"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: July 2010

Forebear & Forgive!

“… bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:13)

Having enumerated five virtues which we are commanded to “put on” (v.12, see this post), the Apostle now (using two participles) reveals just how we are to do so.[1]

The first is “bearing with.”  The present tense marks this as a constant necessity in relationships.  The middle voice pictures the subject taking action on himself so as to bear up with others.  The word means to endure, to bear with, or to put up with difficult people or circumstances, the former being the focus here.[2] This action is to be taken reciprocally upon “one another.”

A second participle is now added (“and”): “forgiving.”  Again the present tense pictures this as a repeated, regular feature necessary to make relationships within the body of Christ work.  The middle voice again pictures the subject acting upon himself to extend forgiveness to the others in his life.  The word means to give freely or graciously as a favor and then by extension to forgive or pardon.[3] This action is to be taken upon “each other,” the reflexive pronoun being used for the reciprocal pronoun.[4] The reflexive pronoun pictures action “of each one toward all, –yea even to themselves included, Christians being members of one another.”[5]

These two actions, then, are the way we demonstrate “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v.12) toward one another.  The object of forbearing and forgiveness are not the same, however.  Indeed, they may be extended to one and the same person, but that within the person which requires forbearance and forgiveness are not the same.  As someone has well said, we forebear silliness, we forgive sin.

This must be the response of “whoever has a complaint against anyone.”  The use of the conditional particle and the subjunctive mood of the verb (“has”) forms a condition which pictures the condition as uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely (e.g. “if one has a complaint,” esv).  The unfortunate fact is that wherever followers of Christ live together complaints arise one against another.  Paul is ever the realist and here outlines the prescription for such occasions.  The issue is individual and personal—both pronouns being singular.  Indeed, the Greek text pictures the reality by setting the two indefinite pronouns in careful juxtaposition over against one another (lit. “someone to someone”).  In such a pair someone “has”—present tense—“a complaint” against the other.  The noun is used only here in the New Testament.  The verb from which this noun arises refers most commonly to errors of omission, meaning “to find fault with.”  Thus the noun is probably pointing to “a debt, which needs to be remitted.”[6] Far too often in the body of Christ someone concludes that some brother or sister “owes” them something for a wrong done.  And far too often they are out to extract payment from that person.  In such cases, the Apostle says, forbearance and forgiveness from “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v.12) are the order of the day.

And this cannot be merely granted in some grudging way.  Both the “ground and motivation”[7] of such grace are set forth when Paul adds: “just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (cf. Eph. 4:32).  The comparative conjunction (“just as”) provides the hinge point of similarity between our forgiveness and that of Christ.   The standard is “the Lord forgave you.”  He “forgave” is an aorist tense simply noting the doing of the deed.  The middle voice pictures Christ acting upon Himself to give Himself up in our place, taking our sin, exhausting the judgment of the Father against our rebellion.  Paul repeats the same verb used earlier in the verse, here however describing the forgiveness of the Lord toward us (cf. 2:13).  This He did for “you,” a plural pronoun acknowledging Christ’s death for each one of us, but picturing us as a redeemed company.

This beautiful picture of redeeming grace in view, the Apostle now says, literally, “so also you.”  The adverb (“so”) correlates this statement regarding us to the preceding statement regarding Christ.  What is true of Christ toward us should “also” be true of us toward one another.  The pronoun is again plural (“you”), laying the responsibility upon us each one, but picturing us as a whole body practicing such grace among ourselves.

Obviously none of us can give ourselves with the same redemptive effect as Christ gave Himself.  His work is done “once for all” (Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27; 9:12; 10:10).  He alone is the sin-bearer.  Yet precisely because of what He has done for us we can (and must) in like fashion extend grace to one another, not holding our offenses against one another.  Reflection on the relationship of Paul’s instruction here and Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:23-35 will prove instructive.

[1] NET Bible; Rienecker, 580.

[2] BAGD, 65.

[3] Ibid., 876.

[4] Ibid., 212.

[5] Rienecker, 580.

[6] Lightfoot, 220; cf. Little Kittel, 580.

[7] O’Brien, 202.

“Seeing” Galatians

Here’s a chart that I developed for the New Testament book of Galatians.  After a great deal of analysis (taking the pieces apart) it is always helpful to work hard at synthesis (putting the pieces back together).  That is the pathway we must walk in constructing such book charts.  This kind of work always helps me “see” a book, its content and its movements.

Click here to see my chart of Galatians: galatians.chart

Good News

Christ lived to provide the righteousness required of me by God.

  • “I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29)
  • “I have obeyed my Father’s commands.” (John 15:10)
  • “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
  • “… a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 2:16)
  • “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us … our righteousness.” (1 Cor. 1:30)

Christ died to pay the penalty for my unrighteousness before God.

  • “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. ” (1 Pet. 3:18)
  • “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6-8)
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24)

Christ lives again to produce in and through me the righteous life God requires of me.

  • “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
  • “Christ … is your life.” (Col. 3:4)
  • “… through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:2-4)

Impact or Intimacy?

Which should we, as followers of Jesus Christ, aim for more: impact or intimacy?  Should we strive to be used of God?  Or should we strive to know God and to be known by Him?  It is not an entirely either/or proposition, I admit.  But too often it is an unexamined question.  Perhaps we’ve never thought about it.  Or maybe we’ve assumed an answer.  But may I drag it out into the open for a few minutes?

If we make impact our aim, what happens?  Who knows, maybe we’ll attain it!  But then how would we know that we have?  How should one measure impact for God?  Numbers?  Size?  Budget?  Name recognition?  Influence?  Position?

