Category Archives: Christian living

Who Does It?

(March 6, 2021) 6:10 AM Who’s work is it? It is yours or is it God’s? Already in our study of Philippians we’re  having to ask this question. Paul has just thanked God for the Philippians’ participation in the gospel from the first day until now (1:5). That’s something they had done. But in the very next verse he attributes that work to God: “I am sure that God, who began this good work among you, will carry it on until it is finished.” In 2:12, Paul commands the church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. But notice: they are to work out what God works in: “For God is the one at work among you both to give you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him.”

So, there’s our part and there’s God’s part. This is a constant theme in Paul’s writings. In Eph. 4:1 he turns from exposition to exhortation, from the indicative to the imperative, from what God has done in the past to what the Ephesians must do in the here-and-now, from doctrine to duty, from brilliant theology to mundane everyday living.

All this is simply to illustrate the great truth of the New Covenant: for the Christian, obedience is both required and enabled. “What the Law could not do, because it was weakened through the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his Son, who came in the likeness of flesh, to do away with sin. He did this so that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those who live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3).

In the end, it’s always a matter of God working out what he has already put in. He helped Paul. He helped the Philippians. And he will help you as well, my friend.

Not Trivial Pursuit

(Feb 28, 2021) 5:58 AM Wow, the end of yet another month in 2021! Where has the year gone? It’s moving along at the speed of light. This year, as I continue to evolve as a person, a father and grandfather, a teacher, and a Christian, I’m sure my blog will evolve as well. But one thing I hope to emphasize as long as the Lord allows me to keep this venue open: The best way to learn the Bible is to give it away. When I teach and share things with others, that’s when I really learn those things. If you teach it, you retain it. It’s just that simple. Just share with others some truth God has impressed on your heart, and see how that feeds your own soul. So, for the remainder of the year, I hope to go over with you timely biblical truths again and again, like a cow chewing its cud, going over it and over it and over it. When the Lord teaches me something, I’ll pass it on to you, and together we will dig into God’s word and glean and gain all that the Bible has for us. This morning, for example, I was in Phil. 1:3-11 — the passage my students in Israel and I will be going over tomorrow. Allow me to paraphrase it for you:

I never say my prayers without thanking my God for you. All of my prayers for you are filled with praise and adoration to the Lord! Whenever I think of you, my heart is full of joy because of the wonderful way you helped me make known the Good News from the time you first heard it until now. Faithful partners — that’s what you are! And I am convinced that the God who began this good work among you will keep right on helping you do this until the work of world evangelization is finally finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns.

You know, don’t you, that I have every right to feel as I do about you. For you have always had a very special place in my heart. We have shared the grace and blessing of God both when I was in prison and when I was out as I defended and confirmed the truth of the gospel against all of its detractors. God knows how deep is my love and longing for you, as though Christ himself were expressing his tenderness for you through me. I truly love you!

As a result, my prayer for you all is that you will keep on overflowing with love for one another while at the same time growing in spiritual knowledge and insight. No sloppy sentimentality allowed! I want you to be able to see clearly the difference between what is “good” and what is “best” — the “best” being living for others in the cause of the Gospel — and at the same time to be so inwardly pure that no one can criticize you from now until Christ returns. You will be able to do this because God has already filled you with the truly good and upright qualities that come only through Jesus Christ. For this reason, may God alone (certainly not me or you) receive all the praise and glory!

Beloved, this is an apt description of what the church should be all about. The risen Lord himself had promised his disciples divine power to live holy and selfless lives and to witness to his salvation among the nations (Luke 24:48-49). And just think — in three decades these disciples had brought the gospel from the Holy City to the capital of the world.

Remember the game “Trivial Pursuit”? It’s a game we used to play as a family.

It’s still a game many of us play every day of our lives. It’s the pursuit of goals and dreams and ambitions and plans and priorities that aren’t eternal. Because of that, it’s a game nobody ever wins. Trivial pursuit is that blog post defending your “correct” view about politics, or that defense of “the best” way of learning Greek, or that apology for (or against) home schooling. Trivial pursuit is played every time we spend our time, energy, and thoughts in pursuit of trivial matters. Paul says, “Discern what is best — what is most important in life. Be done with lesser things. Exchange your ‘me first’ egotism for ‘you first’ altruism, like Jesus and Timothy and Epaphroditus did, and you will begin to live a life that’s truly worth living.”

What about it? Are you ready for that kind of a life? Let’s pursue it — together.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Asyndeton

Monday, February 22, 2021

7:20 AM Asyndeton. Gives me a Charlie Horse between the ears every time.

When an author fails to use a conjunction, how are we to understand his or her logic? Does the sentence in question go with what comes before it? After it? Or is it meant to be a stand-alone concept?

I was pondering this roadside hazard while reading Philippians last night. Here is Phil. 4:4-7. Paul’s injunctions stab the ears:

  • Always be full of joy in the Lord!
  • Again I will say it, Rejoice!
  • Let everyone see how bighearted you are!
  • The Lord is near!
  • Don’t worry about anything!
  • Instead, pray about everything! Tell God what you need and don’t forget to thank him for his answers!
  • Then you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will set a guard over your thoughts and hearts as you trust in Christ Jesus. 

Notice the words in green: The Lord is near! Why the reminder of the Lord’s presence? And why here? I think the answer might have something to do with the word I translated “bighearted.” The word can be used to describe a temperament that is even-keeled and well-tempered. A bighearted person doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He or she accepts the hand they’ve been dealt. They don’t insist on their own way. They are willing to meet others halfway. They are fair, self-controlled, gentle, and steady. When others freak out, they remain calm. Their whole demeanor says, “God is in control.”

How can you and I be like that? The Lord is near! When we are tempted to press the panic button, the Lord is right there facing the problem with us. And, since we are never far from his presence, why be anxious? We can take our concerns to him in prayer any time of the day or night. He is as near as the air we breath. Christ offers a haven for the storm-tossed vessel. Even in the midst of trouble, even there, yes, especially there, God is our refuge and our strength. I am going to try and remember that this week when I’m faced with anxieties and struggles, both within myself and with others.

Honestly evaluate your life. How do you respond to stress and hassles? Begin working with God to make his “Peace Plan” more evident in you.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.

Romans 12 and Living the Life in Christ

Sunday, February 21, 2021

7:22 AM I love teaching. I just do. When I began my teaching career in 1976, I made it a top priority to mediate the findings of New Testament scholarship in a simple and untechnical fashion. This remains true today. In our next session in NT 2, I am eager to lead the class in a discussion of how Paul uses rhetorical devices to increase the hitting and drawing — the impact and appeal — of his message. One thing he delights in doing is using poetry and songs.

Another thing he does is to make certain words or phrases begin alike and end alike.

He does this to indicate unity and transition of thought in a document in which there was no capitalization, indentation, punctuation, or even spaces between words. One of these passages is the one we’re focusing on in NT 2 as we study the book of Romans — the “Cathedral of Christianity.” Here’s the assignment due that day:

Read Romans in its entirety. Romans 12-15 contains a host of valuable exhortations for everyday Christian conduct. What does Rom. 12:9-21 in particular have to say about the Christian way of life?

This is what it means to live life “in Christ.” It is a life whose primary principle is selfless love which is the fulfilling of the Law. This is the way the “renewed” Christian walks, with the hope of glory at the journey’s end.

Read and meditate on Paul’s words today. They are truly amazing:

When you show love people, don’t just pretend to love them. Your love must be completely sincere.

You should abhor what is evil.

You should hold on tightly to what is good.

Since you all belong to the same family, you should love one another affectionately.

You should take delight in honoring one another above yourselves.

You should never be lazy but always work hard.

You should be passionate about everything you do.

You should serve the Lord obediently.

When you realize how confident your hope in God is, you should be joyful.

When you experience trouble, you should endure it patiently.

When you pray, you should always expect God to answer you.

When God’s people are in need, you should always be ready to help them.

When strangers need a place to stay overnight, you should welcome them into your home.

When people persecute you and cause you to suffer, ask God to bless them. Yes, ask God to bless them. Don’t ask him to make something bad happen to them.

When people are joyful, you ought to be joyful with them.

When people are weeping, you ought to weep with them.

You should always live in harmony with one another.

You should never think you’re more important than other people. Instead, you should be willing to associate with ordinary people. Stop thinking you’re smarter than others.

When someone does something evil to you, you should not try to pay them back with more evil.

You should always be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

You should do everything possible on your part to live peaceably with everybody.

My dearest friends, when people mistreat you, you should never take revenge. Instead, leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scripture says, “I will take revenge. I will pay them back.” This is what the Lord says.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. If they’re thirsty, give them something to drink. By acting toward them in this surprising way, you will make them burn with shame and maybe even help them change their attitudes and actions.”

