Finding Joy

joy of the lord

Finding joy in the midst of trials and circumstances can seem like searching for hidden treasure without a map or a shovel. However, if we seek God’s presence, He will grant us eternal blessings. Psalms 16:11 (ESV) says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” In this passage, David was assured that the Lord would preserve his life, even in the face of death. He rejoiced because God enabled his body to rest securely even when confronted with uncertainty. The reason David could find joy and rest is because he knew God would never abandon him.

When we turn our attention to the Lord, the light of His countenance and presence shines upon us. The more we depend on God, the more He will make us complete. Even in our weakness, He makes us strong. As we learn to live within His loving embrace, we will come to realize nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Advertisements

Run Your Race & Finish Well

greatcloudofwitnesses1

With broken legs we chase perfection.

We need God more, but we choose to want Him less.

We deny the promise of God’s presence and His powerful protection.

Instead, we walk our own path, experiencing fear, doubt, and hopelessness.

We forget about the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

Encouraging us to run the race set before us with faith and perseverance.

All we must do is fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

When we seek the Lord, He will deliver us from our fears.

As you call upon His name, He will bind up the brokenhearted.

As you draw near to Him, He will write His Word upon your heart.

So, look to the Lord always, and He will be your constant source of peace and strength.

How to Pray, What to Pray, and Why to Pray

child praying

Throughout much of Paul’s writing, we are presented with wonderful models of prayer which when properly examined gives an excellent model for believers to follow. As D. A. Carson points out, “If we follow Paul’s example, then, we will never overlook the monumental importance of praying for others.” In Paul’s prayers we repeatedly see him giving thanks to God, showing complete confidence and faith in God’s plan, and we see Paul make petitions based on God’s word and His promises.

Paul additionally had several goals in his prayers and the first, as well as the most important, was always to bring glory to God. Secondly, it was rooted out of a deep caring passion for all of God’s children and lastly it sought an overflow of strength, assurance, and sound teaching. On multiple occasions, we see Paul praying for people he had never even met, he prayed unceasingly, and he also linked thanksgiving to his prayers of petition while also praying God would fill the believers with the knowledge of God’s will.

Carson then illuminates how, “The sins that cut us off from effective praying may be the displays of evil [or sin in our own life.]” If we hold bitterness in our heart, resentment in our attitude, or grudges in our actions, we are not only a prisoner to that person or circumstance; we also hinder God from hearing our prayers. Instead, we are to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us. As believers, prayer is the most important external act of worship available and it is also the most effective way we can approach God. The more one reads God’s word and prays, the more they will begin to understand His ways and the more one understands His ways, the more they will develop faith and trust Him.

Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB)

“Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

This passage of scripture came out of the disciple’s desire to learn how to pray the way John the Baptist taught his disciples, so Jesus gave His disciples and us this prayer because it literally has everything we need to say to God in it. This prayer is a game changer because it touches on every reality of life and it is transforming, healing, and empowering as Adam Clarke demonstrates:

We do not sufficiently consider the value of this prayer; the respect and attention which it requires; the preference to be given to it; its fullness and perfection: the frequent use we should make of it; and the spirit which we should bring with it. “Lord, teach us how to pray!” is a prayer necessary to prayer; for unless we are divinely instructed in the manner, and influenced by the spirit of true devotion, even the prayer taught to us by Jesus Christ may be repeated without profit to our souls.

As David Wenham suggests, “The Lord’s Prayer, in the form we find it in Matthew’s gospel, consists of seven petitions, carefully and chiastically arranged: the first three clauses go together and ask for God’s glory, the last three ask for help in our struggle with evil; the fourth is different, linking the two groups and asking the Father in heaven to supply our down-to-earth needs.” While sometimes unknown, forgotten, or even discounted, this prayer was a Jewish prayer because Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi and He never met a Christian until after He was resurrected. The language in the prayer is very corporate in nature: Our Father, our daily bread, our trespasses, deliver us, and forgive us. All of these characteristics point to this prayer being about the corporate liturgical people of God and the nation of Israel, as R. T. France illustrates, “The instruction is addressed to the disciples corporately, and the whole prayer will be phrased in the plural. It is the prayer of a community rather than an individual act of devotion, even though its pattern would also appropriately guide the secret prayers in the store-room.” The use of “Father” denotes a personal relationship, as Joel Green demonstrates how, “The disciples’ capacity to recognize and address God in prayer as “Father” is rooted, most immediately, in revelation, for Jesus had recently asserted that knowledge of the Father was unavailable apart from the Son’s disclosure of the same.” In Luke 11:1-4, we are presented with Luke’s account of this same prayer, which is significantly shorter. In Luke’s version, Green explains how, “Having established (1) a theocentric worldview (2) that is eschatological in focus and (3) that calls for human partnership in the divine purpose, the prayer Jesus teaches his followers turns more fully to the nature of life before God and within the community of God’s people.” The other major difference in these two accounts, as Adam Clarke highlights is, “The prayer related here by Luke is not precisely the same as that mentioned by Matthew; and indeed it is not likely that it was given at the same time. That in Matthew seems to have been given after the second Passover; and this in Luke was given probably after the third Passover, between the feasts of tabernacles, and the dedication.”

