Category Archives: Bible

The Church: The Bride of Christ (pt. 1)

Before we start developing the image, though, there is a little straightening up to do. There are songs, poems, and hymns, as well as liturgies, that speak as if individuals are the Bride of Christ. That kind of talk began somewhere around the 14th century among Christian mystics. Union with Christ was romanticized. Individuals, both women and men, pictured themselves as brides of Christ.

In the Catholic church, a ritual emerged in which women who had taken orders – nuns – were ritually married to Christ. The catechism says, “Virgins who … are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite are betrothed mystically to Christ…”

There is much here I do not understand and do not intend to criticize. There is something beautiful in the picture of a person being mystically betrothed to Christ but it is not a biblical picture. It was not developed in the Bible but in the medieval Church. The biblical picture is not of an individual, not even a nun, being the bride of Christ. Rather, it is the Church that is Christ’s betrothed and will become, on some glorious future day, his bride.

With that, let’s turn to the Bible. Doctrines don’t come out of nowhere. St. Paul and St. John did not conjure up the image of the Bride of Christ out of thin air. They were men who knew the Old Testament, memorized large parts of it, and thought about its message a lot. As they thought about those biblical passages, the Holy Spirit gave them the image of the Church as a bride—the Messiah’s bride, the bride of Christ.
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The Church in Biblical Images: Kingdom Colony (Phil. 1:27-30)

I am sitting in the TV lounge in the dorm during my freshman or sophomore year. There is a cluster of couches in there, all facing the television, with a dozen or more guys scattered around the room. The couch I’m on is full and my friend George Ashok Kumar Das is sitting next to me.

At some point during the movie we are watching, Taupu (that was his nickname) takes my left hand in his right. I recoil. I have no idea that in his culture, as in much of Africa and the Middle East, men hold hands as a sign of friendship and trust.

Every culture has its own customs. In Thailand, if you drop a coin and, to stop it from rolling under your car, you step on it, you might cause great offense. The image of the king’s head is on that coin, and to step on his face is a dreadful insult.

In Vietnam, if you signal to a restaurant server to come to your table, she may pour the soup in your lap because you’ve just treated her as if she were a dog. If you are caught selling chewing gum in Singapore, you could do up to two years in prison and be fined $100,000. Kingdoms and countries have their own codes regarding what it means to be a good citizen.

Those codes are sometimes exported. For example, if you were in the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington D.C. and saw two men holding hands, it might mean something quite different from what it would mean if you stepped outside onto International Drive and saw the same thing. The culture inside the embassy has been imported.

The letter we are looking at today was written to people who lived, worked, and played in an exported culture. Continue reading

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Exaggerthinking: How to Counter It

St. Paul says (Romans 12:3) to “every person” (not just to the proud): “Do not exaggerthink.” But how do we avoid it? Some of us, because of the way we were raised – and I’m not thinking of kids whose parents were always bragging on them – are predisposed to exaggerthinking. How do we stay out of the trap?

In spite of the way dozens of translations render verse 3, Paul does not say we are to think about ourselves. What he says is: “Don’t exaggerthink but think in a way that leads to realistic thinking” (my translation). Realistic thinking can’t happen if you are only thinking about yourself. To think realistically, we must include God and others in our thoughts. Continue reading

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Exaggerthinking

St. Paul told the Roman Church, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” (Romans 12:3, NIV). The NIV supplies the words “of yourself” – they are not in the Greek text – which is something like “do not overthink.”

It does not seem to me that Paul is saying, “Don’t be conceited,” although that is what most people take him to mean. If that is what he meant to say, Greek offered him the vocabulary to say it, a vocabulary he makes frequent use of elsewhere. But here he uses a different word, one he may have coined himself, since it appears nowhere else in the Bible.

To translate the word Paul coined, I had to coin one myself. So here is the Looper translation: “For through the grace given to me I tell every one of you not to exaggerthink…”This doesn’t necessarily refer to thinking you are more important than other people. A person who exaggerthinks may be quite humble but her mind inflates what she can do, what she is called to do, and makes her responsible for how everything turns out.

People who exaggerthink often take on more than they should, robbing other people of service opportunities and wearing themselves out in the process. That is exaggerthinking. Continue reading

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Spiritual Gifts and the Church

When it comes to the use of spiritual gifts, we often think in terms of serving the church. We talk about serving the church by teaching Sunday School or becoming a trustee, which promotes the idea that God gives us gifts so we can serve the church.

