God’s Word and the Challenge of Culture

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:21

If you’ve spent a lot of your life reading the Bible, as I have, you might forget that it wasn’t written directly for today’s world. It can seem so familiar that we overlook ways in which the world of Scripture is not like our own. But, if you’re relatively new to the Bible, sometimes it can sound like it was written “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … ” Well, okay, Scripture isn’t always quite as foreign as Star Wars, but certain passages give George Lucas a run for his money. Have you read Revelation recently?

The fact is that God has chosen to make himself and his will known in the languages, beliefs, practices, and values of particular cultures. This is true of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, which comes through the writings of dozens of people representing various cultures and spanning many centuries. It is also true of God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, who came at a particular time in a particular place to a particular people, through whom he intended to save the whole world.

The good news of God’s communicating within cultures is that we human beings can understand what God is saying to us, because we cannot stand outside of human culture. The words we use, the ways we think, the things we do, the assumptions we make, all of these and so much more reflect our own cultures. So, it’s good that God speaks within culture, in words and ways that we can understand. The bad news is that we can easily become confused by what God meant to say in a given culture that is not our own, as well as by what God means to say today. For example, when Ephesians 6:5 tells slaves to obey their earthly masters, rather than saying slavery is an abomination contradictory to God’s intentions for humanity, is this telling us that God approves of slavery? Or is God speaking into a particular cultural setting, assuming the existence of slavery without endorsing it, and helping slaves in that culture shape their lives in a sinful world according to the gospel?

We’ll consider these questions when we get to the passage on slavery. For now, I simply want to acknowledge the reality of the cultural challenge we face, something we’ll feel more acutely as we work through the household code material in Ephesians. Yet, I want to underscore the amazing truth that God seeks to communicate with us and to reveal himself to us. He gives us Scripture as the core of his revelation. He also gives us resources to help us understand what Scripture means: scholarly experts in languages and cultures, traditions of Christian interpretation, and communities of discernment and discovery.

Though his communication within cultures makes things both easy and hard, God has also given us something invaluable that transcends culture. More accurately, God has given us Someone who transcends culture, namely, the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity. Remember what Jesus said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). God’s Spirit will help us to grasp the truth revealed in his written Word. This is not just good news; it’s great news. And it encourages us to seek God’s guidance through the Spirit as we come humbly before his Word.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: While you were reading the Bible, have you ever felt like it came from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”? When? How did you feel? What did you do? What has helped you to understand biblical passages that are difficult?

PRAYER: Gracious God, it is truly good news that you desire to make yourself and your will known to us. If we were left on our own to figure you out, we’d be stuck in our confusion. So, thank you.

In your inscrutable wisdom, Lord, you have chosen to make yourself known within cultures. This means we can make sense of you, and that’s great. But it also means we can struggle to figure out who you are and what you want, especially when your revelation came in cultures and languages that are distant and different from ours. Thank you, gracious God, for those who help us to understand your enculturated Word, for faithful linguists, historians, and commentators.

Thank you, most of all, for your Spirit, who helps us to understand your Word, that we might know you and your will for us. May your Spirit guide us as we continue our devotional study of Ephesians. Amen.


Holy Routines

We have asked some members of our community to share their holy routines. At first glance, these routines may not seem holy at all. However, in this series, Holy Routines, our writers extend an invitation to you to walk beside them in the actions and interactions and spaces that often seem ordinary but also usher them into the presence of God. We hope that spending a few moments in the holy routines of a few friends will inspire you to see and meet God in daily moments you may be tempted to rush through, or where you feel tempted to overlook the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this series will give you permission to savor the sacred in the ordinary moments of your day.

Featured image by clloyd photos. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.