No one in the history of time has come up with a more powerful prayer due to the profound and comprehensive truth found in this prayer, which is also known as the “Our Father” prayer. When life happens and difficulties, temptations, and hardship seem to be around every turn telling you that you do not have a prayer in the world, this is the prayer you speak to the mountain in front of you. Each day, just like the Israelites counted on God to supply manna from heaven, we are to look to God for our daily bread as France elaborates further, “The first of the petitions for the disciples’ own needs concerns material provision…[And] part of what it means to recognize God as our heavenly Father is to be prepared to trust him for food and drink and clothing, and this petition expresses that trust in its simplest form. Even bread, the most basic of survival rations, comes by God’s daily provision.” Every effective prayer we find in scripture has its roots from this prayer, so this daily reliance upon God is paramount in one’s walk with Christ lest we fall back into our old ways like the Israelites did in desert. It is so sad to see what happens when we doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, as Matthew Henry recounts what happened to the Israelites in the desert, “The provisions of Israel, brought from Egypt, were spent by the middle of the second month, and they murmured. It is no new thing for the greatest kindness to be basely represented as the greatest injuries. They so far undervalue their deliverance, which they wished they had died in Egypt; and by the hand of the Lord, that is, by the plagues, which cut off the Egyptians.” The saying, “Complain and you will remain, but praise and you will be raised” comes from this lesson in life. The promises of God are ours, but many of them are conditional and rest upon our decisions in life, just as God promises to work everything for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

Breaking down this prayer into individual parts is another important practical exercise in the exegesis and exposition of this prayer. When we say, “Our Father who is in heaven,” we are acknowledging we are adopted sons and daughters of our Abba Father who welcomes His prodigal children home and that heaven is our final destination, even though sin attempts to keep us separated from it. “Hallowed be Your name,” as Nicu Dumitraşcu illustrates is:

The most significant thing human beings can do is to glorify the name of God throughout their lives. So it is not about sanctifying God’s name in God-self, but about increasing God’s praise in the world, through the worship, learning, teaching, and glorifying of faithful and virtuous men and women, so that the words of the Holy Scripture might be fulfilled, “in the same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Your kingdom come,” affirms the kingdom of God is near and why John the Baptist continually preached saying, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This is an interesting use of wording as France establishes:

The importance and meaning of “the kingdom of God/heaven” [is] a central element in Jesus’ teaching… denoting a specific time, place or situation called the kingdom. The phrase “the kingdom of God” in both its Hebrew and Greek forms denotes the dynamic concept of “God ruling.” It represents, in other words, a sentence of which the subject is not “kingdom” but God.

“Thy will be done” is all about complete surrender and we see Jesus model this declaration in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” God’s will is always going to be better than our own, even if it leads to temporary suffering. The best example of this type of submission to the Father’s will occurs shortly after Jesus prayed these words, as Green demonstrates, “There is a certain irony in this, since, if Jesus embraces the cup in obedience to the divine purpose, He will also accept the fate willed for him by Satan; only as the story unfolds does it become clear that Jesus’ death represents not the greatest of the devil’s achievements but actually his demise.”

“Our daily bread,” we have already established points to continuous dependence upon God, but the foundation of this petition comes out of seeking first the kingdom of God because if that is one’s soul desire, all other things will be added unto you. It must be one’s desire and priority to seek God and His kingship above all other wants and desires.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” establishes we must forgive others who have hurt us in order to receive the same forgiveness from God. This principle is paramount to understand as Dumitraşcu further extrapolates, “The difficulty lies not in understanding the text itself, but in its concrete fulfillment. Our human weaknesses, momentary or long term interests, envy, pride, and lust for revenge are just a few of the obstacles to mutual forgiveness among people.”

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” petitions God to protect us during seasons of testing and trials while also guarding us from the devil. “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation, [He] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

It is interesting when you look at this prayer and compare it with the twenty-third Psalm, which David wrote three thousand years ago, and one thousand years before Jesus was even born. A Jewish king would write the twenty-third Psalm, one thousand years before the Jewish Rabbi would give us the Lord’s Prayer. What is even more interesting is how the twenty-third Psalm sounds even more Christian in nature than the Lord’s Prayer.

23rd Psalm: Psalm 23:1-6 (NASB)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely Your goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In this elegant poem arises one of the most powerful prayers as you meditate on each line and recite it as a declaration of faith. As Hosia Henley illustrates, “the 23rd Psalm is a great hymn of the faithfulness of God to provide, to protect, and to save those who call on God’s name. Believers see the text not only as being a personal testimony of David, but also as a prayer of comfort to be whispered during times of great peril.” In this passage, we see the Lord is my shepherd and not our shepherd, He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me by the quiet waters, He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies, and He anoints my head with oil. All of these features make this prayer very personal and passionate and this prayer is normally used at the conclusion of observing the Sabbath.

Both of these prayers also fit together very well in that we see they both begin with: “Our Father who is” and “the Lord is” which is a declaration of truth and faith in God. Both prayers also end with “forever” pointing to the eternity and infinite nature of God. “Surely, Your goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” and “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” While both of these prayers speak to the providence of God, they contrast each other in that David’s prayer is very extravagant in how, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” while Jesus’ prayer is much more economical as He prays, “give us this day our daily bread.”

Ultimately, prayer says, “I trust you God in everything, I put my hope and faith in you, and I count on you to provide for me all I need.” Notice this says all I need and not all I want. The core of both these prayers is found at their very center, which is restoration and forgiveness. Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” and David says, “He restores my soul.” Jesus understood the key to restoration is found through forgiveness and by wiping out all chances of the repayment of a debt. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is teaching His followers the importance of giving without expectation of return. There is a connection with debt, sin, and trespasses because as we engage in these activities we essentially enter into a place where we have no legal right to be like David’s example of the valley of the shadow of death. Despite this peril, what is most evident is the presence of God as David writes, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The parallel to this in the Lord’s Prayer comes from, “On earth as it is in heaven.” The translation of on earth is better understood when using the KJV of “in earth” because it points to the kingdom of justice and righteousness found inside every believer, so it should read, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done in me” since the kingdom of God is in us.

