Category Archives: Bible Blog

Ordinary Superheroes

Acts 4

In today’s complex world, believers face many Darin's Online Photo Smalldifficulties. Difficulties come from within and without. We may encounter direct persecution from those who oppose us or indirect resistance from those who prefer a relativistic worldview. We may experience challenges even in the midst of spiritual victories. For instance, when we have overcome a spiritual problem, we may become prideful—but pride is already a sin! Conversely, we may adopt an inferiority complex, thinking that spiritual superheroes can do things better than we can.

In today’s passage, the first Christians also faced challenges that came about due to a great spiritual victory. Great success brought great resistance. Peter and John had performed a great miracle, healing a forty-year-old man crippled since birth (Acts 3). This healing resulted in many people hearing and receiving the Good News. This, in turn, caught the attention of the authorities, who arrested Peter and John.

We may think that Peter and John were Christian superheroes. But the authorities were actually correct to noticed that they were just “ordinary men” (Acts 4:13 NIV). They were ordinary people, transformed by spending time with Jesus and emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their fellow believers recognized that they, too, needed the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome resistance to the Good News. Boldness in the face of spiritual challenges is for ordinary believers, not only for Christian “superheroes.”

The Apostles received power by spending time with Jesus, not just before His death, but even after His resurrection! This was a privilege that the new believers could enjoy, as well. And the new believers recognized the importance of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. They prayed, asking specifically for boldness to declare the Good News despite the opposition. Acts 4:31 reports the dramatic answer to that prayer: “The place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (NIV).

Today, we too need to recognize our need for help in the face of spiritual challenges. Like the early believers, we must ask for God’s help when we need it (which is always, by the way!). We must rely on Jesus, and we must rely on the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit gives aid, like the early Church we must proclaim the Word boldly and strengthen community by selflessly working together.

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Unfinished Business

1 Kings 2:1–11

Darin's Online Photo Small1 Kings 2:1–11 relates the deathbed charge of King David to his son, Solomon. After delivering typical advice fit for a new ruler, David leaves Solomon with three specific tasks. Arising out of events in the course of David’s own reign, these three tasks comprise David’s unfinished business. David should have dealt with these items himself, but he had left them undone for a variety of reasons—some legitimate, and some dubious.

The first charge that David left Solomon is “Do not let [Joab’s] gray head go down to the grave in peace” (v. 6 TNIV). From David’s description, it seems clear that Joab had been guilty of criminal activity (v. 5). As a result, David (and his dynasty) was guilty by association. Leaving Joab unpunished was tantamount to tacit approval of Joab’s criminality. Upon David’s death, Solomon moved quickly to deal with this issue, having Joab executed even though he sought refuge at the Lord’s altar (v. 34).

The next item of unfinished business related to Barzillai, who had treated David well when he fled Jerusalem during the revolt of his son, Absalom (v. 7). David tells Solomon to show kindness to Barzillai’s children. The word kindness here translates the Hebrew word, hesed. This word is often translated as “loving kindness,” and frequently describes God’s covenant faithfulness to His people. Commentator Simon John de Vries calls it a “‘deed of loyalty,’ that… demands reciprocation” (Word Biblical Commentary). This “deed of loyalty” is similar to the Filipino utang na loob, or “debt of gratitude.” David could not forget that he still owed utang na loob to Barzillai. Sadly, he left it for his son to do.

At the same time that Barzillai acted in kindness toward David, another man cursed him in his moment of need (v. 8–9). That man was Shimei. Interestingly, David had seemed to forgive Shimei for his curses, but his deathbed charge to Solomon clearly shows that he still harbored resentment. Solomon handled this charge by compelling Shimei to stay in Jerusalem. Years later, when Shimei returned to Jerusalem following an unauthorized absence, Solomon used that as a pretext to have him executed (v. 46).

