Tag Archives: bible study

What is Romans all about?

I have found it frustrating to get the “big picture” of the book of Romans despite many attempts at studying it. To help myself in this project, I decided to outline it by giving a basic topic to each chapter of the book.

Romans 1. Gentiles have no excuse for their sinfulness.

2. Jews have no excuse for their sinfulness

3. We’ve all sinned, but Jews have an advantage over Gentiles.

4. Faith is a greater advantage, however.

5. Jesus justifies all who have faith.

6. We all used to sin, but it’s not to be expected any more.

7. Just because it’s not to be expected, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Reject the sinful nature.

8. Live in the Spirit.

9. God is testing the Jews by reaching Gentiles.

10. God can save Gentiles, and Jews need to be okay with that.

11. God still wants to save Jews.

12. Jews and Gentile Christ-followers are one. Serve God as one.

13. Serve outsiders and love each other.

14. Don’t enforce your own made-up rules on others that don’t need them.

15. Get along and meet others’ needs.

16. Greet each other and be hospitable.

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Woman Washing – An attempt at a harmony

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the world is presented with 4 perspectives on the life and ministry of Christ. Many of the stories of his life are told in multiple gospels, and just a few are told in all 4.

One such apparent event is the washing of Jesus’ feet by a woman. I took interest in this story and its chronology and took to doing an independent breakdown of it’s key events.

I found this story unique in that the gospels that seem to be in the most agreement are Matthew, Mark, and John, whereas usually Luke is the one in agreement with Matthew and Mark (see here some nerdy stuff on the Synoptic Problem). That’s not to say Luke disagrees here, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What all 4 stories have in common is that Jesus goes to someone’s house as a guest, reclines at a table, and a woman comes in with very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus. The response of those in the house is a general complaint about the waste of this costly perfume to which Jesus responds by defending the woman’s actions.

While those things are in common, Luke’s story has some significant differences including the events the story is sandwiched between. Luke places his story in the earlier half of Jesus’ ministry. In Luke’s account, the woman is an unnamed sinful woman who is thankful for the forgiveness she has received. In this gospel, it serves as an example of how the proud have the wrong priorities while the humble recognize the worth of Jesus.

In Matthew, Mark, and John the event occurs in the week leading up to Jesus’ death. All mention that he is in Bethany; Matthew and Mark say they’re at Simon’s house while John says that Martha served with the (recently-raised) Lazarus there. While Matthew and Mark leave her unnamed, John points out that it is Mary, Lazarus’ sister who is performing this action. This fits the apparent purposes of these Gospels. While Matthew and Mark aren’t too detailed about who gets angry, John specifies that it was Judas who was angry because he wanted the money for himself. In all three, Jesus concludes with the statement that “you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

What is strange to me are the times that the Matthew-Mark-John versus Luke connection doesn’t hold up. Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that the host is Simon, though in the former 2 he is a (former) leper, while in Luke he is a Pharisee. John doesn’t name the host, just that Martha serves. It is Matthew, Mark, and Luke that mention an alabaster flask, while Matthew, Mark, and John mention Nard as the type of perfume. Matthew and Mark put the perfume on the head; Luke and John have it on his feet. Only Mark and John mention the potential sale price of 300 denarii, or 1 year’s wages.

I don’t ultimately see any issues with saying that we have 2 separate stories here: one in Luke and one in the others. Simon the Pharisee hosts Luke’s story while Simon the Leper hosts the other (with the Martha family helping out). In both stories an alabaster flask of nard is poured out on Jesus head and feet, and it was “unnecessarily” expensive.

In each Gospel, the author’s intent is apparent. John is pointing out the personal nature of Jesus’ ministry to this family while demonstrating Judas’ evil motives. Matthew and Mark quote Jesus saying that “she has prepared my body for burial,” showing their emphasis on his soon-coming death. Luke wants to point out the hypocrisy and pride of the group of Pharisees in the house.


Israel is a People

In our previous study, we saw the background of the person named Israel. Israel was the younger brother by a few minutes. He went from being a deceiver to one who wrestles with God. Apart from any good deeds of his own, God decides to bless him and his descendants with some of the best territory known to mankind of his day.

