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What Kind of Smell? Who Is Sufficient?

What Kind of Smell?  Who Is Sufficient?

            Following last Sunday morning's sermon about persecution, Kelly brought a passage of scripture to my attention.  I wish that I would have included II Corinthians 2:15-16 in my lesson.  That opportunity long gone, but I will bring that verse to your attention with this bulletin article. 

II Corinthians 2:15-16 in Three Versions

For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?  (ASV)

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (NASB)

For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things? (AMP)

Explaining II Corinthians 2:15-16 - The Good News

            Writing about aromas or smells, Paul might have been reflecting back on the smell of Israel's Temple, made fragrant with incense offered in praise of God. 

The golden altar of incense...sat in front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies...God commanded the priests to burn incense on the golden altar every morning and evening, the same time that the daily burnt offerings were made. The incense was to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to the Lord (see Ex. 30:1-10).

            Like the Temple's incense, Christian lives "are the sweet savor of Christ."  The image is of Christian lives so thoroughly infused with Christian values and virtues that they fragrance the air around them.  Putting off this sweet smell, other Christians "smell" the spiritual life in them and love them for their "smell."

The Bad News

            Smells and aromas are matters of taste.  Occasionally Janie buys a candle to bring home and burn with a smell that she enjoys.  There are times when I find those smells annoying.

            Like so many other things, smells are a matter of taste.  What some like, others dislike.  This is also in the background of II Corinthians 2:15-16.  What dedicated Christians find sweet smelling in other dedicated Christians, others find an offensive stench. 

            An example is found in a recent edition of The Atlantic magazine.  Christians value the discipline of sexual purity and respect godly sexual ethics in the lives of others.  Contradicting this, The Atlantic has said that preaching Christian sexual morality to the unmarried is out of the mainstream and offensive. 

            What some like, others dislike.  Christian living, appreciated by other Christians, is offensive to those who prefer to die in their sins.  To the terribly immoral, for example, Christian sexual morality is "oppressive," "guilt-ridden," and wrong.  To borrow Paul's words, Christians smell like death to those who are dying in sin - and they do not like either our "smell" or us for smelling  that way.  Paul is simply using reactions to offensive smells to explain the reaction of non-Christian to Christians, and their rejection of what we do and who we are. 

Who Is Adequate For These Things?

            The worse news is that we have to be prepared for these reactions of rejection.  "Smelling" the way that we do, the world is going to turn up its nose at us.  Behaving as we must behave, the world is going to push back against us and persecute us.  Taking up this cross is an unpleasant necessity of Christianity.  Are you equal to this job? 

            With the question, "Who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things?", Paul is placing a great challenge before us.  "Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? " (Barnes). 

             

Emotion. Religion.

Emotion.  Religion.

            Once upon a time, the ideal personality was thought to be, well, thoughtful and emotionally controlled.  Now, when emotion is so very highly regarded, letting our emotions all hang out is thought to be ideal.  These sharp distinctions about the place of emotion effect the church: what is the proper place of emotion within Christianity?  Does the cart come before or after the horse? 

Examples

            Abraham Lincoln perfectly characterized the old ideal.  Apparently passive, reserved, and solemn, Lincoln led the nation through its darkest hours.  Sadly, the nation's darkest hours were also Lincoln's darkest hours - his  beloved 11-year old son Willie died during the early years of the Civil war as his wife slipped into depression.  Regardless of his circumstances, Lincoln's most powerful leadership tool remained his dominance over his own emotions.

            In his dark suit, in his dark top hat, and in his somewhat dark personality, Lincoln does not suit the current, emotionally "out there" ideal.  The new emotional ideal is characterized on OPRAH and on DR. PHIL (where celebrities go to confess and cry) and on THE VIEW (where celebrities go to shout and argue).  Emotions that were once expressed only in private are now welcomed in public.          

            Religious thinking has been influenced by these extremes.  Once, worship services were more emotionally controlled (Did God accept our service?).  Now, services are measured by an individual's emotional reactions to the service (How did I feel?).  Pentecostalism and pop-Psychology have had a profound effect.  The Encounter Groups of the 60s and 70s and the once-rejected assumption that emotionality is spirituality have become emotionally hyperactive worship services of today.          

Acts 2

            Twice in Acts 2, people reacted emotionally.  In both cases, however, (ii) the cart of emotion (i) followed the horse of teaching.  Perhaps there is a lesson here about where emotion best fits within Christianity.

  • "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do" (Acts 2:37)?

  • "And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41-42).

Some Observations

            Emotionalism is a poor substitute for reason.  Why would mature people who have learned not to let their emotions control major life decisions allow their emotional reactions to dictate their religion?  There is something "less" about a religion that allows the cart to run away with the horse.  There is something "more" to a religion that (i) begins with teaching from the word of God and (ii) then proceeds to the various emotional reactions of people to that teaching.  God approaches us through the reason of learning His will.

            Emotional extremes are a poor substitute for normal variations in emotional make-up.  Just as we all wear different sizes of shoes and clothing, we all have different emotional constitutions.  Just as some need more and others need fewer inches in their waistbands, some need more and others need less emotionality, in life and in worship.  Here is the rub: these different emotional constitutions need to work and worship together as the church.  Identifying the extremes (Lincoln; Whoopie Goldberg on THE VIEW) is easy, but where is the happy medium?      

            Catharsis is a poor substitute for repentance and for the discipline of the new life.  A catharsis takes place when people get worked up emotionally, and then release their emotions into a great sense of relief.  Two examples: (i) some people feel better after "a good cry," and (ii) some people feel better after they "vent."  Similarly, some people fell better if there has been a lot of emotion expressed in worship services. 

            Affirming the normal differences in emotional make-up, other people feel better if they choke back their tears, bite their lip instead of venting, and keep their emotions in check.  Those people tend to be put-off by highly emotional displays in worship and by highly emotional appeals by preachers.

            Much to the detriment of its followers and of itself, religion can pander to catharses.  In other words, emotionalism can so dominate a worship service that many feel better after a service in which emotion has played a huge part - and leave being no better at all.  Satisfied by their good feelings, they fail to satisfy God with their better lives and more dedicated service.  

Ananias and Sapphira, and Private Property

Ananias and Sapphira, and Private Property

            Recent Christian history has been cluttered by an odd combination of Socialism mixed with Christianity.  Socialism is a political/economic theory that replaces the private ownership and control of property with ownership and control by the society at large.  By mixing Socialism with Christianity, Christian Socialists conclude that private property, the free market, financial profit, and other aspects of Capitalism, are sinful and that the teachings of Jesus require their rejection. 

            The following quote is typical of Christian Socialism:

If we are serious about our desire to share space, share life together, and participate in God’s new creation, then we must seriously reconsider our understanding of and relationship to private property.  Indeed, the more I study the Bible and economics, the more I am convinced that private property is at the core of many of the problems we face and is, itself, a fundamentally anti-Christian belief and practice (from jesusradicals.org).

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)

            Primarily a story that (i) elevates the selflessness of Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37), (ii) decries lying, and (iii) illustrates God's swift and sever punishment in other ages, the story of Ananias and Sapphira also (iv) affirms the right of private property.  Asking  "Before you sold the field, it belonged to you, right? And even after you sold it, you could have used the money any way you wanted" (Acts 5:4), Peter challenged Ananias' lie.  In so doing he confirmed private ownership and personal control of property.

Private Property before Ananias and Sapphira

            Private ownership is well-entrenched in the Old Testament.  Following Lot's capture by a marauding king, Abraham rode to the rescue.  What did he rescue?  In addition to returning Lot, "Abram (also) brought back everything the enemy had stolen, as well as the women and servants...and everything Lot owned" (Gen. 14:16). 

