Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Scripture on Sunday – 1 Samuel 8 (Cont’d)

Read 1 Samuel 8

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel (vv. 4-6).

The reason for Samuel’s displeasure at the elders’ request is not immediately apparent, although it appears he takes the request as a personal rejection. It is unlikely he is displeased for his sons’ sake. The elders’ delegation made a formal request to Samuel, acting evidently on behalf of the people who echo their words to him in verses 19-20, and reject his counsel. The elders and the people want a king to judge them “like all the nations.” Up to this point, Samuel has been a judge who has also acted, to some extent at least, like a king. By dint of his prophetic persona he has united Israel after the disastrous war between the tribes, and facilitated the campaign that overthrew the Philistine oppression. But Samuel was not a military judge as some of the former judges had been, but a prophetic-judge; a king would unify sacred and military powers in a single figure (Murphy, 65).

Samuel’s displeasure is validated by the Lord’s response to his prayer; God, too, is less than pleased with this proposal, and God, too, understands this request in terms of personal rejection: “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (v. 8).

Here, perhaps, we see the significance of the ark narratives of chapters five and six. The ark does not simply represent the divine presence with Israel, but houses that presence. God is present with Israel but not controlled by them. God is supreme over the foreign gods and powers and vanquishes them in contest. God goes into exile for his people and returns to them. Yet God is present amongst his people in a highly symbolic and non-governmental way. What does it mean, then, for God to be King if he is not king in a literal and earthly sense? God does not exercise direct executive or judicial authority, but guides, protects and rescues his people through the judges and other intermediaries he establishes on their behalf.

“Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge…” (Judges 2:18). The ad hoc and charismatic nature of leadership in the pre-monarchical era required the people to look to God in dependence and trust for their preservation and deliverance. To live in and experience the blessings of the covenant required covenantal faithfulness on their part. By calling for a king, however, the Israelites were falling away from this primary relation and dependence by which they were constituted, identified and distinguished. Instead they sought to be like the other nations with a king who would represent them and fight for them. A standing army is easier to trust than a “God-in-a-box,” and a more secure arrangement than the ad hoc judges who arose from time to time to bring deliverance. Now the king will become the locus of their unity and identity as a people rather than God. But this visible means of security will come at a cost: the people are trading freedom for security and conformity to the surrounding world.

Samuel warns the people in great detail what will transpire under a monarchical system. They will give their sons and their daughters, their lands, harvests, and livestock for the king’s maintenance and for that of his retinue. In choosing a king they are also choosing a burgeoning bureaucracy and the taxation to support it. “You shall be his slaves, and in that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves” (vv. 17-18). Samuel warns that in this turn from trust in God to becoming like the nations, the tribes of Israel will get what they want but they will not want what they get.

Baptized in the Spirit 5 (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritChapter 5 Toward a Spirit-Baptized Ecclesiology

At 101-pages, this is easily the longest chapter in the book. The first half of the chapter is devoted to a number of sections in which Macchia details the approach he takes to ecclesiology, before an exploration of the classic marks of the church, and a consideration of preaching, sacraments and charismatic fullness as additional marks of the Spirit-baptised church. “The central thesis of this chapter is thus that Spirit baptism gave rise to the global church and remains the very substance of the church’s life in the Spirit, including its charismatic life and mission” (155, original emphasis).

Macchia begins with two sections that argue for a relational ecclesiology, in which koinonia is the central motif. The Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion both within the divine trinity and between God and humanity. Spirit-baptism is fundamentally a relational event which issues in the creation of the church as a new community with renewed human sociality. The church is to echo and embody the relationality and open hospitality of the holy Trinity.

The Spirit is the Spirit of communion. Spirit baptism implies communion. This is why it leads to a shared love, a shared meal, a shared mission, and the proliferation/enhancement of an interactive charismatic life. Spirit baptism thus implies a relationship of unity between the Lord and the church that is not fundamentally one of identity but rather communion. … Spirit baptism has a relational structure that has communion at its essence, the communion of self-giving love (156-157, 160).

Thus, “Baptism in the Spirit is baptism into an ecclesial dynamic, the ecclesial Spirit” (167, original emphasis). The church, grounded in the gift of the Spirit, is a network of “graced relationships,” a foretaste of the redemption to come. The ecclesial Spirit sanctifies and transforms us. The power of the Spirit for witness is not some external naked energy which comes upon the church for mighty works, but is primarily “the power of love at work among us” (177).

Koinonia is not simply a matter of redemption, for human being is ontologically relational—this is part of what it means to be in the imago Dei. Yet this relationally has been decisively distorted by sin. In redemption, the self is not obliterated but renewed. Macchia develops a relational and ecclesial anthropology in which the dialectic of the self-in-relation and the self-in-solitude (before God) constitutes true and free human being, and which issues in non-oppressive relations. Spirit-baptism decentres the self, renewing and re-establishing it on a new foundation in the love of God.

The Spirit is the one in the many. This Spirit brings people into the common life of the divine communion in a way that does not abolish their otherness but rather enhances and fulfills it. They are stripped of their self-centered tendencies and liberated to be all that they were meant to be in the midst of their uniqueness (176).

A second set of sections deals with problematic matters in ecclesiology, the challenge of pluralism on the one hand, and the relation of church and kingdom on the other. With respect to the challenge of pluralism, Macchia insists that the claim of the church is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who, as the risen and ascended Lord, is the Spirit-Baptizer, the one alone who can and does bring us into fellowship with God. His gift of the Spirit demonstrates and confirms his deity, and hence his uniqueness and pre-eminence.

Yet, the Pentecost event is also inherently and radically plural and inclusive—as witnessed in the gift of tongues from all nations. Thus, the church also is a plural and inclusive company, rather than a hierarchical and domineering institution. Macchia insists that ecclesiology must be both christological and pneumatological. To emphasise only one side or the other is to lose the dynamic of the church which is grounded in the pre-eminence of Christ as the saving revelation of God, and/or the diversity and relationality of the church grounded in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

At Pentecost, the legitimate reaching for God implied in various cultures and religious expressions finds fulfillment in the grace of God revealed in the crucified and risen Christ as the one who imparts the Spirit in the latter days. Their differences and past histories are not dissolved but affirmed and granted a new loyalty and a new direction. In the process all idols are forsaken and the cultures are pruned. But the critical pruning is demanded of the church as well. Though the church is the central locus of the kingdom of God in the world, the church is also a loving fellow traveler with the world’s religions while pointing them to the superiority of Christ. Spirit baptism can be developed so as to respond to [the] critique of ecclesiastical superiority in the world but in a way that rejects [the] reduction of Jesus to simply one symbol of the sacred among others (188).

The offence of the Christian claim remains:

Drawing the boundaries of the Spirit Baptizer to Christ alone is exclusivistic Christologically, but…we deal here with an exclusivism of Christ “and not with the self-serving principle of sectarianism.” It is an exclusivism of the one who is uniquely inclusive on the ecclesiological level. … There is simply no way of eliminating the risen Christ as the Spirit Baptizer from the gospel without affirming another gospel (189, original emphasis).

Finally, Macchia argues that the relation of the church to the kingdom must be understood dialectically, whereby there can be neither separation nor identification of these two realities. The church is not the kingdom, but is established by the kingdom as its witness and sign (191-192; cf. 165).

There is no critical dialectic between Jesus and the Spirit. He is the king and the Spirit the kingdom. But, as noted above, there is such a dialectic between the Spirit/kingdom and the church. Thus, the church is not the final word but a penultimate witness to the word of the kingdom who is Christ (192).

Indeed, Macchia suggests that the church will ultimately “exhaust” its purpose when in the eschaton it is “caught up in the more expansive new Jerusalem” (166). This eschatological reserve, together with the knowledge that the church is the church of the Crucified, helps keep the church from being triumphalist. Any continuity between the kingdom and the church is established as a gift by divine grace and is never the possession of the church in itself. The church may strive toward the kingdom, but does so in a spirit of repentance, witness and obedience (197).

Scripture on Sunday – James 2:8

JamesJames 2:8
You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (NRSV)

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well. (NASB)

To recap: in verse one James provides the imperative which governs the first half of the chapter: no partiality! Partiality in the Christian congregation is incompatible with faith in Jesus Christ because (a) God has chosen the poor of this world (v.5); (b) the rich who some in the church are favouring are also those oppressing the church and blaspheming the name of Jesus (vv. 6-7); (c) partiality issues from an evil intent and divides the church (v.4). That verses 8-13 continue this theme is evident especially in verse nine where James again directly refers to partiality and labels it as sin. These verses provide additional theological reasons to support his initial imperative.

The two translations of verse 8 are both possible. Ei mentoi (“if, however,” or “if you really”) sets up a conditional statement which is then contrasted with a second similar condition in verse nine. Mentoi appears seven times in the New Testament and in each of the other six, it is translated “however.” If understood in this way, James is probably drawing a contrast with the accusation of verse six, “But you have dishonoured the poor man…” and so exhorting them to a better path. Many translations and commentators, however, prefer the second possibility which sets up the contrast with verse nine in a more thoroughgoing way: “If you really fulfil … but if you show partiality…” Both translations are acceptable and nothing of significance hangs on either one.

The point in question concerns if they “are (really) fulfilling the royal law” (ei mentoi nomon teleite basilikov). Teleite, second person present plural of teleō, means to “accomplish” or “to observe fully.” The verb appears in the present tense suggesting continuous or enduring action, and so calls James’ hearers to observe habitually and completely the law in its entirety. James further identifies this law as royal (basilikon), thus designating it the “king’s” law, or perhaps better in view of his reference in verse five to the kingdom (basileia), the “law of the kingdom.”

It is tempting to apply this phrase “royal law” to the single command James now highlights: “according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (kata tēn graphēn, Agapēseis ton plēsion sou hōs seauton). Understood as such, it may suggest that this is the only command that one need be concerned with. In verses 10-11, however, James goes on to insist that his hearers are accountable for the whole law, thus showing a more complex relation to the law. Some commentators, such as Vlachos (78), suggest that the law here refers to the Mosaic law as a whole. Moo (94) suggests that the royal law refers to the entire will of God for Christians, especially as that will is revealed in the teaching of Jesus. Nevertheless, “James is concerned to show that the ‘law of the kingdom’ does not replace, but takes up within it the demand of God in the Old Testament.” Davids (114) notes that James’ use of nomos rather than entolē (“command”) decisively shows that he intends the whole law. He asks nevertheless, “is it not most natural to see a reference to the whole law as interpreted and handed over to the church in the teaching of Jesus, i.e. the sovereign rule of God’s kingdom?”

The command James cites derives from Leviticus 19:18 (cf. v. 34). Although the verb “love” is in the future tense, it functions imperativally as a command. In their original context in Leviticus, the words “love” and “neighbour” are as broad in meaning as they are in contemporary English, and so resist being limited to a narrow range of activities or persons (Wenham, The Book of Leviticus [NICOT], 269). In the New Testament, the command is identified by Jesus as the second most significant command of the law, after the command to love God with all one’s heart, soul and strength (Mark 12:28-31; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-6). Jesus’ linking of these two commands was unique in Judaism, and McKnight (208) notes that James, too, links the ideas in this text (2:5, 8). Jesus’ identification of the central significance of this particular command was also shared by Paul who viewed the Leviticus command as a summary and fulfilment of the whole law (Romans 13:9-10; cf. Galatians 5:14).

It appears, then, that James also stands in this broad sweep of New Testament ethics in which love of neighbour came to be seen as the centre and goal of the law. James now resolves the condition with which he began the verse: If you really love your neighbour, you are doing well. “You are doing well” (kalōs poieite), also in the present tense, also has enduring force. This little phrase again suggests that the keeping of the love command fulfils what God requires of his people in terms of ethics. As McKnight (209) says, this becomes “a noble, excellent and proper rule of life for the messianic community.”

This text, therefore, stands alongside a host of other New Testament passages in which love is the sum and substance of the Christian life. This does not mean, however, that the law has no place in the Christian life. James was Torah-observant, as McKnight (207) insists, and, as we shall see, he intended the messianic community to live in accordance with the law. Still, if Davids is correct as I suspect he is, it is the law as interpreted by Jesus and passed onto the church. Thus we see in James a hermeneutic at work, a hermeneutic in all likelihood learnt from Jesus, in which the Old Testament law still plays a role in the life of the Christian community, albeit as mediated in and through the authoritative tradition of Jesus’ life and teaching.