Scripture Readings for May 2002
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These short readings from the Christian Bible are read daily at community prayer in Taizé, an ecumenical and international Christian community in France. The Bible reference indicates a slightly longer passage from scripture. You are encouraged to read the longer passage in the morning before you begin your daily activities, and then to ponder the reading, in silence and prayer, as it comes to mind during the day. For a brief explanation of how I am reading the Christian Bible, you are invited to go to Exegesis or to Witness.
Jesus said: "There is no greater love than giving one's life for one's friends."
These words are in the lengthy passage (Jn. 13-16) that the gospel of John presents as the teaching of Jesus to his disciples just before his arrest. This teaching is without parallel in the other gospels. It uses different language, arguments and images, and thus may best be understood as a presentation of the theology of the church for which the gospel of John was written. Jesus tells his disciples to love each other, as he has loved them. And he prepares them to give up their lives for his followers, as he is giving up his life for them.
The Christian faith affirms that, in Jesus the Christ, God enters into death with a human in order to free humanity from the fear of death. In a sense God gives up his life (in Jesus) to call his followers and through them all humanity into a new life "in the Spirit," as the gospel of John puts it, or into the "kingdom of God" ("kingdom of heaven" in the gospel of Matthew), as the other three gospels proclaim. It is God who gives the example of the greatest love, through the crucifixion of Jesus, and thus we are called to die "with Christ" to our selfish desires and receive new life "in Christ." The proof that this is true is in faith. Those who live in faith come to know the gospel truth.
Jesus said to his disciples: "In my Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you."
This well-known statement comes early in the lengthy teaching that the gospel of John records Jesus giving his disciples immediately before his arrest. These teachings do not appear in any of the other three New Testament gospels, and therefore most likely reflect the theology of the Christian community of the gospel's author. In the first century it was accepted practice to attribute to a great teacher ideas that seemed to follow from his principles. (After all, why should a "lesser" thinker claim these as his own?) The author of the gospel of John does this by telling a story of Jesus that expresses the understanding of his church in words attributed to Jesus.
The community that read the gospel of John three centuries before it was included in the canon of the Christian Bible (with other gospels that had served other communities of faith) affirmed that faith in Jesus, as the Son of God, assured one of a place after death in the household of God. When the church included this gospel in the New Testament, it embraced this faith as the teaching of all churches. And so words that first inspired a small group of Christians in the Middle East almost two thousand years ago have, through the centuries, helped extend the church around the world and been a source of strength and comfort for many millions of Christians.
The LORD says: "I am with you, I will watch over you wherever you go. I will not abandon you before accomplishing what I have promised you."
"We are climbing Jacob's ladder," the song goes. This is the story of Jacob's ladder to heaven, which appears to him in a dream as he is fleeing from his home to avoid the wrath of his brother, Esau. Jacob has stolen his brother's rightful blessing from his father, Isaac, and so his mother, Rebecca, sends him away to her brother Laban's home in Haran near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. As Jacob sleeps, he sees a ladder reaching from earth to heaven and angels descending and ascending it. Then the LORD appears and renews the promise given to Abraham of land and descendants. Moreover, the LORD pledges to be with Jacob, wherever he might go.
Jacob named the place where he had his dream "Bethel," which means "the house of God," and many Christians think of "Jacob's ladder" as carrying them from earth to heaven after they die, so they can be with Jesus in God's heavenly home. In their song Christians added "Soldiers of the cross" to the story of Jacob's ladder and verses about loving and serving God. Surely it is by loving and serving God that we may hope to be with God after death. But the main point of the story in Genesis is that God intends to work on earth, through the lives of those who are faithful, in the events of the world. The angels are ascending Jacob's ladder, but they are also descending the ladder to enter the world in order to redeem it for the purposes of God.
LORD, you teach me the way of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.
This is a song of personal trust in God. The psalmist blesses the LORD, who is at his right hand, who counsels and protects him, and who will keep him from Sheol (the place of the dead). In the presence of this God, the psalmist says, there is complete joy.