            Establishing foundational religious and moral law, Moses said, "You must not steal anything" (Ex. 20:15), and "You must not want to take anything that belongs to another person" (Ex. 20:18).  All kinds of property ownership and use are elsewhere confirmed in the Old Testament (Lev. 25:10).  Even Solomon's worthy woman "looks at land and buys it. She uses the money she has earned and plants a vineyard" (Prov. 31:16).

            Jesus included property ownership, enterprise, and fair profit in several Parables.  For example, seed was sown (Mt. 13:3-23), fish caught (Mt. 13:47-50), money was fairly lent (Lk. 7:41-43), barns built (Lk. 12:15-21), property was managed (Lk. 16:1-8), workers were hired (Mt. 20:1-16), and lost property recovered (XLk. 15:3-10) all without any rebuke whatsoever.

After Ananias and Sapphira

            James 4:13-16 provides another affirmation of the right to private property, and to profit - so long as God is honored and prideful boasting is avoided.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and...trade and make a profit...Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will...do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

            If God means for us not to "trade and make a profit," He here missed a perfect opportunity to condemn conscientious Capitalism.  Instead, arrogance and failing to honor God are condemned.  We do more than cover our tracks with "If God wills."  We also honor Him as he blesses us in our enterprises. 

            Similarly, I Timothy 6:17-18 warns, but does not condemn the most effective Capitalists, but channels their pride and their profits.

Command those who are rich with the things of this world. Tell them not to be proud. Tell them to hope in God, not their money...Tell those who are rich to do good—to be rich in good works. And tell them they should be happy to give and ready to share.

Conclusion

            Nothing about any of these passages should be misconstrued to justify, much less demand, a "Wild-West" economic system that is free from reasonable controls, or that allows the poor to free-fall without safety nets.  In fact, the many other verses that call for the protection of the downtrodden (see Is. 1:17) suggest that enlightened and compassionate Capitalism should be preferred over laissez faire. But nothing about these passages is consistent with Christian Socialism.  It is simply not the case that God opposes private ownership or private control of property.    

           

           

            

In Praise Of Working Wives And Mothers

In Praise Of Working Wives And Mothers

            Praising "worthy women" and establishing an ideal for praiseworthy womanhood, Solomon wrote Proverbs 31:10-31.  Among the many virtues of her worthiness is industry.     

  • "She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands" (V:13).

  • "She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard" (V:16).

  • "She perceives that her merchandise is profitable" (V:18).

  • "She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant" (V:24).

            In contrast to the in-home industry that was typical of Solomon's times, the out-of-home industry of jobs and careers is more typical of our times.  Resetting Proverbs 31-10-31 into contemporary money-making realities, Solomon is honoring working wives and mothers.  This article is written to further reflect on the amazing contributions of wives and mothers who also work outside the home.

"Who Also Work Outside the Home"

            The old saying, "A man works from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done" is painfully accurate.  Women who work outside the home are painfully aware of "the second shift," the also in addition to their job or career.

In addition to their jobs in the formal economy, women also engage in a second shift of work at home; they take care of most of the household (cleaning and cooking), childcare (homework, bathing, etc.), and additional family care responsibilities (such as caring for elderly parents).

            References to the second shift recognize that working women pull a full first shift outside the home, and then pull another second shift at home.  Doing the math, adding a first shift and a second shift equals two full shifts.  In fact, working wives and mothers also do most of the work inside their homes.

            Changing awareness has enlightened many men to the fact of the second shift and its extra demands.  Recognizing that their wives work overtime every day, many men are signing on to the second shift themselves.  Many families no longer see housework as women's work, but as work for everyone who lives in the house.

Outside the Home

            Outside of their homes, many of our Christian sisters are nurses, bankers, teachers, secretaries, clerks/administrators/coordinators, and business owners.  They "rise while it is yet night" (Prov. 31:15).  They "do not eat the bread of idleness" (Prov. 31:27). 

