Tag Archives: heresy

Eager For Unity

Ephesians 4:1-7 begins with a command. Paul urges the reader (including us today) to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they (including us) have been called. We’ve all heard this command preached on more than one occasion. It’s a favorite, especially in holiness circles. We are commanded to walk (to live our lives) in a manner (a way) worthy (equal to, fitting to) the calling to which we have been called. Paul goes on to define this worthy walk.

This walk, worthy of the calling, is defined by Paul with three nouns and two participial phrases. He describes it as a walk (way of life) marked by humility, gentleness and patience. These are the three nouns. Interestingly, if one’s walk is marked by these nouns, it would be safe to assume that walk would demonstrate the details given in the following participial phrases. These phrases tell us to “bear with one another in love” and to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It seems if one is humble, gentle and patient, there is no need to include these last two. However, Paul is dealing with something the church has dealt with throughout her history—disunity. We easily find excuses to divide. Paul is adding some detail to give greater emphasis to the unifying side of the worthy walk.

I want to zone in on this last part for this blog post. Paul includes in a worthy walk being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” Some translations lose something here. The NIV, for example, translates this as “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” But this merely means doing everything involved in keeping the peace. It misses the element of drive, push or haste. Let’s say I have a project to accomplish. I can expend every effort to accomplish the project and do so simply out of a sense of obligation. I would do everything needed to accomplish the project, but not really care if it works or fails—“It failed, but I did my part.” I can also not care how long the project takes, because there is a lack of haste or passion in my actions. In the same way, the NIV translation of this make it sound like Paul is saying to do what is needed or appropriate to maintain unity, without any reference to our drive, passion or zeal. It seems to reduce it to nothing but an action commanded. But the passage is much more powerful than this. The HCSB translates this as “diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit.” This, at least, gives some of the emphasis Paul places upon the command.

Paul is not just telling us to work at being united. Paul is not just including such unity as part of our walk. He is telling us to strive for, to be eager for, to diligently desire and work to maintain that unity. Unity of the body to which we are called (the Church Universal and the local expression of the church, where he has placed us). We should desire unity more than our own way. We should eagerly seek to keep the church together—even if it means giving up our own way and our own desires. That , after all, is part of the humility which he earlier used to describe the worthy life. We should desire unity even if it means dealing with our imperfect fellow Christians—even when it hurts. That, after all, is part of the patience which he earlier used to describe the worthy life. We should desire and work toward unity even when it would be far easier to attack and drive out those we find difficulty. That, after all, is part of the gentleness which he earlier used to describe the worthy life.

Paul commands us (God commands us through Paul) to bear one another’s burdens and eagerly strive to keep the church together as a united whole. We are not to drive those out or separate ourselves from our fellow believers. We are to strive to keep the church together. The only reasons to ever drive one out of the church is heresy (2 John 1:10) or discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5). Even that is meant to bring them back to repentance and back to the fold as fully restored members (2 Corinthians 2:6-7).

Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This command (σπουδάζοντες) tells us to do this quickly, with haste, without waiting. When some action or behavior disrupts our unity, or breaches the bond of peace, we are commanded to quickly (eagerly, with haste) strive for restoration. This is a direct command to each of us—me, you and everyone else called to salvation by Christ.

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Interpretation or Application

2 Peter 1:20 can be confusing at times. In the NIV, it says, “[…] no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” The LEB says, “[…] that every prophecy of scripture does not come about from one’s own interpretation.”

What does this mean? It ties closely back to what Peter says earlier about not following clever myths but being eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16). The revelation he spoke about was their experience of God speaking on the mountain. In verse 19 he goes on to say “we have the word of the prophets made more sure.” This experience verified the words of the prophets and their experience was itself a revelation from God.

It is from here that he makes his statement about prophecy. Peter is saying the experience of the apostles verified and supported the words of the prophets. They did not just make up stories. Neither did they twist and abuse the Old Testament prophecy to make it say what they wanted it to say. Many people twist the words of scripture to say what they want it to say. This is not proper behavior because the words of scripture were not given to say whatever you want. Peter goes on in verse 21 to say prophecy originated in the will of God, rather than the will of man. The important consideration is not what I want the scripture to say, but what God meant for it to say. It is not my meaning or interpretation that matters, but God’s intent. Prophecy is how God chooses to speak, and our responsibility is to handle it properly and seek understanding of what God actually says. We are to look for God’s meaning behind the words, not use them to hide our own intentions in a scriptural smoke screen and present the resulting illusion as revelation from God.

This thought continues into the next chapter of Second Peter. Keep in mind, the chapter and verse divisions were added centuries after the actual words were written. Don’t see them with any authority. Chapter 2 verse 1 gives us the counter to those who properly handle the words of prophecy. Peter says that he and the other witnesses to Christ were properly handling the prophecies. But; just as in the past there were false prophets who, rather than speaking for God, spoke their own words for their own intentions; false teachers would rise up in the church misusing the words of the Old Testament and the early Christian writers to introduce and support heresies. He even gives an example of one such heresy: “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.”

In a conversation years ago about something from scripture, a woman said, “There are many interpretations of scripture. It can be made to say anything you want it to say.” Actually, she was quite wrong, but still managed to strike upon the biggest problem we have in the church. There is only one interpretation—the right one, intended by the divine author. Proper exegesis involves seeking that single true interpretation. From this single interpretation, there may be applications. In each of our lives, the words of scripture will apply in any number of ways. A passage applied a certain way in my life may need to be applied in a very different way to your life. So long as these applications are based upon a proper interpretation they are acceptable. Unfortunately, we too often mistake the application for the interpretation. We try to make the way it applies in my life normative for all Christians. This too often leads to legalism. Seek the meaning of the author of scripture. Then look for how to apply that to your own situation and life.

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