Monday Meat – Digging into the Bible

Growing from milk to meat takes work and discipline. While God works in us to accomplish His purpose (Philippians 1:6), we also play a part in our spiritual growth. And taking the time and effort to study His Word and apply it to our lives is one of the ways that we grow. So we’ll be starting a feature on Mondays called “Monday Meat” where we use Bible study principles to dig into the Word.

In Bible study, context rules. This refers not just to the immediate surrounding verses, but the book as a whole and even the whole Bible. Context also involves the historical and cultural context. When in history was this book written? When was it taking place? The culture in Jesus’ day portrayed in the Gospels was a different culture than during David’s reign in 2 Samuel. The time of the exiles was a different historical period than when the Israelites left Egypt. And the historical and cultural background is not the same as where we are today. These are all factors that affect what the text originally meant to the original audience. As we study we need to remember that the text cannot mean what it never meant. In other words, we need to determine what the text meant to the original audience. We can then determine the principles from that to bring it into our modern day setting. But if the text did not mean something to the original audience, then it can’t mean that to us either.

In looking at the book of Ephesians (our first venture in the Monday Meat posts), we look at who wrote it, when it was written and to whom. The genre of Ephesians is an epistle or letter. It identifies Paul the apostle as the author. The opening verses tell us “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus”. Some commentaries note that the phrase “in Ephesus” might not have been in the original letter but was added later. It was likely written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, probably around 60 AD. It was written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon and was likely meant to be a circular letter to the churches throughout Asia Minor. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman Province of Asia and was located on the west coast of Asia Minor. It was also the home of the temple goddess Diana (also known as Artemis). Acts 19 and 20 give us some background on Paul’s time in Ephesus. Tychicus delivered the letter (Eph. 6:21-22) and gave the church information on how Paul was doing and could answer any questions they had. The purpose for Paul writing this letter was likely to write about the church being the body of Christ. It was written at the same time as Colossians, which was written to confront heresy and he likely took the opportunity to write a more general letter to be sent with the Colossae letter. There are a lot of similarities between the books of Ephesians and Colossians. See Bible.org‘s page for more detailed info.

When studying a book of the Bible, it is helpful to read through the whole book in one sitting. This isn’t always possible with some of the longer books, but Ephesians is very do-able, with only 6 chapters. This helps us get an overview of the book, see key and repeated words or phrases, and get an idea of the theme or message of the book. Some of the key words and phrases that we see throughout Ephesians are “in him”, “in Christ”, “according to” and gospel and grace. As you read through the book, jot down any ideas that stand out to you. Write down what the overall theme seems to be. When you’ve finished studying the book, it is helpful to look back at the original theme that you saw and see if it has changed from more careful study.

The book Let’s Study Ephesians by Sinclair Ferguson is an easy-to-read layperson commentary on the book of Ephesians. Here is his summary of Ephesians:
“They needed to know that they were secure-Paul teaches them that they are anchored in the eternal purposes of God. They lived under the threat of dark and sinister powers – they needed to know that Christ had conquered all his and their enemies. They were surrounded by the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil – they needed to know that God had raised them out of that spiritual death. They were confronted on a daily basis with Gentile paganism – they needed to know that Christ had brought them into the family of God. They lived under the shadow of a false temple and a false idol – they needed to know that they were the true temple of God. They lived in an ungodly society – they needed to know how the gospel would transform their lives. They saw life in marriage, family and business corrupted by self-interest – they needed to know how grace could transform all relationships. They were under attack from the forces of darkness – they needed to know how they could remain standing in the battle.”

Next week, we’ll dive into chapter 1.

 

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Growing in Holiness

One of God’s attributes is His holiness. This is seen throughout the Bible, but is very evident throughout the book of Leviticus in the description of God’s requirements to approach Him. He cannot abide sin. This is why Jesus had to live a righteous life in our place and die to pay the penalty for our sins. When we place our faith in Christ, turning from our sins, Christ’s righteousness is given to us while our sins are washed away by His blood. God is then able to have a relationship with us.

