Tag Archive: Paul

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, now our nose… 

The nose is an interesting part of God’s creation.  Some noses are large with twists, crooks, and humps.  Others are petite, unobtrusive, and barely noticeable.  All noses, however, serve wonderful and important purposes.  Our noses inform us that a delicious meal is cooking in the kitchen.  We use our noses to enjoy the pleasure that comes from fresh-cut flowers.  Noses alert us to danger such as smoke or gas.  For some, noses fulfill a role that only they can – our noses hold our eyeglasses in place.

When we read the story of Jesus’ anointing we can engage our noses in the scene.  We can imagine the smells emanating from around the table (Lk. 7:36-50).  The small of fresh baked bread rises from the table.  The salty and cool Mediterranean breeze fills the house.  Perhaps the men are sweaty from a laborious day of work.  And then a woman enters with an alabaster of jar of ointment.  As she cracks open the jar and pours the contents on Jesus’ feet the sweet aroma wafts up from the dust.  The smell is strong but sweet, intense yet pleasing.  However, she seems to be wasting the expensive perfume.  She pours more and more upon Jesus’ feet, weeping and kissing his feet.  The aroma is overwhelming and attractive.  Those gathered around the table are indignant at the seeming wastefulness of the woman, but they are nonetheless drawn to the sweet smell.

Sweet smelling things draw our attention.  We are attracted to pleasant fragrances.  What if we, Christians, were like a sweet smelling fragrance?  What if we, the Church, clothed ourselves with the aroma of Christ in a world polluted by sour and stingy odors?  (Have you smelled the stink of corporate greed lately?  Or the repugnant scent of prejudice?  Or the vile fumes of violence?)

Quite interestingly, Paul calls us to be just that, the aroma of Christ.  Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

We, the Church, are the aroma of Christ.  We take in the lovely fragrance of the candles, hymns, and words of worship on Sunday mornings, and we go into the world emanating that same scent.  Through our actions and voices we give off a pleasant and acceptable aroma.  God calls for our business decisions, our relationships, and our day-to-day living to cast an aroma that draws, and does not repel, people to Christ.  God wishes to woo all people to God’s self. Perhaps we too, the Church, are the pleasing aroma that woos, entices, and attracts a sullied world.

Let us be the aroma of Christ.


While preaching from scripture this week (Philemon) this past Sunday I could not help to be reminded of a similar story in American literature, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  I also wished I had preached from Twain’s tale.

In Philemon, Paul is writing to Philemon concerning his slave Onesimus. Onesimus has become separated from Philemon (for a reason that is not clear), but has come into contact with Paul while he is in prison. In the letter, Paul commends and sends Onesimus back to his owner, pleading with Philemon to forgive, love, and restore Onesimus back into his house. In fact, Paul wants Philemon to accept Onesimus no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother, as Paul’s own heart.

Paul’s letter to Philemon reminds me of Huck’s letter to Miss Watson. As Huck is sailing down the river with Jim (one of Miss Watson’s house slaves) he realizes that it would be right and proper to return Jim to his owner. Societal norms, in fact, dictate that the responsible course of action for Huck is to turn in Jim to the authorities. So, Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson to do just that, return Jim to her. However, as Huck ponders his relationship with Jim he recalls Jim’s friendship and companionship.  He delights in the wonderful times they have shared together. Huck then tears up the letter.

After preaching on the scriptural story yesterday I wished that I had chosen Twain’s text.

Immediately after the service folks asked, “Was Paul condoning slavery? If Paul was against slavery why would he send the slave back to the master?  In Paul’s other letters doesn’t he say for salves to obey masters?”  (I wasn’t sure if should be pleased or disturbed.  On one hand the questioners demonstrated a knowledgeable and close reading of scripture.  Yet, perhaps it wasn’t close enough!)

In Philemon, we could say that Paul dearly loves Onesimus and praises him for his faith in Christ.  He hopes for Philemon to forgo punishment and restore Onesimus to a right relationship with him.  Grace is present.  However, in returning Onesimus  to his owner we might wonder why Paul doesn’t take a stand against slavery.  We are left asking why Paul does not explicitly reject the institution which holds Onesismus in bondage.

