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Posts Tagged ‘exegesis’

Speaking the Truth in Love

I’m thankful I am a part of a church community that takes sin, holiness and accountability seriously.  We try, as much as possible, to foster a community that facilitates confession of sin, as well as gently confronting someone when a persistent sinful pattern or attitude has been observed.  I know I’ve been helped greatly by others hearing my confessions, as well as calling me out when I’m getting off track.  It’s part of what the body of Christ is supposed to do.

One of the biblical phrases most often quoted in our church regarding this topic is “speaking the truth in love,” from Ephesians 4:15.  The point often made is that it’s important to speak truthfully to others, but we must do so lovingly.  We don’t dangle someone’s sin over them, we don’t rejoice that we’ve caught them in the act.  We try to love as Christ does, not overlooking sin but not condemning someone with it either.  “Speaking the truth in love” is a good phrase to sum up what we teach in these situations.

But once in a while, I run across these phrases or verses in their context, and I realize that we might not be using it properly.  This happens all the time, all of us have done it at one point or another (how many times have you heard “where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there” at the beginning of prayer or worship?).  More often than not, it’s no big deal and we’re not in danger of slipping into some heresy. 

Let’s look at the phrase in its immediate context:

14 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. 15 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. 16 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.

In its original context, this phrase really isn’t speaking about accountability and personal sin.  Notice the contrast between v14 and v15.  “Speaking the truth in love” is the opposite of “cunning,” “craftiness,” and “deceitful scheming.”  The point is that there are always deceitful people infiltrating the body of Christ, spreading their false teaching in a cunning manner.  But rather than speaking lies in a deceitful way, Christians are to speak truth in love.  Lovingly proclaiming truth combats the lies that are spread throughout the body of Christ.  Those who are caught up in deceit are like little infants.  But when truth is spoken in love, the body of Christ grows strong and mature.

So this phrase is not really about personal accountability.  It’s about how we combat lies in the church.  I suppose it could overlap with the area of sin and repentance, but that’s not the heart of the matter.  Truth vs lie- that’s what we’re dealing with here.

This would be an example of what is sometimes called the “right doctrine from the wrong text.”  It is, of course, important that when we confront someone caught in sin, we do so lovingly- with an extra stress on lovingly.  I guess Ephesians 4:15 just shouldn’t be our go-to verse to make that point.  We can, however, refer to Galatians 6:1, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  Either way, I hope we apply both of these points faithfully in our lives and churches.

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There’s been quite a bit of buzz as of late regarding creation again (how we should reconcile science and the Bible- if at all, creation vs evolution or some combination of both, etc).  I don’t really want to get in on all of that, but I want to jump in to talk about one idea: the “natural reading” of the text and the “day” of Genesis 1.

There are various ways to view the days of creation in Genesis 1: literal 24 hour days, longer and undefined periods of time, a literary device, etc.  Each of these views has their own merits and problems, which I won’t go into here.  But I do notice that many of those who argue for a literal 24 hour day do so, in part, on the appeal to the “natural reading” of the text.  That is, they claim that if you just take the text for what it appears to be saying, you’d have to see them as 24 hour days.

I suppose, in one sense, that’s true.  Most of us would probably see the “day” as 24 hour periods of time.  That doesn’t prove, in my opinion, that it’s the natural reading, and certainly not that it’s the correct reading.  My point is that the “natural reading” is often times a fantasy, rather than a fact.

Before anyone accuses me of dipping my toes in the murky waters of postmodernity, let me affirm that I do think there is a correct understanding of the word “day” in Genesis 1 (namely, mine).  I’m not arguing that there are multiple correct views, that we can each pick our own view and everyone gets to win.  I do think some readings are more “natural” than others, but I’d argue that this isn’t always the case.

The problem is that none of us come to a text as a blank slate.  I try quite often.  I fail quite often.  What sounds like a natural reading to me may not be all that natural; it simply may fit my grid more easily than other readings.

Let’s go back to the days of Genesis 1.  Many have claimed that the refrain “there was evening, and there was morning- the __ day” is a clear indication of a literal 24 hour day.  It’s the most natural way to understand the text.

