Goats, Sheep, Love and Fire: The Careful Pruning of God’s Punishment

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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

  • I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. – Ezekiel 34:16
  • Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. – Psalm 95:6-7
  • And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. – Ephesians 1:22-23
  • “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25:40

“…as you did unto the least of these…”

In the previous post we discussed the Will of God, as revealed through his Son, the Word, Yeshua the Annointed:

  • It is the will of God that none of all things shall be lost. (Jn 6:39)
  • It is the will that everyone who considers the meaning of the Son, and trusts absolutely in the same, shall live the Life of Ages and will be raised up on the last day. (Jn 6:40)

Through the life and teachings Yeshua the Anointed, the Word, the Bread, and the Way of God, we can learn the “how” of restoring all things to God.

delicious-bibles-for-haitiWe cannot restore through elementary and meaningless evangelism. (“Does your life suck now? Here’s a bible.”)

We cannot restore through threats or force. (The Inquisition comes to mind…)

We must, as the brothers and sisters of God, work to aid a restoration of “all things” in the manner and form revealed to us through Yeshua.

  • A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. – John 13:34
  • So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. – Mt 7:12
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. – Mark 12:30
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. – Mark 12:31

Living in this Way, emulating the life and love of Yeshua, is what he called The Life of The Ages.

The Life of The Ages

The “Life of the Ages” is the more faithful translation of the Greek phrase “zōēn aiōnion / ζωὴν αἰώνιον“, which all modern English bibles translate as “eternal life”. I believe this is incorrect.

The first problem is with the modern English translation of “aion / αἰών”, which all English bibles translate as “eternal”.  In fact, “aion” is the root of our word “eon” which we all understand as a finite – albeit very long – period of time. An “eon” is not infinite. Therefore, I often puzzle why our modern bibles insist that the correct meaning is “eternal”. (Actually, the only English bible I’ve found that stays faithful to the meaning of the Greek is Young’s Literal Translation.)

Moreover, Yeshua often uses “zōēn aiōnion” in the present tense, which implies this is not simply a “reward” at some future period, but a state of being, a way of life in the here and now.

  • ‘Verily, verily, I say to you — He who is hearing my word, and is believing Him who sent me, hath life age-during, and to judgment he doth not come, but hath passed out of the death to the life.” Jn 5:24
  • ‘Verily, verily, I say to you, He who is believing in me, hath life age-during; – Jn 6:47

From The HELPS™ Word Studies:

(aiṓnios) does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (aiṓn) it relates to. Thus believers live in “eternal life” right now, experiencing this quality of God’s life now as a present possession.
(Note the Gk present tense of having eternal life in Jn 3:36, 5:24, 6:47; cf. Ro 6:23.)]

And so we peel back a further layer of the grime of biased interpretation throughout the history of the bible: the future reward of “eternal life” now regains its tranformative truth as a present way of life!

And what does the Life of Ages look like? Here’s an example:

  • You feed the hungry.
  • You give something to drink to the thirsty.
  • You welcome strangers into your home.
  • You give clothing to those that are in want.
  • You tend to the sick and dying.
  • You visit the guilty in prison.

You don’t do these things only for the “deserving”, for the “righteous”, for the “strong of faith” – you do these things for the least among us, the weak of faith, the sinners, and the undeserving.

It is this selfless devotion to the “least among us” that is the key to the restoration of all things to God. And not everyone can do such things for others. Not everyone wants to.

The Fate of the Goats

This is why Yeshua tells us “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats” in Matthew 25: to warn us, and to inspire us.

  • He reveals to us all that there is a point to all of this: The Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven.
  • He reveals to us that there will eventually be a Day  of Judgement where all nations will be judged by their performance regarding the Commandments of Love.
  • Those that will be judged “righteous” – the sheep, were those that loved and cared for the least among us, and became partners in God’s restoration of all things.
  • The “sheep” receive God’s inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for us since the creation of the world.
  • Those that will be judged “unrighteous” – the goats – were those who didn’t love or care for the least among us. They held close to their own, and loved only those that loved them.
  • The “goats” (which will be most of us… let’s be honest here) will receive a sentence of “kolasis aiōnion/κόλασις αἰώνιον“.

Overwhelmingly, modern bibles interpret “kolasis aiōnion” as “eternal or everlasting punishment”. But as we have already determined that “eternal” is not a faithful translation of “aiōnion“, what are the odds that “torment or punishment” is not a faithful interpretation of “kolasis” as well? Very good, in fact.

It turns out, that according to the usage of “kolasis” by Plato, Aristotle and Clement of Alexandria, “kolasis” meant a corrective, or redemptive process. In fact, in the original extra-biblical Greek, “kolasis” meant “to prune”. By pruning, the gardener cuts away what is bad, old, diseased or dead from a plant or tree in hope that the plant will then grow even stronger and more fruitful in the future. Would anyone describe the pruning of flowers as punishment? I think not. It is only for the health of the plant that it is pruned.

