen, drag down, drag through the mud, blacken the name of, give a bad name to, sully, stain, taint, besmirch, smear, mar, blot, stigmatize

antonym: honor, respect

The reformer, John Calvin, had some pointed things to say about these verses:

Hitherto [Paul exhorted] the less honorable members to…not envy the more distinguished members. Now, he [directs the] honorable members not to despise the inferior members, [with whom] they cannot dispense.

The dishonor of one member [results in] the common disgrace of the whole body, as appears from the care that we take to cover the parts that are less honorable…The body is not merely shattered, and the order of nature perverted, but the authority of God is openly [treated as of no importance] whenever anyone assumes more than belongs to him.

There is no room for envy or contempt. To be honored [means] to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better [suited] to promote harmony than…when everyone feels that he is proportionally enriched by the prosperity of others and impoverished by their penury.

Further, the Apostle Paul instructs us to listen to the Spirit’s guidance and refrain from looking down on our brothers and sisters:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:25-26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin says:

Among Christians, whoever [desires their own] glory departs from true glory, and therefore is justly charged with idle and foolish ambition. It is not lawful for us to glory but in God alone. Every other kind of glorying is pure vanity.

Mutual provocations and envying are the daughters of ambition. He who aspires to the highest rank must of necessity envy all others, and disrespectful, biting, stinging language is the unavoidable consequence.

So we see the origin of this form of strife: vaunted ambition. He who wants to be first, will be last.

But Paul’s admonitions about honor are not all negative. In the Letter to the Romans, he says:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Romans 12:10, 17 (ESV)

In these verses, Calvin catches several subtleties we often miss:

Everyone is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised.

As there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when everyone honors others.

We render evil for evil sometimes…when we treat unkindly those who do us no good…When any one denies help to us when we need it, we…do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us.

We ought to diligently labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected.

When we are [called] to prepare good things before men, …[it] is not that men may admire and praise us but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to practice righteousness.

And so, we must “honor our feet,” that is, give sincere respect and due care to those who we consider less capable in word, thought, and deed, for the sake of the unity of His body, the church. Each of us contributes what we’ve been given, if we’re following the Spirit’s leading. To God, alone, be the glory.

U-MV021 – Sam Phillips – I Need Love, posted on YouTube by mypartofthething, lyrics

Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?

From an historical perspective, theologian Louis Berkhof explains that:

…Matthew wrote for the Jews and characterized Christ as the great King of the house of David. Mark composed his Gospel for the Romans and pictured the Savior as the mighty Worker, triumphing over sin and evil. Luke in writing his Gospel had in mind the needs of the Greeks and portrayed Christ as the perfect man, the universal Savior. And John, composing his Gospel for those who already had a saving knowledge of the Lord and stood in need of a more profound understanding of the essential character of Jesus, emphasized the divinity of Christ, the glory that was manifested in his works…

Recently, I ran across an interesting conjecture about this question while researching my next book. However, while it was compelling, I thought it best to test this conjecture against what Calvin penned about the four gospels in his Commentaries.

The first thing to notice is that Calvin values the Gospel of John differently from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Concerning John’s Gospel in relation to the other three, Calvin says:

Yet there is also this difference between them, which the other three are more copious in their narrative of the life and death of Christ, but John dwells more largely on the doctrine by which the office of Christ, together with the power of his death and resurrection, is unfolded.

…And as all of them had the same object in view, to point out Christ, the three former exhibit his body, if we may be permitted to use the expression, but John exhibits his soul.

On this account, I am accustomed to say that this Gospel [i.e., John’s] is a key to open the door for understanding the rest; for whoever shall understand the power of Christ, as it is here strikingly portrayed, will afterwards read with advantage what the others relate about the Redeemer who was manifested.

About Mark’s gospel, Calvin says:

Mark is generally supposed to have been the private friend and disciple of Peter. It is even believed that he wrote the Gospel, as it was dictated to him by Peter, and thus merely performed the office of an amanuensis or clerk. But on this subject we need not give ourselves much trouble, for it is of little importance to us, provided only we believe that he is a properly qualified and divinely appointed witness, who committed nothing to writing, but as the Holy Spirit directed him and guided his pen.

Of Luke:

Luke asserts plainly enough that he is the person who attended Paul.

And of Matthew, Calvin says:

Matthew is sufficiently known [from the Gospel accounts].

Summing up for all three:

…For we will not say that the diversity which we perceive in the three Evangelists was the object of express arrangement, but as they intended to give an honest narrative of what they knew to be certain and undoubted, each followed that method which he reckoned best. Now as this did not happen by chance, but by the direction of Divine Providence, so under this diversity in the manner of writing the Holy Spirit suggested to them an astonishing harmony, which would almost be sufficient of itself to secure credit to them, if there were no other and stronger evidences to support their authority.

Note that John had intimate access with God and man and later in life, much knowledge and love.

Matthew (called Levi) was a Hebrew civil official collecting Roman taxes, despised by his countrymen, and was grateful to leave all behind.

Peter (and perhaps Mark) worked with his hands, was bold, impulsive, and spoke well  extemporaneously.

Luke was a physician who set out to document both the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles meticulously.

The conclusion of the preceding exposition brings us to the source of the conjecture.

David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

He says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the four personality types via several posts over the next few weeks (possibly interspersed among other postings on different topics).

