More politics and letters today.
First of all, who are all these people? They come out of nowhere. Who is Tattenai? What is the "Trans-Euphrates"? I mean, I know that it is an area that is presumably around the Euphrates River, but is it part of the Persian empire? Is Tattenai some kind of lesser official? And who is Shethar-Bozenai? And what kind of name is that anyway?
Anyhow, whoever they are, they take umbrage at the fact that the Jews have started to rebuild the temple. It seems that they are not aware that such construction is in direct rebellion against the letter from Artaxerxes. It's probably a good thing that they didn't know about that letter, b/c they write Darius about it and get a very different response. Darius actually tracks down Cyrus' original edict, and not only does he allow the construction to continue, he also instructs Tat and Shethar to pay for it! Sweet! To make his point, he also threw in a little bit about impaling dissenters on a beam of their own house, which I thought was a little over the top, but hey. I guess he was trying to get his point across?
Anyway, in today's reading, the Judeans complete the temple and celebrate the Passover. The text makes clear throughout the passage that God's hand was involved in this entire process, and that He was the One who ultimately brought about the temple's reconstruction.
NT: 1 Cor. 3:5-23
There is so much that I like in this section. I always forget how much I like 1 Corinthians. So much directly applies to ministry.
First of all, I love the statement, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (6). This reminds me that spreading God's word is a process and a team effort. We do what we can to be salt and light in this world, and God takes our efforts, mixes them with the efforts of others, and uses those collective efforts to transform lives. It is not often that we get to go through the whole process of conversion or transformation with a person. But we do get to play a part in so many lives, should we choose to.
I also love verses 10-15, though they can be confusing at first. In them, Paul builds a metaphor about our work on earth. As Christians, when we plant seeds and minister in people's lives, we are building something. First, we have to be careful that we are building on the foundation of Jesus Christ (11). Second, we have to try to build something lasting. And when this life is over and we stand before God, He will look at all we have done for Him and see what has been lasting. Here's kind of how I picture it. At the end of my life, God will look at everything I've done: every lesson I've written or taught, every act of service for Him, every conversation about Him, everything...and see what made a lasting impact. Those things that last are the things made out of gold, silver, or costly stones in the metaphor (12). And the things that I did that had no impact are the things made of wood and hay and straw. And even if nothing I did lasts, I will still be saved...but it will be sad. It will be "only as one escaping through the flames" (15). How sad it would be to look back and to see that nothing that you did had a lasting impact.
At least, that's how I read the metaphor. Any other ideas?
Verses 16-17 are cool, about the people being God's temple. I am wondering, though, if Paul is talking about the people as individuals or as the church. Are they many temples, or one?
Lastly, out of all the times I have read 1 Corinthians, I don't think I've ever "seen" verses 21-23. I think the specificity of the names obscured the more general truth found in those verses:
"So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God."
What an empowering passage! I have been thinking a lot today about the debilitating nature of fear, and I'm beginning to understand more and more why God repeatedly tells us not to fear. And when I read verses like these, it gives me a perspective on life that helps me not to fear. I can't even put into words exactly what I think the verse is saying, probably b/c I don't fully understand it, but what I get from it is that I have nothing to fear. I also get that pettiness and strife and division obscure the greater truths of all that God intends for us in this world. In some ways, I think we limit ourselves far more than God limits us.
A praise psalm to God.
Proverbs 20: 26-27
Verse 26 says that "A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them." As brutal as that verse sounds, I think it can be better understood in light of Paul's passage about government in Romans 13. It seems that God created governments as a whole separate beast from individuals. It still gets muddied in my mind, but it seems that the Bible teaches that governments have roles that individuals do not have, and that those roles involve punishing the wicked and using force to stop injustice. Again, that gets confusing to me, but I've gotten that concept from several different passages.