Issue #77

Jesus: Leader or Follower, Forgiveness Changes Everything, How to Apply Biblical Narratives, and more...

Issue #77
Photo by Nong V / Unsplash

Read and Reflect 📖

Was Jesus a Leader or a Follower? | Joanne J. Jung and Richard Langer 📃 →

If you think that the Gospels will portray Jesus as a leader, you’re in for a surprise—when Jesus describes himself and his ministry, he consistently uses the language of following. His human incarnation is the incarnation of a follower. A brief survey of John, the Gospel in which Jesus is most prone to offer self-descriptions, exemplifies this point well. In John 5:19, Jesus describes himself as a follower who does nothing of his own accord but only what he sees the Father doing. The Father is his exemplar; Jesus only does what the Father does. In John 5:36 he points out that his works testify that he has been sent.

Sometimes we forget that all Christians are called to follow first and foremost, not to lead.

It is worth adding that Jesus didn’t engage in following as a preliminary training activity—following was not a spiritual discipline like fasting or meditation. His fundamental self-presentation to his disciples was as a follower at any and every moment. It wasn’t one of his many tasks, it was his defining task. And, importantly for us, his guiding passion appears to be that his disciples imitate him on exactly this point. Our master is a follower, so we are to become followers as well.

Listen and Learn 🎧

Do I Need to Tithe? Church Rules, Covenants, and Leadership | N.T. Wright and Justin Brierley 🎧 →

Should I always tithe 10% to my church? What do you think of signing church covenants? I don't agree with my church leadership on complementarianism, but I love the members—should I stay?

Wright’s wisdom and pastoral heart from years of service to Christ are always welcome, whether or not you agree with him on every point.

Church History Corner ⛪️

Martyr or Madman? The Unnererving Faith of Ignatius | Greg Morse 📃 →

What do we do with a Church Father—a Christian—who seeks death?

“I am afraid of your love,” Bishop Ignatius wrote to the early church in Rome, “lest it should do me an injury” (Epistle to the Romans 1.2). It is hard to imagine more ironic words.

Ignatius, a disciple of the apostle John, was nearing seventy years of age when he sent the letter ahead of him on August 24 (somewhere between AD 107 and 110). He told them he remained “afraid” of the believers’ love — meaning he was afraid that they would keep him from martyrdom, that they would “do him an injury” by keeping him from being torn apart by lions.

Morse walks us through the life and world of this early Father of the church and why he would pen such words.

Living This Christian Life 🤴👸

Why God Longs for Church Unity | Francis Chan 📃 →

I am guilty of having sowed discord. Even now, as I study all these passages about division, I am embarrassed by my lack of remorse. Only a redemptive God with grace beyond comprehension could be this patient with me and still use me to teach about unity. I have spent most of my Christian life wishing that certain pockets of Christians did not exist. I even had the audacity to pray for the deaths of certain people because I thought their removal would benefit His Kingdom on earth. I was not just a run-of-the-mill arrogant person. That’s next-level stuff! Think about the pride it requires to come before an omniscient God to share that kind of idea.

I was too quick to label people as false teachers, warning believers to keep their distance from them. While there is a time to warn others about false teachers, there is also a time to do your homework. By being too quick to judge, I have made costly mistakes. I jumped on bandwagons that were popular in my theological circle, attacking men and women whom I now know to be God’s beloved children.

Proverbs paints this as more than a “mistake.” All of that was an “abomination” to Him.

I’ve shared many articles in the past year about unity as believers through our differences. It’s harder than ever now, which means that it’s more important than ever that we strive for unity in a world that loves division and anger.

Watch and Wonder 📽

Why Forgiveness Changes Everything | Sean McDowell 📽 →

McDowell, known more for dialogues with skeptics and defending the faith, today instead gives a short sermon on Matthew 18:21–35:

Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times? ”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

“At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

“That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

“At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? ’ And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
— Matthew 18:29–35 (CSB)

Like unity in the church, forgiveness can be so difficult, because it costs us something. But also like unity, forgiveness sits at the heart of the mission of Christ.

Explore the Scriptures 📖

What Does the Bible Say about Guardian Angels? | Kevin Stone, Shea Houdmann, and Jeff Laird 🎧 →

It’s such a pervasive belief, but is there scriptural support for the idea? Well…probably not, though it is possible. The main text used in support is Matthew 18:10:

“See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven.
— Matthew 18:10 (CSB)

The GotQuestions team will walk you through the arguments on each side.

For More:

Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️

How Should We Apply Biblical Narratives? | Christy Gambrell 📃 →

This feels like an odd article to put into my “best of the week” slot. An essay on Biblical interpretation? Yep.

This topic has come up frequently in my personal life in the last few months. Including yesterday (as of writing, which may be a week or two away from when you are reading this)!

You’ve probably heard the joke about a man who wanted direction from God, so he flipped open his Bible and randomly placed his finger in it. His hand rested over, “Judas went and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:5). Trying again, he landed on, “You, go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Needless to say, he didn’t find quite what he’d been hoping for.

Most of us aren’t that haphazard when it comes to reading Scripture, but in our desire for truth, our desperation for guidance, or our questions about why God does what he does, we may similarly mishandle God’s Word, leaving us to “go and do likewise” in ways Scripture doesn’t actually prescribe.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard the advice to “just open the Bible and start reading and see what God is saying to you today.” Now, I’m not opposed to anything that will bring people to read the Bible, and I want to be clear: you do not need a degree to read the Bible! However, because the Bible doesn’t come with an instruction manual, many of us try to figure it out on our own, and that can result in some…odd views, that are certainly not what the human or divine authors intended to communicate!

And that’s compounded by the difficulty described in this article. Biblical narratives, like those found in Genesis, Exodus, Judges—Kings, and the Gospels, tell us a story, and it’s not always obvious what we should be learning from these stories.

I’m fairly certain Judas isn’t a model to follow when I’ve sinned against God, but what about Rahab when she lies on behalf of Israel’s spies (Joshua 2) or Peter when he steps out of the boat in the storm (Matt. 14)? How are we supposed to apply these stories to our lives?

It’s here that an interpretive principle for narrative passages guides us. Sometimes stated as “description is not prescription,” this principle explains that a biblical narrative’s presence doesn’t necessarily imply approval of its contents. Description is not the same as recommendation. But in the absence of explicit commentary from the biblical author, how can we sort out what to apply from each story?

This article by Gimball will take you less than 10 minutes to read, but it might change how you read a huge portion of the Bible.

Keep Your Mind on Things Above

I will be praying for you this week.

All things have been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him.
— Matthew 11:27 (CSB)

Joel Fischer