The Bridegroom’s Pledge

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.

Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.

A Promise To Come Back

The Bridegroom's Pledge | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo by Brooke Cagle on StockSnap

The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).

In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.

A Gift For The Bride

When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost. Read more

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You’re Not “A Temple of God.” You’re Part of The Temple Of God

We’ve probably all heard that Christianity is about your individual relationship with Jesus. I’ve said that myself. But while God is very much concerned with the state of every individual heart and wants a relationship with you, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We get that idea from Western culture, not from scripture.

The Bible is written for all peoples and all cultures. But it was also written by people living in a Middle Eastern society, and those of us in the Western world can miss some things Biblical writers took for granted. It rarely occurs to us that Americanized Christianity might not be the same thing as Biblical Christianity, but our culture does color how we read the Bible and in some cases it leads to inaccurate assumptions.

When I was reading Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, one of the misconceptions that really stuck with me had to do with the verses about spiritual temples. We tend to read the verses that say “you are a temple of God” and think the “you” is singular” and treat “temple” as plural, assuming that we are each one of God’s temples. But we’re wrong.

Confusion of Plurals

There are three passages where Paul talks with the Corinthians about them being God’s temple. They’re 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; and 2 Cor. 6:16. Richards and O’Brian only talk about one of these, but I checked the others in the Greek and their point holds true for all three. They write,

Biblical Greek could differentiate between you singular and you plural, but we miss this in our English translations. … We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy spirit. God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the spirit (p. 108)

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Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God

Do you ever feel like God just loves you because that’s something He does for everyone, not because He actually likes you?

That’s how I started the seminar I gave back in December, which I’m finally getting around to sharing on this blog. I’m willing to say that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this way about God’s love, at least some of the time. There are a couple different things that play-in to this idea, but I think at least part of it is that usually when we talk about love in the Bible, we focus on the Greek word agape, which describes God’s unconditional love for all people. But there’s another word for love that talks about God’s affection for His friends. Depending on which resource you look at there are up to eight different words for “love” in Greek, though most people focus on these four:

  • Agape — selfless, benevolent love
  • Philos —  friendly, affectionate love
  • Storge — natural, family love
  • Eros — passionate, romantic love

We’re going to talk about agape and phileo, since those are the two used in the Bible. Together, agape and the root word agapao appear a total of 263 times in the New Testament. Philos and the closely related word phileo are used only 54 times, though it also appears in several compound words like philadelphos (brotherly love) and philostorgos (family love).

It would be pretty easy to look at these numbers and say agape is the most important kind of love in the Bible. And considering it’s the word used in the phrase, “God is love,” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. It’s also the word for love that’s defined in 1 Corinthians 13. There isn’t any other word gets such a thorough analysis in scripture. But maybe our emphasis on agape, even though it’s correct, comes at the expense of a good understanding of another important word, phileo.

Do You Love Me?

The difference between agape and philos might not seem significant at first glance. But there’s a conversation in John’s gospel that illustrates how different these two words for love can be. This conversation takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. His disciples had gone fishing and He met them on the beach, had dinner with them, and then asked Peter a question. In most Bible versions I’m familiar with, both agape and philos are translated in these verses as “love.” I like the World English Bible, since it makes clear that there are two different concepts at play. Read more

Lessons From My Nervous Cat

Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn Carsen and Flynn the Cat

My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that

  • He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
  • Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
  • My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
  • His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
  • He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs

But I’ve also learned some other things:

  • He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
  • If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
  • He doesn’t like being picked up
  • The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
  • He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
hiding under the bed

I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.

Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.

After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn’s favorite blanket

I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.

And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?

Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.

So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires

Last Sabbath, I was at a young adult weekend centered on the theme “Desire What The Lord Requires.” All the seminars focused on Michah 6:8, which reads:

He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (WEB)

One speaker mentioned something that really stuck in my mind. In this passage, God doesn’t tell His people to be just, merciful, and humble. He uses specific verbs instructing us to act, love, and walk in certain ways. This passage is focused on actions that come from developing God’s character. It goes beyond being like God to actively walking with Him. And though it doesn’t say so here, this should be something that we want to do rather than something we do just because it’s a requirement. God has always been concerned with the state of our hearts and the motives behind why we follow Him. We please Him when we do what He requires willingly and desire the same things He does.Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Act Justly

Matthew Henry’s and Adam Clarke’s commentaries says that to do or act justly means “to give to all their due.” Giving everyone what they are “due” from us includes giving God all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated, and also treating ourselves the way God intends.

Basically, acting justly is summed up in the two greatest commands (Matt. 22:36-40). That’s because the concept of justice is tied to God’s law, and the entire law hangs on the commands Jesus shared about how to love God and our neighbors. Read more

Be Of The Same Mind: God’s Intention For Peace In His Church

If God says He hates something, is it a thing we should be doing in the church? Of course not! Those who love God do things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22). We don’t always do that perfectly, but it’s supposed to be our goal. And when we miss the mark, we repent and change and try again.

One of the things the Lord hates and considers an abomination is “he who sows discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:19, all scriptures in this post are WEB version). In Hebrew, “sow” is shalach (H7971), and it means to send out or shoot forth, as in a growing plant putting out leaves. God hates it when someone plants and spreads strife or contention (medan, H4090) among those who are metaphorical or literal family (ach, H251).

So what does it say about us as a church body when there are divisions, disagreements, and rifts in our relationships and beliefs? In some cases, we can disagree on things that are open to interpretation and still fellowship peaceably, which is the right thing to do (Rom. 14). But all too often, when people in the churches disagree they start attacking or ignoring each other rather than working through their issues, resolving doctrinal conflicts, and seeking peace and unity as God intends.

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Photo credit: Shaun

Menary via Lightstock

Strife Does Not Come From God

The greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love you neighbor as yourself. In contrast, strife is stirred up by hatred, not love (Prov. 10:12). And the people who spread strife are called perverse, lovers of disobedience, greedy, and angry (Prov. 16:28; 17:19; 28:25; 29:22). Those aren’t the sort of things God wants to see when He looks at the people in His chruch.

Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are … hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy … of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21)

More than half the things in this “works of the flesh” list have to do with discord and disunity. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Those are the things that stop arguments before they even start.

This Goes Beyond Not Fighting

Scriptures make it quite clear that God puts a high value on peace. Though He warns us that following Him will set people against you (Matt. 10:34-36; John 15:18-21), there should be peace in the church among God’s people.

So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. (Rom. 14:19)

On your part, you’re supposed to do what you can to live peacefully with everyone you meet (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). This is especially important in the church, where it’s an attainable goals because all the believers are supposed to be working toward peace (1 Thes. 5;13). God intends for there to be unity in His church. Read more