Jesus

Longing

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that I used to teach the Bible to children on Monday nights.

If you’ve ever been a Children’s Leader in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), you know how it works:  At some point during the summer break the age group you will teach the following school year is selected for you. Then, at the Leader’s Workshop in late August, you are given your assignment.  You can make your age-group preference known, but you likely won’t get it.

One of the reasons I stepped down from teaching this year is because I didn’t want to risk being assigned the first and second graders, the third and fourth graders, or even the fifth and sixth graders.

The only level I could remotely imagine teaching this year is Level 5 – the senior high students.

Why?

Because we’re studying the book of Romans and I’ve taught it before, to youngsters, in BSF.

BSF is well structured, organized and uniform – which is a good thing in the adult program – but it’s too much of a good thing in the Children’s program.

For instance, the leaders in every level – whether they are teaching 6-year-olds or 18-year-olds – are given the same outline from which to teach.  They have the freedom to make the illustrations and applications age-appropriate, but the aim and the principles must be stated exactly as written.  It can be awkward in any study to be teaching in your own voice and then have to abruptly switch to the the writer of the principle’s voice to deliver it exactly as written.  And in the case of Romans, it’s not just awkward, it’s HARD.

Or, more accurately, it’s HARSH.  The principles can be very harsh, causing the youngsters to appear browbeaten by week 6.

Because Paul – or at least the way his letter is presented – wants to make sure they know that they are horrible sinners.

“But hang on,” we tell them, “good news is coming.”

But what if we framed it differently (and no less accurately) right from the start?

Here’s what I mean.

Wrath.

Paul begins his letter by stating that he is a minister of the gospel and then, in verse 18, he abruptly switches from gospel to wrath.

And I say, “What?”

So I look up the Greek word translated “wrath” and I learn that the word is orgē, pronounced or-gā’.

And I see that the KJV translates the word in various places as wrath, anger, vengeance, indignation.

And then I read Strong’s definition: properly, desire (as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind), i.e. (by analogy), violent passion (ire, or (justifiable) abhorrence); by implication punishment:—anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath.

Strong’s definition is taken from the root word for orgē, oregō – which means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines orgē this way:

ὀργή, ὀργῆς, (from ὀργάω to teem, denoting an internal motion, especially that of plants and fruits swelling with juice (Curtius, § 152); cf. Latinturgerealicui forirascialicui in Plautus Cas. 2, 5, 17; Most. 3, 2, 10; cf. German arg, Aerger), in Greek writings from Hesiod down “the natural disposition, temper, character; movement or agitation of soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion,” but especially (and chiefly in Attic*) anger. In Biblical Greek anger, wrath, indignation… (bold added)

So the original Greek word could be translated as a ripening desire; a longing; reaching out for something.

And then, beginning with the writings of a poet named Hesiod, an element of anger was attached to the desire/movement of the soul.

Did you notice that last bit of Thayer’s defintion? I hope so because I emboldened it for you. In Biblical Greek, orgē is translated as anger, wrath, indignation.

Why? And what is Biblical Greek anyway?

Why isn’t it translated as longing, desire, a movement of the soul, as it was originally used?

At what point did God’s longing for us become a browbeating?

Did Paul intend that the word be interpreted that way? Was his intention to browbeat the Christians in Rome to whom he was writing  – Christians whom he had just commended for having world-famous faith? Did he want them to fully appreciate just how good the good news is by reminding them of their wretchedness? Why spoil the good news by rubbing their noses in their past? Or was he addressing any Pharisees who might get their hands on his letter thus blurring his audience? (I ask that because in several places throughout his letter he seems to be presenting an argument to those who think like he used to think, i.e. Pharisees.)

If Paul was indeed trying to lay out his (already saved) audience’s need for a Savior, Isaiah did it so much better. And faster.

In just one chapter Isaiah laid out the tangled condition of the world. Click here to read it.

