Sunday, December 18, 2005


Lately I've been thinking about the term 'neighbor', as in the Second Greatest Commandment (Mat 22:39): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In English, the word at a glance is obviously derived from 'neigh', which to my ear sounds very much like an old English term for 'near'. 'Neigh' is still occasionally used in that sense - a quick Google search for "neigh you" turns up a number of hits on James Darren's "Sophisticated Lady", though even by KJV times, 'nigh' appears to be preferred. A quick look at the dictionary pretty well confirms this (though there it is the Old English term neah). The Greek word here translated neighbor has pretty much the same type of derivation, coming from a word simply meaning 'near' (the Hebrew word translated 'neighbor' in Lev 19:18 doesn't seem to have near as simple a derivation, at least as far as I can tell from the Strong's dictionary - it comes from a word meaning to tend a flock. Anyone who understands how we get the concept 'neighbor' from that is welcome to jump in). 'Neighbor', then, appears to simply mean someone who is physically near you.

With that in mind, I'd like to turn to the classic parable defining the term 'neighbor' in Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

One of the things that now strikes me about the parable is the way the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side. It's as though they realize that just being near the injured man incurs an obligation to him, and deliberately do what they can to try and not be near him, however contrived.

My second observation is that I'm beginning to wonder if we tend to get distracted by the degree of help the Samaritan gives to the injured man. He's certainly a high example of how to treat a neighbor, but the parable isn't given as an answer to the question "How should I treat my neighbor?" It's given as an answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?" By concentrating on the Samaritan's high example, I think we easily miss the simple, plain meaning of the word 'neighbor'. The Samaritan didn't become the injured man's neighbor by treating his wounds, he became the injured man's neighbor simply by coming near to him on the road of Life. His subsequent treatment of the man shows he knew how to love his (newfound) neighbor as himself in that situation. I think Jesus' followup of 'Go and do likewise." isn't just an instruction to follow the Samaritan's example in treating the downtrodden, it's an instruction to recognize that people become your neighbor merely by coming close to you as you tread the path of life.

Or to put it back into the context of the original commandment, the primary test of whether or not you are obeying the Second Greatest commandment isn't whether you are involved in helping the downtrodden 'out there' (as good as that may be). The priest and the Levite might be said to be 'loving their neighbors' in this kind of sense, as they do provide religious services which help their 'fellow man', but Jesus obviously considers them to have fallen short. The primary test of your (or my) obedience to the Second Greatest commandment is how you treat the people you encounter in the ordinary, everyday course of life - the people you live with, the people you work with, the people you meet on the street, in the stores, in restaurants, in church, and all the other places you go in life.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Humble Talents

This week's study is going to be a bit different from the usual. Typically, I'm heavily exegetical - trying to listen to exactly what scripture is saying and drawing out what is implied by the exact words. Today, I'm heading in an atypically experiential direction - starting from my own experience, and moving to scripture from there. I'm not entirely sure how to keep it from sounding self-centered and boastful, but here goes.

Way back at the beginning of college, during a period of transition, looking at the discipline required for college, and the state of my mind at the time, I uttered the prayer, "Oh, Lord, You're going to have to teach me to think". Now, understand, it's not like I was intellectually lacking. Though not per se the studious and academic type, I was somewhat noted for my intelligence. I managed to pull things like snagging 2nd place (and first place the next year) in the school in the National Math Test while pulling C's in Algebra. When called upon for answers for homework that I hadn't done in Algebra, I'll look at the question, do the quadratic equation in my head, and give the (typically correct) answer. I drove my math teachers crazy.

In looking back over the years since I uttered that prayer, it's like God said to himself: "I don't get that request from intellectual types very often. Usually the intellectual types are far too convinced that they need no help or additional learning in thinking. I'm going to answer that prayer."

Now it's not like God dropped a text entitled "The Divine Method of Thinking" on me, which I could learn and then propound to others: "This is the way you're supposed to think!" He took the particular talents He had given me and moulded them even further. He plopped me for several years into a group of people who, while not unintelligent, weren't intellectually inclined, so I could learn that the Intellectual's heart for truth won't ever be entirely satisfied unless he's willing to listen to those he considers unintellectual. He took disparate elements like my reading of C. S. Lewis, my computer programming training, even my interest in SF/Fantasy books, and shaped my thinking with them. The result isn't that I'm better than anyone else, but that I'm more fitted to the work to which God has called me.

In looking back over this, I can't help but wonder if I've accidently (well, not really. Nothing in God's Kingdom is just accidental) stumbled across something easily passed by - the value of humbling your self before God in letting Him teach you the use of the talents He's given you. We grow up as Christians hearing the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30, Lu 19:12-27), and though it covers more than what in English we call talents, we rightly learn from the parable the need to use our talents for the Kingdom of God. What we may erroneously assume, though, is that just because we have been given talents, we automatically know how to use them best. Some amount of expertise comes with being given talents, but it doesn't mean it can't be improved.

I once heard a college professor comment: "I don't need God to tell me how to teach." It wasn't until a bit later that I realized that the answer to that is "You mean God Himself couldn't make any improvements in your teaching technique?" I don't think it's a matter of not using your talents until God has taught you, it's a matter of countering the innate pride that easily comes to us about our abilities and acknowledging that He always knows more than we do. "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you" (Jas 4:10) applies here. It is, essentially, the surrender of lordship over our own talents, and letting Him be Lord over them.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What's the Excellent Wife's husband like?

I enjoy it when you find scriptural teaching in unexpected places - those little bits of scripture that are easily missed because they touch on something different than the surrounding context. Such is the subject of today's study.

Proverbs 31 is widely known as the description of the Excellent Wife (or Virtuous Wife, or Wife of Noble Character, depending on translation). Yet almost hidden within it is a comment on her husband's character that we guys do well to pay attention to.

In Proverbs 31:28-29 we read

Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying
"Many daughters have done nobly

Let's stop right there, as those last 5 words say an awful lot about his general attitude towards women.

"Many daughters" - the evaluation that follows covers a large segment of the female population. The Hebrew for 'Many' generally carries a connotation of abundance. In this context it's even likely he's talking about a majority of women.

"have done" - note that it's their acts that he's evaluating. The Hebrew connotes doing or making things in a systematic or habitual way, so this is not just the exceptional actions he has in mind.

"nobly" - this is not a minor term of praise. The Hebrew connotes enough of some resource to constitute a force.

So what do we have here? We have a man who regards women in general not as mere attractive backdrop, but as people doing worthwhile things, and doing them very well.

Is it any accident that this is the man who is the excellent wife's husband? Is it possible that his high regard for women is one of the things that enables her to accomplish all that she does?

I ask because I'm not sure how often I see this in modern times, even in the church. Too often, we men take the Biblical concept of male headship as though it was a sop to the male ego, making us the important ones, and women mere attractive backdrop. Too often on modern men's lips, the expression of praise in this verse comes out more like "Y'know, women as a whole don't amount to much, but You, You're OK". Before we ask our wives to try to live up to the example of the Proverbs 31 wife, we ought to make sure we're living up to the example of the Proverbs 31 wife's husband.