Recently I heard someone say that all our problems would be solved if we followed the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you”. It was their key to harmonious and peaceful relationships. Whereas the Bible says that the good news about Jesus Christ is the key to solving our problems and restoring our relationships.
The Pope’s recent exhortation to the Roman Catholic church “On the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” encouraged them to spread the message of the gospel; the good news about Jesus Christ. But the exhortation makes some claims about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ that are inconsistent with the Bible. Is the different teaching with regard to Mary significant? Is it syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice)? Is the Pope teaching a different gospel to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)?
The Bible’s “good news”
The word “gospel” is the translation of a Greek word that means “good news” (Strongs #2098) and the word “evangelist” is the translation of a Greek word that means “a preacher of good news” (Strongs #2099). Paul summarised the Biblical gospel, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved … For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4NIV). He said that Christ’s death and resurrection is the key to solving our problems.
The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned – resulting in separation from God and eternal punishment (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9). In the beginning of time, God created a perfect world where there was no sin. But this world changed and there was disease, suffering, decay and death after Adam and Eve sinned. Now we all inherit this sinfulness. Because sin separates us from God, we are excluded from heaven. But God planned to rescue us from our sinful ways by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to fix the relationship between us and God. Jesus took the punishment for sin that we deserve by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can live with Him eternally in heaven. Jesus also summarised the Biblical gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The “good news” is also summarized in the Postscript.
The characters involved today in the good news of salvation for humanity are:
- God the Father planned it.
- Jesus Christ obeyed the plan.
- Missionaries and preachers communicate the message from the Bible (Rom. 10:14-17).
- The Holy Spirit empowers the messengers, convinces people of their sinfulness and need of salvation, and empowers them to repent and turn to Christ in faith (Jn. 16:8; 1 Cor. 2:4-5; Ti. 3:5).
Mary has no role at all—she is not mentioned in the Bible after the church commenced on the day of Pentecost.
A different “good news”
Paul was astonished when the Galatians turned “to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). He states that false teachers were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” and should be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7-9). These strong words are repeated to emphasize their importance.
A “different gospel” differs from the Bible’s good news. It either adds to it or takes away from it, and Revelation warns against this tampering with aspects of the Gospel (ch. 22:18-19; 1:5; 4:11; 21:1-22:6). For example, the Pharisees and Sadducees added extra rules and regulations to the true gospel (Mt. 16:5-12). This gospel says there are things you must do to get saved and stay saved. Paul rebuked Peter in Galatia because he was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).
The Pope’s “good news”
Although the Pope’s exhortation addresses “the proclamation of the gospel”, it is difficult to determine his understanding of the gospel from this document. He says “Christians have a duty to proclaim the gospel” (p. 14), but doesn’t explain the gospel very well. For example, “Before all else, the gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others “ (p. 34). How are we to respond? He mentions preachers “bringing Jesus” to others (p. 85). What do they preach? There is little mention of sin, confession and repentance in the exhortation (Lk. 15:7; p. 14-15).
The best statements on the gospel in the exhortation are:
- “Those who accept his (Jesus’) offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (p.3).
- “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (p.6).
- “The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ” (p.10).
- The missionary mandate of Jesus is quoted, “go and make disciples” (Mt 28:19-20; p. 19).
- “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (p. 31-32).
- “Let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ” (p.41).
- “Evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority” (p. 89)
- “Witness to the saving love of the Lord” (p. 98).
- “Bring the love of Jesus to others” (p. 103).
- “But always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship” (p. 103).
- In a sermon “the Lord, more than his minister, will be the centre of attention” (2 Cor. 4:5; p. 110).
However, “Journeying together to shrines” is given as an example of evangelization (p. 101) and the exhortation concludes with a section on “Mary, the Mother of evangelization” (p. 211-217). This is a great concern because as Mary is no longer alive on earth, she has nothing to do with evangelization today. Instead her body has decayed to dust and her soul and spirit are with the Lord in heaven. She is not “Jesus’ gift to his people” (p. 211) and not the “Star of the new evangelization” (p.214) and not the one to pray to for help “to proclaim the good news of Jesus” (p.216).
Although the Pope rejects syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice) with the followers of non-Christian religions (p. 187), he accepts scyncretism between the Bible and extra-Biblical teachings on Mary.
Does it matter?
Paul said that the gospel advanced when he was imprisoned in Philippi: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:14-18).
Those that preached Christ out of envy, rivalry and selfish ambition had the right message but the wrong motives. But Paul rejoiced because the gospel message they preached was true. When the Pope preaches about Christ, the message is true, but when He introduces Mary as an essential part of evangelization and Christianity, the message is jeopardized. Paul rejoiced when the message was true, but he rebuked when it was false (Gal. 2:14). So we can rejoice when the Pope and the Roman Catholics preach about Christ, but we should rebuke them when they are “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” with regard to Mary (Gal. 2:14).
So the gospel message in the Pope’s exhortation contains a combination of truth and error. In this sense it is different to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). The main error is the inclusion of Mary as an essential part of Christianity. Although God can use the truth, people can be deceived by this error. This false teaching about Mary is a significant addition to the Bible’s message (Rev. 22:18-19). It is syncretism (the fusion of different or opposing forms of belief or practice).
When we proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, let’s remember it’s all about Jesus, and not Mary.
Postscript – Summary of the “good news”
God loves you and wants you to have a full and satisfying life:
- “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
- “I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10).
We are separated from God because we all disobey God, and so we can’t know and experience His love or have a full and satisfying life:
- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
- “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
The only way to be free from the sin that separates us from God is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on a cross to take the punishment for our sin. Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible to remove our separation from God:
- “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
- “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
We must personally invite Jesus to come into our lives and take charge:
- “To all who did receive Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
- “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Here’s how to respond to the “good news”:
- Admit that you are a sinner.
- Believe that Jesus Christ loves you so much He died for you so you can be close to God.
- Change your mind about sin—be willing to break your sinful habits and build good habits by obeying God’s word, the Bible. The Bible calls this “repentance”. It’s a 180 degree turn towards God.
- Ask God to live in you through His Spirit, to forgive you for the sinful things you have done and take charge of your life.
