I was recently asked what books I plan to read in 2018. My goal this year is to read books that assist me while I teach in the academy (Undergraduate College & Seminary), serve in the church, and grow in my personal life. Baptist Bible Seminary recently posted a quick word regarding two resources I plan to read this new year. You can catch the story here. I do plan to read more than the two represented here, and as those decisions are made, I will post titles, short snippets, and/or reviews of the resources I read.
I have the privilege to speak to the students of Clarks Summit University in chapel, Tuesday, Sept 26. I challenged the students to chase after godliness with purpose from 1 Timothy 4:6-8. The message can be found here.
I recently preached a Christmas sermon at NorthValley Baptist Church (Mayfield, PA) and used Luke 1:46-56 as my text. I began the message asking the congregation, “What’s worth celebrating to you?” As they sat there contemplating the question, I encouraged them to make a list. (before continuing to read this blog post, you, . . . yes you, create your list). I’m sure the majority of our lists include graduation ceremonies, weddings, birthdays, baptisms, salvations, one’s first job, accomplishments of our children, etc. But I wonder, would “God’s grace” make our list? Would we even stop and think about His grace as something to celebrate; is it even of the celebratory nature? To many, probably not.
But I want you to consider Luke’s recording of Mary’s Song of Praise. Luke interrupted the normal flow of his biblical narrative to engage the audience to join in the celebration of what God has done; and did so using Mary’s song of praise. This passage (1:46-56) follows closely on the heels of Luke’s recording of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (1:26-38) and then Mary’s eager departure to visit Elizabeth (1:39-45). These two preceding portions of Luke’s story demonstrate the gracious hand of God; that is, Mary is with child, namely the Messiah, and Elizabeth, who is full of the Holy Spirit, discerns that Mary is blessed among women. Now, what does Mary do? Well, Darrell Bock in his commentary summarizes Mary’s response. He states, “Elizabeth’s blessing produces a reaction from Mary. She bursts into praise, offering a hymn of thanksgiving. The hymn gives thanks for God’s gracious dealings with her, actions that reflect how he has treated humanity through all generations,” (BEC, 142).
Mary declares that God is great and He is Savior (1:46-47). There are two reasons (ὅτι-clauses) for her praise. First, Mary praises God because of His loving care to use her to bear the child. She is privileged and graced by God. She also declares that “from now on, (ESV)” all generations will call her blessed. This is the cool part = ‘from now on,’ things will be different. Once Mary was touched by the gracious hand of God, things are and will be different. They are never the same! Amen!
Second, Mary praises God because He is holy; the mighty one (v. 49). God’s holiness is not an afterthought; rather it is an explanation of His sovereign authority as the ruler over his people. This description, ‘mighty one,’ refers to a warrior who fights on behalf of His people and delivers them.
Mary also declares that God is merciful and righteous (1:50-53). He is merciful because his mercy extends to those who fear Him; that is, those who acknowledge God’s rightful position and authority over them. His mercy (ἔλεος) is similar to the Hebrew term hesed – royal-covenant/faithful love. He is righteous because He extends His power and removes His enemies from His path. He exalts the humble and supplies need to the hungry.
Lastly, Mary praises God for His loyal love (1:54-55). It is God’s covenant mercy and remembrance of His promises to Abraham that Israel is and will be blessed. Bock states, “The point is that God’s action is motivated by his loyal love. He remembered mercy declaring that God’s actions grew out of his faithful regard for his covenant promises,” (BEC, 159). But it begins with Jesus, of whom Mary will deliver. She celebrates with an anthem of praise.
God’s act of salvation, isn’t this worth celebrating? What is your plan this Christmas season to do so? His act is rooted in grace and faithfulness, will you pause this Christmas season to praise the Lord for His faithfulness?
When I come to this time of the year, the thanksgiving holiday, I’m reminded of Paul’s thanksgiving sections within his letters. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul highlights their faith and endurance under extreme difficulty. He does not hesitate to boast to other churches that God is working in and through them. These prayers are a great example of how we as believers can also pray.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12, he begins by stating his obligation to pray for the Thessalonians. He saw his opportunity to pray as a personal responsibility before God on their behalf; a sense of proud boasting, if you will. Paul prayed for them because of the further development of their faith in God (cf. 1 Thess 1:3), the faith in God that produces action. He says that their faith grew abundantly and their love increased (2 Thess 1:3). As a result of this growth, Paul took the opportunity to boast to other churches. In fact, Paul’s motivation for boasting was the Thessalonians’ steadfastness and faith (v. 4), again, even amidst severe hostility. Mike Stallard in his commentary on the Thessalonian letters states,
Paul had noted this quality of the Thessalonians in his first epistle when he mentioned their ‘steadfastness of hope’ in Jesus (1 Thess 1:3). In the last chapter of the second epistle, the apostle prays that the Lord may direct their hearts into the ‘steadfastness‘ of Christ (3:5). This again shows the apostle’s constant teaching that there was always room for growth in the qualities that he acknowledged in the Thessalonians” (pp. 137-38).
I think the question that comes to my mind is, would Paul boast about my growth? I could also ask myself, what plan do I have in place this week for continued growth to occur?
Paul does not stop there. He continues in verses 5-10 to expand on the persecutions & afflictions. These terrible times were evidence of the righteous judgment of God (v. 5); that is, their suffering is a demonstration of the genuineness of their faith (their identity – cf. 1:1). They endured this suffering to be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. And, because God’s judgment is “just,” it’s “right;” it is right of him to repay those who trouble the Thessalonians. He will also give relief to the those who are being afflicted (vv. 6-7). One could say that a picture of this relief is the ‘slackening of a string on a bow.’ The relief He gives is when His Son is revealed and gives/hands-out vengeance to those who do not know God & who do not obey the gospel. It is a punishment that is eternal; it lasts forever (vv. 7-9).
Another question, knowing that one day Jesus will punish those who do not have a relationship with Him – does this motivate me to love others and share the gospel? What am I doing with the truth?
Paul concludes with a short prayer (cf. 1:11-12). His prayer is that God will help them to continue to display their true standing; their calling. It is an evaluation of their conduct in light of His calling; but all the time realizing that God enables them to do what is good and right. God’s calling is the foundation/basis for their conduct . . . now display it. However, they were not left to do it themselves. Paul states that this work of faith comes by the means of His power (v. 11). Ultimately for the purpose of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to be glorified, and we, as believers, be glorified in Him. To be glorified in Christ is possible only because the most exalted God and Lord is the one who stands as the true source of all things (v. 12).
