The ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ Preaches to the Jews

It’s easy to read the NT through the same lenses we’ve always read the NT through. We all have presuppositions when we come to these familiar texts, whether we like it or not, whether we are willing to admit it or not. The following is some reflections on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I discovered a new way of reading the letter and I thought it might have something new for you as well. Grace and Peace! 

The book of Ephesians has historically been interpreted through the lens of a Gentile audience.Although the Gentile perspective is an important aspect to take in account when reading the writings of the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’, to ignore Paul’s implications for those within the Jewish tradition negates the fullness of God’s narrative for his people and Paul’s ability to communicate that very story. The Jewish people, alongside the God-fearing Gentiles who adhered to such traditions, lived with a theological belief about the remnant of Israel. It is this remnant people, spoken of in the Old Testament by prophets such as Isaiah that bring a vital layer of understanding to the letter of Ephesians, as well as to the church today.

The number of Old Testament parallels found in Ephesians is quite astounding; especially since, up until recent past, these notations have been mostly overlooked by scholars as an irrelevant piece of which to consider further. Not all of Paul’s uses of Old Testament material are used in a consistent manner through Ephesians; these references are found by use of words, allusions or quotations. The 1st century hearers of this letter, however, would have noticed these elements regardless of the rhetorical form in which it was used. So then, if the reader would have weighed their understanding of the message heavily on such Old Testament components; it is imperative readers today do likewise.

The book of Isaiah, in particular, contains a number of such references for the reader of Ephesians; such passages include, Isa. 11:5, 26:19, 26:60, 40:26, 52:1, 52:7, 57:19. Isaiah contained for the Jewish people a look back to their trip out of Egypt and points forward to the coming Messiah. It is a story of an exodus people moving towards a new exodus. Isaiah brings forth God’s hope for His remnant, and Paul points to that hope—found in Christ—through Ephesians.

This remnant theology is seen throughout the entire letter; however, the use of Isaiah is most clearly seen in Eph. 2 and 6. Paul’s quotation of Isa. 57:19 in Eph. 2:17, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near,” is one of the first more obvious texts. Paul is declaring the body of Christ to be the new temple; a temple that is not exclusive to anyone. Paul was creating the image of God’s remnant people being drawn together under the headship of Jesus Christ.

In 6:14-17, Paul instructs the church to put on the armor of God and, by doing so, to empower the believer with His strength. Each phrase Paul uses would create further imagery for the reader to understand the message he was relaying. There are five clear phrases taken from Isaiah that can be seen here:

 

Gird your loins about with truth

Isa 11:5

Eph. 6:14

The breastplate of Righteousness

Isa 59:17

Eph. 6:14

The gospel of Peace

Isa 52:7

Eph. 6:15

The helmet of Salvation

Isa 59:17

Eph. 6:17

The sword of the Spirit

Isa 49:2

Eph. 6:17

 

Paul was clearly speaking to an audience familiar with the story of Israel. He intended for his audience to identify as one of the chosen people of Israel or as to those belonging to the same remnant. Paul was making it abundantly clear that the Messiah they were looking for had arrived, that the time for a new exodus was now, and that standing firm in this truth was of utmost importance to do so.

The church in Ephesus and the church today have a common thread when the letter is read through the lens of a remnant theology; God’s story of bringing his people near, building them together as one, and accomplishing this through the blood of Jesus is happening right now. Bringing together God’s people cannot be done without first recognizing equality found in Christ. This building up cannot be done without community. The blood of Jesus is our new exodus and as the remnant of God we must stand firm together in order to fulfill our role as co-creators with God.

 

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Reclaiming the Good News as Good

(A reflection on our Gospel of Matthew course)

“Turn the other cheek”                                                                                             “Go the second mile”                                                                                                 “If they ask for your shirt, give them your coat too”

We have all heard these phrases before; at some point even possibly from our own mouth. There is a risk here though worth looking into. We are in danger of taking this teaching out of context when it is used as a piece of advice in response to someone who has sought guidance on a problem. It could be an example of a Jesus teaching turned into a cliché, quick fix answer.  The method of using these verses in such a light manner strips it of its ability to stir emotion. It causes us to lose perspective on what this means.

What if the problem you were facing with a friend had to do with lusting or a pornographic addiction? Would the words, “Pluck ‘em out,” leave your mouth? Or if a friend who was a recovering alcoholic told you they’d had a drink the night before, would you casually inform them it’s “Time to amputate”? Of course not, because that wouldn’t be helpful at all.