This is faith. Trusting in God, seeking instruction from scripture, praying to God for guidance and blessing God for all the gifts of life is what being faithful means. Faith is not WHAT WE BELIEVE but HOW WE LIVE a trusting life in response to the love of God. Jesus teaches and models this faith, and the good news of the gospel is that this kind of faith is saving.
May God strengthen you in your inner being through the Spirit, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.
Because the first verse of this letter in the earliest manuscripts does not refer to any particular place, unlike the other letters of Paul, this letter was probably written to be copied and sent to many churches. Perhaps the copy included in the canon was secured from Ephesus and so the letter was named for that particular Christian community. The advice Paul offers in this letter is for all Christians. In the third chapter of the letter, he offers a prayer for wisdom and asks that all Christians might be strengthened in their faith, through the gift of the Spirit.
Paul says that we may know the love of Christ, although it exceeds our ability to understand this redeeming love. The fullness of God works in and through us to redeem the world. We, as the church, are the body of Christ, who rose from the grave because the Spirit of God that was in Christ is with us. If we give ourselves in faith to the God we know in Christ, then nothing will separate us from the love of God. (Rom. 8:31-39)
Joseph forgave his brothers saying: "Do not be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God's place? The harm you planned to do me has, by God's design, been turned to good."
Jacob loves his son, Joseph, more than his other sons. So, out of jealousy, the other sons sell their brother to a slave caravan and tell their father that a wild animal killed Joseph. Years later, after Joseph has risen to become an administrator of Pharoah's wealth in Egypt, the brothers come to Joseph to buy food on account of a wide-spread famine. (The Egyptians have a stockpile of grain, because Joseph predicted the famine and stored grain to sustain the Egyptians until the rains return.) When Joseph is reunited with his brothers, he tests them to see if they have remorse for what they did to him and if they love their father. Then he explains to them there was a reason for what has happened, as it has enabled him to save their family. This is, he says, God's design.
The story wrests meaning and purpose from deceit and envy. Similarly, the New Testament story of Jesus "redeems" evil intentions and devious acts by transforming the hated sign of the cross into a symbol of self-giving love. The suffering and death of Jesus redeems our suffering and death. By dying with Jesus on the cross of our desires, and by living in Christ through faith in God, we come to know the transforming love of God.
My soul is waiting for the LORD, I rely on his promise; my soul relies on the LORD more than a night watchman on the coming of dawn.
The psalmist cries for help out of the depths of despair. He knows that he has no right to ask for help, because he is a sinner. But he trusts that the LORD is forgiving, therefore he comes before the LORD and waits for a response. It may seem that help will never come, even as a night watchman in weariness longs for dawn. But the light does come, and so will the LORD come to redeem the world of its iniquities.
Trusting in God, when there is no visible sign of God's presence or purpose, is the mark of faith. The psalmist proclaims the "steadfast love" of God. Christians see in Jesus a sign of this love, and so are strengthened in faith to wait for the coming of the Lord.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such ceaseless encouragement and sure hope, encourage and strengthen you in every good word and deed.
Paul prays that the Christians at Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, will remain faithful despite the difficulties they are facing. When Gentiles attending the synagogue in Thessalonica were attracted to the teachings of Paul and Silas, the apostles were chased from the city. (Acts 17:7) The synagogue continued to put pressure on Jews who were intrigued by the teachings about Jesus as the Messiah, so Paul wrote to offer encouragement. Paul assures the Thessalonians that the Lord is faithful and will strengthen them and guard them from evil. And he prays that the Lord will direct their hearts "to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."
In this letter, as in so many others, Paul blends Jewish teachings (the steadfast love of God) with Gentile themes (divine grace) to hold Jews and Gentiles together in the new communities of faith that he has helped to form. This unity in the Spirit of God is the distinctive appeal of the church in the Roman Empire in the first, second and third centuries CE, and it is at the heart of the teaching of Paul. May we also be encouraged to face with strength and hope the differences within the church in our time.
Jesus said: "I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor who will stay with you for ever - the Spirit of truth.
In the middle of his lengthy teaching to the disciples, just prior to his arrest, Jesus in the gospel of John speaks of the Spirit of truth that will come from the Father to counsel and guide the disciples. This statement is not reported in any of the other New Testament gospels, so is it likely that the author of the gospel composed it to convey the ongoing presence of Jesus among the faithful in the church. In writing the gospel, the author was testifying to the truth of the gospel revelation, as it was understood within his church. He saw the signs of the Spirit within his community of faith, and he testified that this was evidence of the Spirit of God the Father.
