May 2019 Newsletter - "Moral Excellence" by Nathan Padilla

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In this ministry, we know the importance of understanding the mysteries of the kingdom (Mat_13:11) and knowing that without understanding these deeper mysteries we are spiritually dead (2Co_4:3). Often times, especially with a resurgence of new faces coming in, we can always be emphasizing the importance of “you have to know the mysteries,” and when we get into the Word, we start right away into just wanting to know the mystical interpretation. However, there is an important process to understanding the Scriptures that help bring a transformation to your soul, your character, and your inner man that washes us to understand secrets of the kingdom. We can catch ourselves, at least some of us, studying the Word like some kind of crossword puzzle for us to figure out. Like if we just understand some definitions of “this means this and that means that” that we somehow got it. There is a middle step that can be neglected and overlooked that is imperative that we don’t neglect.

A wise man once told me “I’m not impressed by what a person knows, I’m impressed with the change of their character.” Those words reverberate in my soul to this day. We can get into a “we have to know this and that” and neglect “becoming” the Word. This is something that the early church emphasized on. More on that later. Before we enter into that character transformation in our soul, let us see in what way they viewed the Scriptures, because the way we perceive the Scriptures will determine if we will be transformed or not.

For often we have said that a triple mode of understanding is to be found in divine Scriptures: the historical, the moral, the mystical. From this we understood the body, the soul, and the spirit. This threefold method of preparation of the sacrifices shows the threefold form of this understanding. [1]

The Word of God is “living and active” (Heb_4:12). The Word is not a book; it is a person, and it has a spirit, soul, and body. When you read any of Origen’s brilliant works on various homilies, you will observe that he walks through the Scriptures utilizing this “triple mode” of ascension. When I have mentioned the morals of the Word, I have often received a look as if I’m speaking of morals as a meaning of “do’s and don’ts.” This is actually part of a pattern that the LORD has set. Here is an example of Origen employing this mode.

But if we also require a place for the moral meaning which is very useful for us, we travel a "journey of three days" from Egypt if we thus preserve ourselves from all filth of soul, body, and spirit, that, as the Apostle said, "our spirit and soul and body may be kept whole in the day of Jesus Christ."' We travel a "Journey of three days" from Egypt if, ceasing from worldly things we turn our rational, natural, moral wisdom to the divine laws. We travel a "Journey of three days" from Egypt if, purifying our words, deeds, or thoughts-for these are the three things by which men can sin-we would be made "pure in heart" so that we could "see God." [2]

The moral meaning of coming of Egypt is our words, deeds, and thoughts that have been purified from the filth of the world. Notice that this mode of revelation is pertaining to the sanctification of our soul and giving us the guidance to understand how our soul works, what purifies it, and what defiles it. This is where we get into the transformation. Often times we can be more focused on just teaching people about the mysteries and wanting to share with our families and others, but in reality, it’s more about what they want to see than hear. They don’t want to hear us; they want to see the change. Ignatius explained what it truly means to confess.  Our confession has more to do with our character and our deeds.

It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” (1Co_4:20) Men “believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth,” the one “unto righteousness,” the other “unto salvation.” (Rom_10:10) It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. For he who shall both “do and teach, the same shall be great in the kingdom.” (Mat_5:19) Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, first did and then taught, as Luke testifies, “whose praise is in the Gospel through all the Churches.” (2Co_8:18) [3]

Ignatius, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, expounded the true meaning of our confession. Notice how he spoke of doing first and then teach. We can often times bypass that first step of doing and just go straight into teaching. Teaching itself isn’t enough, and according to the Apostle Paul you lack power. This is how you become a parrot, just repeating what you hear. First, we understand, then we walk it out, then we teach others how. That is what confessing is. The ones that are usually the hardest to witness to are our families. Why? They don’t want to hear us preach. They want to see a change. If our toughest critics, which are usually our families, can acknowledge the change in our lives, then you know you’ve gone through some major changes, and not only that, now they’re willing to listen to you. Now they can take you seriously.

The Apostle Paul stated that “The kingdom of God (the secrets of the kingdom) is not in word, but in power” (1Co_4:20) what stands out is that the “word” is logo and the “power” is dunamis. Dunamis doesn’t just indicate “miracle working power” but it also denotes “moral power and excellence of soul.” To release the rhema word of Yah in power, our soul needs to become excellent. This is a soul that has become sanctified by revelation and whose character has gone through a transformation.

What is scary is that we can become like the Corinthian Church, thinking we’re at a level that we’re not. That is dangerous to the health of our soul and our growth. You cannot grow to a level you already think you’re at. We need to just be honest with ourselves, and we’ll get there, but it is taking that time in His Word and the Holy Spirit will assist us to those spiritual heights, but it takes the death to self. Origen explains who these ones are who are in much need of milk in the Corinthian church.

Discoursing to infant Corinthians who walk in the way of man Paul says: I gave you milk to drink, not meat, for you were not yet able. Nay even now you are not yet able, for you are still of the flesh; and in the Epistle to Hebrews: And you are become in need of milk, not of solid nourishment. For anyone who partakes of milk is devoid of moral reason, for he is infant. [4]

The Corinthian church lacked moral reason. The Apostle Paul rebuked that church stating “for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1Co_3:3). The Apostle Paul could not teach them the “deep things of God” (1Co_2:10) because they lacked moral reasoning. You just cannot leap from the Outer Court to the Holy of Holies. The morals are meant to help kill our fleshly desires so that we may be found worthy to receive the hidden wisdom of Yah. Every High Priest had to go through a sanctification process before they went into the Holy of Holies. The had to go through the temple in order; there was no skipping steps.

I will end with Origen further explaining the moral mode of revelation and its purpose. We should all have a zeal for this, because our souls become purified through this process. Following this triple mode of ascension brings us to a state of being incorruptible.

The first glimpse of the letter is bitter enough: it prescribes the circumcision of the flesh; it gives the laws of sacrifice and all the rest that is designated by the letter that kills (cf. 2 Cor 3:6). Cast all this aside like the bitter rind of a nut. You then, secondly, come to the protective covering of the shell in which the moral doctrine or counsel of continence is designated. These are of course necessary to protect what is contained inside, but they too are doubtless to be smashed and broken through. We would say, for example, that abstinence from food and chastisement of the body is necessary as long as we are in this body, corruptible as it is and susceptible to passion. But when it is broken and dissolved and, in the time of its resurrection, gone over from corruption into incorruption and from animal to spiritual, then it will be dominated no longer by the labor of affliction or the punishment of abstinence, but rather by its own quality and not by any bodily corruption. This is why abstinence seems necessary now and afterwards will have no point. Thirdly you will find hidden and concealed in these the sense of the mysteries of the wisdom and knowledge of God (cf. Col 2:3) in which the souls of the saints are nourished and fed not only in the present life but also in the future. This then is that priestly fruit about which the promise is given to those "who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Mt 5:6). In this way, therefore, the gradation of this threefold mystery runs through all the scripture. [5]

 

References:
1.    Origen - Homily on Leviticus
2.    Origen - Homily on Exodus H III
3.    Ignatius - Epistle to the Ephesians Ch. X, Vol. 1
4.    Origen - On Prayer Ch. XVII
5.    Origen - Homilies on Numbers H9

 

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