I believe our intentions are good. We see the beauty of the imagery Jesus portraits to us in these verses. We read these words and can almost embody the oppressed in that moment. We are able to envision ourselves summoning up the courage to put Jesus’ words into action. In the light of our active imagination, we’re filled with the full genius of what Jesus is asking us to do. We’re given a glimpse of what it must feel like to take the power from an oppressor by simply going the extra mile.

But there is a chasm between what we have historically done with these verses and the truth found when we allow them to penetrate our minds. The chasm is life experience, and therefore truly knowing the meaning. Without putting our beliefs into action they lack the ability to transform us. Preparing for this message, I tried to come up with applicable examples of when we are faced with an opportunity to live out this teaching—apart from the un-ideal work environment—I was stumped. Through this thought process, what I began to realize is that we cannot relate, because the majority of us are not oppressed.

I imagine the missionaries in China or the Middle East don’t use the phrase “Turn the other cheek” without a heaviness of heart and a fair amount of fear. The reason we don’t say to friend, who just confided in us they are having an affair, that it is time to ‘Gouge ‘em out’ is because this situation is real to us. In that moment, we are living out the implications of a marriage covenant being torn and at a time like these our words matter. Real situations require real responses.

Our lives are so blessed we fail to understand just how blessed they are. We drive—in a vehicle we own—to a store (a store with shelves full of un-diseased low cost food) and on the way we are cut off by a distracted person talking on their phone while driving. We slow down and move to the other lane, pointing out to ourselves the ability we posses to turn the other cheek … all the while, ignoring our self righteousness of course.

Now, I don’t say this to deter us from continuing to engage in the world by choosing grace over anger. In my own opinion, a Christian with road rage is no Christian at all. I’m also not suggesting we leave the second mile to those in countries where oppression is a far too common occurrence. I believe there is an alternative to be considered within the text that could give us a new way to use the teaching more wisely.

When we study the Sermon on the Mount, we find that these three verses on retaliation are placed among a set of verses in this chapter addressing the Old Testament law. Jesus is giving us an image of the bondage we are living in right now on earth and contrasting that by revealing to us the radical beauty we can expect in the coming Kingdom. And when we hear Jesus speak about the coming Kingdom—we listen. We listen because this should be our template for the life we are striving to live now. By living lives in a coming Kingdom fashion, we are bringing heaven to earth and what could be better than that?

So in verses 17-47, Jesus is speaking about Jewish law and sets up each by giving the traditional mindset for the people of the day. First, he speaks about anger. He tells us murder should be so far off our radar it can barely be seen, not something requiring a stone carving to implicate to us it’s evil.  Smart guy this Jesus. Jesus takes it further though, because that is where we are going in this coming Kingdom … further. He says we shouldn’t be angry … ever. If we get angry or feel anger coming on, we are to drop everything we are doing until it’s resolved.

Second, he teaches on adultery and divorce in marriage. The message is clear … if you feel like meeting your needs outside your marriage, whether it be a temporary fix or a permanent removal, don’t do it. He addresses that maybe there was a time it was done in a different way, but not where we are going it doesn’t. In fact Jesus tells us that if you have to perform eye removal surgery on yourself with a rusted old kitchen knife feel free. Do what you need to do, because these things aren’t coming to the Kingdom.

Then we learn to be a man of good character. Be reliable. Be straightforward. Don’t be the person who “promises to make it happen,” or “puts your word on it”. Apparently, in the coming Kingdom when we say we are going to do something—we do it. End of story.

So Jesus tells us about the old way of life and then about a new way of life. About the old law, then the new law. The old covenant, the new covenant. And it is at this point when we are taught about giving away more than is demanded. Going the extra mile, no matter the circumstance. It would seem to me, however, that with the description he has given us so far in regards to the coming Kingdom this whole idea is pointless. It’s pointless because the coming Kingdom doesn’t have oppression, does it? What is there to learn about the treatment of our oppressors when this won’t even be an issue in the next life? I believe the answer is found in the verses that follow:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”Matthew 5:43-44

In the previous kingdom we loved our neighbor, in the coming Kingdom we will love our enemies. Does this mean we will we have enemies in heaven? I think it is difficult to have enemies without anger, so my thought is no. I also don’t envision us to all be joyful zombies roaming around thoroughly satisfied with the company of every person we are around. We have personalities in this life, and I fully expect personalities to be present in the next life. It is likely that, although all living in peace, we will be among some people we like more than others. What does it look like to live, interact, and spend eternity with people that have starkly different personalities than your own?

I believe we learn what it is like when we take the opportunity to give our cloak when we are asked for our coat, turn the other cheek when were slapped in the face, and when we go two miles instead of one. These things teach us how to live in love and peace, regardless of our genetic makeup and preferences.

