Wednesday, January 9, 2019

THE NECESSITY OF PURITY

The headlines screamed: Pastor Arrested in Prostitution Sting. A pastor of a church heavily involved in fighting human trafficking was arrested at a massage parlor using women who are victims of human trafficking. He was removed from ministry, but his immorality damaged the testimony of the church. Sin blows away our witness like the wind blows away the seeds of beauty leaving an empty husk behind.

Purity is a necessity for ministry. We make a fatal mistake when we think that we can be successful in our service for Christ while pursuing impurity in our personal lives.

"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).

The present participle "having" (ἔχοντες) is best taken as a causal participle (Burton, Moods and Tenses, 170). The cause of our cleansing is the promises of God. Paul is referring back to the promises in 6:17-18 about God welcoming us and being a father to us. His loving promises motivate us to live pure lives. Paul uses the subjunctive "let us cleanse" (καθαρίσωμεν) to exhort other believers to join him in purifying their lives (Burton, Moods and Tenses, 74). Paul is not above the calling to purity. He, too, must cleanse his life of all impurity to maintain his integrity in ministry. The sad reality is that many of the biblical heroes of faith failed in the later stages of life and brought dishonor to God through impurity.

Christians should make a clean, hard break from all forms of compromise that might lead to impurity as Paul has argued at the end of chapter 6. 2 Corinthians 7:1 is the conclusion for the argument of 6:14-18 about spiritual compromise. The aorist tense of the verb adds to this sense of decisiveness (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, 258, fn 21), especially when combined with the preposition "from" (ἀπὸ) as in this case. Hebrews 9:14 uses the same combination to explain how Christ offered His blood "to cleanse" our "conscience from dead works" (καθαρίζειν ἀπό). Christ cleansed us positionally and calls us to cleanse ourselves experientially. The preposition "from" (ἀπό) carries the sense of "off" or "away from" indicating that we must wash off the pollution of sin that contaminates our flesh and spirit (Robertson, Grammar, 577-578).

Writers have argued over the meaning of the clause "flesh and spirit" (σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος). Paul commonly uses these terms in a technical and theological manner. Flesh is human nature controlled by sin and is incapable of being purified until heaven. Spirit is the good side of Christians and does not need to be purified. These terms spark debate because of their technical theological meanings. However, I think Paul is using these terms nontechnically. He is talking about the outer and inner parts of a human. Paul uses a similar expression, "body and spirit" (τῷ σώματι καὶ τῷ πνεύματι), to refer to a whole person, both the inward and outward parts (1 Cor. 7:34, cf. 1 Cor. 5:3,5). I think Paul is using "flesh and spirit" in a similar nontechnical sense to refer to the totality of a human. All we are in our humanity needs purifying (Martin, 2 Corinthians, 209-210).

Maintaining our purity is necessary for effective ministry. We are "perfecting holiness" (ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην) as we cleanse our activities. The verb means to bring about, complete or accomplish our holiness (BDAG, 302). Positionally we are holy. Experientially, we bring about our holiness by cleansing ourselves from all impurity in our human lives. It only takes one hard blow from a sinful choice to leave us with an ugly husk where once there was a beautiful flower of ministry.

Lord, keep me from blowing it all the way to the end of my life!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

LINES OF LOYALTY

We Christians dare not compromise our faith by making unholy alliances with the idols of our culture. Idolatry tests loyalty. Paul writes, "Wherefore, come out from the middle of them and be separate, says the Lord. And don't touch what is unclean and I will welcome you" (2 Cor. 6:17). There are three commands followed by a promise. The commands are 1) come out, 2) be separate, and 3) don't touch. The promise is a warm reception from God when we obey his demands for loyalty. 

Paul cites the LXX version of Isaiah 52:11 to make his point. The final line comes from Ezekiel 20:34/41 where God promises to gather His people to Him when they leave the pagan world of idolatry (Archer and Chirichigno, OT Quotations in the NT, 118-119). Paul draws a parallel between Christians in his day and Israel during the days of Isaiah and Ezekiel. The prophets picture a time when God restores His people after their years of living under the idolatrous systems of Assyria and Babylon. God proclaims the good news of God's salvation. "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news ... and says "Your God reigns" (Isaiah 52:7). In that day, they were to get out of the pagan world of idolatry without touching anything unclean because they were the carriers of God's holy vessels.

