Recently we saw the terror and devastation of bush fires in the Blue Mountains of Australia. It was a tough time for those in the path of the fire. They didn’t get much warning and had to escape for their lives. Afterwards, some returned to see their house in ruins. They searched through the rubble to recover what they could. What if our house and belongings are destroyed in a bush fire?
How do we respond when our dreams are shattered? Or our relationships break down? Or we are overcome by the emptiness of loneliness? Do we plunge into depression, despair, discouragement and disillusionment when there is disappointment, stress or tragedy? What can help us get through tough times?
Some say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. But we will see that this is not God’s way. Today we are looking at how to survive tough times. We will see from Ezekiel’s vision that, because God will rescue us, we can survive tough times (Ezek. 37:1-14).
In particular, so we can survive tough times we will determine: Who will God rescue? How will God rescue? And when will God rescue?
Ezekiel was a Jew captive in Babylon. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC was a tragedy for the Jews. Everything they lived for was gone and the Babylonian gods had triumphed over their God. They were devastated. The Bible says they had bitter memories in Babylon, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:1-4NIV). They could no longer sing the songs of Jerusalem or play their musical instruments. Jeremiah described their misery; “Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed” (Lam. 3:48).
The verses before the vision give the reasons they were scattered and in exile (36:16-21) and they predict Israel’s restoration (36:22-38). The Jews will return to Israel from other countries. There will be a great spiritual revival and prosperity and other people will acknowledge God. The words “I will”, are mentioned 15 times in 15 verses. So God does the restoration, which is associated with their repentance. He will give them a new heart, a new spirit and forgive their sins.
The verses after the vision also predict Israel’s restoration (37:15-28). The Jews from both Israel and Judah will return to Israel from other countries. They will have one king, “my servant David”, who is Jesus Christ, a descendant of David. They will live as God’s people and there will be no more idolatry. The result is that once again God will be their God and they will be His people (37:27).
Because it’s mentioned both before and after; the vision of the dry bones is about the rescue, deliverance and liberation of the Jewish nation. After they were plundered, scattered and captured it looked like the end of the Jews. It was a hopeless situation. But God said no; I will intervene.
Who will God rescue?
Ezekiel’s vision is a valley full of dry bones. They had been dead a long time. There was no life in them. Then God brings them back to life, first as a body lying on the ground and then as a body with breath that stands up. God says, “these bones are the people of Israel” and He calls them “my people” (v.11). They had been slain in battle and they rose as a vast army (v.9-10). It’s a picture of Israel’s army slain by the Babylonians.
What else do the dry bones symbolise? In the vision they say “our hope is gone, we are cut off” (v.11). The dry bones illustrate the hopelessness of the Jews in Babylon. They are over 1,000 km from their homeland and their capital city and temple has been destroyed. Although they are God’s special people they are spiritually dead with nothing to live for. Every day they are reminded of the demise of their nation and the Babylonian victory. They are captive in a foreign land with a foreign language (Jer. 5:15).
So, who will God rescue? His people. They will be rescued because they are God’s people, not because of anything else that they had done. Because of this promise they can survive tough times.
In 1980, 52 Americans were hostages in the US Embassy in Tehran in Iran for 444 days. They were treated cruelly, beaten, placed in solitary confinement and threatened with execution. An American military operation planned to rescue them, but this was aborted after a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft. In tough times we can feel like a hostage in a foreign land in a hopeless situation. It’s not unusual.
Christians are the people of God today (1 Pt. 2:9-10). The Bible says we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). And we will also be rescued because we are God’s people, not because of anything we have done. Like the Jews in Babylon, because of this promise we can survive tough times.
Now we know who God will rescue. But how will he rescue them?
How will God rescue?
In Ezekiel’s vision, God says how it will happen;“I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life” (v.5-6). Also, “ I will bring you back to the land of Israel … I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land (v.12-14). Notice that “I will” is mentioned 5 times. So it’s all God’s doing, they had no part in it. They didn’t deserve it. He rescues them when they are in a seemingly hopeless situation and unable to rescue themselves. He is a God of grace. God does the restoration and brings them to repentance after Ezekiel called them to repent (33:11; 36:31).
In the rescue they would return to their homeland and there would be a spiritual revival. God used an illustration to help them understand it. He said, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them” (v.12). The rescue will be like a resurrection, where a dead body comes back to life. It’s a radical change, from exile to their homeland and from spiritual death to spiritual life. The prospect of the rescue gave them encouragement and strength to endure the tough times.
It’s all part of the big picture in the Bible of God rescuing people from their sinful ways. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, people are spiritually dead. At that time, God promised that He would defeat Satan. Since then He has carried out His rescue plan. For example, He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. After the times of king David, God promised the Israelites that a Messiah would come to lead them. He was the servant-king predicted by Isaiah (Is. 42, 49, 50, 52-53). The New Testament shows that Jesus was this Suffering Servant (Mt. 12:14-21). This shows why God will rescue. It’s because it’s His main plan for humanity and the universe. To restore it to be like He made it in the beginning. It’s part of His character. He’s a rescuing God.