What about Huck?  Is Huck more gracious?  It might appear so.   He refuses to see Jim as the “thing” society defines him as.  Huck will not participate in any way in the evil institution of slavery and racism.  Huck acts in ways to subvert the cultural mores.  In the end, he praises and enjoys Jim for being the very thing he was created to be – a friend and a beloved child of God.

Could it be that Huck tears up the letter that Paul actually sent?

Translation & Tradition

In chapter five Arias begins to answer the question he has struggled with since chapter 1:  What has happened to “the gospel of the kingdom” throughout the history of the church?  The gospels clearly witness to Jesus’ proclamation of the present, imminent, and in-breaking kingdom of God.  Yet, the proclamation of the kingdom and the use of kingdom terminology have been on the decline for centuries.  Arias’s conclusion: there has been an “eclipse of the reign of God from the apostolic age to the present” (55).  For Arias, the eclipse of the kingdom occurs when we move from the synoptic gospels, and “the incandescent daylight of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom appears ‘somewhat dusky’” (55).

Arias believes the “setting sun” on the proclamation of the kingdom due to the biblical interpreters’ changing of the kingdom message.  Albert Schweitzer captures the ‘twilight’ in which we now live.  Schweitzer suggests that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, and the church proclaims him.  Rudolf Bultmann further articulates the situation, “The Proclaimer became the Proclaimed”  (56).  Together, they believe the church has changed the message – the focus – of the kingdom.  No longer is the kingdom about love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, and justice, the kingdom concerns primarily salvation and faith in Christ.

Still, here we might wonder if proclaiming Christ is proclaiming the kingdom.  Is living as a witness of Jesus also a witness to the kingdom?  Paul’s words at the end of Acts seem to link the proclamations together: “From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus” (Acts 28.23).

Arias locates another major move in kingdom language in Paul. Paul translates “kingdom of God” in terms of an all-encompassing concept of salvation.  Arias suggests that Paul avoided the kingdom terminology for “tactical” reasons.  Perhaps the Greeks’ lack of familiarity with the OT hope for the kingdom caused Paul to re-interpret the kingdom.  Also, Paul may have altered the language for fear of being misinterpreted among the Romans.  Either way, Arias highlights Paul’s writings as a significant shift in kingdom terminology.

Arias also highlights the Johannine texts as ones that transformed the kingdom language.  John frequently expresses the kingdom in terms of ‘life” and “life eternal.”  Arias argues that this shift better communicated Jesus’ message to the Gnostic-influenced (Hellenistic or Jewish) audience (64).

In all, Arias posits that the eclipse of the kingdom in contemporary discourse stems from a changing of the Jesus’ kingdom message and language.  While some may hold that such a change is necessary due to different contexts, Arias warns of the risks of contextualizaton.  He writes, “The question is not one of language and thought-forms, but of faithfulness to the original message and to the totality of its meaning” (64).

Arias presents a compelling story of “the eclipse of the kingdom of God.”  Without pointing fingers at Paul, John, or the Church Fathers, he highlights the major moves in kingdom terminology.  He also explains the significance of such moves for today’s churches.  By focusing on Paul’s “salvation-kingdom” rhetoric or John’s “life eternal” have we personalized the kingdom?  Are we guilty of proclaiming a kingdom that can be earned or entered into by our own personal commitment?

Arias’ “eclipse” challenges anyone who cares about evangelism today.  What is our context for announcing the kingdom?  Are we faithful to the message as we invite others to participate?  How have we translated the proclamation of the reign of God for the 21st century?  How can we translate the message while at the same time honor the tradition?

This is the fifth review in a nine-part series looking at Mortimer Arias’s Announcing the Reign of God.

