5 warnings in Hebrews
“Jihadi John” is the English man associated with the Islamic State beheadings released on video over the past 18 months. Those beheaded were journalists and aid workers who had been kidnapped and held as hostages and Syrian soldiers who had been captured. He is a traitor who is the subject of a manhunt by the FBI, MI5 and Scotland Yard. There is a $US10 million bounty for information that leads to his capture. They say he will be hunted down like Osama Bin-Laden.
In the book of Hebrews we see that God’s greatest warning is the danger of not believing the gospel message. This excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins. In particular an apostate (a professing Christian who becomes a traitor) is doomed to punishment in hell.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (Heb. 12:4-13; 13:3). Because of their hardship and suffering, they were tired and weak (Heb. 12:3, 12-13). This also impacted their spiritual lives. They were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish customs. They were spiritually weak.
Hebrews tells them what they needed to know and to do. The first 9.5 chapters show that Jesus is greater than all the Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses and Joshua, and the priests. He is also greater than all our heroes, whoever they may be, including scientists, those promoting spiritual experiences, the leaders of nations and religions. It finishes with showing how Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices, greater than any good works we might think help us get to heaven.
Halfway through chapter 10 there is a change from doctrine to practice. The next two chapters tell us what to do in view of the fact that Jesus is greater than all our heroes and that His sacrifice is greater than any of ours. It says that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race. As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us. The reasons we can keep following Jesus through adversity include: the examples of the heroes of the Bible, particularly Jesus; our past experience; God’s promises; and the fact that adversity develops our character. So because of the benefits of Jesus’ death and His promised coming again, we can keep following Him even when we are tempted to give up.
Five warnings are also included in the first 12 chapters of Hebrews. We will look at each of these in turn. These warnings are written in strong language. They are imperatives and commands, not just models to follow. As Hebrews was probably written to a church in about AD 67-70, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.
Warning against drifting away
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Heb. 2:1NIV).
This command is a warning against drifting away from the message of the gospel. The Greek word pararreó (Strongs #3901) means “to drift away from”. This is its only occurrence in the Bible where it refers to going spiritually adrift. The image is of a boat drifting past a destination or moving away from its anchorage/mooring because it’s being pushed along by the current. Instead it’s drifting towards danger.
The message they had heard was the gospel. The danger is not paying attention and letting the words flow by while their minds are occupied elsewhere. It’s a warning against ignoring God’s gift of salvation by remaining in unbelief or drifting into apostasy (committing treason against the Christian faith)—the sin for which there is no repentance.
“For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:2-3a)
This explains why drifting away is so dangerous. The message spoken through angels was the law given on Mount Sinai (Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19). The Israelites were commanded to keep these laws. For example, when a person was proven to be an idolater, they were put to death (Deut. 17:2-6; Heb. 10:28). Also, because the Jews rebelled and disobeyed God’s laws, they were punished and lost their favoured status and the gospel was preached to the Gentiles instead.
The writer says that the gospel is greater than the law. He assumes that a greater message demands a greater punishment for those who rebel against it. If disregard for the law brought punishment, then disregard for the gospel will bring even greater punishment. If we ignore the gospel message, we can’t escape God’s punishment (1 Th. 5:3; Heb. 12:25). We will not inherit eternal life, but perish in hell.
“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (Heb. 2:3b-4).
Here we see that the message of our great salvation has been confirmed by reliable witnesses. While the law was given by God through angels to Moses and then to the people, the gospel was spoken directly by the Lord Jesus. It was confirmed to the writer’s generation by the eyewitnesses who heard the message (Lk. 1:2). The apostles were the main eyewitnesses (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Jn. 1:1-3; 2 Pt. 1:16). The testimony of the apostles and their delegates was supported by miracles, such as the healing of the sick (Acts 3:7-12, 16; 5:12-16; 9:32-41; 14:3, 8-10; 19:11-12; 28:8-9). This is because at that time Jews wanted to see a miracle before they would believe that a message was from God (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:21-22). The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles and their delegates miraculous abilities, such as the ability to communicate in other languages (Acts 2:4-12).
These witnesses demonstrate the truth of God’s great salvation. This shows why it is unreasonable to ignore this great salvation.
