Happy Duty

Listening to John Piper talkings about Christian hedonism, and it strikes me that I wouldn’t want to be a Christian hedonist. I understand that he’s talking about giving up small pleasures to pursue True pleasures, but nevertheless, if anything I would rather be a Christian “stoic.”

What I mean is this: There are a lot of things I don’t like about what I’ve been taught about leadership, but one thing I have learned is that the collective good is more significant than the individual good. I think that if I used “true pleasure” as a rubric for working out my salvation, I would focus narrowly on my individual development. I am already a very introspective sot. But if I concerned myself with “true duty,” I would feel myself turned to developing the spiritual growth of a set of concentric circles that I see myself set into in society.

With a duty focus rather than a pleasure focus for my sanctification, I find that I have a set of rules for deciding which of my many great sins to attack first: Don’t focus on putting to death the little sins that cause frustration and discontent. Instead, start with those sins that are most likely have a degrading effect on those around you. Look first to cause the little ones not to stumble; look second to bind up the weak knees and feeble hands. First in your own family: children, wife, brother and sister, parents. Then neighbor, then ethnos and tribe. Then look to the benefit of future generations. “So that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”

This may get a little weird. Because a focus on sanctification for the benefit of my sister means I may have to split the difference on my sins. What I do with my mouth in public has more effect than my secret thoughts in the bathroom. I am not saying to disregard your impure thoughts, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” but I am saying that, once you’ve tamed your leering eye and your lecherous comments, you should roll onto your wrathful outbursts, rather than obsessing over your innermost thoughts in one area while ignoring a more obvious issue.

For some 20 years now, I have been impressed with Paul’s statement that he would willingly give up his own place in the book of Life, if it meant putting the names of his people there instead. Yes, we know salvation doesn’t work that way. But it seems to me that there is a dynamic where sanctification does work this way. If I make my spiritual growth a foundation for building up others, I will be sure to pay proper attention to it. If I need to delay a bit in my Bible reading, so I can discuss a passage with my son, I haven’t lost anything. He gains ground, so I have gained ground. What’s more, if I give up my easy job, that left plenty of time for hours of prayer, in order to provide for a more Christian education for my kids and a lifestyle for my wife that gives her time for her own devotions, I’ve lost nothing. There are plenty of ways to develop myself spiritually at the expense of others whose spiritual growth I am also responsible for. I want to do the other thing.

I don’t trust my feelings. I would loath be led around by them. Sometimes there is an emotion that can propel me onward to righteousness, such as hopeful joy, or happiness in good things. But just as often, I find that focusing on my feels leads me to tap out before I achieve the goal I’m aiming for. Duty pulls me up again: duty to the One who claimed my life for His good pleasure, responsibility to those around me that He cares for. And I trust that He who works in me to will and to do, can also look after my pleasure, too.

In which I lose my ever loving mind over a quibble

So I’m reading my Bible, as one does in the morning, attempting to drown out other things in my life that are distracting and annoying me, while using Bible research tools that are far too powerful for mortal men to carry out casual devotional reading, and I come across 1 Peter 1 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible:

1 Peter 1:1–2 (HCSB): Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ:

To the temporary residents dispersed in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen…

I get distracted by “temporary residents.” Now, that should be something like “exiles” or “sojourners,” holders of temporary work visas, and here Holman has two words. So I’m curious about the Greek. I’m using Logos, so I can just click and tap, and sure enough, the original word is παρεπίδημος, alongside-home-er, an expat, an exile.

Just to verify, I flip over the ESV to see what another translation might say, and I see this:

1 Peter 1:1 (ESV): Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

Wait, elect exiles? Where did that other word come from? It sounds right. Did Holman drop a whole word? Are there textual variants? Let’s see another version. New American Standard has a reputation for being woodenly hyper-literal in its word-for-word approach.

1 Peter 1:1 (NAS): Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen

Oh, there it is: chosen/elect, right there at the end. But why does ESV put it at the beginning? Let’s see some Greek:

1 Peter 1:1 (SBLGNT): Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας, καὶ Βιθυνίας,

Roughly translating… “Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, [to] select expats, disbursed [of] Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

Of course, I have serious style, so I automatically prefer my word-for-word translation. But more significantly, select and exiles go together because their endings match. That -ois ending means dative plural, and dative is the ending for indirect objects, as in “he threw the ball to Johnny,” or “this letter is to elect exiles.” Why you wanna split that phrase up, oh thou optimal equivalent Holman, thou literal New American?

It is because you are too dull for words, oh native English Reader, with no advanced training in Greek. We feared you would lose the plot by the time you got to verse two.

1 Peter 1:2 (HCSB): according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:2 (NAS): according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

Yah, I get it, O Bible translators. You are so wise. But “select sojourners” is an adjective phrase, and you’ve gone and changed “chosen” to a passive participle as the head of a new participle phrase. Why is that necessary? “According to” is κατὰ, a preposition. Were you so afraid we couldn’t jump back a few words and figure out what was being accordoned? Who else could it be but the audience of the letter?

So I’ve been reading HCSB for a while now because in general, it’s super-readable. But every once in a while, I am reminded that there are some definite advantages to the good old fashioned ESV.

Rights in the Bible

The concept of rights came up in two separate Bible passages this morning. In Proverbs 29:7, the “righteous case” of the poor is translated as the “rights of the poor,” and in 2 Thessalonians 3:9, the “authority” of a minister to demand pay, is translated “the right [to support].” I’m curious about this, because I was kind of led to believe that the concept of rights, that is, as a collective noun to be possessed, was invented out of whole cloth by John Locke, as an attempt to approximate natural law. Of course, the ability of a person to demand that someone else do “the right thing” without first resorting to violence in order to impose one’s arbitrary will… that has a much longer history.

Not yet ascended

I try, every morning when I do my devotions, to write down an observation from the scriptures I read. It’s usually something small; I barely have time to keep up with the reading plan, let alone the time to compose an essay. But I feel that writing a bit helps to ensure that I stay mentally engaged with what I’m reading. And of course, every time I write, I publish it somewhere, because it is impossible for me to write without an audience in mind. Usually it’s just a line or two, but today something bigger.

The verse I have before me is John 20:17 (NAS) —

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ”

This is the first conversation Jesus has with anyone, following his resurrection. He meets Mary at the tomb; once she recognizes him, she cries out and grabs him. Then he says the cryptic statement above. It’s always bothered me. What’s so special about Jesus’ situation—risen from the grave, but not risen unto heaven—that it’s inappropriate for Mary to cling to him? Is it because she’s a woman? Is it indecent? Is it because his resurrected body is… touchy? Later, he lets doubting Thomas put his fingers in his wounds. Is that different than Mary clinging to him, somehow? Did Jesus ascend to heaven real quick and come back before the Thomas incident?

Reading today, I was struck by a simpler solution. We have a tendency to make the words of scripture magic, thereby searching for the interpretation that is fraught with the most meaning. But what if we took the opposite tack: prefer the most mundane interpretation. There’s miracles enough in the plain meaning of the text.

So. Jesus is saying to Mary to stop clinging to him, because he’s not going anywhere. He hasn’t ascended into heaven, and he won’t. Not until he’s seen everybody. So Mary should do the brothers a favor and let them know that Jesus is anastasis, “resurrected,” and soon to be anabebka, “ascended.” So they should come see.

Ephesians 4:8–10 (NAS):

Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

Incidentally, this kind of lends support to the argument that resurrection is insignificant without ascension.

Genealogies

Exodus 24:14 (NAS): But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.”

If you ever want to get your mind blown about ancient genealogies, you won’t do worse than Hur, son of Caleb, son of Hezron. Hezron was Judah’s Grandson. So there were five generations from Judah, the patriarch who went with Israel into Egypt, till Hur, who held up the hands of Moses in the battle of Rephidim. This is remarkable because the text is pretty clear that the time span for Egypt is 430 years.

Just to clarify, Caleb son of Hezron is not Caleb son of Jephunneh. Nevertheless, you have Hur holding up Moses hands in Exodus 17:12, and recommended as a Supreme Court judge in Ex 24:14. In Exodus 31:2, Hur’s grandson Bezalel is named as the chief craftsman for the tabernacle furniture. Bezalel is an adult, probably with children, and Hur is probably in his 80s or older. So you are probably looking at a maximum of 8 generations in 430 years. 430 divided by 8 is an average generation of 53 years.

  1. Judah
  2. Perez
  3. Hezron
  4. Caleb (not the spy)
  5. Hur, who held up Moses’ hands
  6. Uri
  7. Bezalel, who designed the furnishings
  8. Bezalel’s unnamed children

Courting Failure

I can trace our falling out
To the day she failed to hear me
When I said, “I am afraid of failure
But the prize is worth the risk,”
And, said she, wholeheartedly,
“I agree, that nothing’s worse
than failure.”

I failed to hear her first, of course,
As she had not heard me,
And so I blundered on and said
I needed her beside me
To push me on, despite the chance
That I might stumble and collapse
Into the mire of failure.

She took my hand and smiled at me
And said, “Of course, I’ll do anything
To keep you from the airy paths,
To pull you back when you come, free,
To the precipice of failure.”

And so our road divided when
We faced a choice of cliff or fen:
I said, “Well, push me on,” and she
Cried out, “no, wait, come back to me!”
We curse each other still, and wince
At failures that have followed since
From follies that could not be seen
For fear of courting failure.

Lemon Tree

Very pretty

Since my daughter was born, my favorite nickname for her was baby doll. All my boys were huge, but Sadie as a baby was tiny, and she seemed like a little doll in my arms.

Now that she’s 4 ½, her nickname is a little less appropriate. She complains, “I’m not a baby!” And I tell her, “You’ll always be my baby.” But she’s less like a Kewpie now, and more like Kid Sister.

Also, she has a personality now. Like

The girl with a the curl
In the middle of her forehead,
When she’s good, she’s very good,
But when she’s bad, she’s horrid!

Today, she came trouncing down in a bright white Easter dress. Very pretty. And I was reminded of a song.

Lemon tree! Very pretty!
And the lemon flower is sweet.
But the fruit of the poor lemon
Is a thing one cannot eat.

So now she has a new nickname: Lemon Tree.

Not for tasting. She’s “my perfect little peach.” But I don’t need to coach her to stay out of reach.