Text Tuesday: Justice

Justice is an explosive word in our culture. Some people on left claim that justice evades certain people groups in our society while some on the right claim that the word is being used to liberally. I once heard a political commentator suggest that if a church goers preacher uses the term “social justice,” you should go to worship elsewhere.

Well… justice is a big, biblical idea.

Probably because it is a craving within the human soul, from the religious to the irreligious. It’s a “felt need.” The Bible has a way of addressing felt needs and it usually addresses them in such a way that emboldens the weak and shames the strong.

OT Israel craved justice. They often asked for it. The Psalms are filled with pleas to a Just God to “make it right.” The Hebrew words mispat and sedeq are used repeatedly in the OT, particularly in places where God is active in the world. Sedeq is used in relationship to “righteousness,” i.e. “God is righteous because God is just.”

That same sentiment is carried into the NT Greek text. The cherished, Protestant doctrine of Justification is linked to the idea of God’s “righteousness” and “justice.” The NT term for justice dikaiosune is the same for “justification,” a term used by brother Paul over 58 times in his letters.

These words get to the heart of the great question of biblical redemption: “How is the one God going to clean up the one world that God loves? In particular, How can God do this since God has decided to lump in fallen humans as part of his re-creation work?”

Those twin issues meet in the God-man, Jesus Christ. God’s righteous judgment against sin and his desire to relaunch human vocation (once bestowed to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Israel, which is now fully met in Christ). Jesus is the only way God’s justice and God’s mercy can be sustain. God announces to the redeemed human, “You are in the right since you are found in Christ.” (“in Christ”… a term brother Paul leverages over and over in the NT)

My favorite hymn (“Here is Love”) has one of the most powerful lines in all of hymnody:

On the mount of crucifixion, fountains open deep and wide,

Through the floodgates of God’s mercy, flow a vast and gracious tide.

Grace and love like mighty rivers flow incessant from above,

Heaven’s peace and perfect justice, kissed a guilty world with love.

What a thought. And what a Savior.

Text Tuesday: Hypocrite

Matthew’s gospel mentions the term hypocrite (hypokrites) 13 times. Wow! That’s an alarming amount of times for one, particular term. Let’s take a deeper dive.

A “hypocrite” was an actor who would wear a mask in Greek plays to portray two characters, or one character that acted in two different ways, who pretends to be one way and is really the opposite. The term was then used in ethics discourses about how we can say we “believe” in something but actually act the opposite.

All references to “hypocrite” in Matthew are said by Jesus, usually pointed in defense against his most popular opponents: the Pharisees, Scribes, Teachers of the Law. Perhaps the greatest critique that Jesus gives the hypocrite is how (s)he would prosecute another without seeing the fault within herself/himself.

 

Text Tuesday: Owe

One of the interesting categories in Scripture is the array of metaphors used to describe sin. Both sin against God and sin against one another. The dominant metaphor in the New Testament material is debt. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see NT authors use debt, obligation, payment in their material.

The verb “to owe” in the New Testament Greek (opheilo) “conveys an idea of being in debt or under obligation and best be translated as… ‘ought.'” (Mounce)

Obligation is used both as a positive arrangement (e.g. Paul’s obligation to the Greeks and non-Greeks [Rom. 1:14]) and as a negative arrangement (e.g. Paul suggests that circumcision makes one obligated to keep the whole law that doesn’t provide freedom [Gal. 5:3]).

Debt and obligation meet together in a wonderful admonition to the church in Rome:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

 

Text Tuesday: Guarantee

The New Testament word for “guarantee” (Greek arrabon) has a peculiar meaning. I’m not sure what you think of when someone gives you a guarantee, but it is usually a verbal promise of some sort.

In the biblical world, a guarantee would usually be accompanied by a pledge, or a token, portion of the whole of the item promised. In the OT, a pledge was given by Judah (in a really *cough* complicated story in Genesis 38:17-20). Judah provided his seal and staff to Tamar as a promise that he’d send a young goat from his flock after he returned home.

The guarantee was supported by a tangible pledge, an item pointing towards the whole.

This idea is used by Paul in Ephesians 1. In speaking of the Ephesian’s hope for salvation, Paul said,

“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14)

A common anxiety I hear as a pastor is, “How do I know that I belong to God?” Paul’s answer is that the Spirit is given to us in order to point towards God’s renewed world, that we get to both to anticipate later and to participate in today.

Text Tuesday: Engulfed

I am away from my office desk and without Mounce’s text for this week’s Text Tuesday post. Instead, I am working on sermons for the remainder of our Jonah series this month.

As I work through Jonah 2, I’m struck by the language in Jonah’s prayer. Verse 5 says,

“The engulfing waters threatened me,

the deep surrounded me;

seaweed was wrapped around my head.”

Jonah uses a familiar term “engulfed” (Hebrew: afafuni) to describe his experience after being hurled into the ocean. This word is used by the psalmists to describe drowning, which fits the theme of the first part of Jonah: descent. Jonah goes “down, down, down,” to Joppa, to the bottom of the ship, to the depths of the ocean, and into the depths of the fish.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the panic of being under water longer than you anticipated, how the immediate dread spills over one’s mind when the air runs out. Jonah felt this on a couple of different levels: physical and emotional, I’d expect. He was surrounded; there was no way out.

In that place, he poured his heart out to God in what is, for the most part, a penitent and thoughtful prayer. When we are surrounded, we tend to say the most honest prayers.

Text Tuesday: (Be, Make) Heavy

On Tuesdays, I scour Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words to find some extra insight into the biblical text. Today’s word is “heavy,” or “to be/to make something heavy.”

In the Hebrew Old Testament text, “heavy” (kabed) means “to honor.” This is an interesting Jewish idiom that we use today. When someone powerful or important speaks we often say, “Her words carry a lot of weight.”

In the Greek New Testament, “to be made heavy” (lype) has a different meaning. It carries the idea of grief or sorrow, a person experiencing a heaviness because of a loss of a loved one. The action of grief exhausts someone and they feel heavy because of it.

The two, distinct meanings in the two languages reminds us that reading the Bible is complex, for the same word “heavy” in English has two different meanings in the text. We get to do the tough work of hearing the ancient voices in order to understand the text.

 

Text Tuesday: Enemy

Each Tuesday, I’ll try to text a word found in the Bible and draw some insight from it through some Hebrew and Greek study, using Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Today’s word: Enemy

Both Old Testament words for enemy: verb (oyeeb) and noun (sar) give an underlying idea of “hate” or “hostility” or “adversary.” It’s worth noting, that Satan is never described by either of these words in the OT. A famous enemy character in the OT is Haman in Esther who was hell-bent on the destruction of the Jews while they were in Persian captivity.

The New Testament Greek word (echthros) carries a similar idea. An enemy is one who opposes you. Mounce makes a theological statement about the use of enemy in the NT, “A child of God may have enemies but is not to be an enemy toward another person.” In contrast, “enemy” is used to describe both Satan and death in the NT.

The biblical idea of enemy is important. It is healthy to acknowledge that there is a category for “enemies” in the life of the believer. The challenging call of Jesus, however, is to not seek their absence from our lives because we are at odds with them. The call of the gospel is to love our enemies, to pray for them, and even to suffer long with them. May God give us the grace to do so.