What’s All This About Annointing with Oil?

As a Reformed, low-church Protestant, I’m naturally suspicious of anything that smacks of religious ritualism. Prayer labyrinths? No, thank you; I’ll stick with corporate prayer in the church and the private prayer Jesus commends (Matt. 6:6). Candles and incense? Again, I’ll take plain preaching and congregational singing. So when asked whether we should anoint the sick with oil, I confess I’m reflexively resistant to the idea. For someone in my theological tribe, pouring oil on someone just feels . . . weird. But faithful theology isn’t an enterprise in following feelings or intuitions, it’s a matter of submitting to Scripture, wherever it leads.

In this case, Scripture directly addresses whether we should anoint the sick with oil.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14–15).

This passage is notoriously enigmatic, and I certainly don’t have the final word on it. But since it seems to answer the question proposed in the title of this article, it’s worth considering how this text should shape ministry to the sick in our congregations.

I have no intention of untying every exegetical knot (there are many!). Instead, I hope we can get a general idea of what James is commending by simply asking questions of the text and following the basic hermeneutical principle that we should always let clearer parts of Scripture guide and constrain our interpretations of more difficult passages like this one.

With that throat-clearing out of the way, let’s consider four questions that help us understand what James is commending.

Should we apply this passage to every sickness?
James isn’t suggesting you get on the phone with your elders and ask them to break out the oil every time your seasonal allergies act up or you get the sniffles. The fact that the sick person in this text has to “call for” the elders to visit him suggests that this person is significantly ill—unable to attend corporate gatherings or other functions where they might encounter the elders. Further, the description of healing in verse 15 also suggests the illness is severe.

Why should the sick call on their elders?
Pragmatically, calling your elders to pray for you in a time of sickness puts your needs not only before them but, likely, before the whole congregation. As the shepherds of your church, the elders are best suited to know how to care for you, how to express your needs to the church, and how to minister the hope of the gospel.

Faithful theology isn’t an enterprise in following feelings or intuitions, it’s a matter of submitting to Scripture, wherever it leads.

The end of verse 16 may provide another clue why the sick should call on their elders to pray for them. In that verse, James teaches that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Given the qualifications for elders (1 Tim. 3:1–7) and their responsibility to model godliness for the congregation (1 Pet. 5:3), the elders in your church should be above reproach and you should invite their intercession.

Notably, James indicates that the sick man is the one who initiates contact with the elders and asks for prayer and anointing. These are acts of faith and humility on his part, expressions of humble reliance on the God who holds the power of life and death in his hand.

What’s the deal with the oil?
James’s mention of oil is certainly one of the most enigmatic parts of the passage. Let’s rule out what anointing with oil doesn’t mean.

First, James isn’t teaching the Roman Catholic doctrine of extreme unction. He nowhere indicates that we should see anointing the sick with oil as a “sacrament.” Furthermore, the use of oil in this passage isn’t to prepare the sick for death but is appended to the prayers that look for healing and restoration.

Second, James isn’t suggesting that the oil bears any magical or supernatural quality. The healing results from the elders praying “in the name of the Lord.” The oil is secondary in this passage, adorning the central act of prayer—our humble expression of dependence on the Lord for all things, particularly our health.

The oil is secondary in this passage, adorning the central act of prayer.

Finally, the oil in this passage isn’t medicinal, as some commentators suggest. While an intriguing proposal, there is no evidence in this text that “oil” should be read as a stand in for medicine. In fact, in Mark 6:13, the only other time we find oil and healing connected in the New Testament, the oil is clearly not medicinal since the healings described in that passage are supernatural.

So what’s the point of anointing with oil? Likely, anointing with oil simply symbolizes consecration to God, as it often does elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Num. 3:3; 1 Sam. 10:1; Ps. 89:20). Anointing with oil is a physical act expressing a spiritual truth: we belong to God and have committed ourselves wholly into his care. Prayer expresses this point with words; anointing with oil expresses that point in action.