God also promises that Christians will return to their homeland (Jn. 14:1-3; Phil. 3:20-21). But our home is not Jerusalem, but heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:22-24). This rescue will include resurrection, when the dead come back to life (1 Cor. 15:50-55). And it won’t be a botched rescue, because it will be by the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. In this way, Christ is our Rescuer and Savior. This promise helps us survive tough times.
What about the promise of spiritual revival? When a person turns around to follow Jesus, they undergo a spiritual revival. They are now “in Christ”, a new creation and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:17). Because of their spiritual revival, Christians can survive tough times (1 Cor. 10:13).
Now we know who God will rescue and how he will do it. But when will He rescue His people?
When will God rescue?
In Ezekiel’s vision, God says when it will happen, “I will bring you back to the land of Israel … I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land (v.12-14). It’s when they return to their homeland and are spiritually revived. This happened in part when some returned to Israel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. God used the Persian king Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and allow these Jews to return to Jerusalem (Is. 45:1-8).
But the full extent of their restoration is yet to come; when their land will be like the garden of Eden (36:35), when all the 12 tribes will be united (37:15-22), and when their king will once again be a descendant of David (37:24-23). So there was a partial rescue after the exile, but their final rescue is yet to come. The bones in the vision also came to life in two stages.
In 2006, two miners were rescued from a gold mine in Beaconsfield in Tasmania after being trapped underground for 14 days. When we go through tough times, we can feel trapped in a dark place with no way out. There were two stages to their rescue. First a 90mm hole was drilled to give them food, fresh water and for communication. Second a 1m hole was drilled to enable some miners to crawl in and get them out. In the first stage they were sustained. In the second stage they were released.
Likewise there are two stages to our rescue. First, through God’s power when we chose to turn around and follow Jesus, we are rescued spiritually. We change from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Second, through God’s power when we die, our spirits go to be with the Lord and when Christ returns our bodies will be resurrected and changed (1 Cor. 15:50-55). So the two stages of our rescue are a spiritual revival, which sustains us in tough times; followed by a homecoming, which releases us from the tough times. At present we are half way. We can look back to stage one and ahead to stage two.
So, because through Christ’s death and resurrection Christians have spiritual life which sustains us, we can survive tough times. And because of the promise of being with the Lord and released, we can survive tough times. Clearly we can only survive tough times, in God’s power.
If you lack this power to get through tough times, then this is a reason to turn your life around to follow Jesus. The saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” is wrong because we don’t need to toughen up and work hard to survive tough times. Instead, let’s rely on God’s saving power in Christ and His sustaining power in the Holy Spirit.
Because God will rescue us, we can survive tough times
Let’s remember the vision of the dry bones that came back to life. When they were doing it tough in Babylon, God gave the Jews comfort and strength. Because He promised to rescue them, they survived the tough times. Some of them returned to Israel and Christ was born about 500 years later. After another 2,000 years more Jews have returned to Israel and it is a nation once again. And God has promised there will be a spiritual revival when they recognise Christ as their Messiah in a coming day.
Because God is a rescuer, we can survive tough times. We have looked at:
Who He rescues: His people.
How He rescues: by spiritual revival and bringing us home.
And when He rescues: partially now and fully later.
He has already rescued us and promises to rescue us even more in the future. This gives us encouragement and strength. Because we know that God will rescue us, we can survive tough times.
When you pay at a gas station or store, have you been asked “Would like to buy something else with that?” Then you see lots of attractive snacks, drinks & fast food. How would you respond? When you are browsing on the web and you see links to articles like: “The rape case that captivated America” and “Virgins auctioned and bedded in film”? What would you do? We live in a sea of temptation, which entices us to do something that is sinful.
Now you have probably resisted food, drink, and drug addictions, and adultery, all of which can devastate people’s lives. But what about the temptation to think we are doing OK in life? And the temptation to be liked and recognized? When you give in to these, what is it doing to your life?
Fortunately God has provided three ways to resist temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13NIV:
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”.
Corinth was a wealthy pagan Greek city. Paul wrote this letter to their church to instruct them about problems that they faced. There were divisions in the church, they accepted sexual immorality, they were taking their disputes to pagan courts, they were abusing the Lord’s supper, and there was false teaching about the resurrection of the dead. There were questions about married life, about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, about church meetings, and about the use of spiritual gifts.
Our verse comes from a passage on eating food that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-11:1). It was written to a church that was out of control. The Bible says they lacked self-control just like the Israelites on the trip from Egypt to Canaan when they were tempted to eat, drink, party, have sex, worship idols and grumble to God (1 Cor. 10:7-10). Is this familiar? Have we ever been tempted to: eat too much, drink too much, party too much, have sex, let someone or something take the place of God in our lives, or complain to God? So the verse is Christian teaching on how to resist such temptations.
It is preceded by a warning, “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (v. 12). Don’t be over confident about temptation; instead be careful not to yield to it. Because we are all prone to giving in to temptation and sinning against God. We can all lack self-control.