The focus of Paul’s prayer is living in the present while having knowledge of the hope of a future. Rest, relief, and honor is coming to the believer; whereas judgment, destruction, and separation from God awaits the unbeliever. This provides the reality for us to live day by day as we do the work of faith; and can only be carried out by God’s enabling grace. The suffering of one’s present life is to be one day replaced with glorification. This is Paul’s incentive for the believer to live a life worthy of his status, for the Spirit indwells him. Those who bear Christ’s name must also glorify God in that name. This is dependent upon the supply of grace that is sourced in the Spirit of God.
Click the link for the diagram of 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.
There is little doubt the Church today faces a culture that is very different than 20 years ago. As a matter of fact, the Church is to engage and minister to a culture that typically does not value biblical truth, does not accept biblical truth, and certainly does not live according to biblical truth. How does the Church engage a culture like this? Simple, . . . engage this culture with not our truth, but with God’s authoritative Word; and do so with all accuracy and relevancy.
Following the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), Newsweek published a cover story in 2009 titled “The End of Christian America.” The ARIS results indicated a decline of 10 percentage points (86% to 76%) of self-identified Christians from 1990 to 2009. Another survey, from the Pew Research Study in 2012 published results that the self-identified Christians fell another 5 percent, and did so in only 5 years.
This looks to present a problem for the Church. Are there going to be any Christians to impact and engage this culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Ed Stetzer, in his blog titled “The Exchange” published in Christianity Today, states that the church is not dying, despite what others may report. The church is in transition, but not dying. Ed also states that the current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians; that is, potentially most of the 86% of those who checked the “Christian” box on a survey in 1990 were likely not genuine followers of Jesus Christ.
Being American and being Christian are NOT one-in-the-same. The Scriptures define Christian very differently than culture at large. It is quite possible that those people who checked the “Christian” box on a survey are no longer doing so; quite frankly because they no longer feel the societal pressure to be “Christian.” To them, shedding the label “Christian” makes sense.
What is facing the Church today? What crises present themselves as potential obstacles to the Church? Why is it important, and necessary, for the Church to be aware of them? While a faculty member at Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO I was asked by the President of the College to speak at the annual meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International in May of 2014. I spoke to hundreds of pastors in order to help prepare them to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ to an ever-changing, postmodern culture. I presented the Theological Crises Facing the Church Today. Since then, I have constructed some additional thoughts and resources in a paper (Preparing for Theological Issues) that I hope communicates the seriousness of what faces the Church today. May God provide us with the wisdom necessary to impact and engage today’s culture with the gospel.
Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament. By Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2016. 550 pp.
Seasoned New Testament scholars, Köstenberger, Merkle, and Plummer have provided an intermediate Greek textbook that is sure to assist both professors and students with a current resource for the study of the grammar and syntax of the Greek New Testament. Their goal is to provide a resource that is accessible and fun to students. They claim this is a textbook, not a reference guide/resource; a hands-on, practical guide to assist in the proper interpretation of God’s word.
The format of the textbook is straightforward and user-friendly.
First, each chapter begins with a section titled, “Going Deeper.” The purpose of this section is to introduce the student to a practical illustration that applies the material found within the chapter. For example, chapter 3 – which discusses the Genitive case, walks the student through common wording that is often found on Christmas cards (“peace on earth, good will toward men,” ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας). Is this an accurate translation of the Greek text? There is also a text-critical issue with this verse; should the text read εὐδοκίας (gen case), or εὐδοκία (nom case)? And, is Luke (2:14) suggesting that good will go to all men, humanity at large?
Following the “Going Deeper” section, each chapter states the objectives and introduces the material. Several biblical examples, written in Greek and translated into English for the ease of the student to follow along & see the relevant syntactical forms, illustrate the grammatical and/or syntactical category discussed in the chapter.
Third, and probably one of the unique sections of the grammar, is the inclusion of practice sentences. These are carefully chosen to provide students with the ability to practice the skills they have learned. This feature is unique because it is unlike the typical intermediate grammar; that is, most grammars either do not include practice sentences or publish them in a separate volume. This grammar includes them.
Fourth, this intermediate grammar offers vocabulary for students to memorize. In the introduction (p. 4), it states that the student who memorizes all words in the New Testament that occur 15 times or more will have memorized 830 words.
And last, this grammar offers a built-in reader. By reader it is meant that there are New Testament texts for students to translate at the end of each chapter. These texts were carefully selected so that students were exposed to the following: (1) grammar & syntax discussed in the chapter, and (2) a pastorally relevant/theologically foundational/or doctrinally debated text that is 10-12 verses in length. The reader sections also provide helpful notes to guide the student through the translation process.
One of the benefits to this grammar for professors is the available resources. There are a number of teacher aids from weekly quizzes to PowerPoint presentations to chapter summaries. These resources are accessible at www.deepergreek.com
As the reader thumbs through the table of contents, he will not be surprised to find typical chapter titles for an intermediate grammar (e.g., Genitive Case, Dative Case, Participles, Infinitives, etc.). However, the authors have also incorporated recent studies within the fields of verbal aspect and discourse analysis into chapters 7 and 13 respectively. They have consulted a number of NT scholars (e.g., Campbell, Decker, Porter, Black, Huffman, Runge) to provide the latest information and/or techniques; especially in these fields.
“Keeping current” is a must in New Testament Greek grammar. With a publication date of 2016, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek is sure to have the latest information on key grammatical and syntactical concepts. I am especially impressed with chapter 15 (Continuing with Greek) because it offers resources for students of the Greek NT. The writers of this Greek grammar strongly encourage their readers to invest time into recommended resources and tools such as websites (e.g., ntresources.com), exegetical commentaries (e.g., EGGNT series, Handbook on the Greek Text series, etc.), lexicons (e.g., BDAG), and grammars.
This is an all-in-one grammar that will be a great help to the student or pastor who desires to advance his understanding of the Greek New Testament. If you plan to learn or continue to learn Greek, you will want this text on your shelf.
When the clock strikes midnight to usher in a new year, typically celebrations and excitement abound. Many of us, might seize the moment and seriously consider a new beginning and make a New Year’s resolution. The most common New Year’s resolutions involve getting healthier, making better financial decisions, and striving to make better use of our time. But do we think about our relationships? Specifically, our relationship with God. In all the excitement of making our resolutions, do we consider our relationship with God?
The author of Hebrews admonishes his readers to consider their relationship with Christ. I want to take a brief moment to do the same. Admonition by the author is not an uncommon occurrence in Hebrews, for the author desires to encourage and strengthen the weak believers of a small community (13:22) so that they might stand fast in their faith during times of affliction (4:14; 10:23). The author writes to a congregation in crisis (10:32-33) pointing them to the superior and great high priesthood of Jesus Christ (5-10).
