Today's Issues Q&A

Issue:

What does it mean to love your enemies? How does this look in modern life?

 

Response (staff answer):

This is a very important question, especially in light of today’s national and global political climate. So, we’ll examine different aspects of this issue throughout the up-coming months.

In our global community, we can’t afford not to love our enemies. This doesn’t mean we have to love what they do, or even what they stand for. But if we ever want to make our world, even our own homes and communities, a better place, love is the answer. Why? Fear is almost always at the root of enmity, and the antidote is love: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18 NKJV).

We love enemies 1) for our own sake so that we don’t feel hate in our own hearts, so we get rid of the feeling of enmity; 2) so we feel safe. Enemies make us feel unsafe; they create fear. We don’t want to live in fear; we want to live in love. So how do we go about loving “enemies”?

We’ll start by looking at the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau. Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for a pot of lentil stew (Gen 25:29-34). Later, Jacob colluded with his mother to trick his father, Isaac, to get the blessing of the firstborn, which Isaac was going to give to Esau (Gen 27). So, Esau wanted to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to flee for his life (Gen 28).

Twenty years later, when Jacob heard the message from God to go back home (Gen 31), we can only imagine what Jacob must have been feeling—fear, guilt, self-condemnation, even more fear…. Presumably, his brother was still there and still wanted to kill him. But Jacob followed God’s command, regardless of fear. He didn’t let fear paralyze him.

He did do a lot of preparation, however. He didn’t just go up to Esau and say, “Hi there, buddy!” He sent messengers ahead to assess the situation. They came back, telling him Esau was coming with 400 men, so “Jacob was greatly afraid, and distressed” (Gen 32:7 NRSV). More fear and more courage. Preparing for the worst, he positioned his family into two camps so that if Esau got one camp, the other one would escape. It made logical sense. Jacob also sent at least three groups ahead with animals and gifts as a way of mitigating Esau’s anger, of announcing his desire for peaceful reconciliation, perhaps of a way of asking for forgiveness and mercy. He was paving the way for amelioration.

And Jacob prayed. Boy, did he pray. He prayed for himself; he prayed for his family:

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ … Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’” (Gen 32: 9, 11, 12 NRSV)

So the night before he met Esau, after he had sent his two wives and their families across the river for their safety and was totally alone with God, Jacob’s prayer turned into a wrestling match with that man/angel—not an easy thing, especially when his hip was put out of joint (32:22-32). But it was also a life-transforming incident. Someone had to see the situation from God’s vantage point. Someone had to forgive. Someone had to reach out. Jacob answered the call.

He was persistent. Jacob refused to be bullied or scared away from doing what God had told him to do—go home. He also refused to let go until he got a blessing, until he saw his own nature differently, and his nature was transformed—because he saw God “face to face” (Gen 32:30). And once he saw God face-to-face, he was able to see his brother differently.

When they met graciously and lovingly, Jacob was able to say to Esau, “I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me” (Gen 33:10 NKJV). What a complete transformation of two individuals (small-scale), which impacted and an entire situation and people (large-scale)!

Now, the real healing or transformation occurred before Jacob met Esau, as a result of that prayerful wrestling match, when Jacob was able to rise above the terror that he was feeling about the impending meeting. It certainly wasn’t easy for Jacob to conquer fear, hate, envy, and most likely guilt and self-condemnation. But he did. He forgave himself and his brother. And the rift that had been there for at least 20 years, the animosity they had engendered, vanished over night, and they resumed normal relations. Face-to-face!

It was an image thing: Jacob understood what it meant to be made in God’s image, to reflect God’s likeness. And it wasn’t just he who was made that way; his brother was God’s image, too. Jacob forgave and loved for himself, for his family. As a result, he lost an enemy and regained a brother. He also prevented fraternal warfare.

So this month, let’s focus on the image we have of ourselves and others. Let’s rise above fear and hate. How do we see ourselves? How do we see others? Have we created enemies? How do we see those who call themselves our enemies? Let’s work to get to the point where we see ourselves and others as if we’re looking at God’s face. That’s what Jacob learned to do. And it seems highly essential in today’s polarized world that we learn to do the same thing. So to counteract fear and hate, each time we look at someone, let’s see the face of God. There’s only love there. And that’s a very good place to start.


