Wednesday, 27 April 2016

“Love One Another”

     It was Thursday night of Passover week in the ancient city of Jerusalem. The sacred memorial of Christ’s impending death was instituted, and the impervious disciples were bickering over which of them should be considered the greatest (Luke 22:14-24). Jesus then teaches humility and service by washing their dirty feet (John 13:3-17).
     While John omits several details included in the synoptic accounts and vice versa, all four record the treachery and sudden departure of Judas Iscariot. The greedy conspirator had participated in the communal meal and feet washing, but as long as he was present, Jesus was “troubled in spirit” and could not speak to the group as a unified whole. The Lord had much to say to the ones still loyal to him, and once his betrayer had slipped away, the extensive discourse of John 13:31 to 16:33 is directed to them. Our current text (13:31-35) is the beginning of the conversation.
     With Judas’s hasty withdrawal, the circumstances leading to Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection and exaltation are set in motion that will ultimately glorify the Son of Man and God in him. What does Jesus now need to say to the remaining eleven who have been struggling with confusion, jealousy, and discord? In view of his imminent departure, he declares: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NKJV).
THE HEART OF THE MESSAGE
     Love is a commandment to be obeyed. There is a huge difference between the biblical concept of love and the spontaneous, shallow, emotive variety with which our world has become enamored. Biblical love is not some flimsy emotional state that is fallen into and out of according to variable moods and circumstances. The kind of love we read about in the Bible is much more stable, dependable, and lasting.
     The irony of postmodern religion is its heavy emphasis on unconditional love, tolerance, and acceptance, while dismissing objective truth and commandment keeping. Yet genuine love, according to its divine source, is an objectively stated commandment to be kept.1 In fact, it is the greatest commandment (Mark 12:30-31). When the foundational principles of loving God and neighbor are implemented, no part of the divine will is compromised or ignored.
     Godly love is not simply a heightened emotional experience that occurs naturally, freely, or easily. It requires deliberate choice and concerted effort. It is a conscious decision to genuinely pursue the interests of others beyond oneself. Unlike the superficial “warm fuzzies” glamorized by Hollywood and the romance novel industry, biblical love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8).
     Love is a new commandment. While the injunction is no longer “new” to modern-day Bible students (cf. 1 John 2:7, 8; 2 John 5), its novelty was particularly relevant to the vulnerable and temperamental disciples in the upper room. As ethnic Jews they would have already been familiar with the long-established requirement of the law to love God and fellow man.2 The newness is thus qualified by the adverb kathōs (“even as”). Whether this refers to the motive (“since I have loved you”) or the type (“after the manner of my love for you”), love is now measured by a higher standard.
     It is new in its scope: “Love … those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). It is new in its expectation: “hoping for nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). It is new in its model:you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). It is new in its intensity: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). It is a self-sacrificing, revolutionary kind of love.
     Love is active and reciprocal. Prior to issuing this order, Jesus had hand washed twenty-four odorous feet. He then said to those attached to these feet, If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:14-17). Love is more than mere words or feelings. Love is demonstrated by action.3 Seeing that the love commandment undergirds “all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40), it is not without significance that the Lord also affirms: “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). The so-called golden rule is a practical expression of what it means to love, encapsulating the attitude and behavior expected of those who follow Jesus.
