Posts Tagged ‘biblical’

arete

This idea of excellence has been dogging me for some time now.  When I first began to explore the idea of biblical excellence the Greek word arete was the first to come into view.  Such a short word for such a big concept.  While arete can refer to general excellence it carries with it a strong moral component.  It is only used five times in the New Testament, once by Paul in Philippians and the rest by Peter in his two letters.

Peter designates arete  to be an attribute of God.

seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

Peter then calls the people of God to pursue this very excellence that we find as a aspect of God’s character.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 1 Peter 1:5

While arete is a Greek word that denotes moral excellence, I believe that as Peter uses it arete is found only in the expression of God’s divine power (through the Holy Spirit) in his people as they diligently through faith function in that divine power.  Let’s look at this passage all together.

3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 1 Peter 1:3-7

Paul also uses arete in his final charge to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul here gives a break down of Peter’s attribute of God.  It is pure, lovely, of good repute and praise worthy.  This weekend Levi Elarton (our pastor’s youngest son) spoke on loving people well as a quality of Jesus and by extension a quality that should be a basic part of any Christian’s life.  As a part of that he stated that sinners liked to be around Jesus.  Jesus managed to be attractive to sinners without compromising his arete in any way.  In fact I am going to step out and say that His divine moral excellence (and I would suggest that there is no other kind of true moral excellence) was the very thing that drew people to Him.  You can see this moral excellence in operation in the call of Levi the tax collector (Levi’s text for this Sunday), in His encounter with the woman at the well, in the many times the religious rulers of the day attempted to trip Him up.  You can see this moral excellence in operation as he was beaten, abused and hung on a cross.  You can see this moral excellence being made available to you and me through the power of the Holy Spirit when Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to His place at the right hand of the Father and when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples in Jerusalem on Pentecost.

Arete is not a philosophical or theological concept, it is a practice of life that requires diligence and participation in the very nature of God.  It requires what Peter Scazzero in his series of books calls “loving union”.  It requires both the mindset spoken of by Paul and the action that Peter calls for. Arete is the fulfillment of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is the natural result of the Hupomone lifestyle.

 

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“For you have need of endurance (hupomone) so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised”  Hebrews 10:36

 

Obedience is at the very core of perseverance.  Obedience springs from our true hope in God and in the fact that he will do what he says he will do.  Our hope springs from the obedience of our savior.

“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One, the many will be made righteous.”  Romans 5:19

Daniel understood obedience as Paul did.  He saw it as more than just the sum of our earthly actions but as a spiritual principle.  In chapter 1 we see a three step process for biblical obedience.

 

Step 1:  Choose

” But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank…”

Daniel 1:8 

The first step is one of the heart and mind.  The King James states “Daniel purposed in his heart”, the English Standard Version, “Daniel resolved”.  The Hebrew here is significant.  “Leb Suwm” .  Leb indicates the inner being of man.  The root of this word is used of the people of Israel after the spies came back from the Promised Land. Ten delivered a report of fear while Caleb and Joshua delivered a report of God.  Moses states in Deuteronomy 1 “‘Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there.”  Ever have that fear so intense that you feel like your inner most being is melting?  Sometimes we term it “having that sinking feeling”.  The reality is that Israel had  not yet sinned.  I have to believe that there were times in the experiences of this boy who watched his home decimated in a siege and then was ripped out of all he knew that his heart melted within him.  Moses goes on to say, “But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.”  The resolve to be obedient for the Children of God (both New Testament and Old) is tied up in our Trust in the One True God and it is this resolve that translates into biblical perseverance.  Daniel directed his inner most core through all his circumstances not to defile himself before God.

2.  Share

The second step is one of relationship.  Everyone of us lives within a web of relationships that involve influence and authority. “so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.” I think that too often the people of God pursue obedience in arrogance.  They use God as an excuse to ignore or defy authority in a disrespectful manner.  Paul makes it clear what the relationship of the Jesus Follower is to those in authority, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  Romans 13:1-2  Even when our faith requires us to obey God rather than men it is done with respect and honor.  Consider Daniel’s three friends in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar’s rage, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”  This is another aspect of perseverance in obedience.  When it is shared it spreads.  Not only did Daniel share his perseverance with the commander of officials, he shared it with his friends.  I can only imagine that this is one of the things that the kings of Babylon appreciated in Daniel.  As he was obedient to God and persevered in his faith it multiplied itself in those around him and with that multiplication the blessings that come along with godly perseverance were multiplied too.  In this way Daniel experienced incredible favor in a pagan land.

3.  Follow Through

Once we have chosen and shared we need to trust God as we follow through in our obedience. This is the part of obedience in perseverance where the rubber meets the road.  It  led James to say, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  James 2:17  You can purpose in your heart and then share that all day long but if your actions don’t follow through with that purpose and those around you cannot match up what you are representing to them with what you are doing then it is all a bunch of hooey.  Daniel and his friends engage their purpose and sharing with real action that results in miraculous favor.  I can only imagine that at first their actions were met with derision.  As the other boys ate their sumptuous meals and drank the wine of the kings table I am sure that the obedience to this foreign God seemed pretty silly.  When Daniel and his friends were elevated to high positions, it suddenly was not so funny.  When God’s people obey, the world notices.  Daniel’s follow through on his purpose and sharing was so consistent that his enemies knew that if they were going to bring him down it would have to be by compromising his obedience to God.  What they did not count on (or possibly believe in) was miraculous intervention of Jehovah-Sabaoth, God our protector.  Consider Jesus’ words to His disciples , ” He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable * that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Luke 17:1-2  Daniel’s enemies found that messing with his obedience to God had real consequences.  Daniel portrays another aspect of persevering obedience in a story about his friends.  When their stance on worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol on pain of death this is their answer:  “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”  Daniel 4:17-18  Persevering obedience does not require a positive earthly outcome.  The value of true obedience is spiritual and eternal.  It is this kind of obedience that Jesus demonstrated as he moved through His earthly ministry towards The Cross.  ” Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. “Philippians 2:8-11

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 And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  “This is the great and foremost commandment.  “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” 

Matthew 22:37-40

The title of this post might indicate that it is a discussion of our need to continue in love even when those around us make it exceedingly difficult.  There could perhaps be an enumeration of all the ways those both near and distant make it hard for me to love them.  However this is not the case.  We are looking at love as a prime characteristic of perseverance.  It was established in the last post that biblical perseverance is a gift from God, not something that we work at, struggle at and achieve on our own or through our own efforts.  This does not relieve us of the responsibility of opening and exercising this gift, we just need to understand its source.  Remaining under Jesus regardless of our circumstances (good and bad ) is something that Paul understood.  Consider his statement to the Philippians

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  Philippians 4:11

He also understood the centrality of  love to the very existence of God’s children expressing it wonderfully in 1 Corinthians 13.  It should be no surprise that we find love at the center of biblical perseverance and that we have perseverance at the heart of biblical love.  The salvation story extending from Adam to Jesus to the first century church and beyond is a wonderful statement of this idea.  It expresses love without regard to circumstances, appearances or reciprocation.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Paul directly links the nature of God’s love and perseverance in Thessalonians 3:5

5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. (Here Hupomone is translated steadfastness)

The love of God is supremely expressed in the steadfastness of Christ and the course of action that He undertook to be our salvation. ” 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8

So we have seen that hupomone is not something that we slog through on our own.  It is not “super-moaning” as we hold the course through difficult times.  It is a gift from God.  Biblical perseverance is at its core God allowing to to partake in His divine nature and all that this means.  As such it brings with it all of the fruit of the Spirit so that with Paul we can be “content in whatever circumstances” (Philippians 4:11) we find ourselves.  It is the overwhelming Love of God that is at the heart of the transformation process that conforms to the nature of Christ and separates us from the nature of the world.

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