Christians and Social Issues

I may have posted this in the past, I don’t know. But here’s my personal algorithm for dealing with social issues and political ideologies as a Christian.

  1. Always deal with people in terms of Jesus’ command to love neighbor and enemy, Christian and non-Christian. With this, practice what Paul and Peter both say about being civil toward outsiders, respectful toward political authority, and keeping with amoral social norms to avoid bringing contempt upon the Christian community. But always remember that individuals coming to Christ and wishing to do what the New Testament says is a far more likely mode of creating Christians than simply enforcing laws from the top.
  2. Secondly, study what Scripture and Christian tradition say about the issue at hand and weigh the issue on three levels:
    1. ought I participate in this activity?
    2. ought Christians participate in this activity?
    3. ought society participate in this activity?
  3. Third, based on your own political preferences (I’m emotionally anarchical, but on the rational level I understand the need for government and appreciate what it does), opinions, options, theories about what is good for society, and government structures determine if it is wise to take part in publicly opposing this or that action or policy or whether or not it is wise to carry on with being and making disciples.

New Job or Learning by Doing

I recently got a job as a software developer/computer programmer.

This is weird for several reasons. One of which is that when I was in high school, one of my goals prior to being thirty was to become a computer programmer to pay for seminary. I just did it in reverse. The programming I’m doing is pretty top level, but it’s all new to me and in many ways is more frustrating than some of the “harder” stuff I learned in college.

Anyway, I basically create UI tests for laboratory software. In the very brief time I’ve done this job I’ve learned:

  1. A handy version of git
  2. Way more C# than I would have covered in any college course (I was hired only knowing C++, Sci-Lab, and Mat-Lab).
  3. Selenium
  4. Way more HTML than I ever cared to know.
  5. And I’ve learned to use the laboratory management software for which I’m creating tests.

There is a great deal more to learn. But this reminds of a time when I was younger and I went down a water slide and my aunt realized I was struggling to swim because I panicked. It was really weird, I still remember wondering, “Why am I not swimming like I normally do.” She said, ‘Do or die, Geoffrey!” So I paddled to the side of the pool and she or my grandma yanked me out.

This job is like that. It isn’t like being in a college class. That can be motivating because I’ve paid for it. But it has the limitation of being easy to make second place to my other job (teaching). Getting paid for this requires me to learn a great deal at a fairly quick pace or I have nothing to produce and thus no money to make.

Anyway, for folks who wish to learn new things I recommend reading up on it for a while and then jumping into it. Nothing helps you learn like sitting and staring at something until it hurts with no answers in sight. You’re forced to be creative, ask good questions, and fail. Such events force us to learn.

Devotional Thoughts: Blessed are the pure at heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

In my opinion, the beatitudes here in Matthew are Jesus’ declaration that “the good life” is available to the people who are not typically seen residents in such an honorable estate. His idea, that those who suffer or are lightly esteemed can be blessed, is rooted in the Old Testament. It can also be found in Plato and the stoics (“Better to suffer injustice, than to commit injustice.”). The difference is that Matthew is making the claim that only through Jesus and his ministry the good life with God is definitively available, or rather through Jesus and his teaching can it be actualized with certainty. For Matthew seems to see several Old Testament figures as blessed in similar ways.

Now, the message of the four gospels is not merely the happy parts of Matthew 5:3-10. Indeed, there is more to being pure at heart than simply being good for a while and then seeing God and enjoying the good-life. Jesus, who would qualify as pure in heart in an exemplary fashion, certainly sees God. But his single-mindedness led him directly to the cross, where Matthew says that Jesus cried:

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)”

Now, I do not think that God the Father literally “turned his face away” from Jesus or anything like that.

But what I do want to point out is that becoming pure at heart and “seeing God” is often accompanied by the worst trials, the most profound temptations to sin, and the most unexpected assaults from evil (personified or not). The gospels are literary wholes, so we must take their promises for pleasure and ecstatic experience of God along with their expectations of pain and exposure to the evils of the god of this age. Indeed, Jesus says that our daily prayers should include, “rescue us from the evil one.” But there comes a time, perhaps not for all Christians, when the answer to that prayer is “My grace is sufficient for you.”

In this respect the good life, with all of its proportions of appreciation for God and his gifts must find its main satisfaction in God himself and his promises that remain unanswered and we have to learn that the eternal weight of glory far outweighs any momentary wasting away of the flesh, dimming of our vision of God, or feelings of abandonment in the face of the periodic crescendos of evil in our world.