As we grow in this relationship, God desires that we become more like Christ, which means (among other things) that we are to grow in holiness. 1 Peter 1:15-16 tells us “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” (ESV)

Over the last year or so God has been really teaching me regarding His holiness and how I view sin. With the study of Moses and the Israelites, reading through Leviticus and Numbers, God’s holiness is prominent throughout these books. Then a ladies group I’m in read through Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness together. Quite the convicting book! We don’t often think about how horribly awful our sin is to a holy God. One of the areas that God has been showing me is in the area of television and movies. Sexual innuendo is rampant throughout most TV shows these days. And celebration of sex outside of marriage is commonplace. These are not okay to a holy God. Jesus died a horrible death to pay for these sins that we casually watch on our TV screens. I have found that I no longer have interest in most movies or TV shows now as they portray sin as a normal part of life and even celebrate it.
The battle to be holy is constant and relentless, particularly in the world we live in. Guarding our minds is a challenge. Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about the following things: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In the battle for holiness, this is a good reminder. What we read, what we watch, the things that we dwell on – are these things that are helping us to be more holy? If not, shouldn’t we eliminate them from our lives?

Some quotes to consider from the book Holiness by J.C. Ryle:
“It is a solemn thing to hear the Word of God saying, ‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14).”

“Surely that man must be in an unhealthy state of soul who can think of all that Jesus suffered, and yet cling to those sins for which that suffering was undergone.”

“He sees his own many sins, his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy devil; and if he looked only at them, he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Savior, an interceding Savior, a sympathizing Savior – His blood, His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood – and he believes that all this is his own. He sees Jesus and casts his whole weight on Him.”

“If any reader of this message really feels that he has counted the cost and taken up the cross, I bid him persevere and press on. I dare say you often feel your heart faint and are sorely tempted to give up in despair. Your enemies seem so many, your besetting sins so strong, your friends so few, the way so steep and narrow, you hardly know what to do. But still I say, persevere and press on.”

“The nearer he draws to God and the more he sees of God’s holiness and perfections, the more thoroughly is he sensible of his own countless imperfections.”

*Part of this post was originally posted on Sojourner: Between Worlds in July 2015

Theology – Why Does It Matter?

What we believe matters. It affects how we live, what we do and say. We can say we believe something but what we truly believe is what will eventually come out in our behavior and attitudes.

It seems many Christians these days are not interested in theology, feeling it is too “academic” for them. Theology is the study of God and learning who He is. We all have beliefs in who we think God is. Theology is studying to understand better the truth of who He is, correcting any faulty views we may have. We all have a theological view, whether we realize it or not. The importance of theology is making sure what we believe lines up with what Scripture teaches so that we have an accurate view of God.

For a personal example of how this plays out, here is the story of a challenging week we had in February 2014. Having a theology of God based on Scripture made a difference in handling the mini-crisis that we encountered. Our cat Mocha had a traumatic experience at the vet on a Monday night and wasn’t eating. She acted like she was sick and we were concerned whether we might lose her. Believing that God is sovereign and is in control was comforting, knowing that we could trust Him with whatever the outcome would be. Our theology gave us something to hold on to while unsure of what would happen. That didn’t necessarily mean that Mocha would recover. God could choose to take her. But we also believe that she belongs to Him and He has the right to do with her as He chooses. Yet He works all things for His glory, so whatever happened would be for His honor and glory. Our theology mattered in the day-to-day routine of taking care of Mocha and trusting that God would give us wisdom for what to do. Mocha is now back to her normal self and is eating fine. Yet this was also a reminder that all that we have is God’s, for Him to do with as He so desires. She belongs to Him whether healthy or sick.

Bible reading and study lead us to develop our beliefs about God – our own theology and doctrines, what we believe about who God is and what He has done for us. This theology and belief about God is then worked out in how we live our daily lives, our own discipleship with Christ and teaching and discipling of others.

It seems that many American Christians are not actively involved in reading and studying their Bible. As a result, their theology and doctrine are weak. They don’t know what they believe and so are tossed about by the winds of the times, the beliefs that are prevalent in the society around them. Without knowing what they believe (and why) they are then unable to defend their beliefs to others. They do not grow in their Christian walk and as disciples of Christ and thus are unable to disciple others in the faith.

We need to be reading the Bible and studying it! We need to be learning theology and doctrine, who God is and what we believe. These things are vital for the Christian to grow. 