The first way to resist temptation is, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind”. Our temptations are no different from what others experience. They are not unique. Every temptation we face is “common to mankind”. Everyone is tempted. Whether they ate food offered to idols in Corinth or not. Temptation is normal. It’s common. It’s usual. So, don’t be surprised when you are tempted. It happens everyday. It happens all the time. The verse says “when you are tempted”, not “if you are tempted”. So, expect to be tempted. Be ready for it.
Because temptation is normal, it’s not new. Temptation is not a modern invention; it’s been around since the days of Adam and Eve. For this reason, we can learn from the temptations faced in Biblical times and from the ways they were resisted.
Today we have glossy brochures, catchy slogans and dynamic ads. Enticing shopping centres with aromas of the coffee shop, the food court and the confectionery shop with all that chocolate. Delicious cakes at the bakery. Colorful walls of TVs in stores. Lots of food and technology. Temptation is everywhere. It is not unusual or rare. But we are not forced to give in to these temptations. Instead we have a choice to either resist or give in each time we are tempted. That’s why with God’s help we can resist it.
But temptation is not only normal, it is also bearable.
The Bible says, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. He promises to limit the intensity of our temptations. It’s capped. It won’t be more than you can stand. You won’t be pushed past your limit. There is no such thing as an unbearable temptation.
Sports athletes do weights and exercises to strengthen their bodies. Their targets are beyond what they can do in the beginning. The same applies if you go to the gym or boot camp or fitness training. Later they discover they can reach their targets after all. God knows our strength greater than we do. He knows how much we can handle, and how much we can’t. So God allows temptations when the pressure is on, but it is controlled pressure. It will never be more than we can handle. That’s why with God’s help we can resist it.
But temptation is not only normal and bearable, it is also escapable.
The Bible says, “But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”. Here God promises a way for us to resist the temptation to sin. A way of escape is one of the ways we can bear or endure temptation.
When Potiphar’s wife wanted to have sex with Joseph, he refused, he avoided her and he ran out of the house. When Satan tempted Jesus, He responded by quoting from the Bible. God provided them with ways to escape; which were physical and spiritual.
This applies to us as well. The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). God is with us in our temptations. He will not leave us or forsake us. He will provide a way of escape. He’ll always be there to help you come through it. That’s why with God’s help we can resist it
So, let’s remember the promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Because temptation is normal and bearable and escapable, we can resist it. This includes the temptations to think we are doing OK in life and to be liked and recognized. Let’s use these promises to resist the temptations we face each day.
Written, Oct 2013
A pantheistic creation story
“Big History” is a modern origins story that is being developed online for school students and is supported by Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. The objective is to develop a framework for learning about anything and everything that includes a deeper awareness of our past. It claims to tell a story that our children need to know. But what will they learn?
History of the universe
“Big History” is based on eight “threshold moments” when the universe increased in complexity:
- Origin of the universe billions of years ago as explained by the big bang theory.
- Stars light up from the remnants of the exploding gases.
- New chemical elements form when stars die and create new types of atoms.
- Rocky planets such as the earth and the solar system form around stars.
- Molecules combine to form single celled living organisms that evolve into multi-celled organisms.
- Human beings appear as a consequence of evolutionary processes.
- After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, humans develop agriculture.
- The modern revolution, characterized by the use of fossil fuels and global communication.
Although “Big History” is based on humanity’s current scientific and historical understanding, the following questions come to mind.
Although Big History states these as facts, it assumes that:
- The origin and development of the universe can be explained by the laws of science.
- The early universe was simple.
- The universe has become more complex with time.
Once these are assumed, the rest follows as a consequence. So the course is teaching that these assumptions are facts. Instead they are scientifically unprovable.
As history trumps science when dealing with the past, the Bible surpasses science with regard to the origin of the universe and the nature of the early universe. In particular, the assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws isn’t valid past the creation of the universe about 6,000 years ago. So history shows the first two assumptions are false.
The assumption that “The universe has become more complex with time”, goes against common sense and the law of cause and effect. How can an inanimate object gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence? How can an animal or plant gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence?
This secular origins story is based on miracles than can’t be explained by science. Yet it claims to be scientific!
Before the beginning of time it assumes there was nothing – no time, mass, energy or space. After the beginning of time a tiny particle smaller than an atom appears that contains everything in today’s universe. This means that something appears from nothing, which is not allowed in the laws of physics! In a science where there is no place for miracles, this is certainly a miracle. How was all the mass and energy within the universe created out of absolutely nothing using only the physical forces within the universe? How could the universe create itself?
According to Big History, the universe can create complexity and information. This happens as a series of stages, each of which produces something utterly new. Each of these threshold moments is a miracle as the increase in complexity and information cannot be explained by the laws of science. How could the universe increase complexity and information by itself?
How does the universe create complexity despite the second law of thermodynamics, which says that “The general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order and lack of structure”? This is never explained. There is just a statement that it can create complexity, but with great difficulty! So the universe builds itself, which is pantheism. The universe is god. So intelligence and intent is attributed to inanimate objects or concepts, such as “Life interjects” and “DNA learns”.
It is interesting to note that the example of increasing complexity used in Big History was our modern society and not a biological example such as the DNA molecule or the human mind.
