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by Edward Sun
MATERIAL STATEMENT

Jesus is the Key to Understanding Scripture

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by Emily Fernando

ACCOMPANY

Willie Jennings

Dr. Willie James Jennings is currently Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale University Divinity School. Dr. Jennings was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Jennings received his B.A. in Religion and Theological Studies from Calvin College (1984), his M.Div. (Master of Divinity degree) from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, and his Ph.D. degree from Duke University. Dr. Jennings who is a systematic theologian teaches in the areas of theology, black church and Africana studies, as well as post-colonial and race theory. Dr. Jennings is the author of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race published by Yale University Press. It is one of the most important books in theology written in the last 25 years and is now a standard text read in colleges, seminaries, and universities. Dr. Jennings is also the recipient of the 2015 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his groundbreaking work on race and Christianity. Dr. Jennings recently authored commentary on the Book of Acts won the Reference Book of the Year Award, from The Academy of Parish Clergy. He is also the author of After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, which is the inaugural book in the much anticipated book series, Theological Education between the Times, and has already become an instant classic, winning the 2020 book of the year award from Publisher’s Weekly. And now Dr. Jennings is hard at work on a book on the doctrine of creation, tentatively entitled, “Reframing the World.” In addition to being a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and seminaries, Dr. Jennings is also a regular workshop leader at pastor conferences. He is also a consultant for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, and for the Association of Theological Schools. He served along with his wife, the Reverend Joanne L. Browne Jennings as associate ministers at the Mount Level Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, and for many years, they served together as interim pastors for several Presbyterian and Baptist churches in North Carolina. They are the parents of two wonderful daughters, Njeri and Safiya Jennings.

READ BY DREW JACKSON
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there

between before and after,

arms wide to gather

the present wandering

into a shared journey that will mean

everything to we maze walkers, troubled

as we are with closed walls

that seemed to suggest a way out, haunted

as we are with faux doors

that lied at the threshold of forward promise.

Now we remember the ones we

Left behind with gashed flesh

in those cleverly disguised torture cells,

as we learn to feel out, reading the walls,

touching them with all our senses

alive to your touch as we read, guiding us

to read as we feel you with each wall a

page. No wall closing in on us

now there is pleasure in the textures –

Rough, smooth, jagged, sticky, slimy, squishy,

Smelly, greasy, cold, hot, warm

we laugh together about the different walls

and the drunk architects who built this

inspiration made harmful

to those convinced it will lead them home,

without your embracing bound to our sensing.

Those convinced of scripted paths decoded

made themselves stupid strong by running down

corridor after corridor, slinging their followers

into ends dead with alleged open passages

available to diligent readers of walls they cannot

feel because their walls are untouched by you.

This is no place

to be without someone who walks

through walls,

and having seen what is on the other side

can guide we maze walkers around

the words of convinced guides of

scripted paths that they did not write and

walls that were not built by them nor

for them to touch alone. Accompany

was what you told the architects to

imagine

embedded

in the design.

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by Emily Fernando

JESUS IS THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE

Andrew Rillera

Andrew joined the movement in 1999 when he left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and accepted the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. Andrew finds Pax by playing games with his family, reading, playing ice hockey and disc golf, and finding solitude. He has a Bachelor's in Biblical Studies (Eternity Bible College), M.A. in Theology and Ministry (Fuller Seminary), and is almost finished with a Ph.D. in New Testament (Duke). He co-wrote Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence with Preston Sprinkle and serves as an adjunct professor at Eternity Bible College. He and his wife (Karianne) and two kids (Eden & Zion) live in Durham, North Carolina.

If you ever were or are part of a “How to read the Bible” class at a church or theological institution, then you probably heard some version of the principle “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” This means that we need to allow the “clear” passages in Scripture illuminate the “more difficult” ones. But this raises a million-dollar question: How are we to determine which column to put which texts into? How do we know what the “clear” and “straightforward” texts are? These are supposed to be the “plain” texts that function as the norming principles in order to interpret the “less clear” ones, so how do we go about assessing which are which? Why do some understand some Scriptures as culturally bound instructions to be metaphorically applied and yet some to be timeless literal injunctions? 

When readers are unaware of their implicit decisions on these matters, their reading of the Bible lacks an overall coherence and integrity and looks more like a hodgepodge of random choices, a cherry-picking of what is deemed “most important,” which is disguised as being “biblical.” A more honest approach when appealing to the Bible, especially given its obvious variegated nature, would be instead of saying “the Bible says…,” we ought to say “my faith tradition understands this specific text within the Bible to be saying…” This is because everyone from Jehovah’s Witnesses to evangelicals to Episcopalians to Roman Catholics has their own understanding of which scriptures are “clear” and which are less clear and need to be illuminated by those in the “clear” column. So if you’re a regular Bible reader, you already function with answers to these questions whether you are able to express them or not. 

What I want to set forth here, for all the differences within various traditions and denominations of orthodox expressions of Christianity, is what it means to read the Bible as Christian Scripture. This is surprisingly straightforward even though it will require some patience and unpacking. By definition Christians believe that Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. This means that to read the Bible as Christian Scripture is to read the Bible like Jesus Christ did. This obviously raises the question: How did Jesus read the Bible? 

The Scriptures Are All About Jesus

In a famous scene in Luke, Jesus’s first resurrection appearance is to two men, one named Cleopas, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It is a surprising story in that they do not recognize that this stranger who is walking and talking with them is Jesus until the very end when Jesus disappears. The two men had heard reports from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and John that an angel told them Jesus had been resurrected (24:3-12, 22-24), but they just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah. Jesus then responded: 

“Was it not necessary that the Messiah [1] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:26-27)

Jesus read the Scriptures as not only all about him, but especially as all about his suffering and glory. In fact, Jesus repeatedly tells us that all the Scriptures point to him (John 5:39–47) and to his sufferings and glorification as the Messiah (Mark 9:12; Luke 18:31–33; 24:13–49). We see apostles saying the same thing (Acts 3:18; 17:2–3; 26:22–23; 2 Cor 1:20; 3:14–17; 1 Pet 1:10–12; John 2:22; 12:16). We will see, however, that saying “the Scriptures are all about Jesus, the Messiah” means a lot more than that there are a string of random, isolated prophecies that “predict” a crucified Christ.

