Tuesday, June 23, 2009

God provided

by John D Ramsey
I drove past a church sign on my way to work this morning. It read, “GOD WILL PROVIDE — GENESIS 22:13.” I don’t like church signs because they say so little while inviting the reader to infer so much. I inferred from this sign that its intent abused the passage of Scripture it offered as a proof text. Now certainly I believe that God provides. James 1:17 says, “Every good portion and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of the lights, of whom there is no alteration or shaded circuit.” (AB)
All that I have is provided by God. I would not dispute that God provides. Nevertheless, to attest that God will provide seems presumptuous. What will God provide? I wondered to myself. Had the sign read, “GOD PROVIDES,” it probably would not have struck me as dubious. To say that God provides implies God gives me what I need. To say that God will provide, implies that somehow, what I lack, God will remunerate to me. Can I determine what God will provide?
Having received a magnanimous gift from the Philippians, Paul blessed them saying, “And my God will fill all your need, according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (AB) Likewise Jesus said, “Your father knows of what you have need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8 (AB)
Had the sign read, “GOD PROVIDES WHAT YOU NEED,” I would not have reacted with displeasure. Because the proclamation was so open-ended, it brought Hosea’s prophecy to mind, specifically the attitude of the people, who declared,
And we shall know,
and shall pursue to know the LORD.
As dawn readied,
we shall find him;
and he shall come to us
as rain early and late to the earth.
Hosea 6:3 (AB)
Of course, Hosea prophesied and Israel endured God’s judgment rather than the blessing they expected Him to provide. Israel believed that God was predicable. They had believed that even though God was harsh sometimes, He would eventually cool off and give them what they wanted.
What disturbed me most about the sign was the Scripture reference, Genesis 22:13. When one contemplates the passage one realizes that God provided, but to use this passage as a proof that God provides, without saying what God provided to Abraham and Isaac, totally misses the glory of the passage.
God provided a sacrifice. Abraham took Isaac, his son, to the top of the mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. God saw Abraham’s faith and provided instead a ram as a substitution for Isaac. The ram, offered in Isaac’s place, becomes a type of the Christ who presented his own blood in atonement for the sins of the whole world.
In both cases, God intervened to save the ones condemned to die. If I were asked to assemble a church sign using Genesis 22:13 as the proof text, I would have it say,
Genesis 22:13 & 1 John 4:10

Sunday, June 21, 2009


by John D Ramsey

When Christians contemplate sin we tend to conjure lists of actions such as the seven deadly or the Ten Commandments. Likewise when we think of righteousness we tend to applaud ourselves for refraining from which ever of the seven deadly or Ten Commandments that we have not yet violated. We think we gain or lose God’s favor based upon what we do or do not do.

The Galatians were confronted by men teaching this, and Paul called it a different gospel and a distortion of the gospel. Fast forward nearly two millennia, and the distortion is pervasive. We think that sin is a list of don’t-do-this and righteousness is a list of do-do this.

I recently had to explain to Claire to be cautious when listening to a do-do preacher. When someone asserts that the Christian life can be summarized by a list of do-do or don’t-do, then they are preaching another gospel – even if their list sounds good.

If sin is not a list of don’t-do-this, what is it? It is hamartia. If fact, the English word hamartia is a direct transliteration from the Greek. Moreover, the word “hamartia” still carries the original intent of the word whereas the meaning of the word “sin” has become distorted.

Hamartia is a flaw. In theater, hamartia, is the tragic flaw that undermines the protagonist. Othello’s flaw was not that he murdered his wife, Desdemona. Othello’s flaw is that he lacked the same faith in Desdemona that he also required from her. Hamartia is a condition, not an action. When Othello declares, “My life upon her faith [faithfulness]!” the audience should infer, her life upon his faith [trust].

What Christians tend to call sin is rather the consequences of hamartia, or what Paul calls the fruit of hamartia in Romans 6:21. Behavioral modification may successfully reform the expression of hamartia without healing the underlying cause. When Christians whitewash their lifestyles, the world can smell the hypocrisy. Jesus told the Pharisees, who emphasized external observances, “You are like tombs being whitewashed, one which outside indeed appear beautiful, but inside are full of bones of the dead and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27 (AB) Is it ever surprising when a glitzy TV preacher or self-righteous politician is found guilty of hypocrisy?

False religions and false gospels, try to reform the body by declaring rules such as, “touch not, taste not, handle not.” In Colossians 2, Paul tells us that these things seem wise, but do nothing to reform the flesh. The human condition is flawed. Paul says of the first man, Adam, “By the disobedience of the one man, many were established as sinners.” Romans 5:19 (AB) Our bad actions do not make us flawed, rather our bad actions flow from our flawed condition. Consequently, changing behavior cannot make us whole again.