Written, January 2014
As there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven, it seems that some of these would not have heard about Jesus before they died (Rev. 5:9-10). I believe that infants go to heaven when they die because they are not accountable for their sin. We will look at other people in two categories, those who lived before and after Christ.
The Bible says that those who trusted God in Old Testament times go to heaven. Although most of the promises they were given were physical, they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13NIV). Instead they were looking towards heaven: “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). We are told that God “has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16b). In particular, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
These people are commended in Hebrews as those who lived by faith. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Jews were told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). This faith was based on a revelation from God.
“Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24). So did Noah (Gen. 6:9). This means they obeyed God. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Job repented after God revealed His power through nature (Job 38-41; 42:6).
So those who trusted in God’s revelation to them before the formation of the Israelite nation go to heaven. In their case, God usually spoke directly to them.
God spoke to the Israelites “at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). It is stated that Moses accepted “disgrace for the sake of Christ” (Heb. 11:26). But as Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ, this seems to be a figure of speech. It means that Moses choose to be loyal to God and to associate with his fellow Israelites. The reason given is that “he was looking ahead to his reward”. As Hebrews was probably written about 65AD, the writer knew that the Messiah was the one through whom God guaranteed their promised future.
So the Israelites who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. In their case, the revelation was usually miracles and the law given through Moses.
We know God revealed Himself to the Israelites as they were His people during this period of time. But what about the Gentiles? The Israelites were told to follow the laws that God gave them through Moses so that other nations would come to know God: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:6-8).
Rahab is a Gentile who trusted God (Heb. 11:31). She told the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land … for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9-11). Because of what she had heard of the Exodus and the defeat of the Amorites, she realised that the God of the Israelites was greater than the Canaanite gods. So she rejected the Canaanite gods to follow the God of the Israelites.
Also Ruth the Moabite told her Israelite mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Likewise, she rejected the gods of the Moabites to follow the God of the Israelites. God’s interest in the Gentiles is shown in the book of Jonah where Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message of God’s judgment and the people repented of their sin (Jon. 3:1-10).
So the Gentiles who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. God revealed Himself to them through the Israelites when they heard about their law and the miraculous preservation of their nation.
All the above are examples of people who go to heaven without hearing about Jesus. But the Bible says the following about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12NLT). And Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). This means that the only way to get into heaven is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Before Christ’s death people were saved according to their acceptance of God’s revelation to them. It was based on the future work of Christ. So those who trusted in God’s revelation in Old Testament times go to heaven because their faith in God was equivalent to faith in Jesus Christ. They were saved on credit. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). In this way God overlooked the sins of those who trusted in Him before Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Romans, God reveals that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we can only get to heaven through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). But it also says that people are judged according to God’s revelation to them: “All who sin apart from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience.
Firstly, the physical world demands a Creator. Its design requires a Designer. The laws of nature require a Lawmaker. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). Enough of God is revealed in His creation that there is no excuse for not believing in Him. Those who reject this revelation follow idols and practice sinful behaviour and suffer God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).
Nature is a testimony of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Also, Paul said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17).
So if people haven’t heard about Jesus, they can be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation. If they turn from idolatry and seek the true God, then God may give them additional revelation. For example, Cornelius was a Gentile who sought God. So God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus and salvation (Acts 11:14). God can appear to people in many ways throughout their lives. He can send people to inform them (Rom. 10:14-15). Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell and wants everyone to repent of their sin, we must trust that He has made a way for those people (2 Pt. 3:9).
Secondly, everyone is born with a conscience. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. God will say, “What did you think was right and wrong?” The next question is, “Did you always do the right and not the wrong?” By that standard, of course, everyone fails. The conscience proves that we are sinners like the law does for the Jew.
The issue is their response to a guilty conscience. If they were sorry for their behavior and would repent then they would probably go to heaven. This reasoning is based on the fact that God is just and wants all to be saved. He has made a way for all, but few accept it.
Like those who lived before Christ, the issue is whether they responded to God’s revelation to them. So through the creation and our conscience, God gives everyone the opportunity to turn to Him and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness and go to heaven.
Lessons for us
Like the Israelites, a Christian’s behaviour can influence an unbeliever to repent and follow God and go to heaven. “Live such good lives among the pagans (your unbelieving neighbors, NLT) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12).
Although people can to be saved without hearing about Jesus, it isn’t likely to occur in very many instances. The usual way to go to heaven is to respond to hearing about Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14). That’s why it’s important to tell people about Jesus as much as possible and support others in this work.
Based on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013
A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.
Help from God the Creator
The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.
Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.
So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!
Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.
A different world
You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.
Help from God the Lifesaver
Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.
Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.
What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.
But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:
“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).
This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!
The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.
The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?
The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.
The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?
Written, April 2013
A self-supporting missionary
Paul was a Jew who lived in the Roman Empire. His Hebrew name was Saul and his Greek name was Paul. He would have learnt his trade of tent-making as a youth as it was the Jewish custom to provide manual training for their sons (Acts 18:3). As the son of a Pharisee, at the age of 13-15 he was sent to Jerusalem to study the Jewish religion under Gamaliel, an eminent teacher of Jewish law (Acts 22:3; 26:4-5). Until his miraculous conversion, Paul was a fanatical Pharisee who persecuted Christians (Gal. 1:13-14). After all, according to Deuteronomy “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Dt. 21:23NIV). He would have thought: “How could the Messiah be one who died a criminal’s death and was cursed by God?”
Called and commended
Paul was called and commended to be a pioneer missionary to Gentiles in lands around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 9:15; Gal 1:15; 2:9). Before his first missionary journey, the Holy Spirit told the church in Antioch, “‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3). During his second missionary journey, Paul was told in a vision; “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).
His message was “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Jesus came from Heaven to save us, died for our sins in our place, was raised from death and was seen by many after His resurrection. He now sits at the right hand of God who has given Him all power and authority, including the right to act as judge of all humanity. By trusting in Christ’s work we can be rescued from the coming judgment.
Let’s investigate what enabled Paul to undertake his life’s mission.