Jesus’s Own Engagement with Scripture Transcends Literalism

Over and over again in the Gospels we see that Jesus himself often transcends a flat and rigid reading of the written word (i.e., literalism). Only a brief survey is possible here, but these suffice to show how Jesus reads Scripture by discerning its core vision for a flourishing humanity and derives ethical instruction apart from the “plain” sense of certain commands. 

In Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount, for instance, he says repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you…” (Matt 5:21–22, 27–28, 31–32, 33–34, 38–39, 43–44). In each of these, Jesus quotes from Scripture in the “You have heard that it was said'' portion and then shows how a woodenly literal interpretation is insufficient. Just because only murder is prohibited, for example, does not mean bitterness and grudges are permissible (5:21–26). Or, just because the Bible had a law against excessive punishments for crimes (“eye for an eye”) does not mean that one ought to engage in a tit-for-tat justice system. Rather, Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:39, 44). Yes, Moses gave a law to limit extreme punishments and thus stop an endless cycle of violent and escalating reprisals and this is in the Bible. But, Jesus says, just because it's in the Bible does not automatically mean it is what’s best. Jesus uses this principle when talking about divorce both here in the Sermon (5:31–32) and elsewhere (19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12). Just because something may be permitted in the Bible (e.g., slavery), does not mean that one ought to continue to do so now. Jesus teaches and shows us another way.

Ironically, many Christians read Jesus’s commands and reverse Jesus’s way of interpreting the Bible. For instance, some say, “I know Jesus says to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, but the Bible also says in the Old Testament that we can take an eye for an eye and kill those who kill us.” By definition, this is not a Christlike way of reading the Bible because it reverses who/what has final authority and who/what frames and norms the other. For Christians, this should not be taken for granted: Jesus is the Word of God and thus teaches and shows us how to properly understand the written word of God. 

Jesus Says the Scriptures Are to Be Understood through Love

How does Jesus decide when and how to transcend literalism? At several points Jesus gives us explicit statements about how we are to comprehend the overall pattern and point of the Scriptures. For instance, Jesus points out that life triumphs over all. This is why Jesus says it was ok that David broke the command in the Torah to not eat the consecrated bread that only priests were permitted to eat (Lev 24:9) when he was hungry (Matt 12:3-4). Thus, “working” to restore someone’s life (i.e., their health, their hunger, their bodily ailments; Mark 3:4; Matt 12:1; Luke 13:15-16) are all permissible forms of work even on the Sabbath, which would prohibit any work if interpreted literally, precisely because they enable the one on the receiving end to participate in the restfulness of the Sabbath, anticipating the fullness of rest and an everlasting Sabbath in the World to Come (Heb 4:1–11; 2:5–9) when all brokenness is healed and all get to simply be and enjoy the life God has given to all (Rev 21:4–5).

From all these examples here and above we can see that taking the trope “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is actually just bankrupt rhetoric. Rather, as Christians patterning ourselves on Jesus Christ’s own example and teachings, we can be more self-aware and explicitly Christ-centered in how we apply the principle of “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” What we are really doing is letting Jesus teach us which Scriptures help us interpret the rest of the Scriptures.

Importantly, Jesus teaches that all the Law and prophets hang on two commands, to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:34–40; Mark 12:28-24; see also Matt 7:12). When asked “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt 22:36), Jesus responds: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [Deut 6:5] This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev 19:18] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-39). The principle of life is just another way of talking about the principle of love. But notice that Jesus is going to passages outside of the Ten Commandments in order to make clear what the Ten Commandments (and all the rest) are all about: loving God (commands 1-4) and loving our neighbors (commands 5-10). But this observation is why Christians need to look to Jesus for how to understand the Bible; he often surprises us and does something rather different than what we expect.

Jesus’s emphasis on these two commands is actually not unique to Jesus. Other Jewish sources say much the same things. For instance, in Luke’s narrative it is actually a Jewish teacher of the Law who offers these two as the primary commands and Jesus simply affirms his answer (Luke 10:25–28). Also, according to Jewish sources, two notable rabbis, one who lived before Jesus (Rabbi Hillel) and one who lived after (Rabbi Akiva) said very similar things. Rabbi Hillel is reported to have said: “What is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). And, when referring to Lev 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”) Rabbi Akiva is recounted as saying, “This is an all-embracing principle in the Torah” (Sifra Leviticus 19.18; cf. Genesis Rabbah 24.7; Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9.4). There are other Early Jewish sources that express similar notions as well (Testament of Dan 5:3; Testament of Issachar 5:2; Jubilees 7:20; 20:2; 36:4, 8). It is not important whether Jesus was the first person to frame the Scriptures in this way; what is important is that Jesus affirms this way of approaching the written word.

Jesus not only says that this is the lens by which to interpret the OT Scriptures (through love of God and love of neighbor), he also goes out of his way to make clear that “neighbor” ought to be understood in the most inclusive possible way. In Leviticus 19:18 it only refers to a fellow Israelite, but in 19:34 this same injunction to “love them as yourself” is applied to the immigrant resident. Jesus follows this trajectory and expands “neighbor” even further and clearly says that we are to embrace our enemies who are oppressing us as “neighbors” (Matt 5:43–48; Luke 6:27, 35; 23:34). In fact, a teacher of the Law was trying to be conservative and “literal” with his understanding of “neighbor” so that it is restricted only to those in his own “in group” as Leviticus says. And it is to this conservative impulse that Jesus tells the Good Samaritan parable to argue that a wooden understanding of the “plain sense” of “neighbor” in Leviticus 19 is wrong (Luke 10:25–37). To drive home his point more, Jesus’s parable was not “you, as a Jew, ought to even love Samaritans,” but rather it was even more inflammatory: “Be like this loving Samaritan, this outsider whom you disdain simply for being different, but who nevertheless loved across boundaries and recognized a Jew as his ‘neighbor.’”

Pulling the Threads Together: Character Matters

How do these two points come together—that the Scriptures are to be interpreted through the lens of love (of both God and others) and that they are all about the suffering and glorification of Jesus Messiah?