            And their "works praise" them (Prov. 31:31).  Several of our sisters who work outside of the home are very highly respected for what they do.  Earning money, they have also earned professional praise.  "Her husband also, and he (better) praise her" (Prov. 31:28).

If You Want To Get Something Done...

            There is another old saying - "If you want to get something done, ask someone who is busy."  There is something about being busy that breaks down the barrier to becoming busier still.  Once people get their motor running, they find that they are able to keep their motor running pretty fast.  Idleness is a habit.  So is industry. 

            Some people remain in idle, but not worthy women.  After her first shift outside the home, and her second shift of housework, she is still able to shift into a third shift.  "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (Prov. 31:26). 

            In a predictable corollary to "If you want to get something done, ask someone who is busy," church leaders know that if you want to get a Bible class taught, a project led, or a special task completed, they are wise to ask a sister whose works elsewhere praise them.  At the Liberty Church of Christ, the third shift of church work is filled by women who take a deep breath after their first two shifts, and then keep plowing ahead.

Reflected Glow - Where Does It Come From?

            They run in pairs.  They really do. 

            Again regarding the worthy woman, Solomon said, "Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land" (Prov. 31:23).  Something about the industry of the worthy woman rubs off on her worthy husband, making him even more worthy.  Or is it the industry of the worthy husband that has rubbed off on his worthy wife?  In fact, multi-shift men and multi-shift women seem to attract each other.  They have a way of challenging each other.  Their glow is mutual.   

High Praise

            Many women have done excellently, but our sisters who fill the three shifts of (i) housework, (ii) work outside the home, and (iii) church work surpass them all (see Prov. 31:29).  We are amazed at their energy and industry.  We are indebted to them for their contributions of time and talent.  

What Can We Learn From the Very First Christians; What Can We Learn From the Very First Church?

What Can We Learn From The Very First Christians;

What Can We Learn From The Very First Church?

            In an age when everything that has been around for a while is being rejected as mere tradition, it is refreshing to return to Acts 2 with the question, "What can we learn from the very first Christians in the very first church?"  Acts 2 possesses that kind of seriousness and solemnity.  If what they did was good then, then why isn't it good for us today?

The Very First Plan of Salvation

            Speaking to devout Jews gathered at Jerusalem for the religious feast of Pentecost, Peter laid out a step-by-step plan for saving themselves (Acts 2:40).  What did they have to do (see Acts 2:37)?

  • They had to "give ear to (his) words" (Acts 2:14) and "hear these words" (Acts 2:22).  Although the miraculous outpouring of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was taking place all around them, their salvation began with hearing words.
  • They had to "know for certain" (Acts 2:42).  "Know for certain" is an apt synonym for faith and belief
  • They had to be "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37) and "repent" (Acts 2:38).  "Cut" sharply contrasts with the lesser feeling of being "caught." 
  • They had to be baptized (Acts 2:38, 41).  Immersion was required .
  • Receiving the "remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), they followed their salvation with a life of devotion (Acts 2:42).  Immersion was just the beginning.

The Very First Church at Work and at Worship

            Devoting themselves to Christian living after their conversion, the very first Christians in the very first church:

  • Studied the Bible (Acts 2:42).
  • Worshipped together (Acts 2:42).
  • Generously assisted each other (Acts 2:44+).
  • Conducted "day by day" instruction in the plan of salvation (Acts 2:47).

The Plan of Salvation Taught by Churches of Christ

  • Hear
  • Believe
  • Repent
  • Be Baptized
  • Live a resurrected life

The Work of the Church Taught by Churches of Christ

  • Evangelism
  • Edification
  • Benevolence

What To Do?

            Why would we choose to be temporarily relevant and eternally irrelevant?  Seeking to appeal to the hear and now, some fail to appeal to the scriptures as our source of authority for all that we do.  This article points back to the very first Christians in the very first church.  What did they do.  Why don't we do the same?