The Midwife


So, who’s having a baby today? Looks like we have plenty of women here who can help, you can lean on them as you crouch. I’ll be right underneath to catch the baby! Don’t be shy, now, if the baby’s coming, there’s no stopping him! I brought my birthing stool, it’s perfect for when you need a break to sit down. I have herbs to help with the pain, and I’ve got a nice big pot of water boiling on the fire, to help loosen you up.

I used to have a special amulet, but I don’t use those anymore. No, I’ve discovered a far more powerful source of safety. I’ll tell you about it, in between contractions.

Is it you? You? No you’re way too young. Where is she, then? Is she gone?

Well, I need to rest a minute before I head home, then. I walked a long way, just came down from Bethany right near Jerusalem, lovely family, their seventh baby, beautiful girl.

My home’s here in Bethlehem,but I haven’t met any of you! Are you here for Hanukkah? I love Hanukkah, the candles, the gifts, the stories. Oh, how we wish the Maccabees would return and deliver us from these awful Romans. But, I have something to tell you. A deliverer has been born, I know it for a fact. I was there, only a few months ago. Yes! It happened during Passover, a little lamb of a baby, so sweet, with such big eyes. Well, let me a get a drink, rest a bit, and I’ll tell you the tale.

It all began when I went to visit my cousin—she and her husband live in a little village outside Jerusalem. Her husband is a priest, yes, there in Herod’s golden temple. I love to visit, he tells me everything that’s happening in the holy city, and especially behind the scenes. So I call out, Elizabeth, I’m here, I’ve brought fresh bread and dates. Elizabeth loves dates! But she didn’t come to the door. Right away, I knew. Something is not right with Elizabeth, she would come to the door, especially for dates. so I went right in, it’s okay, she’s my cousin.

Elizabeth, you aren’t well?

I’m staying in, she said.

What?

Yes, she said, I don’t feel well, and I think it’s more than a cold.

Well, luckily, my family had sent me to Rome, we have a little money, and I am trained in the healing arts. I always carry my basket with me, herbs for the stomach, for aches and chills, infusions for the head, ointments for many ailments. I have all kinds of unguents and potions. So, I asked her. What is it?

It’s Zechariah, she said. An angel came to him, and told him we would be having a baby, a son.

No!

Elizabeth and I were among the few women in Bethlehem who had never had children. I know, I know! We are both very old, the age of grandmothers, still strong, still able, but long past the age of child-bearing. Me, I can understand. I was never too religious. But Elizabeth! She always observed all the Lord’s commands and decrees, may His name be praised. She is one righteous lady. Her and her husband both, him being a priest. Yet, Almighty God, may His name be praised, never blessed her with sons or daughters. We both had moved on to other occupations, I to midwifery, Elizabeth to teaching the young wives.

Anyway, Zechariah had come home unable to speak. He had to write it all down, everything that happened. He had been chosen to burn the incense in the Holy place, a once-in-a-lifetime honor. Filled with reverence and fear, with trembling hands Zechariah had begun to sprinkle the incense, and say the prayers of the people, who were all outside, counting on him to do this well.

All of a sudden,

an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

[He should have known better than to say that! Him a priest and all. He knew full well about the birth of Isaac. Tsk]

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home.

 Luke 1:11-23 (NIV)

When did this happen, I asked? Four months ago, she said. Ooooh. Well, that explains why Zechariah’s been so quiet, recently! Who knew? She showed me her stomach, and sure enough, I have a practiced eye, that was definitely a baby bump.

So, of course I took care of her. Bed rest, Elizabeth, I said to her. You have to stay in seclusion. You are too old for this. The women of your village, they will take care of you, I know them all, I’ve delivered their babies.

And I came every week, no matter what, no matter who was having a baby, I came.

And not two months later, I’m coming up the road and I see this young woman, coming up to Elizabeth’s door. Oh, she looked just like the older version of our little cousin Mary, such a sweet girl she was. So, I come closer and it is Mary! Then I rush up, calling to her, Mary, Mary, wait for me!

When we both got to the door, Mary called out, Elizabeth, greetings! Your cousins have come to see you. And right away inside we hear Elizabeth cry out, Ooof!

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Luke 1:41-45 (NIV)

She was in her 6th month, and remember, an old woman. Elizabeth, I told her, get back in bed, what are you doing?! And what is this about Mary being pregnant? Come now, you can see she isn’t even married, only betrothed. Where is her marriage veil? She only has a ring. Elizabeth! Come now, don’t scandalize the girl.

But, Elizabeth had been right. The Lord, may His name be praised, was keeping his archangel busy! He had come to Mary, too, as she told us both that day,

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

[Better answer! Such a good answer.]

Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:28-38 (NIV)

I felt bad for the girl. She had made up quite a story, but godly Elizabeth believed her. Stay, I said to Mary. You stay and help with Elizabeth, these last three months will be hard.

You women know this to be true. The last trimester is just terrible. Even worse when you are a very old lady! So, she did, and I explained everything to her, what to expect, how to keep the baby healthy, and her healthy. I gave her all the herbs she needed, and more for when she would return home. She would surely be rejected, even in Nazareth, so far from Jerusalem. Turned away by her family, and her betrothed, if she lived at all and wasn’t stoned to death. Poor little lamb, I charged no fee for my services.

Then the day came, it was Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, such a joyful festival, really our favorite, with the booths made of branches and vines and flowers, oh and the feasting and laughing and carrying on. And Elizabeth went into labor. Come, Mary, I called. Get the women of the village. We surrounded Elizabeth, I put steaming water under her to help soften the muscles, Mary held her on one side, on the other side a good friend. I rubbed her with warm olive oil,

press your breath, Elizabeth, yes, like that, move with the contraction, relax into it.

I brought out my amulet, no images of course, not like the Egyptians with their frogs and cats. No, because no Hebrew woman would accept that. No graven images, you know. But, I had an incantation! Yes, it was written with a magic formula for a safe birth.

No, Elizabeth said. No! You pray! You pray to the Lord, may His name be praised, only prayer for my son.

I shook my head. Okay. I was skeptical. But, you know how they are when they’re in labor. And with her husband a priest. Okay. I prayed, but I didn’t hold out much hope without my amulet. She was old! And this was her first baby.

But here he came. The baby was beautiful! And his name? John! Of all things. There is no John anywhere in Zechariah’s family, or Elizabeth’s. But the angel, that angel, he said John, so John it was. I just shook my head. It was a healthy birth, and for such an old woman, it was truly a miracle. Even I thought so.

Mary, I said a few days later, Maybe you should stay here. Your baby is starting to show. But no, Mary wouldn’t stay.

I will come to Nazareth, then, and help you when the baby comes.

Maybe I could protect her, some. I hoped she would live to see the baby come to term. But, no, she shook her head again. It is too far.

The Lord, may His name be praised, He will provide, she said to me.

Again I shook my head, as I watched her start her walk home, with a few others heading down to Nazareth. What sort of empty talking was that, the Lord will provide? May His name be praised. I thought I might never see her again.

Months passed, little John grew, a weird little boy, but what a delight he was, too. We celebrated Hanukkah, yes, just a year ago, then Purim, and soon we were readying for Passover, when

Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) [Count on the Romans to make a bad situation worse. Tsk] And everyone went to their own town to register.