Thus, David left Solomon with three pieces of unfinished business. David’s failure to complete them set Solomon on a trajectory that ultimately damaged him and the Davidic dynasty. It forced Solomon to engage in the kind of violence that leads either to further violence or to the forcible suppression of enemies. Rather than leading to good governance, the course was laid for an uneasy peace that unraveled after Solomon’s death. Instead of leaving his unfinished business for Solomon, David should have dealt with these matters himself. He should have confronted Joab with his sinful behavior; he should have found a way to repay his debt of gratitude to Barzillai; and he should have truly forgiven Shimei. What about you? Is there someone you need to confront, repay, or forgive? Do it today!

This week we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Like David, Jesus was facing the hour of His death. But unlike David, Jesus took care of His business. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By His death, Jesus had accomplished everything needed to win our salvation. His work was completed! Nevertheless, there is yet some unfinished business that Jesus left for us. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:18–20 TNIV). The world is waiting for each one of us to do our part to finish this unfinished business!

Children of the King

1 Corinthians 4:8–14

“Power corrupts…and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This common saying is at the Darin's Online Photo Smallheart of many people’s thinking about the role of power in politics, whether national, institutional, or interpersonal. The saying has an element of truth, which explains its prevalence. However, not all uses of power are negative. As one of my professors noted, God gives each of us some degree of power, and He expects us to use that power to influence others to live a life more pleasing to Him.

In today’s passage, we find Paul addressing a related issue. He addresses the Corinthians as rich kings (v. 8), but he contrasts their “rule” with the lifestyle of himself and the other apostles (vv. 9–13). Their lifestyle is the very epitome of non-ruling; yet God has chosen them to be the ones to carry His message. There is, then, an alignment between the message (the message of the cross) and the messengers (the scum of the earth [v. 13]).

The passage opens in v. 8 with a series of clauses that may be variously understood. They could be rhetorical questions (Do you already have all you want? Have you already become rich? Have you become kings without us?), they could be ironic statements (they think they are rich rulers, but they are not), or they could be non-ironic statements (they really are rich rulers). If the clauses are rhetorical questions, then the implied answer to each is no. If they are statements with irony, then the Corinthian believers do not rule but have acted as though they do. If the clauses are statements without irony, then the Corinthians do reign, but in the wrong way.

Interestingly, this last scenario pertains regardless of which way we understand the clauses of v. 8. Whether the clauses are questions or statements, Paul is critiquing the mindset conveyed by the image of rich rulers. Thus, although we can’t hear Paul’s actual tone of voice in order to clarify whether he is asking a question or making a statement with or without irony, his meaning is nevertheless clear: there are right and wrong ways to enjoy wealth and power. Wealth and power are not wrong per se; but they are surely wrong if they are obtained or exercised outside the purposes of God.

Moreover, the relative destitution of the apostles (vv. 9–13) demonstrates that there is a kind of power that comes through apparent powerlessness. Paul and the other apostles lacked all the trappings of worldly power, yet they had been selected by God to spread the Gospel. This should remind us of Paul’s earlier discussion about the foolishness of God, which Paul insists is wiser than the wisdom of this world (1 Cor 1:25). The foolishness that Paul discussed there was the foolishness of the Cross. The seeming weakness of the apostles becomes their strength because by following the way of the Cross, they become conduits of God’s power.

In sum, to the extent that the Corinthians either actually had all they wanted or merely aspired to possess all they desired, for Paul they were on the wrong side of the ledger. They were following the world’s pattern, not God’s. Better to be the scum of the earth like the apostles, than the toast of the world like the Corinthian wannabes, for only those who follow the approach of the former operate according to God’s will as revealed in Christ.

God has given each one of us some power, since we are His children. But God’s kingship is one of foolishness and suffering, and His charge to His children is to follow His path. Paradoxically, we are to wield power in the lives of others by empowering them, not by forcing our will upon them. We are to exert influence on others by allowing them to outshine us. Ultimately, we bring the light of wholeness into their lives by so magnifying Christ that we become almost invisible. This is what it means to be children of the heavenly King.

Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs 9:10–12

I love to tell about when my family and I went with friends to Kruger National Park. I was eleven years old and excited to see the African wildlife. In addition to elephants and lions, we were hoping to spot a giant kudu. After looking much of the day, we finally spotted a kudu out the right side of the car. It was a little far away, and our view was obstructed by brush. But we were so excited, and we craned our necks in a futile attempt to catch a better glimpse. Then I looked out the other side of the car. There was a second kudu, practically looking right in the window at us!

Just like that carload of animal lovers looking in the wrong direction, so many people chase after the desires of their hearts but look 180 degrees from where true fulfillment is found. Today’s passage tells us where we ought to be looking. Although Proverbs does not give absolute promises, its advice points us in a godly direction. In v. 11, Wisdom offers us long life if we will follow her. That’s good advice!

Verse 10 tells us how to start a life-long pursuit of Wisdom: it begins with the fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord means having a healthy respect for God, as some Egyptians demonstrated when they hurried to prepare for the plagues Moses had announced (Ex 9:20). Fear of the Lord also means caring about what God cares about. For example, Lev 19:14 connects concern for the deaf and blind with the fear of the Lord. God cares about the welfare of the marginalized, and so should we! When we fear the Lord, we obey Him. In Deut 10:12–13, the fear of the Lord is linked to obedience, love, and service to the Lord.

The second part of v. 10 says that knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. This points to a truth clearly seen in the New Testament: Wisdom is a Person, namely Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). As the saying goes, it isn’t just what you know; it’s whom you know—and the who is Christ Himself! God’s wisdom is personal. It is people-focused, not self-seeking. Yet when we consider Christ, we dare not forget that His way (described in 1 Cor as God’s foolishness that is wiser than human wisdom) is the Way of the Cross. To know Christ means to embrace His willingness to suffer on behalf of others. We may imagine that the call of Wisdom is a call to a life of ease—but it is instead a life of discipleship to Christ, who laid down His life for His friends (John 10:11).

According to 1 Cor 2:16, we have the mind of Christ! Not only should we do what He did, we should think the way He thought! In a book entitled The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires traces six facets of what it means to think Christianly (as Christ thought). To think Christianly, we must maintain (1) a supernatural orientation and (2) an awareness of evil. We must recognize that (3) truth is revealed, not merely constructed by human ingenuity. Thinking Christianly means (4) accepting authority: the authority of God, of the Bible, and of God’s faithful representatives. It entails (5) a concern for people, and a recognition of the vital link between physical and spiritual within the rhythms of our daily lives, which Blamires calls (6) a sacramental cast. Blamires makes the profound point that we can think Christianly or unchristianly about any topic. We should reflect even on seemingly mundane issues through the lens of these six characteristics.

As we hone the fear of the Lord in our lives, as we pursue the wisdom of Christ; and as we renew our minds through conformity to Christian thinking, we set our path on the way of Wisdom. We should not imagine that this results in a magic formula that guarantees an easy and long life. Instead it is a life of trust in the Lord. It is a life oriented toward looking in the right place for meaning and fulfillment. Instead of chasing fleeting pleasures, let your 2106 be marked by pursuit of godly wisdom.

Something New

Exodus 26

When I was in high school, we had a class called Drafting. Well, I should probably say a class by that name was offered. Very few of us enrolled; no one wanted to deal with all the tedium of technical drawing. Now schools have a course with a similar objective called Computer Aided Design (CAD), and students love it! They report that it is fun, it appeals to their creativity, and it prepares them for future careers. (I know this because I asked a classroom full of them.) The use of the computer—a relatively recent technological advancement—has made all the difference.

When you think about it, the building plans for the Tabernacle (Exodus 26) are very similar to CAD. Consider these descriptions: “The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall have the same measurements” (v. 2 NASB) and “You shall make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards, two sockets under one board for its two tenons and two sockets under another board for its two tenons” (v. 19 NASB). If those ideas had been created today, they would have been produced with the assistance of a CAD program, complete with high-resolution graphics and specific measurements, all easily rotated with a mouse for minute examination. Just like today’s students, the writers of the Bible must have loved using new technology (in their case, writing) to record the precise specifications of their designs.

