Thoughts on a Linguistics Conference

( March 22, 2019) 7:45 AM “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). This verse might well be the motto for our upcoming Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference. I realize that in its original context this proverb is about individuals. But it’s also true, I believe, about biblical exegesis and linguistics. Each method is a challenge to the other, for better or for worse. Simply put, there seems to be a strong correlation between the Bible and science, between Greek and linguistics. During the so-called Enlightenment, many abandoned the Bible for science altogether. But in recent years, the Bible and science have moved closer together. It became apparent that Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic were, in fact, languages just like any other human languages, even though God had used them to inscripturate His divine truth. If it is true that Koine Greek is a language, then the science of linguistics has much to commend it. The main alternative — viewing the Greek of the New Testament as sui generis, as a kind of Holy Ghost language — has in my opinion little evidence for it compared with biblical linguistics.

In the past several decades, the study of New Testament Greek has moved from viewing Greek as a special field of study to viewing it as a part of the broader science of how languages work. The shift began well before I published my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek in 1988. It was essentially based on the groundbreaking work of 19th- and early 20th century scholars such as Moulton, Blass, Winer, and A. T. Robertson. Since then, biblical scholars have split over whether or not exegesis allows for the full integration of linguistics into biblical studies. Some evangelicals have felt threatened by this new approach to the study of the Greek of the New Testament. However, since we evangelicals believe that God is the unifier of the cosmos, we shouldn’t feel threatened by the various models of linguistic research that have become available over the past century. Among the branches of linguistics, historical-comparative linguistics proved to be the most interesting to biblical scholars of the past century. Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research — affectionately known to students as his “Big Grammar” — moved biblical studies in this direction like no other work that preceded it. Then discoveries in the field of semantics began to inform our discipline, resulting in groundbreaking works like Moisés Silva’s Biblical Words and Their Meanings and Johannes Louw’s Semantics of New Testament Greek. Currently it looks like the field has begun to burgeon far beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations, owing in large part to the tireless work of scholars like Stan Porter, Steve Runge, and Stephen Levinsohn. If we take semantics as a trustworthy approach, books like Biblical Words and Their Meaning become indispensable. Clearly our discipline could do without such exegetical fallacies as illegitimate totality transfer, etymologizing, and anachronism. With the rise of the field of biblical linguistics, evidence that the Greek of the New Testament is in fact not sui generis has risen dramatically, putting even more pressure on the claim that the New Testament is comprised of Holy Ghost Greek.

With this brief summary, we see that the field of New Testament Greek linguistics has made a number of discoveries that challenge evangelicals’ traditional approach to hermeneutics. It has also made others that challenge the methodological certainty of the scientific community. Unfortunately, evangelicals have not found as much common ground as we would like for a unified response to modern linguistic science. Yet all can (and do) agree that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, and that it is crucial that people recognize this. However, there is as of yet no agreement on the detailed model of linguistics that should prevail in our schools and seminaries. How is New Testament Greek to be pronounced? How many aspects are there in the Greek verb system (two or three) and what should we call them? Is the term deponency to be used any more? What is the unmarked word order in Koine Greek? These are basic and central matters that should not be overlooked in the midst of our intramural disputes.

The speakers at our conference hardly agree among themselves on many of these topics. We should not be surprised to find such disagreement. After all, evangelicals are not united in many other areas of interpretation, including the mode of baptism, the biblical form of church government, eschatology, and whether or not miraculous gifts are valid today. Despite our disagreements, however, we should not throw in the towel but should continue to seek solutions in all of these areas. In our conference, we hope that the papers will give us some helpful suggestions for making progress in relating the New Testament to the science of linguistics. For an evangelical, both nature and Scripture are sources of information about God. But because both have fallible human interpreters, we often fail to see what is there. Ideally, scientists (whether secular or evangelical) should favor the data over their pet theories. Hence we have asked each of our speakers to be as fair and judicious in the way they handle disagreements in their assigned subjects.

Many pastors and even New Testament professors in our schools do not think they are exegeting God’s revelation in nature when they do exegesis. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t. This is not to say that New Testament Greek linguistics has solved all the problems of relating biblical and scientific data. It has not. Further investigation and reflection, long after this conference is over, will be needed in this area. Our desire in organizing this conference is that, far from treating science as an enemy, we should all realize that science is simply the process of studying general revelation. Our hope is that God will continue to reveal Himself to us as long as we do not rule out divine inspiration in the process.

