Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

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Generosity Yields Heaps of Blessings

I don’t like other people to fill my plate. They tend to give me heaping helpings of every food, then I can’t eat it all, then I feel bad for wasting food. I know they are being generous, and maybe it’s my latent control freak rearing its head…

Anyway, we have a bonus post on generosity this month. Pile heaping portions of these biblical examples onto your figurative plate and dig in! I promise I’ve kept the calories in check, but not the alliteration.

People of Judah: Heaps of Tithed Goods

2 Chronicles 31:2-10.

Hezekiah was one of the last kings of Judah. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2). He repaired the temple, restored the prescribed sacrifices, re-ordained the priests, and reinstituted the Passover. (Told you there was alliteration.) He also called the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area to support the priests and Levites with their tithes. The people responded generously. They brought a tenth of everything they owned, and it took four months—four months!—to collect it all. So much came in that they had to pile everything into heaps in and around the temple (2 Chronicles 31:6). When Hezekiah saw all those heaps, he praised God and asked the priests what was going on. Azariah replied,

Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed his people, and this great amount is left over.  –2 Chronicles 31:10

Enough and plenty to spare

The Lord has blessed his people

Imagine the heaps: bread, casks of olive oil, jugs of wine, other crops such as squash and beans, plus the corrals of various animals. Imagine the priests weaving their way between the piles as they go out into the city, the cook coming out for another cask of oil. Seems funny to me.

God used the generosity of
his people to take care of
His ordained.

But more importantly, we see that God used the generosity of His people to take care of His ordained. Those who serve in our churches and other ministries can depend on God’s plan. Those who aren’t “on staff” can respond to the Spirit’s prompting to bless the pastors and ministers.

I wonder what my pastor would say if he found a heap of vegetables outside the church’s front door this Sunday.

Cornelius: Heaps of Unclean Animals on a Sheet

Acts 10:1-48.

In the book of Acts, God has a pattern of connecting God-fearing non-Jews with apostles and disciples (e.g. Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40). One such man was Cornelius, a Centurion in the Italian Regiment of the Roman army—a clear-cut Gentile. He lived in Caesarea, where everyone knew he was faithful to the God of the Jews and generous with all those in need (Acts 10:2). God responded to Cornelius’ generosity by setting up a meeting between him and Peter. Remember Peter’s vision of the unclean animals on a sheet (Acts 10:9-23)? That was this situation. In the end, everyone in Cornelius’ household believed in Jesus, received the Holy Spirit, and was baptized!

God blessed Cornelius in
response to his generosity.

Cornelius wasn’t expecting anything from God. He wasn’t giving in order to get to Heaven. He just did what he knew was right. He discovered God’s heart almost by accident, unlike the Pharisees, who tried so hard and yet missed the point (see Luke 11:41).

God responded to Cornelius’ generosity and blessed him with eternal life.

Publius and the Maltese: Heaps of Hospitality

Acts 27:1-28:10.

God blessed those who were
generous to His followers.

Toward the end of Acts, we find Paul on a ship headed for Rome. The ship was caught in a big storm, Paul had an I-told-you-so moment (Acts 27:21), and the ship wrecked on Malta. Not only were the people “unusually” kind (Acts 28:2), but also Publius, the chief official on Malta, showed “generous hospitality” (Acts 28:7) to Paul and the other shipwreck victims. Publius’ father was sick, so Paul prayed for him and laid hands on him. God responded by healing Publius’ father and, later, all the sick people on the island.

Publius wasn’t looking for a healing when he took Paul and the others into his home, but God responded to his generosity by using Paul to heal. God blessed those who were generous toward His followers.

Wealthy Landowner: Heaps of Indignation

Matthew 20:1-16.

Jesus famously told a story about a wealthy landowner who recruited workers throughout the day. When it came time to distribute the day’s wages, he gave the late-arrivals the same amount as those who had worked all day. The all-day workers were incensed! They grumbled and said, “These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).