Prayer becomes a practice of deep personal surrender as we pray ultimately for His will to be done, and in doing so; we enthrone God over our entire lives as king. The Lord’s Prayer becomes one of the most unifying prayers for the church, while David’s twenty-third Psalm becomes one of the most intimate prayers we can use to commune with the Father. One must be careful not to turn reciting these prayers into some ritualistic habit; instead, they should meditate upon each verse while repeating them if necessary to add emphasis. When life knocks you down, you keep praying these prayers until God lifts you back up and causes that circumstance or trial to act as a stepping-stone to elevate you to a higher place than you were before. As believers, we must be doers of the word and in order to be doers of the word we must meditate on His word day and night, while allowing its truth to penetrate our hearts and become the motivation behind all we do and all we are.

Bibliography

Carson, D. A. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. 2014.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary: Luke. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1826. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary: Matthew. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1826. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Dumitraşcu, Nicu. “The Lord’s Prayer in Eastern Spirituality.” Dialog, 52: 349–356. (2013): 351. doi: 10.1111/dial.12071 (accessed 12-8-15).

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Green, Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Henley, Hosia Lee and Garnett Lee Henley. “The 23rd Psalm: An Exposition on its Meaning and Prophecies.” Journal of Religious Thought 59/60, no. 1 (06, 2007): 181-9. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/222074634?accountid=12085. (accessed 12-8-15).

Rutland, Mark. “Lord’s Prayer” (Video of sermon, Generations United, Niceville, FL. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxlwazZV3dc (accessed 12-8-15).

Wenham, David. “The Sevenfold Form of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel,” The Expository Times. May 2010 vol. 121 no. 8 377-382. doi: 10.1177/0014524610364409 (accessed 12-8-15).

Spheres and Stages of Discipleship

DISCIPLE-Title-Slide-.001.jpg.001

INTRODUCTION

In order to go anywhere, you must first know two things: your current location and your intended destination; only then can you implement steps and directions needed to reach your objective. This paper will begin by recognizing how lost and dead individuals are before coming to faith in Christ, but also how after coming to faith, a new destination has been programmed in which also comes with a new mission as a disciple of Christ. Through our death we find life and by applying Jim Putnam’s five stages of discipleship and four spheres of life as directions, this paper will show the path to reaching one’s God-given purpose and calling in life. In addition, this this paper will stress the centrality of Christ referring to the call to the cross while emphasizing the importance of complete submission to Christ in all areas of one’s life.

FIVE STAGES OF DISCIPLESHIP

Anyone who has attempted to learn something new can attest that discipline without direction is nothing more than drudgery. This is an important principle to understand because most believers do not have a clear picture of what their true God-given potential could be if they simply applied themselves to growing closer to the Lord. This writer firmly believes if God were to teleport someone twenty, thirty, or forty years in the future to show what reading His word daily would accomplish, more people would start reading the word. By reading the Bible, one comes to understand the Lord. As one comes to understand the Lord, they learn to trust Him. Finally, once you learn to trust the Lord, you will have the confidence to stand upon the promises of God as well as living your life as a testament and living sacrifice to the Lord.

Before coming to faith, everyone was dead in his or her transgressions, but through the atoning sacrifice Jesus suffered and died for on the cross, He made a way for everyone to have restored communion with God. Donald Whitney points out that as a Christian, “We must understand what we shall become as God’s elect [because] God’s eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness.” Knowing and truly understanding this means as followers of Christ, God intends for us to grow and pursue holiness. While no one besides Christ is or ever was perfect, we are forgiven and when Christ is the priority, the Holy Spirit will generate an unquenchable hunger for more of God in every area of one’s life.

For a new believer, it can be very overwhelming to explain everything God has done as well as what He expects out of them. One of the best ways to start the discipleship process is to explain how coming to faith is just the beginning of the journey and as Jim Putnam suggests, “[Realize] the responsibility for spiritual growth never rests on the disciple maker alone.” Putnam identifies three major components in the process: your part, their part, and God’s part. The only part you are responsible for is yours because you cannot do their part and you certainly cannot do God’s part. The rate of spiritual growth is different for every individual, so Putnam encourages disciple makers to focus more on the path of progress and the direction, which leads to development.

The first stage of an individual is level one: Spiritually Dead. This may sound harsh, but as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You were dead in your transgressions and sin.” This stage refers to people who have not accepted Christ and as F.F. Bruce highlights, “It was necessary that the readers should be raised to life, because they were spiritually dead, severed and alienated from God, the source of true life. Their spiritual death was the result of their trespasses and sins.”

Putnam suggests several excuses for remaining in this stage: “They may reject God, they may be seeking God, they may call themselves spiritual, the may even claim to know God or call themselves Christians, but there is no true fruit in their lives.” Believing in God is not enough; even the devil and demons believe in God. Followers of Christ are expected to bear fruit because that is evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside. Putnam poses a very real question: “What would you expect from a dead person?” As anyone would conclude: not much… Because of this, one should not be surprised by the way those who are spiritually dead act. You should be focused on introducing them to who they are in Christ instead of being concerned about their behavior. Unbelief and even rebellion are common characteristics of someone who is spiritually dead because without Jesus living within them, they will always be empty. Disciple makers should focus on sharing what Jesus has done in their life and what He would like to do in theirs. Putnam also emphasizes they need, “Love through honest friendships and relationships with believers, …they need to be introduced to Jesus and to see the life of the gospel lived out, …and they need a clear explanation of the gospel and an invitation to trust and follow Jesus.”

