Monday Reverb – 02August2021


The theme for this week is Receiving mercy from the Bread of Life.

  • Our call to worship Psalm – Psalm 51:1-12 – focuses on David’s repentance after taking another man’s wife, then murdering her husband.
  • 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13 relates the story. While David received consequences for his sinful actions, God showed him mercy and David sought restoration from the Lord.
  • In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul explains how believers should respond to the mercy and grace we have received in Christ by living in unity. Paul also details the systems Jesus has put in place to spiritually develop his followers and keep them united.
  • John 6:24-35 points out that Jesus fed the 5,000 even though many followed him for superficial reasons. In this passage, Jesus reminds them that he is the bread of life and the one who sustains us.

Making Every Effort

Ephesians 4:1-16

Recently, a major news outlet featured an article about the significant political divisions in America. The journalist spotlighted a mother who was told by her son that he would never speak to her again because of the presidential candidate for whom she voted.  It seems wrong that an ideology would interrupt such an important relationship, but this story is not uncommon. This is one example of the fractured relationships we see in the news, read on social media, and hear in diners and barbershops across the U.S.

Some of you may have experienced this directly and can testify of the pain that comes when the ties that bind us together are severed. This is not the most divisive period America has faced, although to some it could feel that way. It could feel like the political, racial, socioeconomic, and other divisions are so deep that they cannot be healed. Unfortunately, this condition is not only an American problem. It seems that many countries are struggling to heal divisions across various lines. Are we falling apart? Are the divisions in our society insurmountable? Where is God in the midst of our divided world? What is our role?

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul addressed a divided church. Among other challenges, Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians were having a hard time figuring out how to live together.  One of Paul’s goals for writing the book was to exhort the church to be united.  Notice what he writes:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

We should first note that living worthy of our calling in Christ does not have anything to do with some kind of individual standard of worth. Rather, to live worthy of our calling — our personal invitation to participate in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ — has everything to do with how we live in community.

In order to address the divisions in the church in Ephesus, Paul first needed them to understand that when God calls us, he calls us into something. He calls us into the body — the church. Our response to the mercy and grace of Jesus’ saving work is to be lived out in the community of faith and the world. As hard as it may be, we must resist the temptation to think of our relationship with God as something separate from our relationships with other people. In fact, our relationship with God is demonstrated, tested, and proven by how we care for our fellow humans.

An individualized view of our relationship with God can fuel divisions because we act outside of the truth that we belong to each other. The truth is, we depend on each other. We cannot become who we are supposed to be without each other. Because of Christ, I cannot make a decision that is good for me if it harms you. Because of Christ, I cannot be unaffected by your suffering just because it does not affect me directly.

Let’s be honest. What I am describing makes a lot of sense when we are talking about people around whom we feel comfortable. It is not hard to care for those who think and act in ways that are familiar. But what about people who rub us the wrong way? What about people who are different from us? What about those with different beliefs? Without the leading of the Spirit, I would not love people I do not like! Thankfully, God does not leave room for me to decide whom I will love.

After explaining the necessity of community, Paul makes it clear that unity and peace require us to “make every effort.”  In other words, it takes work and sacrifice to connect and stay connected. More accurately, it takes proactive work and sacrifice to connect and stay connected. Our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves, so we cannot sit back and just hope to form genuine relationships with other humans—we have to make the effort. It cannot be done within our comfort zone at a time convenient for us. The status quo will not bring unity or peace, especially in a fractured community. Being a Christ-follower means that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in order to be united to our brothers and sisters.

While working for unity is a challenge, there is good news. Paul poetically states that there is one gospel, and to believe and follow that good news means that we enter into a unique type of unity with other believers — a unity that is forged and maintained by Christ himself. Not unity from a human perspective, but unity “in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” Unity does not depend on our own strength or knowledge. Rather, unity begins when we seek to see others as Christ sees them. We work for unity when we try to participate in the relationship Christ has with our fellow humans. We maintain peace by standing with Christ against the things that divide us or dehumanize those made in the image of God. And, because of Christ, we can have faith that all divisions can be healed. Jesus’ resurrection means that he has triumphed over every enemy of humanity, even death itself. In him there is healing for all that ails us, including the things that divide us.

God, in his mercy and grace, invites the church to be the mechanism he uses to spread his unique brand of unity. Verses 7-16 list some of the roles in God’s new society that Christians can assume to bring about “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” (For a different perspective on these verses, see Jeff Broadnax’s article, “Fitly Framed Together”.) It is also in these verses that Paul begins to explain the texture of Christian unity. Although God facilitates our unity, Paul is saying that unity is our responsibility as the church. It is something we must actively pursue and bring about by using our God-given gifts. Christ catalyzes spiritual growth, diversity in gifting, and the unity of the church. He is the standard by which the church measures its progress towards its goal, as well as the goal itself. Every believer has a part to play in the church, and we can only achieve unity when everybody part does its job. Here, Paul balances the collaborative goal of the church with individual responsibility.

Now that we understand the role of the church in bringing unity to the world, we have to ask an uncomfortable question: If the church is empowered and equipped by Christ to bring unity to the world, why do we see so much division in our society?   Perhaps we have allowed things like politics, race, and economics to convince us that we are more different than similar. Perhaps it is easier to be divided than do the hard work of making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.”

In a recent interview where he was asked to comment on the racial reckoning taking place in America, theologian N. T. Wright stated the following:

The real problem here is that the church has forgotten its vocation. The church’s vocation is to be a place where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, no male nor female because all are one in Christ Jesus…The church has forgotten that that’s what church life was supposed to be like. And, we thought that as long as we are preaching the gospel and taking people to heaven, we don’t need to worry too much about what happens down here, because that is just social work or table manners or something. And I want to say, “Absolutely not!”…Who you sit down and have fellowship with is a sign of whether you really believe that on the cross Jesus won the victory over all the powers of darkness or not.*

We should note that unity does not mean uniformity. Like the Triune God, the church is meant to experience diversity in unity. Our churches should be places where everyone belongs, and every story is valued.  Like Jesus, we should actively resist prejudice and systems that promote injustice because these things disrupt unity. At the same time, we must be humble enough to admit that we have a lot to learn about those with different backgrounds. We may have to educate ourselves on the stories of others and how to have challenging conversations. It will not be easy, but isn’t that what we have been called to do? As followers of Christ, we should ask ourselves, “Am I making every effort to promote unity? Is my congregation?” Realizing we cannot perfectly promote unity, are we dedicated to trying to do our part with the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit? Are we seeking relationships with others so we can be changed by their story? Do we value the mutual humanity in those with whom we disagree?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and I cannot tell you in a single sermon how we heal our society’s divisions. However, what I can do is remind you that Jesus is Lord, and he is still on his throne. I can tell you that he has been given a name that is above every name, including racism, sexism, and every other ism you could imagine. I know enough to say that Christ has taken the responsibility to unite humanity upon himself, and he cannot fail. I can let you know that Christ can heal all wounds.  He sacrificed all, even his very life, to make us well. And I am a witness that he is not blind to our problems and even now is working to bring an end to all suffering.

