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)

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