Big History is guilty of circular reasoning. It states assumptions and ideas as facts. Its key findings are based on its assumptions and presuppositions. For example, it reveals how complexity slowly evolved. But this is also an assumption.
Big history is speculative. It says, “We can imagine the early universe breaking up into billions of clouds”.
Big history is a product of the secular paradigm or worldview that has rejected the God of the Bible.
Big History is certainly ambitious. It has big assumptions, big miracles, big extrapolation and big imagination. Although it claims to be big on history, it actually includes little recorded history.
As “the story of how the universe creates complexity” and the “unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history”, it is a pantheistic creation story that replaces the Bible.
Do our children need to know this? How much better if they knew the Bible and accepted its message as the unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history?
Written, October 2013
When history trumps science
Crime investigation often involves eyewitnesses and forensic science. But when these conflict, which gets precedence? Forensic science uses the evidence to infer what happened in the past and so deduce who committed the crime. Eyewitnesses report what they saw happen and who actually committed the crime. More importance is usually given to a reliable eyewitness than to forensic science, but forensic science can help explain an eyewitness account.
History and science are two main ways to investigate events that occurred in the past. History is like an eyewitness and science is like forensic science. In this article, we use the term “ancient forensic science” to refer to the use of science to investigate ancient times. Let’s look at the relationship between history and ancient forensic science.
How history works
History is the study of past events. Its accuracy depends on the accuracy of the information available to the historian, which is also related to the amount of time between the events studied and the historical investigation. Obviously, all other things being equal, the greater this time gap, the greater the uncertainty in the investigation.
History is more accurate when there are written records available than when these are absent. History can also use other evidence such as oral records and archaeological findings.
As a result of historical research, the historian produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.
How ancient forensic science works
Ancient forensic science uses the scientific method to investigate ancient times. This approach has been used in astronomy, archaeology, biology, chemistry and geology to investigate ancient times. Because it relates to past events that were not observed and the evidence is thousands of years old, ancient forensic science is based on more assumptions than most science. Many assumptions need to be made to interpret the evidence. An example of an assumption made by modern forensic science in that “everyone’s fingerprint is unique”. The assumptions of ancient forensic science include extrapolation from present conditions backwards in time assuming uniformity of scientific laws. If an assumption is incorrect, then the findings of the forensic investigation can be unreliable.
By the way, science can only address situations that are described by scientific laws. This means it can’t address questions such as the ultimate origin of matter and energy in the universe.
As a result of ancient forensic scientific research, the scientist also produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.
The historical record
The Bible is the best record of ancient history we have today. It contains documentary evidence from eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. The authors were either eyewitnesses themselves or they spoke with eyewitnesses. In the case of the original creation, the account was given to Moses by God, who was the Creator. God asked Job, “Where were you?” when this happened (Job 8:4-7)! He hadn’t been born yet! Therefore, it is an eyewitness account! Likewise, the question for us today is “Were you there?”. Obviously the answer is “no”! We can only look back thousands of years towards this event.
The Bible says that God created the universe rapidly in six days and that people have existed since the sixth day of creation. The creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex. This means that at the beginning, the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. The Bible also says that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation
Ancient forensic science says that the universe developed slowly over billions of years. During this time, things developed gradually from simple to more complex. First there were stars, then planets, then single-celled organisms, then multi-celled organisms, followed by fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and finally human beings.
Much of this explanation relies on the “big bang” theory and the idea of evolution. However, ancient forensic science is unable to answer questions like:
- How did the first life originate?
- Why was there a “big-bang”?
- What happened before the “big-bang”
- How did something come from nothing?
This conflicts with the biblical record as the dates are significantly older, all things developed gradually from simple to more complex instead of being complex from the beginning, and people appear after billions of years of evolution.
How can we resolve this conflict?
Scientists use mathematical methods to make predictions. These mathematical methods (which are called “models”) are developed from measurements (observations) that have been made over a certain period of time and under a certain range of conditions. The predictions are most accurate for circumstances that lie within those under which the model was developed. Predictions made outside these circumstances are less reliable as they are extrapolations outside the realm that was measured and observed.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation of ancient history uses theories and observations made in the past few hundred years to make statements about what happened millions and billions of years ago. In science it is well known that the accuracy of a prediction decreases as it extends outside the region of measurement and observation.
Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1.
We will now estimate the degree of extrapolation that is made by ancient forensic science. In order to be conservative, we will assume that the scientific theories and observations have been developed from measurements and observations made in the past 1,000 years. So any prediction that applies greater than 1,000 years ago is an extrapolation outside the range of measurement and observation. Therefore, a prediction of an event 10,000 years ago represents an extrapolation of one order of magnitude. Using the dates taught in the Big History Project, we see that the extrapolations are at least 2 to 7 orders of magnitude. As the degree of uncertainty usually increases with the size of the extrapolation, these enormous extrapolations indicate a huge uncertainty in these predictions. In normal science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.
|Proposed Event||Extrapolation – Orders of magnitude
|Big bang||7 (a factor of 107 )|
|Earth and solar system formed||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First life on earth||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First humans||2 (a factor of 102)|
Resolving the conflict
As eyewitnesses trump forensic science in criminal investigations, we need to see what implications the historical record has for the ancient forensic scientific explanation. The most obvious implication is that it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years because this was when the universe was “stretched out” by God (Jer. 10:12). The creative week was a unique time that can’t be explained by the laws of science. Scientists would call it a “boundary condition” or an “initial condition”. The assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws only applies since this time. Extrapolation backwards past this time is invalid because the current scientific laws may not apply when God was creating the universe.