Linguistics is, of course, a large subject. No one can ever hope to master its entire scope. Nevertheless, it is obvious that students of New Testament Greek can and should have a working knowledge of linguistics – the science of language.

One thing seems clear as we anticipate our conference. We who study and teach New Testament Greek cannot be satisfied with superficial answers. We must carefully scrutinize the pages of general revelation and consider how they may influence our current approach to Greek exegesis. If we need to be cautious in our handling of the scientific data, we also need to be hopeful and optimistic.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.
Note on header: Energion Publications will have a 4×6 handout card with special offers for conference attendees. You won’t want to miss either the conference or these offers!)

A Community

Sunday, February 17    

7:10 PM I’m warning you: This post is long and boring and I won’t be offended in the least if you leave now. In the Greek classes I teach we discuss words and how they take on meaning. It’s all part of an effort to make classes practical and motivational. At the same time, there’s nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word’s meaning by its parts. For example, some insist that a New Testament church is “called out” from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts—ek, “out of,” and kaleō, “I call.” Hence the church is a “called out” organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.

In New Testament usage, however, the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of “called out ones.” Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn’t meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and have nothing in common. Ochlos is often glossed as “crowd” in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I pose this question in my classes, I usually get several excellent responses: “gathering,” “assembly,” “congregation,” and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term “community.” Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of usare ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: “We’re all in this together. So let’s do it together.” This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our “church” — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.

As you know, in recent years I’ve become part of a similar community, one known simply as the “running community.” The similarities between this community and the “church” are legion. As soon as I began running competitively, I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners.

I’m not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: “I’m looking for a Bible for my mother, but I’m not sure who the author is.” A novice runner asks you, “How far is your next 5K race?” As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn. We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn’t matter how fast we run or how far we run. It doesn’t matter whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a recent 5K race I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran.” I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him “The World’s Greatest Runner Award” that day. Folks, the Christian life is a race we run together. It’s no different in the running community. “Hey guys. I’ve got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?” Or (in the church), “As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?” The point is: We are there for each other.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my priorities changing. I find myself wanting richer, more intimate and complex relationships with my family and friends. Like women, men have a primal need for closeness. We were created for relationships. Men discover that as they move into middle and older age they also move from competition to connecting. The best corporate managers are those who foster networks of connectivity. The best professors, too, prize being hands-on guides and mentors to their students, and not only disseminators of information. Before Becky died, she was the one who did most of the connecting with our kids on an emotional level. But as I’ve come into my own as a widower, I’ve come to a realization that emotionally connecting with my kids and grandkids is deeply enriching. One of the things that my loss of Becky did for me personally was to make me value and cherish my family more. It’s like taking the barnacles off. Now is the time in life to enjoy my family. The real ideal of manhood here is “servant-leader” in which we men discover our nurturing side. The apostle Paul had a lot to say about love. He knew that love is not blind. Nobody is perfect, least of all those closest to us. What is necessary in love is the ability to see others as God sees us. And to love others correctly, we must first love ourselves. The self must first be strong and whole before we can offer true and lasting love to others. Love is a positive sum game where both sides can and should win.

Which brings me back to the notion of community. An athletic team has goals that far surpass the aspirations of its individual players. And that’s true of all of life. As I look forward to the winter of my life, I want to be a man who joins the “I” to the “we,” whether that’s in my family, my church, my profession, my mission work, and even my hobbies. Saying I want to do this is quite easy. Becoming the self I want to become is quite difficult. But every healthy relationship at least makes an attempt to meld the “I” with the “we.”

Well, that’s the end of my ridiculously long blog post. If you’re not bored to tears, then clearly you’re a blog junky like me. If you made it to the end, you deserve a cookie!

(From Dave Black Onlind, used by permission.)

Featured image credit: Pixabay.

Spoken beautifully.

Academics and Mission

(2/16/2019) 9:15 AM In one of my talks at Phoenix Seminary I quoted the Scottish proverb that says, “Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it’s not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.” Oh, I do hope the message came through loud and clear. Seminaries do not exist for scholarship. Yes, we need to study the Bible, and study it carefully. But the goal of the careful study of the Bible is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to become obedient Jesus-followers who feed the poor and open our homes to strangers and share Jesus with the lost and live lives characterized by scandalous love for our enemies. Show me a New Testament teacher off mission, and I’ll show you somebody who has no concept of what the New Testament is all about.