Our best behavioral modification techniques are only fig leaves loosely bound together in such a way as to disguise our shame. In fact, many of the actions Christians consider shameful, are manufactured from rules they feel willing or at least able to keep. The false standards of righteousness are established to please men, but they do not impress God.

Paul began as a Pharisee. He was blameless according to all the external observations of the law. Even as an infant, he was circumcised on the eighth day, according to the law. In Philippians 3, Paul says that all his righteousness, he considers to be excrement. The righteousness that we can obtain by behavioral modification cannot alleviate our hamartia. In fact, the hope that by effort we can reform ourselves may be the most tragic flaw of all.

Paul told the Galatians, who had put their hope in the Law, that they were “rendered useless from the Christ” and that they “fell from favor [grace].” Galatians 5:4 (AB) There is nothing we can do to remediate our hamartia. Trying to is hopeless and finds disfavor from God.

The consequences of our hamartia is separation from God. It is death. Yet Hebrews 9 tells us that we can receive an eternal inheritance by the death of the Christ. Christ was offered once as a sacrifice for all our hamartia. By his death, we can inherit his life through the resurrection of the dead.

True righteousness is not a set of actions. It is a condition. The condition of righteousness is having received God’s favor. Paul longed for the righteousness that is “through belief of Christ, the righteousness of God unto the belief; to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformable to his death; if by any means I should arrive at the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:9-11 (AB)

We cannot make ourselves whole again. But we can receive the wholeness that comes through Christ. This is nothing we can earn; rather, it comes only by faith to the favor that God has displayed toward us.

The result of Christ’s life and righteousness being attributed to us, is our sanctification. We grow to become more like him. The fruit of our hamartia becomes less appealing and more appalling. We don’t learn to live by rules, we begin to live through the Spirit.

When a preacher teaches that as a Christian you must do this or do that. Remember that Paul considered such do-do to be excrement. Christ’s righteousness in us will not even look the same as the do-do lists we create. It won't look the same, and it won't smell the same. In fact, through faith we become the aroma of Christ to the world despite our human weaknesses (2 Corinthians 2:12-17). Remember human righteousness is like whitewashed tombs. It looks good, but smells bad. Christ’s life through us is freedom; however, His freedom does not gratify the hamartia that still resides within our mortal bodies.

As we grow in Christ, then our mortal lives begin to reflect the reality of His righteousness. Just as hamartia results in behavioral choices; so Christ’s life in us will alter our lifestyles. Yet even so, this is Christ’s work through us, and not our own.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Simplicity of fellowship

by John D Ramsey

I tried to call Dad a few times yesterday from the office, but he did not answer. When I finally reached him in the evening, he recounted his busy day. In addition to yard work, Dad drove Ezra, his Amish neighbor, to the auction where Ezra sells his tomatoes. Ezra has hundreds of 8-foot tall tomato plants in the greenhouse behind his home. Dad has been integral to this enterprise from the beginning. Earlier this year, Dad removed the backseat from his van and drove Ezra to pick up the tomato sets. It did not surprise me that Dad did not answer the telephone. I imagined that he was either doing yard work, or driving Ezra someplace.

Ezra does much to help Dad around the yard. It would be easy to describe their relationship as an arrangement, but that would not be fair. On Dad’s birthday, Ezra, with his wife and baby, brought Dad his dinner. In brief, Dad and Ezra do what is within their abilities to supply each other’s needs. Neither would presume to take advantage of the other. Their relationship displays the simplicity of Christian fellowship. Ezra is a young Amish man; Dad is an elderly Baptist preacher. Regardless of their differences they experience the fellowship of equality.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Hebrews 3 in my Apostolic Bible. The writer implores us to “contemplate the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgment offering, Christ Jesus.” Most English translations use the word “confession” instead of “acknowledgment offering” and this provoked my curiosity. The first occurrence of the phrase “acknowledgment offering” occurs in Leviticus 22:18. In other English version of Scripture this is often translated “votive,” meaning an offering presented as fulfillment of a vow.

