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Third Quarter 2015 July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 11: September 5–11
COMMENTARY ON PAUL: BACKGROUND AND CALL
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day 1: Saturday, September 5, 2015—Introduction
“One of the most central figures in the New Testament was Paul, originally Saul of Tarsus. Paul was to the early Christian church what Moses was to the children of Israel. The difference is that while Moses brought God’s people out from the Gentiles in order that Israel would be able to do God's will, Paul brought God’s Word from Israel to the Gentiles in order that the Gentiles could do the same; that is, to do God’s will.” (Standard Edition Page 88)
There is much good information in this lesson. Unfortunately, there also is much of the SDA view of replacement theology. I will try to point out both.
Here, in the opening paragraph of the week's lesson, is what I believe is an overstatement that leads to confusion. Let's start with the call of Moses:
The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10 NASB emphasis added)
God brought Israel out of Egypt to himself. He used Moses, but it was God who did every bit of the work.
Here is the call of Saul. These words were spoken by God to Annanias when he tried to get out of visiting Saul:
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15, 16 NASB emphasis added)
God brought the Gentiles AND the Jews out of the world to himself. He used Saul/Paul, but it was God who did every bit of the work.
We saw this issue in the lesson I reviewed two weeks ago. This quarter's author tends to see the Gentiles as being called to “true” Judaism. I believe this stems from Adventism's belief that they, as the only true keepers of God's law, have replaced Israel as God's chosen people.
The Bible paints a very different picture. Within the New Covenant, both Jews and Gentiles are called out of their current belief systems to become a brand new thing, the Body of Christ, the called out ones. Both groups leave their old identities behind in order to live with a new identity – Child of God.
Paul describes this new entity beautifully in Ephesians 2:11-22. Please read it slowly and carefully, asking the Spirit to reveal its glorious meaning to you.
Day 2: Sunday, September 6, 2015—Saul of Tarsus
“Paul’s pharisaic background was an important element in his successful missionary work for both Jews and Gentiles. It equipped him with detailed knowledge of the Old Testament, the only Scriptures available to early Christians. It also acquainted him with the scribal additions to, and expansions of, the Old Testament laws. He was thus the apostle best qualified to discern between timeless, Scripture-based divine absolutes on the one hand and later Jewish cultural additions, which were not binding, and which therefore could be ignored by Gentile followers of Jesus. As we have seen, this issue would become a very important one in the life of the early church. Today, too, the role of culture in the church creates issues for the church to address.” (Standard Edition Page 89 emphasis added)
Here is how I paraphrase the sentence I highlighted above.
Seventh-day Adventists have been called to be the last true law-keepers before Jesus returns. In particular, we have been called to cast a divine highlight on the Fourth (Sabbath) Commandment. Everything in our belief system buttresses this assertion; so our views of End Times, judgment, salvation, and Jesus himself are couched solely in terms of one's ability to keep the Law perfectly, even doing so without the Holy Spirit's help at the very end. Therefore, our approach to missions primarily is about teaching others to join us in our quest for these divine absolutes. After all, the only savable people at the end when Jesus returns will be those who thus keep the Law.
This belief system is patently false. Here are just two of many passages which demonstrate the futility of law keeping at any level.
…Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 NASB)
This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (Galatians 4:24, 25 NASB)
Did you catch that? Hagar, the bondwoman, equals Mt. Sinai! Paul is not talking about "the ceremonial law." He is talking about the entire Mosaic Covenant given at Sinai. Anyone who uses the law to attain and/or maintain a proper standing with God is a slave in the same way Hagar's child, Ishmael, was a slave.
As the first part of the paragraph so properly explains, Paul indeed was uniquely suited by his background and training for the task given him by God. However, background and training are useless apart from the Spirit; so, under the Spirit's years-long program of reeducation, Paul was made capable of explaining the overwhelming grace represented by the Christ-event, and bring both Jews and Gentiles out of slavery into freedom.
Day 3: Monday, September 7, 2015—Paul, the Man
“Paul was also a humble man. No doubt, partly from the guilt of his former persecution of Christians, he viewed himself as unworthy of his high calling. And also as someone who preached the righteousness of Christ as our only hope of salvation, he knew just how sinful he was in contrast to a holy God, and such knowledge was more than enough to keep him humble, surrendered, and grateful.” (Standard Edition Page 90)
This is true and false. Paul spoke often of his guilt, his actual, physical guilt. He did kill people, if not by his own hand certainly by his leadership. But his actual guilt did not result in the emotion of guilt. Paul did not live by shame, trying to prove to God that he was worthy of the task.
