Envy: The Sour Aftertaste of Sin

Photo by Govinda Valbuena

Envy is not simply a longing to have the same kind of thing the other person has; the envious person wants to strip another of something in order to possess it completely and solely (Proverbs 14:30). Apostle Peter’s spiritual weight loss program tells us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Christians are not immune to envy. Ananias and Sapphira saw the praise Joseph the Levite received when the apostles changed his name to Barnabas (Acts 5), and their envy led to their deaths. In our time, one preacher envies another minister’s success and begins to slander him because he is eaten up with envy.

Henry Stein wrote, “A convincing case can be made that the entire free enterprise system is fueled by envy.”[1] Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed, “We worship success, but we really don’t like the successful. We are envious of them.”

Sometimes it is easier to understand the meaning of a word by looking at its opposite: light/dark, heavy/light, fat/thin. The Greeks considered “envy” (phthonos, φθόνος) the opposite of “the love of people” (philanthropia, φιλανθρωπία). [2]

Envy expresses itself in all walks of life. Children want other children to envy their toys. Adults engage in “conspicuous consumption.” People marry a “trophy spouse.” Envy often leads to overspending and consequent marital conflict. (Disagreements over money are the most frequently cited cause for divorce.)

Early Christians saw envy as “the end result of all human sins.”[3]. As such, envy – our fundamental dissatisfaction – is the fruit of all the other sins. Envy is like the sour aftertaste of sin. It is a fundamental problem for us all and is considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. [4]

Think about it. Envy is a major cause of unhappiness and self-contempt. The man who covets another man’s wife becomes dissatisfied with his own. The student who envies another’s grades underestimates his own abilities. The woman who envies another woman’s appearance becomes a supporter of a cultural system that diminishes her own value and encourages her own unhappiness. Envy diminishes people’s enjoyment of life because they cannot be content with what they have.

Peter, help us! How can we strip away our envy? This might sound strange, but the root of envy is doubting God. We need to understand that God wills the very best for us! We may think we need something, but the Lord knows what we really need! Therefore, I believe the best way to counter envy is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude!

[1] Henry Stein, Ethics (and Other Liabilities), 1982

[2] See Demosthenes, “Against Leptines” 165. Cited in Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1054). University of Chicago Press.

[3]Didache: “ἔσχατον τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων ἁμαρτημάτων”

[4] PEWSLAG: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony

The Hypocritical Christian

Photo by Liam Charmer

Hypocrisy is a complex topic because we all are hypocrites at some point in our lives. Even the Apostle Paul confessed his struggle to the Romans:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). That sounds a little bit like hypocrisy, doesn’t it? It’s a struggle we all have, so Peter, in his spiritual weight loss program, tells us to: “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Do you remember Jesus warning his disciples about “wolves in sheep’s clothing”? (Matthew 7:15). I wonder about them. Do they know they are wolves or do they just believe they are sheep with an insatiable taste for mutton? The key is to examine our actions – our thoughts can deceive us and make excuses. If you have wool stuck between your teeth, chances are you’re not a sheep!

Likewise, James, the brother of Jesus, warns of Christians who are “double-minded.” They have two souls (James 1:8). Those poor people want to be citizens of the new world, but they also want to continue to live in the old. The early Christians pointed to Lot’s wife as the perfect example of a double-minded person. She desired to stay in Sodom, but she also wanted to be saved, so she fled with her family. Unfortunately, there was a war going on in her mind. She was trying to hold on to two different values, and, ultimately, she was turned into a pillar of salt. What’s the cure? James tells us to “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). Notice how James links both actions, “cleanse your hands,” and thoughts, “purify your hearts.” Purifying your heart means learning to focus. In James’ words, “Draw near to God.”

Finally, my grandmother was right. As repulsive as hypocrites are, “Johnny if you’re letting a hypocrite come between you and God, he’s closer to the Lord than you are!”