He introduces Jesus as the superior mode of revelation (1:2) and the superior means of redemption (1:3). Because of our personal relationship with Him, Jesus calls us brethren (2:11), makes reconciliation possible between us and God (2:15-18), extends grace and mercy at the appropriate time (4:14-16), continually intercedes on our behalf (7:25-28), offers a one-time sacrifice that qualifies us to worship Him (10:10-14), and He is the author and finisher of our faith (12:2).
As the author concludes his letter, he focuses on endurance in chapter 12. He is urging patient and trusting perseverance even in spite of hardship. He admonishes this endurance through an athletic metaphor; running a race (12:1). We all have a race to run, that race is life. Experiences in life are not only full of friendly interaction and joy, but also include opposition and suffering, for all are providentially designed and serve as a fruitful role in the maturing of our relationship with God.
The author states how we should run the race. He urges us to “fix our eyes on Jesus,” or ‘have a concentrated attention on Jesus’ that turns away from all other distractions and focuses on Him (12:2). Jesus Christ, the one to whom we focus, is the “author and finisher of our faith.” In other words, He is the champion of our salvation; the example of supremacy in bringing faith to complete realization and the perfect example of trust in God. He perfectly finished the race.
So why look to Jesus? The author of Hebrews continues his admonition by providing the basis for the believer to endure; that is, consider Him (12:3a). He is emphatically stating, “by all means consider Him,” or ‘seriously think about His endurance’ and do so in such a way that we evaluate and assess our own life with the utmost care. In other words, for Jesus “to endure the cross and despise the shame, the opinions and values of the world were not worthy for Him to take into consideration when it was a question of his obedience to the will of God.” We are to consider Him because he is the epitome of faithful obedience.
The author then concludes with the purpose for considering Jesus; “that we will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3b). By considering Jesus, we will not grow fatigued and discouraged; rather we will press on in the Christian life. As you consider the New Year, what will grab your attention? What comforts of this world will keep you from the appointed course? Will you consider Jesus this year?
The Son as the Superior Sacrifice (10:5-25)
10:11-14 – These verses demonstrate the contrast between the earthly priests and the superior priest, who is Christ. – It is this superior priest who is enthroned in heaven, not standing because there is more to offer; rather he is sitting because his sacrifice is finished. The key to this verse (futility – v. 11) is the cumulative effect of the futility that characterizes the Levitical priestly ministry. There is no decisive effect on those to be sanctified. (‘day by day;’ ‘the same sacrifices;’ ‘which can never take away sins.’). The key to these verses (finality – vv. 12-14) is that Jesus is seated in the presence of God, no priest of the line of Aaron, and as a matter of fact no angel (cf. 1:13), has ever sat down in the presence of God. Remember: sitting next to God indicates equality!
The contrasts are incredible = Jesus “offered” as opposed to the priests “offering;” Jesus’ one sacrifice as opposed to the priests multiple sacrifices; and finally Jesus sat down as opposed to the priests who stand daily. Lane comments, “Jesus sits because his sacrifice requires no repetition. His heavenly session attests that the benefits of his sacrificial death endure perpetually. The sacrificial phase of his priestly ministry is completed” (WBC, 267). Jesus has perfected believers forever, as opposed to the priests and their role that never takes away sins. We are wholly adequate for a relationship with God!
“The sins of God’s people have been decisively put away; a sin offering is no longer necessary. The basis for speaking about a decisive putting away of sins is the efficacy of the sacrifice offered by Christ on the cross” (WBC, 269). Sins no longer provide an obstacle to a relationship with God; it is enduring and unending. Believers now enjoy unhindered access to God in worship. Now what is the believer to do? Jesus Christ makes a relationship with God possible; in fact, it makes worship to God not only possible, but necessary!
The task of the believer is to act upon these truths in obedience (vv. 22-25).
The author is using this section of exhortation (10:19-25) to address his readers. He is drawing upon the lengthy exposition section (5:1-10:18) of Christ’s high priestly office & sacrifice to motivate an urgency of loyalty to Jesus [connecting the truths concerning Christ & the implications of those truths for the Christian life]. Given the magnitude of Christ’s accomplishment, it is only logical that his readers are motivated to do the “let us,” (vv. 22-25) commands; basically the author is saying, “put their Christian profession into action!”
What is Christ’s accomplishment? What truths can we meditate on?
(1) 7:14-16 – Jesus Christ experienced death, His life was not destroyed and can never be destroyed; therefore 7:25 (we can be saved)
(2) 9:11-12b – Jesus Christ went ‘through’ heaven, into the presence of God ‘by the means of his own blood;’ therefore 9:12c & 9:24c (we can be in the presence of God & have eternal redemption)
(3) 9:26 – Jesus Christ put away sin; therefore 10:10 (we can be sanctified forever)
(4) 10:12-13 – Jesus Christ offered one sacrifice & he sat down; therefore 10:14 (we can be qualified to worship continually)
The Basis for the exhortations (10:19-21):
The address –
The initial phrase “therefore, brethren” = This is an intimate and pastoral admonition to validate one’s faith by acting upon it.
The phrase “having . . .” in verses 19 & 21 are both causal participles and ought to be translated as “since we have.”
Now, what is it that we have? There are two objects – “confidence [authorization]” & “a great priest [in charge of God’s household]”
The object #1 – ‘since we have . . .’
“confidence [authority, or boldness] to enter [have free access] the holy place [the heavenly sanctuary]” = It is possible to approach God in worship at the present time because the heavenly high priest has secured free access to the heavenly sanctuary. Christ’s definitive sacrifice (v. 12) provides the grounds for our entrance to God; that is, the emphasis in 4:14, 6:20, & 9:11 is Christ’s entering; but by contrast, the emphasis in 10:19-20 is our entrance!
The worshiper is emboldened by the work of Christ; that is, Jesus has won us confident entrance to the Divine Presence!
How do we have this ‘boldness’? – “by the blood of Jesus,” = ‘by the means of,’ this is the decisive factor in the authorization of Christians to approach God (cf. 9:12, 24).
What is the ‘new access’?
“by a new and living way” = It is ‘new’ because it replaces the ‘old sacrificial system’ (cf. 10:11-14). – Jesus has opened a path for us, a path unknown & inaccessible to people before the completion of his high priestly work. – It is ‘living’ because it leads to life (cf. 10:15-18).
How do we have this ‘access’? – “through the veil, his flesh” = ‘by the means of,’ This is Christ’s sacrificial death & his ‘going into God’s presence’ on our behalf, making possible our entrance to God’s presence.