If Jesus is correct on both fronts, then this means that Jesus is the embodiment of what it looks like to live a life of love of God through loving one’s neighbor, which includes all kinds of enemies. This is why Jesus is the key to reading the Bible as Christian Scripture. Jesus shows us what it looks like to live and die “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3–4). The fact that Jesus says that the entire Bible points to him means that he is not simply talking about a few scattered, detached, and discrete prophecies about a Messiah who will die and rise again (spoiler alert: there are none of these), but rather that the entire plotline of the Bible is a coherent story that climaxes in Jesus. [2]

More specifically, the New Testament authors, each in their own ways, show how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is “according to the Scriptures” because not only is Jesus the embodiment of Israel’s God, Jesus also recapitulates the story of Israel and Adam (and thus the world). Jesus’s life and works embody the prominent themes of creation and new creation, exodus and covenant, exile and return, judgment and restoration. Jesus is not only YHWH coming to dwell with Israel, he is also a new Moses, a new Joshua, a new David, a new Aaron, and a new Adam. Jesus brings the story of Israel to its climax and thus the story of the world to its climax and shows us how to engage the Biblical texts as Christian Scripture and exemplifies what a life looks like that is faithful to Scripture’s most basic principle of life: loving God fully so that we can only see “neighbors” rather than enemies.

We are called to participate in this same story ourselves and specifically in the story of the crucifixion. We are supposed to live in a “cross-shaped” way towards others, trusting God to raise us up in vindication in due course (culminating in our actual bodily resurrections). Living out the story of the cross is repeated in various ways all over the New Testament (Mark 8:34; 10:38-45; Rom 6:3–11; Phil 2:5-8; 3:10–11; 2 Cor 4:10–11; Gal 4:19; Col 1:24; 1 John 3:16-18; Heb 13:12-13; 1 Pet 2:21-24; 3:9).

This is why character matters for Christian interpretation of Scripture. Jesus says that only the pure in heart shall see God (Matt 5:8). How does this relate to reading and understanding the Bible? Jesus implies that only by engaging the Scriptures with his self-humbling and self-emptying attitude and mindset (Phil 2:5-8) will we be able to read the Bible as Christian Scripture and “see” God therein as he is revealed in the suffering and glorification of Jesus Christ. 

To be “pure in heart” is not to be sinless or perfect. Rather, it means to sincerely desire God, to want to pattern our life and character on the cross-shaped, enemy-loving character of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Our character will always determine our interpretation and what and who we “see.” Apart from an honest commitment to be like the selfless, self-humbling, self-emptying, enemy-loving, truth-telling, cross-shaped Word of God, then when we engage the Bible we will just see a reflection of our damaged and/or oppressed selves. Those who wield the Bible as a tool of oppression do just this.

Jesus plainly says that it is possible to know the Bible really well and not see the Truth, not see him (John 5:39–47). In fact, to return to the Emmaus Road story, we see how in the first Bible study Jesus led after being resurrected with two of his disciples (Luke 24:13–27) was not sufficient for them to recognize Jesus for who he really was. They only understood when they were gathered at the table and breaking bread (24:30-32). 

Full understanding of the Bible does not come by a lecture (even by Jesus!) or an article (such as this one!) or by studying alone. It comes, rather, by participating in the life and practices of the church as a worshipping community of the Body of Christ. At the table, we not only retell the story of Jesus’s cross-shaped life, death, and resurrection, but we are supposed to be imitating Jesus’s practice of profligate hospitality with strangers and the “wrong” types of people (see 5:30–32; 7:36–50; 14:12–14; 15:1–2). Cleopas and his friend were still confused after their Bible study with the risen Jesus (whom they did not recognize) and they would have remained perplexed had they not extended hospitality to this “stranger” they just met and invited him to stay with them since it was getting dark (24:28–29). It was only because and after they extended Christlike hospitality that they understood their Bible study and thus came to recognize that it was Jesus himself they were talking to and eating with.

Conclusion

Paradoxically, Jesus “plainly” communicates through the Bible itself that apart from all these things discussed (reading through the lens of love, reading with Jesus at the center, reading from a pure heart, and reading within the Body of Christ), it is impossible to understand the Bible rightly. This is what it means for Jesus to be the key to understanding Scripture. To read the Bible like Christ, to read the Bible as Christian Scripture, is to take seriously all these aspects we learn from Jesus himself. 

The differences in interpretation from different Christian traditions can actually help us in our effort to read the Bible well. Rather than being an obstacle to overcome, those from different traditions, and even different cultural, generational, and socioeconomic locations from us will have different sensibilities that attuned them to certain details and observations in the text that we might unwittingly overlook and vice versa. This again, confirms the necessity of reading within the Body of Christ in its broadest possible sense.

May we all encourage one another to love and keep Christ at the center of all we do and especially in our reading of the Bible. And may God use Scripture to transform us all together into the likeness of Christ in ever greater degrees of glory (2 Cor 3:14-18).

If you ever were or are part of a “How to read the Bible” class at a church or theological institution, then you probably heard some version of the principle “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” This means that we need to allow the “clear” passages in Scripture illuminate the “more difficult” ones. But this raises a million-dollar question: How are we to determine which column to put which texts into? How do we know what the “clear” and “straightforward” texts are? These are supposed to be the “plain” texts that function as the norming principles in order to interpret the “less clear” ones, so how do we go about assessing which are which? Why do some understand some Scriptures as culturally bound instructions to be metaphorically applied and yet some to be timeless literal injunctions? 

By definition Christians believe that Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. This means that to read the Bible as Christian Scripture is to read the Bible like Jesus Christ did.

When readers are unaware of their implicit decisions on these matters, their reading of the Bible lacks an overall coherence and integrity and looks more like a hodgepodge of random choices, a cherry-picking of what is deemed “most important,” which is disguised as being “biblical.” A more honest approach when appealing to the Bible, especially given its obvious variegated nature, would be instead of saying “the Bible says…,” we ought to say “my faith tradition understands this specific text within the Bible to be saying…” This is because everyone from Jehovah’s Witnesses to evangelicals to Episcopalians to Roman Catholics has their own understanding of which scriptures are “clear” and which are less clear and need to be illuminated by those in the “clear” column. So if you’re a regular Bible reader, you already function with answers to these questions whether you are able to express them or not. 

What I want to set forth here, for all the differences within various traditions and denominations of orthodox expressions of Christianity, is what it means to read the Bible as Christian Scripture. This is surprisingly straightforward even though it will require some patience and unpacking. By definition Christians believe that Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. This means that to read the Bible as Christian Scripture is to read the Bible like Jesus Christ did. This obviously raises the question: How did Jesus read the Bible? 