Issue:

Can we trust God to help us in an emergency, even a medical emergency?

 

Response (This story answers the question):

I helped a close friend today. He was rushed to the Emergency Room, and I really wanted to support him, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to do more than just be there with him. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t sit still because my mind was swirling with fearful visions of what had happened to him. I tried to “think good thoughts” – something I’ve often been told to do when trouble comes calling. I immediately thought about what a good guy this friend is, about how he doesn’t deserve something bad to happen to him, about how unfair this scenario was, coming out of the blue…. And that brought me back to feeling afraid and helpless as my thoughts raced around and around the track in my head. Suddenly, a red flag went up. Stop it! The words were loud and clear. Pray. It was an order with no wiggle room.

Our family prays a lot! I mean, we pray about everything. And our prayers are pretty much always answered. I don’t mean that we get everything we want. That’s not what praying is – it’s not asking God really, really hard for something and promising to do something in return. Believe me, that never works! That’s just wishful thinking turned into willful wanting, which has nothing to do with God.

No, praying is first getting really, really quiet, and then listening big-time, and THEN letting your mind fill up with all the ideas about God that flood into your thoughts. I like to start by thinking about infinity. That’ll take some time, right? Hahaha—no! Because infinity doesn’t count time—it’s forever. I mean, think about that. Since God is infinite, then anything else we think of as being God is infinite, too—like Love. God is Love, so Love is infinite. That’s an awesomely amazing idea! Just let that settle in your thought for a while and see where it takes you.

So, back to my friend who was lying in a hospital bed, not feeling well at all, and waiting for a doctor to tell him what was wrong, and afraid of what he would hear. It was not a good picture.

But I wasn’t focused on that. I was working on fulfilling the order I’d received: Pray. The first thing I thought of was the Lord’s Prayer found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew: “Our Father….” And that’s as far as I got. “Our” stopped me short. My friend was in God’s care. God isn’t only mine or only for those who belong to my faith. There’s only one God. I’ve known this forever, but I saw it differently today. My friend goes to a different church, but both of us—all of us—worship the same God. We might see God in different ways, from different viewpoints. But there’s only ONE God. And that means God is here for all of us. God is loving, caring for, comforting, and merciful to, everybody.

Then I got to “Father.” I love thinking about the best father I can imagine, even better than some of the really great fathers I know. But God is bigger, better, more than all of them put together because God is infinite. He’s strong, and He protects and guides, and He loves gently and tenderly, but also energetically and forever.

As I thought about God, it was easy to see that if God is being God, then all of us are totally “cared for, watched over, beloved and protected.” (That’s part of a verse in a hymn I love.) God is “here” for us. Always.

I kept praying: “Who art in heaven….” That’s where God reigns, where He exists—in the kingdom of heaven. And since we are His children, we live there, too. We’re completely surrounded, lifted up, nestled, in His home—in heaven. It was easy to see my friend there, too.

“Hallowed be Thy name.” To me, that means we are hugely respectful of God, and we never fall down on the job of showing our respect for Him—of listening for His word, of following obediently and willingly, of expressing our gratitude for Him, such as trying to see and appreciate others the way God sees and loves us. There’s always room to improve in that department!

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” This part of the Lord’s Prayer always makes me say, “Phew and thank you!” This is where we remind ourselves that God is God right here on earth, not just down the road … after we die … in heaven. So, that’s cool: God isn’t far away, and praying isn’t wishful thinking or day-dreaming. God is ever-present, everywhere, and always. Remember, God is infinite. So, I can expect God to answer my prayers, to guide me—and everyone else who prays or who’s looking for guidance. My friend sure was. And I immediately felt more at peace about God being right there for him.

