Deuteronomy 25 / Song of Solomon 5 / Acts 20
I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
Paul, since he was called and the truth of the living God was revealed to him (that Jesus was the Son of God that the Jews had been waiting for, Messiah the only One who could liberate the true Jews and save them from their hidden adversary) was engaged in a frontal attack on the false religions that existed that were either made up by the humans (Roman & Greek mythologies) or perverted by them so that they didn't resemble what they were intended by God to be (Judaism). In both cases, the attack is on the nature of the humans by and large who created the systems and the made up gods within them that served the same humans.
The dichotomy Paul knew was that one was either a son of the living God who called him, or a mere human who was living and dying and bound to this natural creation and everything in it via that corrupt nature that was instinctively and inherently in him, to drive him and lead him through his one solitary existence as a living animal until that life had expired and he went into the ground and finally became one with the natural creation in the most real and organic way.
Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (set apart from the rest).
The word of God's grace is the specific intention to remember those He desires to be with Him where He is. That is, not to be made one with the natural creation by rotting into it, melting into the soil in a transformation of decomposition, so that after a period of time there would be no trace of the individual life that once marked the man when he lived in his human body on the top of the soil. The specific intention of God to remember one of the humans is to save him from that fate so that he will become one with the Father and the Son, and the rest of the sons to whom the same grace has been extended. Therein marks the delineation of the family of God as existing distinct from the rest of the natural creation, and within that delineation is the implication of separation of the clean from the unclean, the holy from the profane. Without this separation, the sons cannot become what the Father intends them to be.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
This translation sucks because it doesn't pick up what is actually intended. The writer is doing a rhetorical trick here and the NIV loses it. Here is how it should be translated:
Pursue peace with all brothers in the family of God, and be separated from everyone else; apart from which no one shall see the Lord.
What do we think it means that so often the God of Israel (copy of the real sons of God) gave so many commands to come out from the profane God-haters and be and remain separated from them? What should we make of the lesson and warning about Israel, which repeatedly *did not* heed that command, and was just as often led astray to worship and serve the made up gods of those nations they refused to remain separated from, thereby inflaming the anger of God?
Each time they did this, He gave them what they wanted, as a lesson in an attempt to teach them by giving them over to the evil they wanted to pursue against His wish and desire. They wanted to lust after and serve the gods of the foreign nations around them, so He allowed them to be overrun by those peoples to serve them and their gods until they apparently learned, and cried out to Him, and He provided a deliverer who had His word in his mind and mouth. It is similar in a microcosmic way to the overriding dilemma of the humans, what made them into the craving and fear driven creatures they have been since they were made one with the animal because they served and trusted it rather than the One who wanted to be their Father. So He bound them together so they'd be a servant of it without choice, so they wouldn't be able to do anything except serve the animal because they're one with it—they are the animal, the serpent, the devil, and satan, the created adversary. They have no other option than to be a slave to the instinctual fear and cravings that drive each one, so that it can never come close to the living God. That nature is ubiquitous across the spectrum of the humans and their puny little lives, which ironically mean everything to each of them, independent of the other.
That condition of being a slave to the selves means emphatically they cannot be what is pleasing to God. That is the condition and dilemma of man before (or more precisely, not before) God. They cannot come close to Him because of this built in mechanism. That is, unless this grace has been or is being extended to them so that they can become free and not slaves to their nature. That is the condition that these first century believers were experiencing. It was a freedom from that captivity to all the things within those particular humans that made them slaves—the fear and cravings and the constant need to appease and satisfy them like a dog running after its tail its whole life, never catching it. They never do catch it because it's a bottomless pit of needing to satisfy and appease what cannot be contained. They spend their lives running after the things they are told they're supposed to, because those things have been declared by the humans as what holds value because they can be used to do this appeasing and satisfying of this sort of phantom master they all serve.
That master is only identified to those who have been chosen by the eternal Father to become His eternal sons, and be in His eternal family of sons who, contrasted with the rest of the human animals, serve and worship Him, not this phantom master they learned to serve, along with all the rest. The power of God is displayed in taking one of these hopelessly lost slaves, who isn't even aware of his own condition of servitude and slavery to the phantom master, and not only apprising him to the extent of its mastery of him, but to literally pull him out of that bondage so that he can serve the living God, who is not a phantom or a fairy tale, but alive and willing to reveal His own life and self within that one whom He has chosen/is choosing.
The realization of that exact truth and the knowledge of that condition is why Paul drops everything he was formerly pursuing (when he was a slave to the phantom master) to do whatever he could to reveal this truth for those who would accept it, because that meant to him that they had also been chosen to be in this glorious, yet totally secret and hidden family, whose members must be called so that this truth could be revealed to them. It is not assumed, what the writings of Paul disclose, that he considered it a random thing that anyone could just grab onto, specifically because it requires so much. Not just a lot but everything, which is the point that is made by the words and life of the firstborn Son who is the model for all the others.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Pursuing peace with our brothers requires that we care for them, love them as much as we love ourselves. This will be the hardest thing a human can ever do, impossible because it is the opposite of who we are. The animal nature's instinctual construct makes the humans only able to love in a true way those who are related to it, which as another perfect and beautiful irony of God, is the copy of Him in regards to His own true sons. He does not, as is the ubiquitous belief amongst the humans, love everyone and anyone, and want them all to be near Him. This is the explanation, for those who are being given ears to hear, of why they aren't close to Him as they claim to be, why the religious landscape seems forced and fake—because it is. They attempt to get something that isn't intended for them, and they treat it as another of their human pursuits, like climbing the ladder in a corporation.