Does this passage promise those anointed will be healed without exception as long as they have enough faith?
The beginning of verse 15 seems to suggest that “prayers of faith” inevitably result in physical healing. Certainly, such an interpretation doesn’t accord with reality. Godliness is no guarantee of physical health, nor can it perpetually deter death (Heb. 9:27). Furthermore, Paul himself, perhaps the most faith-filled Christian ever, had to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20).

Anointing with oil is a physical act expressing a spiritual truth: we belong to God and have committed ourselves wholly into his care.

Rather, James is reminding us that prayer that pleases God springs from the living faith he described in chapter 2. On some occasions, God uses these faith-filled prayers as the means through which he heals the sick. Praying in faith isn’t a magic formula that twists God’s arm to do what we want. Rather, praying in faith both boldly asks God to heal a sick brother or sister and humbly trusts God’s perfect plan—a plan that culminates with Christ “saving” and “raising up” all of his people in the resurrection.

Humble Reliance on God’s Mercy
Should we anoint the sick with oil? It depends on the situation.

On the one hand, God doesn’t command Christians to seek out every sick brother or sister and anoint them. But if someone seriously ill desires healing, then yes—one way they can express their wholehearted reliance on and submission to God is by asking righteous men to intercede for them and symbolize their commitment to the Lord by being anointed with oil.

Samuel Emadi

They Are Still Trying to Explain God Away

We’re often told that science is steadily removing reasons for belief in God. As atheist Jerry Coyne says, “Bit by bit, the list of phenomena that once demanded an explanatory God is being whittled down to nothing.”

It’s not that this kind of claim doesn’t have force; indeed, I think it requires careful consideration, and always will. But thoughtful consideration can take a lot of the wind out of this claim’s sails—at least insofar as it’s an objection to God’s existence. This is where Bradley Sickler’s helpful new book comes in. is a careful response to the kind of assertion made by Coyne and his cohorts.

As the title indicates, Sickler—associate professor of philosophy and director for the master of arts in theological studies program at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota—focuses on what can generally be called “brain science,” a cluster of disciplines that includes cognitive science, neurophysiology, evolutionary morality, and evolutionary psychology. Although these disciplines are relatively young, they’re already making discoveries that have important implications for our understanding of human nature. And, not surprisingly, these discoveries are forcing us to think more deeply about traditional religious beliefs.

Despite Sickler’s focus on cognitive science and related disciplines, he also manages to cover more general historical and philosophical topics, putting the study of brains and beliefs in their proper context. For one thing, he looks in considerable depth at the overall relationship between science and religion, a topic that has increasingly drawn academic attention over the last few decades. Are science and religion natural enemies, inherently at odds? If not, what’s the real nature of their relationship? Are they related at all? Do they address entirely separate domains or are they, in some sense, complementary? While considering these questions, Sickler also guides us through important historical episodes and deeper philosophical issues, such as the methods and limits of science. He concludes there’s nothing inherent in science (or religion) that would suggest a conflict—at least in principle.

Matter and the Soul
But what about in practice? Here Sickler focuses on two broad questions. The first is whether evolution has adequately explained—or rather, explained away—the human propensity for religious belief, including belief in God. The second question, which he spends more time on, is whether science has shown that humans are made only of matter, and therefore have no immaterial soul.

Are science and religion natural enemies, inherently at odds? If not, what’s the real nature of their relationship?

Both questions arise out of a growing belief that humans aren’t different from other animals in kind, only in degree. But Sickler makes clear, time and again, that “despite our similarity to all other living things, we must recognize that there is something fundamentally different about humans; we are not merely another animal.”

Consider the first question: whether there’s a purely natural evolutionary explanation for belief in God. One of the motivating ideas behind it is that, “[f]rom the standpoint of secular science, the persistence of religion is an evolutionary puzzle.” After all, “To a naturalist, it represents a massive failure of our cognitive equipment.” And so, over the last couple of decades, the “cognitive science of religion” (CSR) has attempted to explain our widespread religious beliefs in terms of evolution and other natural factors. Among the many possible evolutionary explanations for belief in God is the possibility that humans have evolved with a tendency to see active beings or agents behind natural phenomena—agents like “tree spirits and volcano goddesses.” Or, as they say in the business, we evolved with a “hyperactive agency-detection device” (or HADD). Moreover, our overactive imaginations have proven beneficial; we often overestimate danger, believing nature is sometimes hellbent on killing us. HADD would help explain why so many humans (falsely) believe in God. Better safe than sorry.