Sanctification, Repentance, and the Habit Loop

Introduction to Concept:

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains something advertisers have known for quite some time: human beings can be trained to respond to cues with routines as long as there is a reward. He calls this the habit loop. It looks like this:

The Habit Loop

The idea is that when we have a cue, we usually will follow a certain routine that leads to a reward and if this cue occurs enough times it becomes a habit and is very difficult to break. Many habits have no particular reward but are still hard to break. Think about things Americans do not eat (cartilage, fat, and animal skin) that are good for you and if you do not eat these things, think about how gross it feels to try eating them.

Anyway, Duhigg’s book is very interesting but because he’s a journalist and not a brain scientist, psychologist, or philosopher, he probably leaves a lot to be desired, but what interests me is the model for habits.

The habit formation model is especially interesting for the Christian who wishes to use spiritual disciplines, start performing some virtue, or to overcome some particular sin.

Keep in mind this line from James:

Jas 1:13-15 ESV  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  (14)  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  (15)  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James’ rhetorical point is concerning the go to guy for blame when we sin. But for this thought experiment, I think we should focus on one piece of his argument: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Desire is the cue, this or that sinful action or constellation of thoughts and actions is the routine, and desire fulfillment is the reward.

Personal Case Study

I have a tendency to struggle with acedia. It’s essentially a feeling of weird existential boredom and sloth. The best cure for it, in the moment, is to pray, do something physically productive, and move on with life. The thing about acedia is that it never really happens at work, but it can happen after a really productive event or series of events at work. Now, coupled with acedia, I love information. My grandfather used to think it was weird how I always had “factoids” that seemed to have no practical use. He’s right. I remember, though I can’t place the story, when Holmes told Watson, “I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.” This love for knowledge coupled with a periodic lack of motivation to exert effort causes what the medieval scholars called “curiosity.” Not the good kind that leads to scientific discovery, but the waste of time kind wherein you simply search for novelty. I suppose that if I were less conscientious it would be the sort of feeling that makes one easily addicted to drugs (and I am susceptible to binge playing video games when I cannot sleep).

  1. Cue: Feelings of lack of motivation coupled with a constant desire to know things.
  2. Routine: The internet now exists: follow links, listen to music, and read pointless articles.
  3. Reward: Dozens of silly facts rather in the same time it would take me to read one sustained argument concerning an important truth, perform one satisfying repair to part of my home, or write one chapter of a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount I am trying to finish by the end of the year.

Here it is in habit-loop format:

Acedia Loop

Duhigg notes that there are two main ways to change the habit loop: keep the cue and reward the same, but change the routine or remove the cue. To change the routine, Duhigg notes that we must come to understand precisely what craving is set off by the cue. For instance, a shopping addict might have the desire to accomplish something, but the routine (buying something on credit) is so easy that it is the only option that comes to mind until the loop is further examined by the obsessive clothing buyer. Removing the cue only goes so far, but it is better than nothing. For instance, one would no longer be able to binge watch The Office instead of studying their Bible if they cancelled the internet for a month.

For the Christian who wishes to overcome a particular temptation, the question must be asked, “What good desire is being warped in my mind and body that finds its satisfaction in sin?” In my case, the desire is for productivity or mental stimulation, but it is warped into a desire for immediate satisfaction of desires that are meant to be satisfied through hard work and communication with other human beings. So, how can I change the routine? Well, there are several options available when acedia kicks in:

  1. I could do a household chore.
  2. I could recite Bible memory verses out loud.
  3. I could exercise (walk, squats, punching bag, push-ups, juggle, and so-on)
  4. Email/call an old friend
  5. Pray for specific people

Once I complete one of these tasks, I normally feel up to studying, writing, or meditating in silence and solitude without wasting my time surfing the internet. From this personal evidence as well as Duhigg’s book and the Christian soul-care tradition I infer that such a reworking of the “habit loop” can be very helpful for Christians who struggle with habitual sins like impulsive buying, pornographic use, laziness, or being quick to anger.