Warning against unbelief
The book of Hebrews was written to professing Christians; they were not all true believers. The writer says, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). So some were unbelievers; they had “sinful unbelieving” hearts. This passage is a warning to them (Heb. 3:7 – 4:3). On the other hand, perseverance in the Christian faith is evidence of a true believer (Heb. 3:6, 14; 6:11; Mt. 10:22; 24:13; Mk. 13:13). True faith endures and is shown by ongoing hope in God. God gives believers the strength to persevere (Phil. 1:6; Heb. 13:21). But the kind of faith that doesn’t endure is associated with those who remained unbelievers and didn’t “come to share in Christ” (Heb. 3:14).
This danger is illustrated by the Israelites. Although God miraculously helped them escape from slavery in Egypt and travel to Canaan, because they rebelled they died in the desert before reaching the Promised Land (Num. 14:21-35; Ps. 95:7-11; Heb. 3:7-11). “They were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Heb. 3:19). Unbelief (hardening the heart) excluded them from Canaan. They had heard God’s promise but they rebelled, sinned and disobeyed (Heb. 3:16-19). Of that generation, only Joshua and Caleb believed and obeyed God and entered Canaan. So the warning is to beware of unbelief. Don’t be like the Israelites!
The main message is given three times “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15, 4:7). It says, don’t do what they did! The remedy is to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13). To persevere in the faith we need to “encourage one another daily” in our families, churches and communities.
Sin deceives (it is attractive) and leads to hardening of the heart and unbelief. Persistent sin is a sign of unbelief. The psalmist applied this message to the people of his day, saying “Today, if only you would hear His (God’s) voice” (Ps. 95:7; Heb. 4:7). The writer of Hebrews applies the message to unbeliever in the first century (Heb. 4:1-3). And we can apply it to unbelievers today.
So what is the message given by God’s voice? It is the “good news” that was proclaimed in the first century that included “the promise of entering His (God’s) rest” (Heb. 4:1-2). The Israelites heard good news about the Promised Land, but it was of no value to them because instead of having faith and belief, they disobeyed and didn’t believe. Here’s the warning. God has also given us a message of good news in the gospel of salvation – forgiveness of our sin and eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. But this is of no value to us if we ignore it and reject it. As unbelief excluded the Israelites from Canaan, it also excludes us from heaven (also called God’s “rest” and a “Sabbath-rest”, Heb. 4:1-11). It’s only entered through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:3). “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest (by faith), so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:11). Unbelief is dangerous, because it leads to missing out on heaven.
Unbelief never goes undetected because the Bible “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” and “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13).
Warning against falling away
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away (committed apostasy), to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace” (Heb. 6:4-6).
An apostate is someone who professed to be a Christian and attended a local church, but turns against the Lord and abandons the Christian faith and speaks against Christianity. They become an enemy of Christ (1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Pt. 2:20-22; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They are traitors like Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord after being one of His disciples for three years. Apostates are unbelievers without salvation, in contrast believers who have salvation (Heb. 6:9).
An apostate isn’t someone who hears the gospel and does nothing about it. Such an unbeliever may have another opportunity to become a believer. Also they aren’t a backslider who stops following the Lord and falls back into a previous sinful way of life (1 Cor. 5:1-13; Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11; 2 Ti. 4:9-10). Backsliders are Christians who are unfaithful and unfruitful.
Apostates had “once been enlightened”, which means they had heard the gospel message. Like Judas Iscariot they knew the way of salvation, but hadn’t accepted it. They had “tasted the heavenly gift” of Jesus Christ, but hadn’t accepted Him by faith as Savior. They had “shared in the Holy Spirit” even though they weren’t indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (Jn. 16:8). They had “tasted the goodness of the word of God”, which means that they responded to the gospel message, but didn’t repent. In this respect, they were like the seed that fell on rocky ground and had no root and died when trouble or persecution came (Mt. 13:20-21). They had also experienced “the powers of the coming age”, which means they had seen the miracles associated with the preaching of the gospel by apostles and their delegates (Heb. 2:4). But although they had experienced some of the benefits and privileges of Christianity, after they had “fallen away” (committed apostasy), it’s impossible for them to repent. They deliberately turn against and renounce Christianity and ridicule Christ, “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). They are like the false teachers who John said “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 Jn. 2:19).
The warning is repeated in a parable, which is consistent with the parable of the sower.
“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned” (Heb. 6:7-8).
The first land is an illustration of believers, while the second land is an illustration of apostates. The first is fruitful, but in the second the seed sprouts but because it has no root, some of it dies and the thorns and thistles take over and choke out the rest. The lesson is that God blesses the fruitful believer and punishes the apostate.
Warning against deliberately sinning after knowing the truth
This passage warns those who profess to be Christians and go to church about the terrible consequences of rejecting Christ and deserting the church (Heb. 10:26-31). It says that God is angry about sin. God will judge and punish sinners. This punishment is worse than death – because it goes beyond death. Hebrews constantly warns about this danger. It is mentioned three times in this passage.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb. 10:26-27).
“How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot” (Heb. 10:29).
“‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31).
In this warning, apostasy is called deliberate sinning after knowing the truth, being part of God’s people and sanctified and is associated with deserting the church (Heb. 10:25-26, 29-30). Because the apostate has rejected Christ, and there is no other sacrifice for sins, they will be punished for their sins. They are called “enemies of God” meaning that they actively oppose Christianity (Heb. 10:26-27).
Note that God’s judgment occurs when there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:26). There are two possibilities, either a fearful expectation of judgment or a sacrifice for sins. Christ’s sacrifice in the place of sinners is the only way to escape God’s anger and punishment. That’s the gospel. God’s love in providing the sacrifice enables us to escape His judgment.
Once again a comparison is made with the law of Moses (Heb. 10:28-29). Under the law a person who was proven to be an idolater was put to death (Dt. 17:2-7). The apostate will be punished more severely than this because they have:
Trampled the Son of God underfoot. After professing to be a follower of Jesus, they now deny any need for Christ as Savior and reject Him as Lord.
Treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them. They think the death of Christ which ratified the New Covenant is useless and unholy. Through their association with Christian people, they had been sanctified (set apart), just as an unbelieving husband is sanctified by his believing wife (1 Cor. 7:14). But that does not mean that they were saved because it is a different sanctification to that of believers (Heb. 10:14).
Insulted the Spirit of grace. Although the Holy Spirit had convicted them of sin, and pointed them to Christ as Savior, they despised Him and the salvation He offered and “deliberately keep on sinning”.
The rejection of Jesus as Son of God is a serious sin (Heb. 10:30-31). The Bible says that God will judge such people: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” for judgment. The apostate will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31).
Warning against turning away
After contrasting the old covenant (where God and humanity were separated because of sin) and the new covenant (where God and humanity are reconciled by Jesus Christ), the writer warns “See to it that you do not refuse Him (God) who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven?” (Heb. 12:25). God warned the Israelites at Mount Sinai. When they refused to obey Him during the exodus towards Canaan, they didn’t escape God’s punishment and so they perished. But Jesus is both from and in heaven and His revelation is greater than that at Mount Sinai. Consequently, if we fail to heed His invitation and warning by turning away from Him in unbelief, then we can’t escape a greater punishment than experienced by the Israelites in the wilderness. After all, “God is a consuming fire” of judgment to all sin and all who refuse to listen to Him (Heb. 10:27; 12:29).
What are the lessons for us today?
Unbelief and apostasy (treason) are dangerous. That’s why there are five warnings against them in the book of Hebrews.
Unbelief (ignoring God’s gift of salvation) is dangerous, because it leads to missing out on heaven. Remember what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. Are we warning unbelievers? Are we encouraging one another to accept God’s gift and to continue meeting together (Heb. 10:24-25)?
Sin deceives (it is attractive) and leads to unbelief. What sins are hindering us from accepting God’s invitation? Are we tempted to continue in our sinful ways, which are popular and followed by the majority?
Are we encouraging one another daily in the Christian faith (Heb. 3:13)? Reminding each other of the greatness of Jesus and what He has done and God’s promises in Scripture. Helping each other to not be deceived by the apparent attractiveness of sin. Encouraging people’s faith and discouraging their unbelief. Are we doing this daily? In our families? In our church family? In our small groups?
Apostasy (committing treason against the Christian faith; betraying Christ) is dangerous, because it is an eternal sin. Remember what happened to Judas Iscariot. It occurred in the first century and is prevalent today (1 Tim. 4:1). If the sin of apostasy doesn’t apply to believers, to whom then does it apply? It could apply to someone who makes a profession of faith in Christ and seems to go on brightly for a while, but then something happens in their life. Perhaps they experience persecution or tragedy, or fall into immorality, or are convinced by the arguments of atheistic commentators or academics. With full knowledge of the truth, they deliberately turn away from it, completely renouncing Christianity. As the Bible says it is impossible to bring apostates to repentance, are we encouraging those at risk of apostasy?
God’s warnings to professing Christians were to not drift away, turn away, or fall away into ongoing unbelief, and not become a traitor (an apostate) by rejecting and criticizing Christ after knowing the truth.
We have seen from Hebrews that God’s greatest warning is the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins. In particular an apostate (a professing Christian who becomes a traitor) is doomed to punishment in hell.
The only way to escape God’s anger, judgment and punishment is to accept Christ’s sacrifice in the place of sinners like us. Let’s do this and turn around (repent) and persevere by trusting God day by day.
Written, February 2015
This question was asked recently by an elderly widower who was blind. He said that religious people say it is to make a better world. Then he added “Things don’t start from nothing – there must be somebody who put it together”.
To know Christ personally
King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. His search for meaning in life is given in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. He found that apart from God, life is meaningless. His conclusion was to “remember your Creator” and “fear God” and obey Him (Eccl. 12:1, 13-14). From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.
The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, had a close relationship with God. They were told to care and rule over the created earth (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). But this relationship was destroyed when they disobeyed God. As a result, today most people don’t have a close relationship with God.
Paul tried to please God by being religious. After he entered into a close relationship with Jesus Christ, he found that this religious activity was worthless (Phil. 3:4-11). His new goal was: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil. 3:10-11NLT). He gave up his previous way of life in order to know Christ personally. Then he looked ahead to living the Christian life and being rewarded when he gets to heaven (Phil. 3:13-14). In the meantime he wanted to live as a citizen of heaven eagerly waiting for Christ to return and change his weak mortal body into an glorious eternal body like His own (Phil. 3:20-21).
What was Jesus here for? In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” gave Jesus a task to do.
Jesus was sent by God into the world (Jn. 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25). “God sent His Son” to rescue people from their slavery to sin (Gal. 4:4-5). He came “to give His life as a ransom” for us (Mk. 10:45). He was “an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). This is how God enabled us to have a close relationship with Him today.
Lifesavers rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves. Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Him on a rescue mission to save us from God’s eternal judgment. His big rescue plan can give us purpose and meaning – Someone and something to live for.
Have you recognised Jesus as your lifesaver and accepted His help? That’s what you are here for. It’s how Paul commenced his close relationship with Jesus Christ.
But we are here for more than this. In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” often gave people a task to do. Their goal or mission was to complete this task.
Abram was to travel to a foreign country so the people of the earth could be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). His descendants wrote most of the Bible, which communicates this blessing to humanity. Joseph went to Egypt to save lives in a famine (Gen. 45:5-8). Although he was forced to go there as a slave, he realized that he was sent there by God.
Moses was sent to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10). Even though Moses was reluctant and gave excuses why he couldn’t carry out his mission, God enabled him to do it (Ex. 3:11-13; 4:1-16).
God sent the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Haggai to warn Judah of their idolatry and sinfulness (Isa. 6:8; Ezek. 3:4-5; Hag. 1:12). In fact all the prophets were sent by God (Jer. 7:25; 25:4; Zech 7:12). John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1; Mk. 1:2).
Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the Jews (Mt. 10:5-33). Later He sent out 72 people to preach (Lk. 10:1-16). Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach to the known world (“all nations”) (Mt. 28:19-20). He promised to always be with them.
There are many commands and models for Christians to follow in the New Testament. For example, they are to do good works as a consequence of their relationship with God (Eph. 2:10).
The car manufacturer Land River has engaged Bear Grylls as an ambassador to promote their products because he embodies the spirit of adventure and survival in the wilderness. In this context his mission is to help sell cars.
Paul said that Christians are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). Our mission is to help people be reconciled to God. Are we obedient (like Paul) or disobedient (like Jonah)?
According to the Bible, we are not here to make a better world. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift? For those who have, we are here to live godly lives and help others turn towards God and be reconciled with Him.
Written, December 2014
Also see: Why Jesus was sent
Have you noticed how many media commentators ridicule God, Christians and the Bible? Their biased comments stir up controversy and attract attention. They promote atheism and ungodly lifestyles. But we can choose to either accept their views or reject them.