Associating Hebrews 3:1 with Leviticus 22:18 was like peering out into the ocean at night. I knew I was looking at something grand, but I could not make it out. I searched in the lexical concordance for other occurrences of the Greek word translated “acknowledgment offering.” In all Old Testament instances the Apostolic Bible uses “acknowledgment offering.” In a couple instances in the New Testament, the translator instead translated the word to read “confession.” This made me more curious, so I emailed him. He immediately responded saying that he did not remember his specific reasoning, but said he would add it to his list of things to study for his next edition. Yesterday, he replied again saying, “I just went and changed every ‘confession’ to ‘acknowledgment offering.’ Thanks!”

Now the meaning of Scripture does not hinge upon what a translator thinks, but this confirmation encouraged me. I did not need a secret decoder ring to grasp the meaning of the word, nor was there anything contextual that I was missing that would favor one translation above another.

In my research of “acknowledgment offering,” Paul’s use of the word in 2 Corinthians 9:13 surprised me. Speaking of the gift that the Corinthians were setting aside for the saints in Jerusalem, he says,

For the service of this ministration, not only is filling up in addition the deficiencies of the holy ones [saints], but also abounding through many thanksgivings to God; through the proof of this service glorifying God upon the submission of your acknowledgment offering to the good news [gospel] of the Christ, and simplicity of the fellowship to them and to all.

The Corinthians’ gift was given of their free will. It was in response to what they had purposed (vowed) to do (2 Corinthians 9:7). Their gift was a “submission of their acknowledgment offering,” which glorified God and resulted in a simplicity of fellowship among the believers in Jerusalem and beyond. The fellowship of the offering extended to all givers and receivers.

The word “submission” here is used a little differently than elsewhere in the New Testament. However, from its usage we can determine that it is a strong word. In 1 Timothy Paul uses it in the prepositional phrase “in submission.” In Galatians 2:5, Paul says that he would not submit to false brethren. The connotation of the word submission in the context of 2 Corinthians 9 is obeisance. In other words, this is not like clicking a “Submit” button. Rather, the submission of the acknowledgment offering was an act of worship.

Elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 8:14, Paul explained that the purpose of the gift was to establish equality. The Corinthians’ abundance supplied the Jerusalem saints’ deficiency, and the abundance of the Jerusalem saints’ also supplied the Corinthians’ deficiency. The Corinthians’ part of the equation was a monetary contribution. The Jerusalem saints’ portion was “their supplication for [the Corinthians] longing after [them] through the exceeding favor of God unto [them].”

The gift results in thanksgiving to God and prayers for the blessing of God. God is integral to the acknowledgment offering. God’s graciousness is the motivation for the gift. The giver is not superior to the receiver; rather, the gift is an confirmation of the equality among believers. In 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul asks, “What do you have which you have not received?”

Is an acknowledgment offering always a monetary gift? It need not be; the distance between Corinth and Jerusalem required that the gift take the form of currency. Likewise, in the Old Testament celebration of the tithe, someone could sell his produce for silver, and carry his silver to the Tabernacle or Temple and then buy “whatever [his] soul should desire, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for liquor, or for anything of which [his] soul should desire.” (Deuteronomy 14:26 AB) In the tithe, the giver both consumed and shared his gift in celebration of how God had prospered him.

Likewise, the simplicity of fellowship to which Paul was encouraging the Corinthians was the fellowship of supplying the needs of other believers in celebration of the inexpressible gift of God. Our acknowledgment offerings need not take a specific form; however, they will express themselves through our interaction with fellow believers.

God not only participates in the gift, it is His gift we give. Hebrews 3:1 explains that Jesus Christ is the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgment offering. In other words, Jesus Christ is both the originator and the intermediary of our acknowledgment offering. He has given his life as our redemption. He has supplied each a measure of faith by which he builds the body of Christ. What one lacks another supplies as an acknowledgment of the grace of God.

The result is the simplicity of fellowship wherein we all glorify God in thanksgiving and grow in love each other.

Sometimes I wonder whether modern Christianity understands simplicity of fellowship. We divide each Sunday morning according to the false doctrines which each sect treasures above Christ. We institutionalize our faith and manage it through hierarchies that remove Christ as the chief priest and replace Him with men and their self-propagating business practices.

Nevertheless, the simplicity of fellowship begins with the Gift that God has already given, and it continues with our acknowledgment offerings offered to Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ that meet the needs of others. These gifts may be material, even monetary. They may be simply providing what another needs.

The simplicity of fellowship transcends our differences and establishes equality. The differences between believers in Corinth and believers in Jerusalem must have been extreme. However, because Jesus Christ is the apostle and high priest of our acknowledgment offerings these differences can dissolve into the simplicity of the fellowship of knowing Christ.