Don’t be overcome by evil. Instead, overcome evil by doing good.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Main Message of Galatians

Monday, February 15

6:22 AM The main takeaway I got from reading Galatians over the weekend? It’s much easier to be saved than to act saved. It takes very little effort to sound spiritual. But being spiritual? That’s another story. And just what does a saved person sound like? Well, there’s Tommy Theologian — you know, the guy who’s always talking about Calvinism and expository preaching and historic premillennialism and agape love. Being saved is all about what you know. John Stott used to call people like this “tadpoles” — all head and very little body. Then there’s Pat Popular, with his “Praise Gawd” outbursts and holy “Amens!” In Galatians 5-6, Paul offers us a better definition of “saved.” He is adamant that Christians show their faith by good (and not evil) living. His list of vices in 5:19-21 is hardly arbitrary. You can see this in my translation:

The opposite is also true: Paul’s nine-fold “fruit of the Spirit” goes from descriptions of the mind to human relationships to principles that guide one’s conduct. The word “love” controls it all. At some point, we need to unplug from today’s propaganda machine that bombards us with the three-letter word “Get!” It is the nature of God to give rather than get. And born-again Christians share that nature. But is the life Paul is describing really possible? He seemed to think so. That’s what grace is all about. We have received the opposite of what we deserved. Now it’s our turn to pass that grace on to others. We do this through love.

What is love? Read 1 Cor. 13. Or Rom. 12:9-21. Or Gal. 5:22-23. Then try writing a few practical applications of your own. For example, you might say, “Love is the kindness my son showed me when I needed my tractor fixed.” Or, “Love is the kindness I showed when I brought him and his family lunch the other day.” Love is ______. You fill in the blank. On a day-to-day basis, I’m more struck by the little deeds I see in others than their intellectual prowess or their spiritual boisterousness. When I look in the mirror each morning, I think, “Lord, you actually love this person.” Indeed he does. He’s got big dreams for me. For you as well. And he can spot a cover-up a mile away.

P.S. You may have noticed in my rendering of Gal. 5:19-21 the couplet “envious and murderous.” The word “murderous” isn’t found in some Greek manuscripts. I’ve argued for its originality here.

This, to me, is a clear-cut case of an accidental omission due to a mistake of the eye. Alas, the Alexandrian Priority position is so entrenched in New Testament studies today that scarcely any attention is paid to the longer reading. My friend Keith Elliott used to call this “The hypnotic effect of Aleph and B.” I’m glad to know I’m not the only one concerned about that. I guess that’s why I write books and compose essays and produce power points on the subject of textual criticism. The only way to know for sure whether or not “murderous” is original to examine the evidence for yourself.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

New Testament Class

Saturday, January 16

7:22 AM New Testament 2 begins next Thursday. It’s all about becoming New Covenant Christians, about following the downward path of Jesus, about towel and basin ministries that attract not-yet Christians to the Good News.

Information leads to internalization and finally to implementation.

The famous painter Henri Matisse once said, “Artists should have their tongues cut out.” An artist’s message should come through on the canvas, not through the chatter of words. I can hear the apostle saying to Timothy and Titus, “If you need to, cut out your tongue and do your ministry, not only talk about it. Let the sheer demonstration of your kingdom lifestyle be what impacts the lives of others.”

The first book my students will read this semester is this one:

A few quotes if I may:

  • Orthodoxy is incomplete — a disastrous aberration even — without orthopraxy.
  • God is calling out a people who are committed to living lives of genuine obedience to Christ.
  • Anyone who tries to make Jesus into a conservative or a liberal must be reading a different Bible than the one I know and love.
  • It is my conviction that only when the church keeps its involvement nonpartisan can it go about its legitimate business of serving humanity.
  • Power has ruined America. Not only on the liberal left. Now it seems to have done the same for the religious right.
  • By “followers of Jesus” I do not mean mere admirers of Jesus, but people radically committed to following his example and teachings– a minority group, if you will, within a culture created by Christian majority groups.
  • Neither passive withdrawal nor pro-establishment politicking will do.
  • The American church has forgotten this servant role of Christianity. We attempt to exploit the powers rather than persuade them to conform to the way of Christ.
  • It is relatively easy to follow Jesus to the cross, but it is considerably more difficult to follow him on the cross.

As I stand before my students and listen to them talk about their churches and ministries, I see these questions in their hearts and hear them in their voices. What is keeping us from obedience? Selfishness, comfort, expediency, church tradition, fear of rejection, control. These have kept me bound for years, but they cannot accompany the downward path of Jesus. Unless you leave all behind you can’t be a real disciple.

So that’s what our class will be all about. Will we study the theme and date of Romans or the discourse structure of Hebrews? Absolutely. Will we accept Jesus’ invitation to be a disciple worthy of him? Stay tuned.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of Energion titles, include The Jesus Paradigm and Why Four Gospels.)

On Christian Freedom

Sunday, January 3, 2020

8:38 AM Hey folks! Are you a teacher? I am. And it’s “Back to School Day” tomorrow. What should be our basic attitude as teachers toward our students? A famous quote from Martin Luther comes to mind. He said:

Ein Christenmensch ist ein freier Herr über alle Dinge und niemand untertan. Ein Christenmensch ist ein dienstbarer Knecht aller Dinge und jedermann untertan.

This is from his great booklet Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen

Druck mit einem Text Martin Luthers “Von der Freyheyt eynisz Christen menschen. Martinus Luther. Vuittembergae. Anno Domini 1520.” Erstellt wurde die Schrift im Jahr 1520 von dem Drucker Johann Rhau-Grunenberg.

I supposed we could render the German as:

A Christian is the most free lord of all and subject to no one; a Christian is a dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.

Christian freedom is no more freedom to do what I please in reference to my old sinful nature as it is to do what I please in reference to my neighbor. Freedom does not allow us to ignore or neglect the needs of our fellow human beings. We are commanded to both love them and serve them. I have often told my students, “You’re not here to serve me; I’m here to serve you. You don’t exist to make my life easier; I exist to make your life easier.” What I’m trying to get across is that, even though they are my students, I see them first and foremost as persons for whose good I must be willing to sacrifice my time, energy, and convenience. I had teachers in college and seminary who loved their students that way. After I had completed my second year of Greek during summer school at Biola, my elderly Greek teacher, who used a cane, knowing that I was leaving for Hawaii the next day, hobbled all the way across campus to my dorm room and up a flight of stairs just to hand me my graded final exam and to congratulate me on a job well done. That memory is seared into my brain. The popular image today of a teacher as a cold and cruel taskmaster is completely foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. We are through love to become each others’ slaves (Gal. 5:13).

Fellow teachers and fellow students, if we love one another we will serve one another. The marks of love — please note, Dave! — include patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and faithfulness. To truly love our students is not to exploit them for ourselves but to serve them sacrificially for their good. Of course, some will try and take advantage of you, but I’m not talking about them.

So there you have it. My secret sauce for successful schooling. 

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Why Four Gospels, among many others.)

One Holy Passion

Monday, September 28

6:45 AM I love to run. You all know that. But read these words:

  • Give me one pure and holy passion
  • Give me one magnificent obsession
  • Give me one glorious ambition for my life
  • To know and follow hard after You.

That’s pretty much life in a nutshell. Wherever I am, whether in the calmness of the farm or the hustle and bustle of Wake Forest, I should be running towards my Savior. That’s the only place I’ll find sure footing.

Meanwhile, I plead with you: Do not get distracted by politics. Keep you eye on the ball. Be kingdom people. Never offer even as much as a pinch of incense to Caesar. Walk in love as Christ loved us. Ask God to bless your enemies. Pray earnestly. Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from him. Reject Laodicean self-sufficiency and complacency. Chose not fleeting fame. Look to Jesus for everything. Combine eager anticipation of his coming with faithful service until his appearance. Refrain your tongue from speaking evil. Hold forth the word of life. Make room in your life for miracles. Translate doctrine into duty. Do not surrender to defeatism. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Rejoice in the mundane and perfunctory. Check your motives. Face sin and deal with it. Love the truth. When problems come, Hallelujah anyway! One day we will “bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all.” David’s Son will yet reign where’er the sun doth its successive journeys run. But first he must be King in our hearts.

Today is all we’ve got. Let’s make it a good one and finish what we start.

Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty

(July 4, 2020) 8:15 AM Good morning, and Happy Independence Day! What better way to spend the morning than by reading and meditating upon Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the book of Galatians! My study focused on the letter’s second paragraph, namely 1:6-10. This morning I chose as my base English text the Good News Bible, comparing it carefully it with my Greek New Testament.