I, in my right-wrong, merit-based, justice-driven worldview, tend to agree with those workers. The all-day workers had done more work, so they deserved more pay. Perhaps the late-arrivals were even lazy or shiftless.But they had contracted with the landowner to work all day for one denarius, and he gave them one denarius—the same money Roman soldiers made in a day (NIV Study Bible notes). As unfair as it may feel, he didn’t cheat the all-day guys.

Generosity must be based
on what is needed, not
what is deserved.

We must turn our perspective upside down to understand what’s going on here. The landowner gave the workers what they needed, not what they deserved. Those who worked for only one hour needed to feed their families just as much as those who worked all day. This landowner met the needs of his community rather than judging who deserved to be paid and who didn’t.* Maybe that’s why God gave him wealth in the first place.

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  –Matthew 20:15

Here I find one of the biggest challenges to my efforts at generosity. I want to give only to those I judge deserving, those who work hard, or those I somehow deem trustworthy. In this parable, Jesus shows our generosity isn’t about what others deserve. It’s about what the other person needs, and I don’t decide what others need. I must simply respond to the Holy Spirit as He prompts me to give.

To bring it all together, when I respond with generosity as He prompts, I can trust He will bless me with what I need. Heaps of generosity lead to heaps of blessing.

4 biblical examples of generosity and blessing: it all piled up in heaps. Because my #generosity is #NotAboutMe, from @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Going back to our image of a heaping plate, I would love to know which point you need to “chew on” for awhile. Or maybe it’s time for the next course, if you have any room left. Can you think of another biblical example of generosity? (Not Zacchaeus—I did that one last month.) Encourage us all by responding in the comments below!

*I am indebted to Amy Jill-Levine, in Short Stories by Jesus, for opening my eyes to the landowner’s point-of-view.

Chasing Jesus

The crowds just kept getting bigger. Jesus had healed many sick people and did other miracles. (John calls them ‘signs.’) When he tried to take a break, escaping by boat, many people followed Him around the Sea of Galilee to somewhere near Bethsaida (NIV Study Bible notes). Then He started handing out free food. He fed five thousand men, plus women and children, from the lunch box of one boy (John 6:1-14).

Not the way to thin your crowds, Jesus. Everybody likes free food. Continue reading

How Much More

A wobbly number line stretched across the classroom board, drawn without the help of a straight edge. Zero was near the center. To the left, the negative numbers. To the right, the positive numbers. You remember it from elementary or middle school, don’t you? For me, it was a green chalkboard and a teacher who was allergic to chalk. “Occupational hazard,” he said. At each end, the line was capped by an arrow just before the edge of the board. The arrow meant we hadn’t really arrived at the end of the line—that it continued into infinity in both directions.

As I read through Romans 5 this week, that number line returned to my mind. Four times in this chapter, Paul says “how much more.” It’s not a question but an exclamation, like when I (frequently) say, “What was I thinking!” or “How could I have forgotten that!”

I dug into the Greek a little. The phrase is pollō mállon (thank you, BibleGateway.com and my Complete Word Study Dictionary). It means simply “much more;” we add the “how” to get the right meaning in English. This word pairing comes up rather often in the New Testament, most notably (I think) in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said,

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  -Matthew 6:30 (emphasis added)

Much more.

With these words, the speaker (Jesus, Paul, etc.) creates a comparison between two concepts. There’s a first thing, which may be positive or negative, but the second thing so far exceeds the first as to make the first thing insignificant.

Like when David said, “My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5), the image here is abundance, excess, extra to the point of wastefulness.

In the number line of life, we start out in the negative, somewhere to the left of zero. God’s generosity (saving us through Jesus’ death) doesn’t just return us to zero. It goes far beyond, bypassing even that arrow at the edge of the board on the positive side, into infinity or, in our case, an infinite eternity.

Let’s look at Paul’s how much more comparisons in Romans 5.