This means that most of the apparent billions of years in the ancient forensic scientific explanation represent what God did in less than a week. This was the miracle of creation. So the billions of years is related to how far God stretched out the universe, not the age of the universe.
Because it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years, the millions of years of evolution are also incorrect.
So when the ancient forensic scientific explanation is corrected by imposing historical eyewitness boundary conditions, we see that the assumptions behind the “big-bang” theory and the theory of evolution are obviously incorrect.
Does it matter?
Why can’t we accept both ancient forensic science and the Bible? Because the ancient forensic scientific explanation destroys the gospel message in the Bible. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.
It also moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death away from Adam and Eve’s disobedience. It makes them a normal part of our world. They are not viewed as being abnormal. It puts death before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death from the beginning. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.
As a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime, so reliable history is better than ancient forensic science in investigating ancient times. So history trumps science when dealing with the past.
Let’s follow the reliable history of the Bible, instead of the erroneous assumptions and extrapolations of ancient forensic science.
Written, October 2013
When the disciples asked why they couldn’t drive a demon out of a boy who had seizures, Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17:20NIV). The reason was also given as “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mk. 9:29).
They lacked faith and prayer. Because of unbelief, they didn’t pray about it. The mountain is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced. They should have exercised their faith in God by praying about the problem. The prayer would be answered if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. Miracles can happen when we pray under these circumstances.
On the Monday before his crucifixion, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it was unfruitful. He them taught his disciples how to deal with the problems of fruitlessness and obstacles and difficulties. Once again the mountain illustrates the obstacles and difficulties. This is described in two gospels:
Mark 11:22-24 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Mt 21:21-22 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
They were to exercise their faith in God by praying about the problem. God promised to answer if they believe and don’t doubt. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for answered prayer. Such confidence needs to rely on a promise from God or an assurance that the request is according to God’s will. The ultimate source of such confidence is the words of Scripture or the witness of the Holy Spirit. So the prayer needs to be in accordance with the conditions given in the Bible.
We can approach God confidently in prayer because He promises to answer prayers that are “according to His will”. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). That’s how Jesus prayed at Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39, 42) and how He told His disciples to pray (Jn. 14:13-14). And of course, God’s will is given most clearly in the Bible.
Other conditions for answered prayer include: forgiving others (Mk. 11:25), confessing and repenting of sin (Ps. 66:18), obeying God’s commands (1 Jn. 3:22), right motives (Jas. 4:3), and persevering in prayer (Lk. 17:1-8). They also apply to other passages which may seem to imply that we can get whatever we ask for (Mt. 7:7-8; Lk. 11:9-10; Jn. 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24; 1 Jn. 3:22).
God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied. So, how are you praying?
Written, September 2013
These words were spoken by Jesus to the disciples after he talked with a rich young man (Mt. 19:26; Mk. 10:27; Lk. 18:27). It occurred near the end of His ministry, after He began His last trip to Jerusalem (Lk. 17:11). The rich man wanted to do something to obtain eternal life. He thought he could obtain salvation by his own efforts, but was unwilling to acknowledge his sin of greed and covetousness. Because he wouldn’t admit his sinfulness, he was unable to obtain eternal life though faith in Christ. That’s why Jesus said it was difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. As prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing in Old Testament times (Dt. 28:1-14) and the man obeyed most of the commandments, the disciples were amazed and asked Jesus “Who then can be saved”? Jesus answered “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26NIV). Or, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (NLT). It has also been recorded as “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).
As the context of the verse is salvation, the word “this” stands for salvation. It addresses questions such as, “Who can be saved to go to heaven?” and “How are they saved?”. It teaches that there is no human component to a person’s salvation. We can’t save ourselves, because we are sinful. God does it all. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).
The Greek word translated “all things” (Strongs #3956), is also used in verses 20 and 27. In verse 20 it means “all” the commandments mentioned in v.18-19. In verse 27 it means “all” the things the disciples left behind to follow Jesus. Therefore, in v.26 it means “all” the things to do with salvation or “everything” to do with salvation.
The “all things” refers to God’s unlimited power which makes salvation possible. But it doesn’t mean that God can do anything. He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (1 Tim. 2:13). Instead, He can do all things that are consistent with His nature.
Prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance) and other miracles are outside the scope of how the verse was used by Jesus. Another implication of this incident is that prosperity is no longer a sign a God’s blessing, something difficult for the Jews of the day to understand.
So, “all things are possible with God” means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power.
Written, September 2013
When you pay at a store or gas (petrol) station, have you been asked if you would like to buy something else with that? Then you see loads of snacks, fast food and sugary drinks. It’s a food temptation called ambush marketing. We also have temptations in supermarkets, in shopping centres, in advertising, in marketing, in our entertainment, in technological hardware and software and even on our Facebook pages! We live in a sea of temptation.