The Scriptures Are All About Jesus

In a famous scene in Luke, Jesus’s first resurrection appearance is to two men, one named Cleopas, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It is a surprising story in that they do not recognize that this stranger who is walking and talking with them is Jesus until the very end when Jesus disappears. The two men had heard reports from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and John that an angel told them Jesus had been resurrected (24:3-12, 22-24), but they just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah. Jesus then responded: 

“Was it not necessary that the Messiah [1] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:26-27)

Jesus read the Scriptures as not only all about him, but especially as all about his suffering and glory. In fact, Jesus repeatedly tells us that all the Scriptures point to him (John 5:39–47) and to his sufferings and glorification as the Messiah (Mark 9:12; Luke 18:31–33; 24:13–49). We see apostles saying the same thing (Acts 3:18; 17:2–3; 26:22–23; 2 Cor 1:20; 3:14–17; 1 Pet 1:10–12; John 2:22; 12:16). We will see, however, that saying “the Scriptures are all about Jesus, the Messiah” means a lot more than that there are a string of random, isolated prophecies that “predict” a crucified Christ.

Jesus’s Own Engagement with Scripture Transcends Literalism

Over and over again in the Gospels we see that Jesus himself often transcends a flat and rigid reading of the written word (i.e., literalism). Only a brief survey is possible here, but these suffice to show how Jesus reads Scripture by discerning its core vision for a flourishing humanity and derives ethical instruction apart from the “plain” sense of certain commands. 

Just because something may be permitted in the Bible (e.g., slavery), does not mean that one ought to continue to do so now. Jesus teaches and shows us another way.

In Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount, for instance, he says repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you…” (Matt 5:21–22, 27–28, 31–32, 33–34, 38–39, 43–44). In each of these, Jesus quotes from Scripture in the “You have heard that it was said'' portion and then shows how a woodenly literal interpretation is insufficient. Just because only murder is prohibited, for example, does not mean bitterness and grudges are permissible (5:21–26). Or, just because the Bible had a law against excessive punishments for crimes (“eye for an eye”) does not mean that one ought to engage in a tit-for-tat justice system. Rather, Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:39, 44). Yes, Moses gave a law to limit extreme punishments and thus stop an endless cycle of violent and escalating reprisals and this is in the Bible. But, Jesus says, just because it's in the Bible does not automatically mean it is what’s best. Jesus uses this principle when talking about divorce both here in the Sermon (5:31–32) and elsewhere (19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12). Just because something may be permitted in the Bible (e.g., slavery), does not mean that one ought to continue to do so now. Jesus teaches and shows us another way.

Ironically, many Christians read Jesus’s commands and reverse Jesus’s way of interpreting the Bible. For instance, some say, “I know Jesus says to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, but the Bible also says in the Old Testament that we can take an eye for an eye and kill those who kill us.” By definition, this is not a Christlike way of reading the Bible because it reverses who/what has final authority and who/what frames and norms the other. For Christians, this should not be taken for granted: Jesus is the Word of God and thus teaches and shows us how to properly understand the written word of God. 

Jesus Says the Scriptures Are to Be Understood through Love

How does Jesus decide when and how to transcend literalism? At several points Jesus gives us explicit statements about how we are to comprehend the overall pattern and point of the Scriptures. For instance, Jesus points out that life triumphs over all. This is why Jesus says it was ok that David broke the command in the Torah to not eat the consecrated bread that only priests were permitted to eat (Lev 24:9) when he was hungry (Matt 12:3-4). Thus, “working” to restore someone’s life (i.e., their health, their hunger, their bodily ailments; Mark 3:4; Matt 12:1; Luke 13:15-16) are all permissible forms of work even on the Sabbath, which would prohibit any work if interpreted literally, precisely because they enable the one on the receiving end to participate in the restfulness of the Sabbath, anticipating the fullness of rest and an everlasting Sabbath in the World to Come (Heb 4:1–11; 2:5–9) when all brokenness is healed and all get to simply be and enjoy the life God has given to all (Rev 21:4–5).

Jesus not only says that this is the lens by which to interpret the OT Scriptures (through love of God and love of neighbor), he also goes out of his way to make clear that “neighbor” ought to be understood in the most inclusive possible way.n

From all these examples here and above we can see that taking the trope “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is actually just bankrupt rhetoric. Rather, as Christians patterning ourselves on Jesus Christ’s own example and teachings, we can be more self-aware and explicitly Christ-centered in how we apply the principle of “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” What we are really doing is letting Jesus teach us which Scriptures help us interpret the rest of the Scriptures.

Importantly, Jesus teaches that all the Law and prophets hang on two commands, to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:34–40; Mark 12:28-24; see also Matt 7:12). When asked “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt 22:36), Jesus responds: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [Deut 6:5] This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev 19:18] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-39). The principle of life is just another way of talking about the principle of love. But notice that Jesus is going to passages outside of the Ten Commandments in order to make clear what the Ten Commandments (and all the rest) are all about: loving God (commands 1-4) and loving our neighbors (commands 5-10). But this observation is why Christians need to look to Jesus for how to understand the Bible; he often surprises us and does something rather different than what we expect.

Jesus’s emphasis on these two commands is actually not unique to Jesus. Other Jewish sources say much the same things. For instance, in Luke’s narrative it is actually a Jewish teacher of the Law who offers these two as the primary commands and Jesus simply affirms his answer (Luke 10:25–28). Also, according to Jewish sources, two notable rabbis, one who lived before Jesus (Rabbi Hillel) and one who lived after (Rabbi Akiva) said very similar things. Rabbi Hillel is reported to have said: “What is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). And, when referring to Lev 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”) Rabbi Akiva is recounted as saying, “This is an all-embracing principle in the Torah” (Sifra Leviticus 19.18; cf. Genesis Rabbah 24.7; Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9.4). There are other Early Jewish sources that express similar notions as well (Testament of Dan 5:3; Testament of Issachar 5:2; Jubilees 7:20; 20:2; 36:4, 8). It is not important whether Jesus was the first person to frame the Scriptures in this way; what is important is that Jesus affirms this way of approaching the written word.

