Today’s Wright or Willard Wednesday is from NT Wright’s big book on Paul: Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
In this passage, Wright is beginning to sketch how Paul as a 2nd Temple Jew, shaped his early letters. Here, Wright shares how Jesus fulfills Israel’s longing for a God who returns to them; he is not a god that ascends into a pantheon of gods like the wider Greco-Roman audience might expect:
At the center of his [Paul] Jewish-style monotheism is a human being who lived, died and rose in very recent memory. Jesus is not a new God added to a pantheon. He is the human being in whom YHWH, Israel’s one and only God, has acted within cosmic history, human history and Israel’s history to do for Israel, humanity and the world what they could not do for themselves. Jesus is to be seen as part of the identity of Israel’s God, and vice versa. Israel had longed for its God to return after his extended absence. Paul, like the writers of the gospels, saw that longing fulfilled in Jesus.
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)
I listened to a summary of Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Formula earlier this week. A couple of key points from the book have lingered with me. One of which I shared with someone during a counseling appointment this week. So, I thought I’d share it here, too.
When faced with a difficult moment, Elrod suggests setting a 5:00 timer and allowing yourself to feel the weight, difficulty, and grief of the situation. Experience the real, raw emotions for that timeframe.
After the 5:00 timeframe, a couple of things are apparent:
– we live in reality rather than denial
– we have the time to figure out what we can and cannot control. We gain a realistic view of the path ahead.
How about this one from NT Wright’s “Big Red,” The New Testament and the People of God:
Jesus seems to have believed himself to be the focal point of the real returning-from-exile people, the true kingdom-people; but that kingdom, that people and this Messiah did not look like what the majority of Jews expected. Jesus was summoning his hearers to a different way of being Israel. We now have to come to terms with the fact that he believed himself called to go that different way himself as Israel’s anointed representative and to do for Israel – and hence for the world – what Israel could not or would not do for herself.
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.
While reading David Brooks’ The Second Mountain, he shared (in an off-handed comment) a device that he uses for making personal decisions.
In the most significant decisions in his life, Brooks employs a 10, 10, 10 filtering system.
Let’s give it a try. Think of your most pressing decision that you have in front of you. Think of what decision you think you should make.
Imagine what life will be like in:
Do you like what you can imagine with the limited knowledge that you have? If so, take your leap. If not, you might pick another option and perform the same exercise.
Here’s another ditty from Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Willard is giving reference to the provocative appeal that Jesus and his early followers gave to the watching world around them.
The life and words that Jesus brought into the world came in the form of information and reality. He and his early associates overwhelmed the ancient world because they brought into it a stream of life at its deepest, along with the best information possible on the most important matters. These were matters with which the human mind had already been seriously struggling for a millennium or more without much success. The early message was, accordingly, not experienced as something its hearers had to believe or do because otherwise something bad – something with no essential connection with real life – would happen to them. The people initially impacted by that message generally concluded that they would be fools to disregard it. That was the basis of their conversion.