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Conversing with God’s Word

Last Sunday in our church in Tampere the sermon was on the second chapter of John’s Gospel in which Jesus rises (or rages?) against the merchants in the Temple. Turning over the Forex tables and chasing away the livestock dealers, he shouts:

“Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16b)

As so often, the question of how to apply the passage in my own life continued to bother me after the sermon. This time, it also made me realise something about how I process Scripture. Let me try to share this with you through the example of my last few days with John 2:16.

My very first reaction to the passage in John 2 is that we cannot draw direct parallels. We are under the New Covenant. We no longer have the Temple, so I cannot go wrong by selling doves in its forecourts. We have our churches, of course, but there are good theological reasons for not equating the church with the Temple. So I guess the Christmas sale is ok after all. What about the metaphorical meaning? In the same passage, Jesus identifies his body with the Temple. Paul later writes about our bodies being temples, and the Christian congregation being a temple. Should we then not turn ourselves or our communities into markets? What’s that supposed to mean?

For me, there is rarely a direct universal application, a rule to follow. Instead, the effect of Scripture is a slow process of changing attitudes, values and thought patterns. How should I approach life and its decisions so that I would not prioritise whatever the market represents over whatever the Temple represents?

The way I process Scripture, I now observe, relies on the assumption that if I let the text speak to me, and if I meditate on it, it will slowly alter my inner life in a way that will have a bearing on how I act. This doesn’t happen through a list of rules but through, what I hope, is a “renewal of my mind”, as referred to by Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2. (Writing this makes me acutely aware of how much further I wish I were in that process.)

On Tuesday, I discussed the text with my colleagues. How could the Cleansing of the Temple affect how we operate as a mission organisation?

For one thing, the discussion made me realise how, when I’m invited to speak in a church service, I have become very careful that I do not turn it into a fund-raising or recruitment event. Nor do I ever ask the church to designate the offering to our organisation. (Doing so would not be unusual in our context.) There is of course nothing “unclean” or even profane about raising funds for a worthy cause. There are many suitable times for fund-raising. I’ve simply come to believe that our time of worship isn’t one of them.

I did not suddenly decide on this approach after I had read John 2. But I find it agreeing with the ethos of the text. I believe this text and others have affected my thinking over the years. And then, slowly, my thoughts have begun to influence my actions.

Finally, my understanding will always be less than perfect, to state the obvious. And the world around us is in constant change. I therefore need to remain open to being continually challenged about the way I apply God’s Word. I need to remain willing to allow my behaviour patterns to change as my understanding – by God’s grace – grows and adapts.

I have not written the above to boast and say, “See how godly my actions are!” Far from it. I have simply shared a personal experience of how I often converse with God’s Word. Perhaps it can encourage you who, like myself, feel that the process of spiritual growth is painfully slow.

By Hannu Sorsamo