From William Barclay’s book ‘The Apostle’s Creed“:

The word for punishment is kolasis. This word was originally a gardening word, and its original meaning was pruning trees. In Greek there are two words for punishment, timoria and kolasis, and there is a quite definite distinction between them. Aristotle defines the difference; kolasis is for the sake of the one who suffers it; timoria is for the sake of the one who inflicts it (Rhetoric 1.1 0). Plato says that no one punishes (kolazei) a wrong-doer simply because he has done wrong – that would be to take unreasonable vengeance (timoreitai). We punish (kolazei) a wrong-doer in order that he may not do wrong again (Protagoras 323 E).  Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 4.14; 7.16) defines kolasis as pure discipline, and timoria as the return of evil for evil. Aulus Gellius says that kolasis is given that a man may be corrected; timoria is given that dignity and authority may be vindicated (The Attic Nights 7.14). The difference is quite dear in Greek and it is always observed. Timoria is retributive punishment; kolasis is remedial discipline. Kolasis is always given to amend and to cure.

Kolasis is a pruning, a disciplining process intended to cure. The Greek hearers of Yeshua’s words would have understood this.

It cures us of our greed, our selfishness, our callousness, our apathy, our anger, our lust… what could you use some of God’s kolasis for right now?

That’s right, I mean currently: right now. God’s redemptive, corrective discipline is not limited only to The Day of Judgement, it can happen in your life right now.

Kolasis in the now

Some will read these words and sneer, “This is insane. Who could see love in a God that would purposefully inflict fear or pain?”

Good point. But I guess my challenge back would be: ever played a sport?

shaping the bodyFor those that have played some kind of sport, when your coaches put you through one of the more horrifying conditioning drills (gassers, fart-licks, wind sprints, up-downs, wall-mothers, etc.), was it to punish or to improve? They are painful, but are they punishment? Is the coach a sadist for inflicting such suffering on his athletes? No. They are only meant to improve some aspect of the athlete’s abilities, especially the tolerance for pain and conditioning!

Take the circle drill in football, where one player stands in the middle of a circle of his teammates, and the other players take turns running out and hitting him as hard as they can. This could definitely be viewed as punishment and as sadistic by some, but for those of us who went through it we can tell you that you learn to take a hit, and to give one back… real quick.

Or the sparring found in MMA (mixed martial arts), where real punches, real kicks, real blood and real bruises are found. It this sadism, or a vital part of training for the sport?

As a former athlete (and recovering fat-boy), I can tell you that it is all for the better.

My view is the same for God’s kolasis, both in the now and at The Day of Judgement: God will make me a better man, whatever it takes.

The best part is: I deserve none of this care or correction from God. And that’s Grace, or God’s unmerited favor.

Now the challenge is to live out my life according to that trust in God, empowered by it. I had it earlier this year. Then I got selfish again.

God’s given it back – from a goat to a sheep in a day – and I don’t want to waste it this time.

Neither should you.

Restoring our lives to God as we restore all things to God.

Amen.

If you haven’t done so, yet, please read the first part of this pair of article on God’s will to save all things.

Trig Bundgaard About Trig Bundgaard

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your feedback, thoughts and ideas about what I've written. Especially if it's contrary to my views!

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Grace and peace to you!

Romans 5
"18. Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
19. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

Comments

  1. Thank you for a very thoughtful and thorough devotional. I would like to lay another layer on what you have written. The parable of the sheep and goats has intrigued me for some time. What I find interesting is that the sheep and goats give the same response. “When did we see you….” The response is the same, but the motivations are not. If the sheep were doing these things for the least among them with the expectation of a reward, wouldn’t they have said, “You’re welcome! We knew it was you! Now, where is my starry crown and point me to the gates of heaven!” Instead, they say, “When did we see you….” So what was their motivation? Compassion and love, of course. And with no thought of any kind of reward, now or in the future.

    This is further illustrated by the response of the goats. Why do the goats respond in this way? They are offering an excuse for not doing these things. They might as well have said, “If we had known it was you, and that we would be judged on this, we would have done something.” Their motivation is wrong; they do “good works” only for personal reward or recognition.

    I’m afraid that some (most?) Christians may be goats in sheep clothing. They do good works because they think it is expected, or that good works will get them into heaven. There is no transformational love of the Holy Spirit within them.

    An example I can give is my church’s annual event we call Jubilee Christmas. Congregants donate toys, food and money, and pre-qualified guests are given the opportunity to “shop” for gifts for their children. It is a great event and we always have more than enough toys and food.

    There are two reactions I often overhear at the event. I organize the parking for the guests. My crew greets the guests and directs them to reserved parking spaces. Without exception, at least one guest will pull in driving a late-model expensive vehicle – a fancy SUV or sedan. Without exception, one of my crew will comment. “If they can afford to drive that, why are they here?” My response is always, “We called to serve, we are not called to judge.” The good news is that often we discover that the guest has been given a ride by a relative or friend.

    The second reaction is, “These people get a better Christmas than my own family!” My reaction is, “Wow, we are such a compassionate and loving congregation that we are willing to give more than we have ourselves!”

    Our human reaction is to be like goats. To help only those whom we think really need help, and not to give too much, and only when it conveniences us, and if we can feel that we have “done good” like we’re supposed to do. The sheep illustrate the “more than human” response – love and compassion, with no strings attached..

