The Value of Suffering and Love

A few weeks ago I wrote about how love is noun. That is, love is a feeling. It’s a good feeling and a happy feeling. Love is the feeling of pleasure or the sense of enjoyment that one has in another person. It is the feeling that we are supposed to have towards our neighbors, towards our spouses and, most importantly, towards God.

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian HedonistI became convinced of this truth through reading a book called Desiring God by John Piper. However, he admits that not everyone is willing to concede that love has anything to do with our own desires or our own enjoyment. Some people insist that love cannot seek its own pleasure because true love involves sacrifice. Or as journalist and social activist Dorothy Day reportedly said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.”

Piper responds to this observation well.  He explains,

“First, don’t jump to the conclusion that there is no joy in things that are ‘harsh and dreadful.’ There are mountain climbers who have spent sleepless nights on the faces of cliffs, have lost fingers and toes in sub-zero temperatures, and have gone through horrible misery to reach a peak. They say, ‘It was harsh and dreadful.’ But if you ask them why they do it, the answer will come back in various forms: ‘There is an exhilaration in the soul that feels so good it is worth the pain.’

If this is how it is with mountain climbing, cannot the same be true of love? Is it not rather an indictment of our own worldliness that we are more inclined to sense exhilaration at mountain climbing than at conquering the precipices of un-love in our own lives and in society? Yes, love is often a ‘harsh and dreadful’ thing, but I do not see how a person who cherishes what is good and admires Jesus can help but sense a joyful exhilaration when (by grace) he is able to love another person.”

I have become convinced that Piper is absolutely right. Loving God and loving others can be truly hard. Jesus himself explains that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But this in no way means that the sacrifices of love are void of joy or exhilaration. For instance, Paul says, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”

Suffering and love have a very interesting relationship. Suffering is tolerated because it is a small price to pay for love. Conversely, suffering is, at least in part, the scales on which we measure the value of love. That is, suffering reveals that love is truly valuable. Consider again the mountain climber. The man who climbs a small hill does not experience the same exhilaration as the man who climbs Mount Everest. Nor would the exhilaration be the same for the man who was flown to the top of Everest. The exhilaration is a byproduct of the sacrifice required to make the climb. The same is true for love, its value is measured by the sacrifice one is willing to make to acheive the reward. This is why Scripture says, “Greater love has one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And God measures out his love in the same way, “For God demonstrates his own love in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

This certainly has application in our own relationships. We see that love that comes easy is not of more value than love that takes work. On the contrary, it is when one must suffer on the mountain side in sub-zero temperatures that he becomes aware how how truly valuable the love is. It is the struggle and the sacrifice that reveal the value of the love, and consequently, increase the joy and exhilaration experienced when they possess it.

Application can also be found in our relationship with God. Many today suggest that a serious study of the Bible is unnecessary for a deep relationship with God.  However, C.S. Lewis challenges that notion stating, “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others.  I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Let’s not cheapen love by expecting that it can somehow be less than an excitement or joy we feel for others or for God. Also, we should not cheapen love by expecting that this excitement or joy comes easy. Love can indeed be “harsh and dreadful,” but this is simply evidence of its value. Love is so valuable that it is worth whatever suffering that is attached to it.  Further, the more suffering attached to love, the more we will be able to learn of its value.


Paul the Poet

After working through the Greek reading of last week’s passage, I am again convinced that most English translations are good and helpful. However, I also see why it is helpful to take the time to learn Greek if you can. It isn’t that your English translation is wrong, but you may enjoy seeing some of the brilliant ways the authors poetically make their points.

One great example is in Romans 1:3-4. The Greek text uses words that look and sound similar to show a parallel in the thought process of these two verses. I think you can see it, though less brilliantly, in English too. I will write the transliteration (phonetic spelling) of the Greek and English below so you can see what I am talking about.

