I have been writing these past few weeks about the first sentence of a letter in the Bible written by Paul, who was called an apostle to Jesus. The letter was addressing the Christian Church in the city of Rome. Now, I’ve read this sentence a number of times; however, this time my attention became focused on the length of this opening line of this letter. Why was it so long! In the ESV translation the final punctuation does not appear until the completion of word number 132. Right away I thought this is a man that wants to make sure his opening line is packed with a powerful message, just in case he only had one chance. This is Paul’s elevator speech! I imagine him spending hours on each word. Selecting just the right words and placing them in just the right place to leverage the highest impact. Based on that imagined process, I decided to reverse engineer the speech designed for the elevator (which didn’t exist at the time) to try to see what God might be saying through the words of Paul to the church at Rome and to you and me today.
So far in my meanderings about this one sentence, I’ve pondered the subjects of a calling, uniqueness, and promises. In the future, I think I might be writing about Holy Scriptures, the significance of sonship, and family lineage. I feel that these might be future musings because those are all subjects appearing in the mega run-on sentence just before the words of today’s focus; “according to the flesh.” I will save you the time of looking up the sentence and bold the part for this writing:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
If you are not a person who believes in the God of the Bible a bit of perspective might help you in your reading and understanding. Most people who follow Jesus believe that the Bible is, mainly, his story. A good number believe the Bible is 100% truth, infallible, unchangeable, and written by God through people on this earth. The Bible is full of knowledge and wisdom to help you and me navigate our circumstances on this planet. It is also full of promises made by God to his children (that’s you, me, and everyone else).
As a Christian, one of my promptings in the Bible concerning you, if you are not one who believes in Jesus, is to love you and to introduce you to Jesus whereby you also might come to believe in him. To gain a knowledge of why he ever existed. To understand why such a fuss has been made about Jesus for thousands of years. To gain the wisdom through his teachings. To realize how much Jesus loves and wants to be your friend for ever and ever and why he gave his life for you. To eventually benefit from his promise of an eternal, perfect life with him. As I write about the Bible, or anything, these ideas are in my heart and mind. I’m for God. I’m for the Bible. I’m for Jesus. I’m for YOU!
That said, why did God have Paul use the words “according to the flesh”? I suppose the truth is that I don’t know because I wasn’t there to ask him. However, I am forever amazed how God will reveal the meaning of the words in his book when time is spent reading and asking him for clarity. Here’s what I got from my query today.
Jesus was a man. There is ample proof that Jesus existed and walked, in sandals, on this planet. He wept, he got mad, he traveled to various cities, and he was killed. Jesus was a man and He was also God. Jesus knew everyone’s thoughts, Jesus calmed the seas, fed 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, made the blind to see, reinstated the deafs ears, brought people back from the dead, was killed and rose from the grave, ascended to heaven and came back to earth. Jesus was God. The main distinction of his manhood, the most glaring trait, was the addition of flesh. God occupied a human body and took on the traits of that body, mind, and soul within the tolerances of God.
This taking on of “the flesh” was a loving act toward you, me, and everyone on the planet. Jesus, taking on the flesh, made it so he could see eye-to-eye with us and us with him. He showed, with this one act, that he cared enough to endure what you and I go through every day. By this act we could know that he understands and that we could understand the part we play in his big story and the part he plays in our little story.
Paul uses the word “according” to animate that which is static. The flesh is the consistent thing we all have in common. We all have flesh that clings to our inner physical body parts and surrounds our inner soul. The most obvious difference between any of us and God in the flesh is the inner soul part. We are not God on the inside. Sure, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and while this is a transformation, a person is not reborn to be God. There is only one, true God. If it is true that we can have the Spirit of God inside of us then it is logical that it is the flesh that separates us.
The flesh is a physical thing that requires lots of maintenance. Full of nerves, cells, blood, and hormones, the flesh has the created ability to experience billions of responses to the environment and circumstances. Stick a pin in your finger and you’ll experience a pain response. If an attack is imminent the body revs up a hormone to accelerate a response. Even herd fear is part of the flesh ecosystem. For example the manifestations of conflict over the mask controversy. God created the flesh and loved you and me so much that he gave us two other things. The ability to reason and the freedom to choose what we do with our flesh. In other words, he made it and gave it as a gift. Like any children, you and I can choose to try to maintain the very complicated gift all by ourselves (be do-it-yourselfers) or go back to the creator of the gift and ask for help.
By the way, the creator of the flesh gift LOVES collaborating! More than tinkering with the creation, he has a deep passion for the relationship between the owner of the flesh and the creator of the flesh. When God came to earth and strapped on some flesh of his own so he could be part of us and we experienced him among us. Now he wants to work with you and me individually to perfectly align our flesh. It is a lifelong pursuit full of amazing discoveries and miraculous events that continue to mold and modify the flesh. You can bring your gift into his shop anytime you want and stay as long as you want! It is free!! However, because we are human and he lets us lead the work, there will be mistakes along the way.Those mistakes will also have consequences. Here’s one of the cool things. Once you’ve given your part of the helping over to him, at the end, you’ll get a brand new, perfect body…complete with all the new bells, whistles, LED lights, and everything!
If you’ve ever done a genealogy study on your family there is inevitably a surprise or two. Sometimes a person discovers there was a person or two of elevated standing in their family. You know, someone famous for something which inevitably turns into bragging rights. In my family there is a horse racer of some stature, inventors of some note, risk takers that made some noise, and a hall of fame baseball player. The point is, we can look BACK and find these notable people. Paul is pointing out the opposite. Thousands of years before Jesus was born, the telling of the birth of Jesus happened and was recorded in different books that are part of the Old Testament in the Bible. Those writings are called prophecy because the people speaking the revelation were doing so based on their relationship with God and no other earthly influences (no flesh). Those people were called prophets.
So, when Paul writes “according to the flesh” regarding the lineage of Jesus, he is recognizing that we are all imperfect. He is acknowledging that the human condition of flesh is messy and seemingly unpredictable. He is making you and me aware of an event that only God could have manufactured. According to the flesh means the account of something through the perspective of mankind. A perspective that is completely human. Paul is drawing this line in the sand to show the hand of God among the everyday existence of people of the flesh. Using the term, according to the flesh, is the equivalent of saying there is no way all of these people could have planned to give birth to Jesus as the prophets had foretold. Paul was speaking about the number of generations involved in the eventual birth of Jesus. The the ancestry.com of that era
My encouragement to you today concerning Paul’s words “according to the flesh” is the recognition, even in the story of the family line of Jesus, that you were born with a task to maintain this governing body called the flesh. You have choices every single day based on the environment both physical and spiritual. God gave you the gift with a lifetime guarantee. I encourage you to take your flesh into his shop as often as you can. In fact, he’d be thrilled if you’d just hang out while he worked on you. Oh, he’ll ask you to hand him a wrench or a screwdriver from time to time but he really will complete the work in making you whole, if you will allow it. I pray that you will… allow the work to be done… to do what you need to do to get into his presence. To let the creator work on His creation of YOU so that you will last forever. I would love that for both of us.