Saturday, September 24, 2011

New Testament Lesson #39 "For the Perfecting of the Saints"

Ephesians

OVERVIEW OF EPHESIANS

"The perspective of Ephesians moves from a vastly cosmic picture of God's plan (Chapter 1) and the believer's inclusion in it (Chapter 2), to the role and mission of the church and life within it (3:1-5:21), to a depiction of relationships within the household [in our society broken into family (5:21-6:4) and workplace (6:5-6:9)], to a final description of how, with prayer, each believer stands battle-ready in God's power (6:10-20).  This broad perspective binds the letter together.  God's power to enact the cosmic plan [faith] is the same power available to the believer as armament.  Relations of families mirror those between Christ and the church.  Life within the church reflects God's larger purpose in Christ, 'to gather up in one all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth' (1:10)" (J. Paul Sampley, Professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology, writing for Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2193).

You may want to pass out half-size sheets of paper and pencils to your class members with these questions on them (and space after each to write an answer):

HOW CAN I FOLLOW THE COUNSEL OF EPHESIANS THIS WEEK?
  • How can I help to spread the gospel this week?
  • How can I use my place in the ward/branch to bring others to greater knowledge of God this week?
  • How can I be an example of the believers in my workplace this week?
  • How can I better extend myself to nurture spiritual growth in my family this week?
  • How can I put on more of the armour of God this week?

GOD'S COSMIC PLAN AND OUR PLACE IN IT (Chapter 1)


  • v. 3-12  Overview of the cosmic plan (the plan of salvation)
  • v. 4  Pre-existence:  "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love..."
  • v. 5-6  House of Israel--adoption:  "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved."
  • v. 7-8 Atonement:  "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence..."
  • v. 9 Prophets:  "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself..."
  • v. 10 Latter-days, gathering:  "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him..."  (See Bible Dictionary for the definition of "dispensation.")
  • v. 11-12 Inheritance in His kingdom:  "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ."
What are some of the things that are being gathered together in our day? (Scriptures, converts, geneologies, families being sealed, information about the gospel...)

Give class members 1 minute to answer the first question on their paper.

THE ROLE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH


4:11-13:  "And he gave some [to be] apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ..."  The purpose of the church is to perfect the saints, and through the unity of faith, bring everyone to a knowledge of God.  Christ united the Jews and Gentiles in His early church.  Inasmuch as we just discussed all the gathering that is taking place today in the church, it may take us a little extra work to be united.

What does it mean to perfect the saints?  To bring them to the stature of the fulness of Christ.  The definition of that follows in v. 14-15.  "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." The effect of these Christ-like individuals upon the rest of the church follows in v. 16:  "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."

If the cornerstone of the Church is in place, the rest of the building will be sound.  So if Christ is the foundation of our belief, we will be united.  Being Christ-like is the key to unity.  "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (2:19-22).

Paul's prayer for the saints is a great example of how we should view our fellowcitizens in the gospel:  "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (3:14-19).

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the second question on their paper.

WORKPLACE


Terrific counsel in just a few verses:  "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling , in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.  And ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening; knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him" (6:5-9).

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the third question on their paper.

FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS


"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it" (5:22-25).

This is so opposite of our culture today!  Submitting!  But we are talking about submitting to a husband who is attempting to be as Christ.  Christ is the greatest king of all, as well as the greatest servant of all.  A truly great and benevolent king serves, protects, guides his kingdom.  That is the point of his calling.  Think of king Benjamin and King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon...

The best definition (outside the scriptures) for love is "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth" (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 81).  The Book of Mormon teaches us that Christ "doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world" (2 Ne. 26:24).

Our purpose in family love should be lifting each other closer to God, as Christ has lifted us.

"Can you think of how [Christ] loved the Church?  Its every breath was important to him.  Its every growth, its every individual, was precious to him.  He gave to those people all his energy, all his power, all his interest.  He gave his life--what more could one give?" (President Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in the manual).  President Kimball said that is what Christ asks of a husband.

The husband should treat his wife as a queen, and the wife should treat her husband as a king, while each of them views him/herself as a willing servant to the other.  What a great marriage that would be!  However, if it flips around the other way--the wife expecting the husband to treat her like a queen, and the husband expecting the wife to submit, it doesn't work.  It must be selfless to be love.

"And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (6:4).

We shouldn't argue with our children; we also shouldn't let them "get away with murder."  We are supposed to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  In other words, we should be Christ-like parents, who use the gospel to teach the principles that will help our children to govern their actions and guide their decisions.  (Yeah, I know...easier said than done...)