The sons should be careful because the animal nature that's in them will constantly cause them to want to rip each other apart. It will be more intense than anything they have experienced in a way that will bring much grief. It is a good thing, though, because it is the way that the Lord teaches them to lose that nature which can only serve itself, so they can learn to not be as it's trying to make them be, and instead be as he was. He knew the value of those chosen men, because the Father told him that He intended to make them His very own sons. This is the pivot point of the old and new covenants, the better thing that the preserved words pointed to in identifying a chosen group of humans as God's people, the copy of this new creation Jesus was giving birth to, based on all those things contained within the words that were hidden but now were being disclosed to those to whom this new reality was being revealed. Everything was and is about God's family of hidden sons, the entire reason for this natural creation (what is not hidden).
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.
He took care of God's sheep in real ways, most importantly he revealed to them who their true Father was. He gave his life to that service, and then he gave his life literally, in the highest way he could, by being the Lamb that was worthy to save the true sons from the bondage of Adam. Losing our life is the death of ourselves, and death is painful. God has mercy on us though, and allows us to do it slowly, gradually and steadily. When the Lord becomes our master, everything we know about how to protect and satisfy ourselves will slowly be purged from us, and the suffering of losing our lives—our animal natures—will follow with it.
Pursue peace with all brothers in the family of God, and be separated from everyone else; apart from which no one shall see the Lord.
Pursuing peace at all cost goes hand in hand with being set apart from the world. The word that the NIV translates as “holy” is actually the word for being set apart. "Holy" does not do justice because “being holy” is kind of a confusing idea. “Being set apart from,” on the other hand, is a directive—something we can have a part in. It comes from hearing the spirit's urgings in us, moving away from the things that used to rule us. It is something we must do if we are to follow the Lord in a real way. It is something the Lord does for us, but as we become aware of who we are and who everyone else is, we also make choices that affirm our faith in what we cannot see. It in essence is a way we help the Lord grow us into mature children of God, who can be responsible and trusted in all things.
Paul is using double exclusives here to ironically sum up the existence we should have while we are waiting, in faith, to be with the Father and the Son, and all of our true brothers. It is a phrase that we could basically live our lives by now as spiritually born sons of the living God. You can't understand how true it is until you understand the value of the family of God. You can't understand the value of your brother until you are spiritually able, because it all happens in the spiritual sense, not the natural. Babies can only think of themselves—they are stuck in their positions of self-awareness. A long while after we are born of God, the self-preserving old man is still alive in us. It must eventually be replaced by the new man, the servant and pinnacle of spiritual maturity who was Jesus.
But it is a long slow process, that of growing out of the old and in to the new. It takes time, pain and suffering because we're being separated from what we love. We need food to grow the spiritual man; that food is the living word that's hidden and secret, and the word is alive when there is peace, when the spirit is allowed to rule us instead of the flesh—the reason for the separation from what contaminates. The contrary is also true, that without it we will just remain human, as we were before we were called—like malformed retards.
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about."
Then his disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought him food?" "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?
The world of the nature of the mature animals is the enemy of God. It is ruled by the old man, the animal nature, the devil in all of the grown up animals—everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of who God is. It's in us too, and when we allow the world to live in us we make ourselves a home for it and the living word cannot dwell in us. God cannot dwell in a house that is unclean and chaotic, where His enemy is allowed to freely roam.
So what is it when we say that we have to separate ourselves from the sinful nature? Sin isn't some religious concept, or merely what the "bad people" do. It is what all of the mature humans inherently are, enemies of God because they are driven and owned by the nature of the devil, the ruler of this world. Whatever the humans love and run after by nature, that's what it is. Responsible, successful, honorable, respectable, wealthy, secure, faithful to other humans, someone who can be counted on, looked up to, etc. The sons' faithfulness isn't to the humans, but only to their Father and His family. This cannot be done with the nature of the animal intact.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
For Paul, the value of the people who were in the family of God was clear. Because he was spiritually mature he knew that they were his brothers in the Lord, and the possession of God. The Lord took Paul's life and spent him like a drink offering for the purpose of feeding the sheep. The concept of loving his brothers, looking after his brothers' interests over his own, became his purpose because it is the Father's purpose, and Paul was merely responding to the love he felt coming from Him. He was taught this by the word living in him, Jesus, who was the same good shepherd for God.
We know that Jesus defined spiritual maturity while he never became a mature animal. He understood that caring for his brother was love, and being set apart from the world went hand in hand with that. In ourselves we cannot do either of these things because it is against our very nature as mature animals. Until we are set free from the animal nature we cannot rise above it, or separate ourselves from it because it is us and we are one with it. The devil isn't something outside of us; it is us because it defines us—it is our very nature that controls us by instinct.
When Adam chose to obey the snake, to believe his lies, to choose to be independent from God, he was made one with the snake and the rest of the animals. When we are born of God we are set free from that animal nature, yet it will still be with us as we grow out of it and into the new man. That animal nature is what Jesus killed on the cross. He was the Lamb of God, given for the sons to set them free from that animal nature they inherited from Adam.
In the OT the lamb was offered because of sins that were accidental, done because the man couldn't help it, because of his nature. That was pointing to the Son who would kill that thing which separated the sons from their Father and allow Him to live inside His children so they could actually get to know Him, and fathom His love for them. Praise be to God for sending His own Son to love us and show us the way to our Father. We can endure by seeking peace with our brothers and allowing him to raise us as good sons who love their true family more than themselves. First we have to know who our real Father and brothers are. That takes a while.
What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.