The object #2 – ‘since we have . . .’
“an high priest over the house of God” = Christ rules over the household of God (his ministry was over the household of God, his enthronement, acclamation, and worship by angels places him as one who presides over its administration.); thus exercising administration over his own people. This informs us that we are in a sphere of Christ’s activity and he sustains his people (v. 14 & 7:25). It is these two objects that point to authorization and access. They summarize the benefits you and I have as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
The author assumes, therefore, that this basis or foundation is enough to then encourage us toward three exhortations:
Let us draw near (10:22):
The enactment of the New Covenant enables the believer to ‘continually,’ or ‘constantly’ approach God. This is a closeness to God that is unhindered (a significant expression of the new relationship between God and man, the NC). This ‘drawing near to God’ transcends time & space; for it is not just limited to a church worship service. Rather it is a cultivated daily practice of knowing him intimately (cf. prayer & reading of His word).
How do we ‘draw near’? – manner
(1) Sincerely – “with a sincere [real, genuine, loyal] heart” = Christ’s definitive sacrifice (v. 12) makes this possible. In other words, a direct result of Christ’s sacrifice enables us and stirs up in us the relationship of heart-obedience toward God; bringing a heart that is genuinely committed to him.
(2) Faithfully – “in full assurance of faith” = It describes, if you will, the certainty & stability that are created in Christians as a result of the work of Christ; thus making it possible to remain loyal and have a relationship to God. It suggests a firm trust placed in God, who has shown himself faithful in his dealings with his people.
How is our heart prepared? – means
“having our hearts sprinkled [clean]” & “our bodies washed” – These are figurative symbols that point to the greater & more perfect cleansing due to Christ’s sacrifice (cf. 9:13-14). We are clean.
Let us hold fast (10:23):
The author’s use of the present tense here demonstrates that the exhortation to ‘hold on’ is an ongoing call.
The phrase “hold fast,” means to ‘keep a tight grip on,’ ‘keep it from slipping away’ (cf. 2 Thess 2:15); “hold fast the confession of our hope,” means to maintain a firm confidence in the objective gift of salvation God has extended to us on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice (cf. 9:28 – Though Christ died once and dealt with the sins of the people, he will bring complete salvation at his second coming. This is our hope! There is no judgment, rather life with Christ!).
How do we ‘hold fast’? – manner
Unswervingly – “without wavering,” means swerving neither to one side or the other, fixed, stable, steadfast, that which does not bend. It calls believers to remain stable and to affirm its privileged status as the people who have been granted access to God through Christ. It calls believers “to hold onto the Christian hope, which is grounded in the person & work of Christ, without being moved by changing circumstances” (NIVappl, 344).
Let us consider one another (10:24-25):
This indicates a summons for believers to continue caring for one another, ‘pay close attention to,’ or ‘look closely at.’
This is fleshed-out through the stimulation of love, motivation of good works, and the mutual encouragement that the church expresses to one another wherever you are.
“to stimulate one another [εις indicating goal] love and good works,” means exhibiting a practical concern for one another.
The idea of stimulate here is ‘aggressively stirring up the flock to encourage one to good works.’ (it is the opposite of Acts 15:39). We must have a caring response toward others. Active support and concern for the welfare of one another are matters of critical urgency in the life of the Church, especially when exposed to testing and disappointment.
How do we ‘consider one another’? – manner
Not forsaking . . . but encouragement –
“not forsaking our own assembling together” – This means that the discontinuance of common fellowship & worship could be fatal for godliness lived out. The principle of the author here is *not related to church attendance every time the doors are open,* rather a consistent involvement in the life of the church (this is the people!). So the question is, “are you meaningfully engaged in the life of the body on a weekly basis?”
“but encouraging one another” – to ‘come alongside;’ It is important that the entire church body assumes responsibility to watch that no one grows weary! Encouragement & admonition on a daily basis.
Why do we ‘consider one another’? – reason/basis “and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” The author does not use ‘day’ in an eschatological setting (except for his use with the quoting of the NC from Jeremiah). The ‘day’ may simply be referring to the climax of the historical events confronting these believers; that is, the day they fear that they will stand before Nero and be asked to either affirm or renounce their profession. This understanding of ‘day’ probably more closely fits immediate context & context of book as a whole.
Here are some implications for all of us to consider:
(1) For what do I yearn? – Things ‘crowd-out’ God’s Word & love for him, especially this time of year. We yearn for the wrong things in life; so Do I ask myself daily, ‘for what am I yearning today?’ ‘To what are my energies & efforts being drawn?’ Am I like Moses, drawing near to God in a ‘face-to-face’ intimacy crying out to Him, “teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you!” Do I ask myself, ‘how does God fit into my day planner today?’ If we are not careful, such a lifestyle leaves little place for intimacy, for communication, for listening to God. – “We are called to draw near to God on the basis of the completed work of Christ!”
(2) To what am I committed? – When life throws obstacles, opinions, and storms at you, what is your anchor? To what do you tightly grip your hand, your emotions, or your heart? At the moment of temptation, at the moment of frustration, or at the moment of complete & utter loss; Do I find myself resting in God’s goodness, resolve, and faithfulness? Why you ask? For he has promised an inheritance to his children.
(3) With whom will I walk? – “Our associations in life can make a tremendous difference, for good or for ill, in our outlook & our endeavors. . . . Peers can wield heavy influence on our actions, our goals. Thus, for the believer who wishes to hold to the Christian hope, the community of the saints is vital, offering the needed mix of accountability and encouragement. . . . We need others spurring us on toward love and good deeds in a world so bent on self-centeredness and self-gratification” (NIVappl, 352).
Do I ask myself these questions:
To whom in the body of Christ am I giving encouragement this day, or this week by my presence, my actions, or my words? Am I remaining faithful to my association with the body of Christ?
I trust that these four lessons from the book of Hebrews have blessed you as the readers. It is a wonderful thing to meditate upon Jesus Christ; especially during the Christmas holiday. Merry Christmas to all.
The Son as Superior High Priest (7:1-28)
“Insufficiency of the Levitical Priesthood” (7:11-19)
The next two paragraphs (7:11-19 & 20-28) demonstrate the insufficiency of the Levitical priesthood & the superiority of the new priesthood. It is through Ps 110:4 that the author establishes Christ as the ‘one eternal priest’ who surpasses the Levitical priesthood. The difference in the two major sections of chapter seven is the shift from ‘proving’ the superiority (7:1-10) to the ‘demonstrating of’ the superiority of the Melchizedian priesthood (7:11-28) to that of the Levitical priesthood.