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the fourth question on their paper.

INDIVIDUAL

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. 

"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (6:10-20).

(See The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (The New Testament Institute Manual), p. 353, for Harold B. Lee's explanation of the imagery of the armour of God.)

(The Church has a video clip called "The Armour of God" on "The New Testament Video Presentations" which you may like to show.  It doesn't appear to be available online.)

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the fifth question on their paper. 

Challenge them--and follow through on it as a teacher--to report back at the next lesson any effect they may have experienced throughout the week by following the counsel of Paul to the Ephesians.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Testament Lesson #38 "Thou Hast Testified of Me"

Acts 21-28

VIDEO SEGMENT

You may want to show the class the excellent Church video, "Paul: A Chosen Vessel," from "New Testament Video Presentations."  It is available in most church libraries, and at this link.  Begin class by showing the first 2-3 minutes, ending at the words "...bear His name before kings and rulers." 

Our reading assignment begins by telling of Paul journeying to Jerusalem, amid warnings of threats to his life there.  Remember that Luke is narrating the story. 

"Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.  And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem..."  (21:3-4). 

Then they wandered around a bit, and met a prophet named Agabus, who "when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. 

"And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not go up to Jerusalem" (21:10-12).

Nevertheless, he was determined to go:  "Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus"  (21:13).

A FINAL FAREWELL

Why was Paul so insistent that he go to Jerusalem?  To find the answer, we need to backtrack in the story.

This is a long passage, but it tells us so much about Paul and his faithful resolve, it is worth reading in its entirety.  Imagine yourself being there with Paul and the Saints and witnessing this scene, as did Luke.

Acts 20:16-38:  "For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. 

"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.  And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all season, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 

"And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.  But none of these things move me [scare me away from my purpose], so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

"I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.  Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.  I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring yet ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

"And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.  And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.  And they accompanied him unto the ship."

Paul went to Jerusalem "bound in the spirit...not knowing" what would happen--although he had a pretty good idea, thanks to the witness of the Holy Ghost "in every city" that it was not going to be pleasant.

Ask: Have you ever had to do something without knowing why, in order to follow the promptings of the Spirit?

THE LAST TESTIMONY IN JERUSALEM

Paul's testimony in Jerusalem was the last recorded apostolic witness there until 1800 years later when Orson hyde dedicated Jerusalem, also at peril of his life.  (Please see "Orson Hyde's 1841 Mission to the Holy Land," from the October 1991 Ensign.)

How did Paul have the courage to do this?  Because of his faith in the blessings he would receive for so doing:  "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us"  (Rom. 8:18).

Ask: Has anyone here ever had to testify in a scary situation?

Paul was a truly great example of what a Christian should be.  "By learning more about Paul, we become more intimately acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ and with those men whom the Savior has called to be his prophets and apostles" (Michael W. Middleton, "Paul Among the Prophets: Obtaining a Crown," The Apostle Paul: His Life and His Testimony, p. 112). 

"Paul endured many persecutions as he approached the time of his martyrdom; there are a number of notable parallels between his life and the Savior's.  Like the Savior, Paul was smitten by the Jews with the high priest present (John 18:22; Acts 23:2).  Like Christ, Paul was arraigned before both Jewish and Roman tribunals; both the Savior and his apostle were arraigned three times before Roman rulers as the Jews sought the death sentence their own jurisdictions could not provide.  The absence of credible witnesses against them during their trials showed both Christ and Paul to have been falsely accused (Mark 14:55-56; Acts 25:7).  And, like Pilate, Agrippa was 'almost persuaded' (Acts 26:28) and would have freed Paul had it not been for the Jews and his consideration of Caesar (John 19:12; Acts 26:32).  Although Paul was not crucified, he was stoned and left for dead outside the city.  Like Christ, who was slain outside the city gate and, though placed in a tomb, did not see corruption (Psalm 16:10), Paul also arose and continued his minstery (Acts 14:19-2)"  (Middleton, p. 127).

We can briefly tell the storyline of Paul's final experience in Jerusalem by reading the chapter headings to Acts 21-25:

"Paul journeys to Jerusalem.  He is persecuted, arrested, and bound.  Paul recounts the story of his conversion and also tells of seeing Jesus in a vision.  He is accorded some privileges as a Roman citizen.  Paul [is] smitten at Ananias' order.  The Lord again appears to Paul.  Forty* Jews plot his death.  He is delivered over to Felix.  Paul is accused of sedition.  He answers in defense of his life and doctrine.  He teaches Felix of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come.  Paul, before Festus, appeals unto Caesar.  Agrippa desires to hear Paul."  (*For the symbolic meaning of the number forty, see a previous post.)