When Jesus was on earth people (the Jews) also had a choice between their religious leaders (who He called thieves) and Jesus. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10NIV). But what is life to the full? After looking at what this verse means we will see that following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.
The book of John is a selective biography of Jesus Christ. In the previous chapter Jesus heals a man who was born blind. As this miracle was done on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees used it to criticize Jesus saying that He was “not from God” and was a sinner (Jn. 9:16, 31). Jesus replied with a figure of speech saying that they were spiritually blind (Jn. 9:39-41). Chapter 10 is a continuation of this conversation as Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees …” (Jn. 10:1).
In John 10:1-18 Jesus uses metaphors (v.6). He is the Good Shepherd and the gate. The Pharisees are thieves, robbers and hired hands. The Jewish people are sheep. In the Old Testament kings and leaders were often called shepherds (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God is said to be like a shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Is. 40:10-11; Ezek. 34:11-16). As shepherds lead sheep, leaders lead people. So this imagery should have been familiar to the Jews.
The main point is the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees. They are selfish and damaging like thieves and robbers and like hired hands they don’t care about the sheep (people) (v.12-13); whereas He sacrificially lays down His life for people (v.11, 15, 17-18) and saves and sustains them (v.9).
The Jews who heard this conversation were divided (Jn. 10:19-39). Some opposed Jesus saying He was demon-passed, raving mad, guilty of blasphemy and tried to seize Him and to kill Him by stoning (v. 20, 31-33, 39). They didn’t believe His words (v.25-26). Others disagreed (v.21).
John 10:10 is an example of contrastive parallelism where the second line contrasts with the first line:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The contrast is between the purpose of the thief and of the Shepherd. One destroys life and the other gives an abundant life. But what does “life” mean, is it physical or spiritual?
The Greek word “zoe” (Strongs #2222) means life, both physical (present) and spiritual (particularly future). It occurs 36 times in the book of John and each time seems to refer to eternal spiritual life. For example:
• Later in the same chapter, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28), where “life” means God’s gift of spiritual life.
• Other examples of spiritual life in John are, “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).
• And, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (Jn. 14:6).
This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12).
So the contrast in John 10:10 is between the presence and absence of spiritual life.
Steal, kill and destroy
John 10:10 says the thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. These words graphically describe the impact of the lack of spiritual life in the Pharisees. The Greek word “apollumi” (Strongs #622) means permanent destruction or loss. It is translated “perish” in John 10:28 (in the same chapter) and John 3:16. It is eternal death, which is the opposite of eternal life.
If we ignore Jesus, we:
• Are following the thieves, robbers and hired hands of this world that don’t care about people.
• Have an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.
• Miss out on a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.
However, Jesus said with regard to those who follow Him, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28). Note the contrast, they get eternal life and miss perishing.
Life to the full
John 10:10 says that Jesus gives life to the full. The Greek word “perissos” (Strongs #4053) is an adjective that means over and above, more than is necessary, abundant, and greater. This is the only instance of this word in John’s writings, but he uses the verb, “perisseuo” (Strongs #4052) to describe leftover food after people had eaten (Jn. 6:12-13).
If we follow Jesus, we:
• Are following the One who sacrificially laid down His life for people and saves and sustains them.
• Have a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.
• Avoid an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.
So the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 10:10 is:
• They are spiritually dead and influence others to remain in this state.
• Jesus offers people spiritual life that is so abundant that it is more than people need.
The people had a choice to follow either Jesus or the Pharisees.
Lessons for us
In view of humanity’s sinfulness, John 10:10 teaches us that God is gracious, loving and merciful. From the context, we see that there is conflict when some people believe this and some don’t. As Jesus was opposed strongly, we shouldn’t be surprised when there is opposition to God, Christians and the Bible.
Some use John 10:10 to teach that Christians will be blessed abundantly in their physical lives. But we know from Scripture that this is not the case. For example, Stephen was a godly man who witnessed faithfully to the Jewish Sanhedrin, but he was martyred (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).
Jesus is not on earth today, but the Bible contains a record of His teachings. The Pharisees are not opposing Christ today, but others are, including atheistic commentators who don’t believe the words of Scripture. As there was a contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees, so there is a contrast between Christ’s teachings and those who reject Christianity. Who will you follow?
Jesus cares for our eternal welfare and has provided an abundant spiritual life for those who follow Him. Following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.
Written, May 2014
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