And then, at the dawn of the next glorious chapter, he told the world what God’s longing/desire was going to do about it.

He left His throne and stepped into our darkness.

To redeem us.

And that’s how I’d be teaching Romans this year, if I were teaching it.

I’d define wrath as God’s longing for us, as His desire, the movement of His soul toward redemption. Any anger associated with the word is directed at the tangled mess we’ve made of things, at the mess we and His enemy have made of things, not at us, whom He loves. Paul said so himself in chapter 5: “While we were still [a tangled mess], Christ died for us.”

God’s longing is for us, His wrath is against that which entangles us.

If I could put the principles in my own words, I’d write them with God’s longing in mind. I wouldn’t alter any facts, I’d just sift each one through the good news: God knows how to untangle the mess.

*Attic is a dialect of Greek.

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P.S.  Please don’t take this post as a dis of BSF, I love BSF and I’m studying Romans with them as a general class member – but this time around I’m going to take a look at the book with fresh eyes.  I’ll probably show you the stuff I see.

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16 thoughts on “Longing

  1. I love the book of Romans, an incredibly organized legal brief for the presentation os sin, repentance, and redemption. I especially love the end of Chapter 7, where Paul shares, very clearly and humbly, his own fight against sin, self, and Satan. Priceless.

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    • It certainly contains some beautiful things, Linda, but it doesn’t seem all that well organized to me. And why would the Roman believers – whose faith was apparently world-famous – need to be sent a letter that reads like a legal brief?

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      • Perhaps Paul’s language makes it seem disorganized. I think reading it straight through, if you have a big chunk of free time, is the best way to see the whole picture. And you’d have to check with the Holy Spirit as to the why 🙂 It would seem that the gospel had indeed had a terrific effect on the citizens of Rome, but there was also great persecution going on at the same time. Clearly not ALL of Rome had been converted. As for Paul spending so much time convincing his readers of their sin? Well, just about anyone you speak to in America today will tell you that he may make mistakes at time, but he’s basically a good person. I don’t think human nature has changed much from Paul’s era to ours.

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        • True, but Paul’s letter wasn’t to the citizenry at large, it was to the church of believers – whose faith (for which he could take no credit because he had no previous contact with them) was renowned.

          I’ve read it through, taught it through, studied it closely. I think the culprit is in the translation. The Greeks back then didn’t use punctuation and I’m guessing it was added imperfectly. That and I think The audience Paul had in mind kept shifting. He set out to write a letter to one group while anticipating and addressing the objections of another group.

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          • Granted, so there must have been an element in the church that was questioning salvation in some way. You’re right about the lack of punctuation, sentence structure, paragraphing, etc. in the Greek, yet the early Christians who received and read Paul’s letters seemed very capable. So, yes, the problem could be in the translation as the text has been worked and reworked down through the centuries. Won’t it be fun when we all get to heaven, and get answers–from Paul himself!–to all our questions.

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              • In heaven, I think Paul can be trusted. You know, one of the things I so look forward to in heaven is that there won’t be ANY misunderstanding, matter of opinion, disagreement, debate. All gone, all over. For all eternity!

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                  • And there’s another interesting discussion. Somewhere a while back I read that a true introvert is one who needs to be alone an quiet in order to restore energy and desire to get back out there and do the work. Most people who know me would probably tell you I’m an extrovert, the reality is that I crave aloneness. Extroverts restore their batteries by being with people, socializing, partying. Not me. And bringing Paul back into the conversation, I suspect he restored his batteries in times of solitude, prayer, being alone with God. Although he loved many, and clearly stated that love in his letters, he also grew weary and needed time for restoration. Me too. Jesus too. And apparently, you too 🙂

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                    • I read that same definition of an introvert and it definitely describes Jesus. Scripture tells us in several places, including Luke 5:16, that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. He wanted and needed to be alone with His Father to take in so He could give out. But Scripture doesn’t ever say that about Paul. So we’ll have to agree to disagree.