But, as Sickler points out, even if religion is beneficial to species survival, it’s not clear this fact would support atheism over Christianity. As he says, it seems reasonable to think God would provide humans with the propensity to believe beneficial things—and certainly no reason to think he wouldn’t.

Consider the second question, the one about human souls (or, equivalently, immaterial minds). Has science refuted the age-old belief that we’re a combination of a material body and immaterial soul? That is, has science refuted dualism? If so, this would be a real problem for Christianity sincee belief in an immaterial soul is necessary for many Christian doctrines, even touching on the integrity of the gospel itself.

Has science refuted dualism? If so, this would be a real problem for Christianity since belief in an immaterial soul is necessary for many crucial Christian doctrines, even touching on the integrity of the gospel itself.

But how could science—which seems to deal with only the material world—possibly show that there’s no immaterial soul? Wouldn’t the soul be entirely beyond science’s reach? Not necessarily. Science might be able to show that every mental state we have heretofore attributed to the soul is, instead, a physical-brain state.

Sickler addresses this from a number of directions, but his main response is to question whether we really have explained our mental lives in terms of brain states. Specifically, have we explained consciousness itself? Is it really the case that the pain we feel, the propositional contents of our thoughts, and our experiences of color are identical with—or even caused by—the firing of C-fibers? Have we really solved what Sickler calls the “hard problem”? Quoting philosopher Kelly James Clark, he asks: “How do things with entirely physical properties cause or give rise to things with entirely mental properties? What is the relationship of the mental to the physical? We simply don’t know.”

The hard problem, Sickler says, “remains just as hard as ever.”

Philosophy Done Well
Sickler doesn’t stop at merely defending the soul (and religious belief), as significant as this defense is. He also plays offense by providing powerful reasons why a secular, materialistic view of the world doesn’t have the conceptual resources to support the very things it values most. For example, materialism can’t adequately account for morality, free will, and even science itself.

He plays offense by providing powerful reasons for thinking that a secular, materialistic view of the world simply doesn’t have the conceptual resources to support the very things it values most.

Throughout God on the Brain, Sickler gives lessons in philosophical thinking. This isn’t merely a book about cognitive science or religion. It’s also an introduction to philosophy done well: helping us to think clearly and carefully about the deep questions of our existence.

Mitch Stokes

Christmas Cannot Come Soon Enough

For many, 2020 has felt like one long groan. Between the pandemic, a struggling economy, the isolation of quarantine and online school, civil unrest, racial injustice, wildfires, hurricanes, a noisy election, and divisive public discourse, this year has reminded us again and again of our mortality, lack of control, and collective brokenness. As 2020 comes to a close, we find ourselves longing—perhaps like never before—for hope, love, joy, and peace.

In other words, 2020 has primed us for the ache of Advent.

Biblical Ache and Groaning
Advent is a season set aside for waiting and watching, longing and looking for the Messiah. Through liturgies, calendars, wreaths, and more, we lean into the tension of anticipation, counting down the days until Christ’s arrival with expectancy and hope. Even as we celebrate Christ’s first arrival, we watch and ache for his promised second coming, when God will dwell with us forever and everything fractured will be made new (Rev. 21:3–5).

As 2020 comes to a close, we find ourselves longing—perhaps like never before—for hope, love, joy, and peace.

As Christians, this ache should not be surprising, unfamiliar, or even relegated to the Advent season. In Romans 8, Paul says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now . . . [and we too] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Elsewhere Paul says, “In this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:4), and “We live godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12b–14).

Groaning, aching, and longing pervade the pages of Scripture. These emotions should mark the Christian life not just during Advent, but all year long. Yet many of us—especially Western Christians—don’t resonate with these themes.

That is, until something like 2020 comes our way.

2020’s Aches and Groans
Eugene Peterson once said, “A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” If we let it, 2020 can whet our appetite for the kingdom of God and for Jesus, her glorious King.

A global pandemic has shown us our mortality and fragility. Oh, that the pandemic would awaken our worship of the resurrected King! Even as we work to eradicate the virus, may it stir up a desire for that great Day when “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54), when God himself wipes our tears away, and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:4–5).

If we let it, 2020 can whet our appetite for the kingdom of God and for Jesus, her glorious King.

The presidential election divided our country, churches, and families, and many Christians feel more politically homeless than ever. Oh, that this feeling of exile would remind us our citizenship is in heaven, our King is Jesus, and our platform is his kingdom! May our current political climate stir up a deeper longing for the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” who will uphold his kingdom “with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isa. 9:6–7).

This year has also brought a new awareness of racial injustice, broken systems, and wrongs against the poor and the refugee. Oh, that we would allow this awareness to lead us to repentance and a truer outworking of biblical justice. Oh, that it would catalyze more delight in the God who “executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” and “watches over the immigrant and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Ps. 146:7–9).

May the isolation of quarantine, and the fact that many of us have gone without in-person worship since March, drive us to deeper gratitude for the family of God. May it prompt in us a longing for Christ’s return, when “the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Isa. 25:6) and “a great multitude” will eat the marriage supper of the Lamb and worship together (Rev. 19:6–9).

Wildfires and hurricanes, and in some cases riots and looting, have left many Americans with a tangible sense of the desolation Isaiah described: a land scorched and dry, cities plundered, a barren wilderness thick with thorns (cf Isa. 24). But even as we grieve this desolation and work to bring God’s shalom to our cities and towns, may it prompt us to turn to the God who “comforts all [Zion’s] waste places, and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD” (Isa. 51:3). May it cause us to eagerly await the day when “the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come into Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads . . . and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (v. 11).

Caroline Cobb

2020 has shaken idols, uprooted comforts, reminded us of our mortality, and brought a new awareness of the brokenness around us. As this difficult year draws to a close, Advent gives us the opportunity to voice both the unwavering hope we have in Jesus and the longing cry, “How long, O Lord?” And when that long-awaited Day of rejoicing comes, it will be all the more glorious for the ache we experience now, like the dawn after a long darkness, or a distant garden blooming in the desert.

You Just Can’t Get Rid of the Stench

Marie Stopes International announced that it will henceforth be known as MSI Reproductive Choices, in an attempt to distance themselves from their eugenicist founder, Marie Stopes.

“A rose by any other name” as Shakespeare famously wrote, “would smell as sweet.” Giving Marie Stopes another name will do nothing to clear the foul stench of death that emanates from an organisation which killed 4.6 million unborn babies globally in 2019.

Pro-lifers have long pointed to Stopes’ horrific views on the poor, the disabled and ethnic minorities. Now pressure from the recent Black Lives Matter protests has prompted the organisation to admit that she was a “supporter of the eugenics movement and expressed many opinions which are in stark contrast to MSI’s core values and principles”. Their press statement says that the “new name intentionally breaks with its connection to Marie Stopes the woman” and puts “choice front and centre”.

Eradicating the “degenerate, feeble-minded and unbalanced”

Stopes (1880 – 1958) was a eugenicist through and through. While Marie Stopes may have been a “pioneer of family planning”, it would be a stretch to say that she was motivated by women’s choice.

Radiant Motherhood, one of a series of books on birth control that she wrote from 1918 to the 1930s, reveals the underlying and repulsive agenda behind her push for widespread birth control: “it is the urgent duty of the community to make parenthood impossible for those whose mental and physical conditions are such that there is a certainty that their offspring must be physically and mentally tainted…”

She wants their sterilisation made immediate and made compulsory otherwise there will be an: “…ever increasing stock of degenerate, feeble-minded and unbalanced who will devastate social customs…like the parasite upon a healthy tree.”

She did not just write, but actively lobbied the Prime Minister and Parliament to pass Acts to enforce compulsory sterilisation in order to: “…ensure the sterility of the hopelessly rotten and racially diseased…by the elimination of wasteful lives.”