The author establishes this difference on three bases:
(1) Jesus’ appointment to high priest (Ps 110:4; “you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”) – This appointment ushered out the old regulations of worship (old covenant priests), that resulted in a ‘better hope’ that was brought in.
(2) Jesus’ establishment to his priesthood by an oath (Ps 110:4; “the Lord has sworn”) – This establishment demonstrates superiority to the old covenant and results in a ‘better covenant.’
(3) Jesus’ eternal enthronement – His enthronement demonstrates an office that is perpetual by nature (Ps 110:4; “you are a priest forever”) that results in ‘eternal help’ for those who draw near to God.
The explanation: A change in priesthood (v. 12):
A change of priesthood (from Aaronic to Melchizedekian) mandates (“of necessity”) a change of law. Just as the Aaronic priesthood is totally replaced by the Melchizedekian priesthood, so the Law that authorized the Aaronic priesthood is totally replaced by something new. You cannot change the priesthood without changing the Law. This change in Law is twofold:
(1) How are people now related to God? (sacrificially) – It is not through the sacrifices offered by the priests, rather now through the finished work of Christ on the cross.
(2) How are people now related to God? (genealogically) – It is not through the descent of Aaron, rather it is now through Christ of the tribe of Judah.
The differences in Jesus’ priesthood (vv. 13-17):
(1) He is not ‘like Aaron’ (vv. 13-14)
(2) He is ‘like Melchizedek’ (vv. 15-17)
The results of Jesus’ priesthood (vv. 18-19):
The Levitical priesthood and the Law [vv. 11-12] have been superseded by the new and ‘better hope’ based on the superior quality of the new priest [vv. 13-17].
“Superiority of the New Priesthood” (7:20-28)
It was in the last section (7:11-19) that the author established the fact that the Levitical priesthood was insufficient for this reason; that is, it did not offer ‘perfection.’ – It did not make men acceptable before God; it only ‘covered sin’ but did not ‘cleanse sin.’
Due to this insufficiency, the Law was also insufficient for this reason; that is, the Law was ‘weakness & uselessness,’ – the people (the priests) upon whom it depends for its accomplishment was the issue. It is in this section (7:20-28) that the author demonstrates that Christ replaces the old Levitical system and is the ‘superior’ high priest. He is the ‘superior’ high priest as it is explained below.
The author further contrasts the priest ‘like Melchizedek’ with the old priesthood in a couple of aspects (7:20-25). After doing this, the author concludes his argument with aspects about Christ; therefore further providing the benefits we receive as a result of Christ’s position as superior priest (7:26-28).
The author begins with the basis for the first benefit (v. 20):
He makes the statement “not without an oath, he was made priest” – The author is using this negative answer to an implied question; that is, how was this new order of priesthood established? This is similar to the beginning of the preceding paragraph (‘why was there a need for a Melchizedekian priest?’ There was a need because the Levitical priesthood was insufficient & here he implies ‘how was this new order of priesthood established?’ It was established hrough God’s oath, not the Law). In other words, the author is continuing the contrast given earlier; that is, that Christ is the new high priest because of God’s oath, not the law that put Levitical priests in their place as priest (“for they indeed became priests without an oath”).
“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind” – The oath is guaranteed by the reliability that God ‘will not change his mind,’ (cf. 6:13-18). Because God’s oath stands behind the appointment of Christ as priest, Jesus can guarantee that the goals announced in the New Covenant (NC) will be achieved. God’s oath stands behind the ‘guarantee,’ he supports his mission. He is the ‘guarantee’ of the arrangement God has established for those who approach him.
The benefits through the superior priest (vv. 21-25):
Assurance for effectiveness
“Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” – It is ‘better’ because it is effective & the approach to God is guaranteed (& we’ll learn later that it is ‘forever’ guaranteed). The ‘guarantee,’ or as the KJV states, ‘guarantor’ is a weightier responsibility than mediator. “The mediator steps into the gap between two parties, but the ‘guarantor’ stakes his person and his life on his word. Through his death, exaltation, and installation as heavenly priest, Jesus provides security that the new and better covenant will not be annulled” (WBC, 188). Our hope rests on secure terms! This hope was born of Mary, miraculously by the Holy Spirit.
Eternal & ultimate salvation
Eternal salvation: This is demonstrated by a contrast between the temporality of the one & the finality of the other. “The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing” – Many priests held this office (approx 83 between inception and cessation of temple worship in A.D. 70). The reason for so many priests is because they were prevented from continuing in office by the simple fact of death. BUT “Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently” – He is qualified to exercise this ministry because of his eternal nature. He will hold the office of ‘priest’ forever!
Ultimate salvation: This is demonstrated by the completeness & the finality of the one. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” – This is an implication of his priesthood; that is, He absolutely saves. He does so perfectly. He has a sustained interest in the welfare of his people. He does this “since He always lives to make intercession for them” – Jesus ‘continually lives’ effectively acting on behalf of his people; that is, it is unlimited. He is able to meet every need of the Christian. Jesus ‘continually intercedes’ approaching on their behalf; that is, praying for believers struggling with temptation. [think about context for book]
The exposition of the superior priest (vv. 26-28): This is where the author sums up his argument that really began back in 5:1.
Jesus’ character (v. 26)
“For it was fitting for us” – ‘was precisely appropriate to us.’ The description of the kind of high priest, who fits the circumstances of Christians & is able to meet their needs, is the one who proceeds from the cradle and then the cross!
“who is holy” – ‘devout,’ obedient relationship to the Father & it is demonstrated in his actions.
“innocent” – ‘pure,’ he was not touched by evil.
“undefiled” – pure
These qualities represent the Son even though he was completely involved in the life of common humanity (cf. 2:9-10). He was qualified by spiritual and moral perfection. He was “separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” – The state of being separated; Jesus’ life among sinners ceased with his ascension. He has left the sphere characterized by testing, hostility, and suffering and has been exalted to the sphere of God. Jesus, therefore “enjoys direct, unhindered access to God, which enables him to fulfill his high priestly ministry on behalf of his people. Although Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God removes him in a spatial sense from his Church, it by no means implies a remoteness from his brothers and sisters or a lack of involvement in their struggles” (WBC, 193).] Remember, unlike the priests who offered sacrifices for themselves & the people; here Christ offered the sacrifice of himself on behalf of people!
Jesus’ achievement (v. 27)
“who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices” – This unique priest put an end to the whole system of Levitical sacrifices. He was the sinless priest! Jesus Christ “did it once for all when he offered up himself” – Definitiveness & uniqueness & completeness; his offering was unblemished. The Levitical priests however were incomplete & ineffective (5:2, ‘beset with weakness’).