The community for which this gospel was written celebrated the presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the eucharistic meal and affirmed that the Spirit of God spoke through those who were faithful and trusted in Jesus as the Christ. Because this gospel was included in the New Testament in the fourth century, millions of Christians for generations have drawn hope and encouragement from its witness.
The LORD sent me to comfort all who mourn, to clothe them in festive garments instead of despondency.
The prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, proclaimed his message to Judah and Jerusalem between 742 and 687 BCE, when the northern kingdom of Israel was divided from Judah in the south and was annexed to the Assyrian Empire. However, chapters 40-66 of the book likely come from the time of Cyrus of Persia (about 539 BCE), when those taken from Jerusalem to Babylon after the defeat of Judah are allowed by the conquering Persians to return home. Chapter 61 is full of good news, which the prophet says he is proclaiming because the Spirit of the LORD is upon him.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus reads this section of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry. (Lk. 4:16-20) He applies the words of the prophet to himself, claiming that under the guidance of the Spirit of God he is bringing good news to the poor. As the other gospels do not report this event, it may have been created by the author of the gospel of Luke to express the theology of his Christian community. The gospel of Luke (and the Acts of the Apostles written by the same author) proclaims that the Spirit-empowered Jesus is God's instrument of healing in a suffering world.
Paul writes: "Stand firm, one in mind and spirit, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel."
Paul writes from prison to tell the Christians at Philippi that they are to be sure their manner of life is worthy of the gospel, for then all else will fall into place. As he is suffering, Paul warns that they, too, may suffer for their faith in Christ. But he encourages them to remain united in faith for the sake of their own salvation and also as a witness to others. We do not know what happened to the church at Philippi, but this letter from Paul was included in the canon of the New Testament three centuries after his death. And it has encouraged countless churches to remain united for the sake of the gospel.
Of course, Paul was involved in a great controversy among the early churches over the place of the Law of Moses within the life of the church. Paul argued that Jewish law had been replaced by the cross of Christ, but the church in Jerusalem held that at least some aspects of the Law of Moses were to be enforced within the church. With the destruction of the temple and the devastation of Jerusalem in 70 CE, when the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion, the Gentile dominated churches that agreed with Paul gained the upper hand. The letters of Paul became part of the authorized scripture for churches in the Roman Empire, and in English translation this is the New Testament that we read today.
Choose life: loving the LORD your God, listening to the LORD's voice, holding fast to him - for in this your life consists.
Deuteronomy was probably the "book of the law" that prompted the sweeping reforms instituted by Josiah, king of Judah, in 621 BCE (2 Kings 22-23). The book presents three addresses attributed to Moses, but it reports his death (which, of course, is evidence that he is not the author) and was probably written in order to justify Josiah's reforms.
In this passage the people of Israel are told that they have a choice: life and good, or death and evil. The choice of life lies in keeping the commandments of God. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says his followers are to keep all the commandments of the Jewish law. That gospel reaffirms the teachings of Deuteronomy. Paul's letters, however, say that keeping Jewish law is not necessary, because "Christ is the end of the law (Romans 10:4). Paul calls on Christians to listen to the voice of God in the words of the risen Christ. Faith alone, Paul affirms, is saving.
Jesus, risen from the dead, said to his disciples: "I am with you always, to the end of time."
This resurrection appearance is only reported in the gospel of Matthew, although Paul writes that the risen Christ appeared to "the twelve" apparently meaning the former disciples. It takes place in Galilee. In the earliest version of the gospel of Mark there are no recorded resurrection appearances, and in the gospel of Luke these all occur in and near Jerusalem. The gospel of John reports a resurrection appearance in Galilee, but it is very different than this one. Therefore, it is hard to see these reports as variations of the same memories. More likely, faith in the resurrected Jesus has been fashioned into different stories to support the witness of each gospel.