These writings would have been very useful for the work of the craftsmen who constructed the Tabernacle and of the priests who transported and maintained it in subsequent generations. Indeed, it is remarkable that it is a fairly straightforward project to build s scale model of the tabernacle based on the plans detailed in these verses. Though there are a few elements that are somewhat uncertain, on the whole we can be very sure of what the original tabernacle looked like.

One conclusion we can draw from this line of thinking is that God encourages us to embrace new ways of doing things! Just like CAD is relatively new today, technical writing was relatively new when the book of Exodus was written. God utilized a newly developed technique to convey His purposes, not just for that first generation, but for all time. If God used new methods for advancing His plan in those days, we can be confident that He wants us to use new methods today, as well. For example, imperfect as it may be, we would do well to utilize new media (Internet, social networking, etc.) to communicate the Good News to today’s generation.

You may be thinking, “Oh come now! Writing wasn’t that new at the time of the composition of Exodus.” New or not (I’ll leave that debate for the Pentateuch scholars), writing was surely “cutting edge” technology in the sense that it was the IT of the day and accessible only to an educated elite. And even if writing was not “new” at the time Exodus was written, still we know God loves the new. The Bible speaks about us as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), about singing a new song (Psalm 33:3 and many others), and about the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1).

Too often, Christians are eager for the “good old days.” They are eager to discuss how things are going downhill at breakneck speeds. But in light of today’s passage, before bemoaning “kids these days,” ask what is new in the world that has real potential to advance the Kingdom of God. How can emerging methods be harnessed to reach people who were previously unreachable?

And, if you are the kind of person who gets excited about new technology, try re-reading Exodus 26 as if you were living back in the day when its technological advancement was brand new. It just might inspire you to try something new today!

Entitlement

1 Corinthians 4:1–7

As I was walking recently, I had to cross a heavily trafficked street at an unmarked crosswalk. The law requires vehicles to stop for pedestrians at an intersection regardless of marking. Thankfully, I did not assume that everyone obeys that law, as I watched a big pickup truck zoom by while I waited at the edge of the intersection. But it got me to thinking about rights and privileges, gifts and entitlements. Imagine a child had been standing there instead of me. Surely the driver would have stopped, not wanting to endanger a youngster. Adults and children are equally entitled, but differently treated. Drivers tend to treat adults according to conventions of convenience, while treating children with grace. Now consider an alternate scenario of trying to cross in the middle of the street. Neither an adult nor a child is entitled to cross there. At the risk of being a too graphic, imagine a child assuming the same entitlement to cross in the middle of the street as at the intersection. If hit while trying to cross there, it would be the child’s fault.

It seems to me that a lot of life’s conflicts and difficulties arise out of confusion between rights and entitlements versus obligations and graciousness. Sometimes we insist on what we think are our rights, when in fact they only seem to be our rights because people have been generous toward us before. Conversely, tension arises when we act generously toward others but they are ungrateful because they believed they were entitled to our gift.

In today’s key verse (v. 7), Paul says, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (TNIV). Using three rhetorical questions, Paul points out to the Corinthian believers that they are acting like they have entitlements. But everything they have is the result of a gracious gift. The first of the questions begins with a who, not a what. Instead of “What makes you different from anyone else,” we find, “Who makes you different from anyone else?” Hint: it’s not Paul or Apollos! The writer for the New Bible Commentary rightly notes that this question “relates to 1:30 where God’s work in Christ is what makes them who they are.” In other words, it is God Himself who makes the Corinthian believers different from others—and yet they have been acting just like everyone else, with their one-upmanship, their boasting, and their factionalism.

