Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yes or No?

In my previous post I focused on Colossians 4:12, which says, "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God."

In light of this verse, here's my question: Are we expected to follow Epaphras' example?  Yes or no?

There are many Christians who say that we do not need to follow the biblical model in our lives.  What is required, they say, is what is commanded or taught.  According to this line of thinking, we have freedom to follow what is modeled if we choose to do so.  However, it isn't required.

If, on the other hand, we believe that Christians are expected to follow what is modeled, then we look to more than just what is commanded and taught.  We also look for what people did that was approved of by the apostles.

This takes us back to Colossians 4:12.  Notice that Paul does not command Epaphras to struggle in his prayers on behalf of the Colossian church.  Paul does not teach us to do this either.  His wording toward Epaphras isn't even a direct commendation.  It is more of an observation.

Epaphras leaves an example of struggling in prayer for the sanctification of his brothers and sisters in Christ.  Are we expected to do the same?  My guess is that almost all Christians would respond by saying, "Yes."  I would agree with them.

The problem I see is inconsistency in biblical interpretation.  Many Christians accept the biblical model some of the time, but reject it at other times.  For example, they may say that we should follow Epaphras' example in prayer, but that we don't need to follow the example of churches in that area gathering in homes (Col. 4:15 says, "Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house").

What ends up happening is that many followers of Christ develop a sort of pick-and-choose mentality about what to do with biblical examples as they relate to the Christian life.  This, of course, leads to all sorts of subjective ideas about how Christians should live day-to-day. Inconsistency reigns supreme.

We must be consistent in the way we approach the bible.  Specifically, consistency is demanded regarding what we do with what is modeled for us.  Should we follow it or not?  If we say that we should, then we must strive to follow all that is given as an example for us.

For those who say that we do not have to follow what is modeled, then I simply ask that they be consistent.  Rather than picking and choosing, they should reject it wholesale.  Quite obviously I do not believe this is a good idea, but it at least is consistent.

God has crafted the bible on His terms.  We must approach it with humility, understanding that it is God who determines what we are to believe and how we are to live.  He has given us both commands and examples to instruct us.

11 comments:

Richie said...

I think the issue can be summed up in a single question, "Are portions of the Bible subjective?"

I like to think it is. I could be immature in my understanding of the Bible, and I am willing to concede to that upfront.

However, doesn't the Bible include instructions that were for slave owners, and slaves. Obviously, we don't need to acquire slaves for the sake of following biblical example!

I think that these examples were given to us as an insight to the nature of Christian character that God is forming in all of us.

As I was writing this comment, I was reminded of two things:

1. Paul was in labor until Christ was formed in the Church (Gal 4:19), thus the Church was taking on the nature of Christ and reproducing His fruit.

2. Epaphras was no doubt demonstrating that Christ was being revealed in him, as he was "laboring earnestly for you in his prayers", Christ does the same. (Heb 7:25)

God bless, Richie
http://rcsthe.blogspot.com

Eric said...

Richie,

As for slaves, we don't have any so the issue doesn't really apply today.

Let me ask you this: how do you determine which examples to follow without it becoming extremely subjective?

Joel Zehring said...

Here's my question: is the Bible more like a blueprint or a love letter?

I would lean toward a collection of love letters that I'm privileged to read. I can see how Jesus reached out to people in the past and how they responded in love and obedience. That's an example I can follow, especially since Jesus is alive and active now in reaching out to me and those around me.

One problem with the blueprint approach is that many of the metrics outlined in the first century have shifted or just don't apply (i.e. slavery). Another problem with the blueprint approach is the tendency toward legalism. If the Bible is a blueprint for how we should think, speak, act, and assemble, then there will necessarily be divisions as people apply the blueprint to their current situations.

I say start with Jesus as he reveals himself in scripture and obey his leading (expressed through the joint venture of the Scripture and the Spirit).

Richie said...

I've put some thought into it for the past hour, and I'm not entirely satisfied with my answer, as it may label me as being "hyper-spiritual" or worse.

I think a basic rule in interpreting the Bible is understanding who it is pointing to (Jesus) and everything has to be taking in that context.

Apart from Jesus, the Bible is extremely legalistic and causes flesh-driven fruit to be produced. We can even do that with the NT and make it more "the letter" than even the Law was intended to be. Only the Spirit can beget that which is spirit (our goal).

This doesn't give us black and white "this passage is subjective, this one isn't, this one applies to us, this one doesn't" kind of solution. Here is the part that I'm afraid I may be labeled hyper-spiritual: by His Spirit we should be knowing these things. The Spirit is what is given to lead us into all truth -- not the Bible. The Scriptures are the authority that lets us check what is being said, but the Spirit is what does the leading.

So like I said, I'm admittedly throwing this out on the table without research and welcome what anyone else says pro or con. I'm not entirely satisfied with my answer, although I do think there is a grain of truth to it, even if the answer is often used in cop-out fashion (which I'm not doing here).

God bless, look forward to hearing your response.

Eric said...

Joel,

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the participation.

I'm not really sure I understand your answer. You advocate following Jesus' example. I certainly agree with this. It's the place to begin.

What about the other examples? For example, what about how the church gathered? Is this to be discounted or is it to be followed? The example is certainly pertinent since they were the church then and we are the church today (as opposed to the slavery issue that thankfully is no longer an issue in this country).

How do you make decisions on specific issues?

Eric said...

Richie,

Thanks for answering.

I agree with you that the Holy Spirit leads us into the truth. We can only understand the bible through the Spirit's divine guidance.

So how does the Spirit tell us what to do with examples we see in scripture? My purpose really is not to be legalistic in this. However, we are given many examples of people living real lives in Christ. Is this simply descriptive? Or is it also prescriptive?

I'm asking for people to be consistent in interpreting the bible. If someone says that we should follow one example but not another, and then says the Holy Spirit told them to think that way, then I get extremely uncomfortable. It seems like a subjective trap to me.

Can you please give me some examples from scripture that you would follow and some that you might not follow, and then tell me how you came to that decision?

Thanks.

Richie said...

I have pondered this post throughout the day Eric. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

I don't know if I can give examples of things I would or wouldn't follow off the top of my head. This could be a blind spot I have in my Bible studies. I need to pay more attention.

Today though, a friend of mine on Facebook asked the question if it is okay for Christians to have tattoos. Then later quoted 1Cor 10:23, and also talked about the exercise of liberty in Romans chapter 14 (v 12-14). I would consider this an example in scripture that things are subjective to the situation.

For instance, if a attending a baseball game with some friends, knowing that a new convert in the Lord is giving up his addiction to baseball would have trouble with that, then I wouldn't go. So I think I could back up the position of going and not going with scripture.

The Law was very specific on conduct and application. The NT gives far more liberty and allows for more "subjectivity". This may make our flesh more nervous, and things may get out of control. But I have faith that regenerate people will seek His interests and model themselves after Christ.

I have absolute, positive confidence that the Spirit in the Christian will produce fruit, and would trust that result more than a person who tries to model the character of Christ without the Spirit.

This whole subjectivity conversation I think is where the ink on the pages of the Bible meet the application through the Spirit.

Your turn Eric. :)

Eric said...

Richie,

I believe we have liberty in those areas that the scriptures do not specifically command and/or model. Your example of baseball is a good one regarding this.

In the post I'm referring to things that are modeled for us in scripture. I'm asking why so many Christians pick some things to follow but not others.

An example can be found in Acts 20. We read that the church in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread. What's interesting about that passage is that most churches in the USA do in fact meet on the first day of the week, but most don't do it to break bread (the funny thing about that is that I think the breaking bread is much more significant than the day we gather). So churches take one verse and choose to follow part of what is modeled but reject the other part.

This is subjectivity plain and simple. I just don't want to live that way.

So I comeback to the question I started with. What is the basis for following some examples and not others? If we say it's the Holy Spirit, then what happens when Christians differ on important examples?

I'm not trying to be legalistic. Rather, I'd like people to know why they do what they do. I'm glad you are thinking about these things. I hope many others do the same.

Joel Zehring said...

Eric,

Richie expressed much of what I'm thinking and he did it way more eloquently. I'll try to add to the conversation a little more coherently (fingers crossed).

I draw a distinction between Jesus's example and Jesus's leading. Jesus certainly exemplified Godly living, but I'm not going to move to Israel and walk around in sandals to emulate him.

Instead, I think Jesus leads me in real-time through the Holy Spirit. He influences and inspires Godly thoughts, words, and actions as I conduct my daily, twenty-first century affairs.

How do I discern which promptings are of the Spirit, and which are not? The Bible (both OT and NT) is an excellent litmus for recognizing God's attitude and God's desires through his previous work in the lives of others.

The Bible shows me how the Holy Spirit led other believers in real-time during the first century. I don't strive to recreate those instances, though. I read the letters and stories in the Bible so that I can better recognize Jesus's leading in my own life, and better obey his leading.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

I think it's vitally important that we see that the prayers of Epaphras had a purpose, or an outcome in mind!

Rather than just generally praying for the Church at Colossae, he entreated God,so that the Colossians "may stand mature and completely convinced of the entire will of God"(ISV).

It is that focus which Paul describes as struggling, or striving, the latter fiting Epaphras' purpose better.

Eric said...

John, Joel, and Richie,

All great answers. Thanks for your input. This certainly can be a difficult issue. I think we all sense that biblical examples are important and to some degree should be followed. However, this could be taken to a silly extreme (such as Joel mentioned - the idea of actually moving to Israel). The purpose of our actions is clearly significant. We also need to ask if what we are doing has theological significance (for example, gathering in community does, but having the AC on does not).

Thanks everyone for your challenges to me on this issue.