It is a dangerous path to trod, is it not?  It is filled with plenteous landmines planted by the world, the flesh and the devil.

But even if we miss the landmines, what does aiming for impact get you?  In proportion to the purposes laid upon him and within his own lifetime would Abraham have been considered successful?  Probably not.  How about Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel or most of the rest of the prophets?  Not likely.

What is it the writer to the Hebrews said regarding the greatest people of faith?  “… none of them received [in their lifetimes] what had been promised.” (Heb. 11:39b)

Here’s at least part of the struggle – Impact is a highly pragmatic thing, which is fraught with opportunities for compromise.  Intimacy, on the other hand, is a personal, relational matter in which all that matters is the relationship to the other person (in this case, God).

Pursue impact and you’ll never rise above a performance-based intimacy, even if outwardly successful.  If you produce you will matter – or at least you’ll think you do.  But this is anti-grace; it is pro-works.  It is self-righteous.  It is thus anti-gospel.  Pursue impact and chances are you’ll miss out on intimacy.  But pursue intimacy and you may just make an impact.  Any such impact may not be immediately detectable.  In fact you may not even be able to take an accurate impact-reading before you’ve left this life.  But if you do make an impact by pursuing intimacy, it will be God’s doing.  If you do, it will be by grace.  If you do, it will be to God’s honor and glory, not your own.

But there is a certain danger in both paths, isn’t there?  The danger of pursuing impact is in the pragmatics.  I will do whatever it takes to produce – perhaps even things that will diminish my intimacy with God (not to mention my intimacy with the others He has put in my life).  The danger in pursuing intimacy is in the subjectivity of it.  When am I authentically intimate with the Almighty?  When is He genuinely intimate with me?  Many along this path fall victim to false voices, ideas and promptings.

Characteristically, Jesus made the matter of intimacy simple and clear.  He declared that He is intimate with the one who is obedient to His Word!  “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)

All of this reminds me of Paul’s great concern for the Christians of Corinth: “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3, nasb)  I think often of that last phrase – “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”  That sounds like a life of intimacy.

I want desperately to be used of God.  I want—even more desperately—to walk closely with Him, even if there is no apparent outward impact from my doing so.  For I believe that any impact made while not walking intimately with Him is negative impact—no matter how spiritual it may appear on the surface.  And I am equally convinced that a life of true intimacy with Christ will never be without radical and lasting impact—regardless of what the temporal, time-laden readings may say.

Put On!

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience …” (Colossians 3:12)

From this fount of grace (“as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,” see the previous post) the believer is to “put on” five graces.  These five stand in contrast to the socially destructive vices of verse 8 and mark those qualities which make actual the unity in the midst of diversity that characterizes the body of Christ (v.11).

The first is “a heart of compassion.” The first word, when used literally, refers to one’s “bowels” or the inward parts located in the belly (Acts 1:18).  Metaphorically, however, it referred to the seat of one’s deepest emotions and for that reason is often rendered in English as “heart.”  Paul uses the word in eight of its eleven New Testament appearances.  Interestingly, four of those are in his correspondence with those in Colossae (Col. 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20). The second word (“of compassion”) is described as “a motivating emotion” such as pity, compassion, mercy, etc.[1] Moving out from this inward disposition the other graces are enumerated.

Next is “kindness.” The word is used only by Paul in the New Testament.  It refers to goodness, kindness and generosity, either of man (2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:12) or of God (Rom. 2:4; 11:22; Eph. 2:7).[2] Naturally man has no such “kindness” in himself (Rom. 3:12).  It can only describe him as God produces this “kindness” in him (Gal. 5:22).

After this comes “humility.” Paul uses the word five times, three of which appear here in Colossians (2:18, 23; 3:12).  The word is generally used in a positive sense, as it is here, to describe “a quality of voluntary submission and unselfishness humility, self-effacement.”  But, again interestingly, in both Colossians 2:18 and 23 it was clearly used in a pejorative sense, meaning “a misdirected submission in cultic behavior self-abasement, (false) humility, self-mortification.”[3] In those cases it described the misguided practices taught by the false teachers at work in Colossae.  But clearly in this case Paul has in view the possibility of a right, godly, Spirit-produced practice of humility.

The next grace to be “put on” is “gentleness.” It points to a humble and gentle attitude which bears up under offense with patient submissiveness and without a move toward revenge.[4] Such “gentleness” is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in an individual’s life (Gal. 5:23).  Paul uses it in regard to confrontation or discipline (2 Cor. 4:21; 10:1; Gal. 6:1) or in general instructions about avoiding difficulties in relationships (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; Titus 3:2).  It is usually set as the opposite of harsh, divisive, defiant, brusque attitudes and actions.  It speaks of humility, courtesy, considerateness and meekness, in the sense not of weakness, but of power under control.[5]

Finally, there is “patience.” The word is used by Paul in ten of its fourteen New Testament appearances.  It is often used of human patience (2 Cor. 6:6; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 3:10; 4:2), but also of God’s (Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Tim. 1:16).  Such patience is produced in us only by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  The word generally refers to a longsuffering endurance in the face of indignities and injuries by others.

This grace for living is only possible because God’s grace first lives in us.  From “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) made actual within us by His electing grace (“chosen by God”), His justifying grace (“holy”), and His benevolent grace (“dearly loved”) we are able then to extend outward toward others the grace of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

In short: because God has put us “in Christ” we are able to “put on” His character!

[1] Friberg, ?

[2] BAGD, 886.

[3] Friberg, 375.

[4] Rienecker, 485.

[5] BAGD, 699.

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