Luke 2:1-3 (NIV)

Oh my, it was already such a throng of people flooding into our village, just six miles from Jerusalem, to be in the holy city for Passover. The Lord, may His name be praised, commands every male to come, and of course many men bring their families as well. But this!

So, we all cleaned out our upper rooms, and prepared as many beds as we could for you never turn family away, not ever. And they came! Who knew our family tree had so many branches and leaves!

To my amazement, one afternoon, I saw a sweet little family, the young wife so very heavy with child, on a donkey, and her man beside her, and, I squinted my old eyes, it was Mary! Yes! I ran out, crying Mary, and who is this? Joseph, yes, a cousin, a distant one, House of David, yes? Come in, come in. Our guest room is full, but there’s a little cot you could use, just a sliver of space, but you’re family, you come, I’ll take out the donkey with the animals, in the back.

But that night, as I lay awake, I could hear a soft crying, and then moaning. I knew, I knew right away, it’s time. I went up the stairs, to our guest room and called to her, Mary, there’s no room up here to have a baby. Everybody else in there agreed, there’s no room for that up here! Come downstairs, to the back of the house, clean straw and room, the animals will make space. So I helped her down, Joseph trailing behind us.

Go, I told him. Go wake my husband, get some water boiling, get some clean cloths, he knows what to do, you help him.

Our house was full! Full of wise women who’d given birth before,

Shalom, Sarah, get my birthing chair.

Hannah, I need the oil and herbs.

Leah, go up to our cousin Elizabeth, yes. I know she’s old! I know she has a baby! She’ll want to come, you go now, the village just over from here, she will want to come.

A first baby is terrifying! Who knows how it will go? But I am skilled in midwifery, and the healing arts. I was ready. Compress your breathing, lean into it. You will have a beautiful baby soon.

In between contractions she said, I wrote a song for Him. Would you like to hear? A song? Do I want to hear a song while we’re trying to bring a baby into the world? But I said, yes of course, little lamb, sing your song for me. Breath, relax into the pain, and sing your song, there now.

My soul glorifies the Lord

    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

    of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

    holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

    from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

    just as he promised our ancestors.

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

Where had that come from? She was so young, and her song was so old, so wise, like the song of Samuel’s mother Hannah. The mother of a prophet! Well, now.

Then, as Mary sang, something began to happen in my heart that I had never felt before, even with Elizabeth as my cousin, and her husband a priest. I felt a stirring, a something. Had it really been the Spirit of the Lord, may His name be praised, Who had moved Elizabeth and her unborn son, that weird but truly delightful baby John? Was our sweet Mary giving birth to the promised deliverer, the anointed one, Messiah? Here? Tonight? In our home, with the animals all around?

And then it happened.

I see His crown, I cried.

But now—and this never happens!—I really did cry. Out He came, and I caught Him in my arms. Mary was ragged, she collapsed on the stool. Elizabeth, by this time, had come, with her little John straddled on her side.

I am a midwife, and I know better. But I swear to you, I looked into that sweet newborn’s dark eyes and I saw eternity. I saw glory and light. I saw wisdom and favor from Almighty God. Oh, may His name be praised. As I washed him off, and handed Him to Mary, I tell you, I knew. I just knew. He is the Deliverer.

She was exhausted, poor little lamb. You did well, I told her, you did beautifully. Joseph took the baby, and I showed him how to wrap his little son all up in swaddling, then we laid him in the sheep’s trough, freshly filled with sweet hay. There, I said, let him sleep, he’ll be hungry soon enough, then you bring him to your Mary, and I will show her how to feed him. What a lovely man, that Joseph.

Oh, and then it was pandemonium! Shepherds everywhere. Oh! With their dirt, and their sheep smell. Are you kidding me? I just cleaned in here, it’s Passover! But there was dear Miriam the shepherd’s wife running up to see Mary and the baby. Okay. Fine. All of you, just come in, I said. Come see the baby. More angels, they all told us, more angels than you could count, with an archangel no less. Tsk. Poor thing got no rest with his heavenly chores. All over the sky, they were, singing praises to the Lord, may His name be praised, promising Shalom between heaven and earth.

That night, I broke my amulet with its magic incantation. I broke it, then I crushed it under my heel. There is something, there is someone, so much more powerful than a little sherd with writing on it. For the Lord, may His name be praised, has come to earth to be among us, and to deliver us, to make us His own for all eternity. He is bringing light into dark places, He is bringing glory and Shalom. He comes to the humble, to the hurting, to the ones in need. He is the true Healer.

Whatever you have been relying on or hoping for, it isn’t as powerful and good as the deliverer, only a few months old now, but one day grown to be a man, and yet also God Most High. He will be the king of all kings, the Lord of all lords, and He will be the one who sets you and me free. I know it, I just do.

So, I’ve had my drink, and my rest. Has that young woman in labor showed up yet? No? Well she’ll need me soon, I’m just down the road, you come get me as soon as she’s ready. And I will pray for her as she brings forth her little one. Let me tell you, this is holy work.


[The midwife | Free Bible Images, http://www.freebibleimages.org/ The Lumo Project]

How Genesis 3:15 Supports 1 Timothy 3:11-15


Studying Rev. Bruce C. E. Fleming’s[1] research so far has taught me:

A. The meaning of 1 Timothy’s ancient text can only be understood using the ancient keys everyone had in those days. (See Three Keys to 1 Timothy)

  1. understanding the point of the whole letter. (In this case, correcting some wayward leaders.)
  2. understanding wordplay. (In this case, the double meaning of “Faithful is the Word.” [Jesus and sayings])
  3. understanding how a letter was layered. (In this case, Paul writing of his own sins as examples of failure, Jesus’ intervention, learning, and being transformed into a faithful servant.)

B. Koine Greek is different than modern English. (!) (See Let Her Learn):

  1. Gender neutral language was commonly used.
  2. Male gendered language was routinely used for mixed gender groups (even when females outnumbered males in the group).
  3. Sentence structures and paragraph structures were intuited through the kinds of and ways that verbs were used, not so much by spacing, punctuation, or even word placement. (There was no spacing, punctuation was very rare, and word placement was not as important.)
  4. Nouns could act as adjectives, and verbs could act as adverbs.

So, a brief summary of what Paul was saying to Timothy, according to Fleming’s research and synthesis, would be:


11 Let these women learn! –

in quietness and with all studiousness (in subjection to teacher and studies).

12 I am not permitting them to incorrectly teach (method and content) men but to be in quietness (while they are retraining).

Bruce Fleming, “Think Again About Church Leaders

Bruce Fleming suggests “incorrectly” and “method and content” could be how the verb “authentein” would act in this sentence: as a descriptor of the verb “teach.” )

Paul was expecting there to be pushback on his instructions, as evidenced by Paul’s use of the word “authentein,” in verse 12, which means “autonomous use or possession of unrestricted force/power,” and by Paul having taken pains to correct these women in their ostentatious display of wealth and power. It seems these particular women leaders had already caused a great deal of hurt and injury within the body of Christ. So, why would Paul encourage such a gentle and redemptive way to deal with them, when he had not only recommended but executed a far more serious correction with the two blasphemers (as shown below)?