Temptation entices us to do something that is sinful. Fortunately God has provided three ways to resist the temptations we face in life: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13NIV). The Greek word translated “temptation” and “tempted” in this verse can mean either outer trials that test our faith or inner temptations to sin. Here we will apply it to the inner temptations to sin.
Corinth was a wealthy pagan Greek city. Paul wrote this letter to their church to instruct them about problems that they faced. There were divisions in the church, they accepted sexual immorality, they were taking their disputes to pagan courts, they were abusing the Lord’s supper, and there was false teaching about the resurrection of the dead. There were questions about married life, about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, about church meetings, and about the use of spiritual gifts.
This verse comes from a passage on eating food that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-11:1). Paul begins by stating the principle that we shouldn’t stumble a believer with a weak conscience by causing them to act against their conscience with regard to a debatable matter (1 Cor. 8). So Paul would not exercise his right to eat food that had been offered to an idol if there was a Christian present who thought this was sinful. Then he illustrates this principle (1 Cor. 10). First, although as an apostle Paul had the right to be supported financially by the church, he didn’t claim this so that people couldn’t say that he was preaching for money. Second, he followed the customs of those he was preaching to, so they would be more likely to accept the gospel message. Third, like an athlete he exercised self-control and discipline when serving the Lord so as not to miss his reward. Fourth, the Israelites lacked self-control. In the exodus God rescued them from slavery, but they were punished for idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling to God (1 Cor. 10:1-10).
So this verse was written to a church that was out of control. They lacked self-control. It is Christian teaching on self-control. They needed to learn how to recognise the temptations they faced and how to resist these temptations.
Then the Bible applies what happed to the Israelites to us today (v.11). They are examples for us. They are warnings for us. The Bible was written for our benefit (Rom. 15:4). It has many lessons for us. The warning of this passage is spelled out “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (v. 12). To think we are “standing firm” against temptation means being confident or complacent about temptation. The warning is to be careful we don’t yield to temptation. We all face temptation on a daily basis. We are all prone to giving in to temptation and sinning against God. We can all lack self-control.
Then three ways are given to resist temptation.
Temptation is normal
The Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind”. So, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience” (NLT). Sometimes we think why am I so weak? Why do I always yield to this sinful desire, and give in to that addiction? Why am I always being tempted?
But our temptations are not unique. Every temptation we face is “common to mankind”. We all face temptation. Everyone is tempted. Temptation is normal for humanity. It’s usual. It’s common. So, don’t be surprised when you are tempted. It happens all the time. Expect to be tempted. For example, Paul warns us to beware when helping someone who has been sinful, because we may also be tempted to sin (Gal. 6:1).
Because temptation is normal, it’s not new. It’s been around since the days of Adam and Eve. Temptation is not a modern invention. For this reason, we can learn from the temptations faced in Biblical times and the ways they were resisted.
The normal process of temptation
The normal process of temptation is described by James: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13-15).
Temptation begins as an “evil desire” in our mind. Jesus said that “evil thoughts” lead to sin (Mt. 15:18-20; Mk. 7:20-23). Since the fall of humanity into sin we have a tendency towards evil desires. We are now self-centred. Given time, the temptation from an evil desire leads to sin and then to spiritual death and other consequences. Even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41). The evil desire is influenced by Satan and our sinful nature. The process stops if we resist the temptation and there is victory over the temptation. So there is a choice to yield to or resist the temptation as shown in the diagram.
Satan is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). He tempts us in order to make us fail (1 Cor. 7:5). He entices us like a fisherman entices fish with bait or a lure. Satan is deceitful and seductive. He is our enemy (1 Ti. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).
Temptation is not sinful. We know that Jesus was tempted by Satan, but didn’t sin (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). But yielding to temptation is sinful.
So temptation is like when fish see a fisherman’s bait or lure. If they eat it they are hooked. Otherwise, they can swim on their way. Likewise, if we take the bait when tempted then we are hooked and dragged away into sinful behavior and its consequences. That’s the normal process of temptation. But if we don’t take the bait and resist the temptation, we can continue serving the Lord.
The normal tools of temptation
The normal tools of temptation are described in this warning, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).
This describes Satan’s tools, the aspects of the sinful world that he uses as bait to lure us into sin. They are evil desires arising from:
- The lust of the flesh. This is our sinful human nature. Our sinful appetites.
- The lust of the eyes. This is what we see. It can also symbolise our minds. What we think about.
- The pride of life. This is boasting about what we have and what we do. Selfish ambition. Seeking to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and jealousy in others.
For example, the Israelites were tempted to eat, drink, indulge in revelry, indulge in sexual immorality, worship idols and grumble to God (1 Cor. 10:7-10). These are still normal temptations today. Have we ever been tempted to: eat too much, drink too much, party too much, commit sexual sins, let someone or something take the place of God in our lives, or complain to God?
So, temptation is a common experience of all human beings. But temptation is not only normal, it is also bearable.