When faced with a fractured church, Paul reminded them of their unity in Christ.  He reminded them that Christ has empowered and equipped the church to participate in his work to bring unity to all humanity. Paul’s message to the church in Ephesus is still relevant for us today. I pray we do not lose hope. I pray our hearts do not grow cold. I pray that we roll up our sleeves and join Jesus in making peace and unity.

*Dr. N. T. Wright in an interview with Way Nation on June 27, 2020


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Jesus is the “Bread of Life.” What does this mean to you?
  • Why do you think we are tempted to have a natural relationship with a supernatural God?
  • Why do you think we are tempted to think of our relationship with God as something separate from our relationships with other people?
  • How does Jesus unite us?
  • What are some things we can do individually and as a church to join Christ in promoting unity?


BRAWTA COMMENTARY … featuring Comments by William Barclay


I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.  Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.  (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?  10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;  15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:  16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.



I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.


So then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to behave yourselves in a way that is worthy of the calling with which you are called. I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace.

  • When a man enters into any society, he takes upon himself the obligation to live a certain kind of life; and if he fails in that obligation, he hinders the aims of his society and brings discredit on its name. Here Paul paints the picture of the kind of life that a man must live when he enters the fellowship of the Christian Church.
  • The first three verses shine like jewels. Here we have five of the great basic words of the Christian faith.
  • (i) First, and foremost, there is humility. The Greek is tapeinophrosune (GSN5012), and this is actually a word which the Christian faith coined. In Greek there is no word for humility which has not some suggestion of meanness attaching to it. Later Basil was to describe it as “the gem casket of all the virtues”; but before Christianity humility was not counted as a virtue at all. The ancient world looked on humility as a thing to be despised.
  • The Greek had an adjective for humble, which is closely connected with this noun–the adjective tapeinos (GSN5011). A word is always known by the company it keeps and this word keeps ignoble company. It is used in company with the Greek adjectives which mean slavish (andrapododes, doulikos, douloprepes), ignoble (agennes), of no repute (adoxos), cringing (chamaizelos, which is the adjective which describes a plant which trails along the ground). In the days before Jesus humility was looked on as a cowering, cringing, servile, ignoble quality; and yet Christianity sets it in the very forefront of the virtues. Whence then comes this Christian humility, and what does it involves
      • (a) Christian humility comes from self-knowledge. Bernard said of it, “It is the virtue by which a man becomes conscious of his own unworthiness. in consequence of the truest knowledge of himself.”
      • To face oneself is the most humiliating thing in the world. Most of us dramatize ourselves. Somewhere there is a story of a man who before he went to sleep at night dreamed his waking dreams. He would see himself as the hero of some thrilling rescue from the sea or from the flames; he would see himself as an orator holding a vast audience spell-bound; he would see himself walking to the wicket in a Test Match at Lord’s and scoring a century; he would see himself in some international football match dazzling the crowd with his skill; always he was the centre of the picture. Most of us are essentially like that. And true humility comes when we face ourselves and see our weakness, our selfishness, our failure in work and in personal relationships and in achievement.
      • (b) Christian humility comes from setting life beside the life of Christ and in the light of the demands of God.
      • God is perfection and to satisfy perfection is impossible. So long as we compare ourselves with second bests, we may come out of the comparison well. It is when we compare ourselves with perfection that we see our failure. A girl may think herself a very fine pianist until she hears one of the world’s outstanding performers. A man may think himself a good golfer until he sees one of the world’s masters in action. A man may think himself something of a scholar until he picks up one of the books of the great old scholars of encylopaedic knowledge. A man may think himself a fine preacher until he listens to one of the princes of the pulpit.
      • Self-satisfaction depends on the standard with which we compare ourselves. If we compare ourselves with our neighbour, we may well emerge very satisfactorily from the comparison. But the Christian standard is Jesus Christ and the demands of God’s perfection–and against that standard there is no room for pride.
      • (c) There is another way of putting this. R. C. Trench said that humility comes from the constant sense of our own creatureliness. We are in absolute dependence on God. As the hymn has it:
      • “`Tis Thou preservest me from death
        And dangers every hour;
        I cannot draw another breath
        Unless Thou give me power.
        My health, my friends, and parents dear
        To me by God are given;
        I have not any blessing here
        But what is sent from heaven.”
      • We are creatures, and for the creature there can be nothing but humility in the presence of the creator.
      • Christian humility is based on the sight of self, the vision of Christ, and the realization of God.
  • (ii) The second of the great Christian virtues is what the King James Version calls meekness and what we have translated gentleness. The Greek noun is praotes (GSN4236), the adjective praus (GSN4239), and these are beyond translation by any single English word. Praus has two main lines of meanings.
      • (a) Aristotle, the great Greek thinker and teacher, has much to say about praotes (GSN4236). It was his custom to define every virtue as the mean between two extremes. On one side there was excess of some quality, on the other defect; and in between there was exactly its right proportion. Aristotle defines praotes (GSN4236) as the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all. The man who is praus (GSN4239) is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. To put that in another way, the man who is praus (GSN4239) is the man who is kindled by indignation at the wrongs and the sufferings of others, but is never moved to anger by the wrongs and the insults he himself has to bear. So, then, the man who is (as in the King James Version), meek is the man who is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.
      • (b) There is another fact which will illumine the meaning of this word. Praus (GSN4239) is the Greek for an animal which has been trained and domesticated until it is completely under control. Therefore the man who is praus (GSN4239) is the man who has every instinct and every passion under perfect control. It would not be right to say that such a man is entirely self-controlled, for such self-control is beyond human power, but it would be right to say that such a man is God-controlled.
      • Here then is the second great characteristic of the true member of the Church. He is the man who is so God-controlled that he is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.
  • (iii) The third great quality of the Christian is what the King James Version calls long-suffering. The Greek is makrothumia (GSN3115). This word has two main directions of meaning.
      • (a) It describes the spirit which will never give in and which, because it endures to the end, will reap the reward. Its meaning can best be seen from the fact that a Jewish writer used it to describe what he called “the Roman persistency which would never make peace under defeat.” In their great days the Romans were unconquerable; they might lose a battle, they might even lose a campaign, but they could not conceive of losing a war. In the greatest disaster it never occurred to them to admit defeat. Christian patience is the spirit which never admits defeat, which will not be broken by any misfortune or suffering, by any disappointment or discouragement, but which persists to the end.
      • (b) But makrothumia (GSN3115) has an even more characteristic meaning than that. It is the characteristic Greek word for patience with men. Chrysostom defined it as the spirit which has the power to take revenge but never does so. Lightfoot defined it as the spirit which refuses to retaliate. To take a very imperfect analogy–it is often possible to see a puppy and a very large dog together. The puppy yaps at the big dog, worries him, bites him, and all the time the big dog, who could annihilate the puppy with one snap of his teeth, bears the puppy’s impertinence with a forbearing dignity. Makrothumia (GSN3115) is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint. It is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without irritation.
      • The thing which best of all gives its meaning is that the New Testament repeatedly uses it of God. Paul asks the impenitent sinner if he despises the patience of God (Rom.2:4). Paul speaks of the perfect patience of Jesus to him (1Tim.1:16). Peter speaks of God’s patience waiting in the days of Noah (1Pet.3:20). He says that the forbearance of our Lord is our salvation (2Pet.3:15). If God had been a man, he would long since in sheer irritation have wiped the world out for its disobedience. The Christian must have the patience towards his fellow men which God has shown to him.
  • (iv) The fourth great Christian quality is love. Christian love was something so new that the Christian writers had to invent a new word for it; or, at least, they had to employ a very unusual Greek word–agape (GSN0026).
      • In Greek there are four words for love. There is eros (compare GSN2037), which is the love between a man and a maid and which involves sexual passion. There is philia (GSN5373) which is the warm affection which exists between those who are very near and very dear to each other. There is storge (compare GSN0794) which is characteristically the word for family affection. And there is agape (GSN0026), which the King James Version translates sometimes love and sometimes charity.
      • The real meaning of agape (GSN0026) is unconquerable benevolence. If we regard a person with agape (GSN0026), it means that nothing that he can do will make us seek anything but his highest good. Though he injure us and insult us, we will never feel anything but kindness towards him. That quite clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional thing. This agape (GSN0026) is a thing, not only of the emotions, but also of the will. It is the ability to retain unconquerable good will to the unlovely and the unlovable, towards those who do not love us, and even towards those whom we do not like. Agape (GSN0026) is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every man no matter what he may be.
  • (v) These four great virtues of the Christian life–humility, gentleness, patience, love–issue in a fifth, peace. It is Paul’s advice and urgent request that the people to whom he is writing should eagerly preserve “the sacred oneness” which should characterize the true Church.
      • Peace may be defined as right relationships between man and man. This oneness, this peace, these right relationships can be preserved only in one way. Every one of the four great Christian virtues depends on the obliteration of self. So long as self is at the centre of things, this oneness can never fully exist. In a society where self predominates, men cannot be other than a disintegrated collection of individualistic and warring units. But when self dies and Christ springs to life within our hearts. then comes the peace, the oneness, which is the great hall-mark of the true Church.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.