It seems that the gospel of Matthew was written for a largely Jewish Christian congregation that spoke Greek and read the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint). The gospel attributed to Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. It also names Peter and the disciples as the apostles who are to take up the work of Jesus after his death. Therefore, it ends with Jesus blessing his disciples and sending them away from Galilee and Jerusalem into the cities of the Roman Empire. Written after the time of Paul, it ignores Paul's ministry and, we might say, even seeks to combat it by presenting a gospel that endorses both Jewish law and faith. Apparently, this is how the congregation for which this gospel was written understands the teachings of Peter and the apostles who followed him.
May the God of perseverance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves following the example of Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and one voice you may glorify God.
Paul struggles to achieve support for his teachings in Rome and elsewhere. His difficulties remind us that in the first few decades after the church began there was considerable controversy. The first church was not at all united, as we see in Galatians 2 and elsewhere. Paul argues that diversity can exist within the body of Christ, the church, but his teaching is also a cause of division. He blames the conflicts in the church on those who oppose him, but Paul's opponents must have blamed Paul. And who Paul's opponents? The former disciples of Jesus, the apostles in Jerusalem who, we learn in Galatians 2 and in the second half of Acts, are led by James, the brother of Jesus.
The apostles in Jerusalem seem to believe that some if not all of the commandments of Jewish law are to be kept within the church. As they knew Jesus during his lifetime, it is hard to believe that the historical Jesus set aside the Jewish law as Paul claims the risen Christ does. Paul never knew the historical Jesus, but he acknowledges that both he and the former disciples know the risen Lord. Why then do they differ so? Their mystical experiences were apparently not the same. Moreover, Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew of the dispersed Jewish community in the cities of the Roman Empire, whereas the disciples of Jesus were Aramaic-speaking Jews from Galilee.
Jesus said: "In the world you will have hardship. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
This statement comes in the middle of a long address by Jesus to his disciples that is found only in the gospel of John. The language and subject is so unlike the other three gospels of the New Testament that we may suppose it is the work of the gospel author and not a report of what was said by the historical Jesus. It may express sentiments that were communicated by Jesus to his followers, but its presentation in the gospel of John reflects the understanding of the church for which the gospel was written.
That group of Jewish Christians is being rejected by the synagogue where others believe that Jesus is a great teacher but do not accept that he is the messiah. The gospel of John asserts strongly that Jesus is the only Son of the Father. When this gospel was included in the canon of the Christian Bible more than 200 years after the gospel was written, this was the orthodox position of the Christian church in the Roman Empire.
Jesus prayed to his Father for his disciples, saying: "Keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one as we are one."
In the gospel of John, Jesus does not go into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before his arrest, and he does not ask whether the cup of suffering might be taken from him. Instead, he prays confidently to his Father for his disciples. In words without any parallel in the other three gospels of the New Testament, Jesus prays for the consummation of his purpose on earth as the Christ. This is the affirmation of the Christian community of faith for which the gospel of John was written.
Anyone who reads the gospels of the New Testament can see that the first three have much in common, whereas the fourth gospel is very different. Of course, this does not mean that the first three gospels are historical and the fourth is not. The differences among the first three gospels, as well as the greater differences between them and the fourth gospel, imply that each gospel was written to express the faith of its author and his community. The gospels witness to the understanding of different congregations of Christians, and their contrasts tell us a great deal about the faith (and the diversity of faith) in the first century church.
Let us strive to know the LORD; that he will come is as certain as the dawn. He will come to us like the spring rain upon the earth.
The prophet is writing in a time when the northern kingdom of ancient Israel has broken with the southern kingdom, but its independence is threatened and then destroyed by the Assyrians. Despite the failure of Israelite leadership and the suffering of the people, Hosea proclaims that God will not abandon them. The prophet appeals to the people of ancient Israel to be faithful to the LORD and asserts that the LORD desires "steadfast love," not the sacrifice of animals and burnt offerings.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminds his listeners of a passage from scripture that says, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." (Mt. 9:13) This might be a reference to Hosea 6:6. The gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of ancient Israelite prophecy and as a teacher of a prophetic understanding of the Jewish scriptures. The link of faith between Hosea and the gospel of Matthew is trust in the God who is faithful. Our faith is that the love of God is as sure as the dawn.