By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 2:19-20 (NRSV)

The answer, as Rev. Fleming points out, comes in Paul’s digression on Eve’s experience in Genesis 2-3. Paul wanted to explain why it was right to give these women a chance to learn, to become mature in knowledge and in character, so they might be ready to lead and teach as elders of the church.

Thinking through Fleming’s work, this part of Paul’s letter to Timothy began to take shape in my mind.


You see,” Paul was writing to Timothy, “This is the very thing Eve was never given. Adam, who was formed first, did not teach Eve well. He left her vulnerable to be deceived, and she was indeed profoundly deceived, which resulted in terrible injury. On the other hand, Adam knew what he was doing. He sinned on purpose. For Eve, there were consequences, but it was Adam who ushered in earth’s curse.

“There are two kinds of sinners, Timothy. Those who sin on purpose, with every intent, and those who sin out of ignorance because they are deceived.

“You know I was in that second category, and God dealt gently with me. Look where I am today! These women are also in that second category. Let’s give them what they need to become as I am today, through the faithfulness of the Word (Jesus and His ways and teaching).”


Well, that gets us through verses 13 and 14, but what about verse 15? That’s a puzzler. I have read at least a half dozen ways of understanding what Paul meant with this one sentence.

Who is “she”?

  • Is it the woman Paul was talking about in verses 11-12?
  • Is it Eve?
  • Is it just a generic reference to women in general?

What is meant by “childbearing”?

  • Does it mean the woman in verses 11-12 should concentrate on her own hearth and home, have children, toe that line?
  • Does it mean the seed who would one day crush the serpent, in Genesis 3:15?
  • Does it mean women don’t need to turn to the local religious teachings, amulets, methods, to protect them in childbirth? (Rather than trust in Christ?)
  • Is this some oblique reference to women refusing to have children (either through birth control or celibacy)?

Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming’s[2] conclusion is really quite compelling. She sees the arc of woman’s story being rescued by Jesus, and I can see it, too. Through woman would one day come the second Adam, the man who would redeem rather than rule, who would give grace over judgment, who would empower women to become the ezer kenegdo God had created them to be.

It is through Jesus that Paul’s instruction to Timothy was made possible. It is Jesus Who is faithful, and Jesus’ teaching and way that has opened the path to truth and life for all women. And it is because of Jesus that grace is made available to every sinner, beginning with Paul himself.


But,” Paul continued, “Though the way is made open to all, not all will choose to go by that way. These (specific) women leaders who have been causing such injury to the church may yet become wise, mature teachers and leaders,

provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

1 Timothy 2:15b (NRSV)

Paul did not know for certain whether the women he was encouraging Timothy to instruct and correct would receive it well. Maybe they all would. Maybe only some would. What they wanted, 1 Timothy 3:1, “…whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task,” was a worthy goal, but it would not be granted them merely because they had money, or influence, or were benefactors of the church, or had forceful personalities, and so on.

It would come as they learned the things of Christ and lived them out, which is actually the topic for 1 Timothy 3: What Makes One Eligible To Be An Elder

I have learned a lot from the Flemings, and I hope to take their seven session course Think Again at some point in the near future. Still, there are a few more theologians I’d like to spend time with before I feel 1 Timothy 2:12 has gotten its due. Next week, I’ll work through Dr. A. Nyland’s groundbreaking work in translating 1 Timothy 2 (and, by the way, the entire New Testament) in “The Source.”


[1] Rev. Fleming has several graduate degrees, published a couple of books, and helped to found a number of churches. He’s married to Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming, who has been a seminary and college professor, and international speaker. Together they’ve created an online course called “Think Again,”  covering “The seven problem Bible passages on women and men in church, the family and the world. (Instructed by Bruce C. E. Fleming)”

[2] Many thanks to Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming for her scholarship on these verses


[Mary Consoles Eve | Jim Forest, Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

His Nakedness Uncovered


I think of Noah as a fine man who was not vigilant and slipped, spiritually.

After all, reading his story reminds me of when my own excesses may have presented temptation to those close to me, and caused anguish in the lives of the people I love. Anyone can sin, even someone who had been righteous and blameless among the people of his time, and who walked with God, as Noah was described.

He had experienced great spiritual summits. He had come through the Great Flood as only one of eight survivors. God had rested upon his shoulders the weight of the ark, and of the animals, and of his family. He had preached for a hundred years with not one single convert, yet he had faithfully pressed on, obedient to God’s commands from first to last.

Now, in the new world, his family growing and spreading as the new humanity, their fields and flocks thriving, their orchards and vineyards established, their lives enriched, Noah was right with God and right with the world. That’s often a time when a person will let down their guard.

What began as a perfectly worthy work, growing a vineyard, degenerated into a complete dishonoring of his body, made in the image of God. That’s a great metaphor for how sin insinuates itself into our souls. It can gradually grow as you and I make one small seemingly unimportant choice after another, getting closer and closer to the edge of okay, slipping like wisps of mist into the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong, until one day we step over another line, the true line that separates us from evil, and it wasn’t a very big step, actually. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. But it was.

  • Maybe this was a spiritual fall after a spiritual victory.
  • Maybe Noah allowed the pressures of life to get to him, not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord, as his ancestor Seth had done.
  • Maybe this was just one more step of many steps, wandering ever closer to no return.

Many people of faith today have decided to express their faith in Christ by living a life that is free from controlled substances such as alcohol in a world that is given over to the indulgence of appetites to the point of addiction. The apostle Paul talked about the value of refraining from those things that might trouble other people or open the door to temptation or worse for them, writing: “It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord.”

In another letter, Paul urged believers to be mindful and intentional about every aspect of their lives, writing, “When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honor God.”

What exactly Noah’s son did to him is not clear. Some Bible scholars link this episode with Leviticus 18, where the phrase, “to see the nakedness” of an individual is a euphemism for a sexual act, suggesting this involved some sort of incestuous activity on Ham’s part. (Some scholars suggest it might even have involved Ham’s mother, Noah’s wife.)

Even if no sexual act took place, there is a sexual connotation to the way Ham took in his father’s exposed condition. Whether or not there was outright coitus, some form of sexual perversion seems to have been present at the very least in Ham’s lustful thoughts, as the son leered at his father’s naked form.

Remember the conditions that existed before the Great Flood: widespread sexual perversion. Jude[1] referred to a series of unnatural acts, connecting antediluvian society with the unnatural sexual deviance of Sodom and Gomorrah. Shem, Ham, and Japheth had grown up in this kind of an atmosphere, even though Noah and his family were an island of righteousness in a sea of corruption.

All the more reason for you and I to be vigilant about the ways our culture influences us, and the people God has placed in our care. It’s not so much this t.v. show or that video game, this website or that party, this politician or that policy. It’s the sum total, the message the culture sends in all kinds of ways, every day, that shapes what the next generation is going to think is good, bad and just plain fun.

Somehow, Ham did not recognize the degenerate nature of his thoughts (or perhaps even acts), for he seems to have taken lewd delight in talking about it with his brothers. That gave me real pause. How will what I am about to say about someone influence my listener’s impression of the person I am talking about? Have I ever found myself relishing someone else’s downfall, particularly someone whose authority I felt was misused in some way? Did it make such delicious news I just couldn’t wait to tell somebody about it? (The answer is yes. I am ashamed to admit it.)

Shem and Japheth wanted to have nothing to do with it. They did not even respond to their brother’s salacious suggestiveness. Instead, their love for their father covered over this “multitude of sins.” They literally covered their father with a blanket, turning their heads away as they did so, refusing to look at his shame. They honored their father, and the stamp of God’s image in him.


[1] Note Jude’s use of the phrases “likewise” and “in the same way” to link the Nephilim culture, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the culture of his own day all together, as all one kind of people, all destined for the same destruction.


The Nakedness of Noah | Giovanni Bellini [Public domain]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 9, Breakthroughs


You know how it feels to be stuck? You can’t see any way out, and you sure wish you could get out. This onramp at the end of Acts chapter 9, leading to Acts chapter 10, is all about breakthroughs, getting unstuck. Peter consented to cooperate with God as God began to expand the church and take it in new directions.

Two events at the end of Acts 9 showed real spiritual power in Peter, and his willingness to color outside the lines. Where God pointed, that’s where Peter would go, and no matter the size of the box, Peter was willing to break through, and break out.

It was a time of real peace, strengthening, encouragement and growth as the Holy Spirit worked throughout the church at large. Peter was traveling around in Judea when he came to visit the saints in Lydda, which is about ten miles northwest of Jerusalem on the way to Joppa, located in the Sharon plain.

Aeneas was probably one of those saints, suffering from a form of paralysis. Bedridden as he was, it would have been easy for him to feel like a burden, with no hope for his future. He needed a breakthrough, and he got one.


Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up.

Acts 9:34 (NRSV)

Jesus freed Aeneas from the prison of his bed, and the people around him put their faith in Jesus based on what they saw in Aeneas transformed life.

Meanwhile, someone significant to the church in Joppa had recently died. Joppa was a seaport town, only about 12 miles away from Lydda, with the only natural harbor between Egypt and Akko (what is now Syria). This is where Jonah tried to escape God’s call to go to Ninevah, centuries before.

In Jerusalem a person had to be buried the day they died, but in the countryside people could wait up to three days before having to bury someone, so the body of Dorcas had been prepared for burial and laid out in an upper room. Peter was sent for, and he had to hurry to get there before the funeral.

After hearing about her love for the Lord and His people, and all her service, Peter, who had been an eye witness to the three times Jesus had raised someone from the dead, followed what he remembered the Lord had done in a similar instances.

Now, having literally been raised back to life, Dorcas was a powerful and convincing testimony to Jesus. Many people in the surrounding area put their faith in Jesus as a result. Peter stayed with the people and taught this growing church.

Peter’s sense of God’s reality and presence, of God’s power to break through, and of God’s compassion for every person was at an all-time high, and we can see it in the details:

  1. Without hesitation, Peter absolutely believed Aeneas could and would walk, even after 8 years of paralysis
  2. There seemed to be no question in his mind Jesus would raise Dorcas—he used her little girl name, Tabitha, just as Jesus had once spoken another little girl’s name and raised her up.
  3. Peter staid on in Joppa at a tanner’s house. This may not seem like that big a deal, but a tanner dealt with dead bodies, making him perpetually unclean. But, Peter didn’t seem to mind. That’s big. Hold onto that for next week.

Through these two healings, Peter was demonstrating some blockbuster truths about God’s rescue from the penalty, power, and (someday) even the presence of sin:

The first truth is a one-time act of being saved from the penalty of sin. One thing the Bible does a great job of making plain is what sin will do to a person. James, Jesus’ brother, put it like this:


One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:14-15 (NRSV)

Sin is awful. It’s insidious, it’s just evil. It’s like ink leaking from a pen that gets all over you before you even know it. It’s worse than Ebola, it’s a miasma, like smog, that all of us over the entire planet, breathe in and exhale.

We can’t get away from it.

It traumatizes us, scarring and maiming everywhere. No on is immune. And it starts deep within us, that’s the worst part. Whether we’re born with it, like those beautiful sweet skunk pups, or we’re infected with it when all those around us exhale onto our little baby bodies…either way. We’re sunk as skunks.

We need rescue! There’s no way to break out of this on our own.

Thank You, Thank You Jesus.

Incredibly, people who put their faith in Jesus, and even more importantly, receive Jesus’ healing, restoration, forgiveness, and Spirit, that penalty of death has now been covered. He took the penalty within Himself and destroyed it with His purity. He had to die to do it. But, death no more than sin could hold Him down. Now He offers the mind-boggling power of His purity to us. To you, and to me.

Dorcas became a living illustration of God’s power over death and His desire to give life to those who believe.

The second way God rescues us is in the present tense, from the power of sin.  Aeneas’ paralyzed body was like an illustration of what sin does in your life and mine—we are prisoners of it. Once we’re in its clutches, we’re enslaved people. Incredibly, when freed by Jesus, you and I are literally free. We are given the freedom, the power, to choose something else besides remaining in the grip sin had on us before.

The third way God rescues us has a future tense, when all creation will finally be made entirely rid of the presence of sin. The apostle John just couldn’t get over that beautiful truth. He loved to talk about it, it made his joy complete. He said we will one day see Jesus as He is because we will be just like Him, glorified, pure—sin‑free.

Here’s how Jesus put it,


“I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son or daughter is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.” 

Jesus, as quoted in John 8:34-36 (CEB)

[  Dorcas, Saint Tabitha in Eastern tradition | Wolfymoza [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Let Her Learn!


Before getting to the chart below, Rev. Bruce C. E. Fleming[1] establishes an important point that is clear in the Greek text, but not clear in many (most) English translations. Paul used gender neutral language in introducing his instructions and corrections for Timothy to carry out. In English, we have to be somewhat artful in getting that across. In Greek, using gender neutral third person was easier. Also, in Greek, as in English of yesteryear, the male gender was routinely used to indicate both male and female.

I learned in my own Greek class that whenever a group was mixed, male and female, only the male gender was used to describe the group. If you were looking at a group of, let’s say, six girls and one boy, you would use male gendered language to describe that group, if you were speaking Koine Greek.

Now, just think about that for a minute, as you review famous Bible phrases and passages.

In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul was talking about “certain persons” both male and female, in Timothy’s church who would need instruction and some correction.


…so that you may instruct certain people

Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.

1 Timothy 1:3, 6-7 (NRSV)

Later, in 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul wrote “if anyone,” whether male or female, desired to be a leader, that was a good thing.


whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.

1 Timothy 3:1 (NRSV)

The chart below is a very brief overview of Bruce Fleming’s material. (Though I hope you review his research for yourself. It is thorough and carefully appointed.)


Paul’s Sins (1 Timothy 1:13)Blasphemer Paul thought Christians were the blasphemers until he realized he had been blaspheming against Christ.Persecutor Paul thought he was serving God by eliminating the church, until Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting Him, the Lord.Violence Against the Church Paul thought he was justified in the imprisonment and execution of Christians until he realized he was killing God’s own sons and daughters.
Paul’s Own Correction
(Acts 9:3-9, 22:6-21, 26:12-18)
The faithfulness of Logos, the Word, Jesus, and the words of the Lord transformed and conformed Paul into the faithful servant he had become.
Paul’s InstructionTwo men had gone
beyond the pale in their blasphemy, and Paul
had already dealt severely with them in the hopes they would return to the Lord. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Timothy was to see to it all pray for peace from
outward persecution and
pray persecutors be saved and the church experience peace, as it did when Paul ceased persecuting the church.
Certain men: during worship, in Ephesus, were to cease teaching false doctrine and provoking disputes.
Certain women: were to cease overt displays of wealth and power, learn quietly, and cease running roughshod over men.