John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (ESV)

Wednesday Worship

So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:11-21 (ESV)

Apologetics: Defending Our Faith

1 Peter 3:14-16
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (ESV)

Part of apologetics is being able to explain your faith. If you don’t understand your faith yourself and what you believe, how can you share it and explain it to others? In this way, apologetics and theology are related, for having a solid and firm theology provides a base for apologetics. In an ever-increasingly hostile culture, we need to be able to take a stand for what we believe. Yet the Bible also says to do this with gentleness and respect. We aren’t to be holier-than-thou, pounding what we believe angrily to those around us. In the context of 1 Peter 3, Peter is talking about suffering. In the midst of suffering, we need to remember what we believe and be able to defend it gently and respectfully to those around us, likely those who are causing us to suffer. We are also told to be of sober spirit, be on alert and act in humility to those around us. All these play a part in apologetics and defending our faith. First we get a solid grounding in what we believe, understanding it in light of what the Bible teaches us. Then we learn how to graciously and respectfully share this with others who don’t agree with us. And be able to humbly respond to their protests with what the Bible says. Worldview (how we perceive the world around us) also plays a part in defending our faith and talking to others. Their worldview is usually quite different than ours and we need to be able to explain the gospel to them in a way that they can understand based on the worldview that they are coming from. There are many resources available for Christians today in how to defend their faith and lovingly tell others the truth. A great place to start is with Stand to Reason. Ligonier Ministries also has resources to learn theology and how to answer questions from skeptics, such as in this Objections Answered* video series. The Truth Project* is another resource. Let’s understand what we believe and why we believe it so that we can better defend our faith in an increasingly hostile world.

*Disclaimer: I have not watched the Ligonier Objections Answered video series and have only watched parts of The Truth Project. Ligonier is generally solid and biblical in their teachings and from what I’ve seen of The Truth Project, it is sound. However, please always be discerning and check all things against what Scripture teaches.

Bible Memorization

How can we have resources readily available throughout our day wherever we may find ourselves? Memorizing Scripture helps us to have the Word of God constantly available to us wherever we go, bringing it to mind as we have need throughout the day. Starting children with Bible memory at a young age is a wonderful way to instill it in their hearts and provide a foundation of knowing the Bible throughout their lives. But adults can also memorize the Bible and have this tool available to them. It may take more work as an adult than it does for a child, but it can still be done. There are a lot of resources and tools available for help in Scripture memory and everyone learns differently and needs to find the method that works best for them. It is helpful to memorize whole passages rather than individual verses, in order to have them in context. One method that a lot of people (including myself) have found helpful is to print out the verses and put them on index cards, to carry around and review throughout the day, while waiting in line or at the doctor’s office, etc. Or you can write them on the index cards as part of the memory process. There are also online sites that help you to type out the verses and learn them that way. I use Scripture Typer and have found it tremendously helpful. 

Deuteronomy 32:45-47
“And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (ESV)

Bibliology – Theology of the Bible

In studying theology, often we start with our understanding of what we believe about the Bible. God has revealed Himself to us through nature and the world around us, what we call “general revelation”. But in order to understand who He is and who Christ is, God reveals Himself more fully to us through the Bible, what we call “special revelation”. The Bible is also called God’s Word. This is because God is the author of the Bible though He used human authors to communicate. The Bible is “God-breathed”, meaning it is given through God’s inspiration to man. God worked through the personalities and styles of each human author in order to communicate His truth to us. The Bible is not only inspired by God, but it is without error – inerrant. Because it is from God and it is God’s truth, we know that it is without error since God cannot lie. It is from the Bible that we get our theology – our knowledge of God, salvation and what the church should be.

Verses regarding the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible:
2 Timothy 3:16- “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
2 Peter 1:19-21- “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The Bible (also referred to as Scripture) is authoritative and sufficient. It is authoritative because it is from God, Who is the ultimate authority over all. “All the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology) Throughout the Bible is the phrase “Thus says the Lord” revealing God’s power and sovereignty. The sufficiency of Scripture can be seen in 2 Peter 1:3 where it says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” (ESV).

More resources on bibliology
Monergism – Bibliology
Theology for Girls – part 1 of Bibliology series (the links for the remainder of the series are at the bottom of the part 1 post)

Books on bibliology
From God to Us by Norman Geisler and William Nix
Has God Spoken? by Hank Hanegraaf 
How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot