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Exegesis

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Grapes

Jesus gives us our purpose in today’s Bible reading: bear fruit. He is the true Vine. And Believers are branches attached to the True Vine. The responsibilities of the branches are to stay connected with the Vine and let the life of the Vine flow through them. Union and Communion.

As long as a Believer stays in Union and Communion with the Vine, the life of the Vine produces fruit. Notice that the Vine produces the fruit through the branches. The branches bear fruit produced by the Vine.

Branches that are not attached to the Vine are gathered up and burned (John 15:6) because they take up space in the vineyard. But branches that are attached to the Vine, but aren’t bearing fruit are lifted up[1] (John 15:2) and given special attention so they can bear fruit. By raising up those branches, they are taken off the ground where the fruit was stepped on or stolen by a rodent or some other hungry animal.

Application?

How’s your fruit bearing? Do you bear the fruit produced by Jesus in your life?

Have you felt discouraged, just waiting for Jesus to come along and remove you from the vineyard? Rest assured that if you are still in union and communion with the Vine, you can never be cast aside. Instead, the Master Gardener will deal with you so that you can bear fruit.

Check your connection. Draw your life from the True Vine. And bear the fruit.

[1] Most modern English translations miss this key point, leading to some amount of confusion about the destiny of non-fruit-bearing branches that are still attached to the Vine. The Greek word means to raise up or to lift up, not to take away or to remove.

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One-woman kind of man?

In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells Timothy what to look for in church leaders. I don’t know that Paul’s checklist is so much a checklist as much as it is a reminder that character matters. And character matters … a lot.

I find it interesting how Bible teachers and commentators read their Bibles. Many modern Bible teachers look at Paul’s qualifications and immediately jump to the bit about elders and deacons not being divorced. (1 Timothy 3:2, 12) Or that’s what we think it says.

Paul’s actual wording is “a man of one woman” or “a husband of one wife”. Yes, Paul could mean that elders and a deacons cannot be divorced. But that isn’t what he said. Paul could have used the word “divorce” in his discription, but he didn’t. Instead he worded this qualification in a way that includes polygamy, divorce, and the general way the man looks at women. The way Paul worded it covers it all!

On a parenthetical note, let me say that whether or not Paul was talking about divorce, I don’t think he had our American “no-fault divorce” in mind. I don’t want to get into it here, but “divorce” in the Bible and “divorce” in late Twentieth/Early Twenty-First Century America are not the same. And we can easily run into problems when we impose a modern concept onto the Biblical context.

I also find it interesting how Bible translators do their jobs. Specifically, why do they translate some words one way at one time and translate those same words a different way at another time. My two somewhat-related interests intersect in Paul’s prescription to Timothy when it comes to the service of men and women in the church.

We get the word misogyny and gynochology from the Greek word for woman. This Greek word can be translated as woman or wife, depending on how the word is used. You can’t just say that a Greek word always means one English word in all circumstances. Context dictates how to properly bring the word from Greek into English. Sometimes, the word means woman. Other times, the word means wife. Similarly, the Greek word translated as man can also be translated as husband, depending on the context.

The reason you can’t force a one-to-one correspondence of Greek-to-English words is you run into interpretation issues when the author speaks generically and you translate it specifically or vice-versa. For example, look at Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men in church in yesterday’s reading (1 Timothy 2:12). Is Paul’s concern with women (in general) or wives (specifically) teaching men (in general) or husbands (specifically)? I think by translating the word contextually clears up most of the “problem” passages like the one I’m referring to.

Getting back to Paul’s requirement of male church leaders being a “man of one woman”… Paul was concerned that male leaders should have a single focus on one woman. Church leaders shouldn’t be distracted with multiple wives. And neither should they have “roaming eyes”. They shouldn’t be distracted by other women; they should have eyes for only their own woman.

Application

There’s an application for all of us when it comes to having a single-focus on God when it comes to a growing relationship with Him. This is reinforced with Jesus’ comments when He was questioned on the “Greatest Commandment”. (Matthew 22:36–40)

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Distracting discussions

We begin reading 1 Timothy in today’s Bible reading. Paul reminds Timothy that he should teach people not to teach false doctrine or pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Why? Because they “promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan which operates by faith”. (1 Timothy 1:3-4, CSB)

Paul refers to Timothy as his “true son in the faith.” (v.2) He sees himself as being a spiritual father and role model to Timothy who is learning the ropes as a young pastor. Obviously, there were some people who weren’t teaching sound/correct doctrine, but rather speculative ideas. Rather than sticking with properly using the Law (the Scriptures available to New Testament Believers), these false teachers seemed to prefer things that distracted from the Gospel message.