Romans 1:3                        Romans 1:4

tou genomenou                   tou horisthentos
(who has come)                  (who was appointed)

huiou theou en dynamei
(Son of God in power)

kata sarka                           kata pneuma hagiosynes
(according to the flesh)      (according to the holy spirit)

ek spermatos Dauid             ex anastaseos nekron
(from the seed of David)     (from the resurrection of the dead)

Some scholars have said that the parallelism is so close and so beautiful that Paul probably took it from a song sung by the early church. There really is no way to know if that is true, but it is clear that these two lines work together. The question is, to what end are they working together? When we remember that the audience of the book was a church struggling with the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, I think it becomes clear how these two verses work together to address the issue.

Paul has previously explained that he is an apostle of the gospel, and the gospel is the story of Jesus Christ.  But who is Jesus Christ?  Verse 3 tells us that he is the hope of Israel.  He is the promised king who has authority on the basis of being a descendant of David.  But verse 4 goes one better.  Not only does he have authority according to his flesh, he has authority according to the Holy Spirit.  And it isn’t based on his lineage but based on his resurrection. It is from this authority that Paul been called to be an apostle and it is from this authority that the nations, or the Gentiles, have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Paul is still in the middle of his introduction and he has already demonstrated the authority by which he can say that Gentiles have an equal right in the kingdom of God as the Jews. Who in their right mind can argue with him now? If the risen Christ has chosen the Gentiles, who can reject that authority? But the real brilliance of the argument is that he has avoided alienating either the Jew or the Gentile. In these two verses he has upheld the honor of the Jew while simultaneously upholding the calling of the Gentile.  We haven’t even gotten out of the introduction yet and Paul is already well on his way to demonstrating how the gospel can provide unity to a church split over the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Reliabilty of the Text of Romans – Textual Criticism and the Introduction to Romans

51th2bi5oogl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Not long ago I read Misquoting Jesus, a book by a textual critic of the New Testament named Bart Ehrman.  His goal of the book was to point out that the New Testament we have today is not identical to the one written by the original apostles.  Instead, he explains that the people who copied the originals changed them, sometimes by mistake and sometimes on purpose.  And because of this, for him, “the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost.”

Before I continue, while I agree that the copyists of the New Testament have changed it in places, I do not believe that this calls into question the doctrine of inspiration, nor do I believe that we have substantial reason to doubt the trustworthiness of the New Testament as we have it today.  I hope that if you continue reading this post you will understand why I have so much confidence, both in the text of Romans, and in the New Testament as a whole.

51ucodepkrl-_sy344_bo1204203200_That said, the truth is, today we have over 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  In addition to these manuscripts, we also have as many as 20,000 translated manuscripts, and more than one million quotations by patristic writers.  The famous Bible scholar F.F. Bruce points out that “There is no body of ancient literature int the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.”

However, with many copies comes many mistakes.  It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 differences, or textual variants, between all of our sources.  It’s this overwhelming number of mistakes that caused the textual critic Bart Ehrman to decide that the Bible could not reliably be considered “God’s Word.”

What I want to show you is that all of these differences shouldn’t cause you to lose any sleep.  The vast majority of these errors are easily corrected.  For instance, most mistakes are caused by simple spelling errors or something called “anablepsis,” where the author accidentally copies one word twice.  These mistakes are easily spotted and cause no real concern for textual critics.  In fact, of the 300,000 to 400,000 mistakes, only about 2,000 are considered significant, meaning they would affect the way you would translate or interpret a verse.  That means less than 1% of the variants are considered significant.

So what exactly does a significant variant look like?  Our passage for this week has two.  While the New Testament does contain some variants that are more difficult than these two, most of the 2,000 variants will be no harder to solve, and no more significant than these two.

The first variant is in the very first verse.  Most of the Greek manuscripts say “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.”  However, several manuscripts, including two that some scholars consider important, say “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.”  That’s it. That is one of the top 1% of significant variants in the New Testament.  Hopefully you can already see why variants of this magnitude do not shake my faith concerning the reliability of the New Testament.

Many scholars today have opted to follow the later reading, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,” and that can be seen in modern translations such as the ESV, NIV, and NASB.  Other translations such as the KJV, NKJV, and the Message have opted to translate the verse as “Jesus Christ.”  I happen to believe that “Jesus Christ” is the best reading because that is the reading of most manuscripts and almost every early church father quotes the passage as “Jesus Christ.”