Not every woman was being addressed, nor every man. Just those whose behavior was causing injury to the church.

There are a number of reasons, for example, that a woman might have ornate hairstyles with pearls and gold conspicuously displayed. She, or her husband, may have been wealthy or held a prominent position in society. She may have been a vestal prostitute. She may have desired a certain level of deference from others. To Paul, a sister in Jesus’ family was to instead adorn herself with “good works,” that is to say, with the righteousness of Christ, and to dress her good character with humble and suitable clothing.

The center point of Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning the women needing correction was that they should learn.

As Bruce Fleming points out, the only actual imperative in the whole chapter is found in verse 11, “Let her learn!” This point is so important, Fleming created a chiastic model to illustrate it:


Text Box: Verses correcting wayward overseers:
[verse 2:8]         I (Paul) wish for men:
                                           to preach and pray in public worship
                                                    - with holy hands (not tainted by sin)
                                                    - not unholy (with anger and disputing)
[verse 2:9]           Likewise (I, Paul, wish for) women:
[2:9a, 10]                               a - to dress and profess for godliness
[2:9b]                                              b - not behaving improperly (outward dress)
[2:11, 12b]                                           c - Let them learn!
[2:12a]                                             b’- improper behavior further described
[2:13-15a]             (digression) - why gentle treatment
[2:15b]                                     a’- overseers (they) should behave properly
Bruce Fleming, “Think Again About Church Leaders

Paul wanted Timothy to do all possible to reinstate these women (or woman). The Greek verb used, “manthano” described scholarly studies, as the rabbis had. The women (or woman) who were dressing ostentatiously, who were more known for their wealth, position, class, influence and power rather than their humility, decency, and good deeds, were in need of instruction in the ways and words of Jesus.

Let her learn.

These women were going to need to humble themselves, however, for this season of learning. They would need to be true students, receiving in good faith all that was taught them, as they learned in “quietness” and “submission.”

[As a digression, in reading Rev. Fleming’s material, it occurred to me how hard this might be even today for someone who commands a certain authority or wealth or expertise of some kind—a person of prominence—to submit themselves to someone who might seem beneath them in some way.]

This sentence, then, being at the center of Paul’s instructions concerning some (offending) women leaders, influences what the rest of the verses around it are saying.Let her learn” is bookended, for instance, with quietness and submission. Here’s how Fleming suggests the Greek in verses 11-12 can be understood,


11 Let these women learn! –

in quietness and with all studiousness (in subjection to teacher and studies).

12 I am not permitting them to incorrectly teach (method and content) men but to be in quietness (while they are retraining).

Bruce Fleming, “Think Again About Church Leaders

You, like me, may have been wondering what happened to “authentein” in that paraphrase translation. Fleming offers an idea I have only just been learning about in my own Greek class. He suggests Paul was connecting “authentein,” the second verb in 1 Timothy 2:12, as a descriptor to the first verb, “didaskein,” which means “to teach.” In other words, Paul was not permitting a woman to exercise “authentein” type teaching on a man, which would be injurious.

Next week we’ll dive into how 1 Timothy 2:13-15 support Paul’s injunction to Timothy to teach the women so they may be fully equipped and mature to lead, as chapter 3 describes.


[1] Rev. Fleming has several graduate degrees, published a couple of books, and helped to found a number of churches. He’s married to Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming, who has been a seminary and college professor, and international speaker. Together they’ve created an online course called “Think Again,”  covering “The seven problem Bible passages on women and men in church, the family and the world. (Instructed by Bruce C. E. Fleming)”


[Image from page 67 of “Mary Baldwin Seminary Bluestocking 1922” (1922) | https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/ , Flickr, Public Domain]

Wine, Rich and Red


When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

Genesis 9:16

With God’s words of love and encouragement, commission and covenant, ringing in their ears, their hearts warmed, and their souls filled with a wordless joy, Noah and his family set about the business of living.

Considerable time transpired. A vineyard was planted, matured, and gave forth its abundance with rich fruit in its season, and casks of wine for the cool winters to come. It takes a vineyard from three to five years to begin bearing fruit. At long last, perhaps after another five years, Noah was able to harvest a crop large enough to extract the juice from the grapes. More time was given to allow the juices to ferment into wine. 

What else had the families been doing? Surely planks and supplies from the ark were converted into homes and workshops. They had to start from nothing, after all, to build up all the household goods they would need. If cloth, then they had to craft the spindles and looms first, if leather, then they had to fashion racks and awls, scrapers and stretchers, and knives. Somewhere they found piles of flint and agate to chip into tools. Somewhere they found flax, or other grasses, to weave into cloth and baskets. They dug for clay to mold into vessels, they salvaged wood to carve into utensils and implements.

Precious seeds, perhaps carefully harvested before the Great Flood, were now planted, one by one, and tenderly nurtured into seedlings, then garden plots, and finally a full harvest.

Perhaps they gathered together at regular intervals to sit by a fire and sing songs and tell stories, or remember together their ordeal, or the time before the ordeal. Surely they repeated to each other the words of the Lord, and memorialized them in some way.

“This was His covenant with us,” one of them might have begun, then recited a poem, a mnemonic to remember each part.

“I remember the Lord commissioned us with these words,” another might have said, as they drew their robes around themselves, against the cool night air. “God began and ended with fruitfulness and increase. See how the Lord has blessed us!”

These stories, these remembrances, would become the ancient foundation for the world’s myths and legends one day. Were they self-conscious about that? Do the redactors give us any sense Noah’s new humanity were intentional and mindful about establishing the cultures of earth?

Maybe it was on just such a night, with the families gathered together, the young ones playing with sticks, poking the fire, the older ones laughing and reminiscing, and Noah and his wife basking in the warmth of hearth and home.

“The wine, I think, is matured.”

Perhaps that’s how it began. Perhaps Noah rubbed his hands with anticipation, eager to see how his long years of patience and careful tending had turned out. His wife would have crafted beautiful goblets, engraved, rubbed, and burnished till they glowed. Perhaps she now brought them out, this time to be filled with rich red wine rather than the water they usually drank.

Each one would have received their goblet, the little ones furnished with small mugs, fit for their slight hands. Surely it would have been Noah to lift the clay stopper from its amphora, and dip the measuring ladle into its scented contents. For each cup he poured there would have been lips smacking and murmuring,

“Oh yes, this wine is fine indeed, father,” and “I can taste the sunlight and warm earth,” and “it has the scent of summer.”

“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine,” Noah might have replied, each time.

And so, sipping their wine, glowing from within from its warmth, warming themselves by the fire, telling stories, singing songs, the family must have felt as though life itself was, after all, quite beautiful.

The children would have grown drowsy in the glow of the hearth, the parents readying for bed, and so, each family would have drifted in twos and threes and fours, off to their nearby homes, just a few paces away. Perhaps Noah and his wife would have been left, themselves sleepy with wine and warmth, watching the fire burn softly into embers.