Two Necessary Things to Keep in Mind

There remain two other elements to changing the habit loop:

  1. The role of belief
  2. The education of desire

As to the first idea, Duhigg observes that belief plays a crucial role in long term habit transformation (82-86). In the case of athletes, they have to believe that the new habits will help them succeed. Similarly, AA members who commit to the steps and the whole program are more successful when they actually believe in the higher power (84). In the case of Christianity there is a cluster of beliefs that are important for manipulating the moral habit loop:

  1. Sin really is disgusting and bad for you
  2. The way of Christ is meant to give you joy (often now, but infinitely so in eternity)
  3. You are dead to sin (in other words, it is not your master and you always have a way out)
  4. God will help you

The second element, the education of desire, is implied by Duhigg, but made explicit in Scripture and ancient philosophy.[1] This should not be news to us. Many people grow to love the routine of exercise no matter how grueling, people start to enjoy the food of a new diet For instance, I can only drink one or two types of soda now since I went about four years without a sip of the stuff. Soda, even a sip, burns my mouth and is so sweet that it makes my teeth hurt. So, if Christianity is true, it stands to reason that this reality applies to the moral life we see in Scripture as well. And we do see this. Paul speaks of being transformed by the renewing of the mind. This implies that one does change for the better over time. Similarly, Peter speaks of growing in grace and knowledge. It is also the case that John and James speak of love and faith being perfected in us, respectively. The author of Hebrews says that we should strengthen our weakened joints in our quest for holiness, and so-on. In other words, God shapes our wants through the habits we develop.

[1] In order to fully change our character, eventually our choices and then habits, must result in an incremental change of desire toward the good. Jesus talks about this difference of orientation in several places. For instance, he observes that the Pharisees do their religious rituals in order to hide their sin from others rather than as acts of faith, hope, and love toward God (which obeying the Law was always meant to be, see Psalm 19:7). So, when one begins to put to death sinful habits and to put holy habits into practice in their place out of sincere trust and hope in God, ones desires start to change.

Things To Do In Your Twenties

I turned 30 on June 12th. I’m not too keen on celebrating birthdays. The parents do all the work to ensure your survival. It should be a “parents’ day.” On the other hand, getting things from people is nice.

Anyway, although decades are arbitrarily chosen as milestones. I reflected for weeks leading up to the big 30 on what I could have done differently in my twentieth decade. Here it is:

  1. I should have started listening to classical music earlier. It is simply very beautiful and while I still love the bands I listened to through my twenties, it was a mistake to think that classical music was boring based on almost no exposure to it.
  2. I should have memorized more Scripture. If you’re a Christian, you really do not need to be some super Bible scholar. But it is important to store the word of God in your heart. Here’s to a decade of memorizing more big chunks of Bible.
  3. I should have finished a STEM degree or a vocational training opportunity. If you’re a man and you’re under 30, try to solve this before you finish out the decade. There’s no sense having no earning power because you followed your dreams and got some silly humanities degree or worked at a coffee shop for 12 years w/out promotions.
  4. Learn to flirt. Getting married helped with this (thank God, being unskilled at flirting while married would be a nightmare) but I was unskilled at the art of flirting. I could be charming, I’ve been told by friends, but I had no idea how to actually flirt with a woman I found interesting, a combination of luck and skill from reading Ovid helped me get married.
  5. Learn to be organized. When I was a kid, I found the IQ test results from a test my parents had me take. The results were impressive to me. Because of the arrogance this produced, I excused myself from anything that “normal people” had to do to keep up with life. I kept up with everything in my head. This was stupid. I think I was a “clever silly. ” As life gets more complicated, the lack of useful organization habits makes everything a choice and thus everything is exhausting. Don’t do it.
  6. Learn hobbies besides video games. This is so obvious, I shouldn’t have to explain it. But I will. If you’e logged 10,000 hours on guitar hero, you have no actual guitar skills. You’ve pretended to do something fun, meaningful, and impressive and thus achieved nothing. A good video game can be like reading a novel, but seriously get a good hobby. Btw (I found lots of things to do besides video games, I only play them a couple of times a year whenever I’m melancholic or can’t sleep well for a few days).
  7. Read more fiction, watch less movies. I used to sleep very little. But often, when I finished reading theology or translating Greek I would watch movies at like 3:00 in the morning. I should have been reading Tolstoy, Austin, or Tolkien.
  8. Learn to cook. I found, when I was about 22, that cooking was very easy. It was as simple as following instructions. Cooking is fun, tasty, helps you become a creator rather than a mere consumer, and so-on.