Paul lived in victory, Jesus' victory. Paul lived with the absolute certainty of being a forgiven person in Christ, of being an utterly saved person indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who would never be taken away from him.
He did not preach that the righteousness of Christ is our only hope of salvation. He preached that the very life of Christ is our salvation.
His knowledge of his own sinfulness did not keep him humble. The glorious riches of “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) kept him humble.
Day 4: Tuesday, September 8, 2015—From Saul to Paul
“From this we can see five results of authentic missionary work:
Wednesday's lesson is excellent. Comparing Paul's conversion “at the time” with his recollection years later is genius.
Two nits. First, moving from darkness to light is more of a lost-to-saved issue than an ignorance-to-knowledge issue. Second, as long as “God's church” in Point 5 is all saved people and not just Adventists it is a strong point.
Day 5: Wednesday, September 9, 2015—Paul in the Mission Field
“One thing is certain about all Paul’s missionary endeavors: no matter where he went, the preaching of Christ and Him crucified was central to his message. By making it so, he was being faithful to the call that Christ had first given him, that he should preach about Jesus. The message for missions today is obvious: whatever else we preach and teach (and as Seventh-day Adventists, we have been given so much that needs to be shared with the world), we must keep Christ and Him crucified at the front and center of all our outreach and mission work.” (Standard Edition Page 92 emphasis added)
Seventh-day Adventists need to be very careful. According to Galatians 1, if anyone added anything to Paul's gospel, that person was to be eternally condemned. Again, in Revelation 22:18, 19 John warns, in the strongest terms possible, those who add to or subtract from the things revealed.
Do not rejoice in your so-called Adventist Distinctives.
If the message is not by Christ alone through grace alone by faith alone, then it is no message at all.
Day 6: Thursday, September 10, 2015—Mission and Multiculturalism
“'Multiculturalism' is a recent term, first appearing in print in the 1960s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. For many ancient peoples, there were only two categories of humanity — us and them... (Standard Edition Page 93)
Absolutely correct! It was us versus them. Very well stated.
However, in our day multiculturalism has served more to divide than unite the church around the world. It is the basis for all the false wedge issues in U.S. politics today. We spend too much of our time pointing out differences or creating differences where there were none before.
This is not solely an Adventist problem, but because of their strong missions emphasis they see it as much as any church. The danger lies in using culture to make false definitions.
Paul's approach was to blow the lid off culture. No Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free; in fact, no false, cultural distinctions allowed at all. We are one in Christ, or we are nothing!
The problem in Galatians 2 was not cultural. It was a Law problem. Peter was happy to live apart from Law as long as no other Jews were watching, but when the Judaizers showed up he gave in to their pressure. Legalism caused the "cultural" problem.
Again, the issue was not whether Gentiles were joining the “Jewish” church. The issue was whether both Jews and Gentiles would give up their old, false identities for the only possible true identity – Child of God.
Day 7: Friday, September 11, 2015—Further Study
An Ellen G. White quote and a good question:
“Despite Paul’s sinful, even shameful, past, God forgave Paul and used him in a mighty way. How can we learn to forgive ourselves for what we might have done and, claiming the righteousness of Christ as our own, seek to be used mightily of Him, as well?” (Standard Edition Page 94)
The only way to learn to forgive ourselves is to bathe ourselves in the twin victories of Jesus – his victory over sin at the cross and his victory over death in his resurrection. If we accept the life of Jesus as our own we receive both eternal life and total forgiveness. In him there is no shame, only thankfulness.
In addition, we don't “seek to be used mightily of him.” Rather, walking by faith in his finished work and indwelling power leads us to the works already prepared for us (see Ephesians 2:10). The indwelling Spirit is more than able to renew our minds, inspire our choices and change our behaviors. Therefore, how and when he uses us is the definition of mighty works.
Paul's story was a 180-degree turn-around. Before his conversion, he was 100% Jewish – Law-based, performance-oriented, shame-filled, a slave to sin. He was trying to substitute his own effort for work only God could do.
After his conversion, he was 100% a child of God – eternally alive, filled with the Spirit, forgiven, righteous, free.
To be sure, Paul maintained his Jewish roots. Ironically, Paul held onto all of the traditions and practices that defined Jewishness, even as he gave up Law. The divine absolutes had nothing to do with the Mosaic Law, because Jesus had fulfilled that covenant. Rather, they were wholly defined by the Spirit within, ministering the faith, hope and love found only in Christ, first to and then through Paul to others.
This is the same relationship into which we've been invited. Denomination means nothing. Adventist distinctives mean nothing. Jesus is everything, and, when lost people see him in us, they will respond. Anything else is an invitation to slavery.