Jesus implies that only by engaging the Scriptures with his self-humbling and self-emptying attitude and mindset (Phil 2:5-8) will we be able to read the Bible as Christian Scripture and “see” God therein as he is revealed in the suffering and glorification of Jesus Christ.

Jesus not only says that this is the lens by which to interpret the OT Scriptures (through love of God and love of neighbor), he also goes out of his way to make clear that “neighbor” ought to be understood in the most inclusive possible way. In Leviticus 19:18 it only refers to a fellow Israelite, but in 19:34 this same injunction to “love them as yourself” is applied to the immigrant resident. Jesus follows this trajectory and expands “neighbor” even further and clearly says that we are to embrace our enemies who are oppressing us as “neighbors” (Matt 5:43–48; Luke 6:27, 35; 23:34). In fact, a teacher of the Law was trying to be conservative and “literal” with his understanding of “neighbor” so that it is restricted only to those in his own “in group” as Leviticus says. And it is to this conservative impulse that Jesus tells the Good Samaritan parable to argue that a wooden understanding of the “plain sense” of “neighbor” in Leviticus 19 is wrong (Luke 10:25–37). To drive home his point more, Jesus’s parable was not “you, as a Jew, ought to even love Samaritans,” but rather it was even more inflammatory: “Be like this loving Samaritan, this outsider whom you disdain simply for being different, but who nevertheless loved across boundaries and recognized a Jew as his ‘neighbor.’”

Pulling the Threads Together: Character Matters

How do these two points come together—that the Scriptures are to be interpreted through the lens of love (of both God and others) and that they are all about the suffering and glorification of Jesus Messiah?

If Jesus is correct on both fronts, then this means that Jesus is the embodiment of what it looks like to live a life of love of God through loving one’s neighbor, which includes all kinds of enemies. This is why Jesus is the key to reading the Bible as Christian Scripture. Jesus shows us what it looks like to live and die “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3–4). The fact that Jesus says that the entire Bible points to him means that he is not simply talking about a few scattered, detached, and discrete prophecies about a Messiah who will die and rise again (spoiler alert: there are none of these), but rather that the entire plotline of the Bible is a coherent story that climaxes in Jesus. [2]

More specifically, the New Testament authors, each in their own ways, show how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is “according to the Scriptures” because not only is Jesus the embodiment of Israel’s God, Jesus also recapitulates the story of Israel and Adam (and thus the world). Jesus’s life and works embody the prominent themes of creation and new creation, exodus and covenant, exile and return, judgment and restoration. Jesus is not only YHWH coming to dwell with Israel, he is also a new Moses, a new Joshua, a new David, a new Aaron, and a new Adam. Jesus brings the story of Israel to its climax and thus the story of the world to its climax and shows us how to engage the Biblical texts as Christian Scripture and exemplifies what a life looks like that is faithful to Scripture’s most basic principle of life: loving God fully so that we can only see “neighbors” rather than enemies.

The differences in interpretation from different Christian traditions can actually help us in our effort to read the Bible well. Rather than being an obstacle to overcome, those from different traditions, and even different cultural, generational, and socioeconomic locations from us will have different sensibilities that attuned them to certain details and observations in the text that we might unwittingly overlook and vice versa.

We are called to participate in this same story ourselves and specifically in the story of the crucifixion. We are supposed to live in a “cross-shaped” way towards others, trusting God to raise us up in vindication in due course (culminating in our actual bodily resurrections). Living out the story of the cross is repeated in various ways all over the New Testament (Mark 8:34; 10:38-45; Rom 6:3–11; Phil 2:5-8; 3:10–11; 2 Cor 4:10–11; Gal 4:19; Col 1:24; 1 John 3:16-18; Heb 13:12-13; 1 Pet 2:21-24; 3:9).

This is why character matters for Christian interpretation of Scripture. Jesus says that only the pure in heart shall see God (Matt 5:8). How does this relate to reading and understanding the Bible? Jesus implies that only by engaging the Scriptures with his self-humbling and self-emptying attitude and mindset (Phil 2:5-8) will we be able to read the Bible as Christian Scripture and “see” God therein as he is revealed in the suffering and glorification of Jesus Christ. 

To be “pure in heart” is not to be sinless or perfect. Rather, it means to sincerely desire God, to want to pattern our life and character on the cross-shaped, enemy-loving character of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Our character will always determine our interpretation and what and who we “see.” Apart from an honest commitment to be like the selfless, self-humbling, self-emptying, enemy-loving, truth-telling, cross-shaped Word of God, then when we engage the Bible we will just see a reflection of our damaged and/or oppressed selves. Those who wield the Bible as a tool of oppression do just this.

Jesus plainly says that it is possible to know the Bible really well and not see the Truth, not see him (John 5:39–47). In fact, to return to the Emmaus Road story, we see how in the first Bible study Jesus led after being resurrected with two of his disciples (Luke 24:13–27) was not sufficient for them to recognize Jesus for who he really was. They only understood when they were gathered at the table and breaking bread (24:30-32). 

Full understanding of the Bible does not come by a lecture (even by Jesus!) or an article (such as this one!) or by studying alone. It comes, rather, by participating in the life and practices of the church as a worshipping community of the Body of Christ. At the table, we not only retell the story of Jesus’s cross-shaped life, death, and resurrection, but we are supposed to be imitating Jesus’s practice of profligate hospitality with strangers and the “wrong” types of people (see 5:30–32; 7:36–50; 14:12–14; 15:1–2). Cleopas and his friend were still confused after their Bible study with the risen Jesus (whom they did not recognize) and they would have remained perplexed had they not extended hospitality to this “stranger” they just met and invited him to stay with them since it was getting dark (24:28–29). It was only because and after they extended Christlike hospitality that they understood their Bible study and thus came to recognize that it was Jesus himself they were talking to and eating with.

Conclusion

Paradoxically, Jesus “plainly” communicates through the Bible itself that apart from all these things discussed (reading through the lens of love, reading with Jesus at the center, reading from a pure heart, and reading within the Body of Christ), it is impossible to understand the Bible rightly. This is what it means for Jesus to be the key to understanding Scripture. To read the Bible like Christ, to read the Bible as Christian Scripture, is to take seriously all these aspects we learn from Jesus himself. 

