We’ve come to the final week in our 5 week series ‘#the struggle is real,’ a series focused on the importance of getting our bodies, souls and minds in good shape all for the ultimate purpose of being ready in every way to have the greatest kingdom impact.
Week 1: taking care of our physical bodies.
Week 2: eating well
Week 3: the important to have joy
Week4: the need to have peace
Now Week 5: keeping our minds in shape; how continually learning and growing will make us ‘fit’ to have great impact for Jesus and his kingdom.
This passage seemed like a slam dunk passage for this subject: 2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. King James Version
But, since we don’t use the King James here at Grace, we use the New Living Translation, I looked up 2 Timothy 2:15 in the NLT and it didn’t say anything about ‘studying.’ It said this: Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Work hard? Be a good worker? That’s a lot different than ‘study.’ No other translation says, ‘study.’ The Greek here is spudadzo. (t means ‘being eager to do something’ or ‘working hard.’ Also, we know that the translators of the King James were asked to make their translation sound and feel weighty and serious and so they choose to use 13th century grammar, syntax and definitions for their translation. They clearly felt that older sounding language would give their 17th Century work an aura of importance. The 13th Century definition of the word ‘study’ meant to ‘strive hard’ or ‘to work diligently at something.’ Obviously, the word’s meaning has changed over time.
Something that is important to what we are trying to say today: All Truth is God’s Truth. All Truth. Not just theological and spiritual things… all truth! Everything that is true about anything and everything comes from the mind and heart of God.
What I found as I’ve looked at people in the Bible who were clearly learning and growing and using the expansion of their minds to do the work of the Kingdom is that while they knew the Word of God they were also exercising their minds to learn about all sorts of things.
3 Examples: Moses, Solomon, Apostle Paul. I chose to use these 3 people because they represent 3 distinct time periods of the Biblical timeline. By using 3 different time-period-characters I believe we can make a case for this topic being something that is talked about consistently over the whole of the text. This is an important issue. We can see a narrative arch concerning using our minds and we aren’t trying to proof text this subject by using one verse that ‘seems’ to make our point. The final point is this: having looked carefully at the whole of the Bible I believe that God can and will use any and all of his truth to further his kingdom. This is an important revelation!
Moses: You can read the story of his life in the book of Exodus. He is one of the most important characters in all of the Bible. He was the man chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. He is held to be the writer of the first 5 books of the Bible. In fact, the book of Exodus, while concentrating on the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt is, at its core, a biography of Moses. The second chapter of Exodus tells us how it came to pass that Moses spent the first 40 years of his life living as a member of the Egyptian royal family. Biblical and secular history tell us that a huge part of being Egyptian royalty was being trained in what was called ‘all of the wisdom of Egypt:’ its literature, its wise sayings, its history, its governmental procedures, even its agricultural processes. These were exactly the kind of things that he needed to know to be able to march right into the Pharaoh’s throne room and say, ‘Let my people go.’ It’s said elsewhere in the Bible that Moses learned all of the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22). His mind was in great shape when it came to all things Egyptian and he could talk directly to the Egyptian rulers and be taken seriously. Somewhere along the line he’d also learned and grown in the knowledge of all things Jewish, as well. His record of the beginning of the Hebrew nation in the book of Genesis shows an incredible knowledge of ancient history, plus, it is written in brilliantly- worded Hebrew. Moses clearly was a man of great learning… he’d used his mind well… He’d learned about things Egyptian… he’d learned about things Hebrew… and God used Moses to change the world.
Solomon: 450 years after Moses. You can read about Solomon’s life in the two Old Testament books called 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. 1 Kings 3 tells us that God came to Solomon and offered him anything… literally anything. Rather than asking for riches or fame Solomon asked that God would give him the wisdom to rule the nation of Israel with justice and righteousness. God was so impressed with this request that, well, listen to what kind of wisdom God gave to Solomon. God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else… His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations.He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 song. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. (I Kings 4:29-34) Again, all truth is God’s truth and the truth God gave Solomon was, yes, how to rule his people; but he also learned how to write songs… and how to express wisdom... and everything there was to know about trees, plants, animals, birds and fish! The following report tells us of the influence of this wide knowledge. When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. She arrived with a large group of attendants and a great caravan of camels loaded with spices, large quantities of gold, and precious jewels. When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for him to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built,she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers and their robes, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord. She exclaimed to the king, “Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of your great wisdom! It is far beyond what I was told. How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne as king to rule for him. Because God loves Israel and desires this kingdom to last forever, he has made you king over them so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” 2Chrionicles 9:1-8. Solomon’s ‘wisdom’ is proof that all truth is God’s truth and God’s truth can change the world.
