Sunday, December 29, 2013

Walking Sermons

I ended Sunday's sermon by quoting what one person said about the 17th century British pastor, Richard Sibbes: "Heaven was in him before he was in heaven." I want to share in this post a quote from Sibbes: "Godly friends are walking sermons."

That is so true and so powerful. Those who seek to walk with God and to be like Jesus Christ put flesh and bones on the truths the Bible teaches us. They help us see what it looks like to follow our Savior and how to do it.

This is one of the reasons Psalm 1 begins with these words: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." (Psalm 1:1-2)

The Bible never tells us not to be around the ungodly at all. After all, we cannot tell them about Jesus, if we are never around them. However, we must have a core of friends around us who bring us closer to our Redeemer, rather than move us further away at worst, or at best try to stay neutral in their influence upon us. 

So, here are two good questions to ask and answer in preparation for the New Year:  "Am I serving as a walking sermon for others?" Also, "Do I have others around me who are walking sermons?"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sisters, You Are My Brothers?

After taking a hiatus from my blog in order to work on some writing projects, I admittedly return to it with a strangely titled post.  Yet, believe it or not, there is a way in which all followers of Jesus Christ, yes even you ladies, are my brothers. Let me explain.

There are a number of places in the New Testament where all the followers of Christ in a particular place (male and female) are addressed by the word, “brothers” (examples: Acts 11:29; 15:3, 7, 13, 23, 36; 18:18; 21:17; Romans 1:13; 8:12; 12:1; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 1:8; Galatians 1:11; Ephesians 6:10, and so on). One of the most striking is Acts 1:15 where we are told Peter “stood up among the brothers.” Luke goes on to tell us there were 120 people. We know from 1:14 that women were present in the crowd.

The question arises, “Why would the label, “brothers” be used when women are present? Some might answer that since both the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures were male-dominated, it was just a matter of the women being ignored and the men being the focus of attention. It is true these were male-dominated cultures. However, that is not sufficient to account for this phenomenon. Luke very deliberately emphasizes the role of women in the ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:2-3; 23:49; and 23:55-56), highlights them as the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (24:1-10), and clarifies they were among the group gathered to pray and to await the coming of the Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). Likewise, Paul singles out women to greet who were a significant part of ministry in the church in Rome where he addressed the “brothers” (see Rom. 16:1-2, 3, 6, 12). In Ephesus where he used the designation “bothers” to refer to all, he stands out above the male-dominated Greco-Roman culture by not just telling wives they have a responsibility unto their husbands, but husbands also have responsibility to their wives (Ephesians 5:22-33). No, the New Testament authors were no misogynists.

I believe it most likely there is a theological reason behind the use of the term to refer to all believers. In Romans 8:14 Paul writes, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Paul uses a term here that is normally used merely of males—“sons”. However, he uses it to refer to all believers: male and female. This seems to be not only supported from the implication throughout the book that he is speaking to all the Christ followers in Rome, but also from the parallel use of “children” in 8:17. I think we discover the reason why “brothers” or “sons” can be appropriate titles for male and female believers in the context. Paul writes that “you have received the Spirit of adoption” (8:15) and “we are…heirs of God and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ” (8:17). In both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures it was sons who were usually the heirs and males were the ones to be adopted. What Paul is teaching here is that any true follower of Jesus Christ is a full-fledged heir of all the saving blessings of God because each one is united to Christ and so adopted into God’s family with all the rights and privileges that come with that. Later in that same chapter we learn that God is working in us that we might “be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, emphasis added).   

It appears that Paul uses this language to show that no matter who we are (male or female) we are full heirs, wholly adopted into the family because of our union to the Son. As such, it appears that the significance of a mixed group being referred to as “brothers” is that an emphasis is being sounded—namely that our salvation is absolutely dependent upon the who has for all eternity been in a relationship to the Father as Son (John 1:14; 3:16; 1 John 4:9, NKJV). God worked in the ancient world in such a way (especially Jewish and Greco-Roman settings) that the sons were heirs, the ones who received firstborn double-portions of  inheritance, and males the ones who were adopted so that we could see very clearly that only in the Son, the firstborn, the one who is the heir, we find our full blessing and inheritance from God. In other words, I believe there is a strong possibility that terms like “brothers” and “sons” are used to refer to all believers at times to highlight our status is a reality only because we are united to the Son , i.e. we are “brothers” of the one who has won for us our adoption and our inheritance (see also Hebrews 2:11-17).

So, bottom-line, the term “brothers” is not merely saying believers have a special relationship to one another—that we are part of the family of God—it is also highlighting we have a special relationship to the Son, Jesus Christ (brother), which brings a special relationship to God (full adopted son and heir).  So, when the New Testament authors refer to fellow believers as “brothers,” they are not first and foremost highlighting they are males who have a faith-family relationship to other believers (though this is true for men). They are highlighting a relationship to God the Father and God the Son.

Does this mean that we should not translate “brothers and sisters” in those passages where “brothers” is used to refer to male and female Christians? No. That can be a fine translation to bring out that men and women are being addressed. Also, “sister” is a very appropriate  address to use of a woman who is a fellow follower of Jesus Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:15). Nevertheless, whenever we see the title “brothers,” applied to all followers, it is good for us to remember this is calling us to consider our relationship to Jesus Christ and the full-salvation blessings we have in him.

So, sisters, you are my sisters as part of the family of God in Christ. But, sisters, you are also my brothers, my full-fledged, adopted children of God and heirs with Christ; “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29)!