Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Union with Christ
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Follow-up: Union with Christ

The book of Ephesians is different than the other letters we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up with the churches he planted. For instance, there are no problems that he is trying to correct nor questions that he is answering. Also, it is less personal than his other letters.

Ephesians: A Summary of the Gospel

F.F. Bruce writes:

It [Ephesians] sums up in large measure the leading themes of the Pauline writings, together with the central motif of Paul’s ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. But it does more than that: it carries the thought of earlier letters to a new stage.1F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 229.

Clinton E. Arnold offers a statement of purpose for the letter:

Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display.2Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan, 2010, 45.italics original

Partnership in the Gospel
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Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

Bearing much fruit
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Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit – Part 2

This is the second of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presented biblical fruit and focused on the fruit of the Spirit. In Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.

Dwindling Fruit

Somewhere in the second month after the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I began to notice a slow eroding of my peace of mind. By the end of the third month, I discovered my quotient of joy was diminishing as well. Then, during the fourth month, several incidents severely tested my patience. While any of us may find ourselves with varying quantities of the fruit of the Spirit in a particular month, the decrease of so many in a relatively short time concerned me and prompted me to explore the subject.

Where does love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control, come from? And how can we bear such fruit, regardless of our circumstances? As I studied God’s Word, I learned that the production of good fruit is dependent on three components: abiding in Jesus, acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, and pruning.

Telling a Better Story is about listening to the stories of others and telling the Gospel story.

Telling a Better Story – a book review

What does telling stories have to do with apologetics?Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age by [Josh Chatraw]

My interest was sparked when I saw this new book on apologetics focusing on telling stories earlier this summer. Apologetics has traditionally been oriented to philosophy and logic. Yet most people understand life through stories they seek to practice. Expressing the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15) is best communicated through stories. People relate to stories better than to formal syllogisms. Josh Chatraw’s new book, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age (Zondervan, 2020) reimages apologetics for today’s context. The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 – A Better Story About Apologetics; Part 2 – Offering a Better Story; Part 3 – Objections to the Story. He writes the following about apologetics:

Once viewed as a tool to win debates, apologetics is now becoming more focused on generating productive conversations that open doors for people to consider the gospel. Rather than encouraging others to use what Charles Taylor refers to as “conversation-stoppers” (e.g. “I have a three-line argument which shows that your position is absurd or impossible or totally immoral”) or what Alan Jacobs refers to as the habit of “militarizing discussion and debate,” many apologists are emphasizing the need for Christians to become better listeners who seek to understand the person thay are speaking with before making appeals. This enables us to meet people where they are and find points to affirm before finding points to challenge.1Josh Chatraw, Telling a Better Story, Zondervan, 2020, p 19.

Listen to their stories

The author wants us to listen to their stories because they are windows for understanding. Stories, both big stories and little stories, are purveyors of culture and worldview. Stories explain life. They answer the big questions about the meaning of life and how to live well. Chatraw writes:

young pastor being ordained
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Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

suffering
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Follow-up: Understanding Suffering

Paul’s follow-up with the church in Corinth is the most extensive in the New Testament. It includes four letters (1 & 2 Corinthians and two we don’t have – a “previous letter” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and a “severe letter” 2 Corinthians 2:3,4), a visit by Timothy, two visits by Titus, and two visits by Paul over a five year period. 1Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC, 2005, 101-105. In previous posts on 1 Corinthians, I have noted the need to keep the cross central and the need to keep culture in perspective. Moving on to 2 Corinthians, we see Paul defending his apostolic ministry. His suffering and lack of polish in speaking had caused his opponents to look down on him. Therefore as Paul defends himself, he provides us with an understanding of Christian suffering and gives a model of authentic gospel ministry. This post focuses on the understanding of suffering. Then a future post will address his model of authentic gospel ministry.

Very relevant to vocational ministers

Paul Barnett comments on the relevance of 2 Corinthians for us,

Thus the greater part of his teaching about ministry stand as a model and an inspiration to subsequent generations of missionaries and pastors. His comments about ministry – that at its heart lie endurance and patience, sacrifice and service, love of the churches, fidelity to the gospel, sincerity before God, and, above all, a rejection of triumphalism with its accompanying pride – remain throughout the aeon to shape and direct the lives of the Lord’s servants. Paul’s ministry as sufferer and servant is precisely modeled on that of Jesus, and finds its legitimacy in the face of detraction and opposition for just that reason, as also must ours, if that is our calling. Thus 2 Corinthians may be bracketed with the Pastoral Letters in its applicability to the work of those whose vocation it is to serve God as his ministers. 2Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT, 1997,50.

The Prodigal Prophet: a review

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by [Timothy Keller]

Like the two brothers of the parable

Many are familiar with Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, published in 2008. In that book, Keller highlighted the grace of God portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son. Similarly, in a more recent book, The Prodigal Prophet, he shows how the story of Jonah gives us an Old Testament illustration of that parable. He writes in the Introduction,

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11-34), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25-32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners.1Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 6.

In the Introduction, Keller outlines how the book of Jonah portrays the Prophet’s disobedience (chapters 1 & 2) and then his reluctant obedience (chapters 3 & 4) in a parallel fashion. Jonah’s main theological problem is understanding how God can be both merciful and just. Keller writes,

The question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to see how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men. 2Keller, 5.

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