The second stage of an individual is level two: Infant. In this stage you commonly find new believers, but unfortunately you may also find longtime believers who just never matured in their faith. I Peter 2:2-3 illustrates newborn babies craving pure spiritual milk so they can grow in their salvation. While people in this stage are considered to be spiritually alive, the problem arises when one is content with just milk. Hebrews addresses these individuals stating, “By this time you ought to be teachers, yet you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” It is here, Putnam reminds the disciple maker, “They are not unintelligent; they are simply uninformed and in need of truth [and they] are often the product of the culture they live in.” If the spiritually dead act according to their dead nature, then an infant is going to be messy and in need of constant care. This is to be expected and one should not be surprised how much energy and time they require; the problem presents itself when they choose not to continue to grow spiritually. The goal is to eventually teach them how to feed themselves on the word of God while guiding them through this vulnerable stage. The habits they form during this stage will form their entire life as a follower of Christ, so it is crucial to teach them truth while also walking in humility.

The third stage of an individual is level three: Child. In this stage the believer has progressed from being an infant or as we will discuss later, has possibly regressed. The goal in this stage is continual growth with God, but a new element is added as believers learn to form not only vertically relations with God, but also horizontally as they develop relationships with other believers. The more they are able to apply the word of God in their daily lives and conclude the world does not revolve around them, the quicker they will mature. As with the infancy stage, someone who reaches the child stage can also be a new believer as well as a person who has been saved for many years. Putnam argues, “It is not the amount of time that passes that marks the difference between the mature and immature; it is what has happened or not happened in a relational discipleship process during that time.” In this stage, they are still dependent on a caregiver or mentor for guidance, so they may do things they are told, either without an understanding why they are doing it or just doing it because it is expected of them. This stage highlights their level of commitment by asking the question: “Will you still serve when the benefits no longer outweigh the cost?” This is a very vocal stage and much can be revealed by the words they speak because what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Putnam illustrates their primary need is a, “Strong relational connection to a mature believer so they can make the transition to a more God and kingdom focused life. They need someone who will help them learn how to make the developmental transition from dependency to learning how to spiritually feed themselves.” This is also a stage where they are very aware of those around them and are highly impressionable to what others are doing instead of learning to trust and be obedient to God, so it is imperative not to cause unmet expectations. The more they continue to make their life about God, the more they will grow spiritually learning to do the right things for the right reasons.

The fourth stage of an individual is level four: Young Adult. It is in this stage the believer has applied the word of God to their life and overcome the Evil One. Putnam identifies, “Spiritually young adults [as people who] are making a shift from being self-centered to being God-centered…[and are becoming] doers of the Word.” It is at this stage where the believer has the realization God has created them with a specific purpose and has given them the giftings and tools to accomplish it. Putnam lists several needs for believers at this stage to thrive: “First, they need a place where they can learn to serve, they need a spiritual mentor, …they need deep ongoing relationships with people who offer encouragement and accountability, and they need help to establish boundaries.” It is important for these believers to have realistic and attainable expectations while also fostering their giftings and callings.

The fifth and final stage for individuals is level five: Parent. In this stage, the believer moves into more of a parental or mentoring role as they start to disciple other new believers. By Putnam’s definition, “If they are not discipling someone, they are still spiritually immature because spiritually mature people make and reproduce new disciples and if they are capable but are not parenting, then they are really just young adults at best.” II Timothy 2:1-2 speaks of disciples who have grown and matured to the point where they are now qualified to teach others what they have learned. It is important to note, just because the believer has arrived at this stage does not make them perfect because everyone is human and subject to their flesh and sinful desires. The difference is at this stage they are intentional about putting Christ first in their relationship. As spiritual parents, the need for relationships with other spiritual parents is crucial, so they can share one another’s burdens and not get burned out.

FOUR SPHERES OF LIFE

Discipleship has a direct correlation to relationships and as Putnam illustrates, “As a disciple abides in Christ, each sphere of his or her life is transformed.” There are four spheres of life a disciple can grow in: their relationship with God, their relationship with God’s family: the church, their personal relationship and home life, and their relationship to the world. In each of these spheres as Putnam highlights, “A disciple understands God’s commands and submits to His authority (head), is transformed by Jesus (heart), and joins Jesus on a kingdom mission (hands) in all these areas of their lives.” In each of these spheres it is important to maintain realistic expectations so the disciple maker can best help the believer grow where they currently are.

The first sphere of an individual is the centrality of a relationship with God. In Ephesians, Paul reminds the readers they are adopted by God and this sphere as Putnam illustrates is, “The hub that unites the other spheres together [and] … our most important sphere is our relationship with Jesus.” If Christ is not the motivating force behind one’s motives and actions they will find bearing fruit impossible because Christ is the vine. Matthew Thomas proposes, “That we have to take the story of Jesus as the starting point for a radically new, revolutionary understanding of the world. With this clue, one should set out, not only to understand the world, but also to change it.”

The second sphere deals with relationships with the family of God: the church. Using Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, after he establishes the importance of maintaining one’s relationship with Jesus, he shifts the focus to developing relationships with other believers. Putnam identifies this sphere as, “Where we grow as the body of Christ [and] … if the first sphere of relationships is our relationship with Jesus, it should naturally lead us to living with and loving others in the second sphere.” Susann Liubinskas also illustrates how, “The metaphor of the church as the body of Christ describes a real, although not literal, relationship that exists between Christ and the church. This suggests that this metaphor is not simply illustrating unity and diversity in the Christian community, even though that is part of its meaning. Rather, the church is the body of Christ in the sense that it is constituted by Christ and enlivened by his indwelling.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer elaborates further on the importance of relationships stating, “Formation occurs only by being drawn into the form of Jesus Christ, by being conformed to the unique form of the one who became human, was crucified, and is risen. This does not happen as we strive to become like Jesus, as we customarily say, but as the form of Jesus Christ himself so works on us that it molds us, conforming our form to Christ’s own.” Essentially, he is saying Christians do not form the world with their own mind; instead it is Christ forming us into His image. Craig Nessan adds to this claim portraying, “The church as a community, like other forms of community, consisting of diverse individuals who nevertheless together come to constitute a collective person. This collective person displays its own unique pattern of distinguishing characteristics, [but] in the case of the church this community is not entirely of human origin but also of divine origin.”