Where did it go wrong? How did Noah end up in his tent, alone, passed out in an inebriated stupor one fateful night? Where had his wife been? Was this the first time Noah had ever become so intoxicated? 

But this is where we will find him next. Whether for the first time, or whether Noah had been abusing alcohol for a while, he would now be lying naked, drunk, and presumably alone in his tent.


Image courtesy Pixabay

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 9, From Saul to Paul


In the meantime, Saul was relentlessly pursuing his campaign to destroy the church.

So, who was this guy, anyway? How did he get given the kind of permissions and letters of entry necessary to pull all this off?

City

First of all, Saul was a long, long way from home. If you pull out a map of ancient Bible times, you can see how far. His hometown was in a region called Cilicia, which we know of today as Turkey.


Map of the ancient near east | GNU Free Documentation License

The city of Saul’s birth and childhood, Tarsus, was a university town that evidently surpassed Athens and Alexandria for the quality of the education it offered.


The Disembarkation of Cleopatra at Tarsus | Claude Lorrain [Public domain]

  • Tarsus was a center of political power favored by Rome, so that some citizens were given the unusual privilege of being granted Roman citizenship.
  • Ideally located for trade and commerce, Tarsus had a bustling harbor and trade routes.
  • Tarsus was especially known for its production of cilicium, a trademark water-resistant cloth woven from locally grown black goat hair.

Citizenship

Saul’s family was wealthy and influential, one of the few Jewish families to have Tarsus citizenship and one of the few Tarsus families to have Roman citizenship, which Saul inherited by birth. It is thought Saul’s family grew wealthy from the manufacture of cilicium tents which were a favorite of caravans, nomads and armies all over Asia Minor and Syria.

Saul was born during a time when birth registration had only just been instituted by Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). In 4 A.D., a Roman citizen could register the birth of his child within thirty days, before a Roman official. This was a secondary safeguard, as in previous centuries the census would register all citizens. If Saul’s father did register him, then he would have received a wooden diptych with waxed surfaces on the inside which acted both as a birth certificate and a certificate of citizenship.

The wooden diptych was seven inches high and six inches wide, written on the waxed surfaces were the date of birth, the name of seven witnesses and the abbreviation q. p. f. c. r. e. ad k. (the letters c.r.e meant cieum romanam/num exscripsi/t) indicating the possession of Roman citizenship. The diptych could be used for life to prove citizenship and was written only in Latin.[1]

Confession

Saul’s family was of the tribe of Benjamin, and were known as Hebrew Jews, meaning they kept to the Old Testament ways, spoke Hebrew and worshiped in a Hebrew-speaking synagogue. Wherever they could, they resisted Hellenism —the taking on of Greek customs and language that many other Jewish families not living in Judea were adopting.

Saul was sent at a young age, probably between ten and twelve, to Gamaliel’s school of religion in Jerusalem. The son of a Pharisee, Saul would also become a zealous Pharisee and be very proud of what he had achieved.

Conversion

In spite of his religious upbringing and private religious education, in spite of lifelong Bible study, Saul was spiritually blind. Now on his way to Damascus with special permission from the Sanhedrin to arrest all Christians, Saul and his companions were flattened by a light from heaven so bright it was like the sun, accompanied by a thundering voice. God had arrested Saul.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Suddenly, all of the reasons Saul had for persecuting Christians were now being proven lies. Not only was he not honoring God, he was actively persecuting God.

Saul’s companions were speechless with shock. They hadn’t understood the voice speaking to Saul. But they saw their overbearing, zealous commander completely chastened. His physical eyes had been blinded; but now his spiritual eyes had finally been opened, and he saw more clearly than he had ever seen before. Saul asked the blinding light and thunder all around him what he should do? Jesus only told him the next step, go to Judas’ house on Straight Street.

Now the proud leader had to be led by the hand, humbled and helpless, so overcome he couldn’t eat or drink for three days.

Meanwhile, God was speaking to Ananias, whose name meant “The Lord is Gracious.”  He was a devout and respected Jewish leader who was also a believer in Jesus. Being in prayer, he was already prepared to hear God’s voice. God gave Ananias’ specific instructions to minister to Saul, the scourge of Christians, and Ananias responded to God with great reluctance and hesitancy. It’s understandable. Sometimes obeying God means taking risks. You and I often project into the future, and fear the consequences.

God was patient with Ananias, but there was no room for negotiation. God said: Go! And ultimately, Ananias went. You and I can learn from his reverent compliance:

  • Never underestimate the value of one person being brought to a saving faith. The only reason you and I know about Ananias at all, is on account of his willing response to God resulting in the conversion of this one man, Saul, who became the apostle Paul.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow what God has in mind, He always has things well in hand, He is working on both sides of the equation.

Change

Through Ananias’ wise service, Saul received the message of the gospel, experienced repentance and baptism, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. It was an immediate change. And this change was met with great astonishment. Right away, the new man, Paul, began to preach Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God, which amazed everyone and infuriated many others.


Baptism of Paul by Ananias | © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

Communion

Now, Peter had already stated the two qualifications for an apostle: he had to have spent three years being trained by Jesus personally, during His ministry before He was crucified, AND he had to be an eye-witness of Jesus’ resurrection. God would now authenticate Paul’s apostleship with both of these qualifications, in an unusual way, before Paul was introduced to the rest of the apostles. We actually find out from one of Paul’s later letters that after this event, Jesus called Paul away to spend three years in Arabia and Damascus with Jesus before seeing the apostles.

Confirmation

When Paul did go to Jerusalem, he thought the apostles would welcome him with open arms (not so sure why he thought that. It just goes to show how unselfaware we all can be). Instead, unsurprisingly, they were afraid of him, skeptical that he could change. Finally, Barnabas “The Encourager” took up Paul’s case, and brought him to the church leaders, Peter in particular, to be validated. Paul then stayed with Peter and James, Jesus’ brother, for about two weeks.

Consecration to God’s Service

Paul was a dyed-in-the-wool Hebrew of Hebrews, a trained rabbi, steeped in the scriptures. He loved his people, and he wanted the privilege of preaching to his own countrymen. But, Jesus revealed His purpose to Paul in a vision. Paul was to leave Jerusalem immediately. Jesus instead appointed him to be the apostle to the Gentiles.

Almost as if on cue, the believers in Jerusalem sent Paul back home to Tarsus where he would stay for another seven years, preaching in the surrounding area of Syria and Cilicia. Probably it was during this time that the Galatian churches were established.

There is no heart too hard for the Lord Jesus Christ to change

  • Because the Spirit of God within His people is resilient, persecution will in the end always work in God’s favor.
  • Because the Holy Spirit reveals God wherever He is called, those who seek with true hearts will always find God.
  • Because the Spirit of Christ is regenerative, the Spirit can change even the hardest heart where the seed of truth is planted.