     The directive is to “love one another.” Biblical love is not determined by fluctuating emotions or the lovableness of the recipient. It is patient and kind; it is not envious, self-asserting, prideful, rude, or selfish; it does not anger easily or hold grudges; love rejoices not in iniquity but in truth; it is forbearing, trusting, and hopeful, and does not readily give up (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
     Love is the enduring affirmation of discipleship. The Lord’s purpose for his ambassadors would be defeated without a unified presence in the world (cf. John 17:11, 20-23, 26). Love is the cohesive force that makes it work. Christ has not instituted a literal badge or uniform or gold-plated icon to identify his true followers. They are recognized by the love they exhibit toward one another.   
     The requisite of mutual love remained a consistent theme as the New Testament was formulated.4 In the second century, at a time when followers of Jesus were most cruelly despised and persecuted, among the charges leveled against them was the concession, “See how they love one another” (Tertullian, Apology 39). It is through godly love that the real meaning of Christianity is understood.
MESSAGES FOR TODAY
     We must be personally committed to the restoration of New Testament Christianity. Our allegiance to God and to his word compels us to acknowledge that there are biblical requirements to obey. As we speak where the Bible speaks, we cannot fail to recognize and implement the greatest command of all. Let us therefore, in our efforts to restore the original apostolic church, particularly remember the central charge given to its original members – “that you love one another.”
     We must emphasize both purity of doctrine and purity of behavior. If we preach baptism for remission of sins and have not love, we have become a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. If we observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday but have not love, we are nothing. If we insist on unaccompanied a cappella praise but have not love, it profits us nothing. While these we ought to do without leaving the others undone, God forbid that the weightier matters are neglected. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
     We must define biblical concepts biblically. God’s criterion of love is deeper, stronger, and more dependable than mere sentimental affection. It is a cognitive resolution to earnestly seek the best for the recipient, irrespective of arbitrary feelings or popular opinion. Christ-like love is always submissive to the divine will (John 8:29; 14:23-24). It warns of judgment and hell (Matt. 5:29-30). It pleads for repentance (Luke 3:8; 13:3) and refuses to justify or tolerate sinful conduct (1 Cor. 5:1-5; 13:6). It effectively counters the strife and division caused by sin (Gal. 5:13-15).
CONCLUSION
     As God has overwhelmingly demonstrated his love for us, we are instructed to love one another. This is the preeminent test of discipleship. It is practical, indiscriminate, and constant, ensuring the faithfulness, legitimacy, effectiveness, and integrity of Christ’s church. May we be as the Lord expects us to be.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 See also John 14:15, 23-24; 15:10, 12, 17; Rom. 12:9; 13:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 John 2:7-11; 3:18, 23; 4:7-12; 2 John 5-6.
     2 Exod. 20:6; Lev. 19:18, 34; Deut. 5:10; 6:5; 7:9; 10:12, 19; 11:1, 13; 13:3-4; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20; Josh. 22:5; 23:11; et al.
     3 See Luke 6:27-36; John 3:16; 14:15; 15:12-14; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:1-7; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 5:13-15; Phil. 2:1-4; 1 John 3:16, 18; et al.
     4 John 15:9-17; 17:26; Rom. 12:9; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor. 4:21; 8:1; 13:1-13; 14:1; 16:14, 24; 2 Cor. 2:4, 8; 6:6; 8:7, 8, 24; 12:15; Gal. 5:6, 13, 14, 22; Eph. 1:4, 15; 3:17, 19; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2; 6:23; Phil. 1:9, 16; 2:1, 2; Col. 1:4, 8; 2:2; Col. 3:14; 1 Thess. 1:3; 3:6, 12; 4:9; 5:8, 13; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Tim. 1:5, 14; 2:15; 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim. 1:7, 13; 2:22; 3:10; Tit. 2:2; Philem. 5; Heb. 6:10; 10:24; Jas. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2:17; 3:10-11; 4:8; 5:14; 2 Pet. 1:7; 1 John 2:10; 3:10, 11, 14, 18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:2; 2 John 1, 5; 3 John 1, 6; Jude 2, 12, 21; Rev. 2:19.

*Prepared for the 2016 SEIBS lectureship.

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Titus: Initiator, Comforter, Hero

     Titus1 first appears in the biblical record in connection with the Antioch church in the province of Syria. He was included among the “certain others” who accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to address the circumcision controversy in a meeting with the apostles and elders (Acts 15:2; Gal. 2:1). As an uncircumcised Greek, Titus was not compelled to submit to the Jewish rite of circumcision (Gal. 2:3), thus serving as a test case impacting all other Gentile converts (Acts 15:19-29).
     Paul describes Titus as “a true son in [our] common faith” (Tit. 1:4 NKJV), indicative of their close relationship and suggesting that Titus may have been one of his early converts.2 The apostle did not regard him as a subordinate, but as a partner and co-worker (2 Cor. 8:23). Seeing that they labored so closely together during much of Paul’s ministry, it is curious that Titus is unnamed in Luke’s historical record of Acts. It has been suggested that perhaps Luke and Titus were brothers, which, for modesty’s sake, would explain why neither name appears in the Acts narrative.3
     Approximately six years after the Jerusalem conference, Paul was deeply concerned that his recent letter to the Corinthians might have been too harsh and ill received. Until he could travel to Corinth himself, he was anxious to hear about their present spiritual state and how they were reacting to his admonitions. He strongly urged Apollos to make a follow-up visit, but Apollos was “quite unwilling” at the time (1 Cor. 16:12).4 However, Titus, “of his own accord,” took the initiative and ventured into this volatile environment to check on the troubled church and offer his assistance (2 Cor. 7:13-15; 8:17).5
     The original plan, it seems, was for Paul, on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia, to meet with Titus in the coastal city of Troas. But Paul had “no rest in [his] spirit” when he did not find Titus there (2 Cor. 2:12-13).6 Moving on to Macedonia, the two finally reunited, and the distraught apostle was greatly relieved when Titus delivered a positive report (2 Cor. 7:5-15; 8:16-17). Paul was genuinely grateful to the God of all comfort for the encouragement he received (2 Cor. 1:3-4), acknowledging Titus as the instrument through whom God’s comfort was administered (2 Cor. 7:6).
     Titus was then sent back to Corinth with other responsible brothers to deliver the latest letter (from Paul and Timothy) and to help the Corinthians complete their benevolent contribution for the Judean saints (2 Cor. 1:1; 8:6, 16-24; 12:18). Titus was obviously someone in whom Paul had a great deal of confidence. He shared the apostle’s affection for the Corinthian brethren (2 Cor. 7:15; 8:16), having developed a mutual relationship of respect and trust (2 Cor. 7:13; 12:18).
     Years later, after Paul’s release from his first internment at Rome, Titus accompanied him to the island of Crete, where he was left to “set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city …” (Tit. 1:4-5). Paul then drafted a letter to him (the NT epistle bearing his name) detailing his weighty responsibilities. Titus was not only charged with the difficult task of helping to establish and organize multiple congregations, he also had to stand against (and equip others to stand against) antagonists and false teachers. Eventually another capable evangelist (Artemas or Tychicus) was to arrive in Crete to relieve Titus of his duties so that he could join Paul again at Nicopolis (Tit. 3:12).7
     During Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, as he anticipated imminent death, Titus was headed to Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10), the southern region of the ancient province of Illyricum (modern-day Croatia). Though the purpose of this mission is not stated, he probably went to follow up on Paul’s previous work there (cf. Rom. 15:19). This is the last mention of Titus in the Bible, and the rest of his story is uncertain. According to tradition, he returned to Crete where he spent the rest of his life in ministry until his death at an advanced age.
Lessons from Titus:
o   Titus was an effective transmitter of divine comfort (2 Cor. 7:6). This could only be possible if he himself was acquainted with suffering and was carried along by the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Titus was a willing instrument in God’s hand as he ministered to the downtrodden.
o   Titus took initiative (2 Cor. 8:16-17). He saw what needed to be done and acted “of his own accord.” He put the Lord’s work and the interests of others before himself.
o   Titus did not shy away from difficult tasks (2 Cor. 8:17; Tit. 1:5). Even when others were not as willing (e.g. 1 Cor. 16:12), he could be counted on to tackle the more unpleasant realities of church work.8
o   Titus was proactive (Acts 15:2; Gal. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:6; 8:17; Tit. 1:5; 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 4:10). He was not a spectator. He did not sit around waiting for someone else to render service in God’s kingdom. He was an effectual peacemaker, a thoughtful encourager, a proficient organizer, a courageous missionary, and an uncompromising defender of the faith.
o   Titus was capable, competent, and dependable (2 Cor. 8:16-24; 12:18). He developed his talents and maintained his integrity to the glory of God.
o   Titus earned the confidence and respect of the apostle Paul as a partner and co-worker (2 Cor. 8:23). His valuable contribution to the Lord’s cause should not be overlooked.
     Titus is a 1st-century hero of our common faith, and there is much we can learn from his noteworthy example. May we all strive to be more like him.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 The name Τίτος is of Latin derivation and was a common praenomen among the ancient Romans. One of the more notable figures who wore this name was Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, the commander of the Roman forces that demolished Jerusalem in 70 and reigned as Roman emperor from 79 to 81.
     2 Cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15; Gal. 4:19; 1 Thess. 2:11; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1. If Titus was converted by Paul and was from Syrian Antioch (where he makes his first appearance on the biblical scene), he was probably converted during the year that Barnabas and Saul labored together in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:25-26). But there is not enough explicit information to be certain.
     3 In the Fourth Gospel neither John nor his brother James is mentioned by name. According to Eusebius, Luke was born at Antioch (Eccl. Hist. 3.4.6), the city where Titus first appears in scripture.
     4 Timothy had been sent to Corinth, but Paul had not heard back from him yet (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10).
     5 The aorist ἐξῆλθεν in 2 Cor. 8:17 conveys completed action (“he went”), as rendered in the ASV, N/KJV, JB; see also ERV, HCSB, ISV, NASB. The most obvious sense is in reference to a previous visit Titus had made to Corinth (as noted above). However, some versions have worded the expression as though it were a present tense verb: “he is coming” (NET, NIV), or “he is going” (ESV), alluding to the visit that Titus is making or getting ready to make. This changes what Paul actually says, which, in my judgment, is without justification. For more chronological details, see K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 42-45.
     6 It may have been the case that Paul arrived in Troas earlier than planned because of his premature departure from Ephesus due to civil unrest (Acts 19:23; 20:1).
     7 The location of Nicopolis is uncertain, since different cities shared the same name in various places. It is possible that this particular Nicopolis was in Thrace (near the borders of Macedonia) or in Cilicia, but more likely in the province of Epirus in northwestern Greece (see BDAG 673; E. F. Harrison, Introduction to the NT 349).
     8 Arthur H. Curtis observes that Titus was “more robust in temperament than Timothy” (The Bible Companion, ed. W. Neil 260); cp. 1 Cor. 16:10; 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 1:7-8.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Religious Dialogue 101: For the Lazy and Dishonest (Part 4 of 4)

16. A False Dilemma is created when one offers two extremes as the only alternatives to a position, when there are actually other options. In response to an article I had written on 1 Cor. 14:34-35,1 an anonymous critic accused me and other conservative Christians of inconsistency, because Paul’s admonition for “women to keep silent” in the assemblies and not “to speak” would prohibit them from singing (cf. Eph. 5:19); so if we allow women to sing in our corporate gatherings, we ought to let them preach. These limited choices form a false dichotomy, because it’s really not an either-or option. In context, the silence (sigáō) and the prohibition to speak (laléō) are also enjoined on male tongue-speakers (when there is no interpreter, v. 28) and on male prophets (when someone else is talking, v. 30). That is, they were not to speak as to lead the assembly. The silence here does not forbid singing (v. 15), saying “amen” (v. 16), or public confession (1 Tim. 6:12). The admonitions concern public speaking in leading the corporate assembly.2

17. Making a mountain out of a molehill is an overreaction or an overstatement that makes too much out of a minor issue. It has been alleged that among the surviving New Testament manuscripts there are up to 400,000 variations, leading many to infer that the scriptures have been substantially distorted over the centuries to the point they are no longer trustworthy.3 On the surface this may seem quite alarming until it is reasonably assessed from an informed perspective. The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of these variants are so trivial as to not even be translatable. For example, the most common occurrence is an anomaly known as “the moveable nu, where a word sometimes ends with the letter nu (the 13th letter of the Greek alphabet) and sometimes it does not. Either way the word’s meaning is exactly the same and the sense of the passage is entirely unaffected. But every time it appears in the multiplied thousands of pages of Greek manuscripts, it is counted as a textual variant. Most other variations involve relatively minor details, such as spelling, reduplication, and word order, but no fundamental doctrine of the Bible is in doubt because of textual uncertainty (see Changes in the Bible Part 1).

18. Ad Hominem is an attack on someone’s character or motives in an attempt to dismiss the person’s stated conviction rather than directly addressing the argument itself. If one objects to female leadership roles in the church, some will accuse him of patriarchal misogyny and oppressing women. To reject gay marriage and to oppose the homosexual lifestyle makes one susceptible to the charge of homophobia and hate speech. If, however, we could discuss these issues sympathetically and fairly, we could see that it’s conceivable to love and respect women while complying with scriptural guidelines on gender roles (cf. Eph. 5:22-23).3 It is also possible to be concerned and genuinely care about homosexuals without compromising biblical morality (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).4 Since only Jesus could legitimately know what was in a person’s heart (Matt. 9:4; 12:25), if a disputant attributes questionable motives instead of addressing the issue at hand, he is guilty of an ad hominem attack and not honest dialogue.
-- Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Let the Women "Keep Silent" in the Churches. Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 In 1 Corinthians laléō (to “speak”) is used with reference to public speaking, particularly in the exercise of a spiritual gift (cf. 2:6, 7, 13; 3:1; 9:8; 12:3, 30; 13:1, 11; 14:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29, 34, 35, 39).
     3 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: Harper, 2007): 7, 10, 89, 90.
     4 See Wes McAdams’ I’m Tired of People Demeaning Women in the Church, <Link>.
     5 See Adam Faughn’s A Personal Letter to My Homosexual Friends, <Link>.


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