The third sphere deals with relationships at home and the family. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians continues to explain what the biblical model of the home should look like. Husbands should love their wives, wives should respect their husband, and children should honor and obey their parents. Putnam points out, “This sphere is important for us to address, because it is possible for people to grasp the concepts of the gospel but fail to apply them in the home.” As disciple makers, it is imperative to make sure your family is not sacrificed on the altar of ministry. The only way this can be assured is when Christ is truly first in your life and the Holy Spirit is allowed to permeate every sphere of your life. Families go through life together, they love together, and they mourn together; what is important in this stage is for individuals to lose their self-centered love and replace it with family-centered love.

In the fourth sphere, the relationship with the world is addressed. This sphere as Putnam suggests is based on, “Our relationship with Jesus affecting how we live and work in the world.” In our relationships it is important to remain humble and transparent even in failure because the world is watching and if one’s lifestyle is counter to their beliefs; they are doing more harm than good in spreading the Gospel. The end goal is to have all these spheres come together under the control of Christ. Only then can one become truly effective and move from just informing people to truly equipping them. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and the only way real life change is going to happen is by applying God’s word so the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can renew your minds.

CURRENT STAGE

Being completely transparent and honest, I find myself predominantly in the parental stage, but there are times where I find myself regressing to the young adult stage. In the past, this has been the result of disappointment, trials, and unmet expectations. During these seasons I had essentially forgotten God had created me for a specific purpose and as a result my confidence and trust in God was strained. I had failed to remember, “ For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

There have also been times where compassion fatigue has set in making ministry burn out not far off. On my own, I am powerless, but through Christ, I can do all things. Thankfully, these seasons are long since past and I strive to maintain this healthy balance by keeping God as the focal point of my life, followed by my wife, then my children, and then my job. With these priorities established, I can now tell when this hierarchy is out of balance or when life is attempting to attack this pivotal sphere. I hold my complete faith and trust in God alone because, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Areas Needing Submission

One area I must daily remind myself of is in the area of significance. Our worth and value are found in God alone, not in people or things. Salvation was not free; it cost Jesus His life and he endured such suffering and rejection so everyone would have a way to find significance, peace, meaning, purpose, and restored communion with God. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Apart from God we are nothing and our righteousness is compared to filthy rags. I am also guilty of blurring some of these spheres when life gets hectic. Keeping the relationship with God first is the only way to assure all the other relationships are in balance. As a believer, you cannot teach someone something you yourself do not know just as you cannot bring someone along in spiritual maturity to a place you have not yet reached. This is why it is crucial to not only have a teachable spirit, but also to be continually learning and relevant. I do well in this area, but struggle with complete transparency because of past wounds, but by not allowing God to use even our failures we are robbing God of what He may want to do in and through us. His word says He causes all things to work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. This is a conditional promise, which means it is dependent upon allowing God to use everything, including our failures and the lessons learned along the way to advance the kingdom and bring glory to His name.

Centrality to the Cross

Bonhoeffer’s call to the cross highlights the centrality of Christ in our daily walk. As believers, we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. Bonhoeffer states, “The call to discipleship is connected here with the proclamation of Jesus’ suffering…[and]… when we know only Him, then we also no longer know the pain of our own cross.” It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and be rejected and any attempt even by His own disciples was rebuked. As followers of Christ, each believer must endure the specific amount of suffering and rejection God has preordained for them. Bonhoeffer concludes, “God honors some with great suffering and grants them the grace of martyrdom, while others are not tempted beyond their strength. But in every case, it is the one cross.”

The cross every believer must bear is unique, but is in direct relationship to our allegiance to Christ. After becoming a Christian, you first encounter the cross; for some they are ostracized for their faith, but once you are able to turn your living into dying you will gladly follow Christ as he calls every follower to die to themselves daily. Bonhoeffer suggests, “Christ’s own suffering is the only suffering that brings reconciliation … thus suffering becomes the identifying mark of a follower of Christ.” While Paul does not specifically mention the passion of Christ, as Will O’Brien explains, “Every time he mentions the cross, he as well as his hearers and readers understood the reference: the gruesome torture, the unbridled violence of state terrorism, the perversion of justice that consumed Jesus.” Paul understood the importance as well as the call to the cross and O’Brien shows, “Paul boldly throws the cross back at the executioners, taking Rome’s symbol of ultimate power and using it as a sign of God’s ultimate power. When Paul speaks of Christ’s victory, the unwritten but very clear assumption is that the losers are those who pretentiously claim power.”

Mark Miller suggests, “Imitating Christ on the cross is commonly thought to consist in bearing suffering without complaint or question… as a way of remaining faithful to God, for the pain and hardship are part of God’s plan to punish, to test, or to improve us.” By bearing our cross we are acknowledging as Miller puts it, “The cross [was] punishment that Christ bore so that we would be spared destruction, a kind of payment to God or the devil for our sins. In gratitude and sympathy, we bear our small crosses just as Christ bore the sins of all humanity.”

