“Following Jesus”

August 19, 2020

“Following Jesus”

I asked the congregation the previous week, to look up Jesus’ invitations to prospective “followers.”
They found many:  as expected, mostly folks were called to “follow”, and asked to “be with him”, and to copy his own work.

Assignment:  Look at all 4 Gospels, and notice:
1. How did Jesus call people?
2. What did he ask of them?
3. What did he offer them?
Compare these findings with “invitations” you have heard

When I first heard Ben speaking of “Jesus-followers” among the folks with whom he grew up in Mali, I thought it sounded rather strange.  I wondered if there was some reason why they were not simply called “Christians” or “believers”, as most “missionaries” would have termed them.  (I’d still be curious, Ben. Was this a deliberate choice?  I hope so!)
Because on closer examination of the Gospels, I became increasingly convinced that his label was indeed the preferable choice.  Why?  Simply because the attainment of those other labels is usually assigned to folks who have simply “signed on the dotted line” and “joined the club” advertised by their preachers, and has very little to do  with the Kingdom living – the deliberately changed way of life — of which Jesus spoke and which he demonstrated.

Now, that statement may sound too extreme for many, if not most of you.  But what have you found JESUS saying, when he called people? And how does that compare with what passes today for “evangelism”?  Did you find a single context where JESUS greeted folks – other than the self-satisfied scribes and Pharisees — with threats of dire “eternal” consequences?  Did you find any occasion when he handed his hearers a list of “doctrines” to which they must subscribe or be “forever lost”?  Even on the few occasions when Jesus used the (modernly overworked) word “believe”, its direct object is simply “me”, and not “this or that ABOUT me”.  His most usual invitation is graciously beautiful in its simplicity:  “Come and see!”  and “Follow me”!

This study should really be undertaken in tandem with another on “following instructions”, but that requires another study, which would be aimed at those already committed.  Here, we are simply concerned with folks who are CONSIDERING faithfulness, which simply intends “personal loyalty”.  Loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom is all that he ever asked of anyone.

Of the 90 New Testament appearances of akoloutheo (follow), more than 60 refer simply to physical accompaniment, whether by curious crowds or loyal disciples.  Many who responded to the call to “follow” Jesus did accompany him on his travels.  But “followers” were also deputized to extend his work.  The word sometimes appears with one of five different prefixes, each of which implies various levels of commitment.
“Following” became an apprenticeship for the task of continuing Jesus’ work after his departure.  His beautiful description of the relationship of sheep and shepherd, detailed in John 10, includes trusting obedience on our part, and intimate, loving, protective care on his.  (You can find a more detailed treatment of this in the Word Study #101 on my web site if you wish.

Those who accepted Jesus’ call to “Follow” became known as “disciples”.  This was not an unusual phenomenon in the first century.  Even 300-500 years earlier, itinerant teachers had gathered around themselves groups of “disciples” with whom they shared philosophical and scientific teaching.  The New Testament speaks of “disciples” of both John the Baptist and the Pharisees.  It is not always obvious to whom the term applies.  Even when it is specifically referencing followers of Jesus, it may describe curious crowds, the twelve “apostles”, or an inner group, larger than the twelve, but more devoted than the crowds, who occasionally served as assistants as in (Jn.6:66).  Calling a person a “disciple” was used in a manner similar to what might today be called a student, or student-assistant, although if a deeper level of commitment is intended, a word like “believer” might have been used.

Jesus’ own teaching about being a “disciple” appears much more restrictive and deliberate, regarding that label as taking priority over all other loyalties (Lk.14:26-27).  The goal Jesus sets for discipleship is clear: “to become like one’s teacher”! (Lk.6:40 and Mt.10:24)
Jesus also specifies that it is necessary to “continue (live, persist) in my word” in order to be a disciple (Jn.8:31), to be readily identifiable by outsiders (Jn.13:35) who observe their mutual love, and to be a fruitful branch of the Vine (Jn.15:8).  Whatever else may be implied here, and each could well become its own topic for study, it certainly includes a mutual, continuous effort in reflection of Jesus’ own life and personality.  Check out the early church uses of the word in Word Study #51.
The epistles are frequently addressed to “disciples”, as well.  “Are there still disciples?” as one reader asked plaintively.  Yes, thank God!  And there always will be, as long as some of us continue to seek for faithfulness to Jesus.