Israel’s family had some issues though. As any good rendition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will remind you, there were not good feelings between his sons. It starts when Israel plays favorites with his wives (a good start to any dysfunctional marriage). After having 10 sons with his second-favorite wife and two maidservants, he finally has a child with his favorite wife. This child, Joseph, is later sold by his brothers to their distant cousins. Joseph ends up in Egypt and rises in the ranks. Ultimately he saves Egypt and its neighbors (including his relatives in the land of Canaan) from famine. Pharaoh honors Joseph by inviting Jacob/Israel and his descendents to take some of the best land in Egypt.
A generation later, the Egyptians weren’t so happy about Israelites living in their best territory, so they enslaved them. Four hundred thirty years later, God delivered those Israelites out of Egypt into the land he originally promised Abraham: Canaan. This nomadic nation that had never possessed a permanent homeland was on its way to its final(?) destination.
Why make them wait over 400 years? There seems to be one practical reason and one theological reason. First, there were 70 people in Israel’s family when they went into Egypt–hardly enough to occupy a country. When the Exodus occurred, there were 600,000 men, or probably 2-3 million people. (By my math, that’s 5 kids per couple for about 12, 30-year generations.) That would fill a small country nicely in those days. The theological reason comes in when God is making his covenant with Abram. God tells him that his descendants will be enslaved but that it won’t be permanent. Then Abram is told the reason: “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” The Amorites were one of the nations in the “Promised Land” of Canaan. My understanding of this statement has been: The Canaanites aren’t bad enough to deserve losing their homeland yet… but give it 400 years.
These descendants of Israel come out of Egypt, spend 40 years having their faith tested in the wilderness, then they spend several generations trying to wrest control of Canaan from the Canaanites, only to cave in to their ways of living in worshipping. The rest of the story of the Old Testament is a struggle between a few God-fearing people who hate idol worship and a majority who would rather be just like the Canaanites. The books of Joshua thru Malachi trace the story of those few who stand against the majority and sometimes cave in themselves.
The trough of Old Testament story comes with the fall of most of Israel’s descendants to the Assyrians. This was followed within a few generations by the fall of the dominant tribe of Judah to Babylon. The next 70 years that Israel spends in exile in Babylon became the defining moment in its identity. For the first time in 1000 years, the nation didn’t have a land of its own. From that point until this day, there have always been Jews (hear the name in Ju-dah?) outside of the “land” of Israel. God had a lesson in humility to teach to this nation. Several, like Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and Ezra passed the test. God restored Judah to their ancestral land in former Canaan, and they began to rebuild.
This people group re-established its nation in the Levant slowly with the permission of the Persians (who had supplanted the Babylonians). However, it never had complete sovereignty for more than a few years here-and-there. These remaining Israelite descendants who held to their “promised” land lived under the rule of Persians, various forms of Greeks, and finally Romans. Rome had enough of their monotheistic ways and obliterated this Jewish land once more, exiling its inhabitants in 70 A.D. Jews would not live in this land again in any significant numbers for another 19 centuries.
Describing the history of a people that covers this much time will always do injustice to the nuances, but I hope you can see the trajectory of Israel as a people through its ancient history. Next, I hope to uncover what it means to say Israel is a land.

Read the Deuterocanon

There are many who follow a plan, often yearly, to read the 66 books of the  Protestant Bible. However, I find it also helpful and interesting to read books associated with and important to Christianity outside the Bible. This year, I’ve come up with a plan to read these books (very slowly) throughout the year.

I’ve chosen books from 2 categories. First are the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon recognized as Scriptural by the Catholic and/or Orthodox Christian faiths. Second are books highly regarded by early Christians. Some were even considered “canonical” by a bishop or two.

Even if not considered Scriptural, none of the books on this list have been rejected as heretical by any major Christian group and are usually considered helpful in understanding the history of Salvation.

Enjoy, modify, and feel free to pass it on.


Heaven’s Wisdom

 

The following is a sermon about James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a written for an audience that speaks English as a non-primary language.

