Tuesday, August 9, 2022

“A Gospel Foreshadowing” - Rev. Tim Dubeau

It is indeed providential that in preparation for Communion last Sunday Henry wrote on the topic of bread. In a very informative article he surveyed the history of bread in both Old and New Testament times. Inevitably, he landed on the most significant interpretive motif for bread, that which Jesus himself expounded by saying "I am the bread of life.” Taken further, at Matthew's account of the last supper Jesus said "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26 ESV). Clearly then, Jesus wanted His followers to see that just as bread served as a basic, everyday life life-sustaining for our temporal, physical bodies, those who banked their faith completely in Him as the source of true life would be sustained spiritually with life everlasting. The administration of the sacrament continued with Jesus offering the cup and saying "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27b-28 ESV). These words of Jesus leave no doubt that the cup represented Christ’s own blood that was to be shed for the remission of sin.

I do not pretend to have completed an exhaustive search of how blood is viewed throughout Old and New Testament times, but I would like to share a bit about how blood relates to the covenant that Jesus mentions. While we could easily go back to a number of Old Testament texts citing covenants (Covenant of Works, Abrahamic Covenant, Davidic Covenant), a great example of a blood covenant is found in Exodus 24. Here Moses affirms the covenant God established on Mt. Sinai by sacrificing bulls and throwing half the blood on the base of the altar and the other half on the people. There is life (or a life force) in all the blood that God has created (both human and animal). Since all blood is under God's sovereign dominion, that which is shed for sacrificial purposes is given back to Him by pouring/sprinkling upon the base of the altar, upon the high priest, upon the veil of the tabernacle and even upon the people of Israel. Such sacrificial blood had the power to temporarily atone (Leviticus 16:6,15-19; 17:11), purify (Leviticus 14) and sanctify (Exodus 29:30-31) and was that which sealed God's covenant with Israel.

Such concepts are carried into the New Testament but are given additional importance in relation to the blood of Christ. The book of Hebrews contains several references back to Exodus 24, all of which testify to the power of sacrificial blood to remove sin. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is seen as the ultimate sacrifice since His blood, unlike that of animals whose blood brought temporary relief from sin, was so superior that it brought about everlasting forgiveness and sanctification. Through His perfect obedience in shedding His precious blood, Jesus brought peace and reconciliation between ourselves and God. We are freed from the power of sin and Satan, having our guilt blotted out completely. We have been pardoned by God based on the active obedience of Christ, and we are being transformed into new creations. Indeed, all we who had gone astray were by God's grace and mercy "sprinkled" with the blood of Jesus. Thus, the cup representing His shed blood is the guarantee of our salvation. His blood sealed the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace. We drink the cup in remembrance of Him.

In light of this, think upon the following ...

1. How is blood described in John 1:13?

2. In what ways is the phrase "the shedding of blood" used in the Bible?

3. What are the evidences that the atoning power of Jesus' blood have been gifted to a person? See 1 Peter 1:13-23

4. The inspired author of Hebrews uses the phrase "once for all" in 7:27, 9:12, 9:26 and 10:10. What are the contexts in which these words are spoken?

5. In 1 Peter 1:18-19 to what things are the "blood of Christ" compared and what makes it different?

6. In modern day language we speak of "cutting" a deal or a contract. In the Old Testament a covenant is cut. See Genesis 15 to gain further understanding how a covenant was ratified.

7. In John 6:53-54, what must a believer do to experience eternal life?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

"Bread in the Bible" - Henry Knapp

 

All that you never thought to ask about “bread” in the Old and New Testaments.

As soon as you begin to think about it, you’ll realize that “bread” is a popular biblical image in both the Old and New Testaments. Bread was an important part of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The absence of bread caused the Israelites to rebel against Moses (and God) in the wilderness. Eating consecrated bread from the Temple was a big deal in David’s life. Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Heaven, and bread forms a crucial part of our communion celebration.