Second missionary journey
On his second missionary journey with Silas, Luke and Timothy, Paul was supported by the hospitality of believers. At Philippi, they stayed with Lydia and after a spectacular night in jail the jailer gave them a meal (Acts 16:15, 34). They stayed with Jason at Thessalonica (Acts 7:7), while at Corinth they stayed with Aquila and Priscilla for 1.5 years (Acts 18:2-3, 11). The Bible says, “because he was a tent-maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”. So, he worked at his trade of tent-making to pay his living expenses. By the way, his main training was to be a Jewish rabbi and tent-making was a manual skill he would have learnt when he was younger.
While in Corinth Paul wrote two letters to the church in Thessalonica. As Christ’s apostles, they were entitled to financial support from the Thessalonians, but they worked day and night to provide for their own needs (1 Th. 2:6; 9). They didn’t want to be a burden to the believers who were poor and persecuted. As he didn’t want to be unduly dependant on others, Paul earned his own living while he was preaching there.
Paul explains this further when he addresses those who had stopped working for a living because they expected the Lord’s return: “you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Th. 3:7-10).
Paul worked night and day at his trade of tent-making, in order to pay people for the food that he was eating.
Third missionary journey
Paul and his companions continued to be supported by the hospitality of believers on his third missionary journey. At Caesarea, they stayed with Philip the evangelist, while they stayed with Mnason at Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-10, 15-16). At Corinth, they may have stayed with Stephanas as his household “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (1 Cor. 16:15). He also told those in Rome to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).
On this trip, Paul spent three years at Ephesus (Acts 20:31). He may have stayed with Aquila and Priscilla who had moved there from Corinth (Acts 18:18-19; 1 Cor. 16:19). While he was there he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth and when he got to Macedonia, he wrote a second letter.
Paul said that the apostles supported themselves by working hard with their own hands and he urged the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:12, 16). Although he had the right as an apostle to financial support (1 Cor. 9:4-14), he didn’t use this right in Corinth (he says this three times v12, 15, 18). Instead he worked so as not to give his critics any ground for accusing him of preaching for money (1 Cor. 9:14-18). He offered the gospel free of charge so the message would not be hindered. This was an example of self-denial or self-sacrifice for the good of others. He noted that Barnabas also worked to support himself (1 Cor. 9:6). This suggests that Paul and Barnabas supported themselves on the first missionary journey as it was the only one they made together.
This message was repeated twice in his second letter:
- When Paul was with the Corinthians he didn’t receive any financial assistance from them (2 Cor. 11:7-9). But he did receive support from other churches, including those in Macedonia. He boasted that he preached the gospel free of charge and was not a burden to anyone.
- Also, He didn’t receive financial support because he didn’t want to be a burden on them and because he wanted them and not their possessions (2 Cor. 12:13-18). When Paul sent Titus to Corinth, Titus lived like Paul in working in an occupation so he would not have to be supported by the Corinthians.
Paul wasn’t like the false teachers who peddled the word of God for profit and tried to turn the ministry into a profitable profession (2 Cor.2:17; 11:20). In Micah’s time there were leaders who judged for a bribe, priests who taught for a price and prophets who told fortunes for money (Mi. 3:11).
Paul also wrote, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Cor. 6:3). He knew that some people look for an excuse not to listen to the message of salvation. So he was scrupulous and lived beyond reproach. He was characterised by “hard work”, which would have included manual labour such as tent-making.
When farewelling the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-35). So he also did tent-making in Ephesus. He didn’t seek material reward. Instead he worked hard making tents to provide for his needs and the needs of those who served with him. He believed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was a great example to the spiritually immature who were tempted to be lazy or greedy.
Prisoner in Rome
The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus with gifts to take care of Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (Phil. 2:25). Twice they had sent him financial support when he was a missionary in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:14-19). They supported gospel workers. Paul said their gift was like an offering and sacrifice that pleased God. It was like the Old Testament fellowship (or peace) offering that was an expression of thankfulness (Lev. 7:11-15). God is pleased when we use our material resources to do good and share with those in need (Heb. 13:16). It’s the sacrifice of our possessions.
Paul found that God meets our needs (Phil. 4:19) and he said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11-12) .
Were there any tent-makers before Paul?
You might ask, what about earlier examples in the Bible? Well in the Old Testament times the Jewish priests and Levities were supported by the tithes and offerings and sacrifices of the other people. The High Priest was the spiritual head of the nation, while the priests and Levities served in the temple. They mediated between God and the people. They inherited these roles which were restricted to the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. The priests wore special clothes. As the priests and Levites had no other occupations, it seems that they were not tent-makers. But God put an end to the Jewish priests and Levities when the temple was destroyed in AD70. If there is no temple, there is no Jewish priesthood and this has been the case for the past 1,942 years.
However, Nehemiah was a tent-maker as he was self-supporting and unlike other governors of Judah, he didn’t place a burden on the Jews who returned from captivity (Neh. 5:14-18).
In the New Testament, the Old Testament system was replaced by one where each believer is a priest with direct access to God through Jesus Christ as the High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 5:1-6; 1 Pt. 2:5). Jesus is our mediator today. There is no special building like the temple and no special priests. However, there is provision for financial support as required for apostles (1 Cor. 9:4-14), elders (1 Ti. 5:17-18), teachers (Gal. 6:6) and missionaries (Phil. 4:4-19). But each of these can be tent-makers like Paul.
What about the time of Christ? We know that the original disciples left their occupations to follow Jesus: To the fishermen he said, “‘Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him” (Mt. 4:19-20). However, after the resurrection they went fishing again and Jesus helped them catch 153 fish (Jn. 21:1-13).
When Jesus sent His followers out on mission trips,He told them not to take money, but rely on hospitality for their support (Mt. 10:1-15; Lk. 10:1-7). Their needs were met on a day by day basis. But these instructions were changed at the Last Supper (Lk. 22:35-37). Now He tells them to take money and provisions and be prepared to protect themselves. This was probably because He was about to be crucified and ascend back to heaven and would no longer be with them physically. It is consistent with tent-making by working in order to get the money and so being able to support themselves.
Lessons for us
Paul was an example for us to follow.
Calling. Paul was called to specific missionary work. All believers are all called to share their faith where God has placed them. In this sense they are all called to be missionaries. What else has God called you to do? Like Paul, a true servant of Christ will continue to preach the good news of salvation whether they receive money for it or have to work to finance themselves. Financial reward should not be a motive for serving the Lord.