But once that choice has been made, one realizes that “following” assumes that one is GOING SOMEWHERE!!!  Where are we going, and how shall we get there?  Haven’t we all occasionally asked in puzzlement, along with Thomas and Philip (Jn.14), “If we don’t know where you are going, how can we get there?  “
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the goal is only PARTLY about one’s destination (or “destiny”), unlike the assumptions of those who are only – or even just primarily – concerned about “getting into heaven”.
Realizing that they have totally missed the point, Jesus replies, “I AM the Way!”  “It’s not about where you are going, Tom.  It’s about STICKING WITH ME!”  And “Phil, open your eyes and LOOK!  All that I AM, all I’ve been doing, shows you the Father!”  The critical key to the whole discussion is Jesus’ use of “I AM”.  This statement asserted his total unity with the true God of all ages and cultures! This should be yet another careful study, and is detailed in my Word Study #17.
The point he is trying to make, for them and for us, is that Jesus himself is not only the Leader, provider, and Guide, but also both the journey and the goal!

And to this end, Jesus makes use of a very ordinary word, in an extraordinary way.  That very ordinary word is “the WAY”.

The Greek word, “hodos” appears 83 times in the New Testament.  Classically, it was used in three ways: Of PLACE – a road or highway, or the course of a river; of ACTION – a trip, journey or sea voyage; and METAPHORICALLY – of one’s culture, manner of life, or intent.  Most significant here is the latter usage. Jesus had told them clearly, “You all know the way where I am going,” and simply “I AM the Way!”

Not only had they been watching and participating in Jesus’ ”way of life” and conduct for the past three years, but he had continually been trying to prepare them for what lay ahead.  Although he had warned them repeatedly of the coming trauma of his rejection by the very folks who should have welcomed him, this was NOT the focus of their final hours together!  Rather, it was the BENEFIT that would accrue PRESENTLY for faithful disciples as a result of his “going to the Father who sent me”, and the enabling they would consequently receive from the Holy Spirit, to CONTINUE FOLLOWING the Way he had showed them – IN LIFE, not simply “after death”.

This, I am convinced, is among the primary reasons why subsequent followers of Jesus became known as “people of the Way”.  This designation appears throughout the book of Acts, used even by their persecutors!  This new movement was a NEW WAY OF LIVING, not just a “new religion “of “strange gods” as the philosophers at the Areopagos assumed.  The Greek “thinkers” reveled in the polytheism that surrounded them, and always had room for one more deity, in order not to offend one they might have missed!

It was TRANSFORMED LIVES, subject only to an authority much higher than that of their emperor, that they could not handle.
And that is an accurate description of “The Way”.  There is more on this “label” in Word Study #102.

To “follow” the Lord Jesus, is to continue along “the Way” that he taught and demonstrated, in his company and according to his instructions, toward complete unity with him and his Father —   TOGETHER with everyone else he has called!

Thanks be to God!


How are we supposed to “do” Church?   (I Cor.12:4-31 and 14:26-31)

May 10, 2020

 

The two scripture portions that were read this morning from Paul’s letter to the folks at Corinth provide rough outlines of the apostle Paul’s “recommended” agenda for meetings of people committed to serve each other in what has become popularly known as a “church”.

I’d like to begin with a very sincere compliment.  I think that you folks here at GMF have done a much better job than most groups, at following the Biblical instructions.   Unlike most groups, who have chosen to hire one person to be “in charge,” and to do all the teaching, preaching, and other assorted “leadership” functions, you have passed around those responsibilities.  Looking over the last list that we received, I see that we have included Ben, John Bender, John Storm, Solomon, Dave, and Aaron in the last quarter, to share their insight with us.  If you look back a little farther, you will find that Tami, Keith, and Ruth have also been included, as has an occasional outside guest. But where are the rest?  Although many of you willingly assume other responsibilities, and do it very well, what have we missed, by not hearing from Shirley, Dana, Sharon, Mildred, Brenda, Abeba, Anita, and some of our newer folks?  I Cor.14 expressly states that EVERYONE has something worth sharing!  Count the uses of “all”, “every,” and “each”!  V.7  reminds us “The revelation of the Spirit is given by means of each one, for everyone’s benefit!”