There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

  • Paul goes on to set down the basis on which Christian unity is founded.
  • (i) There is one body. Christ is the head and the Church is the body. No brain can work through a body which is split into fragments. Unless there is a coordinated oneness in the body, the designs of the head are frustrated. The oneness of the Church is essential for the work of Christ. That does not need to be a mechanical oneness of administration and of human organization; but it does need to be a oneness founded on a common love of Christ and of every part for the other.
  • (ii) There is one Spirit. The word pneuma (GSN4151) in Greek means both spirit and breath; it is in fact the usual word for breath. Unless the breath be in the body, the body is dead; and the vitalizing breath of the body of the Church is the Spirit of Christ. There can be no Church without the Spirit; and there can be no receiving of the Spirit without prayerful waiting for him.
  • (iii) There is one hope in our calling. We are all proceeding towards the same goal. This is the great secret of the unity of Christians. Our methods, our organization, even some of our beliefs may be different; but we are all striving towards the one goal of a world redeemed in Christ.
  • (iv) There is one Lord. The nearest approach to a creed which the early Church possessed was the short sentence: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Php.2:11). As Paul saw it, it was God’s dream that there should come a day when all men would make this confession. The word used for Lord is kurios (GSN2962). Its two usages in ordinary Greek show us something of what Paul meant. It was used for master in contra-distinction to servant or slave; and it was the regular designation of the Roman Emperor. Christians are joined together because they are all in the possession and in the service of the one Master and King.
  • (v) There is one faith. Paul did not mean that there is one creed. Very seldom indeed does the word faith mean a creed in the New Testament. By faith the New Testament nearly always means the complete commitment of the Christian to Jesus Christ. Paul means that all Christians are bound together because they have made a common act of complete surrender to the love of Jesus Christ. They may describe their act of surrender in different terms; but, however they describe it, that surrender is the one thing common to all of them.
  • (vi) There is one baptism. In the early Church baptism was usually adult baptism, because men and women were coming direct from heathenism into the Christian faith. Therefore, before anything else, baptism was a public confession of faith. There was only one way for a Roman soldier to join the army; he had to take the oath that he would be true for ever to his emperor. Similarly, there was only one way to enter the Christian Church–the way of public confession of Jesus Christ.
  • (vii) There is one God. See what Paul says about the God in whom we believe.
      • He is the Father of all; in that phrase is enshrined the love of God. The greatest thing about the Christian God, is not that he is king, not that he is judge, but that he is Father. The Christian idea of God begins in love.
      • He is above all; in that phrase is enshrined the control of God. No matter what things may look like God is in control. There may be floods; but “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood” (Ps.29:10).
      • He is through all; in that phrase is enshrined the providence of God. God did not create the world and set it going as a man might wind up a clockwork toy and leave it to run down. God is all through his world, guiding, sustaining, loving.
      • He is in all; in that phrase is enshrined the presence of God in all life. It may be that Paul took the germ of this idea from, the Stoics. The Stoics believed that God was a fire purer than any earthly fire; and they believed that what gave a man life was that a spark of that fire which was God came and dwelt in his body. It was Paul’s belief that in everything there is God.
      • It is the Christian belief that we live in a God-created, God-controlled, God-sustained, God-filled world.

