Posts Tagged ‘Philippians’

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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“Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears.

Ezekiel 24:16

(I do want to start this with a disclaimer: While I do believe that God has called us to walk this difficult road for His purposes and have already seen incredible fruit from our experiences both within us and around us, I have no reason to believe that Allana is going to be taken from us any time soon.)

Serving God can at times be overwhelming.  We are not told a lot about Ezekiel’s wife, just that she was “the delight” of his eyes.  Ezekiel loved her.  She was perhaps, next to God, the most important thing in Ezekiel’s life.  I have heard it taught that Ezekiel somehow sinned in his desire for his wife, that he had placed her above his devotion to God.  This is simply not in the text and perhaps arises from the desire to believe that God is here to serve us instead of the other way around.  We serve a God who loves us immensely.  We also serve a God who commands ultimate obedience, honor and trust.  The circumstances surrounding this loss are not known to us.  It can be supposed that Ezekiel’s wife succumbed to a fatal illness, a much more common occurrence in the those days than living a long and healthy life.  I can easily imagine Ezekiel crying out to God in prayer over her having been there many times for Allana.  I cannot but believe that Ezekiel’s wife was a godly woman, the respected and honored wife of a priest.  Why O lord does she have to go through this?  And the answer comes,” “For my purposes”

Paul understood service to God when he wrote to the Philippians, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, ” (Philippians 1:29)  Carizomai does not mean imposed upon or required.  It carries the sense of a pleasant task, a favor, something given benevolently.  As His servants, suffering for His name and for His purposes is part of the gift, but in the same book we find that this gift is paired with something else.  “ Rejoice in the Lord always ; again I will say, rejoice !  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.  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.” (Philippians 4:4-7)  This does not mean that everything is going to go the way that we desire it to, it means that through the storm we will be able to say, “It is well with my soul”.

God called Ezekiel to more than just losing the love of his life.  He is called to contravene the social norms of the day and to not enter into what was the common practice of very public and very loud mourning.  God calls him to “groan silently”.  Paul says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.”  We are called to a holy standard not only in the gift of suffering for His name, but in the Holy Spirit empowered ability to break the customs of this world in our reaction to that suffering and show the very nature of God in our actions.  When we do that the world takes notice!   “and in the evening my wife died. And in the morning I did as I was commanded. The people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things that you are doing mean for us?” (Ezekiel 24:18-19)  It is in the very city of Philippi that we get the story of the Philippian Jailer.  After being beaten and praising God through a night of imprisonment Paul and Silas are able to lead their captive audience, the jailer, and his whole family to Jesus.  “Sirs, What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)

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TLH Steps and Walkway

They sure look pretty!

I hope many of you have had a chance to see the new steps put in by Bill H. and Stevenson Building and Supply.  We are so very grateful for them.  Of course I have had more than just an opportunity to look at them.  I have walked up and down on them.  I have sat on them.  I have even dropped things on them and I can tell you that they are solid.

However the pretty white color that makes them look so new and beautiful is deceiving.  While it is great to spray the new concrete with this beautiful sealer, it is not the sealer that gives the stairs their strength and makes them sturdy and safe.  If the concrete under the white sealer is bad, the stairs are going to crumble.  It is the quality of the concrete that determines whether the steps and walkways will endure the tests of time, weather and abuse that is sure to come.

Our Christian lives are like those steps.  We can apply all of the sealer that we want but if it is not being applied over the solid rock of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior then eventually our lives will crumble because the sealer will not be enough to hold us together.  We can attend every church service there is, serve our community and behave in every way like the ideal christian man or woman but without the rock of Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit underpinning all of those “do’s” it is like a foolish man building his house on a pile of sand (Matthew 7:24-29).  Matthew ends Jesus’  illustration with this statement:

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29)

It is Jesus that gives our Christian lives authority.  This is the authority that gives substance to all the things that we do.  Without it all the doings collapse under the weight of eternity just as our steps and walkways would collapse if the concrete was faulty, or if say we tried to build the steps from sand or clay.

However there is a reason that Bill sprayed a 5 gallon bucket of concrete sealer on his work.  I don’t want you to think that all the things that we are called to do as followers of Christ are meaningless.  If we do not take care to seal our relationship with Christ, over time we will be worn down.  This is perhaps more insidious and destructive than the collapse of poorly constructed steps. It begins with the best intentions and then is slowly worn away because we accepted Christ into our lives and made him the base of our steps but then we don’t follow his guidance.  We do not apply the sealing works of His Word, of prayer, of fellowship with other believers, of love, of discipline.  Without these we will soon succumb to the lies of the enemy and he will destroy our effectiveness as children of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand.  (Galatians 6:10-13)

If we lay steps of the Solid Rock and then apply the seals of the Word, prayer and obedience then I am confident “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

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