I was again reminded of just how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. Choices, choices, choices! The GNB’s “I am surprised” could have also been rendered “I am shocked” or “I am amazed.” The GNB’s “you are deserting” could have also been rendered “you are turning away from” or “you are transferring your allegiance from.” The GNB’s “there are some people who are upsetting you” could have also been rendered “there are some people who are agitating you” or “there are some people who are troubling you.” The GNB’s “trying to change the gospel of Christ” could have also been rendered “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” or even “trying to reverse the gospel of Christ.” The GNB’s “may he be condemned to hell” could have also been rendered “may he be accursed” or even “may he be anathema.”

The list goes on and on. How does one decide which meaning is correct or best suits the context? That, alas, is the question of the ages for anyone seeking to exegete a biblical text! That’s how this works, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how this works. You labor and struggle and ponder and compare and review options until you come to your own understanding of what this or that passage is actually saying. That said, Paul’s point here is clear:

To turn away from Christ and embrace another gospel is to desert the only true gospel. We cannot finish, by our obedience, what Christ has begun. We cannot add our works to the work of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. To add human works to the finished work of Christ is to introduce confusion and error into the church. But God will not stand for that. The Greek word translated “accursed” is anathema. Paul wants God’s eternal judgment to fall upon the false teachers. Why, to imply that Christ’s work was somehow incomplete is to make his cross redundant! There’s only one gospel and it must be kept pure at any cost. This is the message of Galatians in a nutshell.

Friend, whenever I think of Christianity as a set of external actions, as a way I have to look or act, I tend to fall into the trap of legalism. But I can’t push and shove my way closer to God. True spirituality isn’t primarily a matter of works and human willpower. It is all God’s grace. He simply draws us to himself and we’re overcome by a sense of awe and reverence, gratitude and humility. Legalism, on the other hand, is a game nobody ever wins.

I don’t know why I’ll telling you this, dear reader. Nothing I just wrote is new to any of you. I think Gal. 1:6-10 just reminds me of how Paul seems to be saying, “Dave, on this Fourth of July, do not forget what was purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. Stand fast in that liberty from both legalism and license by which Christ has set you free. God did not pay such a price merely to shine you up a bit and add his righteousness to your own. It is by God’s grace, his unmerited favor, that you are saved. As you live looking to him for every need of body, mind, and spirit, enjoy the freedom from fear and worry and all the evils that would enslave you.” I think it was Phillips Brooks who said, “Grace stands for Great Redemption at Christ’s Expense.” Whoever it was, that’s what it is.

Independence Day is a beautiful day for the people of the USA. Let us celebrate every year with grateful hearts, beautiful fireworks, and food aplenty. Happy Fourth of July!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Two Things We Must Do

(Monday, June 15) 8:38 AM My reading this morning was in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Hebrews 13.

There are two things we must do as followers of Jesus, and the church must lead out in this matter (see verse 16):

Do not neglect to do good and to share with others who are in need, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Being a Christian consists of more than loving God with our entire heart, soul, strength, and mind. It also consists of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The earliest believers in Jerusalem illustrated their love for God through (Acts 2:37-47):

  • Evangelistic preaching
  • Christian baptism
  • Apostolic teaching
  • Genuine relationships
  • Christ-centered gatherings
  • Fervent prayer

But they also showed their love for God through showing love for their brothers and sisters by sharing whatever they had. In fact, “All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need” (Acts 2:44). Thus the 7th mark of a New Testament church is sacrificial living. Love for God is always matched by love for others. They are two sides of the same coin. They always go hand in hand. So if we say that we love God and see a brother or sister in need and then don’t help them, how can God’s love be within us? “Little children,” writes John (1 John 3:18), “let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.” This is what the impoverished Macedonians did. Writes Paul (2 Cor. 8:3-4):

They gave not only what they could afford, but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to, and not because of nagging on my part. They begged us to take the money so that they could share in the joy of helping the Christians in Jerusalem.

Fellow saints, how easy it is to praise God in the Sunday service and neglect our ministry to the needy. Praise must be put into practice by relieving the needs of the poor. In fact, the author of Hebrews sees our deeds of mercy and love as sacrifices of praise. Y’all, we need so many things today, but perhaps most of all we need a afresh awakening of social responsibility. We need to be people who do a lotta listening, a lotta learning, a lotta loving, a lotta living out the Gospel we proclaim.

Lord God, come and make us givers, not takers. For when the needy are helped and the oppressed are defended and the blind see and the deaf hear, will not many have to marvel and confess that Jesus the Nazarene is surely among us in all his saving power?

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.