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.  Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.  (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?  10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)


To each one of you grace has been given, as it has been measured out to you by the free gift of Christ. Therefore scripture says, “He ascended into the height and brought his captive band of prisoners, and gave gifts to men.” (When it says that “he ascended,” what else can it mean than that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same person as he who ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things with his presence.)

  • Paul turns to another aspect of his subject. He has been talking about the qualities of the members of Christ’s Church; now he is going to talk of their functions in the Church. He begins by laying down what was for him an essential truth–that every good thing a man has is the gift of the grace of Christ.
    • “And every virtue we possess,
      And every victory won,
      And every thought of holiness,
      Are His alone.”
  • To make his point about Christ the giver of gifts, Paul quotes, with a very significant difference, from Ps.68:18. This Psalm describes a king’s conquering return. He ascends on high; that is to say, he climbs the steep road of Mount Zion into the streets of the Holy City. He brings in his captive band of prisoners; that is to say, he marches through the streets with his prisoners in chains behind him to demonstrate his conquering power. Now comes the difference. The Psalm speaks next about the conqueror receiving gifts. Paul changes it to read, “gave gifts to men.”
  • In the Old Testament the conquering king demanded and received gifts from men: in the New Testament the conqueror Christ offers and gives gifts to men. That is the essential difference between the two Testaments. In the Old Testament a jealous God insists on tribute from men; in the New Testament a loving God pours out his love to men. That indeed is the good news.
  • Then, as so often, Paul’s mind goes off at a word. He has used the word ascended, and that makes him think of Jesus. And it makes him say a very wonderful thing. Jesus descended into this world when he entered it as a man; Jesus ascended from this world when he left it to return to his glory. Paul’s great thought is that the Christ who ascended and the Christ who descended are one and the same person. What does that mean? It means that the Christ of glory is the same as the Jesus who trod this earth; still he loves all men; still he seeks the sinner; still he heals the sufferer; still he comforts the sorrowing; still he is the friend of outcast men and women. As the Scottish paraphrase has it:
      • “Though now ascended up on high,
        He bends on earth a brother’s eye;
        Partaker of the human name,
        He knows the frailty of our frame.
        Our fellow suff’rer yet retains
        A fellow-feeling of our pains;
        And still remembers in the skies
        His tears, His agonies and cries.
        In every pang that rends the heart
        The Man of sorrows has a part:
        He sympathizes with our grief,
        And to the suff’rer sends relief.”
  • The ascended Christ is still the lover of the souls of men.
  • Still another thought strikes Paul. Jesus ascended up on high. But he did not ascend up on high to leave the world; he ascended up on high to fill the world with his presence. When Jesus was here in the flesh, he could only be in one place at one time; he was under all the limitations of the body; but when he laid this body aside and returned to glory, he was liberated from the limitations of the body and was able then to be everywhere in all the world through his Spirit. To Paul the ascension of Jesus meant not a Christ-deserted but a Christ-filled world.

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:


And he gave to the Church some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. This he did that God’s consecrated people should be fully equipped, that the work of service might go on, and that the body of Christ should be built up. And this is to go on until we all arrive at complete unity in faith in and knowledge of God. until we reach perfect manhood, until we reach a stature which can be measured by the fullness of Christ.