Some groups think they have “remedied” their situation by substituting women for men in “leadership” positions.  But that is really not a solution.  As Tony Campolo observed years ago, “It may well be true that the church has suffered for 2000 years from the domination and dictatorship of thousands of arrogant, overbearing males.  But replacing them with an equal number of arrogant overbearing females does not solve anything!” Neither condition is the picture described in Paul’s letter, nor in Scripture as a whole. I Cor. 14:31 could not be more clear:  “You can ALL speak for God (the literal meaning of “prophesy”), one at a time, so that ALL may learn and ALL may be encouraged! “  Is there anyone among us that does not need to learn or to be encouraged?

I recommend to you a very interesting and revealing “Mother’s day” exercise.  Scan through the Gospels, and you will find (as I did) that whole families were involved with Jesus from the very beginning.
Both fathers and mothers brought their sons or daughters to Jesus for healing.
In the crowds that followed Jesus and were fed, the men were counted, but women and children are also deliberately included in the record on both occasions.  (Maybe the kids were running around, as kids do, and the women were too busy trying to catch them, to be accurately counted!  I can believe that – I had four small boys!)
A group of faithful women traveled around with the disciple group “supplying their needs out of their own means.”  (Luke 8)  These ladies must have had their own independently wealthy resources!
A group of women was present at the crucifixion, at the resurrection, and at Pentecost.
Mary and Martha are mentioned frequently – not only in the event with their brother Lazarus
Jesus specifically interacted even with foreigners:  a Samaritan woman at the well (Jn.4),  a Canaanite woman (Mt.15), a Greek woman (Mk.7), a group of women (Lk.8) who had been healed, and many were noted frequently as having been in the crowd.
The disciple group was no exclusive men’s club!  Women are mentioned as meeting with the other disciples both before and after Pentecost.  (Ac.1 and 2).  Their presence may well have been counter-cultural for Jewish folks, Romans, and Greeks, but it was not rare among Jesus’ followers!
There is even sharper contrast with the pagan world. In both Roman and Greek societies, in “religious” contexts, women served primarily as temple prostitutes, and occasionally as fortune-tellers or “oracles”.
Not so among followers of Jesus!
*A husband and wife, Priscilla and Aquila, hosted church groups in their home in several locations, (Corinth and Ephesus, Ac.18), travelled with Paul several times, and together, they straightened out Apollos, who had been teaching an incomplete message.
It is acknowledged that things were not always “all sweetness and light”!
*Ananias and Sapphira were both held responsible for their deception of the brotherhood. (Ac.5)
*Saul arrested both men and women “followers of the Way” before his conversion (Ac.9) in Damascus.
*Dorcas/Tabitha, (probably the only one who would “fit” in with today’s “women’s groups”) led a sewing circle (Ac.9)!
*Mark’s mother (Ac.12) and Timothy’s mother Ac.16) both hosted congregations in their homes.
*A wealthy businesswoman, Lydia, hosted the group in Philippi (Ac.16)
*“Prominent, godly women” hosted churches in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens (Ac.17)
*Philip’s four daughters were known for their prophesies (Ac.21)
*Phoebe, apparently a deaconess, carried a letter for Paul to Rome.
*In Paul’s letters, at least 14 women’s names appear in greetings.
This was the CONTEXT in which these accounts were written!