There’s one more thing about heaven that I’m starting to understand. It’s that heaven is here. We can feel it, live in it, right now. It’s not someplace up in the sky where we move when we die. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is within us (Luke 17:21). It’s in our hearts, in our inmost consciousness. And the peace we find there affects our daily lives. If we’re living in the kingdom of heaven, we’re in a good place—we’re feeling good about ourselves and about our place in the world. That radiates to others, making them feel good, too. I wanted very much to be in that kingdom of heaven so that my friend would feel peace surrounding him.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” This line hits home every time I say it. This is “the ask.” But it’s the coolest ask I can imagine because it’s not for something specific—it’s for the most basic form of nourishment: bread. It’s for what we need to be ready and able to meet the challenges of any given day. It’s for sustenance and strength. What’s more, the wording is both a request and an expectation. If we ask, it means we’re open to receiving something. And God gives us exactly what we need.

“And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Knowing God forgives me sure makes it easy for me to forgive! How many times a day do I put God through the ringer or throw God under the bus? Yet, God remains God. All-loving. All-powerful. All-knowing. All-good. That doesn’t mean I can keep acting in ways that require forgiveness over and over again. That would be ridiculous. God is intelligence, not stupidity. So If I’ve done something that needs forgiving, I need to reform, change my ways. Knowing God loves me enables me to do that. I didn’t know how this line relates to my friend, but I know from experience that forgiving others and forgiving myself is transformative. And as I see it, every little step helps me get closer to God, which makes for a better day. I wanted this day to get better and better.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver is from evil.” To me, this is another one of the “reminder” parts of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s reminding us that God doesn’t guide us into trouble; He gets us out of it! That definitely helped calm my thoughts about my friend.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory forever.” Nothing compares to God. Nothing’s as awesome or powerful or everywhere. ALWAYS. Amen. I like to think of this as both the end and the beginning. It’s the end of the prayer and the beginning of the outcome of that prayer. It closes the door on doubt and fear, and opens the door to endless possibility, to the expectancy of good.

By the end of my prayer, peace filled the room. I knew I’d been helpful. My friend rested quietly. Fear had melted away. A little while later, my good friend was told he’d be fine and could go home. As we left the ER, he thanked me for being there with him and said, “Your prayers sure made a difference.”

We can trust God in an emergency! AMEN!


Issue:

Are there any Bible stories about calming people or relieving stress?

 

Response (staff answer):

Yes. Let's imagine for a moment the situation at the Red Sea during the time of Moses. The children of Israel (roughly two million people) had just been liberated from Egypt. They were essentially trapped at the Red Sea. The sea was in front of them, the mountains were on their sides, and the chariots of Pharaoh were bearing down on them. Panic was creeping over them. The text says, "they were sore afraid - and they cried out to the Lord." (Ex 14:10) Moses told them to "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord….The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." (Ex 14:13) We all know, of course, that Moses raised his rod and the sea parted. The people, who moments ago were scared to death, walked safely across on dry land. These same people, not long thereafter, were hungry and thirsty, and again murmured against Moses. Meeting their needs, the Lord rained manna and quail down from the heavens as regularly as clockwork for as long as they needed it.

There is another wonderful story in II Kings involving Elisha. When warring against Israel, the king of Syria was having trouble getting the upper hand because Israel always seemed to know his plans in advance. He determined that Elisha was the one who was helping them. So the next morning, Elisha's servant awoke to find them surrounded by "horses and chariots and a great host." The servant cried out, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" Elisha responded by praying for his servant, "Lord I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." (II Kings 6:17) The Lord responded by opening the servant's eyes. The result was that when the Syrians attacked, they were struck with blindness and were led into the Israelite city of Samaria. There the captives were given bread and water and sent home to their master. That was the end of Syria's attacks (at least for a while).

There are literally dozens more stories like this scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. They involve many of the main characters, including Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, Moses, Hannah, Samuel, Saul, and David. One of the main common denominators among these people is that they all prayed to the Lord, in one fashion or other. Oftentimes the next line reads, "The Lord heard their prayer…; the Lord remembered them…." Heartfelt prayer seems to be the key here. The same can be said of those who approached Jesus for healing. Some of them did so at great risk to themselves, but they were undaunted (lepers, Jairus, Syrophoenician woman, etc.).

There is, perhaps, no more explicit discussion of this topic than Jesus' own words in the Sermon on the Mount. He specifically says, "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" (Matt 6:25) And for those who didn't get it the first time, he repeats it in 6:31: "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."