                      On a related note, what do you think of people who seem to suck the life out of you, people who restore their battery by draining the batteries of others. Is that extroversion to a pathological extreme?

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                    • Scripture doesn’t specify that about Paul, but when you think of all the times he was alone–mainly in prison–I don’t think he was sitting there chewing his fingernails hoping someone–anyone—comes to visit 🙂

                      What you are describing is Borderline Personality Disorder. These people don’t respect any boundaries. They do indeed suck you dry. And personality disorders aren’t usually “curable” in the same sense as mood disorders. There are brave therapists who use something Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, and claim it’s helpful. My best advice? Don’t let these people get too close. They will indeed suck you dry–and then move on to greener pastures

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Not to be argumentative, friend, but the difference between Jesus’ alone times and Paul’s is that Jesus voluntarily withdrew to be alone with His Father and Paul’s solitude was court ordered.. Though I do agree that Paul likely spent the alone time that was imposed upon him in prayer..

                      My daughter took her boards this morning. She just texted that she is on her way home. I’m going to take her to lunch to celebrate. I’ll let her fill me in on the brave therapy you mentioned.

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  2. A very thought provoking post. It led me to go back to Romans and consider your perspective. I apologize in advance because this ended up being a bit long, but these are my thoughts on Romans 1:1-23.

    Paul begins his letter by stating his qualifications as a minister of the gospel. He then goes on to explain why he is eager to come to Rome. He wants to strengthen their faith by sharing a message that will further stabilize their beliefs (v. 11) and he states as a desire to be comforted by their mutual faith (v. 12) and he wants to participate in their evangelical efforts to the citizen’s in Rome (v.13). He goes on to explain that he has an obligation to both the Greeks and the Non-Greeks (because he was commissioned by God) to preach the gospel.

    Everything before verse 16 seems to explain why Paul wants to come to Rome in particular. He seems to be explaining that the ethnic makeup of Rome perfectly meets his calling and back in verses five and six he says that they share the same calling. I think he’s trying to make sure they understand that he is not trying to take over their ministry and he is not criticizing the job they are doing but that iron sharpens iron and together they can spread the gospel. In fact, the whole thing (the letter) strikes me as one big persuasive argument detailing why they should hitch up their wagons to spread the gospel. They are Gentiles by birth, he is a well-educated Jew. They each have something of value to offer the other in the furtherance of the gospel in Rome.

    And after that introduction, it’s like Paul starts outlining for them exactly what he believes and teaches. It’s like he’s making a point of assuring them that they share the same theology.

    In verse 16 Paul is stating that the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection contains everything an individual needs in order believe and to come to salvation by faith. I think in verse 17 and 18 Paul is saying that the gospel teaches two things:

    1) the revelation of the righteousness of God by faith which includes:

    – what God is like in terms of integrity, virtue, purity, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting (i.e., God’s definition of righteousness)
    – what man needs to be like to be accepted and approved by God (in short to share the same character as God) and,
    – the teaching of the way man obtains the righteousness of God and is therefore, accepted and approved by God, and

    2) the revelation of the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who go so far as to prevent others from learning the truth which incites God’s wrath

    – ungodliness is the failure or stubborn refusal to revere God
    – unrighteousness the behavior, in thought and deed, opposite of the qualities that define God’s character
    – the unrighteous suppression of truth regarding things appertaining to God and the duties of man, moral and religious truth and the true notions of God which are open to human reason without his supernatural intervention

    Then verse 19-23 detail what the ungodly and unrighteous know and understand and how they behave in spite of that knowledge.

    If I understand what Paul is trying to communicate in regards to the gospel message itself, then wrath is the correct interpretation of orgē in this instance. He’s not judging or browbeating the believers at Rome, he’s telling them why it’s so important that the gospel gets spread. People need to know they are subject to the wrath of God and how to attain the righteousness of Christ.