It is the pattern of “religions” – Jewish, pagan and otherwise – even many who call themselves “Christian” — to codify elaborate theologies and customs, in which they designate and elevate to high status certain individuals who specialize in keeping the system and its adherents in proper order.  Because they consider that the proper ritual, properly performed by a properly qualified individual, will have desired, predictable results, and provide to the observers some sort of benefit from their gods, the exalted status of an ecclesiastical hierarchy is deemed necessary. The word “hierarchy” is derived from two Greek words: “hierus” (priest) and “arche” (ruler).  (Does this describe or require a need for local, national, or conference officials?) It might, on a social level, but that sort of a system bears no resemblance whatever to the instructions of Jesus concerning leadership in his Kingdom.  He is quoted in Mt.23:8-12, and Mk.9:35 directing quite explicitly, that positions of hierarchy are NOT acceptable among his people.  The grace of God is indeed mediated to people through people, but it is through the gathered group of believers that God’s purposes are revealed!!!  I Cor.14:26 declares that “EACH ONE has…” something important to contribute

IF YOU HAVE COMMTTED YOUR LIFE TO THE LORD JESUS, THEN YOU ARE ONE OF HIS DESIGNATED MEDIATORS!!!  You may forget everything else that I have said today, but remember this!  (repeat)  If your contribution is not heard, we are all poorer for its lack!

Paul’s instructions to the folks in Corinth need to be viewed in this context.
The primary concern there, as in his other letters, is for right relationships in the Body of Christ, which is the local expression of Jesus’ Kingdom.   Although the passage in the beginning of I Cor.11 has traditionally been viewed as “ammunition” for the imposition of hierarchical status among the members of the Body, and loudly touted to exclude the participation of women, such a conclusion is diametrically opposed to the relationships that are actually advocated!  Careful examination of the text reveals exactly the opposite!
What is Paul saying, when he declares, “I want you all to know that Christ is the head of every man, the husband is the head of the wife, and God is the head of Christ!”?    This is not a stair-step of descending hierarchy.  It is CIRCULAR – beginning and ending with “Christ”!   Paul is holding up the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the Father, as the model for that between husbands and wives, and between Christ and his people!
The Lord intends that his people see, in his absolute unity with the Father, (which by the way, was why they wanted him killed), the pattern for our own lives!  The Father and Son were each totally committed to the purposes, the welfare, and the glory of each other!  They were both totally dedicated to the same goal – the establishment of the Kingdom!
This is the pattern for leadership that we brethren (say “siblings” if you prefer) are expected to exercise in our life as Kingdom citizens!    Like the Father and Son, our commitment to each other is expected to be complete, of single focus, inviolable, and utterly joyful!  This is the meaning of the “headship” that Kingdom citizens are expected to observe!

More specifically, among both Jewish and pagan religionists, a prophet was a cut above the average citizen.  Prophesying was done only by individuals specifically set aside as spokesmen for their god!  Do you see, then, how revolutionary it was when Paul spoke of “every man” praying and prophesying?  Just as revolutionary as it would be today!   And as if that was not enough, he goes on to extend this same responsibility to “every woman”!  In pagan worship, remember, the function of women was usually prostitution!  The call (in v.5) for modest attire is in sharp contrast to female participants in pagan “worship” wearing little or nothing!  And the inclusion of women in prayer and prophecy is also in sharp contrast to Jewish women, who were summarily excluded from even entering the “holy” parts of the temple!  The women of the disciple group are being lifted up, not put down!!!

This is not an isolated principle.  It is intimately connected with one’s whole understanding of the Body of Christ!  It is not male-female roles that are at the root of most of the difficulty among the people of God.  The real problem lies in our refusal to learn that there is no place for ANY kind of status among us!  We do have many different functions, as was read in I Cor.12.  But “when we all come together”, EACH ONE, according to I Cor.14, is to contribute to the edifying! In Christ, everyone is assumed to have a unique, valuable, and necessary contribution to make to the Kingdom!  We need each other equally. And don’t forget the other half of the admonition – the “safety valve”: “The others must EVALUATE what is said!” (v.29)  Have you ever seen that happen?

This, then, is the message that sets the stage for Paul’s instructions regarding participation in the life of a congregation.  The call is for mutual participation, respect, and order, exercised in the freedom with which the people of God have been entrusted, “so that all may learn, and all be encouraged.”