Common Misconceptions Concerning Discipleship

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains that knowing a bit of theology is important for Christians now, in a way that it was not in the past:

…In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have got a lot of wrong ones-bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted about as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected… C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity 4.1.4

His advice lines up with that of a clever-silly economist named Keynes when he explained that practical men who have no use for philosophy often find themselves enslaved by the bad ideas of those long dead.

When I was in seminary and reading “the literature,” I discovered several approaches to Christian discipleship that all seemed lacking in one way or another. Here they are:

  1. The Romantic/Internalist Approach
    This particular approach is focused almost totally on the affections or feelings of the individual. It ends up redefining almost every major Biblical word (faith, hope, love, Spirit, and prayer) in terms of internal experiences. There is a Calvinist version of this (think Jonathan Edwards or John Piper) and there is a slightly charismatic version (think phrases such as, “Jesus told me,” “I don’t feel led,” “I wish I was more ‘on fire’ for God”). I find this approach unhelpful because it focuses almost totally on trying to control or aim the passions so that good deeds will happen which is nearly impossible.[see note a bottom] Or, much worse, this approach equates the passions/emotions with God’s will! In the first instance, believers going through a dry spell feel unfaithful to God. In the second instance, the hamster wheel of self-justification is given free reign over the mind and will.
  2. The Externals Approach
    In this approach the idea is that getting people to conform in visible ways to good Christian behavior is synonymous with discipleship. While the Bible is clear that externals will come into line, it must be recognized that a system which focuses on external signs of obedience as the goal is precisely what Jesus criticizes over and over again in the gospels. Many of the ways that this system manifests itself include many good things and some made up things: getting people to dress well, getting people to give to their church, getting people to believe right dogmas, getting people to not say cuss words, speaking in tongues, dancing in church, not dancing in church, getting people to come to church regularly, getting people to vote for and against certain things, and getting people to do all sorts of other things.

    It is not the case that motivating people to do external things is bad, but basing Christianity on a few easily observable external behaviors misses a large portion of what several of the things concrete, but non-obvious things Jesus said to do: love God, love neighbor, pray in secret, give in secret, fast in secret, deny oneself, show hospitality, call God Father, love enemies, over come lust, wash the inside of the cup, forgive those who apologize to you, reconcile with those you hurt, ask God for forgiveness with humility, become servants of all, be wise as serpents, be innocent as doves, and so-on. This approach often, though not always, comes with a simplistic view of salvation by grace alone. It either says, “Salvation is by grace alone, therefore the words of Jesus aren’t as important as simple faith,” or in certain denominations, “Salvation by grace alone is false, you’ve gotta do good works to go to heaven, so conform to our list of good works.”

  3. The Event Approach
    This one is a combination of the first two because it is based on generating feeling and motivation by means of events. The event approach is utilized most often in mega churches and youth ministries. Discipleship, in this case, is defined as occurring whenever people show up to events. Discipleship is really really happening if even more people come. In mega-church situations, discipleship is centered around the pastor’s vision for a larger church. In youth-group situations, discipleship is built around having bigger, better, and more exciting programs to keep the kiddos motivated.

I’ve talked about this before, but I think that the central idea in Christian discipleship is simply learning from Jesus, because he is meek and humble-hearted (Matthew 11:26-30). The Bible refers to this reality in several ways:

  1. Paul calls it “the obedience of faith,” which I take to mean the obedience which comes from trusting God’s self-disclosure in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
  2. Jesus elsewhere says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…” The idea is coming to inhabit (in the same way that one inhabits a home and comes to know it, tend to it, and reap the benefits of living there) his whole message about himself, God’s kingdom, God, and how humanity should respond and relate to God. (John 8:31-32)
  3. Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, discipleship seems to mean to respond to God’s grace increasingly and learn from gospel teaching and experience what Jesus Christ wants you to know. (2 Peter 3:18)
  4. James says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The word, in James is pretty clearly the gospel message about “the faith of our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ.” (James 1:22-2:1)
  5. John says that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk as he walked.” For John, the claim of Christian religious identity is born out by means of personal adherence to the way of Jesus Christ. (1 John 2:6)

My point, in all of this is that it would seem that the most valid understanding of Christian discipleship is hearing the words of Jesus and trusting him enough to put them into practice. So the approach to discipleship in our churches should probably revolve around teaching:

  1. What Jesus said and did (including what he said to do).
  2. What the gospel authors interpreted that to mean.
  3. What the other New Testament authors interpreted Jesus’ life and message to mean.
  4. What the Old Testament means in relationship to Jesus (see Matthew 7:12 and Luke 24).
  5. How to actually put Jesus’ teachings into practice.

Points one and five are especially important because many people do not actually know what Jesus said. Secondly, when they do know, it can be very daunting to try it out without any guidance from contemporary brothers and sisters or those of times past. Pastors and Sunday school teachers have the unique opportunity to make this information available to the members of their churches. Sadly, I fear, the misunderstandings seem too obviously true to most people.

Note: The more ancient approach to Christian sanctification was the idea that habitual obedience and faithful response to God’s grace is the means that God’s Spirit uses to shape the human heart. One can see this echoed in C.S. Lewis and Dallas Willard, but it is explained rather thoroughly in older luminaries like Thomas Aquinas, Richard Baxter, Thomas Brooks, St. Gregory, Horatius Bonar, Charles Finney, Charles Hodge, and so-on.

Tim Hunt and the Science Worshipers

A few days ago Tim Hunt, an important medical researcher made a remark to the effect that women in laboratories are easy to make cry, easy to fall in love with, or too easily fall in love with the men. What he said was a joke (he’s married to a top scientist in her field!) based on some of his observations over time.

My first thought was that all of the people who talk all the time about how science is literally no different from what expert scientists say (like when Richard Dawkins is quoted as though he understands philosophy just because he is a former biologist). But, that same group, it seems, found Hunt’s remarks so offensive that he has been asked to resign from his job doing important research to fight cancer! The feelings of a small group of people are considered more important than his research now! The fact of the matter is that lots of women are scientists and the ones who are wouldn’t be deterred by a remark like that, just like men aren’t deterred from leadership positions when journalists claim that women are better than men at leading.

Anyway, science (read: the opinions of experts on ideas beyond their expertise) is only worshiped by the science pagans when it agrees with them or has cool graphics attached.

Philippians 4:2-9 and Gospel Conflict Resolution

TLDR: Philippians 4:2-9 is about conflict resolution in a Christ centered way rather than general ethical advice.
Note: I’m fairly sure I wrote a post about this a few years ago. I do not know where it went.

Philippians 4:2-9

(4:2-3 GST) )I am urging Euodia and I am urging Syntyche to have the same way of thinking in the Lord. Yes, I am even asking you, true yoke-fellow, assist these women. They struggled in the gospel alongside me with both Clement and the rest of my co-workers whose names are in the Book of Life.

(4:4-7 GST) Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say: rejoice! Let your reasonableness be made known to all people, the Lord is near. Do not make a habit of fretting about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(4:8-9 GST) Finally, brothers, whatever is honest, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever causes affection, whatever is commendable, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy take account of these things; and that which you learned and received, and heard and observed in me, put these things into practice and the God of peace will be with you.

Translated from Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Php 4:2–9.

The Dominant Interpretation of Philippians 4:2-9

The passage of Scripture above is often (in the majority of commentaries) interpreted as a paraenesis or a collection of general and miscellaneous ethical advice. There are good reasons for accepting this view. Several Biblical scholars accept this view (Bruce, Barth, Cohick, O’Brien, Fee, and Witherington) as does my pastor, whose judgment about such matters is very well reasoned. The take away of this perspective is essentially that Paul wants us to think about positively virtuous and God honoring things (which elsewhere he clearly does say to do). I totally agree with the ethical idea that comes from the majority interpretation. It is Pauline advice, it is reasonable advice, it is advice that accords with the sort of meditation that has been prescribed throughout the Christian tradition for centuries, and it seems to be advice that helps people who receive cognitive psychological therapy (thinking about different things to manage bad thought patterns). So don’t hear me being mean about people who see the passage in the more traditional way.

Instead, I simply think that there is a more compelling and rhetorically sensitive interpretation that makes the letter itself more cohesive. I’ve become convinced that Philippians 4:2-9 is an attempt on Paul’s part to resolve a conflict in the church at Philippi. The passage above is Paul’s application of generally wise advice on Christian living (4:4-9) to the specific issue at hand (4:2-3): a conflict between two notable members of the church leadership. It is notable that David Alan Black suggests a similar point of view for verses 4:2-7 in his book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.

Why would I think such a thing?