Marie Stopes’ first family planning clinic was in North London in 1921 and was run by an organisation she founded: The Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress. It was no coincidence that her birth control clinics were clustered in deprived areas, to focus on reducing the birth rate of the poor lower classes and prevent the birth of those whom she considered to be “the inferior, the depraved, and the feeble-minded”.

None of this had much to do with empowering women, or in promoting birth control as a good in its own right.

Marie Stopes wasn’t an abortionist

Another irony is that Marie Stopes did not actually support abortion. Whatever her abhorrent views on people she considered should never be born, she didn’t actually advocate killing them. Now, the organisation founded in her name kills millions of babies every year, many because they are in some way considered inferior or just unwanted.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali tweeted: “Marie Stopes Int’l is to change to just MSI because, as many say, she was a eugenicist, Pro-Nazi &racial purist, advocating sterilisation of the ‘weak’, ‘degenerate’ & mixed race. How different is this from MSI’s work today as a leading abortion provider of the unwanted and disabled?”

The new eugenics

The final irony attached to a name change aimed at distancing itself from Stopes’ eugenic views, is that newly named MSI Reproductive Choices carries out a eugenic programme of contraception and abortion on a scale Marie Stopes could never have dreamed of. The organisation is obsessed with promoting abortion and family planning across Africa and Asia, whether or not those countries actually want it, and whether or not it is legal. MSI have been repeatedly accused of operating illegal abortion clinics across African countries. In 2018, the Kenyan Medical Practitioners Board banned Marie Stopes from performing any abortion service. Less than two weeks after this action, the West African Country of Niger ordered the closure of Marie Stopes clinics for facilitating illegal abortions.

More recently, MSI has openly been promoting self-managed medical abortions and providing the drugs to do it, even in countries where there is a legal prohibition on over-the-counter sale of abortion drugs. Whether or not this aggressive pushing of abortion in developing countries is generally seen as eugenics, it certainly reveals a patronising attitude towards these countries’ ability to decide and formulate their own laws on these issues. You can quite imagine Marie Stopes saying that African countries couldn’t be trusted to decide for themselves whether abortion and birth control should be permitted in their country.

The journalist Dominic Lawson, whose 25-year-old daughter Domenica has Down’s syndrome, has highlighted the eugenics behind abortion in this country. Writing about the ousting of a Downing Street advisor for expressing eugenicist views, he said: “Hidden in plain sight, however, is the most astounding hypocrisy. Eugenics is practised in this country, funded by the taxpayer, and supported — though by no means only so — by those who would regard themselves as being on the Left. I am referring to the law governing the termination of pregnancy, and the fact it actively discriminates against those unborn children who are likely to have subnormal IQs or physical disabilities.”

A change of name does nothing to distance the vile views of Marie Stopes from the abortion provider bearing her name. Including the words “reproductive choices” in the organisation’s new name rings hollow. Many women walking in through the doors of a Marie Stopes clinic feel they had no choice. One study found that 25% of US women attending sexual and reproductive healthcare services were subject to control or coercion over their “reproductive lives”.

Around 75% of the women who contact ARCH have experienced some sort of coercion from partners or others.

MSI Reproductive Choices is killing the babies for whom unnumbered women around the world will never cease mourning. Nothing will erase the bloodstained, eugenic legacy of Marie Stopes until every clinic bearing her name is shut. For ever.

Alithea Williams

Something to Keep You Warm

Some 25,000 winter coats are being gifted to children in Syria this Christmas.

The effort is being led by Sister Annie Demerjian and the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, with support from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The thousands of coats have been made by tailors in Aleppo, northern Syria, which was devastated in the civil war.

Sister Annie said the gift of coats would not only keep children warm, but “give a boost to the local economy by helping our small local factories through the production of these garments”.

Although there is normally a shortage of material in the winter months, Sister Annie planned ahead and reserved the items needed to make the coats several months ago.

Cutting machine operator Rami said the order for the coats came at a “critical” time when they were “desperate for work”.

“You know how bad the present economic situation is in the country,” he said.

“So it is a great joy for us to be able to support ourselves over the next few months, thanks to this project of ACN. May God reward you.”