Jesus’ status as high priest (v. 28)
Three contrasting elements conclude the author’s argument and demonstrate Jesus as high priest. (1) “For the law appoints . . . the word of the oath” – The law was ineffective in establishing a priesthood that could attain God’s intended goal; that is, an acceptable relationship with God; (2) “men . . . the Son” – Priests were men who were prevented by death from remaining in office; Jesus’ priesthood however emphasizes the permanency. He is a priest forever! and (3) “who are weak . . . made perfect forever” – The priests were subject to sin & imperfection; Jesus was sinless. He is the guarantor of a relationship to God because of the quality of his life through obedience, the swearing of an oath, and the unblemished sacrifice.
“The ‘perfecting’ of his life refers to the whole process by which Jesus was personally prepared & vocationally qualified for his continuing ministry in the presence of God” (WBC, 196). Jesus is not just the baby in a manger; rather He is YOUR help in the time of need for He continually lives to make intercession on your behalf.
The Solidarity of the Son, part one (2:10-13)
The author of Hebrews now makes the connection between ‘the’ Son of God (v. 9) & the sons of God who are being led to their heritage (vv. 10-13). There is a unity between the Son and sons. This is illustrated in vv. 11-13.
The Illustration of the Unity (Jesus and Believers) –
V.10 – “For It was fitting for Him” (He creates & preserves all things [“for whom are all things, and by whom are all things], he is therefore able to act in such a way that his design for humankind will be achieved)
“for,” – γάρ and serves as an explanatory link from v. 9 to the present paragraph. What seemed ‘inappropriate’ in v. 9 (‘that he [Christ] by God’s gracious plan experienced death for all’) the author makes it clear that it is ‘appropriate/fitting/proper to God.’ = “for it is fitting for Him”
“It affirms that what has taken place in the experience of Jesus was consistent with God’s known character & purpose . . . and rescue humanity through his own humiliation and death. The sufferings of Jesus were appropriate to the goal to be attained and were experienced in accordance with God’s fixed purpose” (WBC, 55).
V. 10 – Goal/Purpose of God
This fixed purpose of God was “in bringing many sons unto glory” – ‘to lead them to glory;’ that is, the heritage reserved for the redeemed. The ‘many sons’ here refers back to the ‘every man’ of v. 9. The future glorification of the ‘many sons’ is made possible because of the present glorification of Jesus with his exaltation.
V. 10 – Proper for God, cont.
In order to ‘bring many sons to glory’ God fulfilled this plan through Jesus:
“to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” – in this context the idea of ‘make perfect’ is that he was fully equipped for his office; that is, His priestly office. God perfected him as a priest of His people through the means of His suffering. “The word ‘perfect’ here connotes fulfillment of God’s will. In accomplishing salvation on the cross, Jesus fulfills the purpose of God.”
Jesus is the author of salvation, or “captain [originator, one who initiates & carries through] of their salvation” – or ‘champion,’ He is a divine hero; & although this is true, He accepts a human nature in order to serve humanity, experience testing, and ultimately suffer death. His exaltation to the right hand of God (1:13) was won by a life of service and the suffering of death.
These next verses (vv. 11-13) illustrate the connection that Jesus (“He who sanctifies”) has with the children (“those who are sanctified”).
V. 11 – We Are One – Jesus’ sufferings make it possible for our ‘brotherly connection’ with him.
We share a common relationship that is rooted in God’s gracious plan; that is, both completing their destiny (Christ – exaltation & believers – redemption).
V. 11 – We Are Brothers – Jesus “is not ashamed” or ‘does not hesitate’ to call us brothers. The author is providing the encouragement to his readers that the Son identifies himself w/the family “to call them brethren”. He is able to provide that perfect sanctification for us to God because he himself embodies this!
V. 12-13 We Are Confident – Jesus’ suffering and thus exaltation assures the family will have vindication also.
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers” – here Jesus proclaims God’s name to the redeemed.
“I will sing praise to God” – this is an expression of joyful thanksgiving (cf. Ps 22); where lament is exchanged for joy.
“[and furthermore] I [myself] will put my trust in him” – Jesus identifies himself with the believers with his absolute trust & dependence on God. For now they too can also trust God in difficult circumstances.
“I [myself] and the children of God” – Jesus is now the representative head of the new family that is being led to glory (God’s ultimate purpose, cf. v. 10). This family imagery suggests an intimacy of relationship and tenderness.
The Solidarity of the Son, part two (2:14-18)
The implications of the solidarity affirmed in the preceding verses are expounded here (vv. 14-18). There are several ‘connectives’ throughout this paragraph (vv. 14-15, ‘since therefore’ [ἐπεὶ οὖν]; v. 16, ‘for of course’ [γὰρ δήπου]; v. 17, ‘for this reason’ [ὅθεν]; and v. 18, ‘because’ [γάρ]).
The ‘Resulting’ Implications of the Unity (Jesus and Believers) –
V. 14 – Jesus’ humanity:
“Since then” – Since the children previously mentioned have a common nature (e.g. flesh & blood), then the one who identifies with them must also have flesh & blood – he too must assume full humanity.
“he himself likewise also partook of the same” – total likeness, experienced human conditions common to man; that is, suffering (cf. v. 17, ‘made like his brethren in every respect’).
Purpose for his humanity:
Vv. 14b-15 – “that he might render powerless . . . and deliver” – The primary goal of the incarnation was the Son’s participation in death, thru which he nullified the devil’s ability to enslave the children of God through the fear of death. Jesus’ death was the logical consequence of his determination to identify himself so completely with his brothers & sisters that there would be no aspect of human experience which he did not share. He is ‘champion,’ who crushed the devil, who possessed the power of death!
The hearers now have a liberated status; that is, they are not longer to be fearful of death.
Identification of Jesus’ humanity:
V. 16 – “for he took a hold of . . .” – Because death takes a hold of Abraham’s descendants & not angels, Jesus “of course” takes hold of/identifies himself with death. He does so to deliver them from bondage to the fear of death. Jesus does this to draw Abraham’s descendants into fellowship. This ‘taking a hold of’ to safety corresponds to the situation of the hearers, those who are oppressed.
V. 17 – Summary statement:
“Therefore . . . [for this reason it was essential to be made . . .]” – The writer provides a short summary of verses 10-16; especially with the use of ‘in all things’ & ‘brethren.’ The stress is on the phrase ‘in all things [in every respect]’ – referring both to his humanity and his suffering; total identification of the Son with humanity and their situation.