CONCLUSION/SUBMISSION TO CHRIST

When someone is brought to faith in Jesus Christ, they are saved for a purpose and they are a new person. In this message to the church at Corinth, Paul wanted them to know his mission and calling were the direct result of Christ’s love and Paul Barnett illustrates how, “The evidence of Christ’s love is to be seen in his death and resurrection for all, in consequence of which all “die” [to self-centered living]. The purpose for which Christ died and was raised is that those who live, as by spiritual resurrection, now live for him.” While salvation is wonderful, God does not intend anyone to stay at the first stage of infancy. No one truly knows how lost and dead in his or her transgressions and sin they were before they accepted Christ into their life, but after coming to faith, a new mission as Disciples of Christ should become their driving force.

Through our death to ourselves daily, we find abundant life and by applying Jim Putnam’s five stages of discipleship we move from self-centered living to God-centered living and by applying Putnam’s four spheres of life we understand the importance of oneness with Christ, relationships, encouraging one another, and bearing each other’s burdens. Only then are we able to discover our God-given purpose and calling in life. Christ must always be at the center and focal point of what we say and what we do as we live our lives in humility and transparency giving God all the honor and glory He deserves. Putnam claims, “No one stage of discipleship is more important than any other,” but I would argue moving someone from spiritual death to at the least infancy should be of the utmost importance. Make no mistake about it; there is a spiritual war being raged and Satan hates losing what was once his. The devil is constantly looking for the opportunity to inflict the most damage to the believer and their ability to be a disciple maker. You must always remember natural death is only the beginning as our spirit lives on either in the magnificent presence of our Savior or in the depths of hell surrounded by the gnashing of teeth.

In addition, by understanding the centrality of Christ and recognizing our constant call to the cross we find submission and suffering to be a joy. Putnam brilliantly concludes saying, “It is in our best interest [to be] under His control, as we tend to make a mess out of all we try to be lord over.” Bonhoeffer takes submission one-step further stating, “In the middle of the most terrible torment that the disciples bore for their Lord’s sake, they experienced the greatest joy and blessedness of His community. Bearing the cross proved to be for them the only way to overcome suffering.” Being a disciple of Christ is being bound to the cross and the suffering of Christ, but as James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James understood the battle that raged between good and evil and knew the importance of the centrality of Christ. When suffering and trials present themselves, often it is only through embracing the suffering you will be able to overcome it, and as James Adamson illustrates, “As a goldsmith, who allows the silver in the fire and the gold in the crucible to be purified not longer than necessary, so God purifies the righteous each one according to his rank and his deeds.”

Bibliography

Adamson, James B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Barnett, Paul. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Liubinskas, Susann. “The Body of Christ in mission: Paul’s ecclesiology and the role of the church in mission.” Missiology 41, no. 4 (October 2013): 402-415. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost. http://rx9vh3hy4r.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=The+Body+of+Christ+in+Mission%3A+Paul’s+Ecclesiology+and+the+Role+of+the+Church+in+Mission&rft.jtitle=Missiology%3A+An+International+Review&rft.au=Liubinskas%2C+Susann&rft.date=2013-10-01&rft.pub=SAGE+Publications&rft.issn=0091-8296&rft.volume=41&rft.issue=4&rft.spage=402&rft.epage=415&rft.externalDBID=n%2Fa&rft.externalDocID=10.1177%2F0091829613495267&paramdict=en-US (accessed November 12, 2015).

Miller, Mark. “Imitating Christ’s Cross: Lonergan and Girard on How and Why.” The Heythrop Journal, 54: 859–879. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2012.00786.x. (2013).
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2265.2012.00786.x/full (accessed 11-12-15).
Nessan, C. L. “What If the Church Really is the Body of Christ?” Dialog, 51: 43–52. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6385.2011.00653.x. 2012. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6385.2011.00653.x/citedby (accessed 11-12-15).

O’Brien, Will. “The passion of the apostle: Paul is much maligned by ‘progressive’ Christians. But maybe he is more radical than we have thought–and a powerful witness to how we can live the gospel in a fallen world.” The Other Side July-Aug. 2004: 18+. General Reference Center GOLD. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=GRGM&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE%7CA120392049&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed 11-12-15).

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Thomas, V. M. The Centrality of Christ and Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Theology of Leslie Newbigin (Order No. NN17701). 1996. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (89302648). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/89302648?accountid=12085 (accessed on 11-12-15).

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

How to Combat Pride

2-samuel-20-pride

“Pride is insidious and you must root it out of your life—this often takes surgery of the heart and it always takes submission of the will!” Upon reading this, I was reminded of Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of all joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” The word sword is translated as sharper than the sharpest sword, but as precise as a surgeon’s scalpel. The word of God in many ways also acts like a mirror in our life exposing the areas, which are not of God, and when we allow the word to penetrate our hearts, it will cut away the malignant masses holding us back from imitating Christ and bringing glory to God. Daily we must be reading the word of God learning His ways so we can put into practice what we have learned.

Pride is the result of elevating ourselves above others or even God. It is manifested in my life by my desire to be successful. I care what others think of me and often care more about how the world views me than how God does. God has given each of us desires and among them, the desire to be significant is at the top of the list, but that same desire to be significant by the world’s standards is what keeps us from intimacy with God. Desires must be satisfied within the covenant relationships and designs, which God has established. A perfect example is found in the story of David and Saul. Upon defeating Goliath in battle, the men were returning home and the people were singing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” Saul should have lifted David up and praised God for the victory, but he could not stand to lose his significance and we see Saul become angry and keep a jealous eye on David and the next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.