The second variant is in 1:7.  One of the 5,700 manuscripts leaves out the words “in Rome,” and instead simply says “To all who are loved by God and called to be saints.”  To be fair, one Latin translation also leaves it out and another Greek manuscript doesn’t leave it out but claims the church father Origen did.  However, in the writings of Origen that still exist, he included the words “in Rome” as well.

In this case the difference is a little more significant.  If the words “in Rome” weren’t original it could possibly suggest that the letter wasn’t written particularly to the church in Rome.  However, this wouldn’t drastically change the way we read the letter.  Further, though this accounts for one of the top 1% of significant variants, because of its very poor attestation, it is almost inconceivable that the words “in Rome” were not original.

I know that this post is more technical than many of the others.  However, I hope it encourages you to see how reliable the New Testament really is. Certainly there are a few harder issues, but the vast majority of the New Testament is marvelously preserved.  We have literally thousands of witnesses and they tend to agree remarkably well.  Further, when a mistake is found, we typically see that it makes very little difference to how we interpret the author’s message.

Romans: From Paul, To the Church in Rome

In our journey through Romans, this week was dedicated to understanding the book as a whole.  Because of this we start by taking a look at the introductory issues, namely who wrote the book, who was the book written to, and why was the book written.  Below are some of my observations, I hope they help as you read along with me.

The Author
Locating the author of the book is perhaps the easiest task.  The first word of the book tells us that Paul wrote the work.  While many skeptics question if some of Paul’s books were really written by Paul, “No serious scholar today doubts that Paul wrote Romans” (Schreiner, 2).  In fact, in many circles, Romans is the measuring rod by which all of the other Pauline books are evaluated.

While Paul is certainly the author, we learn in 16:22 that someone named Tertius also claims to have written the letter.  Tertius appears to have served as Paul’s amanuensis, or personal scribe.  The end of Galatians suggests that Paul may have had difficulty writing and likely used a scribe to dictate his letters.  However, it should not be doubted that Paul remains the true author of the letter as it clearly bears the style and logic which characterizes many of his other letters.

The Audience
The audience of the letter is also clear.  Paul addresses the church of Rome in 1:7.  But more important than their location is their history and make-up.  Paul had never visited the church before, and it seems that no other apostle/disciple had either.  Most likely, the church was founded by some Jewish converts who used the local synagogue to spread the message of Jesus.  While there were probably some “God-fearing” Gentile converts, the earliest church in Rome was probably primarily Jewish.  But in AD 49, the Roman Emperor Claudius issued a decree that expelled all Jewish people from Rome.  Overnight, the church went from a primarily Jewish group to an entirely Gentile group.  By the time of Nero, AD 54, it is clear that many Jews had returned to Rome.  However, the church in Rome appears to remain a primarily Gentile group.  Further, most scholars suggest that there was some controversy between the Jews and Gentiles in the church of Rome, however the controversy was probably not to the extent of the church in Galatia.

With this in mind, Paul appears to write the letter primarily to a Gentile audience, but expects them to be familiar with the Jewish Old Testament and with Jewish discontent regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles who are not submitting to the laws of the Old Testament.

There is some disagreement regarding the purpose of Romans, however I believe that the following can be said with confidence.  Paul intends for his letter to serve a teaching role as well as a conciliatory role.  That is, he wants the letter to teach the Gentiles, and the Jews for that matter, what the gospel is, particularly how God is able to save the nations while remaining just and true to his promises to Israel, with the hopes that understanding how the gospel works, will lead to a greater sense of unity between the Gentile and Jewish believers in Rome.