Why I Teach Greek

6:10 AM Let me tell you why I teach Greek. It’s simply this. God has a plan for individuals. And He’s communicated this plan to us in His Word. Our God is a communicative God, and He has made known His will to us through those who penned the Scriptures. Biblical truth is just that: truth that is communicated in and through the Bible. It’s truth that is at once “inspired by God” and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” What all this implies is that if we are to move from the classroom to real life we will have to prize what we learn and view it as a life skill and not merely as an educational attainment. Of course, this isn’t easy. Almost all of us feel tremendous ambivalence as we wrestle with the question of just how to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. Yes, knowledge of Greek is essential if we are to have a firm foundation upon which to build our exegesis of the New Testament. On the other hand, I must say forcefully that facts, no matter how brilliantly taught or diligently acquired, are nothing more than the raw building blocks of life. How we put them together, and for what use (and whose glory), is another matter altogether.

It will be an exciting week in Greek 2: the aorist middle plus the imperfect middle/passive. I’m convinced that my calling in life is not to be just a Greek teacher (or even a just Greek teacher) but to be a Christian. In that spirit, I’m praying hard for my Greek students. Theirs is a daunting task, but God is able!

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission. Dave Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and Aprenda a leer el Griego del Nuevo Testamento, along with many other books.)

Christians and Politics in America

Monday, January 14    

5:10 AM N. T. Wright addresses the issue of church and state (i.e., the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world) in this You Tube:

I link to it because much is being said these days about why evangelicals should become involved in political activism. I am not against activism per se. I do have some concerns, however. I will probably not support a so-called “conservative Christian” political agenda if its proponents:

1) Give the impression that they are more “moral” than other people. If Paul could consider himself “the very worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), it will not help your cause if you pit “moral people” (like us) against “immoral people” (like homosexuals, prostitutes, and abortionists, etc.). Jesus’ holiness did not repel sinners. He did not go around promoting “faith, family, and freedom.” He attracted tax collectors and prostitutes while the Pharisees kept their distance.

2) Think it will “bring America back to God.” America has never been a Christian nation.

3) Identify the church with any human institution or political party. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Please do not suggest that agreeing with your particular political position is a precondition to belonging to the kingdom of God. It is not.

4) Fail to submit to God’s reign in every area of life, including Jesus’ command to love sinners. Nonconformity to the world means more than opposing social evils such as abortion; it includes a humble, peacemaking, servant-like, self-sacrificial love. It means revolting against everything in our lives that is inconsistent with God’s kingdom, including the temptation to grab Caesar-like political power.

5) Claim that their position is the only “Christian” position out there. We must always be on guard against the seductive lure of a kind of hubris that implies that all “sincere” and “godly” evangelicals share the same view about controversial political actions. They don’t.

6) Imply that “inalienable rights” and “the pursuit of happiness” are biblical concepts. They are not. I love democracy. I’d much rather live in a democracy than in a dictatorship. But nowhere is democracy or political freedom elevated to a virtue in the New Testament.

The Gospel is a beautiful and powerful grassroots kingdom movement. No, it does not rule out political activism. But the truth is that the kingdom does not look like the thousands of social movements abroad in the land today. The heart of Christianity is simply imitating Jesus. What is needed, then, is to develop a Christian mind on these matters and that means informing ourselves about contemporary issues, pouring over the Scriptures, voting in elections (as the Lord leads us), sharing in the public debate (to the degree, again, that we are led to do so), giving ourselves to public service if that is our divine calling, etc. At times the church may be led to go beyond teaching and deeds of mercy and take corporate political action of some kind, but we must not do so without making every effort to study an issue thoroughly and seeking to reach a common Christian mind. 

Set Free for Freedom

Saturday, January 12    

7:48 AM Sweet, sweet time in Gal. 5:13-15 this morning.

I read the text. Then I meditated on it. Then I consulted Stott’s commentary.

He outlines the paragraph as follows:

  • Christian freedom is not freedom to indulge the flesh.
  • Christian freedom is not freedom to exploit my neighbor.
  • Christian freedom is not freedom to disregard the law.

As usual, his summary hits the nail on the head. The freedom for which Christ has set us free (5:1) “is freedom not to indulge the flesh, but to control the flesh; freedom not to exploit our neighbor, but to serve our neighbor; freedom not to disregard the law, but to fulfill the law.” As for me and my house, we will try and put this into practice.

Off to bike in the cold. Yes, I can be slightly insane.

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

Linguistics and Correctness

7:22 AM Ward Powers has written a fine introduction to New Testament Greek. He introduces the middle voice on p. 71 by writing:

Commonly, the middle voice is used for intransitive verbs, or where the action of the verb does not carry over to an object but solely affects the subject. Often the subject of the middle voice verb is acting for himself or in his own interests.

In addition:

Closely related to the first use, the middle voice can have a reflexive sense — the action was done to or for the subject.

Powers emphasizes that these two usages can “shade into each other,” though many examples can be given where two distinct usages are obvious, as with:

Jesus washed (active voice) the disciples’ feet.

Pilate washed (middle voice) his hands.

They put on (active voice) him his own clothes.

Do not put on (middle voice) two tunics.

You yourself keep (active voice) the law.

They are to keep themselves (middle voice) from idol food.

I find it interesting that the example Powers focuses on in his ensuing discussion is the verb phulasso. As he puts it, “Thus Matthew and Luke use the active voice of phulasso in a passage where it is appropriate for the middle to be used, whereas in this passage Mark does use the middle:

Matthew 19:20  All these things I have kept (active of phulasso)

Mark 10:20         All these things I have kept (middle of phulasso)

Luke 18:21         All these things I have kept (active of phulasso)

This was precisely the evidence I used when I sought to respond to Robert Stein’s argument for Markan Priority based on this very construction. Stein, however, chose to take the evidence in a different direction. He argued that Mark used an incorrect form of the verb phulasso (the middle), and that this incorrect form was corrected by both Matthew and Luke into the active voice. I argued, in response, that I did not think there was anything inherently incorrect about Mark’s use of the middle here, especially when you take into consideration the use of the middle voice of phulasso in the LXX in contexts dealing with keeping the commandments of God. (See Some Dissenting Notes on R. Stein’s The Synoptic Problem and Markan “Errors.”) This is merely a small slice of the relevance of linguistic study to the interpretation of New Testament texts.

Lately it’s become clear to me that the question concerning correctness and incorrectness in language is not so much a linguistic one but a sociolinguistic one. In other words, it is people who determine what is correct and incorrect in language, not textbooks. In a sense, then, if everybody says “It’s me,” then this construction is correct. (One “should” say “It is I.”) I have the happiest memories of debating this issue with my fellow students while in Basel, as even then I had begun to question the Markan Priority Hypothesis and especially the so-called linguistic arguments for the posteriority of Matthew and Luke. I determined then and there that one day I would study the matter in greater detail, since my own teachers at Talbot had all espoused the consensus view regarding Synoptic origins. It was fascinating contrasting the arguments put forward by Stein and others with the statements of the church fathers. What struck me most, however, was the need to rethink the primary linguistic data in the texts themselves. I must also mention the work of William Farmer, who once invited me to spend a week in Dallas with his working group on the Synoptic Problem. It is a remarkable privilege, this process of thinking and rethinking one’s views about this and that. My task as a Greek teacher now is not to try and convince my students that I am right and someone else is wrong but rather to equip them with a tool (Greek) that will help them all become better Berean Christians.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.

Baby Goats and the Incarnation

8:20 AM With a baby bottle in one hand and a baby goat in the other, it’s easy to think about what took place at the incarnation. When God became man He didn’t do so as a king, aloof and invincible. “He became a little baby thing/that made a woman cry” (George MacDonald). Christ took our nature and accepted our limitations, exposing Himself to our temptations and experiencing the full bitterness of our sorrows. He lived our life and died our death. A newborn goat can’t rise to your heights. You must stoop to its depths. And that’s precisely what Christmas — our “Incarnation Festival” —  represents. Jesus became one of us without any loss of His own identity. He descended fully into our human reality. He who had been the Creator of the universe became a creature. He who threw the stars into space was now wrapped so tightly in swaddling clothes He couldn’t even move His own arms. He who was the Word of God was now speechless except for the cries of a newborn infant. And He on whom all things depended was now dependent upon His earthly mother and father. Then, when He grew up and matured into manhood, He changed the rules of the game forever by insisting that He was the only way to God. And so He demanded from His followers their total allegiance and even promised them that such allegiance could cost them everything, even separation from their earthly families. The baby that was born to two Jews in a stinky barn eventually grew up to become my Savior and my Lord, and, I hope, yours too.

Today churches will be filled to capacity with people who’ve come to hear the Christmas story again. I will be among them. But I must never forget that the baby grew up, and that today He does more than drool and coo.