Jesus is teaching us about relationships. So the next time I come home after a draining day and my daughter asks me (for the 100th time that week) to play Barbie Uno—instead of saying, “Okay, but just one round” I will respond with “You know it! How about best two out of three?” And I will remember this the next time I’m in line at the grocery store, in a hurry and I’ve chosen the line with the chatty cashier. I will pause and recognize this person as a Kingdom brother or sister and listen to them for a while. And the next time I’m at a church meeting and the hand of someone who seems to always rub me wrong raises their hand; instead of looking for the moment I can jump in with my own thoughts, I will ask them questions to allow them to further clarify their own ideas.

There are opportunities for us to live in coming Kingdom ways every single day. Jesus invites us to live in the freedom of this Kingdom now, but challenges us in the ways we are to go about doing so. We will see His Kingdom come when we seek to be His teachings in what we do. The truth of the good news isn’t found in the ability to repeat pieces of Christ’s words, but rather in the determination to work at living life with the good news as our model.

There You Were

We had the honor of Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Paul Eddy leading  a seminar on God, Evil, and Spiritual Warfare at school this week. The following is an edited version of the paper I was assigned to write prior to the class. Greg Boyd has had a massive influence on my life, not just my spiritual walk, but rather on my entire worldview (I encourage checking out his website ReKnew.org). I have often wrote about the work of people who have had influence on me, but I tend to shy away from writing about Greg’s work for fear of undermining the weight of it’s beautiful integrity and intelligence. With that being said, I’m sure this reflection is far from encapsulating the message of living within a Warfare Worldview–not to mention my clumsy attempt to weave it together with his more recent work on how to view God in the face of things such as OT violence. Regardless, what it does contain is a vital lesson on how we view our Father when we face suffering and pain. I pray you’ll see what I have learned to see once more, the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father.

There You Were

I was driving down Hwy 169, on my way home after a visit to my parent’s house. The snow was melting, and apart from the massive amounts of sand and dirt peeking out along the roads, it was a beautiful scene. The air, not yet warm, carried on it’s breath a reminder of a new beginning. A feeling of anger welled inside me at the scent of rebirth revealed in the wind of that spring. I could hear my father’s gentle words still echoing in my mind from our visit, “Stephanie, God didn’t take Matt.” I knew that, but it isn’t what I felt. If God hadn’t physically ripped my husband from Earth—from his children, from me—He certainly hadn’t stopped someone else from doing the tearing. Regardless of who was to blame, my flesh that was once fused to my husband was now no more than a gushing, bloody wound I was forced to live with.

I have dealt with spiritual warfare in very tangible ways throughout my life, both before and after becoming a widow. The night I was attacked by a demon who was determined to keep me addicted to cocaine more then I was determined to get sober comes to mind. I think about the day I realized the person I had been listening to in the mirror for years—the one telling me I wasn’t worthy of love— wasn’t actually me. The day when my five year old daughter fearfully told me about her nightmare that contained evil beyond her knowing is my most hated of all. In light of this, it is easy to understand why the average American would rather plead ignorance than try to face the reality of the evil that lies just beyond our five senses. For me however, it was the night I lost my husband that I had to finally face my own ignorance about serving an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God in light of a world filled with pain, evil and suffering.

My husband died of pneumonia at the age of 33. He was a healthy man. The night of his death, he went to bed early due to a bad cold he had come down with that day. Before sunrise the next morning he would be dead. During therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I rewrote the story of my husband’s death in a way my brain was able to handle. For me, this process meant I had to re-walk through that horrific evening, but this time with Jesus by my side. When I now flashback to that evening, Jesus is present throughout the memory. Jesus was there and warns me of my husband’s waking and subsequent asphyxiation. Jesus cries out to our Father while I call 911. Jesus kneels beside me, snot and tears pouring into the carpet, as I hear the paddles being charged and recharged and recharged again. Jesus has become a physical part—as I believe He was—of the night my husband died, but where was God?

I knew God was there, I was certain. Why was it I couldn’t recognize Him? It wasn’t until over a year after my husband’s death that I learned I couldn’t see God because I was looking in the wrong places. I couldn’t see Him because I hadn’t fully realized the price we pay for the spiritual war raging all around us. I believe, in part, I couldn’t find God because I was only able to see a shadow of His imprint on that night. I had mistaken God’s shadow for His true self and that can be a costly mistake.

