Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Don't do this! Don't eat this! Don't touch this!

I am currently in a class, The Christological Epistles. Actually, class time has yet to begin, but I've been doing required work for the class since early August.

One requirement for the class is that we read the three epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians) in one sitting eight times over the semester. Each reading (I've done half of them) has shed new light on different parts, even in Philippians which is easily my most-read book of the Bible. I've been reading different translations and paraphrases. My first four readings were NRSV, NRSV, KJV, NIV. I plan to do the last four in The Message, NASB, The Amplified Bible (although it might take me a lifetime), and finish again with the NRSV. But yesterday, for a change, I listened to them all for the NIV. If you didn't know, a few of the translations at BibleGateway.com are also available in audio format. I already knew that I am a visual learner. But when I tried to simply listen to the text, I just couldn't concentrate. So in addition to listening, I read along. The guy had an African accent and was a great reader. I enjoyed doing it and may listen to more recorded scripture as I can.

But that's not why I was posting. I came across something in Colossians that made me think upon my own tradition, specifically the tradition of my own denomination. I'm sure the question has been asked of this passage before, but I haven' t been a part of the discussion.

Read Colossians 2:20-23. It may also help to read it in the context of the whole chapter.

The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene (2001) states in paragraph 33.1, "We hold that the Ten Commandments, as reaffirmed in the New Testament, constitute the basic Christian ethic and ought to be obeyed in all particulars." This is the very second statement in the "Covenant of Christian Conduct." I won't even go into detail as to why I think "the Ten Commandments" should be replaced with "the Great Commandment" right now. My question right now is about the word "obey."

Obedience is obviously an essential part of being a child of God.

But "obey" seems to imply blind compliance with rules, orders, commandments with or without understanding as to why. I hear teaching all the time that says something to the effect of, "God knows what's best for you, just do it, even if you don't understand it." I agree with this to a certain degree. But I'm not sure that God directs without good intent. I don't think God came up with arbitrary commandments. I understand that sometimes we have to act in faith and trust him at certain points even when we don't understand. But when it comes to day-to-day living, I think we can have a better understanding of why we do what he tells us to.

Or perhaps my rigid definition and connotatoin of "obey" is incorrect. However, I'm not sure that my definition is inconsistent with the culture in which I live. Dictionary.com offers that to obey means:
1. To carry out or fulfill the command, order, or instruction of.
2. To carry out or comply with (a command, for example).
Is this a good biblical definition?

Jesus said, "If you love me...you will keep my commandments." (italics and pause added) (John 14:15)

I'm saddened with how little my church's Manual speaks of love. For me, it is the essence of it all. We obey God because we love God. We don't obey God simply because "the Bible says to," or "the Manual says to," or "my pastor says to." So what is Paul saying here?

Further, I can't get over how familiar this sentence sounds when I read it in relation to the holiness tradition:
"These [statements, rules, orders, etc.] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence." (verse 23)

I could write for a while on this and may do so someday. But for now, I leave these questions to the rest of you to help me out.

- J


  1. heeey jeremy! long time no see. wes is in california with his best friend chris, who's in a band. he got signed and is hoping to make it big, wes' gonna take a parttime job and do some comm college classes. madi's just bad at responding to things. hehe. how've you been? things here've been pretty slow, complicated. i hope you're doing well out there. i'll talk to ya later!

  2. Hey Jeremy, we haven't hired anyone yet for the job. We haven't even started the interviews though we are hoping to start those the end of this week, early next week. Do you know someone who wants to apply? Tell them to! Hope you are doing well! Please tell Meghan I said hi (and anyone else out in KS).

  3. Jeremy, here is another word: capacity.

    I think you are correct to see the expression of obedience in concert with maturity.
    That is, young children need to obey even when they do not understand because parents
    (generally should) have their best interests at heart. As a child grows and understand
    more, the child can learn the reasons why, and behave in accordance with "the law"
    without specifically obeying in the same way that one obeyed in the past.

    What I think I observe with people who have become enlightened, (not needing a "because
    I said so" authority but understand the reasons), is that they often expect others to
    have the same level of enlightenment, and often try to help others to see what they
    have newly discovered.

    Several new things may come to light in this endeavor:

    1. Intellectual pride; I possess more light than those who dwell where whence I came.
    2. Intellectual humility; if I possess new light, then perhaps there is even more light to possess, and
    I am as immature to them as people in my previous state.

    In the first case, we sometimes look down on people who haven't arrived at our enlightened state
    when in fact some people simply may not have the capacity to do so. Some people need simple, clear
    instruction and simple obedience to function. The CotN stance on alcohol is a good example, though
    it has been talked over so much over the decades that we often miss the originaly intent, which is
    a witness and an aid to those less able among us. Exercise of freedom (and enlightenment) is (or
    should be) tempered for the sake of others, if we place others above ourselves.

    "If ye love Me, keep my commandmants." Good verse; one that requires the study of His commandments;
    one that includes "...not causing one of these little ones to stumble..."

    Little ones have little capacity. Some grown-ups never grow up in their understanding. Those who
    do need even more understanding because enlightenment is like everything else: to whom much is given, much is required.

    Love to you and yours,


  4. I've noticed that there are many who, in their pursuit of God, forgot just what you said, His nature: LOVE. They can go through His word and read laws forbidding intermarriage with other nations, and they don't stop to think about why God would give His people such a commandment.

    I have had a talk or two with some people about this and have come to the conclusion that, as with anything in God's word, if one part doesn't fit with another by God's character, then we should try to see how it could and if this aligns with the rest of scripture (because I've found that God's word often justifies itself). So for the example about inter-racial/ethnic marriage, the other scriptures relating to this issue, such as Paul talking about not being unequally yoked, really are talking about marriage to those of different faiths, as this would most likely 'cause a compromise in our own and bring us down. God knew this and was wanting to protect his people, not shun others from His side.

    I'd say this is how we can lose sight of what God's word can mean for us personally, and for the world, by losing sight of that awesome love that is demonstrated in the lives of those whom God has made new creations.

    Yours In Christ!