Here are some items from Wednesday’s LCMS Bible study.
A. One of our texts was Ephesians 3:17-18, in which Paul hopes that Christians will grasp the height, depth, length, and width of the love of Christ. One lady’s Bible said that this means that God’s love can touch whatever situation we are experiencing. The pastor observed that height, depth, and width makes the shape of a cross, which highlights that it is through the cross that we experience Christ’s love. But the cross is significant in another respect, the pastor continued. While we hope to bypass suffering, it is in our suffering that God shows us God’s love, sometimes in ways that we do not know. We also discussed the Book of Esther. God is not mentioned in that book, but Mordecai had confidence that the Jews would be delivered, perhaps because he recognized that God chose the Jewish nation for a purpose and made promises to her. God was at work behind the scenes, as is the case in the world and in our lives. God meets us in our pain and uses it: our pain can encourage us to pray for others in pain, and our mistakes can encourage us to pass on forgiveness to others.
B. A theme in Wednesday’s study was unity in Christ. The pastor believes that Paul wrote Ephesians and that it was relevant to the Judaizers controversy. The pastor compared the controversy to the situation of the LCMS in the 1950’s. People were moving to rural areas and suburbs, and more were joining LCMS on account of its schools. The long-standing Lutherans felt that these newcomers did not grasp what it meant to be Lutheran. Similarly, the Judaizers in Paul’s days saw Gentiles coming into the church and thought that the Gentiles were detached from the roots of Christianity, namely, the Torah. They believed that the Gentiles needed to become circumcised Torah-observant Jews to be Christians. Paul, however, was saying something different. Paul proclaimed that Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death, so they are one people. Jewish traditions that separated Jews from Gentiles, such as the tradition that kept Gentiles from the Jewish sections of the Temple, are invalid, as Jews and Gentiles are equal worshipers of God within the body of Christ. The pastor also talked about Gnosticism and likened that to the Jesus movement in the 1970’s. There were people who were differentiating between regular believers and “disciples,” as if the latter were superior. People who have intense spiritual experiences can fall into the trap of thinking that they are above other believers. Paul in Ephesians 3:17-18, however, encourages Christians to see the love of Christ as all that they need.
C. Another of our texts was Jeremiah 17:5-8. Those who trust in human beings are like a destitute plant in the desert, whereas those who trust in the LORD are like lush trees planted by the waters. The pastor said that Jeremiah was contrasting looking to alliances for preservation from Babylon with trusting in God. The pastor also said that the Hebrew word for blessed here means a physical blessing, not the state of happiness that the Sermon on the Mount is talking about.
D. Another text that we discussed was John 15:5, where Jesus affirms that he is the vine and his disciples are his branches, and those who abide in him bear fruit. In 14:31, Jesus says, “Arise, let us go hence” (KJV), and the pastor speculated that Jesus may have spoken the words of John 15 on the way to Gethsemane. He and his disciples may even have passed grape vines, and Jesus used them as a teaching opportunity. A lady’s Bible notes said that the fruit of John 15 is not just converts but answered prayer, joy, and love, which are mentioned in John 15-16. The pastor replied that the entire Christian life is the fruit of abiding in Jesus.
E. People were sharing stories about loved ones’ experiences with natural disasters. One lady said that relatives are currently in a hotel because their home has been destroyed, and the head of the household is not the sort of person who likes disruption. Someone else told of when his brother lost his job and his house due to a natural disaster and, years later, he is still shaken by that. These are horrible experiences, but something that I appreciate about this church is that I get to hear about the real world. Amidst this reality, people are still faithful.