Let’s continue to give it our very best try!
Thanks be to God!

 


An interesting congregational exercise: “Why did Jesus come?”

February 24, 2020

This is not the usual posting that I have made after having had the privilege to share with our little congregation.   I decided to try an experiment, which I highly recommend to any of you who may find yourselves in a similar situation.

The week before, I assigned”‘homework” for the group.  Here is a copy of the assignment:

“There are plenty of people who are ready and eager to tell you “Why Jesus came”.
It is not always clear where they got their information.  Some are quite faithful to his message, and others much less so.  How do you decide which ones to accept?
By far the best authority on that subject is Jesus himself.
This is not in any way to disparage the Biblical writers, or anyone else, but in order to represent Jesus faithfully, we need to be familiar with his own words.
Please find some time this week to look carefully through at least one of the Gospel accounts, and make a list of the direct quotes from Jesus himself on this subject.  It would be good if couples or family units would each use a different Gospel account.
The things you are looking for may be introduced by such phrases as:
“This is why…”
“I have come because…”
“In order that…” or “in order to …”
“So that…”
or just simply “to” or “for”.
You may be surprised at what is or is not included.
Please be ready to share what you find.”

I was not at all sure how many folks would try this exercise, but was delighted with the response.    Here is a summary of what they contributed:

To preach in the next towns  Lk.4:43
To do my Father’s business Lk.2:49
To do the will of the Father Jn.6:38
To bear witness to the truth (before Pilate) Jn.18:5-8
To preach the Kingdom of God Lk.4:42
Not to call righteous, but “sinners”  Mt.9:13, Mk.k2:17, Mk.5:31
To give my life a ransom Mk.10:44  (although the respondent had expected him to say “sacrifice”)
To set the oppressed free Lk.4:18
To set prisoners free Lk.7:22
To seek and to save the lost Jn.19:10
Not to bring peace but division  Mt.10:35, Lk.12:51
Draw all people to myself Jn.12:27-33
Recovery of sight to the blind Lk.4:23
Not to be served, but to serve  Mt.20:28, Lk.22:29
To proclaim the Kingdom Lk.4:43
For judgment – to sort out those who admitted need  Jn.9:38-39, Mt.12:18
That everything about me will be fulfilled – in Law, prophets and psalms  Lk.24:44, Lk.4:18-19
Not to abolish law and prophets, but to fulfill  Mt.5:17
To fulfill Law  Jn.15:22
To make the Father  known to people Jn.17:25

“I AM” statements  (note:  there are many more)
Bread for life of the world Jn.6:51
Light of the world Jn.8:12
Good shepherd Jn.10
The way, the truth, and the Life Jn.14:6
“Don’t be afraid– I AM” Mk. 6:50,14:61

He HAS power ON EARTH to forgive sins Mk.2:10, Mt.9:5, Lk.5:24  (notice the present tense!)
Everything is handed over to Jesus by the Father Mt.11:27
(Jesus) brought glory to the Father by following his instructions Jn.17:4
Must suffer, be rejected and be raised Lk.9:22
There is tribulation in the world, but “I have overcome” the world Jn.16.33
I will come back and take you where I AM  Jn.14:3
I will send the Spirit  Jn.16:7
The Kingdom HAS ARRIVED  Mk.1:15  (at the BEGINNING of his ministry!)

 

As you can see, any one of these would make a “sermon” topic by itself.  Perhaps sometime it will.  The important thing for this session was to allow folks to see that many things that are usually overlooked were important enough for Jesus to emphasize them — and many ideas that are usually “preached”  were not on his expressed agenda at all.  It will be interesting to see if any of these are followed-up!  (In our little group, we take turns with a message.)

I highly commend this exercise to any of you.

 


An offer for those interested

April 13, 2016

Good morning, friends.
Recently, a friend of mine inquired about getting copies of Citizens of the Kingdom for a study class to use.  I was glad to send her what she needed.