VIDEO SEGMENT:

Show the next part of the video, which depicts Acts 26:1-29.  Stop at "...except these bonds."  This is about 7 minutes long.

This video does not well depict what Paul actually looked and sounded like, according to what Joseph Smith described (he was short, beady-eyed, dark, and had a high-pitched voice) but his spirit is well-depicted. 

If you are concerned about your class's attention wandering during the video, bring treats and ask the class to pay close attention, because you will be giving a prize for answering the trivia question at the end.  Watch the video ahead of time and choose something (or more than one thing) to be the trivia question(s).  In the end, those who answer correctly get treats.

THE JOURNEY TO ROME

Because of his appeal to Caesar, Paul was sent with an armed entourage to Rome.  He could have been freed had he not made this appeal (Acts 26:32), so why did he do it?  To obey his Savior, Jesus Christ, who had appeared to him as he was in prison.  "And the night following, the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11). 

Have you ever noticed how the Lord issues the command to "be of good cheer" just at that point when life seems most difficult?  If it's a commandment, it must be possible to obey it, but often we discard the great blessings available to us through cheerfulness and hopefulness. 

"Your level of spirituality is...directly related to how well you fill the Lord’s commandments to 'Be of good cheer' and 'Lift up your heart and rejoice' (D&C 31:3). How many times in the scriptures did the Lord command us to be of good cheer? He didn’t say, 'Be of good cheer if everything is going well, if you have enough money to pay all your bills, if your biorhythms are up,' or whatever. No. For us to be of good cheer is a commandment and not merely a suggestion" (Joe. J. Christensen, "Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality," Ensign, March 1999.)  (See also Marvin J. Ashton, "Be of Good Cheer," April 1986 General Conference;  Jeffrey R. Holland, "This, The Greatest of All Dispensations," Liahona, July 2007; Neal A. Maxwell, "Be of Good Cheer," October 1982 General Conference; ).

Ask: If Paul could be of good cheer, headed for a mission that was mostly going to be a failure, and which he knew would end in his execution, could we try a little harder to be of good cheer through our challenges?

"Paul, in a perilous voyage, travels toward Rome.  An angel comforts him.  He uses the gift of seership.  He is shipwrecked" (Acts 27 chapter heading).

Luke had been among those who begged Paul not to go, but as a faithful servant of the Lord and friend of Paul's, he traveled with him through the perilous circumstances, including the shipwreck (Ogden/Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 109).  Of course, the Lord would have needed a witness to testify of Paul's last days, and Luke, as we know, fulfilled his calling as a witness for generations to come, still witnessing now, over two thousand years later.  He writes

"And so it came to pass, that they [the crew of the ship] escaped all safe to land.  And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.  And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.  And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.  And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.  And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.

"Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

"In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.  And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux [dysentery]: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.  So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary" (Acts 28:1-10).

THE FINAL TESTIMONY IN ROME

The journey eventually continued to Rome, where Paul testified to the Jewish leaders as commanded (Acts 28:16-23), fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy that only those who desired would hear and understand (Acts 28:24-28), and where he testified for two years while living under house arrest (Acts 28:29-31).

The rest of the story is not found in the Bible, however early historical documents, such as the Acts of Paul, report that Paul was released by Caesar, allowed to do more missionary work, then arrested and imprisoned again, and finally beheaded in Rome under the hand of Nero around 65-67 A.D.  Eusebius, another early historian, reported that Peter was crucified by Nero during the same time period (Ogden/Skinner, p. 224).

VIDEO SEGMENT

Show the final part of the video, which is under 2 minutes long.  If you prepared trivia questions, ask them now and reward those who answer correctly.

CONCLUSION

"Just before the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to Timothy...After exhorting Timothy to the utmost of diligence, he expressed the realization that his own mission had been completed.  He said, 'For I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith' (2 Tim. 4:6-7).

"How inspiring are these words when they come at the end of such a life of outstanding devotion and constancy.  He was soon to go to Rome to be beheaded.  But even in his death, his determination never faltered, and the fervor of his faith shows no sign of any decrease from that first day when blinded and stunned, he said, 'Lord what wilt thou have me do?'  And I like to think of Paul on that day, when the ax of the executioner granted him the final release from his earthly labors when he should go to stand a second time before Jesus of Nazareth and I imagine that there will be very few, if any, men who will ever stand before their Maker with greater cause to rejoice than he.  And when we come to that point in our lives, and have cause to reflect on the fight we have fought and the course we have run, how insignificant will be the money we have made or the ease we have enjoyed or the affluence we have attained.