Speech with Hooks

Today, we’re continuing our spiritual weight loss program. In our last lesson, we learned about ridding ourselves of “malice.” The second sin Peter refers to is deceit: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2 Peter 2:1).
In elementary school, I loved going fishing with my father in Louisiana. First, we’d stop at the bait shop, and I was dazzled by all the bright, shiny lures. Dad would laugh and remind me, “Most lures are designed to catch fishermen.” Lures are, by their very nature, deceitful!
Some people would argue our entire economy is based on deceit. The ad men work hard to convince us to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. I love my Alexa device. No more flipping switches to change the channel or turn on the lights. Who needs a “clapper”? But I also suspect Alexa is listening to our conversations. Ads begin mysteriously appearing on my phone and computer for items Jan and I mentioned privately the night before! Peter is warning us about being deceitful in our speech and actions. Men often exaggerate their accomplishments, and even ministers are guilty of using a “preacher count” when recording attendance.
How can we cultivate honesty in our speech? First, don’t talk so much! James told us to “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12). My grandmother used to say, “Johnny, God gave you two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” Those are wise words, but they are hard to follow.
Likewise, the New Testament warns against “smooth talk” and “flattery.”
“For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:18).
The word the ESV translates as “flattery” can also be translated in a good sense as “praise, blessing, or generous gift.” It becomes evil when it goes too far. The ancients used this word to describe “words that are well chosen but untrue, false eloquence, flattery.” It’s “an argument that sounds good but is false.”[1]
In the garage, I have a rusty old tackle box; sometimes, I open it to remind myself to beware of speech with hooks.

 Be a Blessing,

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 500). University of Chicago Press.

Spiritual Weight Loss

I stepped out of the shower and onto the scales. I knew I had been snacking a lot lately, but the numbers on the scale seemed larger than life that morning. “Five pounds! How could I have gained five pounds?” I shouted.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

“Looks like somebody needs to lose some weight,” Jan quipped. So I put on my sweatpants, tied up my sneakers, and started around the block, dreaming of the big breakfast I would enjoy when I came in from exercising.

The Apostle Peter was concerned about something more important than my waistline: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1 – 2). The Apostle Paul is especially fond of this putting off and putting on metaphor. He told the Romans, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12), and he told the Colossians, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8). To the Ephesians, he said, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22).

The Hebrew writer describes this life as a race. He uses a very modern illustration of a runner who forgets to take his warm-up clothes off before the big race: “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

So, what are some of those encumbrances that threaten to trip us up? This week, let’s think about Peter’s list: “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2: 2). The first thing to “put off” is “malice.” What is malice?

When we do a word study, the place to begin with the original text; for the Old Testament, that’s the Hebrew language, and for the New Testament, the language is ancient Greek. Modern tools make this easy. Serious Bible students should have access to an “Interlinear Bible.” It has the English on one line, and the original language words written below:


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The word we are interested in is “malice,” and the Greek word below it is kakia (κακία). What does kakia mean? Let’s think about this in two steps. First, compare as many different English translations as you can. (With a computer, that’s easy. Try visiting a website like https://www.biblegateway.com if you don’t have access to several versions.) How do those versions translate this word?

The American Standard Version (1901) is a very literal translation. It says “wickedness.” That covers a lot of ground! (The English Standard Version also says “wickedness.”) Likewise, the modern God’s Word version says “every kind of evil.” The old Geneva Bible, the version the Pilgrims used, reads “maliciousness,” while the first English Bible, Wycliffe’s translation, and the King James Version (1611) say, “all malice.” So, Eugene Peterson’s The Message, the New American Standard, the New Revised Standard Version, and the old Revised Standard Version.

“Wickedness, malice, and evil.” We’re getting a feel for our word kakia. So our next step is to look up kakia in a lexicon. (A lexicon is just a Greek dictionary. I think they call it that so they can charge more for it.) So the first entry in the lexicon says kakia is “the quality or state of wickedness, baseness, depravity, wickedness, vice. κ. is the opposite of ἀρετή [excellence] and all virtue and therefore lacking in social value.” The second entry gets to the heart of the matter: “a mean-spirited or vicious attitude or disposition, malice, ill-will, malignity.” [2]Yikes! “Mean-spirited or vicious attitude” can sometimes describe my driving!