What are we talking about here? A good, fluffy loaf of white bread? Sliced, or not? Maybe a Panera bagel? Or, (shudder), whole wheat bread?

During biblical times, the term “bread” was used for leavened or unleavened bread, porridge, gruel, and other cereal-grain-based food items; eventually, any solid food or nourishment was called “bread.” Most frequently for Israel, bread was made from either wheat or barley. Different types of soil, different harvest seasons, led people in biblical times to diversify their production. Wheat, more difficult to grow, was more expensive and a rarity for the average Old Testament Israelite who ate barley cakes instead. By Jesus’ time, much of the bread was wheat-based.

Much of everyday life revolved around the production, preparation, and consumption of bread. Providing most of the proteins and carbs needed for life, bread was the staple food for Israel and all surrounding cultures. Over 300 different kinds of bread are known to have been produced during biblical times. Following the harvest, the seed was separated from the husk, ground up to differing degrees, and then cooked by various means. Bread would be baked in an oven, fried in a pan over hot coals or on a griddle. Not like our loaf, the bread produced would be more like a roll or bun. A family affair, the production of bread would take up much of the day.

The centrality of bread for life—both enabling life and a dominating concern for life—makes it a perfect metaphor or analogy for our spiritual existence. During times of mourning, divine punishment or discipline, the Bible will speak of “the bread of adversity,” “of tears” or “of ashes.” So overwhelming were these suffering times, that it was like the very essence, the bread, of life. The Psalmist sings of Israel’s enemies eating people like bread—building on the horror of cannibalism to describe the everyday life experience of living under foreign oppression.

On the other hand, “to eat bread” with someone was to share a meal—to declare peace and harmony. Bread was understood to be a gift from God: It was He who prepared the land, made it fertile, gave the rain, provided for the harvest and allowed for the peaceful growth of the grain. Bread was a part of all life, and God is the essential element in the production and consumption of bread.

And, so it is today: Jesus is the bread of life—the essence of all we are. This week in worship we will celebrate communion together, a reminder of our daily dependence upon the life-giving sacrifice of our savior, Jesus Christ.

For worship this week, look at one line—“Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed; let us therefore celebrate the festival” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

1. Read the surrounding verses—how does this line fit in with Paul’s thinking?

2. Why might Paul use the term, “Christ,” here instead of Jesus?

3. The Passover lamb recalls the experiences of Israel during the Exodus. Read up on them in Exodus 12.

4. What are the characteristics present in the “Passover lamb” that distinguishes it from any other lamb? How are these related to Jesus?

5. Notice the tense of the verb in the first part of the verse, “has been sacrificed.” What does the “timing” mean/imply?

6. Why does Paul suggest we “celebrate the festival”? What “festival”? Why should we celebrate it?

7. What would a celebration look like? How is this connected to our Lord’s Supper/communion celebration?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

" The Christian Quest" - Henry Knapp

Reading The Hobbit was a seminal moment in my life. Sometime in middle school, I ran across an illustrated edition of Tolkien’s work and was captured immediately by the world the author created. Middle Earth was filled with awe-inspiring, fantastical things, glorious landscapes, terrifying images. Until that moment, I wouldn’t necessarily have said that I possessed an imagination, but once immersed in Tolkien’s story, my mind took flight. Suddenly, all the words on the page became vivid images in my head; I was easily transported to a place that only existed in the imagination. I had no trouble picturing the individuals, places, and events described. Looking in on Tolkien’s world was easy for me. 

But, it was not only the imaginary world of The Hobbit that captured me—it was the entire design of the plot. I do not mean the intricacies of the story of a band of dwarfs taking on a solitary hobbit in order to rob a dragon of his hoard. No, that was engaging enough, but what really captured my imagination was the entire notion of “a quest.” Here in The Hobbit, I was first confronted with the quest motif, the idea of a long and arduous search, undertaken by a misfit band of characters, for some lofty purpose. I like how Webster defines it: “a chivalrous enterprise usually involving an adventurous journey toward a noble end.” Ever since The Hobbit, I have had a soft spot for stories that take on “the quest motif.” Perhaps it is the romance or the comradery or the idealism, but I love it! 

