Tag Archives: Apostle

Transformed by Love

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 (NIV)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the letters of John are, chronologically, the last of the letters to have been written by Jesus’ apostles. Tradition holds that John outlived all of the other apostles and is the only of the original Twelve to die of natural causes. The rest were all martyred for their faith.

The indisputable theme of John’s writing and life is love. He was known as “the disciple Jesus’ loved.” He was the only disciple with the courage to personally show up at the crucifixion. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, entrusted John with the care of His mother. As you might expect, having been the last of Jesus’ disciples, John was sought out and revered by Jesus’ followers. Tradition holds that, in his old age, John said nothing except “Children, love one another” over and over and over again.

What’s fascinating about the perpetual theme of love in John’s writing and the description of John as a person consumed with love is that it stands in stark contrast to the John we meet in the biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” for their intense anger and rage. At least twice John pleaded with Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn up those he was condemning. John, his brother James, and their mother were at the center of multiple attempts to selfishly claim positional power within Jesus’ followers.

John was transformed from a raging, self-centered Son of Thunder into a generous, humble man who knew nothing but “love one another.”

In today’s chapter, John makes an interesting statement. He states that Jesus’ death was the atoning sacrifice for “the sins of the whole world.” In ancient times, a sacrifice of atonement was an offering or a literal animal sacrifice intended as a type of penance for wrongdoing in order to appease God and ward off God’s wrath. The atoning sacrifice was limited to the person making the sacrifice, or in the case of the sacrificial system handed down through Moses it was limited to the people of Israel. Jesus’ sacrificial death, however, was unlimited atonement. It was a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

I have often observed that Jesus’ followers often get focused on doctrine to the exclusion of the very things those doctrines mean (I’m including myself in this). If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, then every person in the world is a person for whom Jesus died. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then I think that simple fact should transform how I view others, how I address others, and how I treat others.

My life should be transformed by love the same way John’s was. If not, then something is amiss. Or, as John put it in today’s chapter:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.

Quarrels Among Us

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….
1 Corinthians 1:1 (NIV)

All of us have certain characteristics about the way we communicate. When we’re communicating face-to-face we have particular gestures we repeatedly make. In casual conversation Wendy likes to slap her hand on something. Usually it’s her thigh or the counter and sometimes she just claps her hands. It’s her physical punctuation mark to the message she’s conveying with her words.

I will often tell people I’m mentoring in the craft of public speaking to watch a video of themselves but push the fast forward button so that it’s playing at about four times normal speed. As you watch yourself in fast forward mode your repetitive gestures, pacing, and unconscious movements are revealed. I tend to swing my arms like a flapping fish out of water and will often make this weird movement bending my knees and tilting to one side. It’s pretty comical.

Even when we write we phrase things in certain ways or repeat certain phrases. We have signatures we prefer such as “kind regards,” “stay cool,” “be good,” or “shalom” which is a particular favorite of a few friends of mine.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Paul began most of his letters with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” To twenty-first century readers this is a stock greeting that we tend to gloss over. It’s just the way Paul begins his letters. Big deal. But this wasn’t an unconscious phrase. He used it for a very specific reason, and for the early followers of Christ reading the letter it had much greater significance and likely stirred up a simmering quarrel.

Apostle,” which is a Greek word meaning “one who is sent” was an unofficially official term for the twelve disciples of Jesus. Jesus Himself called them his “apostles.” A “disciple” was a follower, but an “apostle” was one who was sent out. Jesus message was clear. He was sending them on a mission. For the early church, then, the original “apostles” were held in high esteem and the designation “apostle” came to refer to those who had seen Jesus risen from the dead and had literally been designated by Jesus as an “apostle.”

Paul did not literally fit this unofficially official designation that had arisen among the early believers. He had been late to the party. He’d been a persecutor of Christians and was chief executioner of the first believer, Stephen, when he was killed for heresy. Yet Paul, the prosecutor and executioner of Christians, claimed to be confronted on the road to Damascus by the risen Christ. He was radically converted into a follower of Jesus, said he was sent by Jesus to preach to the non-Jewish believers in Greece.

So was Paul an “apostle” or not?

Throughout his writings, Paul seems intent on claiming that he is. He starts every letter with it. In his second letter to the believers in Corinth he refers to the “super apostles” hinting that he is not part of the club with the original twelve. In his letter to the Galatians Paul begins by saying he is an “Apostle, not sent from men nor by man” the subtext of which is “Christ called me and sent me no matter what you may have heard from other people regarding whether I’m an ‘apostle’ or not.” He then tells the Galatians that he went to Jerusalem to meet with the “esteemed apostles” (subtext: “I’m not ‘esteemed’ like they are“) and confronted Peter, the leader of the twelve, for acting in a hypocritical manner.

Conflict, quarrels, power, control, authority, who’s in, who’s out, who measures up, who is worthy of the title, and who doesn’t quite cut the mustard. These were some of the things that the early believers fought about.

And, let’s be real. These are some of the things over which we still experience conflict. People are people. Get involved with any “church” and you’ll soon see some of the same arguments about titles and offices and leaders and loyalty and membership and requirements. I’ve got almost 40 years in this journey following Jesus and I’ve seen it again, and again, and again.

This morning I’m thinking about quarrels, controversies, and concerns. It’s the stuff we have to navigate if we’re going to live together in community. It’s inescapable. Having been through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a few times, I know where Paul will eventually end-up. I’m reminded that while Paul begins his letter addressing the conflicts (even stirring them with his claim of being an apostle) he ends by reminding us all that followers of Jesus have one leader who gave us one law: love that is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, or proud; Not dishonoring, self-centered, or easily annoyed, nor clinging to negative feelings or attitudes towards others. Not easy, even for Paul and Peter. At least we’re in good company.

If together we focus on the law of love, we can make it through the conflicts and learn to live together, honor one another, and support one another. Despite their differences, even Paul and Peter did that. So can I.