In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul urges two women to start working together or at least to come to have “the same way of thinking” that Paul has urged elsewhere in the letter which is summed up in the humility of Jesus demonstrated in the gospel story (see especially 1:27-2:11). So, Paul rhetorically hooks this section directly to 1:27 and 2:1-5.

It may not matter, but Paul does use the present tense of the word translated above as “I am urging” which could mean one of two things:

  1. Paul is performing a speech-act (like saying, “I pronounce you husband and wife”) wherein Paul is urging, in that very sentence, for them to get along.
  2. An introduction to a new line of thought: “I am urging, in what follows, that you be of one mind.”

If we take 4:2-3 to be the end of Paul’s instruction about getting along (option 1), then the rest of the passage is simply general moral and spiritual advice. But if 4:2-3 is introducing what follows (option 2), then we have Paul’s vision of Christian conflict resolution. There are four main reasons for seeing 4:2-3 as an introduction to the material that follows all the way until verse 9.

  1. It allows this closing material to fit with the apparent thesis statement of the letter (1:27-30).
  2. It helps make sense of the fact that several of the things Paul says to “take account of” are characteristics of persons, not mere ideals to be comprehended.
  3. Paul’s instructions all result in something pertaining to peace.
  4. It is generally true that the New Testament Epistles are more concerned with group cohesiveness than individual spiritual disciplines (although group cohesion almost always relies upon the spiritual health of the members).

So the practical take away from this slightly shifted perspective is that Philippians 4:2-9 is first and foremost a rhetorically crafted set of instructions for having civil and charitable disagreements amongst God’s people and it is secondarily a set of instructions about joyful living.

Here is what the conflict-resolution interpretation of the Philippians 4:2-9 would look like:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say: rejoice!
In order for these women to get along, Paul challenges them to rejoice in the Lord. The idea here is that when dealing with disagreement, if both of you think about the reasons that Jesus Christ has given you to rejoice, then this will set the tone for your own approach to the issue.

Let your reasonableness be made known to all people.
The idea here is that being open to reason and dealing with a conflict in a winsome and evidence based way not is not only the right thing to do, but it goes a long way in preserving the public image of the Christian church for its members as well as for its opponents. In other words, think about the issue enough to talk about it well, have a discussion and deal with it in a self-controlled and moderate manner. Paul will go on to tell them not to let the issue occupy their minds constantly as human beings are wont to do.

The Lord is near. Do not make a habit of fretting about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
Conflict has a tendency to create anxiety or annoyance. So, remembering that the Lord Jesus Christ is near, Christians ought to pray when they have conflict rather than letting the distress of the difficult occupy and distract their minds until it foments into a terrible argument. Instead, it is better to pray and move on.

Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul then says that if these steps are followed on both sides, that the peace of God, which is impossible to grasp for outsiders, will protect their hearts and minds from needless divisions, grumbling, and conflict. Do note the focus on peace in relationship to the conflict mentioned above and that it comes up again at the end of verse 9.

Finally, brothers
This address is the biggest piece of evidence against the conflict resolution interpretation (that and the fact that as far as I can tell, no commentary agrees with me). But I think it is possible for his advice to Euodia and Syntyche, to include an address to the whole church. This makes sense when you consider that 4:2-7 are already in a letter which was to be read aloud to everybody.

whatever is honest
Assuming the conflict-resolution-interpretation, whatever is true would mean whatever integrity and fidelity is apparent in somebody’s life. This makes sense when one considers that αληθη can mean “honest, truthful, or right.”

whatever is noble
Here, then, Paul is challenging them to think about whatever it is in somebody that is noble of character. Presumably, the focus is on character traits which pertain to achieving honorable status in God’s kingdom and in society in general. There is also such a thing as ascribed honor, but σεμνος seems to me to be focused on character traits, not offices or birth.

whatever is just
Whatever this person does toward God and man that is right.

whatever is pure
The word pure carries weight of ancient rites of sacrifice and ceremonial washing that pertained to the difference between the realm of the gods and man. In the case of Christians this word was transformed into a word about the status of those who have been received into God’s family and into a word about morality rather than about ritual cleansing. So, think about that this person is cleansed by Christ and that this person refrains from this or that sin that they used to do.

whatever causes affection
Whatever causes you to have warm feelings toward somebody, think on these things. Think about their laugh, their kindness to others, a moment when they were pitiable before God and contrite about their sins, and so-on.