I wonder why we do not think more in terms of “a quest” when speaking of our faith. You do not have to be a romantic to see the “chivalrous” side of pursuing Christ or the adventurous journey of walking by faith or the noble goal of seeing God. But for some reason, we do not naturally seem to think of the Christian life as a quest. 

So, perhaps I’m reading a bit much into it, but it sure seems at the close of his letter that Apostle Paul is calling Timothy to join in a quest of enormous, eternal proportions. Like Gandalf recruiting Bilbo, Paul nudges Timothy—pointing him toward a journey that he cannot avoid. Flee this! Pursue that! Fight here! Avoid those! And, can you just imagine the reward? Stunning beyond belief! Paul’s commands to Timothy ring of the quest motif—a task, a journey, a purpose, a goal, with a band of believers accompanying you at every step! 

Of course, like any quest, opposition arises; a struggle is the expectation; disappointment and discouragement haunt us at every stage. Satan attacks, sin corrupts, sorrow dominates, and frustration is ever present. Yet through it all the faithful strive on…because the goal of this quest could not be more glorious—God Himself! 

Like Paul, like Gandalf, let me be the one to urge you on—take this quest! Join me in the journey! For the blessing of God’s Presence is a great and worthy goal. 

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 6:11-21. 

1. As you read through the text, make a list of all the “quest”-ing imagery you find. 

2. Remind yourself what “these things” in verse 11 refers to. If Timothy is to “flee” some things, how are they the opposite of what he is to “pursue”

3. How does “fight the good fight of faith” (vs. 12) well summarize this text? 

4. In verse 13, what does the implication of charging Timothy before God mean? 

5. Verse 15-16 describe our Lord and Savior. Make a list of all the qualities mentioned here. Why are they a good “goal” for a quest? 

6. The paragraph on the rich can be understood as speaking to more than just the uber-wealthy. What biblical principles for our life’s journey are evident here? 

7. Paul’s final (or near-final) command to Timothy is “guard the good deposit!” How is this such a great summation of this biblical letter? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

"Theological Discord" - Henry Knapp

In the “theology world,” it is not unknown for there to be strife and contention, often surrounding a single word or phrase. Indeed, one of the better-known theological controversies dealt with the question of a single letter in a word—is Jesus “of the same” substance as the Father or a “similar” substance as the Father? A single letter in one Greek word changes “same” to “similar” and was the source of great controversy in the early Church. (Incidentally, the Church reaffirmed the biblical witness that Jesus is indeed “of the same substance” with the Father.) The stakes are high when we are trying to “think God’s thoughts after Him,” when we are trying to find the right way to talk about the Gospel. Getting our theology wrong betrays the Scripture, but fighting for the “right” can easily happen in the wrong way!

During my theological training, I have witnessed and participated in a lot of theological discussions, many of which devolved quickly into arguments and bitter quarrels. And, I must confess, I was often the cause of these controversies. In my defense, I always wanted to get things right, to be faithful and accurate according to God’s Word. As we have seen in the study of 1st Timothy, holding and maintaining the truth against falsehood is no light matter to our Lord - it is an important part of faithfully serving Christ. Nevertheless, all too often, the manner in which I hold forth the truth is more about me than it is about the faith. Sometimes, I really do want to help others see the truth as Scripture proclaims it, but sometimes, I just wanna win! My pride, my impatience, and my self-confidence gets in the way of true, helpful dialogue.

The biggest challenge in this regard for me, however, is that sometimes both desires are present at the same time. I can easily imagine both wanting to uphold the Gospel truth for God’s sake and wanting to win the argument for my sake—both desires happening during the same conversation. The test then is not to cease proclaiming the truth, but doing so where the “self” is limited and God’s truth is accented, where my pride takes the back seat to God’s designs.