Gratitude be to God over his inexpressible gift.
1 Corinthians 9:15 (AB)

Saturday, June 6, 2009


by John D Ramsey

The other day in the hardware store Gabby spotted the prize – a pink Red Rider BB gun. It was as if Daisy had manufactured the gun just for her. I did not buy it that day. The BB gun would have sat in its box until the weekend and the little girl would have tortured her mother with incessant questioning, “Can I shoot now? When can I shoot, Mom?”

Wednesday of this last week, Lisa bought Claire and Gabby pink camouflage boonies. We are going to be outside this weekend in public places, so the girls need hats and we need an easy way to keep them spotted in a crowd. The pink hats reminded me of the pink Red Rider, and so I picked it up on my way home from work Friday night.

Gabby, sitting at the kitchen island, did not notice when I laid the gun down in front of her. Her brother, Daniel, who had come home for a visit, distracted her. When she finally noticed the rifle sitting directly in front of her, she gasped, “For me?”

After dinner, Gabby and I went out to shoot. House rules are:
1. Every gun is always loaded (at least we treat them such).
2. Adult supervision is required (and 11-year old sister is not an adult).
3. Always wear eye protection when handling a firearm.
4. Carry the gun with the muzzle pointed to the ground.
5. Never point a gun in the direction of people.
6. Keep the safety on until the gun is pointed downrange.

Gabby, is tenacious about following rules. Later in the evening when Daniel reloaded her rifle and tried to hand it back to her, she stopped him, “Is the safety on?” she demanded. When he assured her it was, she took the gun and walked back to her shooting position.

Gabby is not yet a sharpshooter, but with training and continued practice she may be someday. Shooting is a simple concept, handle the firearm in such a way that it remains stable, align the eye with the sights and the target, and squeeze the trigger. In general, guns shoot consistently straight. Once the sights are aligned, failure to hit the target at 5 yards is a purely human weakness. No amount of willpower or even practice will force a gun to defy the physical sciences.

Likewise, is our study of Scripture. Peter wrote, “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (1 Peter 1:21 KJV) We must handle Scripture correctly to discern the truth. Just as you cannot evaluate the accuracy of one’s aim by contemplating the front sight or rear sight alone, you cannot evaluate the meaning of one passage of Scripture without the context of the rest of Scripture.

I read in my Apostolic Bible Polyglot, Hebrews 3:1, the other day, “Whereupon, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, contemplate the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgement offering – Christ Jesus.” In general, translators italicize words they consider to be inferred by the context. It struck me that perhaps the words, “acknowledgment offering” connote something more specific than the word, “confession,” which the New American Standard uses to translate omologias.

I checked the lexical concordance, and found that he same word in the Septuagint (LXX) in Leviticus 22:18. There omologias refers to an acceptable personal offering. I checked the other passages where the same word appeared, and the Apostolic Bible sometimes translates the word, “confession” and sometimes it translates it “acknowledgment offering.” I looked for clues in the passages for why the translator would translate the same Greek word differently. “What was his insight?” I wondered.

I did not think about it too long. Before I retired for the evening, I sent an email to the translator, Charles Van der Pool, asking him what he was thinking. He kindly replied a couple hours later, saying that he did not remember. He wrote, “What is really important is what the Greek says, not necessarily my translation.” I was hoping for a different answer, but he gave me the best.

Yet Van der Pool’s translation intrigues me like a glimmer of light. Was the writer of Hebrews contemplating the Old Testament acknowledgment offering when he wrote that we should contemplate Christ as our apostle and chief priest? Elsewhere, Paul wrote to the Corinthians telling them that their gift to the believers in Jerusalem was their “acknowledgment offering to the good news of the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 9:13 AB) Was Paul contemplating the Old Testament sacrificial system when he penned his letter, or was he merely meaning “confession?”

Perhaps there is little distinction in meaning between acknowledgment offering and confession. The writer of Hebrews primarily is asking us to contemplate Christ as our apostle and chief priest. What is at stake is depth of insight into the thoughts of the New Testament writers. Were Paul and the writer of Hebrews contemplating Leviticus or other Old Testament passages referring to a whole burnt offering? Is the reader to infer such an association? I will contemplate this question for some time.

As I reflect upon this, I am thankful to have an Apostolic Bible. The interlinear format enables a weak student of the Greek, such as I am, to delve more deeply into word associations. God preserved the content of Old Testament into the Greek of the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament certainly used the LXX in their own study. Reading the Old and New Testaments in a unified but ancient language enlightens both.

A word study between the Old and New Testaments in the Apostolic Bible is like aligning ones eye to the front and rear sights. With continued practice . . .