The Corinthian Christians lived under the Roman patronage system which pressured ambitious believers to build alliances with influential idolaters in order to climb the social ladder of success (Chow, "Patronage in Roman Corinth," in Paul and Empire, edited by Horsley, 104-125). A businessman would align himself with a wealthy patron who controlled the contracts in his world. The wealthy patron was in turn aligned with a patron god and the temple devoted to that god. Maintaining membership in that temple cult was the key to success in the political and economic world of Corinth - the way to power and prestige. A businessman showed his loyalty by attending ceremonies related to birth, death, and marriage in the temple of the patron god of his business.

"Temples were the restaurants of antiquity" (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, 188). The temples had dining rooms where the wealthy and powerful held their major social events. There were two stages to these feasts. The first stage was the "symposium" which combined a banquet with political speeches. Party loyalty was combined with pagan idolatry. The second stage was the "convivia," essentially a Roman drinking party (Witherington, 191ff). Participation in such events opened the door to success in Corinth, and many Christians were compromising their faith by pledging loyalty to the patron gods of politics and money in order to achieve affluence and influence.

Come out and be separated from such unholy alliances even if it costs your career! The verb "be separate" (ἀφορίσθητε) means to exclude or excommunicate one's self, but in the passive (as here) it can be translated "be separate" (BDAG, 127). We are not even to touch (ἅπτεσθε) anything unclean. The verb can mean to eat anything unclean (BDAG, 102) which fits the context of a feast. The word "unclean" (ἀκαθάρτου) refers to anything connected to idolatry because the idols pollute whatever they touch (BDAG, 29). As Christians, we must not enter into any relationship which endangers our loyalty to Christ. The relationships may seem benign at first but later create a dependency that draws us away from our Lord.

God promises to welcome us when we avoid such alliances. The "and" (κἀγὼ) can be translated "and I in turn" or "and I for my part" (BDAG, 386). Our part is to obey Him. His part is to welcome us. The verb is future tense (εἰσδέξομαι) and means to take in, receive or welcome as a guest (BDAG, 232). We must draw sharp lines of loyalty between the world's idols and our Lord. It may cost us to be true to Christ. We may face, financial, social, and political repercussions, but we must avoid any dependency on a party or person that supersedes Christ. When we maintain clear lines of loyalty to Christ, we will enjoy His warm welcome in life.

Friday, December 7, 2018

LIVING GOD OR DEAD IDOLS?

Idolatry in the church compromises the witness of Christians because idolatry pollutes our worship. The surest way to kill our witness is to allow idols to cloud our worship. Paul wrote, "Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? Because we ourselves are the temple of the living God" (2 Cor. 6:16).

We think of idols as those little statues that people made and put in their homes or in their sacred places. Those graven images were icons of something in the heart. The goddess of fertility was an icon for the desire to have children. Another idol was the god of wine and sex, an icon of the desire for pleasure apart from God. The god of power represented the power people wanted for themselves.

Americans are polytheists too. We build our spectacular temples to the icons of money, pleasure, and power.

An idol is someone, something or some desire that becomes more important than God.

The reason that idolatry must not be allowed to infiltrate the church is that we are the temple of the Living God. The better textual evidence reads "we are" (ἐσμεν) instead of "you are" (ἐστε) the temple. The "we" (ἡμεῖς) is emphatic because the pronoun doubles the verb and because it is first in the clause. The "living" (ζῶντος) God stresses the difference between the Christian God and the idols in the pagan temple which the Corinthians frequented for social, economic and business reasons. The idols of the world are dead. The God we worship is alive.

Temple (ναὸς) originally meant a dwelling place or home. However, it came to refer specifically to the dwelling place of a god in the ancient world. More specifically, the word was used for the inner sanctuary of the temple as opposed to the temple complex (τὸ ἱερόν) referring to the collection of buildings that made up the temple at Jerusalem (NIDNTT, 3:781).  When Paul writes that we are the temple of the Living God, he is talking about the sanctuary where God resides. He cites Leviticus 26:12 and Ezekiel 37:27 in support. "I will live (ἐνοικήσω), and I will walk about (ἐμπεριπατήσω) among them" (cf. Jer. 31:31; Hughes, 2 Corinthians, 253-254). God does not dwell in a house made of brick and stone. We are the home of God on earth. 