I love a deep theological conversation as much as the next guy. Back in my seminary days, several of us would often talk about theological issues late into the night in the stairwell of the men’s dorm. Unfortunately, at least 99.9% of the things we used to argue about are the kinds of things Paul was referring to. Looking back, it’s almost humorous that we literally lost sleep over things that don’t matter and things that distracted us and divided us, as opposed to things that build up each other. (Ephesians 4:29)

It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t refer to false doctrine — as opposed to true doctrine — but rather to different doctrine. Paul uses this word different in 2 Corinthians 11:4 to refer to a different Spirit and different gospel. In Galatians 1:6, Paul says he’s astonished that the church has so quickly turned to a different gospel. Two verses later in Galatians 1:8-9, Paul curses those who would preach a gospel contrary to the one he had preached to them, and presumably he’s equating the contrary and the different gospel they have quickly turned to.

We don’t know what those myths and endless genealogies were. And I’m glad we don’t. But in many ways, we are probably still rehashing the same kinds of distracting discussions that Paul warned Timothy to be on his guard against.

Application

What kinds of things distract you in your Christian walk? They may be innocent things, but what kind of things — that you do or that you enjoy reading or listening to — promote speculations, rather than things that promote God’s redemptive plan for mankind? What kind of things do you need to lay aside in order to keep your focus on the “main thing”?

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exam

I’ve had my share of tests. I’ve done well on many. I’ve done poorly on some. In today’s Bible reading, Paul urges the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they pass the test of faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Actually, Paul asks the Corinthians two question: 1) Are you in the faith? and 2) Do you see Christ in you? Paul implies that if the answer is no, then you don’t pass the test.

Paul uses two different Greek verbs when he asks the questions. The first verb means “to try to learn the nature or character of someone or something by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing.” [1] The second verb means to “try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing, often through actual use.”[2]

Another way to ask the questions might be, “Examine yourself to see if you’re you a Believer” and “Test yourself as to how genuine your faith is.” In other words, Paul asks the Corinthians quantitative (yes/no?) and qualitative (how well?) elements of the tests. It isn’t enough to say, “Yes I’m a believer.” or “Yes, I adhere to certain religious beliefs.” Paul digs deeper.

Christianity is unlike every religion. Religions are based on believing certain teachings and seeking to appease a deity and/or to rid oneself of deficiencies. Some religions add an element of eternity, others do not.

But Christianity is a relationship, initiated by God, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is completely different when seriously compared to every religion out there.

Application

I believe we need to ask these questions on a regular basis. It keeps us on our toes. It adds a present-day application of our faith test.

I mentioned to our church last Sunday that if you were married several decades ago and you have not had an ongoing and growing relationship with your spouse, something is seriously wrong!” If you claim to have been saved for several decades, but don’t have an ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus, something is seriously wrong!

Christians often rattle off that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But let me ask with Paul, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” and “If so, then how personal is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.

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Thorn

If you’ve been around church for a while, you may have heard of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”. Today’s Bible reading includes Paul’s brief discussion of his thorn.

Paul never tells us specifically what his thorn was. Obviously, he was using the word as a metaphor of something else. Some have speculated it was poor eyesight. Some have speculated it was malaria. The truth is, we don’t know what it was. And if we knew, I’m sure someone would find a similar thorn, claim it was Paul’s and proceed to venerate “Paul’s thorn”.

What we do know about Paul’s thorn is that God gave it to him to keep him humble. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Further, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. Paul asked God to remove his thorn, but each time, God told him “no”. God wanted to use Paul’s thorn to show His strength, made perfect in Paul’s weakness.

There are a few things to notice from Paul’s discussion. God doesn’t always do what we ask Him to do, even apostles. God can use all things to work out for our good of becoming more like Jesus, even our weaknesses. God’s grace is sufficient.

Finally, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. The word translated “messenger” is also translated as “angel”. This means that Paul’s thorn was a Satanic angel. Paul — the Apostle, the “spiritual heavyweight” — was demonized. Am I trying to say that Paul was demon possessed? No, because that’s not the language the Bible uses. The Bible doesn’t differentiate between demon possession and demon oppression. The Bible just says “demonized”. And to be demonized is to have a demon.

Application

This may not fit well with what you’ve always heard in church. But that’s what Paul says. So what do you do when you come across something in the Bible that doesn’t fit your preconceived beliefs? It’s important that we stick with what God says in the Bible and adjust our beliefs accordingly.

If Paul could be demonized, then it’s possible for other Believers to be demonized. Even us. Even today. And if a Believer is demonized, he/she should do the same thing Paul did: Ask God to remove the demon and its influence. But if God says, “no”, then we should accept what He has given/allowed and live in closer dependence on the empowering Holy Spirit to live day-to-day until our final deliverance to the other side of eternity. God’s strength can be made perfect in our weaknesses, too.

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