In total, 180 Syrians – both Christian and Muslim – are working across 30 workshops to make the coats.

The coats will be distributed to children in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Qamishli, Hassake, Sweida and Horan as Christmas gifts.

“Together, we can put a smile on the faces of the children,” said Sister Annie.

He Should Know

Jesus’ mission from God our Father was to bring forgiveness to the world. On the cross, Jesus accomplished the mission. Hanging on the cross, he was mocked by the religious leaders and the Roman soldiers.
They gambled to see who would get his clothes. His Holy attitude was they didn’t know what they were doing by killing him.

And they didn’t. And neither do we most days. Our missing God’s goal (aka sin) for our life put Him on that cross.

Jesus is all about forgiveness. He knows love like no other. God is in a good mood.

“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” ~Jesus on the cross Luke 23:34 | (The Message Bible)

Forgiveness in the Bible is a “release” or a “dismissal” of something. The forgiveness I have in the Messiah involves the release of sinners like me from God’s just penalty and the complete dismissal of all charges against me.

Consider this from the Apostle Paul. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in the Messiah Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in the Messiah Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1).

Colossians 1:14 says that in God’s beloved Son “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The Amplified Bible translates the last phrase like this: “the forgiveness of our sins [and the cancellation of sins’ penalty].”

God’s gracious forgiveness of our sin is to be the measure of our gracious forgiveness of others.

Jesus the Messiah’s ministry of forgiveness was foretold. God has a plan. God executes it in His son Jesus. Jesus paid the penalty for me. Amazing!

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Master appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” | Matthew 1:20–21

Now here is some good news! The next day John saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! | John 1:29

Michael Wilson

Why Wait?

I need to find more hope. God is good and in a good mood. Justice, while lacking here some days, will be done. Beyond faith, I need hope.

It is right for me to hope. Hope is the total grounding of my confidence and expectation in God’s goodness and providential care even in the face of trouble.

The mere sound of the name of Jesus causes me to remember to hope. I need to focus, with confidence, that what Jesus has promised will happen. Jesus is faithful. Justice will triumph!

Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers. | Matthew 12:21

Hope can be placed in Scripture as the word of God

Hope is a total grounding of my confidence and expectation in God’s goodness and providential care even in the face of trouble.

1 Timothy 4:10 (NASB) — For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

The word of God, gives me hope. In the scripture, I gain assurance of the promises of God, fulfilled by His son Jesus, the Messiah. The scripture encourages me every day. In the scripture, I know that God is love and God is good. Why worry and why not hope?

Romans 15:4 (NASB) — For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Psalm 119:74 (NASB) — May those who fear You see me and be glad, because I wait for Your word.

Acts 26:6 (NASB) — “And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.”

Psalm 119:43 (NASB) — And do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for I wait for Your ordinances.

Psalm 119:49 (NASB) — Remember the word to Your servant, In which You have made me hope.

Colossians 1:5 (NASB) — Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the good news.

Psalm 119:81 (NASB) — My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word.

Psalm 119:114 (NASB) — You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.

Psalm 119:147 (NASB) — I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words.

Psalm 130:5 (NASB) —  I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope.

Isaiah 42:4 (NASB) — “He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Michael Wilson

Pray for Ethiopia’s Civil War

On Tuesday afternoon, an explosion rocked the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray province, killing two civilians and injuring many more.

It’s another tragedy in the civil war that has erupted in Ethiopia. Forces loyal to the central government clash against those loyal to the local leaders of the Tigray region in the northern part of the country. Hundreds have reportedly died in the conflict.

Tensions between Tigray and the central government escalated in June when the government delayed an election due to COVID-19. In response to the violence, over 27,000 people have fled over the border to Sudan.

A map of Ethiopia with the Tigray region highlighted in red.
A map of Ethiopia with the Tigray region highlighted in red.

Peter, a Christian worker with World Concern, works in Somalia, and he explains the situation he is seeing. “As we speak now, the great conflict continues. It has not yet affected Somalia much. But we are looking at maybe the ripple effects. Some imports, like most of the vegetables that are relied on in Somalia where we are, come from Ethiopia.”