Luv is a Noun

“It is not your love which sustains the marriage, but from now on the marriage that sustains your love.”  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

FREE AT LASTTo begin with, I do confess that I listened to DC Talk growing up, and I’m not embarrassed about it. Well, maybe a little embarrassed. Regardless, during my childhood the band was huge and they used their popularity to teach kids my age about important topics like purity and love. Perhaps their most famous lesson is that “Luv is a Verb.” For years I thought this to be the most profound truth about love, that is, love is less about your feelings and more about your actions. But at church on Sunday I was introduced a quote that challenged the idea of love as a verb. The more I consider this quote the more I realize that love is a noun.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian in Nazi Germany who was imprisoned and killed after attempting to assassinate Hitler. While he was in prison his sister became engaged to be married.  Because he couldn’t be at the wedding, he wrote a sermon from prison to be read in his absence. That is the setting from which we get the interesting quote, “It is not your love which sustains the marriage, but from now on the marriage that sustains your love.”

This challenges the way we see the relationship between love and marriage. Bonhoeffer seems to recognize that people typically get married because they have the feeling of love. That is, they possess this thing, this noun, called love. The feeling likely consists of warm fuzzies and rainbows and butterflies, and is significant enough to compel two people to commit their lives to one another until death do them part.

However, as time passes many people realize that this thing they posses is very fragile. Love, once vibrant and full of life, like all things, begins to die.  It’s this realization that has led some people to redefine their understanding of love. Love is no longer the noun. It is no longer the feelings of affection. Instead, love is a verb.  It is the things we do.  We buy flowers, go on dates, and eventually we marry. Ultimately, we act lovingly. These actions, these verbs, are real love.  Sometimes they will even help recreate, that noun we once possessed, but now that we are older and wiser, we know that the noun is never to be trusted, or cherished, it is too fragile.

Bonhoeffer, however, seems to view love quite differently. He sees love, the noun, as a thing worth protecting, and marriage is the way to protect it. Marriage is the life support that keeps love alive in spite of its fragile state.  The commitment of marriage, and all the duties that it entails, are the verbs that sustain the noun. That is, the verbs of love have the goal of sustaining the noun love.  Thus, love as a verb is certainly important, but it remains the servant of love as noun. That is, we love as a verb so that we can possess love as a noun.

Certainly, love as a noun is the goal of marriage. No wife is happy with the verbs when they aren’t an expression of the noun.  When the husband buys flowers begrudgingly the action becomes not only ineffective, but repulsive. But, when the verb is a reflection of the noun, the verb is valuable because the noun is either highlighted or strengthened. That is, when the husband buys flowers because he possesses a love for his wife, the flowers draw attention to that love and reinforce it, making the love (noun) even stronger than it was before. Thus, love as a noun is what drives a couple to marriage and it is the goal of the marriage. Love as a verb is the means to sustain this noun which is truly the beginning and end of the relationship.

And, because love in marriage is a reflection of love between God and His people, we see the same thing when we consider how God wants us to love Him.  In Hosea 6:6, God explains, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Similarly, Jesus condemns the Pharisees saying “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Matt 15:8-9).  

Clearly Jesus expects more than just the verb. All the sacrifices in the world, all the acts of worship, all the moral duties, do not satisfy God. He wants love as a noun.  God expects our hearts to be close to His.  He expects us to have the warm fuzzies. He wants us to not only act lovingly toward Him, but to truly have love for Him in our hearts. God wants us to say along with the Psalmist (Ps. 73:25-26)

Whom have I in heaven but you?
On earth there is nothing I desire but you!
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!

For this reason I think we must end where we begin. We began with love as a noun and we love as a verb so we can end with love as a noun.  Your acts of love are definitely important, but remember that they are not the goal. The goal is that as the relationship develops (be it marriage or be it your relationship with God) you can say with an ever increasing conviction that there is nothing you desire more than the person whom you love.

The Reading Schedule

A couple of days ago I posted this reading schedule.  If you would like to follow along with me that would be great.  A couple people asked for some clarification so this post will be about how I plan to attack this reading schedule.  Certainly you can study Romans however you like, but the following suggestions may help structure your reading.

1.  Introduction to Romans.  The introduction is different than any other week.  I hope to accomplish 4 things.  First is to read through the entire book.  Second is to identify the author, audience, and purpose of Romans.  Third is to read at least one introduction to the book in a commentary or Bible handbook (Depending on the source and introduction can be as short as a couple of paragraphs or as long as a few pages).  Finally I want to familiarize myself with at least one outline (different authors may provide slightly different outlines) that I will try to keep in mind as I read the rest of the book.