Paul’s service was supported in three ways: hospitality, giving and employment.
Hospitality. Paul and his companions often stayed in people’s homes. Such hospitality is important because the host’s names are given in Scripture. How do we use our homes? Do we use our resources to support the spread of the gospel? Are we hospitable or selfish? In the Bible, hospitality is associated with the expression of love and spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Also, when we open our homes to one another we are inviting the Lord into our homes (Mt. 25:34-40). Having people over for a meal is a great way to get to know each other better and encourage each other.
Giving. From time to time different churches provided funds to support Paul’s missionary work. Do we live economically in order to be able to give more money to support the gospel? Do we support gospel workers? After all, all we have belongs to the Lord. Are we generous or stingy?
Employment. When necessary, Paul worked as a tentmaker. He didn’t give up his trade when he was evangelising. He practiced self-support. He evangelised fellow workers like Aquila and Priscilla. He was not isolated from the ordinary working world but identified with the common people who had to work for a living. Employment enables non-Christians to see Christians in action. It also provides access to a range of people and our diligence at work and our lifestyle can influence colleagues to follow Jesus Christ. It also opens up opportunities to reach seemingly inaccessible people in new ways with the gospel. Today tent-makers have access to countries where traditional missionaries are denied. Are we using our work to further the gospel? Are we encouraging people to be tent-makers who work to support themselves while they spread the gospel?
Written June 2012
Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.
The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment and lasting satisfaction are illusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.
According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him. .
The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.
People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.
Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.
Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.
Published, April 2012
The wisest man of ancient times wrote, “He (God) has planted eternity in the human heart, but … people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11NLT). What is eternity? It’s an endless period of time. This suggests that there is more to life than what we see. Our world is big, yet its satisfactions are small. We don’t understand what’s going on. Solomon summarised it from a human viewpoint; “everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 3:19NIV).
Since we were made for eternity, the things of time cannot fully and permanently satisfy. After the ipod, the iphone and the ipad, we look for the next technology.
We live in an amazingly complex world which has much beauty that scientists are still exploring. It is loaded with information and design. Design demands a designer and creation demands a Creator. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. Creation shows that He is a clever and powerful God. The Bible’s message to those who reject this knowledge is “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). The eternal God is the source of our eternal future.
But there is more information in our world than the atoms and molecules of our physical world. Everyone is born with a conscience, which is part of our eternal soul. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. It is like an inbuilt alarm. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. But in this world where people often reject God’s revelation it can be programmed wrongly.
The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. So the Creator made us with a mind that is able to make choices, not one that is driven by instinct. Unfortunately, we often choose to disobey our conscience. Then we have a guilty conscience which we may try to ignore. But the Creator has provided an answer to our selfish and rebellious ways.
Eternity is a continual reality in the Bible, which is God’s special message for mankind. It tells us all we need to know about history and about humanity. About the moral choices made throughout history from the times of our original parents Adam and Eve. About how we have all rebelled against God and gone our own way. How we all have a guilty conscience, whether we acknowledge it or not. How this selfish and rebellious (sinful) attitude has lead to suffering, disease, decay, death and eternal punishment. How God’s solution to our problems was to send Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve. He was executed and then resurrected back to life, which we remember at Easter time. He offers each of us the opportunity to be reconciled back to God and have our conscience fixed: “Sin pays off with death. But God’s gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23CEV).
Firstly we need to realise our hopeless situation and then we need to accept the gift of forgiveness. Jesus shows that He is a compassionate and loving God. He is waiting for people to accept His offer to give them a new life and an inheritance with Him in the life to come.
Lessons for us
As we all live on the edge of eternity, keep eternity in mind (Lk. 12:16-20). God has revealed Himself to us all through His creation and our conscience. But the clearest revelation is through Jesus Christ who is made known through the Bible. This is why the Bible is the most important book ever written. It is life changing. Through it we can be part of God’s eternity. His new eternal creation; His eternal life.
Written, June 2009
Sharing the gospel in song
Believers are to go into all the world and openly present the good news to all humanity (Mk. 16:15). Each Sunday evening a group of believers faithfully carries out this command, by presenting the gospel in song to the patients in Royal North Shore Hospital, a major public hospital in Sydney, Australia. They also bring patients the comfort and assurance of their faith, the reality and ability of their God, and a reminder that He is there to help them in their time of need. Many prayer requests come from the patients who are touched to know that after being visited by a team member they are prayed for. For some patients it is their last opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour.
At present the choir consists of nine singers. The longest serving member is the organist, who has served for 65 years. The choir visits three floors of the multi-story hospital, singing traditional hymns for about 20 minutes in each lounge area followed by a brief message from the Bible. There is a nurse who sings with the choir whenever she is on duty.
Some patients have no hope for physical recovery and not long to live. The Christian faith provides hope and peace at time of despair. Singing can have a similar impact on the patients as it did on the prisoners at Phillippi (Acts 16:25-30). The hymns requested most by the patients are: What a friend we have in Jesus, The Lord is my shepherd, Amazing grace, and How great Thou art. One patient said he liked the music, but not the words, because he was an atheist. However, on a later visit he requested a hymn and said that members of his family were praying for him.
The Visitation Team
As many patients are too sick to come to the lounge area to hear the choir, the hospital board gave approval for some to visit in the wards while the choir was singing. They have a great opportunity to witness for Christ in personal contacts and in times of prayer. They also leave a bookmark that has a suitable Bible verse. It is a privilege to be able to do this as many hospitals do not allow the distribution of literature.
A long history
This ministry was started in 1901 by a young commercial traveller who was a good singer, organist and speaker. He gave much of his time in serving the Lord by ministering to others. One of his many business contacts was a nursing sister at the hospital. When she discovered that he was a Christian she said “the patients in the hospital are very lonely and need to hear about God”. He responded to the invitation by getting two others to sing along with him. This ministry has continued for almost 100 years with full hospital support.