  • There is a special interest in this passage because it gives us a picture of the organization and the administration of the early Church. In the early Church there were three kinds of office-bearers. There were a few whose writ and authority ran throughout the whole Church. There were many whose ministry was not confined to one place but who carried out a wandering ministry, going wherever the Spirit moved them. There were some whose ministry was a local ministry confined to the one congregation and the one place.
  • (i) The apostles were those whose authority ran throughout the whole Church. The apostles included more than the Twelve. Barnabas was an apostle (Ac.14:4, Ac.14:14). James, the brother of our Lord, was an apostle (1Cor.15:7; Gal. 1:19). Silvanus was an apostle (1Th.2:6). Andronicus and Junias were apostles (Rom.16:7).
      • For an apostle there were two great qualifications. First, he must have seen Jesus. When Paul is claiming his own rights in face of the opposition of Corinth, he demands: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1Cor.9:1). Second, an apostle had to be a witness of the Resurrection and of the Risen Lord. When the eleven met to elect a successor to Judas the traitor, he had to be one who had companied with them throughout the earthly life of Jesus and a witness of the Resurrection (Ac.1:21-22).
      • In a sense the apostles were bound to die out, because before so very long those who had actually seen Jesus and who had actually witnessed the Resurrection, would pass from this world. But, in another and still greater sense, the qualification remains. He who would teach Christ must know Christ; and he who would bring the power of Christ to others must have experienced Christ’s risen power.
  • (ii) There were the prophets. The prophets did not so much fore-tell the future as forth-tell the will of God. In forth-telling the will of God, they necessarily to some extent fore-told the future, because they announced the consequences which would follow if men disobeyed that will.
      • The prophets were wanderers throughout the Church. Their message was held to be not the result of thought and study but the direct result of the Holy Spirit. They had no homes and no families and no means of support. They went from church to church proclaiming the will of God as God had told it to them.
      • The prophets before long vanished from the Church. There were three reasons why they did so. (a) In times of persecution the prophets were the first to suffer; They had no means of concealment and were the first to die for the faith. (b) The prophets became a problem. As the Church grew local organization developed. Each congregation began to grow into an organization which had its permanent minister and its local administration. Before long the settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets, who often disturbed their congregations. The inevitable result was that bit by bit the prophets faded out. (c) The office of prophet was singularly liable to abuse. These prophetic wanderers had considerable prestige. Some of them abused their office and made it an excuse for living a very comfortable life at the expense of the congregations whom they visited. The earliest book of church administration is the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which dates back to just after A.D. 100. In it both the prestige and the suspicion of the prophets is clearly seen. The order for the sacrament is given and the prayers to be used are set out; and then comes the instruction that the prophet is to be allowed to celebrate the sacrament as he will. But there are certain other regulations. It is laid down that a wandering prophet may stay one or two days with a congregation, but if he wishes to stay three days he is a false prophet; it is laid down that if any wandering prophet in a moment of alleged inspiration demands money or a meal, he is a false prophet.
  • (iii) There were the evangelists. The evangelists, too, were wanderers. They corresponded to what we would call missionaries. Paul writes to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2Tim.4:5).
      • They were the bringers of the good news. They had not the prestige and authority of the apostles who had seen the Lord; they had not the influence of the Spirit-inspired prophets; they were the rank and file missionaries of the Church who took the good news to a world which had never heard it.
  • (iv) There were the pastors and teachers. It would seem that this double phrase describes one set of people. In one sense they had the most important task in the whole Church: They were not wanderers but were settled and permanent in the work of one congregation. They had a triple function.
      • (a) They were teachers. In the early Church there were few books. Printing was not to be invented for almost another fourteen hundred years. Every book had to be written by hand and a book the size of the New Testament would cost as much as a whole year’s wages for a working man. That meant that the story of Jesus had mainly to be transmitted by word of mouth. The story of Jesus was told long before it was written down; and these teachers had the tremendous responsibility of being the respositories of the gospel story. It was their function to know and to pass on the story of the life of Jesus.
      • (b) The people who came into the Church were coming straight from heathenism; they knew literally nothing about Christianity, except that Jesus Christ had laid hold upon their hearts. Therefore these teachers had to open out the Christian faith to them. They had to explain the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It is to them that we owe it that the Christian faith remained pure and was not distorted as it was handed down.
      • (c) These teachers were also pastors. Pastor is the Latin word for a shepherd. At this time the Christian Church was no more than a little island in a sea of paganism. The people who came into it were only one remove from their heathen lives; they were in constant danger of relapsing into heathenism; and the duty of the pastor was to shepherd his flock and keep them safe.
          • The word is an ancient and an honourable one. As far back as Homeric times Agamemnon the king was called the Shepherd of the People. Jesus had called himself the Good Shepherd (Jn.10:11,14). The writer to the Hebrews called Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep (Heb.13:20). Peter called Jesus the shepherd of men’s souls (1Pet.2:25). He called him the Chief Shepherd (1Pet.5:4). Jesus had commanded Peter to tend his sheep (Jn.21:16). Paul had warned the elders of Ephesus that they must guard the flock whom God had committed to their care (Ac.20:28). Peter had exhorted the elders to tend the flock of God (1Pet.5:2).
          • The picture of the shepherd is indelibly written on the New Testament. He was the man who cared for the flock and led the sheep into safe places; he was the man who sought the sheep when they wandered away and, if need be, died to save them. The shepherd of the flock of God is the man who bears God’s people on his heart, who feeds them with the truth, who seeks them when they stray away, and who defends them from all that would hurt their faith. And the duty is laid on every Christian that he should be a shepherd to all his brethren.
  • After Paul has named the different kinds of office-bearers within the Church, he goes on to speak of their aim and of what they must try to do.
  • Their aim is that the members of the Church should be fully equipped. The word Paul uses for equipped is interesting. It is katartismos (GSN2677), which comes from the verb katartizein (GSN2675). The word is used in surgery for setting a broken limb or for putting a joint back into its place. In politics it is used for bringing together opposing factions so that government can go on. In the New Testament it is used of mending nets (Mk.1:19), and of disciplining an offender until he is fit to take his place again within the fellowship of the Church (Gal. 6:1). The basic idea of the word is that of putting a thing into the condition in which it ought to be. It is the function of the office-bearers of the Church to see that the members of the Church are so educated, so guided, so cared for, so sought out when they go astray, that they become what they ought to be.
  • Their aim is that the work of service may go on. The word used for service is diakonia (GSN1248); and the main idea which lies behind this word is that of practical service. The office-bearer is not to be a man who simply talks on matters of theology and of Church law; he is in office to see that practical service of God’s poor and lonely people goes on.
  • Their aim is to see to it that the body of Christ is built up. Always the work of the office-bearer is construction, not destruction. His aim is never to make trouble, but always to see that trouble does not rear its head; always to strengthen, and never to loosen, the fabric of the Church.
  • The office-bearer has even greater aims. These may be said to be his immediate aims; but beyond them he has still greater aims.
  • His aim is that the members of the Church should arrive at perfect unity. He must never allow parties to form in the Church nor do anything which would cause differences in it. By precept and example he must seek to draw the members of the Church into a closer unity every day.
  • His aim is that the members of the Church should reach perfect manhood. The Church can never be content that her members should live decent. respectable lives; her aim must be that they should be examples of perfect Christian manhood and womanhood.
  • So Paul ends with an aim without peer. The aim of the Church is that her members should reach a stature which can be measured by the fullness of Christ. The aim of the Church is nothing less than to produce men and women who have in them the reflection of Jesus Christ himself. During the Crimean War Florence Nightingale was passing one night down a hospital ward. She paused to bend over the bed of a sorely wounded soldier. As she looked down, the wounded lad looked up and said: “You’re Christ to me.” A saint has been defined as “someone in whom Christ lives again.” That is what the true Church member ought to be.

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;  15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:  16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.


All this must be done so that we should no longer be infants in the faith, wave-tossed and blown hither and thither by every wind of teaching. by the clever trickery of men, by cunning cleverness designed to make us take a wandering way. Instead of that it is all designed to make us cherish the truth in love, and to make us grow in all things into him who is the head–it is Christ I mean. It is from Christ that the whole body is fitted and united together, by means of all the joints which supply its needs, according as each part performs the share of the task allotted to it. It is from him that the body grows and builds itself up in love.

  • In every Church there are certain members who must be protected. There are those who are like children, they are dominated by a desire for novelty and the mercy of the latest fashion in religion. It is the lesson of history that popular fashions in religion come and go but the Church continues for ever. The solid food of religion is always to be found within the Church.
  • In every Church there are certain people who have to be guarded against. Paul speaks of the clever trickery of men; the word he uses (kubeia, GSN2940) means skill in manipulating the dice. There are always those who by ingenious arguments seek to lure people away from their faith. It is one of the characteristics of our age that people talk about religion more than they have done for many years; and the Christian, especially the young Christian, has often to meet the clever arguments of those who are against the Church and against God.
  • There is only one way to avoid being blown about by the latest religious fashion and to avoid being seduced by the specious arguments of clever men, and that is by continual growth into Christ.
  • Paul uses still another picture. He says that a body is only healthy and efficient when every part is thoroughly coordinated. Paul says that the Church is like that; and the Church can be like that only when Christ is really the head and when every member is moving under his control, just as every part of a healthy body is obedient to the brain.
  • The only thing which can keep the individual Christian solid in the faith and secure against seduction, the only thing which can keep the Church healthy and efficient, is an intimate connection with Jesus Christ who is the head and the directing mind of the body.





JMF: You are a scholar of Karl Barth’s writings.  What is important about Karl Barth for American Christianity?

GD: The most important thing about Karl Barth is that he points us to the gospel and to the God of the gospel. He has no importance in and of himself.  He’s not interested in being a Barthian himself, or having anybody call themselves that.  I don’t call myself a Barthian.  His importance is that he points us to the gospel and the God of the gospel.