Temptation is bearable
The Bible says, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. So, “He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand” (NLT) and “He’ll never let you be pushed past your limit” (Message). God doesn’t promise that we won’t be tempted, but He does promise to limit its intensity. Life is tough. Temptation is common. But there is no such thing as an unbearable temptation.
God knows our strength greater than we do. He knows how much we can handle, and how much we cannot. One of the basic principles of sports and athletic training is to strengthen us to do things we don’t think we can do right now, to put more pressure on us than we think we can handle. And we discover we can handle it. This is what God does with us. He allows temptations when the pressure on, but it is controlled pressure. It will never be more than we can handle. Let’s look at some examples of this.
Bearable temptations in the Old Testament
The heroes of faith in Old Testament times are listed in Hebrews 11. They endured much shame and suffering rather that give up on God. They could have avoided this by renouncing God. That would have been a great temptation to them. Instead they resisted this temptation and continued to trust God’s promises.
Here’s what they went through (Heb. 11:33-39). They faced the dangers of lions, fire and swords. They were tortured, flogged, imprisoned, jeered, murdered, homeless, persecuted and mistreated. Because they remained faithful, we know that their temptations were bearable. Also, Job remained faithful after he lost his family, his wealth and his health. His temptations were bearable.
Bearable temptations in the New Testament
Paul is one of the heroes of faith in New Testament. Here’s what he went through.
2 Cor. 11:23-27: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
Paul would have been tempted to avoid all this by stopping serving the Lord. Because he remained faithful, we know that his temptations were bearable.
So, the temptations faced by God’s people are bearable. But temptation is not only normal and bearable, it is also escapable.
Temptation is escapable
The Bible says, “But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”. So, “He will also provide a way of escape” (HCSB). Not only does God promise to limit the intensity of our temptations, He promises a way to resist them. God enables us to resist the temptation to sin. He will provide a way out for us.
The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). When those heroes of faith faced their troubles, all human support was usually stripped away. They learnt that God alone strengthens us at these times. He gets us through life’s temptations. In this sense, He is the way out. The way of escape. The Message says, “He’ll always be there to help you come through it”.
Joshua was told that God “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:8). David faced trouble without fear because God was with him (Ps. 23:5). God was close beside him. Likewise, God is with us in our temptations. He will not leave us or forsake us. He will provide a way of escape.
So, how did Joseph and Jesus escape temptations?
How Joseph escaped temptations
Joseph was a slave of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard in Egypt. Potiphar put him in charge of his household. Here’s how Joseph responded to temptation.
Gen. 39:6-12 “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care … My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”
When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph “refused to be with her”. He avoided the temptation as much as possible. Unlike Sampson, he didn’t give in to the pressure that went on “day after day” (Jud. 14:17; 16:16-17). So let’s avoid situations where we are likely to be tempted.
When Joseph was confronted again he “ran out of the house”. He had an escape plan. We have fire escape plans, but do we have plans to escape temptations?
How Jesus escaped temptations
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11):
- To use His supernatural powers to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread.
- To jump from the highest point of the temple to test God’s promise of protection and attract public attention.
- To avoid the suffering of the cross and take an easy shortcut to world domination.
In each case Jesus responded to temptation by quoting from the Bible. He answered, “It is written …”. So Satan can tempt those controlled by the Holy Spirit, but they can resist him with the truths of Scripture. The Israelites knew, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The truths of Scripture in our mind can protect us from yielding to temptation. Bible knowledge can help us to resist temptation.
Our mind is important. Let’s think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the truths of Scripture planted in our mind?
Lessons for us
So let’s be warned by the history of the Israelites of the danger of yielding to temptation. Don’t be hooked and dragged away by Satan. Resisting temptation requires self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). So the Holy Spirit helps us to resist temptation.
Remember the promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Because temptation is normal, we can resist it.
Because temptation is bearable, we can resist it.
Because temptation is escapable, we can resist it.
Because temptation is normal and bearable and escapable, we can resist it.
God has given us these reasons to exercise self-control when we face temptations. Let’s remember and use these ways to resist the temptations we face.
Written September 2013
A few years ago we made a photo collage of all the members of our church. Everyone’s face was in it. For various reasons some of these people no longer come to our church. More would be missing if we had photos taken 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wonder how many of these are still following Jesus today. Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith, don’t finish well. There is a danger of turning away from God. Today we are looking at two life lessons from king Saul. One is an example to follow and the other is an example to avoid.
Saul followed God
Until he met Samuel the prophet, Saul was an ordinary guy who worked for his father by doing jobs, like searching for lost donkeys. This changed when Samuel told Saul that he was chosen to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:27 – 10:1). Saul changed to follow God. The Bible says that he was changed into a different person because he received power from God; God was with him and changed his heart (1 Sam.10:6, 7, 9). He was now up with the prophets instead of down with the donkeys. The people were so amazed when he prophesied with the prophets, they exclaimed “Is Saul among the prophets” (1 Sam. 10:10).
After Saul was declared to be their king, the people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king” (1 Sam. 10:17-24). Saul had many military victories. After they defeated the Ammonites, there was a great celebration and the people renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15).
So Saul was called by God and he followed God’s leading. What a great example for those who have been called to trust in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ. The Bible says “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17). We are not kings, but God has placed us in situations where we can serve Him daily.