In our study of 1 Timothy, we have that challenge put before us in stark terms. Paul’s warnings about straying from the true Gospel could not be clearer (1:3-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-6); as a Church leader and a follower of Christ, Timothy is to protect, project, and proclaim that which is true, that which is in accord with God’s own Word. Timothy’s job is not to ignore false teachers; but to confront, correct, and even rebuke them, preserving and guarding the truth. And yet. And yet so much of what Paul warns Timothy about is the dissension, the division, the envy and slander of false teaching! A consistent outcome of heretical words is that they lead to discord, disagreement, and disunity in the body of Christ. So, on the one hand, Timothy is to confront and challenge false teaching, and on the other hand, he is not to allow conflict to divide the Church. A tough balancing act if there ever is one!

As we look at 1 Timothy 6:3-10 this coming week, the dangers of false teaching will be evident, as will the need to uphold the truth. Paul’s advice on how we do this will challenge all who desire to be true to the Gospel and seek the unity of the body.

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 6:3-10.

1. What might “a different doctrine” refer to? What modern-day examples can you think of?

2. Paul uses two “tests” to evaluate if something is a “different doctrine” or not. What are the two tests as described in vs. 3?

3. List out the qualities a false teacher is going to exhibit. Why are these present in false teachers (see vs 3, and your answer above)?

4. Why would false teaching inevitably lead to discord and “constant friction” (vs. 5) in the church?

5. What is the connection between false teaching and a lack of true contentment (vs. 5-6)?

6. Verse 7 seems like a truism if there ever is one. But how does it advance Paul’s argument?

7. How would you support Paul’s statement that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (vs. 10)?

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

"Modern-Day Slavery" - Henry Knapp

One of my earliest “awakenings” as a child took place in the kitchen with my mother, bugging her, no doubt, with silly questions. Along the way, I asked her why the American Civil War was fought. As a six-year-old I had just enough awareness that war was a terrible thing and that people actually died, and so I naturally wanted to understand why people risked death in the Civil War. Not sure how to talk to a first-grader about the War, my mother at first tried to pawn off the question—“arguments about the flag (huh?)… different ways of approaching life (ahh…)… talk to your dad!” Eventually, however, she told me about slavery—I’m positive she didn’t elaborate or go into detail, but I was floored. I couldn’t believe such a thing was possible; the innate “wrongness” of it all simply overwhelmed me. I do remember thinking, “so glad those days are over!”

Well. Sadly, those days are not over. Not as much as we would like to believe. One hundred and fifty years after the abolition of slavery in the USA, and in a world where forced servitude is formally outlawed in every land, the practice is still widespread. A rather conservative estimate holds that around 40 million people are held in bondage across the world. (To put that number in perspective, remember there are only about 330 million people in the USA, so about one-in-every-eight people). Those numbers include those forcibly married against their will; the rest, about 25 million, are in forced labor or sex trafficking. One in four are children; three-quarters are female. One organization claims that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history (can’t verify this).

Slavery, in every sense, perverts God’s created intention for humanity, mocks the salvation of the cross, and rejects the ultimate vision of heavenly redemption. By creation, every human being is made equally in God’s image; by means of the cross, the Gospel has torn down every racial, social, and religious division; in our final state before the throne we are joined as one people from every nation, tribe, and language. The very idea of slavery undercuts the core of the Gospel message.

And, yet… some would argue that the Bible itself is “pro-slavery,” and we certainly know throughout history that the Church has not uniformly stood against the practice. Indeed, in American history, the churchmen in the south were staunch advocates for “this peculiar institution.” So, how can we understand the incompatibility of the Gospel and slavery, and yet the Bible’s own words regarding the practice?