A cancer patient
One evening a women dying of cancer requesed Jesus wants me for a sunbeam. She had been seeking the words and the music to this hymn, but her priest had never heard of it. After singing this song the choir gave her a copy of the words and music. She had tears in her eyes as her twin sister wheeled her away. When the choir arrived at her floor the next Sunday she was waiting with the words and music in her hand. She said, “I have sung this song and read the words all through the week and I have read the Bible verse on the bookmark you gave me”. She professed to have trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior. She died within two weeks.
Prayer with the needy
On another Sunday, a Yugoslavian woman was found kneeling beside her husband’s bed; all life-support equipment had been removed. One of the team comforted her, prayed with her and gave her a bookmark. Then the lady said “I have no family, no children and no friends. Of all the friends I thought I had, not one of them has visited me in my time of need with my husband dying. You are the first person who has taken the time to speak with me”.
Words of appreciation
The ministry team often receives letters from of appreciation from the hospital management, and many patients express their thanks for the time spent with them. One hospital board member wrote, “Please convey to the members of your choir the warm appreciation of those of us privileged to hear from the delightful selection of hymns of praise from your melodious choir last Sunday evening. Having been a hospital board member for many years, I know how greatly this work is appreciated by the patients”.
One doctor told us he had heard the hymns over the past 20 years. He praised the work on behalf of the medical staff and nurses. He said it not only comforted the patients but encouraged the staff in their work, and that the message presented was just as essential as the medical work done.
One patient was a retired choir master of an Anglican church. After hearing the choir for some weeks he asked his wife to bring all his music books to the hospital and he presented them to the team in appreciation.
On one occasion an octogenarian said he had heard a group of singers in the hospital 65 years ago. He was amazed when he heard that this group was a continuation of that same work – although not the same people! At the age of 17, and absent without leave from the navy, he was found lying in the gutter by a stranger who took him to the hospital. He never forgot the songs the choir sang. He especially remembered “Rock of Ages cleft for me” and knew that the Lord had been with him ever since he first heard it.
Many older patients attended Sunday School in their childhood went to church during when younger. The hymns bring back memories of previous Christian influences in their lives, particularly in times of illness. One such incident occurred a few years ago when a middle-aged woman, visiting in the wards, asked where the singers came from. On being told, she said that she attended Sunday School in a similar church in Wellington, New Zealand and was looking for one in the Lane Cove area of Sydney. She attended that church for the remaining few years of her life.
Ministering in a hospital is one of the many ways of being ambassadors for Christ to our generation (Acts 1:8; 13:36; 2 Cor. 5:20). The team members consider it a great privilege and opportunity to serve the Lord, and invite you to consider serving in this way in a hospital near you.
Thanks are due to Graham Whittaker for providing the information for this article.
Published, March 1999
The Bible says that God loves the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent Him to save them (Jn. 3:16-17).
So, God loves people more than anything else in the world. This is true whether they follow Him or not. It is also true regardless of what their attitude and behavior toward Him may be.
Humanity is seen as the peak of God’s creation in the first two chapters of the Bible, where people are described as being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were also given the privilege and responsibility to care for the rest of the world and name “all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field” (Gen. 2:15,20 NIV).
In The Old Testament
After mankind sinned by disobeying God, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation and be of great benefit to everyone on earth (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise passed on to his son, Isaac, and then to his grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 28:13-14; 32:28). Consequently, the children of Israel were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Through them He showed His great love and concern for humanity.
One of His promises to them was, “I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27). This promise is quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to show that believers are God’s people today.
God said that the Israelites were “my people, who are called by my name” (2 Chr. 7:14). They were also referred to as “my people Israel” and “my people the Israelites” (1 Ki. 8:16; Ex. 7:4).
The term “my people” is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament to express the close relationship between God and the nation of Israel. This was demonstrated through history with the rescue from slavery in Egypt; sustenance during the desert journey; provision of laws for government, social and religious life; the conquest of Canaan; and protection against enemies, even when in exile. Finally, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born and lived in a Jewish family and His ministry was mainly to Jewish people.
Just as in the story of the tenants, the Jews failed as God’s representatives on earth and even killed His Son (Mt. 21:33-46). So, after this, God turned His attention to other people.
In the New Testament
The announcement of Christ’s coming was “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). One reason for this was that the benefits of being part of God’s special people were to be made available to everyone across the globe. This was endorsed by Jesus who instructed his followers to go to the people of all nations and make them His disciples also (Mt. 28:19).
This truth was given to Peter who learned that God “accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). It was also evident to the early believers when they noted that God was taking “a people for Himself” from all nations (Acts 15:14).
Today, all true believers are “the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), “a people that are His very own” (Ti. 2:14) and “God’s people” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 9:12; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 13:24; Rev. 22:21). The Christian’s position as “people of God” is most evident in 1 Peter 2:9-10, where we are told that they are “a chosen people,” “a people belonging to God” and “now you are the people of God.”
His Love Today
Of course such people are from every community, language, nation and race (Rev. 5:9). This means that God’s people are spread all across the earth, with believers following Jesus in every country. For example, even though there was opposition and evil in the city of Corinth, the Lord assured Paul that he was safe “because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10).
This reminds me of a song, written by Russell Fragar (Hillsongs, Australia, 1993), that says,
All over the world
… people just like us
… are calling Your name
… and living in Your love.
All over the world
… people just like us
… are following Jesus.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that God loves people more than anything else in this world! And that today, His people can be found all over the world. And that His work of saving people is still going on today. And that He is using His people to communicate the Good News to those who have not yet heard it.
If you are already one of His people, we hope you will engage in the good work He called you to with these words: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). We encourage you to begin right now, right where you live.
If you are not yet one of His people, we hope you will get in touch with His people and investigate the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Published, October 1997
How are you travelling?
During a visit to the Netherlands I was amazed at the number of boats and bicycles throughout the country. The boats and bicycles are used for transport and recreation. Many of the boats sail along a network canals. Others are house boats. One company combines the two modes of transport by offering bicycle tours with overnight accommodation on a barge.
The word “nether” means “lower”. The Netherlands as the name suggests is a low-lying country. Almost half of the land is below sea level. Elsewhere, the elevation rarely exceeds 50 meters (or 160 feet). Vaalserberg near the border with Belgium and Germany is the nations highest point at 321 meters (or 1053 feet) above sea level. Yet it is only 25 kilometers (or 16 miles) from canals near the Maas river.