Paul the Apostle, one of the most important early, 1st Century Christian leaders, started his adult life as a highly-educated, radical, highly anti-Christian Jewish zealot. He literally killed Christians. Yet, Paul had a dramatic conversion and began following Jesus. He also was soon traveling throughout the Roman world telling everyone, Jews and Gentiles, about Jesus. His story is found in the book of Acts in the New Testament. In the 17th chapter of the Book of Acts we find an interesting story about time Paul spent in the city of Athens in Greece. Athens was the center of Greek learning… and Greek learning was the most respected learning in the Roman Empire. Athens was a heady place. And when Paul came to Athens, his message about Jesus stirred up the entire city… a city that was known as the place to discuss and debate new ideas. Here is a small sampling of his time in Athens from Acts 17. Paul went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” Here is an excurses on Epicureans and Stoics. This is taken from Wikipedia but I found their definitions to be spot on. The point is that Paul could debate with each of these philosophical positions equally even though these two positions were diametrically opposed to one another.
Epicureanism is the philosophical system based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was a materialist and this position led him to disavow all things that smacked of superstition of divine intervention. Epicurus believed that what he called "pleasure" was the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one's desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism insofar as it declares pleasure to be its sole intrinsic goal, the concept that the absence of pain and fear constitutes the greatest pleasure, and its advocacy of a simple life, make it very different from "hedonism" as it is colloquially understood. Epicureanism was originally a challenge to Platonism, though later it became the main opponent of Stoicism. Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics which is informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting that which we have been given in life, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner. It was founded in Athens in the 3rd century BC. The Stoics taught that emotions resulted in errors of judgment which were destructive, due to the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life (lex divina), and they thought that the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how that person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they taught that everything was rooted in nature.
There is no indication that Paul’s ability to talk to so many people of different backgrounds in such respected and learned ways came through some sort of miracle. Paul had clearly done the hard work of learning about rhetoric, philosophy, logic and debate… he’d grown in learning… even in learning ideas that were antithetical to what he knew to be the truth… all for the purpose of being used to further God’s kingdom. In fact, in Acts 17:32-33 we get a list of all of the important Athenians who became followers of Jesus because of Paul’s wise use of the knowledge he’d acquired over the years.
My contention is that when the Bible talks about the importance of learning and growing in our minds, when the subject is getting our minds in shape to have the most impact for the kingdom, it isn’t just talking about having a scholar’s understanding of all things Christian. I believe the entire arch of scripture is saying is that, yes, we should have be able to speak with clarity about our faith in Jesus and the truth we find in the Bible. But God’s world, his truth and what is worthy of knowing well is far grander and far more amazing than we can ever imagine. And something that is even more important is that God seems just fine using our knowledge of His truth, and again that means all truth, to have great kingdom impact.
God needs all of his people to continually expand their minds, to learn and grow in all sorts of things. For some it will be history, others physics; some chemistry or business or economics while for others it will be human psychology or animal husbandry and on and on and on and on. As followers of Jesus we have been graced with the knowledge of the one who both gave us this vast, interesting and amazing world and he is also the one who created us with minds that can comprehend so much of his amazing world.
And all of this truth is important. And just like exercise and eating well and finding joy and allowing God’s peace to control our hearts… learning and growing, exercising our minds, takes discipline… being disciplined about expanding your mind in the areas that God has uniquely created you to find interesting and important. We learn and grow because it is something that expands our minds AND because it also makes it possible for us to speak to people in ways that make them want to hear more of what we have to say… particularly about Jesus.
Here are four things that I’m committed to when it comes to exercising my mind: 1) having a curiosity about the world around me. 2) Having a long view about learning. 3) Staying humble. 4) Exercising my mind as a purposed endeavor. It is all about being the best I can be for the purpose of having the greatest kingdom impact.
We take care of our bodies through exercise and eating well to be able to have the strength to have the greatest kingdom impact. We take care of our souls through finding joy and living with peaceful hearts so we can enter into God’s kingdom work with healthy spirits. And we take care of our minds, we exercise its great capacity to learn and grow and find understanding so that we will be able to engage others in ways that they will listen to us and believe what we say.
I’ve been thinking about that word ‘study’ a lot lately and what I’m thinking is that both meanings… the ancient one about ‘working hard’ and our modern one about putting in the effort to learn new things, both work… we are called to take care of our bodies, our souls and our minds and it takes hard work and serious study because the struggle is real. But it is also a struggle that is worth the effort because it is a struggle that can be won! And when we win the world changes… the kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven!