Wednesday, February 4, 2009

40 Days of cHesed—Day 22

WEEK 4 – Discipleship: You Were Created to Become Like Christ

[Remember, our week count will be a little off because we are using 5 day weeks instead of 7!]

Day 22 Created to Become Like Christ

Have you ever seen a transformer? They are toys that look like a truck or some other common plaything. But with a series of twists and turns (some more complicated than others), it suddenly “transforms” into an amazing robot-like toy. It’s pretty cool.

Once we’ve accepted God’s offer of adoption (remember: “in Christ”), the Holy Spirit begins a process of transformation in us that we call becoming “like Christ.” It’s like the process of turning a seed into a plant—or a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Without allowing this transformation to take place, we can’t complete God’s covenant formula:

In Christ + Like Christ = With Christ

We need to think of our transformed, Christ-like behavior as the evidence that we have, in fact, joined God’s family. So we need to understand exactly what behavior we are expected to have. Our word for that behavior, if you haven’t already guessed, is hesed.

On Day 16 we defined hesed as promoting the best interest of your partners, according to the covenant. We said that hesed is made up of the attitudes (love, grace, mercy) and actions (serve, submit, lead) of the right response to God’s love for us.

[Warning! Even though we have talked about hesed frequently, there is more depth of understanding required to really “get it.” The rest of today’s reading is devoted to providing that background. Don’t let it overwhelm you! Just remember that the details about what hesed means are here in Day 22 for you to refer back to when you need them. You can also check out Abi’s Terms.]

The definitions of hesed are built by explaining what Jesus meant by love, grace and mercy as well as serve, submit and lead. So, if you’ve wanted more of the detailed background, here are two of the most thorough descriptions:

  • Love The Greek word agape has long been understood to describe the love which God has for us, as opposed to both erotic (eros) and brotherly (phileo) love. God’s love is deliberate affection that is not based on merit but on choice. There is an element of responsibility included that is understandable especially when agape is used to translate hesed. God loves us because he has chosen to love us. The evidence of his love is the offering of covenant relationship through Jesus Christ (John 3:16)!

  • Grace The Greek word charis is how the Hebrew word hen (which eventually merged with hesed through eleos, see below) was most commonly translated in the Old Testament. When based more on hesed, grace is a covenant word. When based more on hen, it is not mutual, but goes in one direction only, from a superior to an inferior. In either case, grace is expressing unmerited favor or spontaneous goodness in a specific relationship or ongoing fellowship. It contains an element of duty, with constancy and loyalty native to it. In the New Testament, charis is most often used by Paul, invoking the thought of free giving, especially from God. Certainly this is what God has done for us through Christ! But it is also what we are to do for each other in Christ.

  • Mercy The Greek word eleos is how the Hebrew word hesed was most commonly translated in the Septuagint – the Greek version of the Old Testament. It is a covenant word denoting the acts of trust and loyalty arising out of a mutual relationship. But persons without that Hebrew context might confuse it with the common Greek usage: an emotion roused by pity for the unfortunate plight of another. Instead, mercy is used most often in the New Testament to describe the attitude God requires of us: kindness mutually owed (Matthew 9:13; 23:23) and showing mercy (Luke 10:37). It is also used to describe God’s gracious faithfulness in providing for our salvation. And again, it is also what we are to do for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

See Micah 6:8 – act justly, love mercy (hesed), walk humbly with God.

Jesus, very counter-culturally, redefined by his words and actions three common words to represent this love, grace and mercy (hesed, “promoting the best interest of the other, according to the covenant”): service, rule/lead and submit. The Apostle Paul used “one another” for the same purpose. They describe the action of keeping covenant with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Service: a servant was one who cared for the interest of another. We are to serve God by serving one another, since people are God’s interest. Jesus served God by serving people. Just as Jesus cared for their interests, we are to care for each other’s interests. (Read Matthew 25:31-46 with this context.)

  • Rule/lead: the ability to help others succeed with a mutual task. For Jesus it didn’t have anything to do with power to command and have others obey. There was no “lording it over” anyone (Mark 10:42-45). It was all about being willing and able to identify and then meet other’s needs – in such a way that they would accept the assistance. It is about taking the initiative. Here is the foundation for the concept of servant leadership. In Jesus, we have the perfect example of servant leadership (John 13:1-17). And we see that service and loving one another and leadership are essentially the same: promoting the best interest of the other.

  • Submit: to subject one’s personal desires (exercise restraint of power) in order for the best interest of the other to be truly served. This is not rote obedience. This is mature free will. To submit was to be persuaded that doing so was the best for the other. To submit was to take the initiative to serve and love and lead by example. And so Jesus submitted to death on the cross (he certainly didn’t want to do it – remember Gethsemane? See Mark 14:32-42.) because he was serving us (by doing for us what we could not do for ourselves) and loving us (by paying the price for our lack of restraint) and leading us to obedience (counting the cost by eternal standards, not temporal standards) by his example.

A life of covenant keeping is one full of loving service to one another and to God, leading and submitting in turn, according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the needs of our covenant partners. The concept is simple. The implementation takes all that we have and all that we are. This is what Jesus meant when he talked about counting the cost of discipleship. It is also what he meant when he said that if you want to save your life you must lose it.

Let’s look again at the three main English and Greek words used to translate hesed and then the practical definitions for hesed which Jesus and Paul gave us:

  • Love-agape-hesed is our responsibility to have deliberate affection for each other.

  • Grace-charis-hesed is our loyal duty to express favor and goodness toward each other.

  • Mercy-eleos-hesed is the attitude of kindness mutually owed each other.

the following actions, then, describe the very culture of the Covenant Community.

Service: A servant was one who cared for the interest of another. We are to serve God by serving one another, since people are God’s interest. Jesus served God by serving people. Just as Jesus cared for their best interests, we are to care for each other’s best interests.

Submit: To submit was to willingly exercise restraint of one’s power in order for the best interest of another to be truly served. This was not rote obedience. As a matter of fact, if to submit was not in the best interest of the other (e.g. did not help them mature and keep on target), then submitting would be breaking covenant what them! No, this was mature free will that reflected clearly the glory of God in the Image Bearers! This was a vision of iron sharpening iron.

But here we take the opportunity to expand on what Jesus meant by rule and lead.

Rule/lead: To rule was to be the standard against which something was measured. To lead was to have the ability to help others succeed with a mutual task. For Jesus these words didn’t have anything to do with power to command and have others obey. There was to be no “lording it over” anyone! It was showing who you are (In Christ) by what you do (Like Christ).

The essence of the Hebrew word nahal (lead) is to flow, conduct, protect or sustain. The Greek word hodegeo (lead) is to show the way, teaching or conducting. Webster’s dictionary defines the verb lead primarily as to guide on a way, especially by going in advance; to direct on a course or in a direction; to serve as a channel for; to conduct. For the noun lead, the definition described the position at the front, or vanguard, as well as initiative. For the word lead, then, all three languages seem to stay right together.

There are too many Hebrew and Greek words for rule to discuss here, but the underlying principle in the ones relevant to us is one of direction or governing or shepherding – postures of responsibility for the welfare of the one being ruled.

In Matthew 20:25 we have Jesus reminding his disciples that Gentile rulers dominate, and their high officials exercise authority over, their people. But Jesus adamantly refused this model for the Covenant Community. Jesus used the words servant and slave to describe its leadership.

Today’s Look at 1 John

We hope you’re beginning to appreciate reading a section of the Bible—not a verse here and there. We encourage you to continue reading through the entire section without stopping. Remember, we want you to feel the flow of John’s thoughts so that you’ll have a better understanding of his words.

Read 1 John 3:11-4:6. While you’re reading, look for the attitudes and actions—both good and bad—that John describes.

Getting In Shape

Wow, it’s week four already! Let’s stop for a quick check of your increasing fitness level.

  • You’ve been asking God to spend the day with you for three weeks now.

  • God’s been included in all your conversations and activities for two weeks now.

  • You’ve had seven days of being filled up with the Holy Spirit in order to stay on target.

Congratulations! You’re over the hump! How’s the view? Well, it’s not downhill yet. We have some serious stretches of flat lands to negotiate.

Let’s build on last week’s image of the tandem bike (as an updated image of being yoked together with Christ). When you’re riding tandem, there are some special features you have to keep in mind if you’re going to get anywhere. Even if you’re used to riding a bike alone, it is quite an adjustment to riding with two. Here’s why:

  • We know that the handlebars in the front are used for steering because they can turn – they’re attached to the front wheel.

  • The handlebars for the back are only for support – to have something to hold on to.

  • The wheels are in sync – both driver and rider must pedal together. The back rider may be able to rest, but can’t pedal at a different rate.

  • There must be clear communication about any changes in direction or speed. If there is a turn coming or a bump in the road or a stopping point, and the rider isn’t paying attention to the driver’s signals, look out for a crash!

This fourth week, then, we’re going to work specific muscle groups. We’re going to ask you to turn to God as your first reaction to every situation – so he can help you respond with righteousness.

What’s your first reaction to a change in plan? What about an unexpected traffic problem? Does an injury or illness – either your own or that of a loved one – send you into a tailspin?

When you turn to God first, you are putting yourself in a position to follow his lead. That image helps us remember that we have invited the Holy Spirit to take the driver’s seat in order to keep us on target. And you’re ready to focus on your task – pedaling.

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