[1] https://www.romae-vitam.com/roman-citizenship.html


Paul’s Conversion on the Way to Damascus | Caravaggio [Public domain]

Three Keys to 1 Timothy


So, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on just one verse of the Bible. Three weeks (so far) might seem like a crazy long time to sit and think about 12 Greek words (about 18 words, give or take, in English). Yet, so far, with this steady pace, I’ve learned the following:

  • The Greek word “authentein (found only once in the Bible, in this passage) was so rare people were not sure what it meant. For the longest time, translators thought it was some kind of exercise of authority. However, archaeological discoveries in the past fifty years have brought greater clarity: it means “autonomous use or possession of unrestricted force/power.” (see αὐθεντέω)
  • The Greek word “epitrepo,” often translated as“permit” or “suffer,” has also got a rather different flavor to it in many other contexts. A better reading of what Paul wrote would be, “I am not allowing,” with a more in-the-moment feeling to it, as a temporary measure.
  • Deep dive with Marg Mowzcko’s scholarship provided further insight into the word “authentein,” and a possible understanding as to why Paul would give this particular instruction to Timothy. I’ll give you Marg’s suggested reading of this verse, but I hope you go to her website and read through her work. It is truly comprehensive. (see 1 Timothy 2:12)

But I am not allowing a woman to teach (a heretical version of Genesis 2-3) nor to bully her husband (by denying him sex because of false notions of piety).

Marg Mowczko, AN INTERPRETATION OF 1 TIMOTHY 2:12 THAT JOINS THE DOTS OF 2:11-15

  • Better translation for 1 Timothy 2:12: Up to now, I’ve been searching for a better translation of this sentence. Here’s what I have so far: “And, I am not allowing a woman (or wife) to teach nor possess unrestricted force over a man (or husband), but to be in quiet disposition.”
  • Deep dive with Jeremiah Vance’s Chiastic Structure opened up a whole new way to study the Bible, and helped me to understand how Paul composed his entire letter to Timothy. (I am keeping with the idea that Paul wrote this letter, but honestly, that’s a sidebar for me. The contents of the letter are more important to me, since it’s part of the Bible, than who actually penned it.)

    Through Jeremiah’s work, I learned the whole point of 1 Timothy 2:12  is not the point of chapter 2. It is only supporting the actual point—which is that everyone who desires to be a teacher and leader in the church, an elder, desires a good thing. But, in order to be a teacher and leader, one must first be a student, and learn about Jesus, His words and His ways. An elder must be mature in knowledge and understanding, as well as be of good character, and so on. (see What Is the point of 1 Timothy 2:12?)

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Bruce Fleming. Rev. Fleming has several graduate degrees, published a couple of books, and helped to found a number of churches. He’s married to Dr. Joy Elasky Fleming, who has been a seminary and college professor, and international speaker. Together they’ve created an online course called “Think Again,”  covering “The seven problem Bible passages on women and men in church, the family and the world. (Instructed by Bruce C. E. Fleming)”

Bruce Fleming’s material is well worth perusing! I learned a lot just about this one verse, but also about the general thrust of 1 Timothy itself, and what Paul was saying in chapter 2, in particular (and this is just the tip of the iceberg of material available in Rev. and Dr. Fleming’s seven session course).

Fleming also talks about the structure of the letter itself, and the structure of chapter 2, specifically. One caution he brings up is the artificiality of the chapters and verses. We take those things in stride, they’re so familiar. But the truth is, in the original Greek text, there isn’t even punctuation let alone chapters and verses. The person who inserted these markers (for an interesting aside, here’s a wiki article that talks about the history of these divisions) based it on his own idea about what belonged with what. That was his interpretation of the scriptures.

Fleming, therefore, offers some keys to unlock the meaning of 1 Timothy, and these keys are based on the original Greek text, not necessarily the chapters we have today.

The following is just a brief summary of the material Rev. Bruce Fleming has put together on this subject.

KEY #1 has to do with the reason for 1 Timothy: to correct some of the leaders in the church who had gone astray. Timothy was to be sure these leaders would no longer teach false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3), to practice love (1 Timothy 1:5), and to have good character (1 Timothy 1:19).

KEY #2 highlights a particular phrase placed strategically three times throughout I Timothy, “Faithful is the word.” (in Greek: “pistos ho logos”). Very briefly, this phrase can be understood in two different ways, and Paul left it to the reader to understand which meaning he intended. The Greek phrase could mean “faithful is the Word” (Jesus) or it could mean “trustworthy is the saying” in which case, the phrase would be followed by a saying.

  1. 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul meant both meanings. Jesus had been faithful to Paul and had made Paul into a faithful servant. The saying Paul attached to the phrase underscores the first meaning.
  2. 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul primarily wanted Timothy to see “Faithful is the Word, Jesus.” The NRSV is the only version (I just briefly checked about a half dozen random translations) that hints at that.
  3. 1 Timothy 4:9 Again, Paul intended Timothy to read, “Faithful is the Word, Jesus.”

The overall intention is to understand that just as Jesus was able to turn Paul around, Jesus would enable Timothy, and conform and transform the wayward leaders Timothy was training and coaching.

KEY #3 Paul uses three of his own sins, or failings, to outline for Timothy the work he is to do with these errant leaders, and the work Jesus will be doing as well with them.

The first sin Paul talked about was blaspheming, later enjoining Timothy to deal with two blasphemers in his church.  

The second sin was persecution of the church, which Paul gave instructions about in the first half of 1 Timothy 2

The third sin had to do with violent injury to the church, which is why Paul used such a strong word—“authentein”—to describe what he wanted Timothy to deal with, in the second half of 1 Timothy 2.


I hope you’re intrigued! Next week I’ll show you how Rev. Fleming organized the material in 1 Timothy, particularly the second chapter, in order to really see how these three keys are at work. It is not only fascinating, but very convincing.


[Door and keys | Zakaria370z [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] and Pixabay]

The Sign of the Rainbow


In biblical language, a covenant was a promise made by God, given to a person or group of people, which God often accompanied with a sign. 

It can be conditional: “If you obey My commandments, I will bless you; if you disobey my commandments, I will punish you.”

It can be unconditional: such as the promise God delivered to Noah’s clan, “I will never again destroy all life with a flood.” No strings attached.

But really, even conditional covenants are based on God’s grace. There is honestly nothing to obligate God to enter into a pact with humankind. As supreme and ultimate Creator and Sovereign Lord, God may do as He sees fit with His creation. Every living thing, every -thing- owes God its very existence. The Lord God therefore has authority over every person, all people are dependent on God and morally obligated to obey God without thought of reward.

Truly.

We need to get our heads wrapped around that.

Yet, God instead chooses out of His love and goodness to make Himself vulnerable to covenant with people. These covenants are solely for the benefit of humankind, and continue to be active until they have been fulfilled, until God’s purpose for them has been accomplished.

All of God’s covenants have been cut in blood. After Noah’s sacrifice, God blessed and commissioned Noah and his family, then established His covenant with all living things, which is where we pick up the story today.

After over a year of silence, of simply sitting and waiting, with no idea when this period of waiting would end, or even if it would end, with their resources shriveling up before their eyes, and the relentless hard work of caring for the entire world’s treasure of life forms wearying them a little more every day, Noah and his family must have felt overwhelmed by God’s voice. From silence to a wall of sound, from no words to a whole stream of words: blessing, instruction, promises, commissioning. And now, God would speak with them about a lasting covenant.  

This covenant actually begins clear back in Genesis, chapter 6, when God said, “I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” The first provision of God’s unconditional covenant was to preserve a remnant from His judgment. 