If we’re going to study James, let’s start with the warning in 3:1 about people who want to be Bible teachers. We can learn that I should not desire to become a teacher, so we already know I am a disobedient child by saying any of this.

In this passagedivine light, James teaches us about the wisdom that comes from God. He first shows us what wisdom should not look like. Then he teaches what wisdom should look like.

The most simple way we show wisdom is by doing good works with humility. This means doing good things for others and trying not to let them know it was you. Make it your secret mission to good things for others.

Of course, it is better to do good works, even if other people do know it was you.

Now, James explains the world’s wisdom. The world says that it is wise to do only what is good for yourself. The world says that you must try to be better than everyone else. They say you should brag about your accomplishments.

This is not truly wise. James is teaching us that wisdom and humility work together. Telling others about the wonderful things we have done does not actually help us.

When I have a job interview, I tell the employer good things about myself. This is okay. However, many of us act like we are always in a job interview. It is not always important to talk about what we are good at. We should also admit our weaknesses.

Heaven’s wisdom does not act like this. The devil brags about his accomplishments. The people of the world have to “show off”.

The wisdom from Heaven is humble. It does not have to be seen. Its good actions are hidden and secret. God is the only one who knows what the truly wise have done.

Is it your main goal to do better than others? God did not tell you to be someone else. God told you to be you. He created you differently from anyone else. He has a plan and purpose that only you can fulfill.

My wife is a wonderful woman. She has been given certain gifts and strengths. However, God did not have us get married so that I would become more like her. The same way, God did not create my wife to be more like me. We are both to be more like the people God created us to be.

Wisdom is not about being better than others. Wisdom is about humbly being like Jesus.

If your goal is to be someone else, you will be quickly confused. You will actually do evil things you never planned on doing. Only following God’s purpose for your life makes it possible to do truly good deeds.

So, how do we make wise decisions? When you are faced with a difficult decision, you should think through a list of questions.

  1. Is it pure? – clean, undefiled, with no hint of doing wrong
  2. Is is peaceful? – causes peace
  3. Is it fair? – thinks about the needs of others, gentle
  4. Is it obedient? – allows you to obey others
  5. Is it full of mercy? – help you help others
  6. Is it full of good fruit? – helps you do other good deeds
  7. Is it clear? – a certain decision
  8. Does it not pretend? – does not hide

When a decision matches all of these qualifications, you can be sure it is the right one. Mark this verse and come back to it when you have challenging choices to face.

One difficult decision my family faced was whether my wife should quit her job a few years ago at the book store. We had to consider the rules of James 3:17. It was pure. It was peaceful; no one was hurt. It helped her meet the needs of our son. It didn’t affect our ability to be obedient. It was merciful to our family. It has the good results of helping us do more as a family. It was clear and sincere. We had to make financial adjustments, but it was a good move for our family.

James wants to make sure that we know how important peace is. When we try to have peace in our relationships and decisions, it will help us do what is right. We argue because of our own sinfulness. We fight outside ourselves because we are fighting inside ourselves.

We need peace inside so that we can have peaceful relationships. This comes by doing the good works God created us to do.

One of the rules for wise decisions was to make peace. When we want someone else’s life, we do not have peace. When we want their possessions, we do not have peace. We have arguments and fights.

What is the solution? We are supposed to ask God for what we want, rather than being jealous. We should come to him before being angry with someone else.

One question we quickly ask is, “Why doesn’t God give me what I want when I ask for it?” James tells us, sometimes we have bad reasons. Sometimes we are not trying to serve others. Sometimes we want to be sinful. God won’t give us what we want then.

God will meet our needs, and our first need is for his love.

Finally, James summarizes his teaching. Obey God. This simple idea is all we really need to know. When we obey God, we are confronting the devil. The devil must leave us when we are in God’s presence.

Come close to God. We do this by obeying and praying. Pray constantly about everything. Believe that God is always close. Know that he is giving us his wisdom.

The wisdom from heaven is humble, pure, and peaceful. These all come from constantly being in the presence of God. Come close to him.