The bottom line here is that anxiety is pointless; trust in the Father is well-based. These words were spoken to people for whom starvation and poverty were commonplace. Perhaps because of this, Jesus reminds them of the Father's active care throughout His creation, even mentioning birds and wildflowers. Birds don't plant, fertilize, and harvest, yet they eat daily. Wildflowers grow in abundance without the benefit of human cultivation. How much more likely is it, then, the reasoning goes, that the Father would take care of those who call on Him by name? Put in this way, even the poorest person would have to admit that there are things more important than food and clothing. Jesus continues by saying that all the worrying in the world cannot add inches to our height. There are limits to what can be accomplished even by the best worriers.

So Jesus says, "Stop worrying." (The present imperative indicates the disciples had worried; now they are to stop it.) Jesus makes the point that "your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." Jesus is not trying to convince us we don't have these needs; he is saying don't worry about them. Trust in the Father to supply them. Worry and stress should not be characteristics of the Father's children. However, (and there is a however here) this does not suggest that the child of God will be given these things automatically without effort or work or foresight. Rather, it is addressing the problem of anxiety, worrying, and stress. As trusting children, we must be open to the ideas and opportunities that the Father provides to meet our needs. The more we come to understand this, the more we can sing with Luke, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (12:22)


Issue:

God said we should not lie, but Abraham lied about his wife Sarah on two different occasions in Genesis. God defends him on both occasions and doesn’t even rebuke him. Also, Isaac lies about Rebekah, his wife, and God doesn’t rebuke him either. What can you say about these instances; why doesn’t God rebuke them? Thanks.

 

Response (staff answer):

This is a question that has puzzled scholars and enticed them for centuries. For a long time, they’ve studied the similarities in the stories, of which there are many, and suggested that these are really three versions of the same story. This is based on the documentary or source theory that suggests the Pentateuch was derived from different sources. These scholars think that the first and third stories resulted from the work of J, while the second story comes from E.

In the last few decades, however, the documentary or source theory has lost much of its emphasis. Rather than trying to separate and pull out the various sources that went into the text, scholars have been looking at the final product as a whole and trying to determine how these various elements all fit together. Someone gave this book its final form and purposefully chose to repeat these stories. There has been no shortage of possible explanations.

In all three situations the stated motive is that the patriarchs feared being killed. The focus is on them. The patriarchs’ lives are in danger since they are aliens in lands controlled by powerful men. They seek to secure their own lives by declaring their wives are really their sisters. Some scholars even suggest that in the ancient world, a wife could also be declared a sister. Indeed, this would be a much higher marriage since she would then be both a blood relative and a legal wife. Other scholars argue that this misses the point. The enduring explanations of the stories usually involve some element of deceit, primarily because each king is upset about having been deceived.

By the time we get to modern days, scholars have covered these stories from the standpoint of each of the characters – the patriarchs, the matriarchs, the leaders, and God. The women do not have a voice, but looking at the story from their point of view can be very illuminating. Lessons can be gained from all the characters. But the questioner is interested in what God does (or doesn’t do). So let’s focus on God’s role in these stories. To do that, let’s review.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis end with the story of Babel, where the people wanted above all “to make a name for themselves and to not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” At the end of the Babel story, the people have no names and are scattered over the whole earth. This story, then, stands as the culmination of those 11 chapters. It’s as though the people somehow misuse, misunderstand, reject, or distort the blessings of God that have been extended “in the beginning,” in that very first story of creation, and continued throughout universal history for over 2000 years. Until, finally, in this last story, the people themselves are completely alienated from the God who has blessed them. What more can God do? He can try again. He can choose one individual family and bless them. He can make them the bearer of His divine purpose. Through them, he can usher in another new beginning. And so it is.

Without any segue, chapter 12 begins with a genealogy, dating back to Shem, one of Noah’s sons. The genealogy progresses to Terah, who has three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

One day out of the blue, the Lord calls to Abram, apparently not because of any meritorious activity on the part of Abram. (He’s on the list of geneology.) But God calls him and says, “Go from your country, your kindred, and your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” This is accompanied by promises of descendants and land. Without fanfare, Abram does as the Lord has told him. But he takes his nephew, Lot, his wife, all the possessions and people that he has acquired in Haran. By everyone’s estimate, a nephew is considered kindred. So from the very beginning, Abram and the Lord have a complicated relationship.

