Thursday, March 3, 2016

Unity of the Spirit and The Shema

two messages, one God
This is a view of the scriptures concerning the apostle Paul’s message on the unity of the Spirit in the New Testament and it’s similarities with the message of Moses on the Lord God who is one in the Shema in the Torah; the Old Testament. Even more, these words on the call for unity or to be one were proclaimed by Jesus himself, both in his quotation of the Shema, (Mark 12) but also in the priestly prayer of John 17. It is this priestly prayer by Jesus which serves as the commentary and test between the message of one in the Shema in Deuteronomy and the unity of the Spirit in Ephesians from the same God.

The phrase, as in the title of the article, is often used by  the saints. It is, much like the Shema, in the midst of words which give more of an insight, but which are often overlooked. The view and explanation presented here is intended such that any reader of the scriptures will be able to read, see and ponder for themselves to see if there is any merit or edification for them through this comparison of the two messages. It is for this reason that there is an absence of Biblical language word definitions and the familiar ancient writers and modern scholars in studies of this topic. Those who prefer to read articles with those elements will be able to find them online. Great effort has been made to avoid speculations or the creation of endless questions as to possible meaning; itself as a popular form of teaching. This article will focus on the call to preserve the unity of the Spirit in Ephesians 4.

a prayer to be one
The apostle Paul seems to have been quite mindful of the prayer of Jesus for the disciples to be one even as He and the Father are one. Physically it was neither Jesus nor Paul who were with the disciples. It was the Holy Spirit who was with them. Jesus himself had prophesied that he would ask the Father to send the Comforter; the Holy Spirit. His work would be as simple as it was profound and comprehensive; to bring all things to their remembrance and teach them all things; to guide them into all the truth. (John 14:26; 16:13) Yet, the call of Jesus for the disciples to be one presents a challenge to examine and understand the words of Jesus in his prayer in harmony with the apostle Paul’s words on the unity of the Spirit, but even farther back; to the Shema. It is the same call (A call completely missed by those who question or deny the deity and preexistence of Jesus.) by the Lord God who is one in both instances. Then the saints may be able to more fully understand, appreciate, accept and rejoice in what the apostle Paul, the servant of Jesus, means when he implores the saints; to be one; to maintain the unity of the Spirit. This is the purpose of this article.

the Shema and the unity of the Spirit
The Shema (Deuteronomy 6) prayer of devotion and worship in Jewish tradition is arguably a doctrine on the declaration of the Lord God who is one. There is a similar passage written by the apostle Paul which seems to echo very similar message in Ephesians 4. There are seeming differences between the two passages, but these differences seem precisely to impress those to whom they are directed with a very similar message. The messages are a declaration and call of one and of unity; the former (Deuteronomy) being on the Lord who is one; the latter (Ephesians) on the unity of the saints in Christ. One is not better than the other. They both represent the will of God for his people.

similarities and differences
Let’s look at and ponder some of these similarities and differences between the passages on the Shema and the unity of the Spirit. 1) The Shema is essentially a declaration for Israel to hear, but also to do the commandments, statutes and judgments of God. The call to keep the unity of the Spirit is a strong plea to walk in a certain manner. 2) Both passages declare that the Lord is one.* 3) The entire teaching of the Torah was to be taught to every generation and it’s children and it’s children’s children. The call to keep the unity of the Spirit is first and foremost to each one of us. The teaching of every individual as each one from among the nations comes to the knowledge of Jesus as Lord was not as the nation of Israel had known for many generations. The teaching was passed on, not generation to generation or family to family, but as each individual heard the gospel of Jesus.  This is as Jeremiah prophesied and is quoted by the writer of Hebrews. 4) The Shema declares to Israel that they were to love God with all their heart and with all their soul. Jesus reiterated that love towards God was to be with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul, and with all their strength. Paul states that in speaking in love we are to grow in all aspects. 5) The words which the Shema instructs Israel that they were to obey were a) what God said, b) what Moses said God said, c) what the prophets said God said, d) what Jesus said the Father said, e) what the apostles said the Holy Spirit said, and f) what saints declare God said in his written word. There is no variation. There is total, complete unity from Genesis to Revelation from the Lord God who is one. The Holy Spirit ensured that the saints would know and obey the will of God and keep the unity of the Spirit through those whom he gave as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

There are two differences to be noted. The reference to baptism and the Father are not shared by the two passages.

