What I’m Reading: A Guide To Biblical Sites In Greece And Turkey

A better title for this might be: Where I’m Going!  I’m using the format of sharing what I have been reading to write about an upcoming trip I am taking to Greece and Turkey.  However, one of the reasons for such a trip is captured in this book.  My journey will take me to some of the most important classical and biblical sites around the Mediterranean.

A Guide to Greece and Turkey

The book itself is a great resource for such a trip.  Any ancient site mentioned in the New Testament located in modern-day Greece or Turkey is summarized in this guide.  A brief history is given for each site, followed by the Biblical significance of the site, as well as an orientation to a site visit.  As the book itself points out, “Nearly two-thirds of the New Testament, including all the letters of Paul, most of Acts, and the book of Revelation, are set in either Turkey or Greece.”  My intention was to only peruse the sites I would be visiting, but I ended up reading the entire book.

Here is a brief synopsis of the places I will be experiencing on my trip.

  • Athens.  Next to Rome, no city has made as many contributions to art, philosophy, and political theory as Athens.  The city is the birthplace of Democracy and was the underlying cultural influence for much of the Roman Empire.  Surprisingly, for all its influence, the city itself does not stand out in the New Testament.  Acts 17 records a sermon that the Apostle Paul delivered in Athens at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill.  After Paul left the city, nothing more is said about Athens and other cities become the focus of Paul’s journeys.  Yet, like its influence on Rome, the cultural impact of Athens reverberates throughout the New Testament.
  • Corinth.  Much more prominent in Paul’s writings is the city of Corinth, which is only a couple of hour away from Athens.  The authors Fant and Reddish note that while Corinth benefited much from trade and commerce in the ancient world, it also found itself frequently dragged into the rivalry between Athens and Sparta.  In the New Testament, Paul spent eighteen months in the city and visited it on at least three separate occasions.  Two extant letters were written by Paul to the church he established at Corinth and they contain numerous references to the ancient site.
  • Ephesus.  The site of Ephesus is one of the best preserved archaeological sites around.  It was home to one of the ancient Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis, though there is little that remains of the temple.  Ephesus served as a home base for much of Paul’s missionary endeavors in Asia Minor, spending about three years there.  The book of Ephesians is a letter from Paul to the church he established there.  One of my current writing projects explores the connections between the book of Ephesians and the ancient city of Ephesus.
  • Cappadocia.  The region of Cappadocia in central Turkey is not mentioned prominently in the New Testament, though Paul does pass through the region on a couple of occasions on his way to Asia Minor.  Cappadocia is better known for its other-wordly landscape and does figure prominently in the history of the early church.  Many early churches can be found throughout the region.
  • Istanbul.  Another city not covered in this particular book is the city of Istanbul, better known historically as Byzantium or Constantinople.  While not mentioned in the New Testament, Constantinople would take center stage in the Christian world when the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the site of this modern city that serves as the place where Europe and Asia meet.  It is a large modern city that is littered with Byzantine and Ottoman sites.

I’m not sure if I will be able to blog during my trip, but at the very least I will be exploring these sites and sharing pictures upon my return in a couple of weeks.

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Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control

The final piece of fruit in the series on the Fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of Self-Control. For an introduction to the series see, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them.  For an overview of the entire series, click on the Top Posts page.

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For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

The final piece of fruit is that of self-control.  To understand the issues being addressed with this fruit we must delve briefly into a bit of theology.  Scripture often makes a distinction between the flesh and the spirit, or the sinful nature and the new nature made possible through our relationship with God.  The flesh is not evil – that would fall into gnostic thinking – yet it is clear that the flesh, absent the work of God’s Spirit, is driven by cravings, compulsions, and temptations that can lead us into destructive habits.  The flesh needs to be controlled by a strong mind, discipline, and a spirit connected to God.

It should not be difficult to be convinced of this battle within us.  We experience the flesh in action whenever we have that craving for another piece of chocolate or choose the couch over the treadmill.  We can either be controlled by every whim and yearning of our body, or we can bring our body under submission through discipline and exercise.

This discipline to resist capitulation at every desire of the body is what Scripture calls self-control.  Classically, it is often used specifically in reference to sexual desires.  Perhaps it is this sense in which we see a stark contrast to the life God desires for us and the desires our culture promote to us.  We live in a world where we are encouraged to indulge every passion we feel or experience.  To give into our appetites and indulge our passions is to be human, or so we are told.  But God has a different message: The ability to control our appetites, curb our passions, and express them in healthy ways is what makes us human.  Otherwise, we are just another biological animal.

The tension we feel when it comes to self-control can be seen in the Apostle Paul’s words at the beginning of this piece of fruit.  We often know what the better, healthier choices are in life and we have a desire to make those choices.  We want to change.  We really don’t want to continue down a given path.  But it is a battle to make those choices and keep our desires in check.  Self-control is choosing the better way over the immediate route our body is telling us it wants and wants now!

Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that our bodies are temples of God’s Spirit.  It is our job to make them suitable dwelling places for the Spirit.  Temples were holy places that needed to be purified and cleansed on an ongoing basis to make them acceptable to the deity that lived there.  Anything less was unacceptable.  When we are able to curb our appetites, control our emotions, and resist unhealthy desires, we exercise self-control and create an environment in which God’s Spirit can move freely.

Self-control encompasses many areas of our life.  With this last piece of fruit, how suitable is your temple as a dwelling place for God’s Spirit?

  • Are my energies being wisely directed?  Am I less distracted in my pursuit of God?
  • What specific area do you have the most trouble telling your body “No”?
  • What disciplines could help direct your passions and energies in a better way?  What activities could replace some habits you would like to change?