On the way the Lord appears to him and reiterates His promises. Abram responds by building an altar. He continues on his journey southward when a famine hits the land. Abram, being an alien, is about to enter Egypt when he tells Sarah that she must say she is his sister. Whether she does or not is not recorded, but she is taken into Pharaoh’s house. As payment, Pharaoh gives Abram many animals. But the “Lord afflicts Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarah.” Pharaoh calls to Abram and accuses him of lying. He sends Sarah, Abram, and their many possessions out of Egypt. A careful reader will notice that Abram does not call on God at any point in this whole incident.

But we soon find out that Abram is “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” One assumes that these riches are part of the payment from Pharaoh. So not only does God not rebuke him, but Abram profits greatly from his ruse, in a sense fulfilling one of God’s promises that he will be greatly blessed.

Though the remaining two incidents have their unique characteristics, they follow a similar pattern. Patriarchs are fearful; lies are told. Matriarchs are taken into palaces. God intervenes. Leaders experience plagues/problems, discover lies. They accuse the patriarchs and send the matriarchs back to them with additional rewards. When a story appears three times in the text, one might rightly wonder why, what’s the purpose? Essentially, these events pose a threat to the fulfillment of God’s promises. The patriarchs’ weaknesses and strengths are in full view.

It is important to remember that God chooses these people, but He doesn’t transform them. He doesn’t remake them, give them powers or great insights. They live and act in their own times. They need to work out their own issues. Yet, God hovers in the background. He is able to deliver His own. Indeed, He does not abandon them to whatever choices they make, but oftentimes intervenes as needed. These stories are an integral part of the larger picture, which is the working out of God’s relationship with His chosen people.

It is very heartening to see God’s responses to their foibles. They are saved from the folly of their own limitations through God’s unmitigated mercy and grace. It is God who safeguards the promise by making it impossible for the leaders to have any contact with the matriarchs. And it is important to point out that this merciful act of God isn’t just extended to the patriarchs, but also includes the households of the leaders.

God does not abandon His people – no matter what they do (and they make some pretty poor decisions throughout the text). Instead, God provides for them every step of the way. This is a beautiful example of God’s faithfulness and His commitment to them. Some scholars have argued that the whole story of Genesis is really about God’s faithfulness to His people. It’s a different way of looking at these stories, but it is also a wonderful example for us in that we also get to make bad decisions and mistakes without the fear of being rebuked by God. Like the patriarchs, God will also be with us, showing us a way to go forward. In a sense, these stories assure us that God will always be faithful and committed to us, too.


Issue:

According to the New Testament, is it better to be single or married? (1 Cor. 7:25-40)

 

Response (staff answer):

In order to better understand Paul’s advice, it is necessary to go back to the beginning of chapter 7. He begins by saying, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’”

At face value these are stunning words. Scholars absolutely believe that this sentence was written by the Corinthians to Paul in a letter; I Corinthians is his response to their letter. What scholars don’t agree upon is who wrote this sentence.

What if this sentence had been written by the women? What if the women were the ones saying, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman?” It would be akin to them saying, “We don’t want that anymore.” Prior to this point in time, women have never had the right to make such a statement. Scholars now think that it’s the women who are asserting their right to freedom in Christ. And look what’s happened! The men are so frustrated they’re going to prostitutes (see I Cor. 6). There, Paul says that the way to stop immoral sexual activity is to make sure that there are avenues for moral sexual activity.

Paul is very worried about the status of marriages within this group. And he wants them to honor their commitments regarding their marriages. Women, for their entire lives, have never had the option of refusing sex. They have never had that right; they’ve never had the ability to say no. But now they do, and they must have been saying it loud and often. They were the ones who had taken Paul’s words to heart, and they were the ones who wanted to devote more of their lives to God. It is the married women who are flexing their newfound muscles and putting their marital duties on the back burner.