God used Samuel to call Saul and He uses the Holy Spirit and the gospel message to call us to follow Him today (1 Th. 1:5; 2 Th. 2:14). During this period of his reign he served God faithfully. And faithfulness characterises those who follow the Lord as it is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
All is going well so far for Saul. But life is a marathon, not a sprint. We now turn to the next stage of Saul’s life.
Saul turned away from God
Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.
Next Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). He reverted. Instead of being up with the prophets, he was back down with the donkeys. Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).
After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).
So Saul went from bad to worse. When he was afraid of the Philistines, he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4). Saul didn’t finish well.
What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?
The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Ephesians stopped loving the Lord and were told to repent and do the things they did at first (Rev. 2:4-5). The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter. The churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea were urged to repent and turn around to follow God once again (Rev. 2:16, 21; 3:3, 19).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world more.
The Bible says sin is the source of turning away from God. And the cure is confession of the sin and turning back towards God in repentance. David and Hezekiah and good examples of this.
Lessons for us
The two life lessons from king Saul correspond to the two stages of his reign. The first was faithful and fruitful, but the second was unfaithful and unfruitful. In the first he was godly and obedient, but in the second he was ungodly and wicked. In the first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but in the second he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. Although Saul’s reign started well, it didn’t finish well. Solomon followed the same pattern.
Let’s follow Saul’s good example. Let’s follow God faithfully like the first period of his reign. Let’s serve the Lord in the daily circumstances that He has given to us.
Also let’s choose to not follow his bad example. Don’t turn away from God like the second period of Saul’s reign. Keep living up here, not down there because turning away from God ruins our Christian testimony. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.
When we sin we don’t have to turn away from God because He has provided a way to turn back to Him. Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.
Written, September 2013
How many people continue to follow Jesus as their life progresses? Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith don’t finish well. What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?
A backslider stops following the Lord and falls back into a previous sinful way of life. They desert the Christian faith and are unfaithful and unfruitful. It’s the opposite of repentance and conversion which is turning towards God. It’s also different to apostasy, which is when unbelievers become enemies of Christ after they were associated with the Christian faith (1 Tim. 2:19; 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Pt. 2:20-22).
Let’s look at how we can avoid backsliding and recover from backsliding in our Christian life.
King Saul had some natural advantages in life: he was handsome and a head taller than anyone else (1 Sam. 9:2). When Saul was looking for his father’s lost donkeys, he met Samuel the prophet. At this time Samuel privately anointed Saul as king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). After this he received power from God and prophesised – He gave God’s message to the people (1 Sam. 10:6, 9-11). Then Samuel summoned the nation and went through a selection process until Saul was publicly declared to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:17-24). The people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king”.
When Saul heard that the Ammonites had besieged the city of Jabesh Gilead, he organised an army of 330,000 men and defeated them (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Then the Israelites celebrated again and renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15). This was the pinnacle of Saul’s life.
Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. That was the beginning of his backsliding. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.
Saul had many military victories, but when he foolishly told his troops not to eat food, the enemy Philistines escaped (1 Sam. 14:24, 26, 47-48). Then Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).
After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).
When he was afraid of the Philistines, Saul consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4).
So we have seen the rise and fall of king Saul because he turned away from God.
The same happened to king Solomon who turned away from God to idolatry after he married foreign women (1 Ki. 11:1-13). It says “Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord”. Both kings started well, but didn’t finish well. And this is shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time.
Kings of Judah
Some of the kings of Judah also began well, but didn’t finish well.
Joash ruled for 40 years from the age of seven years. While his uncle the High Priest was alive, he followed God (2 Chron. 24:1-16). During this time he repaired the temple. But after Jehoiada died Joash forsook God and worshipped idols (2 Chron. 24:17-27). When they were rebuked by the new High Priest, Joash had him killed. Then they were defeated by their enemies and Joash was assassinated. So his reign had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness. And this is shown in the graph of his spiritual state against time.
His son Amaziah who reigned for 29 years followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 25:1-13). During this period he obeyed God by dismissing the troops he had hired from the kingdom of Israel and defeated his enemies. But then he “turned away from following the Lord” and worshipped idols, attacked Israel and was defeated, and was assassinated (2 Chron. 25:14-24). So his reign had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.
His son Uzziah who reigned for 52 years also followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 26:1-15). But afterwards “his pride led to his downfall” and he disobeyed God by taking a priestly role and was punished with leprosy and was banished from the palace for the rest of his life (2 Chron. 26:16-21). So his reign also had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.
Asa who ruled earlier for 41 years also followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 15:11-15). Later he relied on a foreign king instead of on God, he imprisoned the prophet who rebuked him and he oppressed the people (2 Chron. 16:2-12). So his reign also had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.
All these kings of Judah started well, but didn’t finish well as shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time. They turned away from following the Lord.
Backsliding also occurred in New Testament times. The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world.
The cause of backsliding
Backsliding is when we stop following Christ. In this world, we’re all prone to failure. We all sin. Saul’s sin of disobedience was the beginning of his turning away from God. