Monthly Archives: October 2014

“Be strong and courageous!” Is Joshua 1:9 Wrongfully Used by Christians?

There are a lot of promises God makes in the Old Testament that Christians love to appropriate for themselves, and are notorious for ripping out of context. You’ll see these printed on mugs and posters, and magnets and bumper-stickers, and retweeted and posted to Facebook. Jeremiah 29:11 readily comes to my mind as the worst of the lot, and it’s highly likely I don’t need to write out the verse for you to know what it says.

Even this pic shows the proper context - unless you're a slave exiled in ancient Babylon, this promise isn't for you.

Even this pic shows the proper context – unless you’re a slave exiled in ancient Babylon, this promise isn’t for you.

And it seems to me the trend lately is for there to be a good backlash against this practice; with pastors and churches looking at the context of the promises, and learning about what they actually meant for their original (and solely intended) audience. Of course we still learn from these promises, but it means we don’t appropriate them as promises meant for us, thousands of years later in a completely different context.

One of the verses this happens a lot with is Joshua 1:9, probably the best-known passage in the whole book of Joshua: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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Lions seem to need reminding of this a lot according to Google image search.

This encouragement was given to Joshua just after Moses died and just before Joshua was to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. And Joshua needed it! Moses was the greatest prophet and leader Israel had ever had (Deut. 34), and Joshua was stepping into those shoes. Also, Joshua was about to lead a whole nation into a land they had never been in, to conquer and possess it (as per God’s promise to Abraham centuries earlier). That left a lot of unknowns. So Joshua needs all the affirmation and encouragement he can get.

So we can see that this command (“be strong and courageous”) and this promise (“the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”) is specifically given to Joshua in his context. So, is it right for Christians to appropriate it for our own encouragement?

To answer this, we turn to the New Testament and ask “are there any scriptures there that are given to Christians and say the same thing as Joshua 1:9?” And we find that there are.

The Promise – “the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”:

Matt. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”

Matt. 28:20 “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

The Command – “be strong and courageous”:

Rom. 8:15 “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.””

2 Tim. 2:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

1 Cor. 3:13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”

Heb. 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?””  (actually, this passage contains both the promise and the command in it!)

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For the follower of Christ we have no need to fear, because Jesus has both promised to be with us himself and to send the Holy Spirit to be with us (which he did shortly after his ascension – see Acts 2).

Is it right for Christians to appropriate the promise and command given to Joshua for themselves? Yes, yes it is. Joshua 1:9 is a pithy summary of what God consistently commands and promises throughout the Bible to those who follow him. While given to Joshua specifically and solely in Joshua chapter 1, there are enough NT passages that encourage and remind us of the same thing.

Joshua1-9Something to note, though, is that the emphasis in Joshua 1:9 and elsewhere is primarily on the presence of God with us. Because he is with us, we can be strong and courageous. God’s continuing presence is the both the basis for and source of our courage!

So, if you are a follower of Christ, then be strong and courageous! because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

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How to be Perfect in One Easy Step

Do you want to be perfect like God is perfect?

Jesus tells us how to do it, and it’s shockingly easily.

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind...

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind…

 

There’s an interesting section in the Sermon on the Mount that I believe we easily overlook in our reading of it. Here’s the pericope:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48 NRSV)

We readily see “love your enemies” (hasn’t that become something of a catch-phrase?), and then we skip over the rest. Maybe we think “I don’t have enemies,” or “that’s too hard,” or “he/she doesn’t deserve that!!”

And, if we have enemies, we should love them of course (though how many of us in the West truly do?). But Jesus expands this message from “enemy” to everyone, in the proceeding verses. He says “if you only love those who love you… if you only greet your friends…” thereby including those who are strangers to us, or indifferent, or Other. Jesus is essentially saying love everyone, and greet everyone. Reminds me of how he summed up the law and prophets: Love God and love others.

But the way Jesus ends this section is what blows my mind. He says ‘if you do this, you will be perfect like God is perfect.’ How simple sounding, eh!

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The young adults at a church I worked for all saw the need to reach out to new people and visitors, and welcome them and say hi and invite them to join the community, but every week they would still clump together in their closed groups of friends and exclude everyone else (there were exceptions of course). One of them told me that it was hard because they only saw their friends in real life on Sundays, they were so busy during the week.

At my current church one of the guys told me that, as a single late-20’s guy, he won’t talk to new married couples or families, or those who are in an older generation than him.

But this is why I think Jesus says we will be perfect when we do extend our welcome though – God, in the trinitarian oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the most perfect, complete, whole, unified, loving friendship anywhere – sent Jesus to earth to love and welcome us into God’s family. We who were not friends, we who had nothing in common with him.

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So, on the surface this is the most easy thing in the world for us to do (unless you’re an introvert, like I am – but if I can try do it so can you!). Yet in practice it’s hard for us to break out of our patterns, our comfort zones, our friendship groups, our mindsets. But if we do, we will be perfect like our Father in Heaven, who reached out to welcome strangers like us into his Kingdom, and into his union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

“Be perfect, therefore, like your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

 

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Justin Martyr on Free Will

Normally, I don’t really like to get involved in the debate over predestination vs. free will, but I recently read something from the Early Church Fathers that made me pause.

x-philoso

Justin Martyr (100-165AD), considered to be the first Christian apologist, in his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman Senate asking them to stop killing Christians, says thus while giving an account of what Christians believed:

“But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.” (ANF01, 1 Justin, Ch. XLIII, italics added for emphasis).

Mosaic_of_St._Justin_Martyr,_Mount_of_the_Beatitudes

It isn’t until Augustine’s later works (after 393AD) that we see this idea of predestination – that is, very simplistically, humans cannot choose to be righteous nor have any agency in any action they do whatsoever, which eventually became the modern version found in Calvinism. To me, it’s one more reason to reject this understanding of predestination (especially Calvin’s & the Neo-Reformed/Neo-Calvinist’s versions) as a man-made philosophy.

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