"Life was never intended to be only a pleasure trip.  It is also a mission, a conquest, a testing, and how bitter must be the final remorse of any wasted life.  May God help us to develop the courage, the industry and dedication to live his answers to the great Apostle's question 'Lord what wilt thou have me do?'"  (Sterling W. Sill, "Dedication," Church News, April 22, 1967).

Ask the class to think of one way in which they can show just a little more dedication to the Lord this week.  Remind everyone that they never know when their turn will come to stand before the Savior and declare whether they have "fought a good fight" and "kept the faith."

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Testament Lesson #37 Jesus Christ: "The Author and Finisher of Our Faith"

Hebrews

Have a bowl of small treats, such as mini chocolate bars, on display on the table.  Don't mention them or answer any questions about them, but don't allow anyone to have one.

If the book of Hebrews was studied and understood by the other Christian sects of the world today, it would change their beliefs and doctrines drastically.  Here is a very general outline of Hebrews.


WITNESSING OF CHRIST (CHAPTERS 1-6)

Paul's primary calling was to bear witness of Christ.  Therefore, Paul opens every single epistle by witnessing of the godhead and what they are like.  In this epistle, he opens with the most explicit description of all:  Jesus Christ is
  1. Heavenly Father's Son
  2. Heir of all things
  3. Creator of the worlds
  4. The brightness of his Father's glory (a much expanded "apple of his eye" statement)
  5. The express image of his Father's person.
All of chapters 1 and 2 are devoted to teaching about Christ's character and calling.

An allusion to the following section is made in 2:17--He became part mortal in order that he might become a "merciful and faithful high priest."  4:14-15--We have a high priest who understands us.

What does it mean to say that he was a high priest?  Well, as you can imagine, if you have been paying attention the past few weeks and learned of Paul's other epistles, it is going to have to do with the Atonement.

A MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST (CHAPTERS 7-10)

Chapters 7-9 detail the duties of the high priests of the Old Testament and explain that all of their responsibilities were types of Christ--in other words, they symbolized and foreshadowed Christ and his Atonement.  Foreshadowing is put in literature to allude to an important event later in the story.  Foreshadowing in the Old Testament is to explicitly point the people to Christ.

Melchizedek was the greatest high priest and the greatest type of Christ.

"For this Melchesedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace" (7:1-2).

The rest of chapter 7 tells about high priests of the Aaronic Priesthood, under the Law of Moses, compared to Christ and the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood depended upon personal righteousness, not lineage, as did the Aaronic.  (See v. 3.)  (Be sure to note the three large JST passages in the footnotes.)

The summary is found in 8:1-4 (with JST footnote):  "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.  For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: where it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.  Therefore while he was on the earth, he offered for a sacrifice his own life for the sins of the people.  Now every priest under the law, must needs offer gifts, or sacrifices, according to the law."

The high priests, under the Law of Moses, had a tabernacle or a temple (9:2).  Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, reported that Melchizedek had a temple (Ogden/Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 255).  Within this temple, once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies alone in behalf of the people, to offer a sacrifice for their sins (9:3-7).  This was symbolic only; he could not actually pay for the sins of the people. 

"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come"  [isn't that a nice phrase:  "an high priest of good things to come"] "by a greater and more perfect tabernacle [his body], not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (9:11-12).  He sacrificed his own blood, and he entered, not just the Holy of Holies, but what the Holy of Holies symbolized:  Eternal Life.

The result of this for us is found in 10:17-22:  "And [our] sins and iniquities will [he] remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin [no more need for the earthly high priest to offer blood sacrifices].  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest [the Holy of Holies, or Eternal Life] by [because of] the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh [his bodily sacrifice provides the entryway for us to enter that Holy of Holies, as the veil in the temple does] and having an high priest [Christ] over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts [purified] from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water [the Living Water of Jesus Christ's atonement]."

The arch shows the relationship between the concepts taught in Hebrews.  In his teachings about the Melchizedek Priesthood, Paul links back to his witness of Christ, calling Christ the Great High Priest.

FAITH (CHAPTER 11)

First we find a definition of faith, or perhaps the formula under which faith grows:  "Now faith is the substance [assurance or guarantee] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not [yet] seen" (11:1).

"The assurance is founded upon a correct understanding about and trust in God and enables us to press forward into uncertain...situations...The witness we obtained after the trial of our faith is the evidence that enlarges and strengthens our assurance...Assurance leads to action and produces evidence" (David A. Bednar, CES talk given February 3, 2006).  So as something tries our faith, and our trust in God is rewarded, we have more proof that God is there and that he helps us, and so the next time, our faith has a greater assurance.  This cycle continues throughout our lives, if we continue to exercise faith.