When Paul writes that we are the temple of God, is he speaking corporately or individually? Is the temple of God the physical body of an individual believer (1 Cor. 6:19) or the church as a whole (1 Cor. 3:16)? Paul is primarily thinking about the corporate body of Christ, the church as opposed to individual Christians in this verse (Martin, 2 Corinthians, 202; Hughes, 2 Corinthians, 252) for the following reasons. 1) The context is corporate. Paul is writing to the body as a whole - the church - not individual Christians in this chapter. 2) The pronouns are all plural pronouns. Paul writes that "we" (ἡμεῖς) are the temple. God lives and walks among "them" (αὐτοῖς). God will be "their" (αὐτῶν) God and "they" (αὐτοὶ) will be His people. 3) The imagery pictures God living and walking among the people who make up the corporate church. The pronoun can certainly be translated "among" (ἐν) which fits the sense of the passage.

Qumran, in Paul's day, had separated from the temple complex in Jerusalem to establish a spiritual community that worshiped God in purity and in truth. They believed the priesthood had corrupted the temple worship. The community of Qumran was now the true sanctuary of God. Paul reflects this corporate sense when he thinks about the believing community among whom God resides. He lodges in our gathered assembly and walks among the believers who worship Him. We are His sanctuary much like Qumran viewed their community as the sanctuary of God (NIDNTT, 3:783-784). Therefore, we must be separated from the idols of this world if we are to truly be the sanctuary of God in our worship. His presence among us in worship drives away all idols that might compete for our devotion instead of God.

The Old Testament Psalms picture the temple of God not so much as a place of ritual sacrifice and priestly functions but as a place where the presence of God fills the lives of those gathered (NIDNTT, 3:782-783). Believers long for the presence of God in the house of the Lord (Ps. 27:4). Believers cry out to God for help (Ps. 28:2) and worship God in His holy temple (Ps. 138:2). A temple is a place of spiritual comfort (Ps. 65:4) where God responds to our deepest needs (Ps. 18:6) and demonstrates His power to strengthen us (Ps. 29:9). So it is in our corporate worship as the temple of God on earth.

Western Christianity tends to be individualistic and miss the power of corporate worship. Corporate worship is the visible expression of the presence of God on earth. The sanctuary of God is not the building but the people. True worship is infectious as people see the presence of God in our gathered assembly. Our witness is most powerful when it rises out of our corporate worship. Our worship as a community drives our witness for Christ.

The presence of the Living God lodges within us and walks about among us in our gathered worship since we, the church, are the living, breathing house of God.

Friday, November 23, 2018

PARTING COMPANY

The lure of success in this life seduces us into mismated relationships. Paul commands us not to become entangled with those who would sidetrack us from following Jesus (2 Cor. 6:14). He describes the entanglements that would lead us astray with five rhetorical questions in the following verses (14-16). Each question is a comparison clause governed by a different noun, but all five nouns combine to make the same point. We must part company with anyone who would sidetrack us from the direction Jesus has set for us in life lest we compromise our witness for Christ in this world.

1. Those who partake of what is right (δικαιοσύνῃ) do not share spiritual values in common with those who partake of lawlessness (ἀνομίᾳ), literally no (ἀ) law (νόμος). The noun translated partnership (μετοχὴ) means sharing, partaking or participating. The verb form comes from two words meaning to have or possess (ἔχω) something with someone else (μετά). Paul uses the verb form in 1 Corinthians 10:17, 21 to teach us that Christians cannot share or participate in the Lord's Supper and also share or participate in the worship of idols (NIDNTT, 1:635-630). We must part company with unbelievers who try to use what we have in common to sidetrack us from our allegiance to Jesus.