The center of that is … what he saw was so important, especially in his day, and still in our day, is to realize is that when God showed himself in person in Jesus Christ, he was revealing to all humanity the rock-bottom total truth of who he is, that was true to himself in his own being (not just towards us).  In his own being, God had figured out a way for human beings to truly know who he is, and that way was through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit, and according to Scripture, that’s who he is.  You would think it would be simple, but it takes a lot of concentration, discipline and even repentance to recall again, and again, and again, that there is no other God except the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

To be colloquial, in Jesus Christ, you have the whole enchilada – that’s who God is all the way down – there is no other God, there is no God behind God.  What you see in Jesus Christ is what you get.  Another way to say it is, in Jesus Christ you get the Son of God, we find the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, all God, in the character of God, the attitudes of God, the purposes of God.

Therefore any theology of God has to be founded, centered, directed, disciplined, and oriented to the only place where there is this self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ.  We can’t go looking around Christ or to other sources as a norm and a status for that. God is who he is, in himself and towards us, who he is in Jesus Christ.  Any knowledge of God and any faith in God has to be controlled, ordered, arranged and filled out in terms of Jesus Christ – as he is, God with us.  What I find in my own life and in other theologies, it’s much more difficult to stay centered on that center, as we’re somehow tempted to develop knowledge of God on other foundations, with other sources, and they end up competing with what we find out about God in Jesus Christ.

JMF: So this focus that Barth brings is different from other prevailing theologies

GD: Barth was so grasped by this and saw its importance that he corrected himself and regulated himself and asked himself the question, “Am I speaking of and speaking about the one and the same God in Jesus Christ?”  If you’re going to talk about the kind of ubiquity of God, you have to see how that relates to God revealed in Jesus Christ.  If you’re going to talk about the eternality of God, if you’re going to talk about the mercy of God, if you’re going to talk about the wrath of God, or the election of God, or the atonement of God, or our future glorification, or our union with Christ – all these things… they all had to line up with the truth and the realities we find it in Jesus Christ.

He was so rigorous in that because he thought that’s the essence of theology.  He was rigorous, what I find is that other theologies kind of wobble and waver – sometimes they get that in focus, and sometimes not…

JMF: What are some examples of “other theologies?”

GD: For instance, a theology that starts with the Fall, let’s say.  Certain theologies are so concerned about sin – and indeed, it’s the problem of our human existence.  But if you make sin and the Fall the defining moment, as if that shaped all of reality, and you then set up all your theologies, it becomes a theology of sin.   In this case, let’s say, “Ok, sin is the problem.”  If we bring in Jesus Christ after that, and Jesus Christ is defined in terms of the problem – because we’ve got a big problem to solve. What you’re going to say and how your theology will develop will be – Jesus will be understood as a problem-solver, the solver of sin.

JMF: If the focal point of your theological perspective is sin.

GD: The sin problem, and then Jesus comes down into the sin problem and does what he’s going to do in that circle. That’s a very truncated view of the Bible’s view of who Jesus is.  It leaves out the fact that we find out, that through the Son of God who then became incarnate, everything was created, for him, through him, and to him. This incarnate one, Jesus, is not just the fixer-upper of the problem.  Actually, everything belongs to Jesus Christ – it came into being through the Word of God, incarnate in Jesus, all creation belongs to Christ himself and is for him.  It’s destined to be for him – as the Creator.  So it’s the Creator God who is redeeming us.

God, who Jesus is, is much larger than the fixer-upper of the sin problem.  He is the one by whom everything came into being, he is the one who has the future in mind for this creation, now fallen. It’s one and the same God.  When Jesus completes his work on earth, he doesn’t just disappear off the scene because he’s got the job done, he doesn’t have anything more to do with it.  He is the one for whom everything was destined – in him.  In the Bible, Jesus has finished the atoning work, but his ministry as the Son of God continues.

JMF: This theology with sin as its focus is where a lot of people are.  When they think about the Bible and God, the whole Christianity, religious thing – their focus is sin.  They don’t start with who is Jesus, they start with how do we deal with sin, and solve this sin problem. What is another theology that…?

GD: Another theology would be that God is essentially interested in moral order.  This pretty much comes out with “what went wrong,” if you start with that view – God is interested in moral order, and sometimes we’ll think the holiness is restricted to moral order.

JMF: So, a holiness focus.

GD: Right. If you start with that … Often that’s locked in to the Fall, because the Fall is disobedience.  As if God was merely interested in moral obedience, and not something more – (it’s not less than that – but something more than that).  So then Jesus just gets us back on track so we can obey a moral order and do the stuff that God wants us to do.

JMF: Again, he’s a fixer of a problem.

GD: Right, of a moral order.

JMF: So he’s not at the heart and foundation of the theology. [GD: Right.]  He’s a factor . . . .

GD: Right. An instrument, we say theologically, and once you’re done with the instrument and you’ve fixed whatever you’re fixing, once you used the screwdriver to drive in the screw, then once the screw’s in place, you don’t need the instrument anymore.  You dismiss it and say, he’s done.  But that isn’t the God of the Bible.  That’s not the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible.  But if you only think God is interested in moral order, you’ll think of God as most interested in a legal relationship with us rather than …  an alternative would be a filial, personal relationship.

So you have a God that’s primarily first law.  Then if you started to think about grace, even the grace of Jesus Christ, then if law is the larger category, it’s all set up, then often what God is interested to do is justice, and justice in this framework is often understood as having two sides.  The justice of God is understood in this sense as being equally satisfied by two things.  The justice of God in this frame is understood as rewarding the good – so God is just because he rewards the good, and the other thing that makes God perfectly just is punishing the evil.   And that’s it. [He is equally satisfied by either outcome.]  God is essentially the God who rewards the good and punishes evil.  And on that basis, that’s why we call God just or right or holy.

JMF: So if that’s the focus of your theology . . . you read Scriptures with that in mind . . . you order your life with that in mind . . . that’s the kind of preaching you gravitate tothat’s the kind of books you read . . . you’re focused on this vanquishing of the enemies of God.  Of course, you see yourself as on the good side of that.  Wouldn’t that make you the type of person who is judgmental of your neighbor who does not behave as well as you wish he would and so on?

GD: And judgmental about yourself.

JMF: There’s a lot of self-condemnation and self-doubt, frustration and anxiety about your relationship with God, but also that’s what a lot of Christians are criticized for … Surveys show people don’t want to live next to evangelical Christians because they’re judgmental.