Following this definition or formula, we are given 18 great examples of faith.  "For by [faith] the elders [ancestors, forebears] obtained a good report [a beneficial result]" (2:2).

You may want to ask your class to look over vs. 3-40 and see how many examples of faith they can find.

The greatest and first example, of course, was Christ.  We speak of the necessity of having faith in Christ, but Christ also exercised faith, because faith is the principle upon which the Priesthood works.
  1. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God [Christ], so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.  (Things were physically formed from spiritual creations or ideas.)
  2. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain..."  (Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" than Cain's in that it was in exact obedience to God's command, and in that it symbolized Christ's atonement.  Cain made up his own sacrifice, which symbolized nothing.)
  3. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found [on the earth any longer], because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony[:] that he pleased God.  But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."  This perfectly matches Joseph Smith's first Lecture on Faith:  That we must know God, know his character, and know that our lives are pleasing to him in order to exercise faith.
  4. Noah
  5. Abraham
  6. Sara
  7. Isaac
  8. Jacob
  9. Joseph
  10. Moses
  11. Joshua (walls of Jericho)
  12. Rahab
  13. Gideon
  14. Barak
  15. Samson
  16. Jephthae
  17. David
  18. Samuel
The stories of all these faithful people can be found by following the footnotes.

Ask your class whether they have faith in you as a teacher and your willingness and ability to give them a treat.  Undoubtedly, they will all say they do in hopes of getting a treat.  Give most of the class members a small treat, like a bite-size chocolate bar.  Ignore the rest of the class.  Everyone will protest loudly, but continue with the lesson.

Note that faith does not always immediately produced the hoped-for results.  Although some "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions...received their dead raised to life again..."  (11:33-35), "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection (JST says "first resurrection"): and others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings...they were stoned, they were sawn asunder...And these all, having obtained a good report [satisfactory result--can this be a satisfactory result?] through faith, received not the promise..."  (11:35-39).

What?  Is it a satisfactory result to not receive the "promise," the answer you wanted?

Yes, in fact, it's always more than satisfactory because if God does not give the requested blessing, it is because he has prepared a better one.

"...God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect."  (11:40 JST footnote).

Now ask those class members who didn't get a treat before whether they still have faith in your desire and ability to give them a treat.  They will say yes in hopes of a treat.  Give them a full-size candy bar.  Explain that often God has better blessings in mind for us than we have for ourselves, but he expects us to exercise our faith in patience and wait for the greater blessings.

And the message is summarized (in the next chapter) with an injunction to follow the perfect example of faith:  Jesus Christ.  "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience (patience and faith are inextricably connected) the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author (originator--see 11:3 regarding his faith to create our world) and finisher of faith (who made it possible for us to be finished, perfected); who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (12:1-2).  (Notice the word "our" in "finisher of our faith" is in italics, indicating that the King James translators added it in, so I have taken it out.  Christ is the author and finisher of faith itself, not just our faith.)  (See also 12:11.)



ENCOURAGEMENT TO FOLLOW CHRIST (CHAPTERS 12-13)

Paul was an apostle, and therefore a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  In every epistle he shows the proper function of his priesthood calling.  (See D&C 121:36, 41-44.)  Paul had the "doctrine of the priesthood distilled upon his soul."  Just as every epistle of Paul the Apostle begins with his witness of Christ, every one is also filled with Paul the High Priest "maintaining power" by "persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and [the summary of these:] love unfeigned;" some of them with Paul "reproving..with sharpness as moved upon by the Holy Ghost," and all of them "showing afterwards an increase of love."  Every epistle contains (usually at the end) an encouragement--a blessing--a pep talk.  Paul knew that encouragement was a powerful motivator and a necessary tool of priesthood authority.

Paul gave some truly great "pep talks" that we may want to reread ourselves from time to time.  If King James' English had used exclamation points, I have the feeling Paul's writings would be full of them.

