Martha & Mary: Not Primarily About Quiet Times

Martha and MaryThere’s a well-known passage found in Luke’s gospel. It’s the short account of Jesus and the disciples’ visit to the town of Martha and Mary. The account is found in Luke 10:38-42:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

When this text is usually taught and preached, there is one point that takes prominence: We need not get caught up in doing so many things for Jesus, but rather we are personally called to sit at his feet so that we might listen and learn from him. So let’s take time to schedule in some kind of personal devotional time of reading Scripture and prayer.

Something of that nature.

And this is not terribly off-base, knowing our call to listen to and seek the Lord. But I’m not so sure this is the primary message of this little portion found in Luke’s gospel.

Rather, here is what I think we should consider as the central point. Continue reading

Prodigal Thought Podcast – Forming a Healthy Understanding of the Holy Spirit

podcastHere is episode 5 at Prodigal Thought Podcast.

As a charismatic, I long for us to have a healthy and holistic understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. So I take up that topic in this episode, particularly encouraging us to allow the book of Acts to teach us about the work of the Holy Spirit. In the podcast, I refer to a specific book, so I wanted to put a link to that book: The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke by Roger Stronstad.

Listen to or download the podcast episode below (16:25 in length). Continue reading

Now Is The Time: It’s the Year of Jubilee

Jesus walks into a synagogue in his own hometown, Nazareth. He gets up and the reading (whether planned or spontaneous, we are not certain) comes from Isaiah 61 (with a little inter-mingling with Isaiah 58:6). We know the passage well.

Jesus follows up with maybe the shortest sermon in the history of mankind. He simply states: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Before the cross, before the resurrection, before his enthronement next to the Father’s right hand. Right then and there, Jesus, God’s anointed Messiah, tells them this is the time. Fulfilment like they weren’t expecting. Continue reading

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Recently, I had posted two articles sharing some thoughts on what I believe is the central focus of the gospel, as well as the whole biblical message, that being the kingdom of God. You can read the posts here – post 1 and post 2.

I strongly believe that the gospel is connected to the reality that Jesus reigns and that the kingdom rule of God is here to bring about redemption, restoration and reconciliation with the Father. From the good news that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ has been given to Christ (Matt 28:18), we can also proclaim the good news that people can be forgiven of their sin, reconciled to the Father and receive new-eternal life.

In those articles, I have spent time pointing to plenty of passages in the Gospels that centre the gospel itself in the reality of the kingdom of God. One of those is found in Luke 4:43:

But he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

If anything, I think it highly important to ground the gospel in what Jesus identified as central. And many, many times Jesus spoke of the good news as the good news of the kingdom of God (or heaven).

Now, what some might say, and I do understand this perspective, is that the good news is not so much the good news about the kingdom of God but rather the good news that comes from the kingdom of God. This good news flows out of the kingdom of God.

Therefore, for some, it would be readily recognised that God reigns, as does His Messiah, Jesus. There is an agreement that the kingdom has come in the work of Christ and now the continuing work of God’s Spirit in the world. But the good news is not a telling of the fact that God reigns and is King, but that the good news (however it might be defined) comes from the King and His kingdom.

You see the difference?

So I understand that and, lo and behold, I am even willing to work with this. But I still find myself convinced of the reality that Jesus himself proclaimed the kingdom of God itself as good news. And he expected his first followers, the 12 apostles (and I suppose us as well), to continue this same message.

I have been reading Luke’s Gospel as of late. That’s just where I am at in Scripture. I had read Matthew and Mark. Now it was on to Luke. And, if Luke 4:43 above was not interesting enough to consider, this week I read a most compelling passage in the same Gospel account.

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)

You see, in vs2, we read that Jesus sent out the 12 to ‘proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal’. But, if you keep reading, in a kind of parallel fashion, we read in vs6 that, ‘they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere’.

In vs2, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal. Then, in vs6, we are told that, in obedience to Jesus, they preached (proclaimed) the gospel and healed everywhere.

I believe this passage is very telling. There is a plain-as-day connection between the kingdom of God and the gospel.

Now, of course, one might point out that it is just one passage. Well, it is. But it is not left as a dangling, side statement all on its own. As I have looked to point out, there are plenty of passages right through the Gospels, actual recorded words of Jesus or statements surrounding the words and work of Jesus, that continue to emphasise the connection between the good news and the kingdom of God.

Again, I reiterate and clarify, I believe that when we proclaim the forgiveness of sinners, the redemption through Christ’s work on the cross, the new life that comes via the Spirit of God, we are truly proclaiming gospel, the good news. But I also strongly believe these flow from the reality that Jesus is reigning, He is King, and the kingdom of God is here to bring the just and gracious rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. Out of this foundational truth of the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed we can be assured of the King’s plan to redeem, restore, reconcile, forgive, judge and finally make all things new.

That is gospel.