Here v. 7 intersects with the wider context. Paul had used a set of analogies—builder and building in 3:9–17 and stewardship in 4:1–2—to illustrate the importance of suspending judgment for the sake of unity. Paul was making the point that unity depends on mutual respect, cooperation, and faithfulness; not on entitlements or judgment. In v. 3 Paul says that he doesn’t even judge himself, and he urges the Corinthians to adopt the same stance toward themselves (v. 7). They are not to judge themselves as better than others on the basis of their connection to this or that teacher. Instead, they are to recognize that they all owe everything to the work of Christ. As the commentator referenced earlier says, the three rhetorical questions in v. 7 “should effectively eliminate all boasting by Christians.”

Entitlement is a very subtle form of boasting. Boasting of the entitlement kind comes, not in loud swaggering or overt arrogance, but in a quite attitude that the world owes you. But it is boasting nonetheless. It is boasting because an entitlement attitude says I deserve more than the next person. Rather than adopting such a stance, let us remember all that God has done for us out of His gracious will, not because He owed it to us. The next time you cross a street, remember Paul’s words, “Who makes you different from anyone else?” Then whisper a thank you to Christ who gave all for our sake.

The Long View

1 Corinthians 4:1–6

One of the most influential books in my intellectual and theological development is The ChristianDarin's Online Photo Small Mind, by Harry Blamires (now out of print, except in a reprint edition available from Regent College). Blamires makes the important point that it is possible to think Christianly or unChristianly about anything. In other words, it is not the topic that makes thinking Christian, but the process. For instance, thinking about automobile traffic problems ought to be different for the Christian and the secular thinker. The Christian thinker, among other things, should be concerned about fairness and the effect on the personal dignity of all who are impacted by a proposed solution to traffic problems.

One of the considerations that Blamires emphasizes as characteristic of the Christian way of thinking is an eternal perspective. The Christian thinker asks, for example, what are the forever consequences of the choices under consideration. To return to the above illustration of traffic problems, an eternal perspective asks what difference proposed solutions will have on people’s eternal destiny, not merely how much time they will save on the daily commute. Indeed, traffic can impact eternity in countless ways, such as consequences of the premature death of a parent due to inadequate traffic signals left uncorrected in order to save a little money.

Paul takes an eternal perspective in today’s passage. In v. 5 he says “Judge nothing before the appointed time” (TNIV). He quickly adds, “Wait till the Lord comes” (TNIV). The Lord’s coming, of course, will mark the end of time as we know it, the passing from time into eternity. Paul says that one’s commendation at the Lord’s coming is from the Lord Himself (v. 5). He insists that he doesn’t even judge himself (v. 3). It is helpful to consider how radical this idea would have been when it was first written. In an honor-driven culture, people were constantly judging and commending themselves and others. It was an ingrained cultural imperative to assess whether someone was honorable or shameful. Were any given words or deeds praiseworthy, and therefore increasing the honor or commendation of the speaker or doer; or were they despicable, with the opposite effect?

But notice that Paul is not discussing these things “out of the blue.” As he says in v. 6, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit” (TNIV). In other words, the primary reason that judging is under discussion here is that judging has been a problem for the Corinthian believers. Earlier in 1 Corinthians we learn that the people had been dividing into factions and quarreling over which faction was better. The logic in today’s passage is that the Corinthians were judging their teachers and one another, and Paul appeals to them to judge nothing before the right time. Which teacher is the best is for God to decide, not for the Corinthians to divide over.

I have found it very helpful to adopt such a stance in everyday life. Frequently we encounter someone who does something that offends us, that hurts us, or that simply bothers us. It is perfectly natural to assign evil or malicious motives to that person, judging their motives as if they intended to offend or hurt or bother. Paul’s message to us is to suspend judgment until the appointed time. We do this by assuming that the other person—so often a brother or sister in Christ—is operating out of pure motives. When we approach people in this way, we are prepared to see the best in them. Assuming the best often produces the best. Refusing to judge people before we have all the facts is a way of taking an eternal perspective—a long view.