As a teacher, you may want to write up each of these on a little handout or fridge magnet, put them in a basket, and let each student randomly choose one out to read, and then to keep and take home to encourage himself throughout the coming week.  There are plenty of others which you can choose from in Paul's writings, but here are a few:
  • "Be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee"  (Heb. 13:5).
  • "Stand fast in the faith"  (1 Cor. 16:13).
  • "I have confidence in you" (Gal. 5:10).
  • "Put on the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:13-18).
  • "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip. 4:13).
  • "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies" (Col. 3:12-15).
  • "Ye are all the children of light" (1 Thess. 5:5).
  • "We have confidence in the Lord touching you that you both do and will do the things which we command you" (2 Thess. 3:4).
  • "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12).
  • "Run with patience the race the race that is set before you" (Heb. 12:2).
  • "Look unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith" (Heb. 12:3)
  • "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
  • "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2).
  • "The Lord is my helper" (Heb. 13:6).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Testament Lesson #36 "Beloved of God, Called to be Saints"

Romans

"Romans is a letter, not a treatise on gospel subjects.  It is not written to the world, but to the saints, to people who already know and understand the doctrines of salvation.  Paul's comments on gospel subjects presuppose an extensive prior knowledge on the part of his readers.  He does not here expound doctrines as such; he simply comments about them, leaving unsaid the volumes of gospel understanding already possessed by the saints.  Romans, hence is not a source of gospel knowledge for the spiritually untutored; it is not the initial place to turn to learn of Christ and his laws.  In the hands of the sectarian world, Romans is a book on calculus in the hands of students who are still struggling to learn the basics of common arithmetic" (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:211-212).  This accounts for so many misunderstandings in the Christian world about the doctrines of salvation.  Fortunately, as Latter-day Saints, we have access to the doctrinal "arithmetic" in our other witness of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon.  With that basic knowledge, we can understand the "college course" taught by Paul in Romans.

CONTEXT

Romans, like most of the other epistles, was written to correct a problem existing among the saints in Rome.  The Romans had taken the teachings of Paul that we find in Galatians about having liberty in Christ and twisted them into liscenciousness, thinking that they could do anything and Christ would cover it--"continuing in sin" and thinking that "grace would abound."  (See Rom. 6:1.)  Paul was appalled by this.  "God forbid!" he wrote in verse 2, which, translated into English loses its very, very forceful Greek meaning.  "It is unbelievably impossible!  Abhorent!  It cannot be imagined!"  (Gaye Strathern, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 2011, personal notes 10:68).

So Romans was written to explain how grace and works work together.

A good way to approach any doctrine is to ask what, why and how.  Once we understand the answer to one of these questions, we can add to that knowledge by pursuing the answer to the next question.  It creates a snowball effect of understanding.

Write on the top of the blackboard:  ROMANS
Write on the left side of the blackboard, in a column: 
WHAT?
WHY?
HOW?

Since Romans is "doctrinal calculus" it is nice, and even necessary, to have a little help from a gospel "professor" in understanding it.  Fortunately, we have just that right in our scriptures: The LDS King James Bible is the only one in the world (as far as I know) that has chapter headings summarizing the content of the chapter.  These chapter headings were written by the scripture committee, and principally by Elder Bruce R. McConkie.  In each chapter, then, we have a great little guide and commentary about the content of the chapter, its meaning, and particularly its key elements.

WHAT IS THE MAIN MESSAGE OF ROMANS?

"The gospel of Christ...is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:Heading).

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (1:16)

But:  "God shall render to every man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:Heading).

"[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath" (Rom. 2:6-7).

Write on blackboard next to WHAT:  The Atonement Saves Us, But We Must Qualify 

WHY DO WE NEED THE ATONEMENT?

"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"  (3:23).

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned..."  (5:12)

Let's read a little bit about what really happened to us with the fall of Adam:

"So how does the fall of Adam and Eve still affect us?  As their physical offspring, we inherit the physical consequences of their actions just as we inherit their changed physical condition.  The offspring of Adam and Eve are fallen physically.  That may not be apparent to people in their twenties who are enjoying good health, but when we are sick or injured and as we age, the evidence becomes more clear--to be born is also to suffer and die.  There is no more inexorable connection, no more firmly established scientific certainty in the natural world than that.  The bad news here is particularly bad:  at some point in your life, whatever is wrong with you will get worse, and then you'll die" (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ, p. 50).

We are physically fallen.

"Besides being physically fallen, we are also spiritually fallen.  That can be correctly described as geographical separation from God, being physically excluded from his presence because of our fallen and sinful condition.  But the spiritual aspects of the Fall are more directly experienced as feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, alienation, anxiety, depression, and guilt.  Where once we lived and talked with heavenly parents for thousands, perhaps millions, of years, suddenly we have been separated from that divine influence.  What comfort, what security must our parents have given us as we grew up under the loving care.  How much a part of our lives they must have become in those premortal aeons.  Now, like homesick freshmen, we suffer from a tremendous separation anxiety, a sense of loss brought about by the Fall, but because the veil has been drawn over our minds, we cannot remember what it is that we so desperately miss.  The resulting condition might be called severe spiritual trauma, like being hit on the head, kidnapped, and waking up as a slave with amnesia in Timbuktu.  In our spiritually more sensitive moments, we may feel that something isn't quite right about all this, but until we find and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ we can't really know what is wrong with this life or how to fix it" (Robinson, p. 51-52).

