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Christian Life and Doctrine

  June 2004, No6

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BIBLE SYMBOLISM


Even the Winds and the Water

Travelling across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples encountered a squall that threatened to sink their boat (Luke 8:22-25).

In response to the panic of his disciples, Jesus 'rebuked the wind and the raging waters' (verse 24), and the storm immediately subsided. The awe-stricken disciples asked each other: 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water and they obey him' (verse 25).

The disciples were amazed at Jesus' assuming what the Old Testament clearly portrays as a divine prerogative: control over the sea. Many of Israel's hymns picture God as 'mightier that the breakers of the sea' (Psalm 93:4). He 'sits enthroned over the flood' with a voice that thunders over the mighty waters' (Psalm 29:10,3).

The disciples would have been familiar with the symbolic role of the sea in Old Testament books. It is undoubtedly with this view that they watched their Master rebuke the wind and the sea. Marvelling at the power revealed in Jesus, they dare not answer their own question: 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'

THIS MONTH'S INTERESTING AND SOMETIMES AMUSING SMALL STORY


An arrogant lawyer says to a humble client who is a farmer: "Why don't you keep your head up high to the world? I don't bow my head even to God." The wise farmer answered : "Do you see the wheat field out there? Only the heads of the wheat that are empty are standing upright, the full ones are bowed downwards." The lawyer was silenced and left in embarrassment.

How many times are we like the lawyer! We think we can stand in front of God with our heads high. How wrong we are! Nothing can make us stand in front of God. We must recognise that we are all sinners and only the blood of Jesus Christ can open the way. Only this way we can come close to God. Don't be like the lawyer of this story. Bow your head in humility in front of God. Recognise that you are a sinner and accept Christ as your personal saviour.

Sincerity: Can you take the heat?


Our English word sincere is derived from a Latin expression (sine cera) meaning 'without wax'. Ancient-Eastern artificers created beautiful statues from clay to be fired in a kiln, painted and sold

Occasionally, something would go wrong, leaving flaws in the finished product. Unscrupulous merchants would then purchase these flawed items at a vastly-reduced price, fill the gaps with wax and paint over them, and then ask the same price for them as for the perfect products. Advocates of best practice would attempt to counter the problem in the market-place by certifying with signs declaring their wares to be SINE CERA-'without wax': a claim for which credibility was strengthened by willingly displaying their products out of the shade - in the full heat of the sun. Disreputable dealers became 'shady characters' - lest the sun's heat should expose the fraudulent nature of their products.

Modern usage tends overall to equate sincerity with honest intent. Fair enough; honest intent certainly lies at the heart of sine cera. But in the days of this word's infancy, honest intent had to be demonstrated with genuine evidence. That's why it's helpful for us to know what sincerity meant in the culture of the Bible, otherwise the importance of the lesson might be lost on us.

The New Testament was written in Greek...in a world dominated by Latin-speaking Rome. It's not surprising therefore, to find that biblical 'sincerity' (eilikrinia), in addition to honest intent, also conveys the idea of purity, a quality of genuineness possessed by God, which is used to characterize the conduct of believers, incorruption or 'uncorruptness'.

This, then, is the cultural and linguistic setting in which the apostle Paul admonishes the followers of Jesus to:

  • Ensure that worship occasions reflect the purity of their relationship with God, rather than a cover for their carnal animosities (Corinthians 5:8).
  • Follow the example set by genuine servants of God of grace and endurance under intense pressure (2 Corinthians 1:12).
  • Preach and teach the pure Word of God without misrepresenting it (2 Corinthians 2:17).
  • Demonstrate their claims of genuine love for fellow Christians by actually seeing to their physical and emotional needs (2 Corinthians 8:7-8).
  • Validate their claims of faith in a visible pattern of good works (b>Titus 2:7-8).

    Paul, who was also given to using metaphors, told us that we are constructing our individual Christian lives with a range of building materials which will all be subjected to the heat of fire - a biblical symbol for trial and testing (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). Some of the materials he mentioned are improved and refined in fire (like gold and silver) and others are destroyed (like wood and hay). Sounds very similar to ceramic statues proved or disproved in the midday sun, doesn't it! The principle is the very same.

    Paul, in this passage, recognised the range of Christians: from shallow and nominal to genuine and sincere - in the biblical sense. The trials of life will refine some and expose others.

    According to the Bible, Christians should be people who can pass the test of sine cera. They should be the most genuine, uncorrupted, unfeigned people on earth. Good intentions are great, but biblically, they are useless without substance - without a visible pattern of good works. Christians aren't perfect - nor never will be in this life - but, frankly, they should be aiming for a degree of completion that approaches it (Matthew 5:48).
    Genuine Christians are trying to become better neighbours and are more concerned citizens. If they're not they're as fake as one of those flawed wax statues that may look good at first, but won't survive the heat.

    How about it - can you take the heat?"

  • THE BIBLE

    QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

    QUESTION: Isn't being perfect like God, as mentioned in Matthew 5:48, an impossible goal foe a human being to achieve?

    ANSWER: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus made firm demand of his disciples. We are to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and not think hateful thoughts against anyone.

    These demands go beyond the requirements of the Ten Commandments. 'Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,' Jesus said, 'you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 5:20). These people kept the law scrupulously, but something more was needed. Jesus ended this part of his sermon by saying: 'Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly father is perfect, (verse 5:48).

    Jesus' statement is emphatic. He did not tell us to grow in perfection; he told us to be perfect now. Perfection does not have degrees ---- either we are or we aren't perfect. We cannot attain godly perfection on our own by carefully following regulations. Instead, we must be granted this perfection by what is called justification.

    Justification occurs when God pronounces a believer righteous in his sight. Rather than being earned through obedience, justification is granted as a gift when Christians repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. When discussing justification, the apostle Paul wrote: 'If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about ---- but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" ' (Romans 4:2-3). We are justified ---- pronounced righteous by God ---- through faith.

    After justification, Jesus Christ lives in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are morally changed by God living in us. We now want to follow his will and are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus told us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect, he was emphasising out need to rely completely on God. No one can be perfect except by justification through Jesus Christ.

    Certainly, because of our human limitations, we fall short of the morality God wants us to live. Yet if we continually repent and believe in the atoning work of Jesus Christ for us, God counts us as righteous.



    THE BIBLE

    Bibles in British Homes

    On the famous desert island described by 'Desert Island Discs', a copy of the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare are taken for granted. But how many British homes actually possess a Bible? According to the Bible Society, 6 out of 10 people in England personally own a Bible. 8 out of 10 have one somewhere at home. However, simply owing a Bible does not mean that it is read. 35% of people who won a Bible said that they never read it, and another 36% said that they read a passage from the Bible once a year or less.

    According to the Bible Society: 'Evangelists should not therefore assume that even a "passing knowledge of the Bible is held by six out of ten people in England today. We can no longer refer to the "Prodigal Son" and assume that most people will know the story. It is safe to assume that over half the population do not know the content even of the Gospels, let alone any of the Old Testament.'

    However, the picture is not all bleak. The most common reason for people starting to read the Bible was due to a Christian/religious family (33%), Church (30%) and personal commitment to Christ (12%).

    Which Bible version do people read?

    King James                            34%
    New English Bible                  17%
    Revised Standard Version      10%
    Good News Bible                     4%
    New International Version      2%
    Jerusalem Bible                      1%

    Other                                    6%
    Don't know                         26%




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