(Nativity scene credit: Openclipart.org.

Pour Out Your Grief Before Him

Friday, November 2, 2018

7:45 AM I woke up tired this morning, physically drained. And why not? Four weeks ago — a half marathon. Three weeks ago — an ultramarathon. Two weeks ago — a 52-mile bike. One week ago — a marathon. And this weekend? You know when you have a tough day coming and you dread it? It has to take place, but you still lose sleep over it. Loss is just plain tough. It’s hard to understand, deal with, work through, endure. God allows it for a reason but does that lessen its pain? If you ever feel the need to pour out your grief before Him, believe me, I understand. This morning, at 5:00 am, sitting on my front porch in the dark, I read the last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes. Holy cow. What can we learn from this?

  • That aging and death are inevitable.
  • That God disciplines us because He loves us too much to let sin destroy our lives.
  • That, like the Philosopher who wrote this book and who “studied proverbs and honestly tested their truth” (v. 9), so we too can speak openly and honestly about our pain.
  • That reverence for God is not a feeling, it’s a choice.
  • That you can be confused and still trust Him.
  • That God doesn’t despise our fragility but created us with real, raw emotions like sorrow.
  • That suffering has a noble purpose.

Exactly five years ago this morning, to use the words of the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 12, the silver chain snapped, the golden lamp fell and broke, the rope of the well came apart and the water jar was shattered. A body returned to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life went back to God, who gave it to her. A major part of our lives was ripped from us, and just as it takes time to heal from surgery, it takes time to heal from loss. But no matter what our loss may be, the words of the Bible remain true:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

Let me mention four things that have helped me cope with grief through the years. Maybe they can help you cope with your own losses as they come to you in life:

Be yourself. Others may try to “fix” you, but you don’t need fixing. Embrace your grief and learn from it. It is a great teacher.

Expect to be overwhelmed from time to time. Grief is like that giant wave that pummeled me at Sunset Beach years ago. When waves break, they smother you, and you struggle to survive. But waves eventually run out of energy. They expend their power and calm returns. Struggling against a wave is an exercise in futility. You must yield, accept, and even embrace it. The quicker you do that, the more you will recover.

Force yourself to look to the future. Turn your heart and mind to what God still has in store for you. I am grateful my kids helped me to see the importance of doing this. “Daddy, why not start running?” “Daddy, why not go back to Hawaii and surf again?” “Daddy, we’d like you to come and visit us for Thanksgiving.” By forcing ourselves to look to the future, we begin, little by little, to cope with the past.

Help others. One way God carries our burdens as His children is by sending someone into our lives who’s experienced something similar to what we have experienced. All around us are people who are hurting, who have needs (spiritual or financial), and when we reach out to them, we help not only them but ourselves.

Suffering is one of the hardest parts of our faith. But beauty after ashes is possible. Becky died with her family by her side. We wept over her still-warm body. Then we sang a hymn and prayed, expressing our gratitude to God for her life and that finally she was in pain no longer. I quietly asked everyone to leave the room. I caressed Becky’s hand one last time, reluctant to let her go. I wept as I said a final goodbye to my beloved friend and partner. Then I left the room to plan her memorial service. Becky would have been surprised at how many people attended her homegoing celebration on campus. But I wasn’t surprised. Becky was an honest and decent human being whom everybody admired.

I have many more special memories to offer, but this is not the place or the time. I miss you so much, my darling Becky. I wish you could be here to enjoy your grandchildren like I can. But I bet you’re watching everything from above and smiling. I grieve for my adulthood without you, but I accept it. I’m so glad we were always together, perhaps in sickness even more than in health. I have no right to feel self pity. Your life was a pure blessing to me. You taught me about so many things and I will hold on to every one of those truths. I can’t imagine having another intimate relationship. At this point in my life, I have plenty to do just keeping up with our kids and grandkids. I know that your spirit of love and generosity lives on in their hearts, and for that I am grateful. I hope that someday I can learn to trust God like you did. Deep down, I know that losing you will help me to discover who I am, now that I am on my own. I love you, sweetheart. I hope you can hear/see/feel that.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Becky Lynn Black.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Fruit of the Spirit

(Thursday, September 20, 2018) Like most people, I think of lots of things when I’m biking (or running, or walking).