Bless the LORD, you who are holy and humble in heart, praise and glorify him forever! For God has rescued us from the hand of death.
If you look for these verses in a Protestant Bible, you will not find them. But they are in the Catholic Bible. In fact, the book of Daniel in the Old Testament is different in the two Bibles. How can that be? The Protestant Bible uses the Hebrew scriptures authorized by the rabbis at the beginning of the second century CE as the basis for translating the Old Testament into English and other contemporary languages. The Catholic Bible uses the Old Testament that was used in the church (first in Greek and then in Latin) for 1500 years, and this version of the Old Testament relied on the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures (called the Septuagint) that was used by Paul and the first Greek-speaking churches.
At the time of Jesus and Paul some of the books of the Hebrew Bible were circulating among Jews in different editions. There were at least two versions of Jeremiah, one much longer than the other, and we see here an example of how the book of Daniel was longer in the Greek version than in the Hebrew version. This does not necessarily change the general meaning of these books, but it does remind us that they were written by human beings and not dictated by God. To say that the Bible is the literal word of God is to ignore obvious facts. There is more than one version of the Bible. Christian faith affirms that all these versions of the Bible reveal the word of God, but as they differ it is misleading to claim that the Bible is the literal word of God.
Daniel said: "May God be blessed for ever and ever. The LORD reveals depths and mysteries, and light dwells with him.
This part of the book of Daniel is in both the Protestant and Catholic Bibles, unlike Daniel 3:51-90, which appears only in the Catholic Bible. (See the explanation given for the lesson on May 18th.) The prophecy of Daniel is set in the time when the Israelites are captives in Babylon (about 600 BCE). The predictions at the end of the work, however, suggest that the author lived during the oppressive reign of the Greek emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes (167-164 BCE).
Daniel has night visions, which today we might call dreams. In this passage he blesses God for these visions and revelations. He praises God as the source of wisdom and strength, and he looks to God for continued guidance through the difficulties of his time. Whether we trust our dreams or not, surely faith means trusting in God.
Jesus said: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking of his own accord but will say only what he has been told."
This passage comes in the middle of a lengthy teaching in the gospel of John that Jesus gives to his disciples. There is nothing comparable to this long discourse in the other three gospels of the New Testament, which suggests that it is a composition by the author of the fourth gospel. It may, of course, reveal a style of teaching by Jesus that was unknown to the authors of the first three gospels, but either the Jesus there who teaches with parables or the Jesus here who doesn't is not the historical Jesus.
This teaching represents the faith of the church for which the gospel was written. These early Christians had experienced the Spirit of God, and they believed that this Spirit had been the gift of Jesus. About two centuries after it was written, when the authorities of the church included the gospel of John in the New Testament, this affirmation of faith was embraced as the word of God for all Christians and not only as the testimony of one church among many. Because it has inspired Christians for centuries, surely the gospel of John has stood the test of time.
Paul writes: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the communion in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
Paul writes from prison to the congregation he first established in Europe at Philippi in Macedonia. Paul tells the Philippians to watch out for "the dogs" who "mutilate the flesh" through circumcision, meaning those who believed that the Jewish law requiring circumcision for males should be imposed on all the followers of Jesus. As this "circumcision party" is based in Jerusalem and includes the former disciples of Jesus, Paul's harsh language reveals how bitter the conflict within the church has become. Paul notes that he has been circumcised and is in every way a Jew, but argues that salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Christ and not by keeping Jewish law.
Paul affirms a redemptive faith — a faith that can transform death and suffering into new life and salvation. This is the good news of the gospel. It is faith that saves by the grace of God. We do not save ourselves by keeping a set of rules, or by holding certain beliefs about God. God's love offer salvation to those who live faithfully.
Isaiah said: "God's Spirit will be upon the Messiah. He will not judge by appearances, but he will judge the weak with justice and give fair sentence for the humbled in the land."
The prophet proclaimed his message to Judah and Jerusalem between 724 and 687 BCE. In this period the northern kingdom of Israel was annexed to the Assyrian empire, and Judah (the southern kingdom, after Israel was divided following the death of Solomon) was also threatened. In chapter 11 the prophet announces that a messianic king will arise in the house of David to return Israel to its ancient glory. He will be filled with the "Spirit of the LORD," the "spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD."
