Explosive and Powerful?

I began leading a discussion class last Sunday using The New Testament You Never Knew, featuring N. T. Wright and Michael Bird. In the initial session Tom Wright comments that the New Testament is explosive and powerful.

I think anyone who picks up the New Testament will find, if they give it a chance, that it is one of the most explosive books ever written. … it forms one complete, rather strange, but very powerful book.

He goes on to say that it is powerful because Jesus and his followers believed that he, Jesus, was the place where heaven and earth come together. These comments are in the first minute or so of the 5 minute preview of Session 1 that Zondervan has posted on YouTube.

In our class, two of the discussion questions in the study guide brought a conversation that is quite pertinent given the last two posts on Rebecca McLaughlin’s book (Religion->Violence? and To Tell the Truth) and the comments that followed.

In what ways could we consider the writings of the New Testament “Explosive” and “Powerful”?

Have you experienced this power unleashed in your own life through the teachings contained in the New Testament?

A friend noted that it was reading the New Testament that brought him to Christ, back when he was about middle school age. It wasn’t a Romans Road or Bridge presentation. It wasn’t any conviction of his own sinfulness or his need to be saved from fiery torment or destruction in the afterlife. Although he does believe that “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” as Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 15:3, an appreciation of the importance of that came aspect of the faith later. It was simply sitting down and reading the New Testament – in large chunks.

The explosive power of the New Testament started with a realization of the ethic of love and forgiveness and the revolutionary nature of the kingdom of God contained in the teachings of Jesus, and later in the letters of Paul. This simply isn’t like anything else. Of course, the texts can be perverted by human seeking after power and wealth. But an honest and complete reading just doesn’t support those interpretations.

I would say it is the same for me – although the realization of the explosive power of the New Testament came much later than Middle School. I’ve written about this before and gathered some of the texts that impress me and provide an answer to the question “how can you be a Christian?” so often posed in our secular culture. It is worth listing them again.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. …Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Lk 6:27-28, 31) (See also Mt 5:43-45)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28) (See also Mt 23:8-12, Mk 10:42-45, Lk 22:24-27, Jn 13:14)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29-31) (See also Mt 22:36-40, Lk 10:25-28)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Rm 12:10)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Rm 12:16)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Rm 12:18)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, … are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rm 13:8-10)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Ga 6:2)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ep 4:2-3)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Ph 2:3-4)

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. … If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (Ja 2:1, 8-9)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn 4:7-8)

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 Jn 4:16,19-21)

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 Jn 5-6)

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” … Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mk 10:17,21) (See also Mt 19:21, Lk 12:15, Lk 12:33-34, Lk 18:18,22)

This is softened a little later in the New Testament, I think because call isn’t to radical poverty, but to radical love. Love of wealth hinders, even prevents, love for one another.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tm 6:17-19)

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. … Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (He 13:1-5)

And now a slightly different set of directions – but related to those above.

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. (Rm 13:13)

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Ga 5:16, 19-26)

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. … Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ep 4:25-32)

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ep 5:3-4)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. …But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. … Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3: 5, 8, 12-14)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (Ja 3:13-17)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Pt 3:8-9)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Pt 1:5-7)

If we consider these instructions given to the people of God (aka “the church”) in the pages of the New Testament we will have a much better understanding of Christian faith. And bear in mind the frequent warning that “by their fruit you will recognize them” – both those who are true and those who are false.

None of us will accomplish these with perfection – but they should be the aim and the ideal. If they aren’t, then something is wrong. But it isn’t Christian faith that is wrong.

In what ways do you consider the writings of the New Testament “Explosive” and “Powerful”?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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