2. Fellowship (κοινωνία) is frequently used in the New Testament to express the intimate bond that Christians have with one another because of our common bond with Christ. The root (κοινός) was used in secular Greek to identify a legal relationship of common ownership as opposed to private property. The verb (κοινωνέω) meant to share with someone something you have or to receive a share from someone who has what you don't have. The noun (κοινωνία) expressed a two-way form of participation either through giving or receiving (TDNT, 3:789-809). The idea is one of partnership and came to refer to the community of faith among Christians (Acts 2:42). Light and dark cannot share such a partnership with one another because they are mutually exclusive.

3. What harmony has Christ with Belial (Satan)? The word "harmony" (συμφώνησις) means agreement with respect to settling accounts in a business transaction. A related noun (συμφωνία) was the name of a musical instrument something like a bagpipe, and we get our word "symphony" from it. Matthew 20:13 uses the verb (συμφωνέω) for agreeing to the price of something (M&M, Vocabulary of the Greek NT, pp.598-599). How can believers set a price tag on Christ in an attempt to barter a deal with the devil? Yet, sometimes Christians are tempted to trade the principles of our faith for financial success in the business world. Like Esau, we will sell our birthright in Christ for a pot of stew from the world.

4. What part does a believer have with an unbeliever? The word "part" (μερὶς) means a portion or share of something larger - a part of a whole. Luke uses it to describe the district of Macedonia which is part of a larger Roman province (Acts 16:12). The word is also used of a share of grain stored in a room and a portion of land in a larger property (M&M, Vocabulary, p.398). A believer shares no portion of our eternal heritage or our kingdom cause with an unbeliever.

5. The temple of God has no agreement with idols. The word translated agreement (συγκατάθεσις) is only used here in the New Testament. It refers to a decision that a group arrives at together so often means approval or agreement (BAGD, p.773). The verb form (συγκατατίθημι) is used in secular Greek meaning "deposit together" from the idea that more than one person exercises an equal vote in a financial transaction (M&M, Vocabulary, p.609).

The list is climactic. The first four comparisons lead up to the fifth comparison which leads into the quotations Paul uses in the following verses regarding spiritual separation from unbelievers. Paul is not talking about casual contact or missional involvement but separation from any relationships that control us in some way (William Webb, "What is the Unequal Yoke in 2 Corinthians 6:14?" BSac, 149, April-June, 1992, p. 163). Business contracts, employee agreements, political parties, and even patriotic fervor can pressure Christians to compromise their faith for worldly gain.

Lord, keep me from the worldly entanglements that would sidetrack my loyalty to you.

Friday, November 16, 2018

MISMATED IN MINISTRY

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Christians must have wide open hearts (2 Cor. 6:13) combined with single-minded devotion (2 Cor. 6:14). Paul qualifies his command to open their hearts with a second command to avoid becoming mismated in ministry. He writes, "Do not continue becoming mismated with faithless people (2 Cor. 6:14).

The verb "mismated" or "unequally yoked" (ἑτεροζυγοῦντες) is a present participle indicating ongoing activity. The present imperative "become" (γίνεσθε) when combined with the adversative "not" (μὴ) implies that the Christians need to stop something they are already doing (Hughes, 2 Corinthians in NICNT, p.245, fn6). Being mismated was most commonly used for draft animals that needed different yokes such as a donkey and an ox (BAGD, p.314). Paul was almost certainly thinking about the Old Testament laws regarding plowing or breeding with mismated animals (Deut. 22:10; Lev. 19:19). If they are unevenly yoked, the work will suffer (Hughes, p.244).

If we are unevenly yoked, our ministries will suffer. Some have argued that the word "faithless" (ἀπίστοις) should be understood as referring narrowly to Paul's opponents at Corinth and not broadly to non-Christians in general. However, Paul frequently used the word almost in a technical sense to refer to unbelievers (eg. 1 Cor. 6:6; 7:12-15). Furthermore, if he was thinking of his opponents why did he not use the term later in his letter (2 Cor. 10-13) when he was specifically addressing them (Martin, 2 Corinthians, WBC, pp. 196-197). I conclude that Paul is commanding us to avoid any entanglements with unbelievers that would compromise our service for Christ.