2.  Weekly Readings – My goal each week is to read the passage in several translations.  To ask myself questions regarding the main point of each paragraph and to identify how the paragraphs interact with each other to form the books overall message.  To do this I will locate each paragraph within a larger outline of the book.

The Book of Romans (Journibles) (The 17:18 Series)Hopefully that helps clarify.  Let me again point you to the Romans Journible.  I am already having fun writing in mine and I think you will find it to be a fun exercise too.

3 Dates Worth Knowing

Romans (St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary)In the introduction to his commentary on Romans, R.C. Sproul says that he has written 3 dates on the first page of Romans in his Greek testament.
     386,  1515,  and 1738

These are the years that three of the most influential Christians in the history of the church claimed to experience a true conversion.  And the one thing they all had in common, it was while they were reading the book of Romans.

In AD 386, St. Augustine of Hippo (at the time he was neither a saint nor residing in Hippo) was struggling with his inability to show self control with women.  He later reflected “there is nothing so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downward as the caresses of a woman.”  In the midst of this struggle he became exposed to the preaching of Ambrose (the Bishop of Milan).  One day he was taking a walk in a garden and heard a young girl singing a refrain from a childhood game which included the words “take up and read.”  Taking this as a sign, he picked up his Bible and opened, by happenstance (or to him it seemed happenstance at the time), to Romans 13.  There he learned that the ultimate solution to his problem is not simply effort, of which he was becoming exhausted, but to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  He decided that day to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus, through the influence of the book of Romans, the Church’s first great theologian was spiritually reborn.

In 1515, another great leader of the Church was converted through his reading of Romans.  Martin Luther was already a Augustinian monk, and teaching as a professor of Biblical studies.  But just like Augustine, Luther felt oppressed by the weight of his own sinfulness.  He became utterly depressed and described the cause of his depression, saying, “I was utterly stupefied and terrorstricken.  I thought to myself, ‘Who am I that I should lift up my eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty?  For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.'”  However, it was when he was assigned with teaching the book of Romans that everything changed, for Luther, and the entire church that followed him.  He read in Romans 1 that the righteousness that God seeks isn’t Luther’s righteousness, but God’s righteousness on Luther’s behalf.  And further that Luther could receive God’s righteousness as a free gift of grace, on the basis of faith alone.  This single idea completely changed Luther in a profound way.  He describes his conversion saying, “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

The third great leader of the church saved while reading Romans is John Wesley.  Like Luther, he was already a minister of the church, but not yet a Christian.  Wesley, along with his brother Charles, had began a group known as the Methodists which served to call young men to a more stringently pious lifestyle.  His work was going so well that he set sail for America to help with the evangelistic efforts in the new world.  However, the trip went very poorly.  He found the Indians to be more savage than he anticipated, and even the white colonists resented his stringent moral code.  Things got even more complicated when he fell in love with Sophy Hopkey.  Wesley became “mixed up emotionally and spiritually” so that the 18 year old Sophy broke things off with him and married his rival.  On his trip back to England Wesley wrote “I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who shall convert me?”  It was in this pit of despair that Wesley picked up Luther’s preface to Romans, and on May 24th, 1738, Wesley records his conversion, “About a quarter to nine, while [Luther] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

I am sharing these three stories because I have decided to dedicate the next year to studying this book that changed the lives of so many of the church’s greatest leaders.  I have typed up a schedule to help set a pace (which I intend to be fairly slow).  I assume that many of my blog posts over the next year will be related to this endeavor.  So, if you would like to read Romans with me this year, this link will take you to the reading schedule.

Church History in Plain Language, 3rd EditionAlso, if you want to read more about the stories of these three men, and many other people throughout church history, check out Bruce Shelly’s book, Church History in Plain Language.  I got everything above, including the quotes, from that book.  I read the book through once, and find myself often going back to it reread my favorite sections.  I am sure you will benefit from it as much as I have.  Enjoy!