GD: It certainly can lead to that, because judgment and being judgmental go together.  A legal God, and then as Christians we may be tempted to want primarily legal relationships with others.  It’s like a contract, which makes it conditional: if you do “X” then I’ll do “Y,” and we’ll agree to that.  But if you don’t do “X,” then I won’t have to do “Y.”  A legal relationship with God is contractual.

We have lots of contracts around us.  That’s how we operate in society.  But the question is: We may act legally, by contract with others, but is that the kind of relationship that God wanted with us from all eternity, before creation?  Is that the kind of relationship God wants with us after the Fall, and after his redemption, where there is a contractual, legal relationship with God – if you do good, then I’d reward you.

JMF: It’s the kind of thinking and approach to the Bible that a person has, when the child doesn’t measure up, they cut them out of the will, or they cut them out of their relationship, and they’ll never see them again because they did something ….

GD: Yes. On purpose or as a society, we often create contracts and live by them, and we think that’s a good thing – that’s justice.  Often in personal relationships, they can reduce to the legal, where we contractually relate to each other  [JMF: unwritten contracts], so we see the tragedy when a marriage (which is not supposed to be, in a Christian frame anyway, merely legal contract, but give promises to one another that are unconditional) is turned into a legal tit for tat: “if you, then I…. If not you… then not I.”  That represents the collapse of the marriage, the dissolution of a marriage – it is a distortion of a marriage.

But pre-nuptial agreements and things like this, our society is pushing everything into a contractual relationship.  Even the personal and some would call it, filial – which means a notion of sonship, or family, we’re losing that dimension of our ability to relate to one another, and entering more and more in having more areas of our lives being contractually run.

JMF: Self-sacrificial love doesn’t really have a place ….

GD: No, that wouldn’t be … It’s all conditional, that if you fulfill this condition, then I will do something.  But if you don’t, I’m not going to follow through on anything ….

JMF: But that’s how we think of God … If we think God is saying to us, “If you change your behavior, say the sinner’s prayer, then, I will act to save you.” But up until you do that, I won’t ….

GD: Right. Often, as Athanasius said, we think out of a center in ourselvesbut that is not theologyit is mythology.  And furthermore, it’s idolatry, because we’re thinking God is like us. Whereas, no, God is not like usGod is not a creatureWe have to stop thinking out of a center in ourselves and making ourselves and our experience the norm and standard for understanding God.

That’s what God in Christ came to do – he is the great iconoclast, to break our false understandings of thinking about God as if he’s something like us, but somewhat better.  That is idolatry to do that.  God came to say, No, I’m here to interpret myself as I really am … because I am God and not man.  Even the wrath of God is not like human wrath.  The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God, James tells us – nor does it work the righteousness of man.  God’s wrath works differently than ours We can’t think of God’s love, God’s wrath, even God’s existence as just something like ours.

God was trying to get through to us, and Jesus Christ is saying, Here is who I really am.  I am not just somewhat like you, just a little bit betterI’m totally different.  I’m God and not man.  The grace of God, and the love of God, is of a different kind.

Now, back to the law … What is God’s original purpose? Just to reward the good and punish the evil?  Is that all God’s justice can accomplish?  So God would say, “Well, you know what, I’ve rewarded the good and I’ve punished the evil.  I’m happy!  That was my purpose.  That’s all I want to do.  I’m just, I’m holy, I’ve rewarded the good, I’ve punished the evil, I’m perfectly happy.”  Is that really the notion of the justice, the righteousness, and even the holiness of God in Scripture?

Or is the justice of God and the righteousness of God really that God is the one who makes things right, who returns things to their right, and even perfects things to their full rightnessGod’s justice is a restorative justice, a corrective justice – making things right . . . so that the only thing that satisfies God’s justice is that things are being made right.

If you bring creation as the first, and the purposes of God first, and don’t make sin and the law the central, controlling thing, you have to ask yourselves the question, “Why did God create me in the first place?”  Just to reward the good and punish the evil?  Is that what God had in mind?  Or that God has in mind, I want to love creation into perfection . . . so the love that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit have been enjoying for all eternity, might be extended to creation and loved into perfection?  And that is what makes God just – because he puts things right.

When it’s broken, what does he do?  He is the God who puts things right – so the only thing that satisfies the righteousness of God and the justice of God is to bring about righteousness and justice.  If that’s the purpose, then sin is resisting God’s good purposes, and Christ is bringing about those original created purposes to make things right – in the New Testament, to bring about a new heavens and a new earth.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  The justice of God is not, cannot, be restricted to rewarding good and punishing evil – as saying, I’m equally satisfied.  That maybe all that we can do as human beings . . . but we cannot project our limitations of justice or righteousness or any other thing on God.

Is God incapable of doing nothing more but rewarding the good and punishing the evil?  Or can he reconcile, transform and perfect his creation?  Can he do that?  Is that the heart of God?  Is that what God is doing in Jesus Christ – to bring things to his perfection – to put and make things right in the end?  That’s a very different view of the justice and righteousness of God, which is not legal, because in the end, righteousness is right relationship where there is the perfect exchange of love – a fullness of life and fruitfulness in loving communion.

Jesus says, “I do not call you slaves any longer.”  Paul tells us not to fall back into the spirit of slavery, to do that.  We are created to be the children of God – the children.  That’s his glory – to bring many sons to glory, in Hebrews 2.  That’s God’s purpose, because that’s God’s heart.  Because God in himself is Father and Son in that holy love in the Holy Spirit.  He loves us with the same love with which he has loved his own Son, and he wants us to be a part of that.  The biblical picture is that God does not have legal purposes for us, but filial purposes – loving purposes, and even the Fall and sin does not stop God from pursuing that end.  He’s done that in Jesus Christ, that we might share in Jesus’ own sonship with the Father.  That’s a very different … that’s what makes God righteous and holy.  The filial purposes fulfilled in Christ, that we might participate in.

JMF: Barth’s focus on this, in drawing theology back to a focus on Christ as “all in all” for all the creation, is a reflection – you mentioned Athanasius, back from the 300s – it’s a reflection of the earliest theology of the church from the beginning, not some innovation that is called neo-orthodox.  There’s some history with Barth, with views of God coming out of World War I and so on.  But we have accusations against Barth a lot, saying that he is too liberal – he makes it too easy to be loved by God.  Or he minimizes Scripture. What about the accusations?