In the book’s notes section, Keirsey relates the four main personality types to the gospel writers:

Artisan (SP) — Bold, Works with Hands, Extemporaneous, Present Oriented — Peter (with amanuensis Mark)

Guardian (SJ) — Administrative, Works with Resources, Desires Respect, Past Oriented — Matthew

Rational (NT) — Reasoning, Works in Sciences, Seeks Knowledge, Period Oriented — Luke

Idealist (NF) — Empathetic, Works with People, Sagacious, Future Oriented — John

These are the Gospel author’s predispositions. Their experiences molded them, as far as they were willing and able, so that they acquired attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in total could be said to be their overall dispositions.

Although God may choose to relate to our predispositions through the Gospel writers, once He gets hold of us, He conforms us to His Son’s likeness as His sons and daughters.

None of the four writers seemed more transformed than Peter who, in his second letter to the churches, documents instruction for and prophesy of the future as his provision for the saints:

I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 2 Peter 1:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Of course, the number “four” is a common theme throughout the bible.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalype

Death on a Pale Horse is a version of the traditional subject, Four Horsemen of Revelation, 1796, Benjamin West (1738 – 1820), in the public domain in the US

Live Move Be

The words in the title of this week’s post are found in Oprah’s favorite bible verse:

She says these are words to live by. The verse in its entirety is:

For

   “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[a]

as even some of your own poets have said,

   “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”[b]

Footnotes: a. Probably from Epimenides of Crete; b. From Aratus’s poem “Phainomena”

Acts 17:28 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin comments:

For in him. …We have our being in him, inasmuch as by His Spirit he keeps us in life, and upholds us. For the power of the Spirit is spread abroad throughout all parts of the world, that it may preserve them in their state; that He may minister unto the heaven and earth that force and vigor which we see, and motion to all living creatures.

Then Calvin corrects a possible misinterpretation:

Not as brain-sick men do trifle, that all things are full of gods, yea, that stones are gods; but because God does, by the wonderful power and inspiration of His Spirit, preserve those things which He hath created of nothing…

He explains why the Apostle Paul would use such non-biblical sources:

Certain of your poets. [Paul] cites half a verse out of Aratus, not so much for authority’s sake, as that he may make the men of Athens ashamed; for such sayings of the poets came from no other fountain save only from nature and common reason.

Neither is it any marvel if Paul, who spoke unto men who were infidels and ignorant of true godliness, [did] use the testimony of a poet, wherein was [present] a confession of that knowledge which is naturally engraved in men’s minds…

Focusing on the meaning of the poetry itself, Calvin says:

…It may be that Aratus did imagine that there was some parcel of the divinity in men’s minds, as the [Manicheans] did say, that the souls of men are of the nature of God…

But this invention ought not to have hindered Paul from retaining a true maxim, though it were corrupt with men’s fables, that men are the generation of God, because by the excellency of nature they resemble some divine thing.

Finally, Calvin relates the poetical expressions to that which God explains throughout scripture:

This is that which the Scripture teaches, that we are created after the image and similitude of God, (Genesis 1:27.)

The same Scripture teaches also, in many places, that we be made the sons of God by faith and free adoption when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, and being regenerate by the Spirit, we begin to be new creatures, (Galatians 3:26.)

And certainly, God’s scriptures are words to live by.

The Shocking Concrete Abstract Universal

Flannery O’Connor meant to shock us by her storylines and imagery:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.

Anyone who has read The Violent Bear It Away or Everything That Rises Must Converge would have to agree that O’Connor had the ability to shout and startle.

On a more philosophical note, she reflected on the imbalance between abstract and concrete knowledge of her day in her essay: ‘The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,’ p 858–9, Collected Works:

It takes a story of mythic dimensions; one which belongs to everybody; one in which everybody is able to recognize the hand of God and imagine its descent upon himself.

In the Protestant South the Scriptures fill this role. The ancient Hebrew genius for making the absolute concrete has conditioned the Southerner’s way of looking at things…

Our response to life is different if we have been taught only the definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held the knife over Isaac.

I’d say it was God’s genius for making the absolute concrete; but who’s quibbling. To paraphrase O’Connor, the point is that the abstract is transformed into the concrete thereby making the universal accessible. That’s what God has done throughout the Scriptures. To illustrate, I cite two examples.

The intricate description of the ephod and breastpiece of judgement belonging to the High Priest’s garments culminates in Exodus, chapter 28, verses 29 and 30:

So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly. English Standard Version

If we have ears to hear it, all the concrete details of these garments portray the concern Aaron was to have for the people of Israel as he regularly bore their judgement on his heart while he brought them in remembrance before the Lord. We later learn, in the Letter to the Hebrews, that Aaron and his line are a shadow of the reality residing in the Lord Jesus Christ’s intercession for His own before the Father.

Another example of the abstract being made concrete is the bread and wine of communion. First, the Lord Jesus shocks the religious rulers of His day (and us, if we’re honest):

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:51-54 (ESV)

Then in the Upper Room, the Lord inaugurates the commemoration of His death and resurrection:

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 (ESV)

Finally, Paul explains its significance

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Which brings us full circle back to John, chapter 6:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35 (ESV)

Even the Prophet Isaiah said as much:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,

    come to the waters;

and he who has no money,

    come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

    without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

    hear, that your soul may live;

and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

    my steadfast, sure love for David.

Isaiah 55:1-3 (ESV)

Indeed, come and eat.

High Priest's Garments

The High Priest Aaron, Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906—1913), Public Domain in the United States