Now God gave reassurance that whenever the clouds came, or whenever it rained, it would not be like it had been for the Great Flood. God’s promise of protection would now be there as a reminder. A rainbow is a particularly apt sign of God’s grace. As I’m sure you know, rainbows are produced by the very elements that threaten—clouds and rain.

God already knew “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” God knew eventually Noah and his family would involve themselves in doing wrong, because the source of their motivations (and ours, too) was their hearts. There is nothing you and I can do, either, about this situation, not on our own steam. We are never going to be able to kick the sin problem on our own, not by sheer dint of will, not by strength of character, not by becoming an ascetic hermit, not by spending every moment doing good deeds.

All our best efforts to correct sin will only make it worse, because now we will be locked into the great deception that it can be done. We’ll end up down the road of denial, or rationalizations, or legalism, or antinomianism, or you name it.  But, God has a solution to the sin problem, His covenant of grace through Jesus.

The word “testament” in Greek means covenant: Old Covenant, New Covenant. God’s conditional covenant of law, the “old testament,” was fulfilled in the Messiah, Whose work on the cross, and His resurrection, inaugurated an unconditional covenant, the “new testament,” of grace. If the promises attached to the coming and work of the Messiah had been conditional, you and I could never have lived up to them. From Adam on down, people have been covenant breakers.

So, God established His new covenant purely on grace, the precursor of which is this rainbow covenant. That’s the amazing spiritual component to the sign of the rainbow. One day, the very elements that threaten storm and destruction, God’s cleansing power (often called God’s “wrath”), will become what transforms us into the stuff of life by the mighty work of the Holy Spirit, through the eternal work of Jesus, made possible by the gracious work of the Father.  

Because, filled with the Spirit, our faith anchored in Jesus, those storms become the proving ground of the inner transformation already at work.

The rainbow ends up being the longest section of this covenant, it’s where God put His emphasis.  Noah and his family had endured the loss of everything they knew. They had endured the hardship of living in the ark for over a year, wondering what would happen next. Would they have to live in there forever? Had God forgotten them? 

Now, God gave them every reassurance of His love and careful protection, and He gave something beautiful to sign and seal His promise. In the same way, Jesus’ sacrifice and the pouring out of His blood establishes the covenant of grace you and I can enter into, and the rainbow sign is the seal of His Holy Spirit Who enlivens and empowers us.

I look forward to that and let God’s beautiful sign give me comfort and encouragement.

God knows life is filled with tragedy. Sin is ugly, but God is the God of beauty, and in Him you and I can overcome these things.

At the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, God is sitting on His throne and all around is a perfect rainbow, not half an arc, but a whole circle, heaven and earth finally made one.


After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 

At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 

And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald.

Revelation 4:1-3

europa rainbow | Robert Couse-Baker, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is one of the foundational principles of living by faith,


“Always be joyful, pray continuously, in all things give thanks, for this is God’s desire for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Years ago, I read a fascinating article called “How the New Science of Thank You Can Change Your Life.”  Apparently, scientific research has now been able to prove what God has been teaching people since the days of Cain: practicing gratitude can actually make us healthier – literally!!

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, was able to prove, in his lab, that being thankful can change us for the better. He took three groups of volunteers and assigned each group to focus on one thing:


Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
All that’s wrong in life All that makes life better Ordinary life

1) The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong, or irritated them

2) The second group homed in on situations they felt made their lives better

3) The third group was asked to think about ordinary life events


After the experiment was over, the people who focused on gratitude discovered they were happier – in fact, the difference was so noticeable that others recognized it too.

  1. We’ll sleep better
  2. We’ll be more enthusiastic, more interested, more determined
  3. We’ll be less materialistic, less apt to connect life satisfaction with material things
  4. We’ll be more energetic and actually exercise more
  5. We’ll feel more optimistic and joyful, better resilience during tough times
  6. We’re more likely to share what we have with others
  7. We’ll have fewer headaches and colds and a stronger immune system
  8. We’ll be less envious, less anxious, less prone to feel the blues and less stressed
  9. We’ll be more alert and active
  10. We’ll be more likely to help other people
  11. We’ll actually live longer
  12. We’ll have closer family ties
  13. We’ll have a deeper spirituality
  14. And if we’re willing to stick to it, being thankful, practicing gratitude, we’ll realize we’re making progress toward our life goals.

Paul was no stranger to pain and hardship. He knew what it was to be hated, persecuted, beaten and left for dead. He did time in prison, dealt with chronic physical disability, and extended emotional distress. Sometimes, Paul was left holding the bag, when all his friends and fellow workers simply abandoned him.

There was a lot about his life that you and I might find hard to be grateful for.

So how could Paul even write this sentence to the believers in Thessalonica? How in the world are we to remain joyful and give thanks when the person closest to us has betrayed us? When we’re facing an incurable disease, or live with constant pain? When our hopes or dreams are crushed? When someone close to us is dying? When we lose something, or someone, and we wonder how we’re going to make it, now? When we are facing ruin, or disaster, or calamity?

Let’s look at what Paul wrote, again,

Always be joyful pray continuously in all things give thanks

But, you might be thinking, but sometimes it feels like God isn’t answering my prayers. Why didn’t God prevent this awful thing that’s happening? I asked Him to, I saw it coming. Why doesn’t God provide for my bills?  I work hard, I’m doing the best I can, but God seems not to care. Why won’t God give me a friend when I am so lonely?  I reach out, I’m nice to everyone. But here I am, still alone. Why hasn’t God healed me, or at least given me some relief from my suffering?

I’ve been on my knees, pleading with God in tears. I’m at my most vulnerable, and I feel like nothing’s happening. So what’s the point of praying continuously?

Here’s the point. When you have Jesus’ Spirit within you, then He is there, with you.

The Lord is here.

He is with us. His comfort, His strength, His compassion, His encouragement. When you and I pray continuously, we are remembering we’re not alone, and we can survive even this because God is with us, and in us. He has wisdom for this moment, He has courage and wherewithal for what we are experiencing.

Sometimes you and I are not asking the right questions and we’re not looking for the answers that God is giving. Sometimes the answer is something we don’t want to hear. Part of the reason is that you and I might be looking at prayer in a distorted way. We’re using the consumer mentality which has a list of things we’ve decided are good and we should have.

When God doesn’t deliver, it feels like rejection, doesn’t it.

Yet, God has our ultimate good, our eternal good, in mind, as well as God’s ultimate plan for all creation. Every prayer is weighed against this good.

So what can we pray, then? In a spirit of joyfulness, in a spirit of thanksgiving, when everything seems to be going up in flames? Can we cry? Is it okay to be sad, or angry, or afraid?


Thank You God by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Thank You for being with me.

Thank You for Your Spirit, Who gives me strength for this moment

For giving me wisdom

For giving me love

Thank You for giving my life meaning

And for giving all life meaning

Thank You for giving me the capacity to feel

For the capacity for sorrow,  I understand worth

For anger, I understand justice

For fear, I understand danger

Thank You that I experience all this with You.

Thank You for getting me through this

Thank you for the signs of Your love everywhere

For beauty in hidden places, and in bleak places

Thank you for being You

And for making me me.


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