So we are also spiritually fallen.

"While the physical and spiritual aspects of the Fall, death, and separation from God get a lot of attention, I would like to point out some other aspects that are often overlooked but that also have a profound impact on us here in mortality.  For example, we often forget that as fallen beings we are mentally fallen...We bring no data with us from behind the veil...Even if fallen reason did have reliable data to start with, we couldn't follow it through to correct conclusions, for intellect itself is a defective instrument.  If a yardstick that is too long or too short is always used to measure itself when it is checked, the error will never be detected.  Since intellect is our fallen yardstick, intellect can never detect its own distortions.  Most of us are aware that our universe keeps surprising us, that it resists our attempts to impose our understanding upon it.  We live daily with the bloody noses that result from the way things really are being different from the way we suppose them to be"  (Robinson, p. 52-53).

We are mentally fallen.

"Another way in which we are fallen is emotionally.  Our emotions, like our flesh, are part of our carnal natures.  They are flawed and often out of control.  We cannot choose our temperament.  We don't usually choose what will 'bug' us.  Sometimes our emotional state can be influenced by physical or chemical factors in the brain, and in these cases may not be governed by agency or subject to accountability.  However, in most cases our fallen emotions, like our fallen bodies, can and must be subjected to the rule of our spirits"  (Robinson, p. 55).

We are emotionally fallen.

"Also we are fallen morally.  That means our sense of right and wrong is defective.  While it may be true that we can usually let our conscience be our guide, many times different individuals get contradictory indications from their consciences, and often conscience does not state any opinion whatever...The light of Christ gives all people enough information to be held accountable for some sins, and perhaps to avoid certain sins, but it cannot be a substitute for the Holy Ghost...We receive a physical body, which naturally seeks pleasure rather than righteousness because it has no ability to distinguish between right and wrong--flesh has no conscience" (Robinson, p. 56).

We are morally fallen.

"The Fall is not in itself the immediate cause of our personal sins, but it does put us in a bad neighborhood where we may encounter and be enticed by sin.  That enticement, combined with the enthusiastic urging of our carnal self, often overcomes the righteous desires of our spirit, and we pollute ourselves" (Robinson, p. 58).

Nothing about us is without flaw!  It is impossible for us to succeed!

Write on the blackboard next to WHY?  Because of our fallen state, we are unable to save ourselves.

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.  Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (5:19-21).

Note that chapter 7 of Romans has major changes made by the Joseph Smith Translation, from verse 5 through the end of the chapter, completely reversing the message.  You may want to draw a light X through each column to bring attention to this fact, so that you never read one of these verses out of context. Although this is a long passage to read aloud in class, it is one we seldom read and are unfamiliar with because it is tucked away in the Appendix, so it may well be worth the time.

HOW CAN WE RECEIVE THE POWER OF THE ATONEMENT?

In the Book of Mormon, as King Benjamin taught the gospel of the Atonement to the Nephites, they all fell to the earth, as they "viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth" (Mosiah 4:2).  They realized that if God were to "render to them according to their deeds" and according to their fallen state, they were in big trouble!  But King Benjamin taught the same gospel that Paul taught and so the Nephites knew where to find hope.  "And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins..." (Mosiah 4:2). They were asking to be returned to a state of guiltlessness.  They were asking for justification. 

"But how is this gift [of justification] given and received? The scriptures are explicit: it is received by exercising faith in him who can give the gift...[Here is] how that process works: As we come to Christ in faith, repenting of our sins, and covenant with him in the waters of baptism to keep his commandments, he justifies us—treats us as though we are guiltless—even though we are not yet perfect. He does this so that we might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which will cleanse us of sin as we repent and work out our salvation 'with fear and trembling.'" (Michael Wilcox, "I Have a Question," Ensign, June 1996).

Gaye Strathern explains that justification is an external change, it is a change in status.  It is like being washed with water.

But this is not all that the Atonement will do for us.  The Atonement can also sanctify us.  Sanctification is an internal change, it is a change in our state of being, not just our status before God.  It is like being purified with fire.