The word "messiah" in Hebrew means "anointed," and in the Old Testament it is used primarily to refer to the conferring of authority upon kings. In the early churches this passage from Isaiah was thought to refer to Jesus, and so he became the "Son of David" and the "Messiah," or in Greek, the "Christ." Jesus Christ means Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus the anointed one. The word "Christ" is not a last name but a title, which is why Paul sometimes refers to Christ Jesus. The faith of the church is that the promise of God has been fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God's chosen one, the anointed one of the LORD, and thus the Christ.
The risen Christ breathed upon his disciples and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven."
In the gospel of John, Mary of Magdala goes alone to the tomb of Jesus and, finding it empty, runs away and brings back with her Peter and another disciple. After the men confirm that the body of Jesus is not in the tomb, Mary is left alone once more. She sees a person she thinks is a gardener, but when the figure speaks to her she realizes it is Jesus. That evening, the gospel of John relates, Jesus appeared to some of his disciples and then eight days later returned to them when Thomas was also with them.
This witness of the gospel of John is not confirmed in any of the other gospels of the New Testament. The gospels of Matthew and Luke report other resurrection appearances, but the facts are quite different. The gospel of Mark only promises a resurrection experience in Galilee but does not describe it. How could factual accounts be so diverse? The gospel accounts are not relating historical facts, but represent the faith of the early Christian church in the resurrection of Jesus. The community for which the gospel of John was written affirms that the risen Christ has forgiven sins, because that is their experience. The resurrection is proven for them by the forgiveness they have known. The forgiveness is real, and this fact is expressed as faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God said to Ezekiel: "Son of man, listen carefully to all my words and take them to heart, then go to your compatriots and speak to them."
Ezekiel was a priest whose ministry began in 593 BCE and lasted about thirty years. Jerusalem was captured and destroyed in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, and the prophet warns of this catastrophe and then afterwards offers words of hope to his captured and exiled people. Ezekiel has a powerful vision of God and hears a voice calling him to speak for God to the people. Then the Spirit of God enters into the prophet, and he becomes a medium for the words of God.
Perhaps Ezekiel actually heard words, but the God who spoke directly to people was soon to grow silent. After the time of the prophets, there were no longer seers who heard the words of God. With the end of prophecy came the time of reflection and wisdom in the life of Israel. In the Hebrew Bible this is clear in the chronology of the books, for the prophets precede the wisdom literature. In the Christian Bible, however, the prophets are placed after the wisdom books. Christian faith affirms that the prophets point to Jesus the Christ, and to make this clear the church rearranged the books of the Jewish Bible when they were included (as the Old Testament) in the Christian Bible.
The word of God is very near you; it is on your lips and in your heart.
Paul teaches that true righteousness is the result of faith. He argues that the teaching of the Jewish law, which claimed that righteousness was achieved by keeping the commandments of God, has been replaced by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The word of God, Paul says, is "the word of faith" he is preaching, because confessing faith in Christ leads to salvation. By itself the mind cannot bring us to God. We must confess our faith and open our hearts to the One who loves us beyond measure.
Is the word of God in our hearts and on our lips? Can we trust in God to save us, despite our failure to be faithful? The gospel says we can, if we live with faith. The good news of the Christian proclamation is that God enables us to live faithfully, because through Christ God has entered into our lives and dwells in our hearts.
Since the Spirit is our life, let our actions be guided by the Spirit.
Paul urges the Christians at Galatia to allow the Spirit the Spirit of God to lead them, because he believes the Spirit can help them resist the temptations of the flesh: "immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like." What a long list of problems! Most of us probably feel we can easily avoid many, if not all, of these temptations, but we should also beware of pride. The goal, Paul tells the Galatians, is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." These are, Paul says, the fruits of the Spirit of God.
In setting aside the Jewish law, Paul discovered that some Christians thought they were now free to break all the old moral rules. For Paul, the Spirit of God was the best check against such excesses and the sure guide to a united community of faith. Is there joy in your church? Are you, as a Christian, known for your kindness and faithfulness? These, and not adhering to a list of rules or beliefs, are the marks of salvation.