Humility before God and everyone we come in contact with is the only way to prevent pride from rising up and causing us to fall. We must trust in the mighty hand of God, that He will exalt us at the proper time. Even the person with the most money and the most accolades still dies and can take none of it to heaven. The only thing we can invest in that we take to heaven is what we invest in the lives of the people we come in contact with. Our hunger for significance can destroy us and chasing after things of this world to find happiness will only leave us unsatisfied and wanting more. The more we try to find purpose and happiness in worldly things, the more we are telling God He is not good enough for us. The world through its hallow and deceptive lies tells us our significance is bound up in the things of this world and nothing could be further from the truth.

The story of Jesus at the well is a perfect example as he explains, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him or her will never be thirsty again.” If we are prideful of anything, as Paul said, it should be that we know Christ because the only thing any of us truly deserves is hell and everything we have in our life is a blessing from God. If we keep this mindset our response to the manifestation of pride will be halted in its tracks. As Nathan Smith said regarding an attitude of humility, “It is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” Life is not about us; it is about God. Each of our lives finds its greatest purpose and happiness when we make everything about God. The holier and more righteous each of us becomes, the more self-evident we should become to the sin in our life. If we really understood how broken we all are, it would fuel our compassion for those around us since true greatness is making much about God and less about us.

We should avoid pride and sin because of our desire to be like Christ, to pursue Him, and to bring glory to His name. We must keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus because the moment we lose sight of Him, we begin to sink and open the door for prideful thinking. As Ben Forrest says, “Pursuing God is a posture of submission and repentance because when we recognize the holiness of God, it bends our knees and bows our head.” We will never truly know ourselves except when we endeavor to know God. Teresa of Avila said it best, “It is only by considering His greatness we discover our bareness; it is only by contemplating His purity we discover our own filthiness, and it is only by beholding His humility we shall discover how far we are from truly being humble.”

DiscipleShift: What should a disciple look like?

Discipleshift-Stuff
The question everyone should ask is are they following Jesus, or are they asking Jesus to follow them; the answer to this question will define if they are simply a convert or truly a follower of Jesus. Jim Putnam shows how, “Conversion is [merely] the first step in the discipleship process.” Putnam then contrasts the two states by claiming, “Conversion is the beginning of a journey, whereas discipleship is ongoing.” This essentially means at the point of conversion, a mental decision is made to follow Jesus, but in addition to that decision there is also a spiritual response to the Holy Spirit and an acknowledgment of our God-given purpose. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey illustrate, “A disciple is someone who seriously considers the cost before following Christ… [And] is totally committed to Christ, [meaning] our love for Christ is so great, so consuming that, in comparison, it feels like hatred (disdain) for others” (Luke 14:26).

To live we must die; to save our life, we must be willing to give it up: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus was and is the model for us to follow as we are now called to fulfill the Great Commission by way of the Great Commandment. Dr. Rod Dempsey gives a great definition of a disciple as, “Someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, and goes forth in Christ,” meaning they have surrendered completely to God and to the calling God has placed on their life. Anyone who claims to be a disciple, but does not show God in his or her words and actions is not one.

Putnam offers three characteristics of following Jesus as: “1. Accepting Jesus as Lord, leader, and master of our lives, 2. Being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed by the renewing of our minds, and 3. Action, which leads to a change in what we do with our hands after we have made the decision to follow Him in our heads.” Essentially being a disciple means: Following Christ (head), being changed by Christ (heart), and being committed to the mission of Christ (hands).” As a disciple of Christ, we are on a mission to love others to Christ by sharing our life experiences and what God has done in our life with them (John 13:35). This is why it is so important that we reflect the image of Christ in our words and our actions. As a disciple we are to abandon the things of this world because they are only temporary and will pass away, but everyone’s soul is everlasting and it is up to disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure others spend eternity in heaven and not hell.

Earley and Dempsey take a similar approach in defining a disciple by extracting the principles, which should be evident. A disciple must be, “1. Sacrificial: submitting to Christ no matter the cost (Luke 14:28), 2. Relational: loving God, loving neighbors, and loving other disciples, and 3. Transformational: understanding spiritual growth is directed toward becoming like Christ in word, thought, attitude, and action.” The more a disciple emulates Christ’s nature and character, the more they will live their life according to His values. Earley and Dempsey close with an important fact: “You cannot be a follower of the person of Christ without being a follower of the mission of Christ.” You also cannot serve Christ without totally surrendering to Him by carrying your own cross and surrendering your will to God.
Great Commission of Disciples This writer’s personal definition of being a disciple begins first with 1. Accepting Christ into one’s life (John 3:16), 2. Recognizing Jesus as Lord, master, and Savior forsaking all else (I Corinthians 8:6), 3. Submitting to His will, word, and purpose by changing one’s ways and transforming their minds by loving others (John 8:31-32 and I Corinthians 5:17), and lastly 4. Reproducing other disciples by showing them the way of the Lord so they too can lead others to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Relationships and bearing fruit is paramount in being a true disciple (John 15:5-8). Ultimately, true disciples of Christ must die to themselves daily and live to bring as much glory to God as possible while thanking Him for all the blessings and giftings He has provided.

Bibliography
Putnam, Jim, et al. Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2013.
Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2013.

Making Sense of the Wisdom Literature

fear-of-the-lord-beginning-of-wisdom-proverbs-9-10

PART I

In the Old Testament, wisdom was equated to having skill and when reading these wisdom books it is important to know they were more practical than theological as they spoke more to ordinary life instances such as family, relationships, money, and purity. Essentially, they laid the foundation regarding how to live one’s life in a way that was pleasing to God. While each book has unique features, when you combine them with their counterparts, it becomes clear why they were all added to the canon of scripture.