What practical matter is Paul addressing by this command? What is the contemporary life parallel to our day? He cannot mean that we should avoid all contact with non-Christians to live in our Christian cloisters (1 Cor. 5:10). The most common application in our day is that Paul is prohibiting the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian. While this is certainly a legitimate application of the principle, it is unlikely that Paul was specifically addressing inter-marriage in this context. He goes on to discuss being the "temple of God" and not serving "idols" (2 Cor. 6:16-18). His supporting quotes are more appropriately understood as referring to pagan feasts in temples devoted to idol worship (Witherington, Conflict and Community, p.405).

The Corinthian cultural context helps us frame some powerful parallels to our lives today. The political/social/economic structure of Corinthian life was the patron/client relationship. Wealthy patrons governed the economic, political and social life of the city. The elite controlled life. A patron would take on clients who owed him for their jobs and position in society. If anyone wanted to be successful in the business world and enjoy the benefits of the social and political life of the city, he must pledge his loyalty to a patron. The patron would often host large dinners and other socio/political events to which the client would be invited. Every ambitious businessman desired to be included in these events so would pledge his allegiance to the patron.

Each patron would align himself with one of the gods or goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon as his patron god. Often the dinners were held in the temples devoted to these idols, so Christians were expected to participate in the worship of the patron's idol. The socio-political events were tinged by the imperial cult of Rome and the worship of the Roman emperor as well. Christians were pressured to compromise their faith to get ahead in life. Many Christians argued that idols were not real anyway so what was the harm in participating in these social and political events. Couldn't they help Christians be successful, and so influence the pagan world? (John Chow, "Patronage in Roman Corinth," in Richard Horsely, editor, Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, pp.104-125).

The best contemporary life parallels to this command revolve around the social, economic and political pressures that can seduce us into compromising our faith in the pursuit of success. We must avoid any entanglement that leads us to minimize Christ's call on our lives. There must be no divided loyalties that would cause us to lose the consistency of our witness for the Lord. We must not trade our commitment to Christ for social, political and economic success in this world. If we do, we become mismated in our relationships.

NOTE: For those of you regular readers who have wondered about my blog absence these past few months, I had to take some time off from writing. I have been going through a major transition in life as I retired from the position of Senior Pastor at a church I have served for 28 years. My wife too retired from her career, and we are settling into a new normal. I look forward to writing and teaching in my ministry with The Rephidim Project in the days ahead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

BEING VULNERABLE

When we've been hurt it is hard to risk being vulnerable. I know that I tend to close the door to my feelings and put out the no trespassing sign. I put up walls to protect my heart. Paul shows us another way. Ministry calls for transparency and transparency can be traumatic. "You are not being cramped by us," Paul wrote, "but you are being cramped in your feelings. Now, in exchange, I am talking as little children, be opened wide to us also" (2 Cor. 6:12-13).

Twice Paul uses an interesting word translated being cramped or restricted. The noun form of the word is a synonym for distress or affliction. The verb used here (στενοχωρεῖσθε) refers to a narrow space, being confined by inner or outer troubles. It means to be crowded, cramped, confined or oppressed (NIDNTT, 2:807). Both verbs are in the present tense indicating ongoing action. The emotional constriction in their relationship was continuous. Paul assures them that he is not oppressing their emotions but they are clearly confining their emotions toward him. We oppress our feelings as a coping mechanism to avoid risking more rejection. If we open up and let our feelings be seen, we risk being hurt again. God urges us to open up anyway. Take the risk. Fear of rejection, like fear of failure, can cripple our ministries.

The noun translated "affections" or "feelings" (σπλάγχνοις) literally means "inward parts" or "entrails." It was specifically used for the more valuable parts of the sacrificial animal such as heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys. These organs were removed immediately after killing the animal and eaten as part of the sacrificial meal. In Greek culture, the word was used for the male sexual organs and the womb, so children were sometimes called σπλάγχνα because they were born from one's own flesh and blood (NIDNTT, 2:599). As a result, people thought of the intestines as the seat of human passion. After all, we feel the physical effects of anger, sadness, and happiness in our abdomens. Our feelings are visceral!

The opening clause of verse 13 talks of an exchange of feelings. The noun (ἀντιμισθίαν) means a reward or penalty (BAGD, p.75). It may have been an expression made up by Paul where he used a noun in an adverbial phrase by blending two more common expressions together (Moule, An Idiom Book of NT Greek, p.160). The word itself is a compound noun with the preposition αντί (instead of) combined with the noun μισθός (reward) to express the thought of reciprocation (TDNT, 4:695-702). Paul encouraged responsiveness of emotions. He shared his feelings and desired for them to share their feelings in return. The addition of the preposition αντί to the noun emphasizes the idea of exchange (NIDNTT, 3:197). An exchange of reward, a reciprocation of feelings, must take place between two people seeking reconciliation.

Lord, help me not to wall up my feelings, but to open my heart and risk rejection to build healthy relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, July 6, 2018

RECONCILIATION: CROSSING THE BRIDGE

Reconciliation requires us to be open with our feelings where once we were closed. When we have been hurt by another, we pull up the drawbridge to the castle of our hearts. We fill the moat with water to keep people away. The other party must cross the great divide to reach us. Crossing that bridge is an emotional challenge for all of us.

Paul had been deeply hurt in ministry. He was estranged from the Corinthians because of past feelings. His wounds were so deep that they affected his ministry causing him to write this extended parenthesis of pain (2 Cor. 2:14-7:4). Paul models for us how we can attempt to cross the bridge of hard feelings. Paul writes, "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians, our heart has been opened wide. ... Open wide to us also" (2 Cor. 6:11-13).

One side in a conflict must take the initiative to cross the bridge. Often what happens is that we say something like, "I'll forgive him if he forgives me." "She's got to take the first step. The ball is in her court." "If he reaches out to me, I'll work it out with him." Waiting means that reconciliation never takes place. We can stay in waiting mode for a very long time. Reconciliation requires that one person takes the initiative to walk across the bridge - to risk rejection to start the process.

Paul risks rejection. He uses two different words for "open" in verse 11. The first word for "open" (ἀνέωγεν) refers to his mouth. If the mouth does not open, reconciliation never happens. The other person cannot know what is in my head unless I open my mouth. C.K. Barrett expresses it this way. "I have let my tongue run away with me" (Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC, 1973, p.191).  Paul is referring to the previous verses where he has talked about his sacrificial suffering. He is saying that he has freely spoken to them. He has not held back his feelings. There are no secrets. His mouth is an open book sharing his raw feelings for them (NIDNTT, 2:727). Huge risk! We do not know how the other party will react when we speak freely about our feelings. I may be rejected, but I must take that risk. I must cross the bridge.

The word is a perfect passive verb from ἀνοίγω. Paul says, "our mouth had been opened to you." He has opened his mouth in the previous chapters and freely shared his feelings. The open mouth has continuing results as he seeks reconciliation. The passive voice indicates that God influenced him to open his mouth. Sharing our feelings with one who has hurt us is not natural. God must open our mouths to do it.

Paul goes on to say that "our heart has been opened wide." The heart (καρδία) is the center of man where God is at work. The center of the inner man includes our will and our understanding. The heart is also the seat of our emotions (TDNT, 3:111-112). We use the heart as the seat of our emotions today. Paul is saying our inner man including our feelings has been opened wide. He uses a different verb for "open" (πεπλάτυνται) in this clause. It is the perfect passive of πλατύνω meaning to widen or enlarge. The noun (πλάτος) means the breadth or width of something. The enemies of God will come up on the "broad plain" (τὸ πλάτος τῆς γῆς) from the four corners of the earth to surround Jerusalem before God destroys them (Rev. 20:9). The verb was used for opening large leather cases that contained texts (NIDNTT, 1:253-254). Paul's heart was opened to them by God like a broad plain or the opening of a large briefcase.

 Paul takes the initiative to cross the bridge and then appeals to them to "Open wide also" (πλατύνθητε). He uses an imperative, a command, but he softens it with the passive voice. "Let God through our appeal to you open wide your hearts to us like a broad plain." Reconciliation is a two-way street. The other side must allow their hearts to be opened wide so that their feelings are shared freely too. The bridge of alienation must be crossed in both directions to have true reconciliation - the open, free and honest sharing of our feelings with one another.

Lord, help me to seek and accept reconciliation with my brothers and sisters in the church.