GD: Barth was not attempting to create any kind of theological tradition, nor be enslaved to anyone.  He wanted to be faithful to the God revealed in Jesus Christ according to Scripture.  And he was willing to receive help from anyone throughout the whole history of the Christian church who would help him faithfully think and formulate theologically on that.  He would use anybody he found helpful.  In the general Reformed tradition, he found certain strands helpful in this way, and he went back to Luther and Calvinbut he also went back, because Luther and Calvin themselves did, to the early church.  The early church – Athanasius, Irenaeus, Hilary and others – they pointed back to the Scriptures and the writings of the apostles.

Barth was attempting to do nothing but build on that foundation.  Along the way, he discovered his entire own training as a student had to be thrown away, which was in the liberal tradition.  Barth’s theology was a reaction and repudiation of liberalism – because he found that they did not build on that foundation.

So Barth had to re-train himself.  After he had finished his training and he went to be a preacher and a pastor, he said, “I had nothing to preach.  So what I was forced to do is to go back to the whole new world of the Bible.”   That’s his words, quote.  When he did, he discovered a different God and a different Christian life, and even a different Christian ethicHe found the key to this all was Jesus Christ, because Jesus showed us who God really was.  Barth discovered that many in his own church, many theologies had other norms and standards and sources of knowledge of God independent and apart from the true revelation of God himself in Jesus Christ. They had several sources that were intentional ….

JMF: What sort of sources?

GD: A lot of it was human experience – human experience or human ideals and notions.  For instance, the idea of the one absolute God – this idea of the absolute Spirit of God, they view this as the highest thing.  Then they started trying to fit the biblical revelation into that and conforming it and shaping it, slicing off certain things.

They were into ideals, like the ideal of resurrection as a general idea.  The resurrection isn’t an idea, it is an occurrence – what happened, Jesus Christ bodily raised from the dead.  It’s not an idea or a general idea: “Everything has resurrection life about it.”  “No,” Barth said.

Similarly, they had the idea that human beings are imbued with the Spirit of God.  We’re all filled with the Spirit of God, and that shows itself up in our culture, and in our architecture and in our technology.  This is building up to Nazi Germany.  Barth saw that human beings were taking themselves, magnifying them, calling them god and then squeezing the Bible and its revelation into that.  And that led to Nazi Germany.

When he saw that development both in World War I and World War II, he saw that his whole theological education had been built on a false foundation … and he had to start over.   This is what led to his writings and even re-writings – things from earlier times, to reconfigure this.  As he looked back to the history of Christian theology, he saw he had to sort through certain things.

Certain things were going off-track, other things were more on-track, so he had to sort through this track that said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”  “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” and to stay strictly onto that.  The view of Scripture around him was very low, because Scripture was crammed into human categories and human names and labels, and the norms became human experience.  He said, Scripture doesn’t allow us to do that.  But even Scripture itself, he saw, was not tightly connected to their theology.

His main question was, “What’s the connection between the written word and the living word?”  Scholars of his day were reading the Bible, studying the Bible, but they were doing that as if the Bible itself were disconnected from the living Word – from the living Lordship of Christ.  The object of Scripture, the object of study, was Scripture itself, so in essence, studying Scripture meant in the end you came to know Scripture, but you did not know Godbecause God … there had been a distance, a disconnection between the living Word and the written word.

Barth was attempting to tell us that you cannot deal with Scripture apart from its real connection with the living Word.  That connection meant, that to hear the word of God as the Word of God – to let the Bible be what it is.  We couldn’t have a deistic view of the Bible, to hear the word of God meant God himself by the Holy Spirit would speak again, in and through Scripture.

JMF: It’s God revealing himself in Scripture, not Scripture being kind of another god …. 

GD: Right.  Scripture would not be what it is, and wouldn’t serve its purpose, unless God, actively, daily, and moment by moment, by the Holy Spirit, spoke in and through that Scripture.  If God were mute, if he decided not to say anything anymore – and we just had the Bible, but God himself was mute – Barth would say, in a practical sense, then God is dead.  He says, no – God is the living God, that’s what the Bible says.  God is the word . . . He is speaking . . . God is the one who communicates.

God hasn’t decided, “I’ll put it all in a book and never say anything more,” because the human heart would not hear the Bible without the working of the Holy Spirit.  Barth had a high view of the Holy Spirit, not apart from Scripture, but he recognizes that the Bible as a book would not be what it is, and would not serve in the way it could (mainly enable us to know God), unless God was doing something while we’re reading the Bible.

JMF: And conversely, his point was that God was doing something when we’re reading the Bible. It’s actually a much higher view of the Bible ….

GD: It’s a higher view of Scripture, because the Bible is what it is because there’s a living, continuing, actual connection between the real God and our reading ScriptureWhen we’re reading the Bible, it’s not like the only thing that’s happening is we’re reading.  God himself, personally, by the Holy Spirit, is speaking.  His Spirit knows the deep things in God, speaks in the depths of our own spirit, Paul tells us.  How?  In and through Scripture!   Barth wants to know what Paul said, he’s listening to what Paul says, because he wants to hear what God is saying – not apart from the Bible, but in and through the Bible – because God is the living God, God is the articulate God, God is the Word, and he’s not mute.  God never became silent.

Part of this means when you study Scripture, when you listen to the preaching of the word, then you study it and listen to it by faith in the living God.  As you are reading you would say, “God, you need to speak to my heart – you, yourself.  I need to hear a word from you.” A s I’m reading the Bible, as I’m studying it, “Lord God, be gracious unto me, a sinner, that I might really hear you and what you are saying in and through this, your word, here and now.”

Otherwise, what we end up depending on is the words on the page, or our method.  As if my sincerity plus my methods could enable me to hear the word of God – notice the grace of God is not even needed.

Studying the Bible is an act of radical trust in the living God – “Lord, get through to me, and get rid of all my false ideas and unworthy ideas of who you are and what you are – let me hear you again in and through this word, because if you don’t speak into my very heart and being, I cannot hear you, because I am a sinner. Get through to me.”

All of our obedience, including studying Scripture, reading Scripture, listening to the Scripture preached, is done by faith in the living God … as if this God was present and real and active today. Barth saw that when the German church separated Scripture from the living God, they manipulated that Bible to serve the needs and desires and even the ideals of Nazi Germany.  They became lords over the Bible and used their methods to move it around to fit their needs and ideals.

Barth saw that the only way we have is to bring back in the sovereignty of God, which is the active living grace of God in our lives to overcome our resistance, and respond to the grace of God that we might really hear his word again.  Barth’s view of Scripture is: Scripture is connected to the living Word, and that’s what makes the Bible the Bible.  If you separate them, the Bible becomes nothing – we become lords over it.  I don’t think that’s a low view of Scripture.  It’s a high view of God and his word.


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