The Use of Luke-Acts For Understanding the Work of the Spirit

When it comes to developing our pneumatology, or our theology of the Holy Spirit, there has been much discussion on whether or not we can utilise the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts to inform our understanding. Honestly, some have not been keen on the idea of utilising Luke-Acts, since they would see it as more descriptive rather than didactic (teaching doctrine). Such a group would see the epistles (i.e. Paul’s letters) as the primary didactic source for our pneumatology and the descriptive parts (such as Luke-Acts) as secondary in teaching doctrine.

So, is it worth utilising Luke’s words in both his Gospel and Acts as a primary source for developing our theology of the Holy Spirit? Or should Luke’s two-volume work be seen more as a secondary pneumatological resource?

There are a couple of points I believe that are worth noting:

Luke as Both Historian and Theologian

An important thing to notice is that Luke stands as the only recorder of the early church and its history. Other Gospels (3 of them) had been written alongside Luke’s. But he alone holds a unique position as presenting early church history. It leaves us asking if his words should be relegated as secondary to the epistles or if they will give us a better understanding of the Spirit of God and His work.

If we are honest with the text, and note Luke’s pneumatological purpose in his recording of early church history, Acts does stand as a vitally important theological work. And its significance is especially heightened when studied with its preceding volume, the Gospel of Luke, as Luke emphatically highlights the work of the Spirit in the life of Christ.

So, whereas in the past, many evangelical theologians would have not seen the benefit of developing doctrine from narrative portions of Scripture, there has been a much great acceptance of such in recent years. This is a very important recognition, for we can definitely learn from narrative parts. We can learn just as much from God’s deeds as we can learn from God’s words. Even more, this inspired account of early church history is where theology and doctrine are being walked out in daily life. Thus, it carries importance. This is why I believe that Luke must be respected as both historian and theologian.

Below are a few passages showing how we can receive instruction from the historical recordings of Scripture.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

Yes, it is definitely true that Luke presents a descriptive history of the church in his second volume, Acts. No one can argue with such. But, what we must be willing to recognise is that it is a didactic history at the same time. There is no doubt that Luke wrote to teach. He did not only write to describe, he wrote with a purpose to instruct us, just as the writers of old would have done with their narrative portions of the Old Testament text.

As theologian Roger Stronstad reminds us:

‘If for Paul the historical narratives of the Old Testament had didactic lessons for New Testament Christians, then it would be most surprising if Luke, who modelled his historiography after the Old Testament historiography, did not invest his own history of the origin and spread of Christianity with a didactic significance.’ (The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, p7)

Not only that, but we have these oft-quoted words of Paul:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Paul envisioned all parts of Scripture as God-breathed and useful for teaching. To say that certain portions of Scripture take precedence over others is not easily established from Scripture itself.

Luke Speaks For Himself

What I mean with this subheading is that, many times, theologians will try and squeeze Paul’s specific theological emphases into Luke’s theology. Thus, we end up reading Luke through a Pauline lens, which is not at all helpful.

Of course Scripture presents a harmonious whole. There is a unifying structure and nature to the entire text. But we need to give room for Luke to speak as Luke, rather than try and make Paul’s words fit into Luke’s words (or vice versa). For Luke is himself trying to teach us something about the Messiah, the mission of the church, the work of the Spirit, and a whole lot more. Let’s give this man room to teach us, even teach us apart from Paul’s own words.

Even more interesting, when it comes to the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit, Luke speaks about these two issues many more times than Paul ever does. Consider these statistics:

  • Baptised in the Spirit: Luke 3 times; Paul 1 time
  • Filled with the Spirit: Luke 9 times; Paul 1 time

Not only that, but Luke utilises a lot of different phrases to describe these similar actions: the Holy Spirit came upon; the Spirit was poured out; the gift of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit fell on people; people received the Spirit. If we take all of these into account with regards to being baptised and/or filled with the Spirit, Luke has a lot to contribute on this topic. Our ears should be tuned to this man’s words.

Stronstad shares some more insights:

‘Consequently, just as the recognition that Luke is a theologian as well as a historian makes Luke-Acts a legitimate data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, so the recognition that Luke is independent of Paul will broaden the New Testament data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To recognize these two facts is to rehabilitate Luke as a historian-theologian of the Holy Spirit and to allow him to make a significant, unique, and independent contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.’ (p11)

Thus, I agree wholeheartedly with this final statement of Stronstad:

‘On the one hand, where it is appropriate, all parties in the current debate must abandon those largely self-serving methodological programs which conspire to either silence or to manipulate Luke’s distinctive theology. On the other hand, all parties must develop a methodological consensus for interpreting the gift of the Spirit in Luke-Acts. At a minimum, this consensus must include the following principles: 1) Luke-Acts is theologically homogeneous, 2) Luke is a theologian as well as a historian, and 3) Luke is an independent theologian in his own right.’ (p12)

And just as a side note, another great work on how Luke should be viewed as not only historian, but also theologian, is I. Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian & Theologian.

As we look to develop a holistic pneumatology, consistent with the full text of Scripture, we must not forget Luke’s words and set them aside as only secondary to the words of Paul. Of course, we must also not pit Luke and Paul against one another, noting they were part of the same ministry team at times and are both within the canon of Scripture. But Luke’s words will, no doubt, enrich our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. All we must do is allow for them to teach us.