Somalia itself struggles with unrest, especially brought on by the group al-Shabaab, which has terrorized the country since 2006.

World Concern works with people in extreme poverty or need. In many places like Somalia, Peter says, they can’t evangelize openly. “Even without talking about our faith or even about Christ, the work that we do has been able to speak volumes about the God that we serve. And to me, that has been the turning point in serving in this land. [We are] restricted, not able to talk about the faith. But the deeds that we are engaged in  speak volumes about the faith that we espouse.”

Pray many would see the love of God reflected through the work of World Concern. And pray that the civil war in Ethiopia would end soon and that a stable and lasting peace would return to the region.

Kevin Zeller

God on Race

God does not talk about race like we do. Not that he ignores the subject. Far from it.

The Christian Scriptures, from beginning to end, have a great deal to say about the matter — and much to say into our present context. In fact, I suspect many today would be quite surprised to discover how conscious and aware the Bible is to ethnicity, and how germane it is to our ongoing tensions and discussions related to race.

God’s readiness to speak into our moment, however, does not mean that he sounds like we do, or that he blesses or adopts the very modern, secular, godless foundations of our dialogues and diatribes. He does meet us here, and he stands ready to change us — not just how we live, but how we talk. He wants his people to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). And yet many of us resist his way of talking about race (or ignore him altogether on this issue), and instead adopt the approach and vocabulary of the unbelieving right or the unbelieving left.

If God’s way of talking about the subject has grown vanilla or seems irrelevant to you in our current context, I want to encourage you, in Christ, to reconsider. As you do, know that seeking to embrace God’s approach and his categories is not to favor “the right” or “the left” in American politics. Rather, approaching the subject on God’s terms will unsettle and unmask both the secular liberal and secular conservative influences that are shaping so much of our thinking, talking, and tweeting.

God Gives Us Categories
From beginning to end, the Scriptures show how our diversity of ethnicity proclaims the excellencies of our God. And perhaps no single chapter in the Scriptures speaks as directly into our moment as Ephesians 2. Here Paul not only rehearses the key categories from God’s own telling of his story, but also then makes explicit and immediate connections to ethnicity and reconciliation and peace. Ephesians 2 is an extraordinarily powerful word for the tensions and unrest of our day.

The plain categories of Ephesians 2:1–10 — sin, Christ, grace, faith, doing good for others — are vital to Paul’s treatment of ethnic division and unity in Christ in Ephesians 2:11–22.

All Spiritually Dead
Apart from Christ, “you were dead” (Ephesians 2:1). All of us, Jews and Gentiles, black and white — “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh . . . and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). All of us, every person, every ethnicity, were “following the course of this world” — and to do so, mark this, is also “following the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), that is, the devil. Don’t think that Satan is uninvolved in the obstacles we face. We will do well to keep his schemes in mind, and humanity’s sin nature, as we consider whether we might have common ground with unbelievers in various causes (on the left and on the right).

Awakened in Christ
In Christ, everything has changed for us. Do you feel the force of this? Does being “in Christ” affect how you view the unrest of these days? The most fundamental divide in the world is not black and white, or Jew and Gentile, or male and female, or any other created difference Satan and our sin turn into division. Most basic is this: “in Christ” or “apart from Christ.”

We who have come to know Jesus were “made alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). The one true God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6) — how then can we not see the world, and these tensions, and all things, differently than spiritually dead, unawakened liberals and conservatives? We have been made alive. We are truly awake. We have been raised up with Christ. Or have we?

If we are alive in Christ, and awake in him, we might ask ourselves in days like ours, Do I see this conflict any different than a spiritually dead person does? Am I different than a spiritually dead liberal or conservative? In my gravitating toward a “side,” am I becoming “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

Grace Reigns and Works
Paul’s great interjection in Ephesians 2:5 — “by grace you have been saved!” — brings a distinctively Christian element to what unfolds in Ephesians 2:11–22. As Christians, how can grace not characterize our response to racial tensions and to all things? Do the “warriors” on the right or the left operate from grace? How different might these days be, at least in our churches, if Christians spoke and acted as Christians — as if grace reigned?