The differences in interpretation from different Christian traditions can actually help us in our effort to read the Bible well. Rather than being an obstacle to overcome, those from different traditions, and even different cultural, generational, and socioeconomic locations from us will have different sensibilities that attuned them to certain details and observations in the text that we might unwittingly overlook and vice versa. This again, confirms the necessity of reading within the Body of Christ in its broadest possible sense.

May we all encourage one another to love and keep Christ at the center of all we do and especially in our reading of the Bible. And may God use Scripture to transform us all together into the likeness of Christ in ever greater degrees of glory (2 Cor 3:14-18).

1“Messiah” and “Christ” are the Hebrew words for “anointed” (by God) respectively. Kings, priests, and prophets were “anointed” figures in the Hebrew Bible.
2 This point is made by other NT scholars as well. E.g., Richard B. Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), 94, 107; N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 43.

By definition Christians believe that Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. This means that to read the Bible as Christian Scripture is to read the Bible like Jesus Christ did.
Just because something may be permitted in the Bible (e.g., slavery), does not mean that one ought to continue to do so now. Jesus teaches and shows us another way.
Jesus not only says that this is the lens by which to interpret the OT Scriptures (through love of God and love of neighbor), he also goes out of his way to make clear that “neighbor” ought to be understood in the most inclusive possible way.
Jesus implies that only by engaging the Scriptures with his self-humbling and self-emptying attitude and mindset (Phil 2:5-8) will we be able to read the Bible as Christian Scripture and “see” God therein as he is revealed in the suffering and glorification of Jesus Christ.
The differences in interpretation from different Christian traditions can actually help us in our effort to read the Bible well. Rather than being an obstacle to overcome, those from different traditions, and even different cultural, generational, and socioeconomic locations from us will have different sensibilities that attuned them to certain details and observations in the text that we might unwittingly overlook and vice versa.
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by Mondo Scott

A PRO-LIFE PEOPLE: GOD’S WORD AND PROMOTING LIFE IN DIVERSE COMMUNITIES

Irwyn Ince

Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince serves as a pastor at Grace DC Presbyterian Church (www.gracedc.net) and director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission (www.gracedc.institute). The Institute is a church-based entity dedicated to equipping churches with the confidence and competence to welcome others the way Jesus welcomes us. Dr. Ince is a graduate of City College of NY (B.E.E.E, 1995), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.A.R., 2006), and Covenant Theological Seminary (D.Min., 2016). In January 2006, after an eleven year career with Motorola as a systems engineer and project engineering manager, he began full time ministry at Mount Zion Covenant Church in Bowie, MD. In January 2007 Mount Zion merged with New Town Church in Columbia to plant City of Hope Presbyterian Church, where he served as Senior Pastor from 2007-2017. He and his wife, Kim, have been married 27 years, and have four children (Jelani, Nabil, Zakiya, and Jeremiah). In addition to his passion for his family and for ministry, he is passionate about coffee and CrossFit. He is the author of The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity and the Church at Its Best, published in 2020 with InterVarsity Press. He has also contributed to the books Heal Us Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church, and All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church.

In the introduction to his doctoral dissertation, AN EXPERIMENT IN LOVE: Martin Luther King and the Re-imagining of American Democracy,” my friend Dr. Greg Thompson asks a crucial question,

How can people with deep differences live together in peace? By “peace” I do not mean the mere cessation of war, nor the attainment of uneasy coexistence, but something along the lines of the Hebrew Bible’s concept of shalom, which I take to mean, “justice, wholeness, flourishing, and joy.” …What sort of social imagination and what sort of social ethic will be required of us if we, in the midst of differences of every conceivable kind, are to live together in a way that nurtures the experience of shalom? [1]

We do a great job of calling uneasy coexistence “peace.” Every time the horrors of unrest show up in our society, we want to delude ourselves into believing that it’s an aberration—that it’s somehow not reflective of the deep-seated corruption that not only resides in the fabric of the nation, but also resides in the fabric of our own hearts. We want to delude ourselves into believing that the racial caste system deeply embedded in the founding of this country no longer has any impact on ordinary American life or in American churches. One beautiful facet of the Christian life is freedom to be honest about the internal and external, the individual and social unrighteousness that presses against shalom. This honest engagement is necessary if we are going to be serious about pursuing what makes for the flourishing of our neighbors across lines of difference. 

How do we faithfully bring God’s word to bear in our diverse communities for the flourishing of our neighbors? When I speak of flourishing, I mean having an impact on the circumstances of the whole person. It’s the opposite of pursuing a superficial diversity that becomes an uneasy coexistence, unable to bear up under the weight of the cost of that pursuit. 

Pro-Life People

Let me posit for you one way the Bible calls us to our neighbor’s flourishing in four simple words:

You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).

It is sobering to consider what this commandment requires of us. To not murder includes actively resisting whatever strips life unjustly. The sins forbidden in the commandment include neglecting or withdrawing the necessary means for preserving life. In other words, the commandment calls us to promote what makes for the flourishing of our neighbors. John Calvin’s in The Institutes of the Christian Religion explains the implication of the commandment this way,

The purport of this commandment is, that since the Lord has bound the whole human race by a kind of unity, the safety of all ought to be considered as entrusted to each. In general, therefore, all violence and injustice, and every kind of harm from which our neighbor’s body suffers, is prohibited. Accordingly, we are required faithfully to do what in us lies to defend the life of our neighbor, to promote whatever tends to his tranquility, to be vigilant in warding off harm, and, when danger comes, to assist in removing it. [2]

Have you ever considered the implications of the sixth commandment in this way? Part of loving your neighbor well in the context of the sixth commandment is to do what we can to preserve our neighbor’s lives. It is no small matter that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount says, 

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26)

What does Jesus say about how we work toward the preservation of life? He says, “be reconciled. Come to terms quickly.” One of the ways that we help preserve life is by seeking reconciliation. Jesus never ceases to blow my mind. Because we can even seek reconciliation in a way that violates the sixth commandment, with anger and insults still in our hearts. To do the life-preserving work of reconciliation means that we have to be honest about sin. We have to be honest about the sin residing within us and the sins that are diminishing our neighbors’ lives. If we really do this kind of heart-examining work, we’ll be humbled by what we find. The sixth commandment-breaking judgmental attitude that destroys life will be replaced by the love that preserves life.