Since we have now been
justified by his blood,
how much more shall we
be saved from God’s wrath
through him! For if, while
we were God’s enemies, we
were reconciled to him
through the death of his
Son, how much more, having
been reconciled, shall we
be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but
we also boast in God through
our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now
received reconciliation.
Romans 5:9-11

How much more are we saved from God’s wrath (v. 9)

Jesus’ blood gives us the right to be in God’s presence (justification), but it’s more than that. Because of Jesus’ death, we don’t have to worry about the final judgment. God will not release his righteous anger on us.

Jesus gave us an excellent example of this. When the prodigal son returned to his father (Luke 15:11-32), the father could have said, “Yes, you’re my son, but you need to be punished.” He didn’t. The younger son not only returned to his status in the family, but he was also saved from his father’s wrath.

How much more are we saved through His life (v. 10)

We’ve also been brought into a healthy relationship with God (reconciliation), but He doesn’t stop there—oh no! Jesus’ continuing life in and through us, both saved us and continues our sanctification (the “shall we be saved” of this verse). We have an on-going, deepening relationship with God through Jesus.

Again, from Jesus’ parable: The prodigal’s father could have said, “I forgive you, now get out of my sight,” but he didn’t. He pursued a renewed relationship with his long-lost son, starting with a big celebration.

Next in Romans 5, Paul introduces the idea of the “one man” Adam and the “one man” Jesus Christ. This section is full of comparisons, but twice he uses our pollō mállon again.

But the gift is not like
the trespass. For if the
many died by the trespass
of the one man, how much
more did God’s grace and
the gift that came by the
grace of the one man, Jesus
Christ, overflow to the
many! Nor can the gift of
God be compared with the
result of one man’s sin:
The judgment followed one
sin and brought condemnation,
but the gift followed many
trespasses and brought
justification. For if, by
the trespass of the one man,
death reigned through that
one man, how much more will
those who receive God’s
abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of
righteousness reign in life
through the one man,
Jesus Christ!
Romans 5:15-17

How much more does grace overflow to many (v. 15)

Before Jesus came, many people died because of sin—Adam’s original sin instilled in them. But many more than that will live eternally because we get grace (our saving factor) through Jesus’ singular death and subsequent resurrection.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  –Ephesians 2:8

How much more will grace-receivers reign through Christ (v. 17)

Because of Adam’s sin, death reigns in our lives. When we receive God’s grace, He dethrones death and sets us up to reign in this life through Jesus.

How much more is there to say? (I mean this one as a question.)

I hope you can see the type of comparison Paul makes in these four verses. In the first two, he says, “What you know is good, but the reality is so much better!” In the second pair, he says, “If this is bad, the converse is not just good but amazingly good!” Every time, God goes the extra step to make our situation beautiful and remarkable.

Let’s end with a related “immeasurably more” from Paul.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  –Ephesians 3:20-21

Why does he give us much more? For His glory. We can draw a heavy line all the way across our number lines on the board and off, into infinity.

number line 2
(c) Carole Sparks

God isn’t playing a zero-sum game with our eternity. He gives us “much more” every time. My #more is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Can you think of a good image to help us understand God’s “much more”? My number line is just one example. Have these verses impacted your life in a particular way? In either case, we would love to hear from you in the comments below. Let’s glorify God with a discussion of His Word!

She Was Looking for a Pail, Not a Provider

The woman trudged through the field, walking the path worn by ancient feet and cemented by the townswomen’s continued daily pilgrimage for water. She squinted in the sun and flapped her arms a bit to force air toward her armpits.

Someone was sitting by the well. She slowed her pace, hoping he would move on before she arrived, but he seemed to be looking at her, waiting for her. With twenty feet still between them, she could tell he was a Jew. Her back stiffened; her jaw clenched. She was not only a woman but also a Samaritan: already two strikes against her in the eyes of this self-righteous Jewish man.