Well, yes; that’s true. But we mustn’t miss the more important reason God gave us gifts: to serve the Lord Jesus. The gifts are not, first of all, so that individuals can serve the church but so that the church can serve the savior. The purpose of the gifts, as we will see in the coming weeks, is to make possible through us the actions of the Son by the Spirit to fulfill the intentions of the Father.

When people think solely in terms of serving the church, they often feel their part is small and not especially important. Or they think that their part goes unnoticed and start feeling they are being taken for granted. Either way, that kind of thing is hard to avoid when we think that what we are doing is all for the church.

It is better (and more in line with Scripture) not to think we are doing something for the church but that we are the church doing something for the Lord. We are not functioning for the body, as if we were not a part of it. We are the body. Continue reading

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Is Your Soul Healthy? Take the Test

Jesus was constantly saying things that undermined society’s norms and made people uncomfortable. This was never truer than when he spoke of money.   Jesus once said: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, … Continue reading

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A (Biblical) Look into the Future

When the biblical writers looked into the future, they saw “a new heaven and a new earth.” Many of us, schooled in a Platonized version of Christianity, find this confusing. We are comfortable with the heaven part but don’t know what to do with a new earth. It is hard to see any need for it.

We’ve been taught that we are destined for a heaven that is, in Spenser’s line, “unmoving, uncorrupt, and spotless bright.” What living in such a place might entail is quite beyond anything our imaginations can conjure up. Frankly, it sounds rather boring. Still, if heaven is open to us, why will we need earth?

Besides, doesn’t the Bible teach that earth will be destroyed by fire? St. Peter wrote, “…the earth and everything in it will be laid bare,” and “everything will be destroyed.” If everything will be destroyed and we will head off to heaven, what is the point of having a new earth?

But we need to go carefully here. When St. Peter writes that everything will be “destroyed,” he is using the same word he used a few sentences earlier when he wrote that the ancient world was “deluged and destroyed.” Though he says it was “destroyed,” he clearly did not mean the Great Flood had ended the planet, only that it ended human wickedness (for a time).

Likewise, the promised final “destruction” will not annihilate creation – the planet will not be obliterated. Rather, it will remove from it all evil and everything that opposes the Creator. The future will include an earth that is purified of every evil and made right.
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The New Humanity (excerpt)

…see the sheer enormity of God’s plan. It begins with two people groups who do not get along with each other and yet are the media in which the Divine Artist is working. To accomplish his purpose, to make his … Continue reading

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The New Humanity

We are thinking about the church, what it is, what it does, and whether or not it is important. I’ve noticed that when people try to answer that last question, even church leaders, they usually do so in terms of what the church can do for a person or a family. It educates our children. It provides us with friends. It encourages us to be faithful to Christ through sermons and teaching. Its music gives us an emotional lift.

Whether or not those things are so, the true importance of the church will never fit through the narrow window of personal benefit. To evaluate the church’s importance by the benefits I accrue is like saying, “Air is important because I couldn’t dribble my basketball without it.” The importance of air extends beyond my basketball and the importance of the church extends beyond the personal benefits it provides.

Today, we will be looking at the church as imaged in Ephesians 2, but before getting into the text, let’s do a quick survey of what Ephesians has to say about the church. I think we will see is that the church has a central and extraordinary place in the purpose of God for the world.

The church, as presented in Ephesians, is headed by Jesus himself. (That is Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15). There is no other organization on earth about which that can be said. The people of the church are God’s personally chosen, glorious inheritance. (That is Ephesians 1:18.) The church is a still-under-construction yet already functioning temple in which God lives by his Spirit. (That is 2:21-22.) Continue reading

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The Chosen

St. Peter gives us a picture, drawn straight from the Old Testament, of the people who trust in Jesus (1 Peter 2:9-10). We helps us see who they are and what God intends them to do.

First, those of us who trust in Jesus are a chosen people (or race; genos, in Greek). We constitute a new global race, whatever our ancestry, whether we are Jewish or Arab or Indian or Chinese or European, or African, or American. We are the worldwide family of Jesus. We are a distinct (and distinctive) people, the people of God. We belong to each other and we belong to God.

Peter says that we are chosen. This is the second of three times that he reminds his harassed and maligned family living in Asia Minor of this encouraging truth. The world may not want them but God does. He chose them.

Garrison Keilor, creator of A Prairie Home Companion, once talked about what it means to be chosen. He used the familiar setting of a schoolyard baseball game: Continue reading

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