As I hope I have made clear, any of you are free to make (or to have made) copies of any of my work on this site for your personal use, as long as you do not sell them for any reason.  I try to live by my conviction that anything that is truly a gift from the Lord should NEVER be used for anyone’s profit.

However, I do have a good-sized box of print copies of Citizens, which were made before my son Dan put the work on the internet for you.  They are just sitting in a closet.  It occurred to me that some of you might also like to have a few for group use.  THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE.  I would, however, be glad to send any of you what you might want to use, simply for the cost of the shipping.  Please respect the trust I have in you, that you will not offer them for sale.  UPS charged me about $15 to mail a box of ten to Pennsylvania from North Carolina,  so I do not feel able to foot the bill for shipping a quantity multiple times.
But I would rather have you using them, than just have them taking up space.

You can reply here on the site if you wish.

In the service of the King —

Ruth


New resources

January 3, 2016

Hello, folks.

As I’m sure you have noticed, there have been no new postings for the last couple months.  We have been working on the problem with the Translation Notes.  Seems that the Greek font I had been using, no longer is compatible with PDF’s, and so when anyone tried to print that off, Greek words came up with a crazy jumble of English letters that were completely meaningless.  After trying a bunch of alternatives, Dan and I decided that the best solution was to simply use the transliteration we have been using in the regular studies. So I re-did the whole thing.  Sorry about that, to those of you who would prefer”real” Greek — but although the technology is out there somewhere, my computer skills are not up to learning a whole new system at this point.

So Dan has now posted the Notes in a printable (transliterated) form, which you can access from the “download” section of the homepage.  In case any of you want the Greek version, it is still there, and you can get to it if you download “SLGreek” to your computer.

We apologize for the inconvenience and nuisance, but it is the best we can do.

Wishing a blessing-filled New Year to you all — Now I will get back to a few waiting requests for studies.  Keep your suggestions for new work coming.

Ruth


2015 in review

December 31, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Note to readers

March 16, 2015

Dear folks who have been using this resource:

Some of you have wondered about the lack of postings lately, and you deserve to know that I too will be glad when they can come back.  The site has been used nearly 75,000 times, in 174 countries.  This is a real delight, and each one of you continues to be in my prayers.
The fact is, that after a silly injury, I ended up having spinal surgery, and although it went well, I am not allowed to bend over or to lift more than 5 pounds.  Nearly all of my reference works are heavier than that!  And sitting for a long time does not work either.

So, dear people, thank you for your interest, and I hope to be back with you before too much longer.  Any prayers are greatly appreciated.

Ruth


2014 in review

December 29, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


For folks who already printed the PNT text

December 4, 2014

If you have already made yourself a copy of the latest PNT text (as of last year), I am furnishing here the brief list of things that have been corrected in the newly published version.  Since there are only a few, you can just make the corrections in your copy, without printing the whole thing again.

Matthew 3, second line: substitute “arrived” for “come near.”  (It’s a perfect tense.)

At the end of Acts 5, the next-to-last line:  a closed square bracket instead of the vertical line

Romans 15, second paragraph (v.7), first line:  should read “welcomed you“, not “us.”

II Timothy 3:16:  insert “also” after each of the places where (is) appears.

James 2:20 — first line:  the “O” should be capitalized.

I John 1, second paragraph, v.7, after “blood” add in brackets  “[life]”.

Rev.14, third line from the end:  the parenthetical note should be italicized: it is not in the text.

That will bring your copy up to date.

 


Check the download list

December 1, 2014

Hello, everyone —

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday with Dan’s family — he is home, safe, healthy, and just submitted his last temperature record, so he did NOT bring any Ebola home.   The team had a useful time in Sierra Leone , and we thank all of you who were remembering him in your prayers.  We of course continue to be concerned for the folks over there, and in the other affected areas.

Dan successfully moved the Greek Index to the tab with the other indexes, and we posted all the corrections that had been waiting — so the New Testament text, the Translation Notes, and the 200 Word Studies are all corrected and up to date, as of a couple days ago.

So thanks for your patience, and you can check out the corrected versions.

We still appreciate your questions and comments.

Ruth (and Dan)