Do not model yourselves on the pattern of this world, but let yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern the will of God.
Paul tells the Christians in Rome that they are too much of the world. They need to reject its presuppositions, if they are to discern the will of God. Instead of pride, God desires good judgment and recognition of the various gifts that members of the church have to share. Divisions within the church threaten to tear it apart. Therefore, Paul counsels perspective, balance, recognition of the ways that each member of the church can make a contribution, patience in tribulation, and continuous prayer.
The will of God is not simply stated as rules or commandments. It must be discerned. The word of God is not literally the words of scripture, but rather is the meaning in and behind the words. Paul interprets scripture in ways and finds new meanings that many other Jews oppose. Paul is using his mind, reasoning, and reading scripture imaginatively to make sense of his experience of God in the risen Christ. Similarly, Christians, should read the Bible with engaged minds, asking questions, probing for possible meanings, thinking critically about what others say, allowing the Spirit to work within us. In addition, Christians should reflect on the teachings of the church to see how change has occurred and how human creativity has corrected the church when it has gone astray.
May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.
The church at Thessalonica faced sharp opposition from the synagogue, because not all Jews thought that Jesus was the messiah. Nor was it clear within the Jewish community in Greek cities like Thessalonica that faith in Jesus superceded Jewish law. Paul counsels faith and prayer. He reminds the Thessalonians that the Lord is faithful and will strengthen and guard them from evil. And he prays that the Lord will open their hearts "to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."
This might be our prayer as well, for our churches and ourselves. May we open our hearts to the love of God and the faithfulness of Christ. May we be strong in our faith and steady in our prayers. May we discover the love of God in Jesus the Christ, as we come to know that love through the witness of the early churches in the New Testament and through the Spirit of God that "blows where it wills." (John 3:8)
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Spirit; there are different ways of serving, but it is the same Lord; there are many forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all.
Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts and the body of Christ in his first letter to the church at Corinth is one of the most well-known passages of the New Testament. Obviously, there is strife and division among the Corinthians. The opponents of Paul are strong and making headway against him. In the first few decades of its life, the church was torn between enforcing Jewish law and Paul's teachings about faith. It was hardly assured that Paul's position would win out, until the church in Jerusalem was destroyed with the Jewish temple in 70 and Greek-speaking churches became dominant by the end of the century.
Paul's message has remained timely, because arguments in the church have not ceased since the time of its founding. The church is a human institution. It may well be united in the Spirit of God, but it struggles to appreciate a diversity of spiritual gifts.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
This passage is often quoted to demonstrate that belief in Jesus as the Son of God is necessary for salvation. It is important to note, however, that the verb in the gospel, which is translated as "believe in," means to have faith in or to trust in the Son, not merely to hold certain beliefs about him. In the original Greek of the gospel, the noun for faith has its own verb. In English, however, the nouns faith and belief share the verb "believe." Faith is without its own verb (in English), so we have to be clear that faith and not belief is the intention of this passage.
Of course, the point of the text is not that we must have faith, but that God's love for the world makes our faith possible. The source of eternal life is God. We are offered eternal life by the grace of God, in Jesus Christ, if we trust in that grace and open our hearts to God's forgiving love. That is the joyous news of the gospel. God is saving, not judging. God is loving, not damning. God is forgiving, not condemning.
Your God is with you. God will quiet you with his love and dance with joy for you.
The prophet traces his ancestry back to Hezekiah, king of Judah (715-687 BCE), and dates his ministry in the reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE). He writes from within the court of the king of Judah, but he is vehement in attacking the corruption of the priests of the temple and other officials in Jerusalem. Despite their lack of faith, the prophet proclaims, God will not abandon the Israelites, but will renew their life and their holy city.
This promise was read in the early church as foretelling the coming of Jesus as the Christ. Jesus is "God with us," and in the continuing presence of Jesus in the life of the church we may discover anew the love of God. The good news of the gospel is that God is always with us, even as we face suffering and death. As Paul says to the church in Rome, nothing can "separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." (Rm. 8:39)
1 in Faith: A Christian Bible Study † Copyright © 2000 by Robert Traer