To be clear, the reign of grace leads not to passivity or apathy but to energy — to “good works” (Ephesians 2:10). These good works are not for show, but meet real human needs. God calls for works done, deeds performed, energy expended, muscles engaged, words spoken, personal comforts denied, discomforts embraced, to bring some good in someone else’s life that might not otherwise happen. Such good works do not broadcast self but give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Such good works typically go uncaptured and unposted. And such good works arise from our own gospel-shaped, Spirit-led hearts, not the dictates of others.

If we know what’s coming to us — “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7) — how can we not seek to reflect that in our world?

So Prone to Forget
Now, in light of God’s story, God’s work, God’s Son, God’s grace, what might we say about the most acute of ethnic tensions — Jew and Gentile — and then all others besides? Paul first says, Remember (Ephesians 2:11–12). It may seem so easy, and yet is so profound. Remember who you were apart from Jesus: spiritually dead. And remember who you are now, in him: spiritually alive, awake.

We are so prone to forget. Some new dialogue comes along, or new concern feels pressing. The world has its terms, its tone, its sides, and how soon we forget. How soon we need to hear Paul say, “Remember.” It is one of our greatest needs as Christians in such times: to remember what we already know.

Remember we are first and foremost Christian, not first and foremost Jew or Gentile, white or black, Asian or Hispanic. Remember, in Christ, we see the world not primarily through the lens of race but through the lens of his person and work. “In Christ” or “apart from Christ” are the biggest and most significant categories, not our race or other distinctives. Remember that deeper than skin color is the blood of our common humanity, and deeper still is the blood of Christ.

Peace Is a Person
“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Here, and here alone, do humans find true and lasting peace — “for he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). This is what Christians believe, what we say, and how we live: Christ is our peace. The world, apart from Christ, doesn’t know this peace, the true and lasting peace. Just as the world flounders to define justice and racism (a species of biblical partiality) apart from Christ.

The next verse tells us how Christ makes peace between ethnicities: he creates in himself “one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). It is striking how directly the risen Christ speaks, through his apostle, into our day, if we have ears to hear. If Christ is peace for Jew and Gentile, how much more between fellow Gentiles? Which means, as Christians, we don’t ask blacks to be white, or whites to be black. Rather, the common ground, the place we come together, the point of peace is Jesus himself — his blood, his cross, his flesh, our being one new man in him — and in that way making peace.

Christ “reconcile[s] us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16) — and only here, as we first are reconciled to God, are we then truly and enduringly reconciled to each other. In Christ is real and true reconciliation, already achieved, ready to be applied. Apart from him, reconciliation will be thin, partial, and short-lived. Christ’s faithful church offers a true and lasting peace that the world and its polarized unbeliefs do not know.

In Christ, we know in the end there is only one way to real and lasting oneness among sinful humans. “There is one God,” 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Other ways, other attempts, other names may produce oneness for a time, but that oneness will not endure. But when the fundamental issue is addressed — our rebellion against God — then the oneness we find in him, and in his solution in Christ, is true and lasting unity that will grow thicker, not thinner, over time.

Our Common Ground
In our increasingly secular times, we are facing new and deeper political-cultural pressures toward identities other than Christian. Yet, in Christ, if we are truly in him, we are ten-thousand times a Christian before we are anything else. We are earthly citizens, indeed. Make no mistake about it. This world matters. Our cities matter. Justice matters. Peace matters. But the chorus of voices and influences today are conspiring to make us think that this world is all that matters.

No doubt, the basic Christian truths alone will not answer all our complex questions and various applications in varying contexts. But in such days, if we are not diligent and intentional as Christians, we will quickly forget or diminish the unrivaled primacy of the identity we have in Christ.

In this “pick-your-side” moment, our answer as Christians is not for blacks to kneel before whites, or whites to kneel before blacks, but for Christians to kneel together before a Jew named Jesus, and to see that the common ground on which we come together is not mine or yours but his. In his flesh, by his blood, in one body he has established one new man into which every man and woman and child on the planet is invited through faith in him. As Christians, we cannot lose that all-important starting point, compass, and final answer.

David Mathis

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