    • Tom – Amen. We are called to serve, not to judge. I volunteer for a local org. and on my first day my boss explained how unhelpful it is to judge people based on looks or things. She gave an example that I’ll never forget: a woman came in to sign up for aid. She drove to the org. in a brand new SUV, fully loaded. Later, someone said to my boss something along the lines of, “Sure she needs aid, look at her car!” Well guess what? That woman was married to a man with a job and she had just gotten a promotion at her work. Their lives were richly blessed in tangible ways. Then, about a week after purchasing the SUV, her husband got fired AND her sister’s four children were ushered into her custody. The woman went from having two children to having six and suddenly their income was cut in half and of course the car dealership wouldn’t take the vehicle back. Yes, she asked.

      I don’t care if someone comes to me dripping in gold or dressed in rags. They ask for help, the only appropriate answer is, “I will help in any way I can.” Because we don’t know everything. And in fact, not knowing everything isn’t even the point.

      • I have experienced the same thing. Never judge, and never jump to conclusions (same thing?). There are always at least two sides to a story. As true as this is with people, think of how it is with God. We like to judge and make proclamations regarding God’s word, yet we can never know all sides of the story, all the facts.

      • He’ll get there first kiddo is such a learning curve. Once we put up black out blnids in my oldest daughter’s room, her day time napping improved about 100%. We have sound machines in both kids rooms now (the homedics alarm clock ones, work like a charm to drown out the normal day time noise levels when monkey number 2 is napping). I found the Good Night, Sleep Tight book to be a god send a good friend recommended it when my oldest was around six months. Quick read, her advice makes sense and you can easily tweak her advice for what works for you and your kids. I found once my girls were bigger and really moving around (especially once they started crawling), that’s when the napping schedule really fell into place. Raffi’s still so little he’s at that stage where once you figure out what works, he’ll go and change it up on you again. You’re doing a great job you know him best and will figure out what works for your family.

  2. This was a very good word Trig. Extremely good word. We are the ones who help God bring about the Restoration of ALL things. I love the way you wrote this as a reminder to show us that “WE” are the ANSWER. I don’t think any of us ever get it right ALL the time—

    “It is this selfless devotion to the “least among us” that is the key to the restoration of all things to God. And not everyone can do such things for others. Not everyone wants to.”

    I am glad to hear that your wife if doing well and that you are able to see the hand of God in ALL things.

  3. Trig, I am so deeply glad for you and your family that your wife’s medical condition turned out to not be another stroke. I can’t imagine how you must have felt upon answering your phone and hearing those words.

    Thank you for the reminder, as Alicia says, to see the hand of God in ALL things. Amen and amen. My friend, Bishop Craig put this as his status update a few months ago: “If God is infinite, there is no place where God isn’t – even in those things we believe are evil. The implications of that are staggering.”

    Whoa.

  4. I need to remind myself to see God in ALL things right now. I am truly having a hard time seeing God in a few things right now. Maybe this was a reminder for me too..

    • I make some folks at our local “WWJB?” (What would Jesus brew?” bible study very upset when I try and see Grace and positive outcomes in almost anything, even the most heinous crimes.

      It may be me being naive, but I really think even the darkest events of life can be the source of great love and Grace.

      • Sorry, I am just responding back. So much has been going on the past month or so…I miss you guys and love you all. I just moved from Florida back to Seattle among other things going on. wow..is all I can say right now..

        I agree with you Trig. It is not always easy to recognize God in some of the dark moments. I realize there are times I don’t recognize his hand until the dark moments have passed and I go, “Aha, I see what you were doing God”. You are right though, even in the darkest events God is still in control and dishing out abundant Grace in the process. Without the Grace of God we just can’t and won’t make it..be it good or bad times.

        It seems people really just have an idea of God that is not real–it is just an “Idea” of what they have been taught he is most of the time. They really don’t believe he is totally sovereign over ALL things..

        For some I don’t think that truth will ever be ‘true’..

        • Good to hear from you, again, Alicia. I hope things are awesome for you in Seattle and life gives you some more time to stop by and share more of these amazing thoughts!

          • Thanks Trig. I am believing God has something awesome for me here. I could use some “awesome” turn arounds in my life. Being back here is ‘awesome’ though. I have prayed and waited for a little over 2 yrs to come back. Looking forward to a new beginning. I have to catch up on a few of your new devotionals.

  5. Weird..My pic did not show up. Oh well. Today is just weird anyway…very weird so far..

  6. Trig, thanks so much for being willing to scrutinize your own shortcomings in order to point the way for all of us seekers to move forward in the Light. You are much appreciated! A prayer came to me today while resting: “Be not afraid of your own darkness, for therein dwells the Light also.” Be easy, my friend, and know that all is well!

  7. Mr.McCool ,

    What you stated about how that the sheep, in Matthew 25 were NOT seeking a reward in the afterlife , but sought to implement charity out of an intrinsic desire to be charitable, is an insight that should be repeated more often .

    That is an insight which so seldom talked about by fundamentalists and even a number of universalists also .

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