    I may be all wet here, and I haven’t taken the time to read the entire book, and it sounds as if you have far more experience with the book of Romans than I do, so please, feel free to set me straight here! I didn’t start out to refute anything you said, just to examine it in context. Seriously, thank you for making me think!

    *the points made below items one and two come from the Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/

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    • Hi Janet, you didn’t refute anything I said, you illustrated it!

      I wasn’t saying that Paul was browbeating the Romans, I was saying that the wording of the BSF-taught principles is too harsh and it’s hard on the students. Last time around some of the very young ones even began to cry after several weeks of heavy-handed wrath.

      There is an element of longing for us in that word that shouldn’t be left out because without it we miss the fuller, deeper, more accurate picture of who God is and how He feels about us. About them, the children. Teaching wrath without longing is like disciplining a child without saying, “I love you.” As in, “I love you too much to let you get away with that.”

      You summed up the chapter beautifully without writing anything that would make a child cry, or think God is angry with him or her. You wouldn’t have been able to do that had you been bound to state the principles exactly as written in the BSF outline.

      Good job!

      I do have one thing I would add to your summary:

      “He goes on to explain that he has an obligation to both the Greeks and the Non-Greeks (because he was commissioned by God) to preach the gospel.”

      Looking at the nuances of the Greek word, I think there is also an element of recompense in his “obligation”. (Strong’s definition: an ower, i.e. person indebted; figuratively, a delinquent; morally, a transgressor (against God):—debtor, which owed, sinner. Biblical usage: one who owes another, a debtor)

      I suppose he felt he owed them big time since he had, after all, persecuted them big time.

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      • Oh, yes, I think you are absolutely right about how Paul felt about his obligation to share the gospel! I think he always recognized himself as the chiefest of sinners, not that he was unable to walk in forgiveness full and free, but that he was simply always aware of and grateful for just how much he had been forgiven.

        BTW, I failed to mention how much I appreciated seeing the fuller meaning of the word translated as wrath. “Longing, desire, a movement of the soul”. It’s a beautiful picture of God’s love for mankind.

        My parents used to participate in BSF. I talked about it with my mother many times, so I understand the structure of the program. I’m sure a lot of people would struggle with the strict structure but others absolutely thrive in that kind of program. I learned to really study the scriptures using the Precepts small group studies at home by myself. Sometimes I find marking keywords tedious, but the practice has helped me answer the daily reading questions (that seem more challenging than a lot of Bible Study questions that simply ask you to regurgitate the text without asking you to think about what it means in a broader sense) as I go back and find the references the question relates to. So, I think I’d thrive in a BSF study.

        I must say though that it boggles the mind that they teach the same lesson to elementary students as they do to high school students. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. I think, regardless of which book they are teaching, kudos to BSF for teaching children to study God’s word from a young age! I’d like to visit with a group of adults who were raised in the program to see what kind of impact it’s made in their lives.

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Our evangelical tendency is to get carried away by our love for Paul and almost deify him. I don’t think he was always aware and always able to walk in the fullness of forgiveness. I think he was like the rest of us – often aware but sometimes not, often walking in the fullness of forgiveness but sometimes not. The accuser must have worked overtime to diminish his ministry with accusations and self doubt and Paul no doubt battled it like the rest of us.

          My daughter is an adult who was raised in the program. She started in the preschool program when she was two, the age you had to be back then. Now they accept infants.

          She was in second grade the year they launched the school program in the evening classes. I was recruited to be a leader that inaugural year so I switched from the day class to the evening class and enrolled her.

          She was in the school program from second grade through eleventh grade (minus 8th grade because she attended confirmation classes on Monday nights that year.) I was a leader in the program off and on for many years so my observations are based on years of experience – including previously teaching Romans.

          I enjoy the structure of the adult program and I’m grateful for BSF for all the reasons you are grateful for the precepts study, but there is definitely room for improvement in the school program. My daughter would agree. As far as impact on her life, it probably helped her ace her Bible exams in school.

          P.S. I find Kay’s marking of key words tedious, too.

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