So having noted some similarities and differences between the Shema and the unity of the Spirit let’s focus on how the saints are to keep the unity of the Spirit. The apostle Paul informs us of four specifics: 1) walk in a manner worthy of the calling, 2) you were called in one hope, 3) Speaking the truth in love, and 4) He gave some gifts all for the purpose with the end result that the saints preserve, the unity of the Spirit.

walk in a manner worthy of the calling
They are to be worthy of the calling. This calling is to be in the same manner as we were called. It was Jesus who called us. There is no need for open or endless speculation as to the manner in which Jesus called us. He called us in humility, gentleness, patience, and above all, in love. The saints who are called to walk in the manner worthy of how they were called will walk in the same manner as Jesus walked. This the beginning of the first steps of preserving the unity of the Spirit. There is no greater manner for the saints to preserve the unity of the Spirit than to walk in this same manner as did Jesus in love and peace.

you were called in one hope
Just what is that hope? The hope, or the expectation, of Jesus in the priestly prayer was that we, the disciples, be one. However this expectation of Jesus is not accomplished by laying a guilt burden on others into our right way. It’s not that easy. It calls, back to the first steps, for us to walk in humility and gentleness. The humble do not muscle their right way over on others.

Much of the ugliness of division comes precisely from men and women being neither filled with the Spirit (another phrase used quite loosely) but who walk in the flesh. This divisive spirit stems from the same mistaken notion of applying a numeric, quantitative value to the term one in the Shema as well as in a numerically quantitative, single, one way in which are one. The seriousness of this mistaken notion is what opened the way for the crucifixion of Jesus. The same error by which Jews and Muslims view the Shema reveals itself in the efforts of the saints to be one.

Speaking the truth in love
We, the saints in Christ, have been called individually, but we are to show the unity of the Spirit showing tolerance to one another in love because this is the hope; the expectation of our calling. Keeping the unity of the Spirit is to keep the prayer of Jesus for us to be one alive. Truth is not a philosophical abstract for the saints in Christ and this becomes even more evident when speaking in love is what leads to our growth in all aspects.

Speaking the truth means not being afraid to speak of the right or wrong we might have done or was done to us in the confidence and joy of our forgiveness of our past, present and future sins in the love of Christ. Truth is a perspective powerfully and graphically demonstrated by Jesus when he declared openly and unabashedly that he 1) came from the Father (past), 2) was here to do the will of the Father (present), and 3) He would return to the Father. (future)

He gave some
When Israel was charged with keeping the commandments, statutes and judgments of God they did not have to and were not to rely on their intuitions as to what might be right or wrong, or worse, good enough for God. The saints, like Israel, were given gifts by the Spirit which included apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers through whom the saints were to learn how to preserve the unity of the Spirit and in so doing they were to grow in all aspects.

Aside of the previously mentioned similarities and differences between the unity of the Spirit and the Shema there is a major difference. It is that although Israel like the saints in Christ were given prophets Israel was given prophets at the beginning of his apostasy from the commandments of the Lord. The church was given prophets following the birth of the church. The reference in verse 8 from Psalms 68 may be that Paul is alluding to the conquest of the kings by Abraham (Genesis 14:5) or the later conquest by Moses of Og, king of Bashan in the same valley. Israel took the plunder, the plunder of the conquest as gifts. The giving of grace Paul notes was to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift, not just apostles, prophets, evangelists, etc.

grow in all aspects
What could Paul have possibly meant or had in mind than for the growth of our love to be evident to all and to God than in these aspects: with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul, and with all their strength? It is only such growth in all aspects which will lead to the whole body becoming mature, or as Jesus stated, we are perfected in unity when He is in us and we are in him. Yes, contrary to the shortfall teaching of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer it is the Son and the Father who dwell in him or her.

The message of unity did not origin with the teaching of the apostle Paul. When Jesus prayed that those who believe in him might be one he was echoing the same message of the Shema. One key difference in this message of unity in the Shema and unity of the Spirit in Paul’s words is that in the former instance God impressed on Israel that he is one, namely, that there is no variation or contradiction in the revelation of his will. The latter instance the apostle Paul implores, while noting that there is one God, one Lord, that it is we the saints in Christ who are called to preserve the unity of the Spirit. It is in doing so that God is glorified and the saints in Christ will truly rejoice. It is good to know that one is growing, but it is exciting to be able to know and to do as Paul urges the saints to grow in all aspects, that is, in heart, mind, soul and strength. Judge for yourselves if these things are so and produce edification in you.

* One of the oldest, single most egregious mistaken notions by the Jews (and Muslims) which continues to be perpetuated by Christians is the numeric, quantification of the term one in the Shema. When the chapter (Deuteronomy 6) is read the reader can see what God was impressing on Israel was true in the moment and it would be true in future generations when He would send his servants, the prophets, to proclaim the revelation of his will to Israel.
The Jews proclaim that God is one. Christians proclaim the same although . . . well, three persons. This term of person is in itself a reflection of how terms are coined in lieu of understanding. Here is my blog article in response to this mistaken notion shared equally by Trinitarians and Unitarians.

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