Today my random thought was: I wonder why Paul used so many agricultural metaphors in his writings. Specifically, he mentions the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians — a book I’ve been pondering of late, as you can probably tell. Please tell me I’m not the only person who likes to take a metaphor and translate it into non-metaphorical language. So, why did Paul say “fruit” of the Spirit when he could have said “deeds” or “works” or “expressions” or “products”? He must have thought there was an important distinction between the “works” of the flesh and the “fruit” of the Spirit, ya think? I once heard someone say that it’s the difference between the fruit on a tree in an orchard and the ornaments on a Christmas tree in your living room. The Christmas tree ornaments have no living connection to the tree. They are completely independent objects that we hang on the tree. But fruit has a vital connection to the tree. Without the life in the tree, there can be no fruit on the tree.

As I pondered this question while riding along, I thought back to the lecture I gave yesterday on what the apostle Paul says about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the book of Galatians. It’s one thing to know the will of God. It’s another thing to actually do God’s will. And the amazing thing is that the obedience that God requires in our lives is exactly the same obedience that He enables. Because I wasn’t able to do this in my lecture yesterday due to time constraints, I want to point out here four additional metaphors Paul uses to describe how we are to live the Christian life. These are all to be found in the 5th chapter of Galatians. They are:

  • Walk in the Spirit.
  • Be led by the Spirit.
  • Keep in step with the Spirit.
  • Sow to the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to live by the power that the Spirit gives us. To be led by the Spirit is to allow the Spirit to direct our lives instead of our fallen, sinful natures. To keep in step in the Spirit is a wonderful military metaphor. “Left, right, left, right,” goes the drill sergeant, and likewise we place our feet wherever the Holy Spirit is wanting us to place them. Finally, we need to sow to the Spirit if we are to bear the “fruit” of the Spirit.

So you might wonder: How do I know whether or not I am walking in, being led by, keeping in step with, and sowing to the Spirit? The Bible is clear that this does not happen automatically. As Paul says in Eph. 5:18, we have to invite the Holy Spirit of God to control our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have to do this on a daily basis at least. Every morning, before I set foot on the floor, I pray a very simple prayer: “Father, thank You so much for this new day. It belongs to You. My goal this day is to please You. Lord Jesus, You are my King and my Master. My goal this day is to serve You. And Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your power and presence so that I may be enabled to please the Father and serve the Lord Christ.” Then I begin to proceed through my day. I’m constantly asking, “Lord, what would you have me do today? What shall I write today, if anything? How shall I serve you today? What emails and text messages should I answer and when? Who needs a phone call of encouragement from me today? What exercises shall I do today to maintain this temple You’ve given me? Where and for how long shall I meditate on Your word? Shall I cut grass today or tomorrow?”

As for prayer, for me the key verse is Eph. 5:18: “praying at all times in the Spirit.” I don’t want prayer to be a do-it-yourself activity. I want to pray when the Spirit is prompting me to pray, all throughout the day. Plus, keep in mind that prayer is much more than spoken communication. Prayer is also communion — a moment by moment, step by step, relationship with God. Not only do I pray when I get up in the morning, but I pray while biking or running, while doing the kitchen dishes, while standing in the grocery store line, while taking a shower. I’m not very good at compartmentalizing: This is spiritual, and this isn’t. Sometimes my prayer is a quick “Thanks.” Often it’s a desperate “Help me.” Prayer, for me, is like talking to my best friend. It’s spontaneous. While out biking today, about all I could think about was how thankful I am to God to be able to be outdoors doing what I love to do. Sometimes I pray with groanings that can’t be expressed in words, as I did for a long time last night. It’s at these moments that the Holy Spirit, we are told, “helps us in our weakness…. And the Father who knows our hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27). Finally, more often than I’d like, I find myself asking forgiveness of the One I love. That’s why, when I wake up in the morning, the first thought on my mind is, “Holy Spirit, please help me. Fill me with Yourself so that I may walk in You, be led by You, keep in step with You, and sow to You.”

My friend, whatever it is you are relying on today other than the Spirit for help in making progress in holiness, for God’s sake, get rid of it. Amputate it as you would a gangrene limb. He accepts you as you are. And the obedience that He requires of you this day, He will also enable. You can count on it.

Well, sorry folks, but my thoughts are totally random and scrambled after I work out. I think of a lot of things while exercising, and it just so happened that today you had to bear the brunt of my latest cogitating!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of books, many of them from Energion Publications, including The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching. This post used by permission.)

The Jesus Paradigm: A Book that will set you on a downward path