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.                                                       Colossians 2:17

If I hadn’t been sitting in a chair at Woodland Hills on July 15, 2012, I believe I wouldn’t be quite as capable to answer the question of where God was the night my husband died. Dr. Boyd’s book God at War allowed Spirit revelation into my life regarding God’s intervention, or lack thereof, in Matt’s death. But, it was through Greg’s message “God’s Shadow Activity” that things really began to click. I don’t think I would have the peace I now have regarding my internal dilemma of God “taking” my husband from me if it wasn’t for that sermon. I was at Woodland Hills that night though, and the peace that surpassed understanding for me in those first months of grief has more recently taken on an applicable peace that not only surpasses, but lies within understanding.

So as I sat there that evening, in my church seat, I began to peel away the lies I had been telling myself about God’s role in Matt’s death. I decided to think on that night one more time. This time I understood. This time I finally saw what I hadn’t seen before. I imagined that hellish night. I remember how I fell to my knees in our old hallway. I envision my face planting into the floor. I see myself crying out to my Heavenly Father with the most unearthly noise that had ever left my body. And then I remembered, Christ was there with me. So, I look up from the floor and meet eyes with my Savior as I had so many times during this re-enactment, but this time it was different.

My mouth, just barely able to move, utters in a hushed tone …. “Abba.”

God was there—right there—the whole time. It was only when I looked to the love, found on the cross, that I was able to see the true nature of God … regardless of the light (or darkness) in which I was looking through.

    

It’s not a theological debate

I was recently told a favorite Bible teacher, from my past, had begun podcasting new sermons and I felt a surge of excitement.  As I dug into these new sermons I realized something; this particular pastor fed me spiritual at a time when I was broken, when I was in need of the type of healing only Jesus can bring, and at a place where I felt too unworthy to accept His love.  I am no longer in that place spiritual (Praise God).  I was also made acutely aware of how just two years has drastically changed the lens in which I choose to see – and live out – my faith in Christ.

This teacher is a conservative evangelical pastor, and something he said struck me while listening, a comment regarding the emerging church.  This is not an exact quote, but the comment was along the lines of this: that people today (those involved in the emerging church) are being led astray, being caught up in theological debates, and forgetting what we are here to do … which is love.  This irritated me so much because part of the reason I’m so drawn to ideals of the emerging church is precisely because of the way they love.  But as I thought on this some more I realized every conversation I become involved in, when positioning myself across from mainstream evangelical beliefs, I inevitably end up in a theological debate  …

Women in the church, homosexuality, the existence of hell, denominational divides, Biblical inerrancy, creation vs science, and on and on and on.

This is because [part of] what the emerging church would like to do is set aside ‘core beliefs’ and replace it with ‘love your neighbor’.  And, of course, the conservative/orthodox/ modern-era believer insists, ‘I do love my neighbor, but I would rather be honest then be the reason someone goes to hell’ (Or some other crap reason like that).  The opposing side would then remind that person what love tangibly looks like, and – in fact – their ‘core beliefs’ are exactly what is separating people from the Jesus we know and love.  But just at this moment a specific issue is thrown on the table, a challenge is made to take a stance/defend the issue, and a theological conversation has begun.

I believe God wants us to turn to Him when these conflicts arise, either within ourselves or with others.  And here is the reason I believe this to be true … The more I challenge what I’ve been taught to believe, the closer God draws me to Him.  The more I question who and what is ‘accepted’ by our earthly idea of ‘church’ the more God reveals truth to me.  The more I doubt, not God – but my assumptions about God (a thought taken from Pete Rollins), the more He brings me peace and teaches me what true grace is.

There is a saying they make you learn in rehab that goes like this, “If you always do, what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get, what you’ve always gotten.”  This reminds me of the Christians frozen in fear of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Maybe the wolf isn’t the post-modern idea that church should be whole, loving, and available to ALL, but actually is the box that Satan has you trapped inside … the box that takes you only so far in your relationship with God.  The box that keeps some from loving all in the same way Christ would if He were still walking this earth.

My heart condition, discernment, core beliefs, determination of what is [or isn’t] sin, and doctrine is between the Holy Spirit that dwells in me and no one else.  This doesn’t mean I don’t hold to a certain doctrine or take a side on a theological issue, it means it holds no weight in what my Christian calling is on this earth.  I have been called to love people.  People who feel too ashamed, too unworthy, too messed up.  In my life … I was ashamed.  I was unworthy.  I was [really] messed up.  But the God that I serve was a God of love, grace, and forgiveness.  He wanted me then – just as I was.  And He wants me now.  The same as He does each hurting person.

So today, I pray God will give me the heart to love others in the same way He has loved me and give me eyes to see when my love for others is not truly love at all.