So with that as a new reality, let’s look at how Paul deals with this issue. He is repetitive in his treatment of men and women. Every statement is tit for tat. He does not say the man owns the woman without saying that the woman also owns the man. He does not say the man has authority over the woman’s body without saying the woman has authority over the man’s body. And this was new. The typical view was one of the subordination of women even outside of Judaism and Christianity, in the Greco-Roman society.

What he really wants here is for them to have a solid marriage. He talks about it as an obligation. He talks about it as being a duty; it’s a debt they owe to each other. And what he is really pleading for in a very thoughtful way is for the women to think about what they’re doing. He wants them to keep the best interests of their families in mind. Since women, traditionally, were responsible for the religious education of the children, they would have been in a good position to preach the gospel to their children. Equally important to Paul’s argument is the fact that in a case of divorce, the children stayed in the oikos of the pater familias, with the father, and could be potentially lost to the Christian community if the father didn’t believe.

Paul acknowledges, though, that this is not a command from the Lord. At best, this is his thought. He’s really asking the women in a very gentle way to be alert to their marital duties for the sake of their husbands. Let’s keep these marriages intact. Let’s respect the obligations of a marriage, and then those husbands won’t have to be going to prostitutes. But there is no rebuke here; Paul is being very persuasive.

And to single, unmarried women, Paul says, “You do not have to marry.” That would have been an incredible message for them to hear. “You do not have to marry; stay as you are.” But to those who are married, he also says “stay as you are.” He speaks very clearly about all of them staying in their station in life. You do not have to change your status in life in order to be a Christian. God loves you whatever you are. What matters is how well you keep God’s commandments and live in obedience to His will. They should not make themselves dependent on society’s values. Real freedom is found in service to God. Whatever state they are in, they have been transformed by the fact that they are in it with God.

Yet, many scholars have used this passage to argue that Paul is actually anti-marriage in the first place. Let’s consider whether Paul ascribes a special holiness to the unmarried woman and virgin because she is not touched by a man. In Paul’s view holiness should be the concern of all Christians. Moreover, if he spells out in more specific language what it means for unmarried women to try to please the Lord, it is very likely due to the previously accepted notion that marriage and submission have been their only options. Paul methodically attempts to show that holiness of body and spirit is possible by both men and women, through continence for the purpose of undivided devotion to the Lord.

There is also another very interesting possibility concerning Paul’s advice regarding the unmarried. In antiquity, the daughter “belongs” to the father until she marries. Then she “belongs” to her husband. In the event of a divorce or upon his death, she returns to her father's home or is assigned another male guardian or a new husband. It seems that a woman’s main access to power and wealth is through the men in her life. If Paul recommends the unmarried state, is he attempting to deny these women any influence in their society? Or, is it, in effect, quite the opposite?

Paul’s argument that believers remain unmarried is not because he regards sexual intercourse as inherently evil or because he has no appreciation of married life. His concern lies elsewhere. Paul’s approach, like that of other philosophers, is essentially practical. Believers, like the ideal cynic, should be able to devote themselves completely to the service of God. But for Paul, serving God is not an individual affair; it is a matter of community.

One final thought: It is also true that Paul and his followers strongly believe that Jesus will be returning soon. Paul tells the Corinthians that “the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they have none… For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:29). Neither Paul nor his followers are worried about the distant future; the only important time is the present (so there is no need to change one’s marital status), and believers need to be ready by serving God.

What was happening in this community was that a group of rigorists had established an ascetic elitism and were, consequently, thinking themselves superior to those who were unable to live up to this standard. Paul “chastises them for imposing their views on everyone in the community and, thereby, causing division within it.”

Paul’s treatment of marriage, then, is simply this: “Whether one is married or remains single, one must live in a way that is pleasing to God and builds up the community of God's people.”


Issue:

In Luke 6:30, we read, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Should we give to someone who is a taker, or who takes advantage of people?

 

Response (staff answer):

Giving is so natural, and being generous is so vitally important. It’s at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. But wisdom is also central. This month’s Bible Character and Themes topic discusses the similar passage from Matt 5:42: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (5:42 NIV).

One of the points it brings out is that the Spirit gives us discernment—to understand what is being asked or what is the best course of action. Is the person asking for money for food or for spending on frivolous activities or addictions? And if someone takes something from us, do we go after them and retaliate? Or is there a better response?