But, how natural is it when you consider that the sun, moon and stars don’t show up until Day 4?  I could be wrong, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a civilization who kept track of days without the use of the sun.  Yet, we’re supposed to believe that the natural way to understand “day” is as a 24 hour period of time, even though the only means of measuring an “hour” is the sun, which didn’t exist until Day 4.  See the problem?  It doesn’t sound all that natural to me.  Side note: I know that there are other views that argue the sun, moon and stars were already created, but weren’t given their function until Day 4 (whatever that means).  I’m not convinced because this is not the natural reading.  =)

Interestingly, in my 5 years or so of teaching Genesis 1 at church, I have not had a single student point this out.  Not one.  Mind you, these are intelligent people.  I live and minister in Boston, and it’s a proven fact that people in Boston are smarter than people everywhere else (and by “proven fact” I mean “arrogant and unfounded assumption”- and don’t get mad, I’m just trying to keep you interested).  I’m not entirely sure why no one has caught this, but I’ll hazard two guesses:

  1. We’re generally bad readers, whose powers of observation desperately need a work out.
  2. We seek the familiar.

The second point is the one I want to make.  A reading may seem “natural” because it already sounds familiar.  We understand the concept of “evening and morning.”  When we read those words we fit it into an existent category, because it feels natural.  And we pass over the fact there was no sun or moon.  But we also need to look for features in a text that seem “unnatural.”  Noticing the unexpected can often reveal more than you bargained for (see the broken chain of death with Enoch in Genesis 5, or the unexpected list of tribes in Revelation 7 discussed in this post, and so on).

There are probably a million directions to go with this, but I titled this post “Somewhat Random…” to get me off the hook of drawing out the implications of what I’m saying.  My main point is that there needs to be a little humility when we shoot down an opposing view because our reading is “natural.”  What may be natural to us may betray our own inability to process everything containted within the text, and show that we’re really just fitting everything in to a comfortable category.  It does, after all, feel natural.

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In the comments of a previous post, Marcus asked what books I’m using in my study of Ezekiel.  For those who know me, it doesn’t take much to get me talking about books, especially commentaries.  But I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to stress how I use commentaries and other resources in the process of studying a book of the Bible.  Obviously commentaries serve well as resevoirs for “quick answers,” but are even better used over a long period of study.

I want to put all of this in context.  Sometime in the fall, I decided to embark on a prolonged study in the Book of Ezekiel.  I picked Ezekiel for a few reasons: of the major prophets, it’s the one I know the least; I’ve often found it confusing; I wanted to justify my purchase of Daniel Block’s two volume commentary; and Ian Boxall’s commentary on Revelation convinced me that Ezekiel was important to John’s Revelation. 

So here are the steps I am taking in my study of Ezekiel.  Mind you, I’m actually only 7 chapters in; I’m moving intentionally slow (and I took a bit of a break when my computer died).  I also don’t want to give the impression that I really think of studying the Bible in a mechanical, step-by-step process.  The crucial thing about these steps is that I never jump forward, but I may move backward.  That is, just because I move on to a new step doesn’t mean I won’t go back and redo a previous one.  But I try not to get ahead in the process, for reasons I’ll explain as I go. 

The one step I’m leaving out of the list is actually the most important.  I pray a lot as I’m studying, through every step.  Not only do I pray the words of Scripture (which can be difficult in a book like Ezekiel), but I pray that the Spirit of God give me wisdom as I go.  If, after all, He inspired the book, I’d rather seek His insight than anyone else’s.

Read the Text

Sounds obvious, huh?  It doesn’t get any more basic and necessary than this.  I try to read the entire book every now and then.  I read large sections at a time, then narrow down to smaller sections as I see them (chapter divisions in Ezekiel are generally pretty good, though chapters can be grouped together, more on that in a second).  I’ve been using the TNIV, though when I start to look at smaller chunks of verses, I compare other translations.  For this study, I’ve opted not to do my own translation work, or at least not the entire book.  I’ve done that before for other books, and will continue to do so.  But, honestly, it would take me far too long to study Ezekiel if I tried to translate the entire thing. 

Break Off Natural Sections

As I noted above, chapters can be grouped together to form units.  For instance, chapters 1-3 go together, with chapter 1 and chapters 2-3 forming subunits.  Chapters 8-11 all go together.  And so on.  This is something I may adjust as I spend more time in the text, if needed.  These sections are the ones I study, so on my computer, there are separate documents for Ezekiel 1-3, 4-7 (4-5 & 6-7 go together), 8-11, etc.

Make a Rough Outline

My outlines are never super detailed, just enough to give me an idea of the flow of a passage.  When I broke down the vision of chapter 1 into 3 main parts (Vision of the 4 Living Creatures vv4-14, Vision of the 4 Wheels vv15-21, Vision of the Glory of YHWH vv22-28), it helped me make sense of what was otherwise a mess in my mind.  Again, I’m always willing to correct this outline, but I find it a good place to start.