whatever is commendable
Here, the idea is concerning that which others speak highly of them about. What are they good at? What moral traits go before them? Do they dress well, manage their family well, are they eloquent, and so-on? Think about these things.

if there is any virtue
If anything in them lines up with the classical virtues: courage, prudence, justice, and self-control. Think about these things.

and if there is anything praiseworthy
Does this person have any trait that makes them a figure worthy of public appellation, not just private conversation? Are they a patron, a benefactor, a broker, of good blood? In the case of Christians, are they a member of a good nation or an important family (yes and yes)?

take account of these things;
Paul wants them to consider all of these factors in one another when they are having disagreements. The practical reason for this is obvious. It allows for rhetorical and dialectical charity in the leadership affairs of those who are “citizens of heaven” (3:20, cf. 1:27).

and that which you learned and received, and heard and observed in me, put these things into practice
Here, Paul is using his gospel message (2:5-11) and his own example (1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 and 2 Corinthians 11-13) to show them how to deal with conflict with those inside the group. Paul is reminding them to that only by putting these things into practice will they make progress, since Paul is a designated representative of the Jesus whom they mutually claim to be their Lord.

and the God of peace will be with you.
The take away here is that once these habits of thought are put into practice, then God’s presence will be manifest or made clear.


Aland, Kurt et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012).

Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

Liddell, Henry George et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

Music Monday: Ghost by your side

One of my favorite bands is Lovedrug. It’s hard to say when I discovered them, perhaps when I still lived with my parents. I distinctly remember thinking that their purevolume page was super awesome. Anyway, this song off of their second album, which I ordered on and somehow received an advanced copy of, love before my friends got the actual thing is one of my favorites. The singer’s voice takes some getting used to, but the concept in the song is pretty cool. The character is a bit of a white knight kind of guy (showing over much affection to a girl who is not interested), but if you think of it as though things were occurring on a more cosmic or epic scale, then it’s pretty awesome.


Remember I told you in life and death
Don’t bury our secrets, they will not they tear us apart
Because love means going this far
Even when the ending is only the start

If you dive into the ocean then I
Will be the wave around you tonight
And if you’re sinking then oh, it’s alright
‘Cause I will be the ghost who is at your side

Remember your demons will surface and fight
But I will be a good phantom
And keep on romancing this cold little devil’s tribe
And hold them away
While you are escaping into the light

So tell me where you’ve gone by now
I’m getting no reception on my heart radio
Now meet me where the angels collide
And I will be the ghost who is at your side

Now I’m changing (oh oh)
I am changing (changing)
Now I’m changing for you, love

When you dive into the ocean alive
Oh, I will be the ghost at your side
And if you fall into the devil’s tribe
Oh, I will be the ghost at your side
And when anywhere the angels collide
Oh, I will be the ghost at your side
Now dive into the blinding light…

The desk of Sherlock Holmes

At one point research seemed to suggest that a cluttered desk was a predictor for (or a cause of) anxiety, distraction, and depression.

Then it turned out that the messy desk vs clean desk heuristic was flawed and that some, otherwise organized and effective people had messy desks.

Here’s how to tell which one is best using, not science, but the science of deduction. Read what Watson had to say about the greatest detective of all time:

An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humors, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. Done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.

Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics which had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in the butter-dish or in even less desirable places. But his papers were my great crux. He had a horror of destroying documents, especially those which were connected with his past cases, and yet it was only once in every year or two that he would muster energy to docket and arrange them; for, as I have mentioned somewhere in these incoherent memoirs, the outbursts of passionate energy when he performed the remarkable feats with which his name is associated were followed by reactions of lethargy during which he would lie about with his violin and his books, hardly moving save fro the sofa to the table. Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner. One winter’s night, as we sat together by the fire, I ventured to suggest to him that, as he had finished pasting extracts into his common-place book, he might employ the next two hours in making our room a little more habitable. He could not deny the justice of my request, so with a rather rueful face went off to his bedroom, from which he returned presently pulling a large tin box behind him. This he placed in the middle of the floor and, squatting down upon a stool in front of it, he threw back the lid. I could see that it was already a third full of bundles of paper tied up with red tape into separate packages. (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Musgrave Ritual)

Anyway, if you have a tremendous memory for minute observations and go on manic streaks of productivity followed by extreme acedia and consistent messiness, you might be a detective.