John 4:4-14. Continue reading

Spiritual Maturity and Sentence Diagrams

If you’re of a certain age, you remember diagramming sentences in elementary/middle school. If you’re a #wordnerd like me, you don’t just remember it, you enjoyed it! Yes, I am that weird kid who diagrammed sentences just for fun.

So when I showed up in New Testament Greek class and my professor started diagramming some of Paul’s sentences in Greek, I was delighted. A couple of them took up the entire board! (We were then using dry erase markers on white board, not the chalkboards of my grade school years. Ah, progress.)

When I come upon a long,
complicated sentence, I fall
back on sentence diagramming.

Paul could write some of the longest sentences. I often get lost in them. But when I do, I fall back to some mental diagramming. (Confession: if it’s extra-difficult, I might draw the diagram in my q.t. journal. Am I alone in this? Probably.) Hopefully, I’m not alone, however, in finding real spiritual truth in a well-diagrammed sentence.

Take this one, for example.

Colossians 1:9b-12.

It’s one sentence in my NIV, and the ESV includes the first half of verse 9 in the same sentence. If not periods, Paul could have at least used some bullet points in this section. I won’t force a sentence diagram upon you now because it might unearth long-buried nightmares, so let’s turn it into a list. We like lists, don’t we? I took a little time to dig out  the key words (watching for prepositions and paying attention to punctuation) then bulleted some questions I asked myself as I studied this.

4 Marks of Spiritual Maturity

One whose life is worthy of God and who pleases God (v. 10) will model these four traits.

  1. Bearing fruit
  • Is my life producing/causing good in the world?
  • Are people learning about Jesus?
  • Are needy people blessed?
  • Is my church better/stronger because of my service there?
  • Do my thoughts and actions honor the Lord?
  1. Growing in knowledge of God
  • Do I know more than I did last year about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?
  • Am I more familiar with the Bible now?
  • Do I know how to apply biblical truth to life situations (wisdom)?
  1. Being strengthened to have more endurance and patience
  • Does it take me longer to get angry now?
  • Can I withstand longer/harder trials?
  • Do I seek Him more often than I seek His solution to my problems?
  1. Giving joyful thanks to God
  • Am I perpetually thankful for my salvation?
  • Do I find ways to give thanks regardless of my circumstances? (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Do I see God’s blessings in my life—the good parts and the bad?
  • Is my perspective on life characterized by joy?

2 Notes of Caution

I’m sure you know what I’m about to say, but it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture of God’s Word when we zoom in so tightly.

  1. Doing these things doesn’t qualify us for heaven. God qualifies us through Jesus (v. 12b). Instead, these “marks” are evidence of what God has already done in our lives.
  2. God doesn’t supply this list so we can judge others but to affirm for ourselves that we’re on the right track. This is one of many passages designed to encourage us.

There’s so much more to this set of verses. We could go in ten different directions with all the Truth Paul packs into one long sentence. My goal today was to give you (or remind you of) one tool for dissecting the Scripture. (Oops—I switched from English to Biology.) I don’t know about you, but turning Paul’s long sentences into bullet points (a sneaky half-diagram) helps me understand, remember, and apply the guidance God has given us through Paul.

This is not middle school English, but we can use sentence diagramming to clarify Paul’s super-long sentences. #BibleStudyTools #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you remember sentence diagramming? Have you used it in your personal Bible study? Any other good suggestions for understanding Paul’s grammar? Or more personally: How have these verses spoken to you? Is there a particular one of my questions the Lord has highlighted for you to ask yourself? Any way you’d like to answer in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

Generosity is Openhanded

In the first half of this year, we considered generosity, my #OneWord2018, by its source and relationship to other biblical concepts. For the latter half of this year, we’ll look at various types of generosity and related Bible instructions.

These days, we call it charity—the concept of sharing money or goods with those who need it. (In King James English, charity was a synonym for love. Check 1 Corinthians 13. I was so confused when I was a kid.) When we think of generosity, most of us start here.

Openhanded Giving

Continue reading