Promoting Flourishing 

Please understand that every institution and person is bound by God to this duty of preserving life and must avoid taking away the necessary means for doing so. So, the church rightly engages the topic of abortion in the public square. God’s people ought to be pro-life. The question is are we pro-life enough? Every person, from the womb to the tomb, has a beauty and a value that is independent of our abilities and what we produce. Has the church in America taken seriously enough the obligation to speak into what is necessary for the promotion, preservation, and flourishing of human life from the womb to the tomb, especially when it comes to the lives of those who are on the margins and underrepresented in positions of power? Let’s bring this home to your own context and community. Who are your neighbors? Dr. Mark Mulder in Congregations, Neighborhoods, Places, writes,

The nature and structure of a neighborhood and the opportunities it offers or withholds affects everyone who lives there. A neighborhood can provide a sense of well-being or of threat. The nature of the neighborhood creates the social environment, level of public safety, and quality of public services that the people who live there experience. The demographics of the neighborhood determines who will be peers at school and the types of networks those schoolchildren will develop, both personally and professionally. [3]

Loving our neighbor(hood)s is intentional, kingdom of God-oriented work. The commandment calls for the prevention of the loss of life and the preservation of life in a way that enables people to flourish. This has all kinds of implications for the things we care about. If we’re serious about following the sixth commandment we’ll be concerned about education opportunities and policies that affect our neighbors. We’ll be concerned about health care, housing, employment, wages, the criminal justice system, the environment, and a whole host of individual, social, and societal issues that have an impact on the lives of our neighbors. If we really want to work through those issues, it will mean delving deeply into this commandment and how it plays out in Scripture. Don't just form opinions that fit a particular political or cultural narrative. Do the work of understanding what it means for Jesus to call his people not only to live, but to help others live. I’ve included a whole host of issues here, but please be clear: no single church or individual is able to speak or act on all of it. The animating concern is who are our neighbors and what are the core issues hindering flourishing and shalom. Those are the concerns we find ways of pressing into. God’s word compels us to become more curious than confident about embodied needs of our neighbors and neighborhoods.

Paying the Price

Finally, while salvation is free, pursuing our neighbors’ flourishing is not. The irony about the prevention and preservation of life that the sixth commandment calls us to is that in order to live it out, death was required. For Old Testament Israel, God freed them by sacrifice. The slaughter of the Passover lambs when they were still in Egypt—the smearing of the blood on the doorposts of their homes—prevented their death and preserved their lives as the angel of death passed through Egypt and killed the firstborn of every household. A sacrificial death brought them life that enabled them to be people who received God’s commandment to prevent death and promote life themselves. All of this foreshadowed the true Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. He is the one who, through his death, gives us life. Jesus says that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11). 

The commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Jesus submitted himself to the Father so completely that he was willing to be murdered, an unjust killing, to give us life in abundance; life that is eternal and can never be taken away. We are only able to live and help others live in the truest sense if we have received this life that Jesus came to give. This is because the only way to live the life that Jesus gives us is to be willing to die ourselves. And as we lose our lives for his sake, his Spirit empowers us with an abundance of generosity towards our diverse neighbors.

Friends, this is the way forward into a life together that nurtures shalom among differences of every conceivable kind. Yes, it requires a dying to self that enables our neighbors’ needs to become more central in our hearts. But this is the joyful path! Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). So we should not be surprised when the apostle Paul tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The fruit of the Spirit is the opposite of the self-indulgent works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). I invite you, in Jesus’s name, into the joy of sacrificial love that promotes the flourishing of our diverse neighbors.

In the introduction to his doctoral dissertation, AN EXPERIMENT IN LOVE: Martin Luther King and the Re-imagining of American Democracy,” my friend Dr. Greg Thompson asks a crucial question,

How can people with deep differences live together in peace? By “peace” I do not mean the mere cessation of war, nor the attainment of uneasy coexistence, but something along the lines of the Hebrew Bible’s concept of shalom, which I take to mean, “justice, wholeness, flourishing, and joy.” …What sort of social imagination and what sort of social ethic will be required of us if we, in the midst of differences of every conceivable kind, are to live together in a way that nurtures the experience of shalom? [1]

When I speak of flourishing, I mean having an impact on the circumstances of the whole person. It’s the opposite of pursuing a superficial diversity that becomes an uneasy coexistence, unable to bear up under the weight of the cost of that pursuit.

We do a great job of calling uneasy coexistence “peace.” Every time the horrors of unrest show up in our society, we want to delude ourselves into believing that it’s an aberration—that it’s somehow not reflective of the deep-seated corruption that not only resides in the fabric of the nation, but also resides in the fabric of our own hearts. We want to delude ourselves into believing that the racial caste system deeply embedded in the founding of this country no longer has any impact on ordinary American life or in American churches. One beautiful facet of the Christian life is freedom to be honest about the internal and external, the individual and social unrighteousness that presses against shalom. This honest engagement is necessary if we are going to be serious about pursuing what makes for the flourishing of our neighbors across lines of difference. 

How do we faithfully bring God’s word to bear in our diverse communities for the flourishing of our neighbors? When I speak of flourishing, I mean having an impact on the circumstances of the whole person. It’s the opposite of pursuing a superficial diversity that becomes an uneasy coexistence, unable to bear up under the weight of the cost of that pursuit. 

Pro-Life People

Let me posit for you one way the Bible calls us to our neighbor’s flourishing in four simple words:

You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).

It is sobering to consider what this commandment requires of us. To not murder includes actively resisting whatever strips life unjustly. The sins forbidden in the commandment include neglecting or withdrawing the necessary means for preserving life. In other words, the commandment calls us to promote what makes for the flourishing of our neighbors. John Calvin’s in The Institutes of the Christian Religion explains the implication of the commandment this way.

Part of loving your neighbor well in the context of the sixth commandment is to do what we can to preserve our neighbor’s lives.