Taking Notes & Asking Questions

Using my outline, I begin to take notes on what I think is important.  For example, in chapters 2-3 there is some ambuguity as to the identity of ruach, which can mean breath, wind or S/spirit.  I look at the text and come up with my own thoughts, and try to see if there is anything significant to it.  I note repeated phrases, of which there are many in Ezekiel (e.g., “then they will know that I am YHWH”).  I also write out any questions I have that I may not be able to answer myself, or that I’m unsure of the answer.  I was a bit confused by the 390 and 40 day periods in Ezekiel 4, so I made a note to check it out when I hit the commentaries (again, after I tried to come up with possible answers myself).  This step can take quite a while.

Theological Reflection

After I do the above (which would be termed “exegesis”), I begin writing out some of my thoughts on what the text teaches about God.  There may be a particular phrase that sticks out, an important action, etc.  I’m already thinking about this stuff as I’m taking notes, but now I spend more time thinking on it.  This is important for two reasons: the Bible teaches us about God (duh) and, in my opinion, the theology of the text is the key to hermeneutics.  In other words, if I can determine what a passage is teaching about the unchanging God, I will have a much better shot at faithfully applying a text that is written in a foreign language, to a foreign people living in a foreign world.

Application Ideas

This is where I write out some thoughts on how a text might be preached or taught.  I’m consistently going back to this, sometimes weeks after I’ve finished a section.  This area is a struggle, especially on the personal level, because I seek to apply it to my life before I go tell anyone else how they should live.  The first 3 chapters of Ezekiel really kicked my butt.  I was so powerfully struck by the immensity of what Ezekiel experienced, I couldn’t get it off my mind.  I remember going out for a run (don’t laugh) and realizing that I had actually been walking around aimlessly for 30 minutes, thinking about Ezekiel’s call.  Needless to say, I’ve had the tendency to become consumed with the book. 

Anyway, all that to say, applying a text is much harder than many assume, which is probably why Ezekiel doesn’t get preached on very often (unless you opt for “what’s the vision by the Kebar River in your life?”).   Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll dive into this even more, but this is already getting long enough.

Using Outside Resources

You’ll notice that this is the last item on this list (yes, we’re at the end).  When I was in school, I would always try to do my own exegetical work before I looked at anything else.  I would translate, diagram, work on syntax, etc, without looking at BibleWorks (only cheaters use it) or commentaries (or at least I tried, sometimes I’d get stuck and look something up, only to realize I probably could have figured it out myself).  In my experience, commentaries work best when you have already thought through a text yourself and are looking for specific insights.  Very few commentaries are so well written that you can just pick them up and start reading, gaining incredible wisdom.  Doing that virtually guarantees you’ll learn next-to-nothing.  But if you know what you’re looking for when you start, you’ll glean much that is useful.  I also check out a few other resources, which I’ll give below.

Commentaries

The two Ezekiel commentaries that I am using are Daniel Block’s previously mentioned two volume commentary in the NICOT series and Iain Duguid’s volume in the NIV Application series.  Both are outstanding.  I was already familiar with Block’s, and had heard good things about Duguid’s.  I have to be honest, I was skeptical at first, but am now a huge fan (so is my wife, for what it’s worth).  Although his space is limited, especially in comparison to the ginormous Block, he makes the most out of it, even including things missed by Block.  Once in a while his practical insights are a bit of a stretch, but I think they’re designed to get the reader thinking rather than suggesting sermon bullet points.  If you can’t afford Block, then I strongly recommend Duguid.  Even if you can afford Block, I’d strongly recommend Duguid.

Block has pretty much everything you’d want in a commentary.  He doesn’t just comment on the text, he interacts well with other writers, brings in helpful historical background and, best of all, takes time to discuss the theological implications of the text.  This commentary is worth the hype.

I also own John Taylor’s commentary in the Tyndale series, but haven’t looked at it much.  I go back and look through it every so often, but there’s little in there that isn’t already covered by the other two.  My wife was using this one until I got Duguid for Christmas.  If I were living near a library that carried commentaries, I’d probably look at Allen, Zimmerli and Greenberg, but I don’t so I don’t.

Other Books

Every so often I consult a book that isn’t a commentary.  I would probably take a look at an OT introduction if I liked any.  I’ve poked around Bruce Waltke’s OT Theology to see what he says about Ezekiel, but for the most part, I stick to the commentaries. 

Online Classes

Another helpful resource is BiblicalTraining.org, which we’ve plugged multiple times.  Douglas Stuart has a lecture on Ezekiel, but it’s only 19 minutes, which is too short for anything more than a basic orientation.  On iTunesU, there is an entire prophets class for free taught by John Goldingay at Fuller Seminary.  His lecture on Ezekiel comes in close to 80 minutes, so naturally he covers more ground than Stuart.  Goldingay is left of where I am, but often has much that is helpful.

Sermons

I’ve mentioned before that Ezekiel is rarely preached on, at least in my circles.  I’ve found a few online; you can check out The Gospel Coaliton site for some examples.  Like commentaries, I won’t listen to anything until I’m done doing my own work.

——

So there you have it, far more than you ever wanted to know about my process of studying a book of the Bible.  This process is always subject to revision, so if you have anything to add, I’d be happy to hear it out.  Let me end with this:

The more time I spend in Scripture, the more amazed I am at the treasures contained within.  I’ve spent years now studying the Word (and I have the school debt to prove it!), but on a consistent basis I find myself feeling like a novice.  It’s humbling to jump back on the bunny slopes, but humility’s definitely a good thing.  I had no idea Ezekiel, the book and the prophet, could be so compelling, challenging and God-exalting.  Lord help me (literally) if I ever lose the excitement I feel today.

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Whenever I encounter a new (to me) interpretation of a familiar passage of Scripture, I’m generally skeptical of its validity.  I hope that this reticence is due less to my arrogance and more to my understanding that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  That doesn’t mean I’m not open to hearing it out, because something may be new to me but not actually new, but I’ve studied enough to know that novel ideas are generally bad ideas when it comes to biblical interpretation.

But when my friend Lacey came up to me some time ago and mentioned a new take on Luke 21:1-4 that she had heard in a Matt Chandler sermon (date: 8/9/09), I’ll admit I was intrigued.  Let me give you the verses (TNIV):

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins, “Truly I tell you, ” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

These verses are generally taken as praising the woman for her sacrificial giving.  If you’ve been in church long enough, you’ve heard it preached that way quite a few times.  I’d venture to guess that many a building campaigns have been helped by preaching this passage.

Chandler, however, offered a different take on it.  Rather than praising the widow for her giving, Jesus was actually lamenting that she gave (note: the word “praise” doesn’t show up here).  If you read the passages immediately before and after this one, you’ll see that Jesus denounces the teachers of the law in part because “they devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers” (20:47) and then goes on to predict the destruction of the Temple in chapter 21- the same Temple the woman was supporting with her offering.  Chandler argues that given the surrounding context, Jesus couldn’t have been praising the woman for giving her money to the very Temple he was denouncing.  Instead, he was lamenting.  I don’t remember if Chandler specified if Jesus was upset at her or upset at the Temple authorities for bilking this woman out of what little money she had, though my guess is the latter.

Chandler likens this passage to the televangelists who guilt old ladies into giving up their retirement checks to fund their lavish lifestyle- surely a practice Jesus detests.  (Side note: whether or not his exegesis is right, I’m loving Chandler’s hermeneutics here.)

What do I make of this?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  I’m a huge fan of reading passages in light of the surrounding context.  You can see an earlier post here of how I think the biblical writers can use narrative to make their point rather than stating things explicitly.  So Chandler has that going for him here.  But, I think literary context could possibly work the other way, too.  Is it possible that what we have here is actually a juxtaposition (one of my favorite words in studying the Bible, by the way)?  Is it possible that Jesus is purposely contrasting the widow’s sacrificial life with the greed of the teachers of the law?

Let me address a couple other points Chandler uses in his favor.  One, he states that in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus commends someone for a righteous act, he follows it up with a statement like “go and do likewise” or something along those lines (see the Good Samaritan).  Such a statement is missing here, which Chandler claims works in favor of his interpretation.  However, that isn’t entirely true.  The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is one example where Jesus praises someone’s action without telling others to do the same.

Two, while it’s true that Jesus declares the impending destruction of the Temple, he also commanded a man healed of leprosy to go tell the priest and make the proper sacrifices (5:14).  As far as the widow is concerned, the Temple is the place where the righteous go and worship.  The Temple had not been destroyed; Jesus had not died and risen from the dead.  Shoot- even Paul went to the Temple and even intended to make an offering (before he was arrested) in Acts 21:26.

After listening to the sermon I popped open some commentaries to see what they had to say.  I only own 1 Luke commentary, but I own a few on Mark, who records this same story in Mark 12:41-44 along with the same surrounding passages.  None of the commentators took the interpretation that Chandler did.  That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, of course, because commentators are capable of rehashing traditional but wrong exegesis, perhaps especially prone in a case like this where the interpretation seems “obvious”.  It does make me wonder what sources Chandler used, though (side note: I’d love it if pastors shared this kind of information once in a while; I wonder if he ever has).

So, I’m not convinced.   Yet.  I’ll admit that Chandler has successfully convinced me that his interpretation is possible, if not plausible.  The immediate context does lend him support, though as I noted above I think it could (perhaps not ‘should’) be understood differently.  I’d be very interested to hear what others have to say about this, so feel free to leave any comments you might have.  I may very well be missing something that a different set of eyes might pick up.

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Outlining 1 Peter

This post is a practice run at giving a descriptive outline for 1 Peter.  This isn’t an analysis of the grammatical structure or a Semantic Structure Analysis, though I hope I’m not ignoring them.  It’s a simple attempt to understand the flow of 1 Peter and how the parts interrelate.  I stress this is a “practice run” because I’m not entirely convinced of every detail, and as you can see, I’m not making an attempt at outlining every sentence.  Anyway, I’m also giving my rationale so you can understand why I opted for the choices I did.

———————-

Greeting (1:1-2)

Called out of Darkness to be the People of God (1:3-2:10)

Praise God for His salvation (1:3-12)

Live a holy life as one redeemed (1:13-21)

Having been born of God’s eternal word, love one another (1:22-2:3)

God has called you, making you His people (2:4-10)

Living as the People of God in a Hostile World (2:11-4:11)

Submission to others in suffering (2:11-3:12)

Lead others to praise God because of your good deeds (2:11-3:7)

Submit to governing authorities (2:13-17)

Slaves, follow Christ’s example in suffering (2:18-25)

Wives, submit to your husbands (3:1-6)

Husbands, honor your wives (3:7)

Summary: bless others rather than repay evil (3:8-12)

Be blameless in suffering, just as Christ was (3:13-4:11)

You will suffer undeservedly (3:13-17)

Suffer as Christ did, who was victorious (3:18-22)

Suffering is a sign that you are done with your old ways (4:1-6)

Love one another in light of the end of all things (4:7-11)

Suffering in This Life, in Light of the Time to Come (4:12-5:11)

Expect to suffer as Christ did, entrusting your souls to God (4:12-19)

Elders & young men are to live properly, in light of the coming glory (5:1-7)

Stand strong in suffering, for God will uphold you until the end (5:8-11)

Closing (5:12-14)

———————————

So let me make some comments.  The greeting and closing are easy enough to set apart.  That, of course, isn’t to say that they’re unimportant.  One of the difficulties with 1 Peter is that it basically deals with one subject (suffering) throughout the letter, so differentiating sections isn’t always easy.  Basically, you’re dealing with how Peter talks about suffering, not a new topic altogether.  Some letters are relatively easy to outline; 1 Corinthians is a piece of cake.  Others are more difficult; 1 John and James are notoriously tricky (seriously, try to do it sometime).

One thing to note is that you see “dear friends” (TNIV) occur twice in the text, at 2:11 and 4:12.  I’m taking this as a marker of Peter moving on to a slightly different way of handling the topic.  That leaves us with 1:3-2:10 after the greeting and before the first “dear friends.”  I feel good about these 3 main sections in the body of the letter, though how they break down is not as easy to tell.

In my “titles” I tried to be descriptive, summarizing the main point of that section.  I’m not entirely sure I got them all right, or worded them well, but it’s a place to start.  In 1:3-2:10, I broke it down into 4 subsections.  You’ll notice that I indented 1:13-21 and 1:22-2:3 because I wanted to make a point structurally.  I see 1:3-12 and 2:4-10 as “bookending” (or an inclusio) the middle sections.  That is, the bookends focus on what God has done, whereas the middle sections focus on our response.  I don’t think this structure is an accident.