V. 17b – Purpose of his humanity – high priest:
“so that he might become a merciful & faithful high priest” – He can only do this because He stands in solidarity with his people, he is qualified to be their high priest. He is the ‘high priest’ because he is faithful (‘suffering to death’ – he fulfilled God’s plan of redemption for the people) & he is compassionate (‘made perfect thru suffering’ – he can relate to the sufferings of people). Jesus is “merciful” and “faithful” because he was faithful to the will of God that took him to the cross and the mercy displayed to sinners by his death on that cross.
V. 17c – Purpose of his high priest – propitiation (wrath-bearing sacrifice): “to make propitiation . . .” – The natural extension/activity of the Son. The primary concern for the priest was reconciliation of the people to God [to bring man & God together], this implies a sacrifice. Jesus was this sacrifice (cf. 2:9).
V. 18 – Reason for his high priest – to help:
“he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” – The fact that Jesus became man exposed him to the sufferings and tensions of human life; the climax of which is his death. Because he was faithful to death and did not divorce himself from the tensions/sufferings of this life, he is able to help those who also suffer.
3 Things to think about this Christmas season. Recall, it was necessary for Jesus to be born that He might die:
(1) Jesus Christ became one with his people in order to die for them, thus resulting in the believer’s relationship with God.
(2) Jesus Christ opened the way for mankind to participate in the glory of God. There is hopeful confidence and assurance in God.
(3) Jesus Christ suffered all the way to death, thus you and I can be confident that he too identifies with our sufferings and testings in this hostile world.
During this Christmas season I want to meditate on Jesus Christ, God’s Son, as He is written about throughout the Epistle to the Hebrews. For the next four weeks I will highlight Jesus as the Son of God, and how and why this is important. God provided the greatest gift of all in and through His dear Son.
The Author’s Prologue (1:1-4)
This opening section of Hebrews (1:1-4) introduces the letter’s theme: The Superiority of God’s Son. The author introduces this theme under two conditions:
(1) Jesus is superior to all other previous modes (prophets) of revelation
(2) Jesus is superior to all other modes of redemptive accomplishment; thus He (Jesus) is exalted.
This prologue explicates the two stages of divine revelation corresponding to the OT & NT (1:1-2a). The author begins with a temporal statement (temporal participle, λαλήσας, “after he spoke . . .”) regarding divine revelation. God’s revelation is thus progressive; that is, from the promise of a Messiah to the coming of the Messiah. But how did God speak? First, He spoke through the prophets during the ancient days of the Old Testament. God’s revelation was in the context of Israel and the OT. But God continued His revelation, for the revelation of God was incomplete until the coming of the Son. Therefore, God chose to speak also to us through his Son (ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ). Who is the ‘Son?’ How can the reader be sure that the Son spoken of in this prologue is indeed God’s Son? The author continues by describing the Son (1:2b-3); therefore demonstrating the deity of the Son, . . . Jesus Christ.
Who Is Jesus? (1:2b-4) – 8 strong assertions of the deity of Christ
(1) He is Heir “heir of all things” – Jesus is the universal heir of all creation; this is not limited to the earth. It embraces the universe & the world to come – Jesus is recognized and acknowledged as Lord. Jesus is installed as heir of everything. This is an allusion to Ps 2:8 where the royal Son is assured that in response to his petition the sovereign Lord will give him the nations as his inheritance; everything will belong to Him in the fullest sense.
(2) He is Creator “through whom also he made the world” – God brought this universe into being by the agency of his Son (cf. Jn 1:3; Col 1:16); thus the Son is not to be ranked with the creation as a created being.
(3) He is the Glory of God “being the radiance of his glory” – Jesus is nothing less than the brilliant revelation of the glory of God (cf. Jn 1:14). The brightness of God’s glory is seen in the Son; that is, to see Jesus is to see the glory of God.
(4) He is the representation of the essence of God “and the exact representation of His nature” – Jesus bears the very stamp of God’s nature; He exactly represents God’s essence.
The idea . . . is that of the die and the image it stamps on a coin. As the stamped image on the coin exactly represents the image engraved on the die, so the Son is ‘the exact representation’ of the Father.” = It is not the physical image in view; rather God’s essence.
(5) He is the Sustainer of the worlds “and upholds all things by the word of his power” – He is the sustaining utterance of creation; that is, Christ is the one who carries all things forward on their appointed course, and He does so by His powerful word!
Statements 1-5 identify Jesus uniquely with God
“The Son is put with God at the beginning and the end of time, as instrumental in creation and as the eventual heir of everything at the end of the age. He also functions in a divine capacity throughout all interim time as the one who through an overruling providence makes possible all ongoing existence. Jesus radiates the glory of God and perfectly exhibits the imprint of the divine being. That the human Jesus, the son of a carpenter in Nazareth, who so recently taught, healed, and was executed as a common criminal, could be described in this striking language is astonishing” (Lane, WBC).
Statements 6-7 uniquely identify Jesus with us
(6) He is the Sacrifice “when he had made purification of sins” – The same wisdom that creates & maintains the world through His powerful word also provides the remedy for the defilement of sin. He does this by freely offering up His life to God; for He has accomplished something incapable of achievement by anyone else. = By this one action, the defilement of sins was removed forever.
To celebrate this season = the main purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was to make an offering for sin, but to do so by offering himself.
(7) He is the Exalted one “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” – An allusion to Ps 110:1, for it speaks to the Son’s enthronement beside God. This is an expression of the Son’s royal power & unparalleled glory! The ‘the right hand’ does not denote a specific location, but it does denote exaltation & supremacy of Christ. Jesus shares God’s sovereign authority.
Statement 8 identifies Jesus with the angels
(8) He has a name superior to the angels “having become as much better than the angels” – Jesus’ exaltation marks Him as superior, for He has the title ‘Son,’ not angel. His name is more excellent than theirs, which he obtained through an inheritance. He obtained it through an inheritance by the Father’s eternal appointment.
The author’s comparison to Angels (1:5-14)
The author’s continued communication in chapter one makes it clear that Jesus is superior to the angels.
V. 5 speaks to the reason (γάρ, “for”) why Jesus has a more excellent name than the angels; that is, He is the Son. More specifically, God’s Son “you are my Son.” This verse also provides the result of divine decree and favor. The writer states that Jesus is God’s Son (Ps 2:7) and God will be his Father (2 Sam 7:14). Jesus enjoys the status of ‘Son’ (Ps 2:7) and He also enjoys the unique relationship with God & will be ‘heir’ to the promised eternal kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-14).