Jesus never advocated being a doormat. He, himself, was a very strong individual. He didn’t let people take advantage of him. He walked right through the mob that was trying to fling him off a cliff. He knew he was walking towards the crucifixion … and then he rose.

So let’s look at this statement in a broader context. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ words come in relation to how to deal with people who are unkind and insulting, who take, compel service, and ask a lot. What do we do? We refuse to take offense, to retaliate, to escalate the violence. Rather, we maintain our dignity; we respond calmly and with strength. We try to de-escalate the situation. We make people more important than things. We refuse to let possessions become a god to us. We let God correct the other person and mete out justice. Most importantly, we rely totally on God for everything.

Later in the Sermon, Jesus will counsel, “… do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6 NIV). And a few chapters later, we learn that Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (10:16 KJV).

Neither of these statements suggests that we let people take advantage of us. Rather, these words indicate the need to be judicious in our actions. If people don’t listen, let them go. Don’t force. Don’t get upset. Don’t waste time. Move on. And then, if we come face-to-face with “wolves,” with those we may call “takers,” what do we do? Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to let the wolves take advantage of them. He says to be wise … and harmless. It doesn’t make sense to aggravate a wolf, to make things worse. We don’t want to escalate the situation and have them hurt us. Rather, we can step out of the way and let God take care of the situation. God’s ways are always better than our ways.

So if someone takes from us, what do we do? The first thing we do is turn to God and let the Spirit give us discernment.

Here are two examples:

  • A friend of mine, who was in college at the time, had her purse stolen on a bus in Italy. She watched the thief hop off. She got off at the next stop, ran back, and saw him sitting there on the bench. She told him that was her purse, got it back, and hopped back on the bus. She was strong, courageous, and totally led by the Spirit!

  • Then there’s the wonderful example in Les Misérables: Jean Valjean steals the silverware of the bishop of Myriel. But when the police try to arrest Jean Valjean, the bishop says the silverware was a gift. Myriel’s gift of forgiveness changed Jean Valjean’s life, and he became an honest and good man.

Can we let it go of the need to retaliate or fix things ourselves? Can we rely on God to meet all our needs, not just some of our needs? If our house has been robbed, what do we do? We call the police; we do what we can. We can mentally let go of the things that were taken and move on. Then we can we bless the thief with integrity, honesty, compassion. And can we let God take care of the rest. We can also bless those who try to take our joy, hurt our feelings, ruin our lives. The Spirit might move us to not associate with those people any more. Or there might be healing.

So what can we give to a taker? We can give forgiveness. We can give blessings. We can give healing. And let God take care of the rest.


Issue:

Why do you use BCE instead of BC and CE instead of AD? Are you trying to minimize Jesus’ life and message?

 

Response (staff answer):

Our mission is to foster a deeper love and understanding of the Bible and its application in daily life. We want it to reach as many people as possible. Our website has a broad audience, reaching Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We want to be inclusive. But in no way do we want to diminish Jesus’ life or message, or to minimize Christianity, or any other faith. In fact, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have the common ancestor of Abraham (Abram). We want to honor the universal message of love.

One Bible scholar has explained the difference, and it is on our site. But since we’ve had recent questions on this, we are highlighting it again.

B.C. is generally thought to mean "before Christ," and has been used to date events before the birth of Jesus. A.D. is the abbreviation for the Latin phrase anno Domini, which means "in the year of our Lord," and is used for dates after the birth of Jesus. This system was devised by a monk, Dionysius Exiguus, back in the year 525 (A.D.). He used the presumed year of Jesus' birth as a starting point. Unfortunately, since then, scholars have discovered that Jesus was actually born around 4-6 B.C., so his calculations were off by a few years. Nonetheless, he believed that the birth and life of Jesus were the "turning points" in world history, and that the world should forever commemorate that moment. A mere two centuries after Dionysius, a monk known as Venerable Bede introduced a Latin term that is roughly translatable as "before Christ" to identify the years preceding Jesus' birth. By the ninth century, A.D. was a common notation, but B.C. didn't really catch on until the fifteenth century. This dating has been used for centuries by Western scholars. Simply put, B.C. was everything "before Christ," and since His birth, we have been living A.D. "in the year of our Lord."

However, the world has changed dramatically over the past few decades. People have long acknowledged that Christianity is not the only tradition (not even among Western nations) and argued that it is patently unjust to force a religious system on those who do not share the values of that tradition. Some detractors have called it "political correctness" gone overboard, but the words anno Domini have been gradually replaced by C.E., meaning "the common era." B.C., meanwhile, has been changed to B.C.E., "before the common era." All the previous dates remain the same, but the change in notation is thought to be more neutral.

The term, "the common era," has been around for hundreds of years, but only recently has it been applied to the designation of dates. Interestingly, the term is derived from the Latin word vulgaris, (from vulgus, the common people). It means "of or belonging to the common people, or everyday." Historically, scholars used the phrases "Vulgar Era" or anno Domini somewhat interchangeably when writing about the time after Jesus. Unfortunately, the word "vulgar" now has a different meaning in our culture (crudely indecent), so the Latin word was dropped for its English counterpart, "common."

The word "common" also refers to the fact that the Christian calendar (the Gregorian) is the most frequently used calendar system around the world. Any other calendars are normally confined to small geographic areas -- usually by followers of a particular religion.

Of course, some scholars see the terms C.E. and B.C.E. as meaning the "Christian Era" and "before the Christian Era," respectively, but most understand the terms to mean "common." As other non-religious academics (history, anthropology, and archaeology) continue to use these abbreviations, it is thought that they will eventually totally replace BC and AD. It isn't that one is right and the other is wrong; it's a matter of being sensitive to other cultures and belief systems. In general, people's preferences derive from that with which they are most comfortable and whichever pair is more commonly used.

 


 

Issue:

How do we handle the divisiveness and bitterness in politics? Can the Bible help?

 

Response (staff answer):

It’s so easy to judge, to condemn, to defend our own human opinions, and point out some else’s faults. But these don’t help us solve problems. In fact, anger, blame, and fault-finding create the very divisiveness and bitterness we want to heal. Jesus said to “cast the beam out of your own eye” first (Matt 7:5). So rather than try to fix someone else, we have to start with ourselves. In all our dealings and conversations, we want to come from an honest place. And then we may have to give up our human opinions and turn to prayer.

A New Testament writer explained:

First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. This kind of prayer is good. (I Tim 2:1-3 CEV)

First, we pray—not first we criticize or blame. We pray for everyone, for leaders, whether or not we agree with their viewpoints, whether or not they are elected officials or dictators. We pray for the office of leadership. Why? Because prayer can often do what human opinion or actions cannot. Prayer can reveal solutions we didn’t know were possible.

Prayer that is not just wishful thinking, prayer that is not just idle hope, but prayer that is the earnest expectation of God’s heavenly goodness being expressed here on earth, can transform situations and bring about healing. We want leaders to hear God’s voice so that they make honest, good, kind, successful decisions that lead to peace and harmony, unity and love. And that can come through sincere, heartfelt prayer to God, who is Love, and loves us all so dearly.

We cannot pray to God and condemn other human beings at the same time, in the same moment. Hurling insults often seems easier, but Jesus’ leadership says nothing about attacking politicians, slandering or libeling them, ruining careers with false accusations, spreading gossip on social media, or believing everything we hear about everyone and everything. Rather, we can find respectful ways to disagree with viewpoints or means that are different than ours without condemning or disparaging the person.

Jesus was pretty clear on that. He told us to love our enemies and warned us about getting angry at others: “I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt 5:22 NLT).

Jesus expected us to live a life of love, not condemnation. Insulting someone, calling them an idiot, a fool—all of that leads to a hellish experience. To a huge degree, our perspective on events and issues really determines how we feel and what we experience. In other words, if we’re negative, looking for all the problems, that’s what we’ll see and feel—a lot of negativity. And that doesn’t fix or heal anything.

So what do we do? The psalmist declared, “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm” (37:8 NLT). We go back to prayer. If we want solutions—genuine solutions, not just our own solutions—then we have to pray. God knows better than we do how to give peace to His children.