Proverb’s ethos is, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” and “”The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Essentially, the starting point of wisdom is the fear of God. While the book displays practical advice, it is rooted out of this recurring theme of the fear of the Lord. The writers of Proverbs were convinced God had implanted His wisdom in creation and in the way the world works. In the same way physical laws exist, we also see spiritual laws and when either was violated, disaster ensued. Proverbs 8 portrays a woman who was present at the right hand of God during creation. This passage says wisdom is the master craftsman who assisted God during creation furthering the relationship between wisdom and creation. The woman is a metaphor for God’s own personification of divine wisdom.

God reveals Himself to humanity through His word and through creation. Proverb’s original audience was adolescent men and its goal was teaching the importance of continuous reverence, respect, and awe for God because without these traits one will never discover the ultimate truth that is locked away in the universe. The common theme in Proverbs portrays two roads one can travel down which each lead to different destinations. The first road of wisdom and righteousness leads to prosperity, blessings, and long life: “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding,” while the second road of folly and wickedness leads to cursing, poverty, and death: “The highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Proverbs are not unconditional promises so one must be careful when interpreting them because there are always exceptions to the rules. Wisdom teaches us the way life normally works and Proverbs provides general rules such as, “The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short” and “Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.” These are examples of how life should work, but everyday we see bad things happen to good people while we see the wicked prosper. Proverbs on its own is somewhat problematic because some Proverbs go against human experience while others even seem to contradict themselves.

Proverbs instructs us in our quest for wisdom to, “Look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” God is known through obedience to His revealed will and strict adherence to His word. Often times, wisdom comes from correction, discipline, and the lessons we learn when we make mistakes. Sometimes the experiences of life are the best teachers as we learn from life’s experience and those who choose to forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

PART II

After reading Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes come along with a balanced perspective as they focus more on expectations and why they exist in life. In Job, the people of the day believed wisdom led to blessings, righteousness, prosperity, and long life while folly led to wickedness, cursing, and ultimately death. While Job and Ecclesiastes back up these principles, they also show there are exceptions to the rules.

When looking specifically at Job we see his so-called friends accusing him of doing something wrong because they believed in the practice of sowing and reaping and God blessing the righteous and punishing the wicked. Job’s friend Eliphaz tells him, “Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?” Eliphaz believed Job was guilty of iniquity and wickedness and that was the reason God was treating Job so cruelly. Their theology and tenets allowed no other reason to account for what was happening to Job. It is here that we begin to see Proverbs through a more balanced lens as Job agrees with his friends that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, but Job has begun to question their theology saying, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” The penalty of sin was death so the question Job raised was why were wicked people prospering at the expense of others. It only seems possible that they have only delayed their punishment for a later date.

Job then seeks an audience with God protesting his innocence so he can be vindicated. He has completely denied the theology of retribution presented by his friends and while he does not claim to be perfect he does not believe he deserves his affliction. According to John Hartley, “Their experience proves that “there is such a thing as blessedness without blessing, divine favor without God, or salvation without a savior!” It is through God’s response where we are presented with the resolution to the book. Even though God does not answer Job’s question as to why he suffered, God instead speaks of His sovereignty in creation, His preservation and care over it, and then tells Job that is what he should be focusing on. God is essentially saying His sovereignty supersedes all wisdom and while God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked His sovereignty is the ultimate causation of events.

Ecclesiastes is a very messy book by itself, but when added to the other wisdom books it provides a compelling discourse on the theology of life, which is all about vanity. The text is very pessimistic and negative, but honest as the author searches for answers and truth by using paradoxes. There are times where extreme statements and paralleled with even more extreme statements with the truth to be found somewhere in the middle. Ecclesiastes is very similar to the book of Job in relation to how it compliments the book of Proverbs. Proverbs teaches us the basic perspectives of wisdom and how the world works while Job and Ecclesiastes focus more on the exceptions to the rules. Ecclesiastes illuminates the reason there are exceptions to the rules is because we live in a fallen world by asking the question if God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked then why does life not always work that way? The revelation found when combining all these books is that the world does not work the way God designed it to because creation has been subjected to the curse as a result of the fall when sin entered the world.

The more you read Ecclesiastes, the more you become aware that life is not fair and bad things continually happen to good people and vice-versa. Human wisdom is not meant to figure out everything because there are limitations to our understanding. Life is fleeting and futile and we all die but this book’s intent is not to depress its readers; it is to give a realistic understanding of life. The writer of Ecclesiastes understands even the best things in life have a bad side and he contemplates how wisdom should solve problems and the mysteries of life, but for him the increase of his wisdom has only led to more problems and his increase in knowledge has only led to more sorrow. He concludes stating while he does not know everything; he does know the most important thing: why we need God in the first place. The highest goal of all is to fear the Lord and to keep His commandments. Ultimately, there are mysteries in life we will never fully understand, but we can rest assured as long as we fear God, honor Him in word and deed, and keep His commandments, there is nothing in this world that is more important.

Song of Solomon must not be left out of these wisdom books because it too contributes to their overall message. While God is never even mentioned in the book, His marriage metaphor with us is implied by His covenant relationship with His children. When you examine the intimacy God planned in our marriages, we are presented with the relationship He wants us to have with Him. The sexual overtone in this book is undeniable, but when you read and understand this book in its proper context we are presented with a clear picture of the relationship God wanted to have with His creation before the fall in the Garden of Eden. In light of that, we are now presented with El Qanna, the God who is not jealous of us, but for us. When something or someone threatens our covenant relationship with God, Esh Oklah: the consuming fire and zeal of God rises up to attack anything which attempts to separate us from His unconditional love. Ultimately, Song of Solomon teaches us how to love God with all our heart; it shows us how much God loves us, and that His love never changes. While we may not always obey His commandments and abide by His word, His love never fails and He desires us to trust Him because of how pure His motives and love are for us.

Bibliography

Hartley, John E. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Job. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Aim”.