But if I want to change, in Peter’s words, “put away malice,” where do I begin? Recognizing our problem is the first step. Replacing a mean spirit with a kind heart is the next. I’ve learned a lot from kind Kansas drivers. When I pull out to pass them, they don’t speed up (mean-spirit)! Instead, they tap the brakes and wave to let me go by. They are unexpectedly kind-hearted. Their kindness encourages me to do the same. The Apostle Paul told the Colossians to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts” (Colossians 3:12).

Hmm. I’ve made it around the block, but I still haven’t lost my five pounds. Join us tomorrow as we continue this spiritual weight loss program!

  [1]  Newberry, T., & Berry, G. R. (2004). The interlinear literal translation of the Greek New Testament (1 Pe 2:1). Logos Bible Software.

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 500). University of Chicago Press.

Missouri Earthquakes

When we think of earthquakes, we think of California, but the most powerful earthquakes America ever experienced occurred in Missouri between December 1811 and March 1812. The strongest, a fantastic 8.8-magnitude, happened on February 7th, 1812.

Photo by Shefali Lincoln

“Church bells rang in Boston, thousands of miles away, from the shaking. Brick walls were toppled in Cincinnati. In the Mississippi River, water turned brown and whirlpools developed suddenly from the depressions created in the riverbed. Waterfalls were created in an instant; in one report, 30 boats were helplessly thrown over falls, killing the people on board. Many of the small islands in the middle of the river, often used as bases by river pirates, permanently disappeared. Large lakes, such as Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri border, were created by the earthquake as river water poured into new depressions.”[1]

Over 1,000 people died (although an accurate count is impossible to record). Residents began living in tents so the debris of a collapsing building wouldn’t harm them. During the February 7th trembler, the Mississippi River ran backward for several hours due to a fluvial tsunami!

There is something very eerie about an earthquake. We have learned to count on the earth being under our feet. We rely on it to be there, but earthquakes cause the earth to betray us. Some people develop seismophobia, “the extreme, often irrational fear of earthquakes.”[2]

On the other hand, Paul and Silas were rescued, and the Philippian Jailer became a Christian following an earthquake (Acts 16). Earthquakes herald the majesty of God throughout the book of Revelation (Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18).

I am a firm believer that challenges are opportunities. Yes, I duck for cover during an earthquake, but perhaps earthquakes teach us the only One we can truly rely on is the Lord God Almighty!

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/earthquake-causes-fluvial-tsunami-in-mississippi

[2] https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-earthquakes-phobia-seismophobia/

Connecting the Dots

An opinion is different from a doctrine. Opinions are matters of personal interpretation, while doctrines demand obedience. Sadly, opinions are often elevated into doctrines that can be divisive when people demand everyone agrees with their interpretation.

Today, let’s think about another contributing factor that elevates matters of opinion to matters of doctrine: personalities. We all know Christians must treat others better than we treat ourselves (the Golden Rule). However, if someone is a false teacher or a heretic, some people believe we can boot them out of the church and say awful things about them. Thus, if you don’t want to be around Brother Different Opinion, just change his name to Brother Heretic – elevate a matter of opinion to a matter of doctrine.

How can you tell the difference between an opinion and something that is doctrinal? We don’t have time to go deeply into this issue but start with this example. Draw a point on a blank sheet of paper. Now ask someone to draw a straight line through that point. How do you know if that line is correct? You can’t. From one point, the line can go anywhere, north, south, east, or west! However, if you draw two points, there is only one line that will connect them. The more points you can establish, the more confident you are of the line. The same is true in Bible study. The interpretation of one point is an opinion. Two or more points can define a doctrine.