Ephesians 5:15-20 – Words for the wise

“Live wisely,” Paul exhorts.  “Not foolishly or drunk on wine, but wisely filled with the Spirit.”  Wisdom.  To be wise.  We don’t talk much of wisdom in our world.  We speak of being smart, intelligent, and successful.  Wisdom is something we relegate to past generations.  Yet, though we don’t think of it often, I suspect it is a virtue we all wish to possess.  In our rush to gain wisdom we often bow down at the altar of television sages such as Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, and Homer Simpson.

However, Scripture informs us that the world’s wisdom pales in comparison to God’s wisdom.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians, God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20).  God calls us to be wise in God’s own ways.  The Psalmist proclaims: “God looks down from heaven to see if there are any who are wise, who seek God” (Ps. 53:2). Godly wisdom is to seek God.  To be wise is to seek God.  To be wise it to kneel at the altar of the Almighty, to seek and “know what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17).

Note for our students heading off to college (and others going back to school):  Proverbs 2:4 says to “seek wisdom as silver.”  It doesn’t say, “seek silver.”  The world, your professors, and many around you will tell you to seek silver, seek wealth and riches.  Education, for many, is the pursuit of silver.  But God’s Word offers a righteous alternative: seek wisdom.  Seek God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul’s ‘rules’ for a new life

Ephesus Library
Ephesus Library

Paul offers bold words, and calls for a bold and daring way of life. Ephesus was a major place of travel and commerce. The city was home to the Temple of Artemis. Antony and Cleopatra wintered there several times. Ephesus was decidedly pagan. Yet, to those Christians gathered there Paul invites, or calls, them to a different way of living. Paul urges that a life of integrity, compassion, and love is the Christian way.

Paul’s words resound as boldly today as they did then. The Letter to the Ephesians calls today’s Christians to a bold way of living, a way of living that is distinctly different than the world around us. When the world validates lying, Christians are called to speak truthfully. When anger and hate reign, Christians stand as witnesses to compassion and love. As gossip and slander become the norm, Christians remember that true conversation should build up one another. Christians are ones who stand on God’s side.  They are those whose loving and compassionate lives offer a bold witness in a desperate world.

Are we taking every opportunity to tell the world we’re on God’s side? Does how we spend our time, energy, and money show to the world that we live on God’s side? Paul calls all Christians to be “imitators of God.” Paul might ask: Do our lives imitate the world…or do our lives imitate God?

Holiday Blues?

My brothers and I pulled the tape measure from out of the snow a second time; we wanted to make sure our first reading was accurate.  Sure enough, another attempt yielded the same result: 19 inches of snow…in our backyard!  There would certainly be no school today or tomorrow, maybe not for the next week.

I still remember our excitement that morning.  Overnight, a record snowfall blanketed our town.  As a result, we had to get to work.  There were snowmen to build, snowball fights to plan, and hills to sled down.

However, I also remember sensing the uneasiness in our house.  We really were “in it deep.”  We were stuck, our house covered halfway up to the windows.  The cars were barely visible.  The front door would not open.  Did we have enough food?  So, in addition to our fun snow adventures, we also added “shoveling” to our to-do list.  That solid covering of white that seemed so magical to my 10 year-old eyes had us trapped…buried…swamped…immobile.

Today, as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays wind down, we can often find ourselves feeling much like my family felt that cold and snowy morning in 1994.  We feel weighed down…burdened…overwhelmed…exhausted.  The emotional “high” of the holidays is over.  There are no more twinkling lights, no more presents, and no more carols.  Removing decorations leaves the walls quite bare.  Family and friends no longer occupy the living room.  Many of us must head back to work or school.  Bills will probably appear in the mailbox soon.  “What now?” we might wonder.

As I think of these emotions that so many experience after the holidays, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV)   While we may feel trapped or pressed by snow, or bills, or loneliness, we are not crushed.  Though we may experience a hint of sadness or confusion, we are not abandoned because God, who came to us on Christmas morning, abides with us still today.  God, Immanuel, promises to keep us in His steadfast love so that we may not live in despair or desertion.  So, while we celebrate God during the joyous time of the holidays, we must also remember that God remains by our side in the times that trouble us.  It is my prayer that we proclaim with the psalmist: “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” (Psalm 18 )

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