Our text this week in 1 Timothy deals directly with the issue of slavery as Paul addresses slaves and their service to their masters (6:1-2). It would be simple to hide behind the belief that slavery is no longer an issue for us today, but that simply is not true. It would be tempting to ignore this text believing that it says nothing to us since we are not slaves, but again, not true. It would be easy to condemn the Bible for its apparent “pro-slavery” bias, but not true again! To our great benefit, this text addresses us today, it challenges us today, and it reinforces our faith in our God. Join us on Sunday and see if God does not use this text to deepen our relationship as we worship Him! 

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

1. Why does Paul use the term, “bondservant” here? What other ideas besides “slavery” might be included here?

2. How would a slave regard a master as “worthy of all honor?” What might that look like?

3. Given we are not slaves, how might this text be built upon characteristics that should nevertheless be demonstrated in our lives?

4. What reasons does Paul give in verse 1 for this command to slaves? How might God’s name be reviled? Or the teaching of the Gospel?

5. Note the assumption that there is a real brotherhood between slave and master. Realizing that brotherhood might lead the slave to act a certain way, why should they not act upon that common brotherhood?

6. What other texts in the Bible deal with slavery? If you have time, look up: Ephesians 6:5-8; Col 3:22-24; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:16-18; Deuteronomy 24:7; Galatians 3:28.

7. Read the end of Romans 6. We are slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. Why is the “slavery” label instructive here?

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

"God's Justice, Our Justice" - Henry Knapp

One of the first biblical books I ever really studied as a Christian was the Epistle of James. I don’t know how or why I landed on it, and that biblical book is not where I would first direct others to start, but the influence of that first study on my faith should not be underestimated. It wasn’t so much the content of James that grabbed me, it was the simple fact of an in-depth study of God’s Word. Not that James doesn’t speak powerfully to our everyday situation in life, it surely does: caring for others, works and faith, controlling the tongue, perseverance in difficulty. James touches on everyday, real-life issues.

One of these issues is James’ condemnation of showing favoritism—“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith” (James 2:1). In this chapter, James warns against showing special treatment to some over others and gives some good illustrations. When I first read this, I was young and filled with youthful indignation over any such unjust treatment—if we show favoritism toward some, we are being fundamentally unjust. As much as I rejected such notions as partiality or prejudice attitudes, I couldn’t imagine situations where it would be a struggle in the church community. Certainly, God’s people of all people would be able to live without such crass, negative stereotypes and actions! James’ illustration—putting some people in better seats than others—makes sense, but it was hard to imagine it would really happen (James 2:3).

Of course, I am older, wiser, and unfortunately, more jaded today than I was back then. Discrimination, prejudice, and blatant unfairness are all too common in our society. Injustice is not just something that exists “out there” in the world. Indeed, it exists “in here” at its core—the “here” being in the sinful heart of every human being. Small acts of bias, involuntary divisive thoughts, overt comments of favoritism, conscious actions of inequality, pepper our everyday experience. James’ warnings take on great relevance when we see the transparent sins in our community.

One of the sadder aspects of this unjust treatment of others is that it happens while we are fully aware of the fundamental injustice of such actions. Created as we are in the image of God, we reflect in some ways His character. We have some meager capacity to love because He is love. We can show some form of mercy because He is mercy. And, we have a sense of justice because He Himself pursues justice. All humanity shares in the image of God, and, hence, all have an innate sense of what is right and wrong. Of course, equally, all humanity share in the depravity of our sin—that fundamental characteristic of the image of God in each person is damaged by our brokenness—and, thus, we all equally distort that innate justice. Often we can identify injustice (in others, it is easier!), but often sin overrides and we do not respond to injustice as we should.

Thus, we have the book of James warning us to avoid favoritism and to pursue just relationships. And, not just James, but throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as Just, and we are to follow Him in justice. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had to remind Timothy himself of the need to be on guard against showing partiality and favoritism to others (5:21). This is a challenge to our world, to our particular society, to our institutions, to our church, and mostly, to ourselves, to our own hearts. And this challenge flows naturally from the text we will study together this Sunday.