Here are two examples. The importance of baptism is without question. There are so many points of Scripture; the answer is sure: “Be baptized!” However, the “doctrine” that Jesus descended into hell and “preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago” is only based on 1 Peter 3:19. This “doctrine” became the basis for the “Harrowing of Hell” that “first appeared in fourth-century formulas and eventually was incorporated into the Apostles’, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds.”[1] Where Jesus went and what he did while he was in the grave is uncertain at best. However, the benefits of his death though are widely celebrated, and we are on much firmer ground because so many different Scriptures discuss it.

It is much easier to make judgments than it is to be tolerant, but unity is what Jesus prayed for his disciples:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20 – 21).

 Be a Blessing,

 [1] Brueggemann, D. A. (2016). Descent into the Underworld, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.

photo by Nicole Michalou

I am looking for a new congregation to work with. In the process, I am almost always given a list of questions asking for my understanding of different issues. I know this is important for the sake of unity, and I don’t mind sharing my interpretations of the Scriptures. Still, some of the questions focus on matters that should be matters of opinion rather than doctrine. For example, one committee asked me, “What is your view on eating in the building?” I started to give them a smart Alec answer about how much I enjoy eating with anyone anywhere, but they were serious. They took two verses from 1 Corinthians 11: “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (v. 22), and “If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together, it may not result in judgment” (v. 34). From that, they created the Anti-kitchen doctrine. (If it was just an opinion, then you have a choice: to eat or not to eat. However, if this is a doctrine, then it becomes a matter of salvation: if you eat, you are disobeying the Lord!)

In context (and remember, “a text out of context is a pretext”), the apostle is talking about abuses of the Lord’s Supper. One of the Restoration Movement principles is to try and do “Bible things in Bible ways.” Thus, we use unleavened bread in the communion because we want to model our celebration on the original celebration. Likewise, the first Christians knew the first Lord’s Supper occurred during a meal, so they had communion following a meal they called the Agape or a “Love feast” (Jude 12). But in Corinth, the Love Feast was so badly abused (read chapter 11) that Paul told them to abandon the meal altogether. Does this mean potlucks are sinful? They can be.

One church I worked with had a terrible problem. One family had so many children that they couldn’t supervise them all properly as they went through the lunch line. The kids piled their plates high with all the fried chicken and deviled eggs. Then they would take two bites and throw the rest of the food into the trash before running outside to play. The other children began following their bad example. Those of us in the back of the line had to settle on a lunch of a few pretzels and celery stalks! I know it sounds silly. It wouldn’t have been an issue if the children were hungry, but they were rude and wasteful. Members began to grumble and resent the presence of the children. It became a problem. Then one wise old elder announced, “every child must go through the line with an adult.” Peace was restored, and everyone was happy. (The fried chicken was still gone by the time I went through the line, but at least it wasn’t in the trash.)

We’ll continue thinking about these things tomorrow. Please share your opinions with me, and if you are not going to stay for the potluck, can I have your deviled eggs?

Another Look at Patience

photo courtesy of Ekaterina Bolovtsova

“Lord, give me patience – and give it to me NOW.” The last of the Five Virtues that Paul encourages the Colossians to put on is patience:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

I think the apostle knew how much we struggle with this virtue, so he explains in the next verse that patience means: “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

Paul could have chosen from several Greek words for patience. My favorite is hypomone which describes “patience that endures.” In the Apocalypse, the Philadelphian Christians were commended for displaying this virtue: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Paul told the Romans: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3 – 5).

The author of Hebrews encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1 – 3)

James wrote: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 – 4).

However, this form of patience, hypomone, is never attributed to God. The Lord doesn’t need to endure because He is not tested, as are we. God’s patience is called makrothumia. The old translations call this virtue “long-suffering.” God bears with us. For example, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Lord could have struck them down immediately (think poisoned apples). Instead, he patiently waited. He gave them another chance. Makrothumia is the type of patience Paul told the Colossians to put on in the Five Virtues.

Once in a sermon, I declared our God is a God of “second chances.” After services, a white-haired sister took me aside and told me I was wrong! But before I could defend myself, she explained. “Our God is a God of second, and third, and fourth, and fifth chances.” She was right, and if our Lord is like that, so should we be!