Boating is a way of life to the Dutch. There are numerous canals, rivers and lakes and some locks between waterways at different heights. The total length of the navigable canals is approximately 7,000 kilometers (or 4,350 miles). Some canals are elevated to carry boats above the freeway. Two wonderful cruising areas are the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht region and the lake region of Friesland in the north.
In the New Testament we read that Jesus and His disciples travelled in boats, while Paul travelled in ships. The most dramatic voyages in the bible are Jonah’s towards Tarshish and Paul’s to Rome (Jon. 1:1-2:10; Acts 27:1-14). A violent storm arose on both occasions and the ship threatened to break up. The sailors were afraid and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jon. 1:5; Acts 27:18). Due to miraculous circumstances no lives were lost.
Jonah and Paul were both sent to the headquarters of an empire; Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, and Rome, the Roman capital. Jonah was running away from God by travelling in the opposite direction to God’s command (Jon. 1:2-3). Paul was obeying God (Acts 23:11). This reminds me we are all travelling in the journey of life. Which direction are you going? If you are going in the wrong direction, are you willing to acknowledge this and turn to God like Jonah?
There are approximately 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, which is more than one per person. Bicycles can go along narrow alleys and other places where other motor vehicles can’t. They can also be taken on trains and ridden in the city and in the countryside. This reminds me of the parable of the great banquet, which is an illustration of the gospel message being spread across the world (Lk. 14:16-24).
After the original invitations to the banquet were rejected, the invitation went to whoever could be found from the “streets and alleys of the town” and the “roads and country lanes” (vv. 21, 23NIV). This includes all kinds of thoroughfares. It is like the pattern of evangelism, which includes people in all kinds of places—“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Jerusalem” was the city they were in at the time and the chief city in Judea. “Judea” was the surrounding region that had a large Jewish population. “Samaria” was an adjacent region that had no dealings with the Jews. “The ends of the earth” at that time was the known world around the Mediterranean Sea. This is the pattern of evangelism that was followed by the early church—firstly Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-7:60), then surrounding and adjacent regions (Acts 8:1-9:31), and then more distant lands (Acts 9:32- 28:31). It shows that evangelism should begin in your neighbourhood and extend across the globe. So, let’s take the gospel whenever and wherever we travel, on bike, boat or some other way!
Written, January 2003
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul defended the key truth of Christianity. On this occasion his goal was to remind the believers of the gospel message which they had believed as a result of his preaching. He needed to do this because some were saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (15:12 NIV). So there was some doubt about whether they understood the gospel message or not (15:2,13,16).
The essence of the gospel message is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then raised on the third day to die no more. Paul claimed it to be the most important of all messages. He also said it was “according to the Scriptures,” meaning that this central part of God’s plan to rescue mankind was prophesied in the Old Testament (Is. 53:5-9; Ps. 16:9-10).
Of course we also believe this message “according to the Scriptures,” because we can only know about these events through the writers of the New Testament. Therefore, as the Lord told Thomas, we can be blessed as “those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).
Paul wrote that the risen Lord appeared to six different groups of people. Christ’s resurrection was witnessed by many who were still alive at the time these verses were written including the apostles, James and more than 500 men. In Jewish law, the testimony of two or three witnesses was sufficient to confirm the truth in a matter (Dt. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1). Elsewhere we read that after His resurrection, Christ also appeared to Mary Magdalene and the two travelling to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35; Jn. 20:10-18).
If anyone wanted to verify the accuracy of Paul’s report, they could have checked with any of the eye-witnesses who had seen Jesus walking around after His resurrection. They could confirm that the dead body couldn’t be found by the Jewish leaders.
Able To Be Verified
This core of Christianity is a series of historical events that are able to be verified. There were numerous witnesses and four of these wrote the gospels. Their accounts were preserved when scribes diligently copied the original documents. There are thousands of ancient manuscripts of portions of the New Testament in museums – more than any other historical literature. The oldest are papyrus from the second century AD.
The Preacher’s Theme
Paul emphasized that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” and “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Because if this were the case, then Christ’s death had no more value than anyone else’s death and Christianity would just be a prop to get through this life, and of no eternal value.
The witnesses of Christ’s resurrection were transformed into great preachers and were the founders of the Church. As a result, faith in Jesus became so prominent that it eventually took over the Roman Empire that had originally persecuted it. This passage ends as it began by emphasizing that the gospel message that Paul preached and they believed was that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day (1 Cor. 15:11). He then ascended into heaven and is now at God’s right hand (Mk. 16:19).
Published, January 2008
A Christmas Message
At Christmas we give gifts to one another. When selecting a gift we consider what the person would like. Of course, we expect the receiver to open the gift we’ve given them. At this time of the year we also enjoy receiving gifts.
When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He referred to Himself as “the gift of God” which leads to eternal life (Jn. 4:10-14 NIV). This reminds us that Jesus was God’s gift to humanity. Through Jesus’ birth, God became man. This gift satisfied our greatest need – being separated from God by our sins. Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 3:23). What a contrast! Our sin leads to death, but God offers us eternal life – to be with Him forever (2 Cor. 5:1-4).
Here’s how God offers His gift to us: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). It depends on faith; confessing our sinful condition and recognizing that Jesus paid our penalty when He died, enabling us to be reconciled with God (1 Jn. 1:9). This faith comes from God.
After Paul exhorted believers to be generous givers, he said, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). No words can express the extent of God’s love. The best description was: “God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die” (Jn. 3:16 cev).
The Greek word for “gift” conveys the loving-kindness of the giver and the lack of cost to the receiver. Surely, God is the greatest giver and Jesus Christ is His greatest gift. Have you accepted His gift? How sad to give and receive gifts at Christmas and never to receive Christ, the greatest gift of all.
To recover from addiction
Addictions such as alcohol, drugs and gambling destroy people’s lives. Addicts tend to be self-centered. Recently, one said to me, “I could see that I always tried to run my life my way. It was me that was the problem; all the things that I thought would make me happy never did.”
The only way that addicts can recover from an addiction is to first realize they have a problem, then realize they cannot fix their problem themselves, and finally seek outside help for their problem. In fact, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, their recovery is dependent on their relationship with God.