"As we progress from “grace to grace,” receiving “grace for grace” (see D&C 93:12–20), we will eventually be perfected and be able to stand before the Father fully justified as one who has become like him—guiltless, perfect, and holy. In the scriptures, the process by which we are cleansed and perfected is often called sanctification. Those who are justified by Christ and receive the Holy Ghost are sanctified, or 'reborn.'" (Wilcox).

The Nephites asked for justification and sanctification:

"O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men" (Mosiah 4:2).

In Romans, Paul explains the two-fold process of sanctification (justification being the first part of it) as an adoption.

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father"  (8:14-15).  Remember, Abba's English equivalent is Daddy.  "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (8:16-17).

There are two kinds of "children of God."  In one sense, everyone is a child of God, begotten spirit sons and daughters of our heavenly parents.  But the children of God this scripture is talking about are the heirs to the kingdom, people who have met some qualifications, who have "received the adoption," who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ, and who are growing and becoming like him (their Father) through the keeping of their covenants: it is a subset of the other general type of children of God (Strathern).

An infant or small child who is legally adopted by parents needs to do or say nothing to be adopted; the adoption is completely in the hands of the parents and the court.  But if prospective parents want to adopt an older child or teenager (in the United States), that child must state in court that he desires to be adopted by those parents.  He has to "receive" the adoption. 

Once an adoption is final, the adopted child is legally identical in status to a child that was conceived and birthed by those parents.  A new birth certificate will be issued stating that the child was born to those parents. Within the glorious walls of our temples, that child who is sealed to an adoptive family is theirs eternally, just as if he had been born into that family.

As a member of a family, an adopted child can learn to lose her fear of hunger, danger, loneliness, and failure and can trust in the love and care of her parents.

As a member of the family of Christ, we also must learn to trust in the love and care of our parent, our "Daddy." 



 When one of our daughters was three years old, she took a thick, black preschool crayon and, starting at her bedroom door, drew a line at her eye level all the way around the room, over the closet doors, on the dresser front, on the bed frame, under the window, over the toy china closet and back to the door.  When I discovered it, I was understandably rather shocked!  It was a lot of damage to her beautiful little light-blue bedroom. 

But did I send her packing because she colored on the walls?  Of course not.  I was upset, frustrated...I insisted that she help me scrub the walls with a toothbrush and baking soda paste.  Of course, her help didn't really help that much, and most of the cleaning was actually done by me.  But even as a very imperfect parent, kicking her out of the family would never have occurred to me!  Is there any reasonably loving parent who would throw out a three-year-old for coloring on the walls?  Of course not.  There would be no children left in families if that were the case.  Loving parents understand that a 3-year-old, or a 10-year-old, or a 21-year-old, or even a 45-year-old, lacks understanding and development.  When mistakes occur, the parent helps the child to recognize them, to make amends, and to understand how to do better.  Love deepens between parent and child, a little more maturity develops in the child, and so the process continues throughout life.

Similarly, we must "receive" the adoption into the family of Jesus Christ if we want to be children of God and heirs to the kingdom.  We do this by making covenants--entering into the waters of baptism, taking upon us the name of Christ, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, making and keeping temple covenants, and growing more and more like our "Daddy" until the end of our probation.

Being a member of Christ's family gives us a great sense of freedom, freedom to try, freedom to fail, freedom to learn, freedom to receive help.  As we "receive the adoption" we are justified; that is, our status is changed outwardly as we repent and are baptized.  Legally, we are now children of God.  As we receive also the Gift of the Holy Ghost and use it throughout our lives, continue to repent, receive instruction from and develop a closer relationship with our Father Jesus Christ (the head of our family, which is the Church and Kingdom of God), make and keep more covenants, and continue faithful to the end, we qualify to be sanctified; that is, our inward state is changed to become like our Parent.

Because our parent is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-present, and because He loves us intensely and individually, we can trust in his care, relax, and flow with the external circumstances of our lives.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called [adopted] according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). 

As we develop this relationship by believing in Christ, trusting him (Mosiah 4:9), following him, and continually repenting (Mosiah 4:10-11), King Benjamin taught that we can enter into his rest, even in this fallen life.  "And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true" (Mosiah 4:12).

Paul wrote to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  ...Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).

SEEKING FOR ZION

The rest of Romans is counsel for church members to build up a Zion society.  If you want to discuss this, you might ask class members to read their favorite scriptures that they might already have underlined in Romans and share their throughts on them.  For a class that hasn't done much personal scripture study, you could pass out the following scripture references and ask them to read them and have the class comment on them.  Or you could read and comment on the chapter headings.

10:13-14
12:5-8
12:9-15
12:21
13:11-12
14:10-13
15:1