Marvin Milquetoast Misses the Mark

Caspar Milquetoast, a weak man for every season. H.T. WEBSTER/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), but we still have problems thinking of meekness as a virtue. In the Atlantic, Rhoda Feng says, “If you overhear people discussing your meek temperament, you’re likely to infer that they don’t think too highly of you (‘spineless’ and ‘lacking in self-respect’ have become near-synonyms for the word).” [1]

The Christian viewpoint is very different. Moses was the “meekest man who ever lived” (Numbers 12:3), yet he confronted Pharaoh! Jesus was meek (2 Corinthians 10:1), but no more powerful man ever lived! The Biblical definition of meekness is “strength under control.” Alexander the Great’s horse, Bucephalus, a powerful warhorse, was described this way. He could carry Alexander into the heat of battle and yet was so “meek” a small child could safely sit on his back.

There is another quality of meekness to focus on today. The lexicon says meekness is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness.” [2]

On his way to Rome to face martyrdom, Ignatius of Antioch said of the bishop of Philadelphia: “I am impressed by his forbearance; he accomplishes more through silence than others do by talking.” [3] The bishop didn’t need to command obedience or impress people with his authority. Instead, he understood the value of meekness.

Have you been in a room full of “stuffed shirts”? (Men parading about trying to impress one another.) It’s no wonder this is the fourth of Paul’s Five Virtues that he encourages the Colossians to “put on.” Apostle Paul tells them to “put on the new self” (3:10). That includes: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12).

Feng summarizes an article by Glen Pettigrove, a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Auckland, entitled “Meekness and Moral Anger.” Pettigrove observes:

Self-control, however, is a necessary but insufficient condition for meekness. Philosophers have distinguished between 1) meekness and servility and 2) meekness and resignation. Those who are truly meek act out of both self-control and benevolence (attentiveness to the wellbeing of others), while those who are servile act out of fear of incurring punishment. We wouldn’t praise someone for merely acting meek when the true cause of his action is despair (e.g. indifference to the welfare of oneself or others). So we arrive at one definition of meekness: “Agent M manifests the virtue of meekness when he or she characteristically responds in a calm and kindly fashion to aggravating treatment.”

If we are going to be genuinely meek, that should describe our Christian behavior this week!

  [1] Rhoda Feng, The Atlantic, November 9, 2012

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 861). University of Chicago Press.

[3] Ignatius to the Philadelphians. Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 177). Baker Books.


photo by Freddy Maddie

Humility isn’t always considered a virtue, but this is the third virtue the Apostle Paul tells the Colossian Christians to “put on.”
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
Even moderns fail to think about humility as a virtue. “To get ahead,” the advice goes, “you have to blow your own horn.” In the year Emperor Nero died, there was a scramble among his generals to become the next emperor. Galba was the first but was quickly put to death. Josephus says Galba “was accused by the soldiers as a pusillanimous person.”[1] Paul’s Greek word translated “humility” is used by Josephus to declare Galba “pusillanimous,” that is, “timid, lacking courage or determination.” [2]
The New Testament never uses humility in this derogatory sense. It is always a virtue. Paul told the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Peter echoes Paul’s instructions: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5)
The opposite of humility is pride which Christians consider the first of the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony). Pride is the “inordinate assertion of self.” Pride is always aiming high – which isn’t always a sin. “Excellence” aims high, but the sin of pride is arrogant. It belittles others and inflates self. There is a falseness to pride. Of course, nothing stinks worse than false humility. The early Christian, Clement of Rome, warned: “The humble person should not testify to his own humility, but leave it to someone else to testify about him,” Clement (1 Clement 38:2). [3]
James Stalker gives this advice to anyone who wrestles with pride: “Anything that makes us think more of God or our neighbor is a remedy because, as I have said, the essence of pride is selfishness.” [4]
Finally, let’s close by considering the example of Jesus:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
     Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
     but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
     And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
     Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 1:6 – 11).