Addicts often go through a twelve step program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, before they can be freed of their addiction. This program requires honesty, humility and determination. The first three steps they go through are:
- Admitting they are powerless over addiction and their lives are unmanageable.
- Believing that only a power greater than themselves could restore their sanity.
- Making a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God.
But alcohol, drugs and gambling are just some of the sins committed by humanity. The Bible says we are all sinners and rebels against God and this is our main problem (Rom. 3:23). People are addicted to sin, selfishness and idolatry (Rom. 1:22-25; Eph. 5:5; Gal. 5:20). We are self-centered and driven by fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity. Our troubles are largely self-inflicted. The steps into our problem are evil desires, which lead to sin, and then to death (Jas. 1:13-15).
Like an addict the only way that we can recover from the problem of our sin is to first realize we have this problem, then realize we cannot fix this problem ourselves and finally seek outside help for this problem. No human power can relieve us of the problem. Fortunately, God provided the outside help through His Son, Jesus Christ. This help is outside humanity and outside the creation that is also suffering because of sin (Rom. 8:22). It is help from the divine Creator of the universe.
The steps of recovery are: acknowledge we have a sinful nature and that we need outside help; confess our sinfulness to God by naming our sins and forsaking them; and then receive God’s forgiveness as He has paid the penalty for our sins (1 Jn. 1:8-10). When we trust the infinite God rather than our finite selves, we can be freed from our addiction to sin and selfishness. This process of recovery is similar to three other steps in the twelve step program:
- Admitting to God, ourselves, and another person the nature of our wrongs.
- Humbly asking God to remove our shortcomings.
- Having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, which leads us to carry this message to addicted people and practice these principles in our affairs.
Because those with a tendency to addiction can easily lapse into past behaviors, these recovery principles need to become a way of life. Likewise, Christians need to be aware of their sinfulness and confess their sins daily in order to maintain a relationship with God. We need to seek outside help every day by asking God to remove our selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear. So, our recovery is directly dependent on our relationship with God.
The importance of renewal
Recently I moved to a new place of employment. Before I left my old job I spent a day sorting through the stuff that I had collected in my office, keeping some things, but discarding many items that were no longer useful. Changing jobs was a good opportunity to clean up all the things I had accumulated after 14 years at my previous job.
Similarly, when people move to another dwelling they have many possessions to go through. Some have garage or yard sales to get rid of unwanted belongings. We accumulate lots of unnecessary things over the years. Also, there’s a limit to how much we can store. A new start can be necessary and refreshing, but it can also be challenging.
We follow a God who has given human beings new starts down through the ages. When evil was rampart early in history, God started again and re-populated the earth, beginning with Noah’s family. Noah lived right and obeyed God (Gen. 6:9). But children and descendants don’t always follow the ways of their parents and ancestors, and people still disobeyed God and wickedness once more became prevalent across the earth.
In the future God has promised a new start for the universe: “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5 NIV). He calls it “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). This will be idyllic, as God “will live with … His people” (Rev. 21:3). It will be a world where everyone is right with God; like it was in the beginning, in the garden in Eden (Acts 3:21; 2 Pet. 3:13).
Many people received a new start in life from Jesus. Those with serious disabilities and diseases were healed, demons were exorcised and death was reversed. A demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs and wore no clothes was cured and restored to be “in his right mind” (Mk. 5:1-17). Lazarus was raised from death to life (Jn. 11:1-44)!
Jesus gave many people a new direction in life. The disciples changed their occupations when they followed Jesus (Mt. 4:19). Zacchaeus, a wealthy and corrupt tax collector, changed his ways, becoming generous to the poor and those he had cheated (Lk. 19:8). However, the rich young man remained the same and went away sad (Mt. 19:16).
Jesus told people they should repent instead of perishing in hell (Lk. 13:3,5). This means to turn around and go in a different direction. He came to rescue these people (Lk. 19:10). It is like giving them a new start. Such a transformation needs to come from within and not just be external. Judas Iscariot seemed to make a new start with Jesus, but he didn’t change internally. This led to despair and suicide (Mt. 27:3-5).
At Pentecost, those who followed Jesus were empowered by the Holy Spirit and when they spoke about 3,000 people joined them (Acts 2:1-41). Many others had a radical new start as well. Paul was converted from a persecutor to a preacher (Gal. 1:23). The slave Onesimus became a partner (Phile. 16-17). Those in the church at Thessalonica turned from idolatry to Christianity (1 Th. 1:9). In fact, all Christians are part of God’s new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This is the most important new start we can make.
Each day is a new day. It brings fresh opportunities and challenges. We can make a new start each day to follow Christ and serve His purposes in our part of His world. This means being willing to dispose of the rubbish in our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our thoughts and attitudes (Eph. 4:23-24). Prayer and recalling God’s goodness is a great way to start each day (Ps. 5:3; 88:13). Then we will know, like Jeremiah, that God’s faithfulness is great; His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).
Evaluating a common belief
Many different opinions and ideas are held by people in the world. We are bombarded by merchandisers and marketers who will sell anything to make a dollar. The Bible does not say “believe everything,” but instead urges us to: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Th. 5:21-22 NIV). We need to be able to separate the good from the bad, the true and valuable from the false and worthless (Jer. 15:19). Our culture has lost these distinctions. Unfortunately, we can’t rely on information and guidance from family, friends, schools, universities, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, radio, television, or the Internet.
If we do, we will end up confused like the Roman governor Pontius Pilate who asked Jesus “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:37-38). We will be influenced by all the messages around us, not knowing the truth, or believing the lies that are marketed as being the truth. For example, let’s look at the theory of evolution, a firmly held belief of many. According to the Bible, is it true, or false, or doesn’t it matter?
True Or False
Children are easily deceived; they are gullible. So are those young in the Christian faith. But the mature are not deceived as they “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” and we should all have this objective (Heb. 5:14).
The Bible is the source of absolute truth that has stood the test of time much longer than any other document or philosophy. Of course, as is the case of any literature, it requires interpretation as to what is historical and what is metaphorical or symbolic. Besides obvious literary techniques, the most reliable method is to use the whole message of the Bible to interpret any particular passage. Otherwise, an interpretation may not be consistent with the rest of the Bible.