V. 6 speaks to the title of the Son; that is, He is the “first born into the world [inhabited earth]” – This expresses priority in rank. The idea of ‘first-born’ continues the motif of ‘Son’ and ‘heir;’ His supremacy over the angels. The role of the angels is to worship Jesus. His surpassing superiority as the Son; His status and character as God’s Son, is the reason the angels are commanded to worship Him. In v. 7, on the other hand, receive from God their respective form, rank, & task; for they are of the created order (cf. Ex 20:11). Therefore, the angels are subject to God’s creative activity and may be transformed into the elemental forces such as “ministers . . . a flame of fire.”
Vv. 8-9 address the Son as God. But the author doesn’t stop there, for the emphasis is on the Son’s eternal dominion (“your throne is forever and ever.”) His kingdom is characterized by righteousness and justice (‘righteousness & justice are the foundation of God’s throne,’ Ps 89:14). God’s throne is Jesus’ throne – a commitment to righteousness (Ps 45:6-7). His rule has been “anointed with gladness,” or ‘crowned with joy’ – a vindication of divine justice. His rule is “above [‘more than,’ ‘beyond’] your companions” – referring to angels.
Vv. 10-12 speak to the Son’s relationship to His creation. These verses refer to the Son’s character as one that stands above the change & decay of the created order (Ps 102:25-27). Verse 10 speaks directly to the fact that Jesus is the agent through whom God worked to create. Verses 11-12 speak to the contrast of the eternality of the Son and the perishability of the world; that is, “creation will perish but Jesus remains;” Jesus ‘continues to exist, lives on’ and “[creation] will grow old” – like clothing it will wear out; “[creation] will be folded up” – like a garment, Jesus will fold it up; and “[creation] will be changed but you [Jesus] are the same and your years will never grow old.” This represents the unchangeable nature of the Son (cf. Heb 13:8).
V. 13 concludes the preceding argument. The author cites (Ps 110:1) as a review of what has already been stated; that is, angels are inferior to the exalted Son. They can never share His position or glory “sit on my right hand . . .” This verse explains that Jesus’ enthronement was accomplished at the invitation of God.
V. 14 concludes the paragraph with a rhetorical question. The angels are but servants of God, they “will be” ministering to “the heirs of salvation.” This ministering is yet to come, yet to be inherited. The angels are not to be compared to the Son, for they do not have a role comparable to Him.
So, as you begin the month of December preparing for the holiday season, take time to mediate upon Jesus Christ. He is God’s Son and was sent to redeem us and provide the way to a right relationship with God. Therefore, He is worthy of our attention, our celebration. My challenge to you is to read through Hebrews as it masterfully captures the essence of the Christmas season, for He is the Reason for the Season.
Thanksgiving Day is quickly approaching. It is too often skipped because of the Christmas holiday shopping season. The majority of consumers therefore, see Thanksgiving as the day before shopping really begins, black Friday. In order for us to consider our own time of thanksgiving, I wonder if we could just pause for a moment or two and see how Paul uses the term for ‘thanksgiving.’ To whom and/or what are you thankful? Does God make the list as one you direct your thanksgiving?
I have chosen to consider Paul’s writings because of the number of uses of the Greek word εὐχαριστέω. Paul uses this word in almost all of his letters; especially to “express appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks” (BDAG, 415).
The typical structure of Paul’s letters includes an element known as the thanksgiving (Roetzel, The Letters of Paul, 72). It is this formal element, found in all of Paul’s letters except for Galatians, which ends the opening salutation and signals the basic intent of the letter. One could say that the thanksgiving section serves as a ‘mini table of contents’ for the letter.
There is no doubt that each of Paul’s letters is different, touching various issues depending on its original recipients within a given historical context. His letters are occasional, and thus intended for specific situations. Although each letter possesses a unique and different purpose, and therefore is structured to fit the context to which he is writing, Paul still maintains consistency in most of his letters by including the thanksgiving element.
So why does Paul give thanks? And how does this affect me, the reader? Paul typically gives thanks for two reasons. First, Paul’s prayers are God-oriented. He often renders thanks to God; that is, God is the object (τῷ θεῷ μου) of the thanksgiving and/or praise, gratitude (cf. Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; Phlm 4). Paul states in the text that he offers thanks to my God, which is represented by the personal pronoun μου, to demonstrate his personal relationship with God. Hansen states, “The personal pronoun communicates the transforming impact of God’s gracious salvation in Christ Jesus on his own life. God’s grace so transformed him that even in prison his gratitude to God guided his prayers, attitudes, and thoughts” (The Letter to the Philippians, PNT, p. 45).
For Paul, God is uppermost in his mind, especially for God’s work in and through Paul’s recipients of his letters. God and His grace is the source of salvation (1 Thess 1:4; 1 Tim 1:12-16). God and His power removes spiritual hindrances and directs, guides the believer’s path (1 Thess 3:11). God and His gospel empowers fellowship with one another for unity and evangelism (Phil 1:3-5). And God and His love provides hope with the promise of growth through His Spirit to glorification in Christ (2 Thess 2:13-14). Due to God’s work in the believer’s life, Paul expresses gratitude to God.
Second, Paul’s prayers are others-oriented. He renders thanks for, or for the benefit of (περί) his recipients; or for the sake of someone, some entity’s interest (ὑπέρ, BDAG, 1030). Paul not only directs his prayers to God but also for others. Over and over throughout Paul’s letters, he is consistently and persistently bearing in mind those to whom he is writing. His prayers are not self-interested; rather the interest of others takes first place. The reasons for his diligent labor of prayer on behalf of others is the recipients’ faith in God (Rom 1:8-9; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:3); love for others (1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:3; Phlm 4); hope of Christ’s coming (1 Cor 1:7-8; 1 Thess 1:3, 9-10) and the continued growth in their walk with Jesus Christ (Eph 1:16-19; Col 1:9-11; 1 Thess 3:11-13). Due to Paul’s pastoral and mutual care for the congregations found within his letters, he labors constantly in prayer on their behalf. His joy is found in the growth of others (Phil 1:4-5; 1 Thess 3:6-9; 2 Thess 1:4; Phlm 7) and the love that his recipients share toward for others. This is evidenced through his boasting in God’s accomplishments (2 Thess 1:4).
Paul gives you and I as the reader of his letters reasons to express our gratitude to God for His gracious work in and through us. God continues to show Himself faithful to us, regardless of the circumstances we endure. Are you thanking God for your salvation? For your eternal hope? For your unity with other believers?
He also gives us reasons to offer prayers, selflessly for/on behalf of others. Are your prayers consumed with the list of issues ‘you’ are going through? Or are your prayers also concerned with the growth, mutual care, and love for others? What will God hear from you this Thanksgiving season?