In 2:11-4:11, the beginning is relatively easy to follow.  I think 2:11-12 serves as a “thesis statement” for what is to follow, specifically in 2:13-3:7.  Peter focuses on those under authority and how they should act.  It seems to me that his statement to husbands in 3:7 is not a major focus, evidenced by the short statement to them.  3:8-12 summarizes what comes before, but also provides a transition to what follows.  Instead of focusing on different categories of people (slaves, wives, etc), Peter broadens his focus back to all his readers.  This section includes some of the more confusing portions of the New Testament.  This section ends with an eschatological focus.

This switch back to an eschatological focus provides another transition to our next “dear friends” section beginning in 4:12.  In the first chapter, Peter has a strong emphasis on the coming glory to be revealed, and he returns to this theme again here (4:13; 5:1, 4, 10).  This section is bookended by some quasi-comforting words: some suffering is God’s will (4:19) and Satan is looking to devour you (5:8), but God is the “God of all grace” (5:10) in the midst of all of it.  In the middle of these are Peter’s commands to the elder readers and the younger ones.

So, of the 3 main sections of the body, the 1st and 3rd deal more with an eschatological outlook and with God’s work of salvation (which has both a past and future element that Peter stresses).  The middle section deals a bit more with following Christ as an example of righteous suffering in a hostile world.  As I noted earlier, since there is one main topic of the letter (suffering) there is significant overlap throughout these sections.  But with that said, I think there is a discernable structure.

I’ll stop there.  I’ll give my caveat again- this is a practice run.  I’m not entirely convinced of all of this, and I haven’t checked it with any scholars.  My point in posting this is to show how one can make an attempt to understand the flow of an NT epistle.  Hopefully, in so doing, we can better understand both how Peter encourages his readers in a time of suffering and how we can be encouraged in our own time.

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Once upon a time in my teaching, I would conduct an exercise in reading in context; it was a quiz of sorts.  I’d have everyone open up to Galatians 6:1, which in the NIV (almost guaranteed to be the translation of choice amongst the group) reads: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”  Then I’d ask them to define “spiritual” for me. 

 

Depending on what your Christian background is, you may understand “spiritual” to be any number of things.  Since I come from a charismatic background, I would receive answers something along the lines of: someone who is full of the Spirit, someone who “hears from the Lord,” and so on.  Naturally, these types of answers beg for further clarification, since they can be understood in many different ways, some of which may not be anything close to what Scripture teaches.

 

The problem, of course, is that we often import our own meanings into the text, assuming that Paul must have meant what we understand a word to mean.  More often than not, this is not a conscious decision- we assume our definition is determined by Scripture.  But the best way to figure out what a word means is in the context.  In this case, it’s not all that hard to understand what Paul means by “spiritual.”

 

Immediately preceding this verse, Paul contrasts what it looks like to live by the Spirit with living by the “sinful nature” (Gal 5:16-26).  “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious”, Paul says, yet so are the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  How do you know if someone is living by the Spirit?  They exhibit these traits in their lives- not just on their own, but in community as well (after all, most of the evil and good acts in these verses necessitate others). 

 

So, when Paul says “you who are spiritual” should restore someone who has fallen into sin, he isn’t bringing up a new topic or moving on to a different understanding of what it looks like to live by the Spirit- despite the chapter break.  The spiritual person of Galatians 6:1 is the person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit given in 5:22-23.  The context defines the word for us, we don’t need to search far to understand Paul’s meaning.

 

This isn’t everything Paul has to say about living in the Spirit, of course; there’s always 1 Corinthians 12-14, Eph 5:18-21, and others.  But the Galatian readers didn’t have those letters available to pull in different connotations of “spiritual,” their main referent was the letter right in front of them, specifically the words they had just read.

 

So does this make a difference practically speaking?  I think it can, and I’d invite others to share why they think it might.  I’ll give one reason why I think this can be important, given the charismatic circles I run in.  There can be a tendency amongst charismatics to elevate certain people based on gifting and perceived spiritual awareness.  There can be, though this is not always the case, gradations of spirituality based on these criteria.  Paul, however, is often more practical than we are.  Paul, and other biblical writers, wants hard evidence of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life.  A person ought to be changed completely, including (especially) their behavior, when the Spirit is working in them.  After all, what’s the benefit in “hearing from the Lord” if you’re still a jerk?  Remember- Paul once wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). 

 

Those who are “qualified” to help restore a fallen brother or sister are not necessarily those who are first deemed “spiritual” by our own criteria.  By Paul’s criteria, those who are in the best position to help a person fight off sin are those who are now living by the Spirit in a way that shows they have defeated the sinful nature. 

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