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests that get to the core of Christianity. I call them the Jesus test, the gospel test and the fruit test. They may be summarized as:
- The Jesus test – What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming? (1 Jn. 4:1-3)
- The gospel test – What is the core belief or hope? Does it acknowledge our sinfulness? Is it consistent with the creation of the universe, the fall into sin, salvation by faith in Christ alone, and the restoration of all things? (Gal. 1:6-9)
- The fruit test – What attitudes and behaviors does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? (Mt. 7:15-20)
Evolution has been proposed as a scientific explanation of the origin of the universe and the origin of life on earth. It involves the idea that life develops continually over time from the simple to the more complex as a result of natural processes. The story of evolution has been summarized this way: “The universe exploded into existence about 15 billion years ago and is still expanding outward. About 4.5 billion years ago, the debris from an exploding star condensed into our solar system. Sometime during the next few hundred million years, single-celled microbes bearing an ingenious molecule called DNA emerged on the earth. These microbes diversified, by means of natural selection and Mendelian genetics, into an extraordinary array of more complex creatures including homo-sapiens.” As these events are claimed to have occurred long ago and are not subject to direct observation or experimental tests, evolution is a philosophical belief based on naturalism which assumes that everything that exists can be explained by physical and chemical processes alone. Evolution is the process that is used to support naturalism. Of course, evolution is also viewed as being a process of continual change within the biological world. So, evolution and naturalism are assumed to be true by those who exclude the possibility of a supernatural God.
Now let’s apply the three tests to the concept of the evolution of life on earth.
- The Jesus test – As evolution assumes that nature is all there is, it is associated with atheism. In fact, according to its adherents, evolution removes the need for God. For example, the American Association of Biology Teachers says this: “The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.” This view of origins has no need for a Creator or the divine, and so is consistent with a belief that Jesus Christ was only a human being and not divine. Secular evolution clearly fails the Jesus test.
- The gospel test – As evolution assumes there is no God, it is associated with a rejection of absolute standards of right and wrong, and a rejection of the existence of sin in the sense of falling short of God’s standard. If sin does not exist, then neither does punishment for sin, and there is no need of a savior to rescue people from that punishment. The core belief of evolution is that nature has made itself, which means that the Genesis account of origins is not literal truth. In fact, secular evolution fails the gospel test because it rejects all the basic biblical truths, such as divine creation, the existence and source of evil, the need for salvation, and the ultimate destiny of human beings.
- The fruit test – Because it relies on physical processes alone and denies the possibility of the divine or the unseen spiritual world, evolution supports naturalism and materialism. Also, it views humanity as being self-sufficient and capable of solving all their own difficulties, which is the essence of humanism. Furthermore, evolution can be viewed as a version of pantheism where nature replaces God.The acceptance of the idea of evolution can lead to the following pattern of behavior:Less value on human life – For example, practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable. Another example from the past is racism; the Australian Aboriginals were considered to be biologically inferior to Europeans. This was justified by biological determinism promoted by evolutionary anthropology.Less value on family life – Marriage is less important and divorce is more acceptable. This is supported by relating human behavior to that of animals.Less value on morals – Truth is now relative and changeable, not absolute. Society replaces Scripture as the guide as to what is right and what is wrong.A “might is right” attitude – This attitude supports the strong, but not the weak. It is the opposite of compassion which involves saving “weak genes.” This comes from the idea of the “survival of the fittest” in a competitive world, which leads to a competitive approach to all aspects of life.As these are opposite to the values of the Bible, it is clear from the above that biological evolution fails all three biblical tests for determining what is true. Therefore, it is false and inconsistent with the overall message of the Bible. It is an idol – the creation story and the religion of many today.
See the next article in this series:
- The idol of evolution: Part 2
What does it mean to you?
Last year, a spectacular fireworks display above the harbor of Sydney, Australia celebrated the beginning of Year 2000. At the end of that celebration the word “Eternity” appeared illuminated on the harbor bridge — for the whole world to see via satellite television.
The One Word Sermon
For 37 years the word “Eternity” has been written anonymously in chalk in an elegant copperplate style, on the sidewalks of Sydney. It became part of that city’s folklore. The word had spiritual overtones — it was called a one word sermon. It reached beyond the present to touch the conscience. Time without end? Judgment and reward? Immortality? The hopes and fears of all the years are bound up in that one word.
Arthur Stace was raised in poverty in a family of alcoholics. He was often in trouble with the law. There were two turning points in his life. One day when he attended a church for the food they gave out, he decided to try Christianity. Soon after he started attending church, he heard a preacher exclaim, “I wish I could shout ‘Eternity!’ through all the streets of Sydney!” This thought stuck in his brain as he left the church. He began crying and felt a powerful call from God to write “Eternity” on the pavement with a piece of chalk from his pocket.
From that day, his practice was to rise early and pray for an hour. Then he would go where God had directed him, and begin writing “Eternity” every hundred meters or so on the pavement. He’d return home by 10 AM, his message writing complete. What was in that one-word message?
Death Is Not The End
The Bible teaches that there is life after death — David wrote about passing “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). The invisible human spirit is eternal — it lives on after the death of the body. Our physical life is perishable and mortal, while the life to come is imperishable and immortal (1 Cor. 15:53; 1 Tim. 4:8), and Christians can look forward to transformed bodies (Phil. 3:21).
God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), even though we may reject the idea of living forever. Although we live in a world of time, instinctively, we think of “forever.” Beyond this life there is endless time.
The Bible also teaches that there are only two possibilities for everyone in the life to come — heaven or hell.
Heaven is eternal life, and hell is eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46; Gal. 6:8). Eternal life is a gift, a promise and an inheritance that only comes through Jesus, who died for our sins and took the punishment we deserve.
Hell is for those who reject and ignore what Christ has done. Eternal death means everlasting separation from God with judgment and punishment that will never end (Rev. 20:6,14; 21:8).
The image of “Eternity” beamed worldwide on January 1, 2000 should remind us that our decisions can have eternal consequences. Where will you be in eternity? As you think about your answer, look at what the Bible says: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:11-12). Want eternal life? Accept Jesus as your Savior today.