In preparation for worship this Sunday, please read 1 Timothy 5:17-25.

1. Make a list of all the commands Paul tells Timothy here. I count at least eight!

2. What holds all these commands together? The ESV lists them all in a single paragraph… why? What is the common link?

3. What would a “double honor” mean in verse 17? The implication is clear, but why this particular phrasing?

4. How does the Old Testament citation about an ox have any bearing at all? Read Deuteronomy 25:4 and the verses around it. Does that help at all?

5. Verse 20 sounds tremendously threatening… how might you understand this more generously/graciously than to think Paul is trying to scare people?

6. Why does Paul insert this comment about Timothy’s stomach here (vs. 23)? How does this fit with the overall message?

7. I think verses 24-25 sum up this paragraph. Why do you think I think so? Can you give specific examples of either the sin of verse 24 or the good deeds of 25?

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

"How We Treat Others" - Henry Knapp

I am notoriously bad at guessing people’s ages. And this is not just for folks who are far distant from my own age. It’s not like I just can’t guess how old children are, or the elderly. Basically, I’m usually a few decades off when it comes to everyone (only a slight exaggeration there). I’m often surprised to find out that someone is significantly older (or younger) than I am… which could make the application of this week’s text hard to work out.

In 1 Timothy 5, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy on how to treat other people and he separates them out into different age and gender categories: older men are to be treated one way, younger men another, older women and younger women. “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (vs. 1). So, the Lord directs me to treat some guys as father figures, and some as brothers, depending on their age. If, however, like me you have a hard time discerning how old someone might be, I don’t really suppose you can ignore this text!

It appears what Paul has in mind runs a lot deeper than simply evaluating someone’s age and treating them accordingly. What he is addressing here is a matter of the heart. How we engage with others is a measure of who we truly are. How we treat others says more about our own character than it says about them. Paul’s words to Timothy do not direct him to treat others as they really deserve, his instruction concerns Timothy’s heart. If Timothy is haughty, self-assured, and proud, his treatment of others will show that inner character, or lack thereof. On the other hand, a Christ-like character will show in how Timothy engages with others.

“Actions speak louder than words.” An old adage, but a true one if ever. But, even more true is the realization that our actions arise from who we are on the inside. Jesus addressed this issue in metaphor. When talking with His disciples regarding being “unclean” before God, Jesus challenges the traditional notion that touching or eating something unclean defiles you in God’s eyes. Instead, Jesus teaches, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth… What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15: 11, 18). Jesus could not have been clearer—how we treat others reflects what is genuine in our hearts, either Christlikeness or otherwise.

This week in worship we will look at Paul’s directives on how we are to treat others. Two characteristics will jump out at us—graciousness and humility. And, these traits arise from the heart—and not just any heart or every heart, but a heart that has been transformed by the truth of the Gospel; a redeemed heart that is growing and being trained in godliness will show in our treatment of others—no matter what their age!

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 5:1-16.

1. Why would Timothy want to, or need to, “rebuke” someone (vs. 1)? What does this say about the “rightness” of Timothy’s actions?

2. Paul does not spell out for Timothy what it looks like to treat an older man like a father, or a younger woman as a sister. What do you think he has in mind? How does the end phrase, “in all purity,” apply?

3. Paul moves on to talk about widows next. Why do you think he focuses on this particular population?

4. Paul’s initial instruction is to treat them with “honor” (vs. 3). What might that entail, and why would that be the correct action with a widow in particular?

5. Paul is clearly worried about the treatment of widows, both to do justice to them and to encourage faithful discipleship in the body. Where do you see both traits communicated?

6. Verse 8 can be a challenging verse to apply in all situations. Where might it be hard for a family to care for a loved one? How can you be faithful to these commands in your particular situation?