The purport of this commandment is, that since the Lord has bound the whole human race by a kind of unity, the safety of all ought to be considered as entrusted to each. In general, therefore, all violence and injustice, and every kind of harm from which our neighbor’s body suffers, is prohibited. Accordingly, we are required faithfully to do what in us lies to defend the life of our neighbor, to promote whatever tends to his tranquility, to be vigilant in warding off harm, and, when danger comes, to assist in removing it. [2]

Have you ever considered the implications of the sixth commandment in this way? Part of loving your neighbor well in the context of the sixth commandment is to do what we can to preserve our neighbor’s lives. It is no small matter that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount says, 

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26)

What does Jesus say about how we work toward the preservation of life? He says, “be reconciled. Come to terms quickly.” One of the ways that we help preserve life is by seeking reconciliation. Jesus never ceases to blow my mind. Because we can even seek reconciliation in a way that violates the sixth commandment, with anger and insults still in our hearts. To do the life-preserving work of reconciliation means that we have to be honest about sin. We have to be honest about the sin residing within us and the sins that are diminishing our neighbors’ lives. If we really do this kind of heart-examining work, we’ll be humbled by what we find. The sixth commandment-breaking judgmental attitude that destroys life will be replaced by the love that preserves life.

Promoting Flourishing 

Please understand that every institution and person is bound by God to this duty of preserving life and must avoid taking away the necessary means for doing so. So, the church rightly engages the topic of abortion in the public square. God’s people ought to be pro-life. The question is are we pro-life enough? Every person, from the womb to the tomb, has a beauty and a value that is independent of our abilities and what we produce. Has the church in America taken seriously enough the obligation to speak into what is necessary for the promotion, preservation, and flourishing of human life from the womb to the tomb, especially when it comes to the lives of those who are on the margins and underrepresented in positions of power? Let’s bring this home to your own context and community. Who are your neighbors? Dr. Mark Mulder in Congregations, Neighborhoods, Places, writes,

The nature and structure of a neighborhood and the opportunities it offers or withholds affects everyone who lives there. A neighborhood can provide a sense of well-being or of threat. The nature of the neighborhood creates the social environment, level of public safety, and quality of public services that the people who live there experience. The demographics of the neighborhood determines who will be peers at school and the types of networks those schoolchildren will develop, both personally and professionally. [3]

God’s people ought to be pro-life. The question is are we pro-life enough? Every person, from the womb to the tomb, has a beauty and a value that is independent of our abilities and what we produce.

Loving our neighbor(hood)s is intentional, kingdom of God-oriented work. The commandment calls for the prevention of the loss of life and the preservation of life in a way that enables people to flourish. This has all kinds of implications for the things we care about. If we’re serious about following the sixth commandment we’ll be concerned about education opportunities and policies that affect our neighbors. We’ll be concerned about health care, housing, employment, wages, the criminal justice system, the environment, and a whole host of individual, social, and societal issues that have an impact on the lives of our neighbors. If we really want to work through those issues, it will mean delving deeply into this commandment and how it plays out in Scripture. Don't just form opinions that fit a particular political or cultural narrative. Do the work of understanding what it means for Jesus to call his people not only to live, but to help others live. I’ve included a whole host of issues here, but please be clear: no single church or individual is able to speak or act on all of it. The animating concern is who are our neighbors and what are the core issues hindering flourishing and shalom. Those are the concerns we find ways of pressing into. God’s word compels us to become more curious than confident about embodied needs of our neighbors and neighborhoods.

Paying the Price

Finally, while salvation is free, pursuing our neighbors’ flourishing is not. The irony about the prevention and preservation of life that the sixth commandment calls us to is that in order to live it out, death was required. For Old Testament Israel, God freed them by sacrifice. The slaughter of the Passover lambs when they were still in Egypt—the smearing of the blood on the doorposts of their homes—prevented their death and preserved their lives as the angel of death passed through Egypt and killed the firstborn of every household. A sacrificial death brought them life that enabled them to be people who received God’s commandment to prevent death and promote life themselves. All of this foreshadowed the true Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. He is the one who, through his death, gives us life. Jesus says that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11). 

Loving our neighbor(hood)s is intentional, kingdom of God-oriented work.

The commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Jesus submitted himself to the Father so completely that he was willing to be murdered, an unjust killing, to give us life in abundance; life that is eternal and can never be taken away. We are only able to live and help others live in the truest sense if we have received this life that Jesus came to give. This is because the only way to live the life that Jesus gives us is to be willing to die ourselves. And as we lose our lives for his sake, his Spirit empowers us with an abundance of generosity towards our diverse neighbors.

Friends, this is the way forward into a life together that nurtures shalom among differences of every conceivable kind. Yes, it requires a dying to self that enables our neighbors’ needs to become more central in our hearts. But this is the joyful path! Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). So we should not be surprised when the apostle Paul tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The fruit of the Spirit is the opposite of the self-indulgent works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). I invite you, in Jesus’s name, into the joy of sacrificial love that promotes the flourishing of our diverse neighbors.

1Thompson, W.(2015). An Experiment in Love: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reimagining of American Democracy.
Retrieved from http://libra.virginia.edu/catalog/libraoa: 8678, 6-7.
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. Henry Beveridge, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 470.3 Mark T. Mulder, Congregations, Neighborhoods, Places, (Calvin College Press; Grand Rapids, MI, 2018), 19.
3Mark T. Mulder, Congregations, Neighborhoods, Places, (Calvin College Press; Grand Rapids, MI, 2018), 19.

When I speak of flourishing, I mean having an impact on the circumstances of the whole person. It’s the opposite of pursuing a superficial diversity that becomes an uneasy coexistence, unable to bear up under the weight of the cost of that pursuit.
Part of loving your neighbor well in the context of the sixth commandment is to do what we can to preserve our neighbor’s lives.
God’s people ought to be pro-life. The question is are we pro-life enough? Every person, from the womb to the tomb, has a beauty and a value that is independent of our abilities and what we produce.
Loving our neighbor(hood)s is intentional, kingdom of God-oriented work.
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A Gen Z case study on Jesus and the Bible

Pax Creative Director, Mondo Scott, sits down with Amanda Souza, a 24 year old Gen Zer on a journey of rediscovering the Bible with Jesus at the center.
Amanda Souza

Amanda Souza recently graduated with her Communication degree from California Lutheran University. She now works at her alma mater as an Undergraduate Admission Counselor and loves every minute of it. She enjoys traveling to new places and has a passion for the performing arts, both as an audience member and as a performer. Amanda grew up in the church and now lives in the pursuit of understanding the true heart of Jesus.

Mondo Scott

Mondo Scott is the Creative Director at Pax. His other creative side hustles include design, photography and mentoring urban youth in the digital arts at AMP Los Angeles, where he serves on the Board of Directors. He also serves on the Pastoral team at Ecclesia Hollywood in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife Salena and daughter Selah.

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