~ Time to Make Some Scripture Irrelevant ~
With good reason, we are happy to exclaim that the Judaic-Christian Scriptures are just as relevant and applicable today as they were thousands of years ago. But with all proclamations we repeat so frequently, we stop thinking about them and thus stop learning.
Perhaps this is the first time a biblical commentator is calling upon the Church, all Christians, to make some Scripture irrelevant. Sensitivities may be stirred and defenses ready to pounce, which is not a bad thing since attentiveness is kindled.
We had 2000 years to do this, so it is about time. Paul wrote, “He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts to his church. Their purpose is to prepare God’s people, to serve, and to build up the body of Christ. This is to continue until all of us are united in our faith and in our knowledge about God’s Son, until we become mature, until we measure up to Christ, who is the standard” (Ephesians 4:11-13, GW). Some may disagree, however I contend that our faith communities of the universal Church are not yet united in our faith into the maturity that measures up to our standard, Jesus Christ. Yes, 2000 years seems long enough, even if humans are slow learners.
Here is a scripture excerpt that is still applicable today, unfortunately: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat. We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b-13, NIV).
Here’s another: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2a, NIV).
High level spiritual teachings these are not. Actually, these are elementary secular teachings of basic ethics that we teach our school children: Work for and earn what you need, stop spending idle time gossiping, cut out the jealousy, fighting and arguing. Isn’t it unfortunate these Scriptures still apply to our denominations today?
Here’s another: “Brothers and sisters, I encourage all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to agree with each other and not to split into opposing groups. I want you to be united in your understandings and opinions…Each of you is saying, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas [Peter],’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in Paul’s name? I thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius so that no one can say you were baptized in my name” (1 Corinthians 1:10-15, GW).
“I follow Luther”… “I follow Calvin”… “I follow the Pope” … “I was baptized by Billy Graham himself”… Over 2000 denominations later, 2000 years later, Paul’s grief and pain over what he was witnessing in one of the first churches proved prophetic. This scripture still applies today, unfortunately.
“Come back to the right point of view, and stop sinning. Some people don’t know anything about God. You should be ashamed of yourselves” (1 Corinthians 15:34, GW), Paul admonishes to a Christian faith community. One issue of contention was the need for Gentile converts to be circumcised or not. Paul’s impatience and frustration was punctuated by blunt and graphic words: “I wish those troublemakers would castrate themselves” (Galatians 5:12, GW), a humorous reference to cutting off more than what circumcision involves.
Writing to Timothy about one of his legal inquisitions by the Roman Empire, Paul says, “At my first hearing no one stood up in my defense. Everyone abandoned me. I pray that it won’t be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16,GW). “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15, GW). This abandonment also persists today, in and out of churches. Salvation and sanctification cannot be separated. “My children, I am suffering birth pangs for you again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19, GW).
Not sinning is not just a matter of abstaining or avoiding. “Whoever knows what is right but doesn’t do it is sinning” (James 4:17, GW). “Anything that is not done in faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b, GW). Thus we are encouraged to “remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. Think about how their lives turned out, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7, GW). Paul mentions many faithful companions in the faith, such as Onesiphorus, (who wasn’t ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment), Prisca, Aquila, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, Artemas, Tychicus and others. Among those Paul and James complemented were others who remained the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
I am not worthy to speak for the living and dead martyrs (witnesses), for those who “endure to the end” in their faith. I am obligated, however, to do so. Their ancient and present cries are echoes of Christ’s prayer, “I’m not praying only for them. I’m also praying for those who will believe in me through their message. I pray that all of these people continue to have unity in the way that you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they may be united with us so that the world will believe that you have sent me... and that you have loved them in the same way you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, GW).
As for that obligation, to carry it out I must first do what is right and heed the admonishments of the scripture passages I quoted. I must make them irrelevant for me, at least. This is something I cannot do for anyone else.
But we can pray that God’s will be done, and it is God’s will. Jesus prayed it. Strange to say, though, that won’t make it. See, we keep praying “God’s will be done” but who is asking “By whom?” James addresses this well: “Suppose a believer…needs clothes or food and one of you tells that person, ‘God be with you!’… If you don’t provide for that person’s physical needs, what good does it do?… A person receives God’s approval because of what he does, not only because of what he believes” (James 2:15-16, 24, GW).
Lord, may your will be done, and may we be the ones to do it. And, brothers and sisters, let’s not take another 2000 years to do it. From what I study in the Scriptures, it doesn’t look like God is going to wait another 2000 years.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © March 8, 2003
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotation are used by permission.
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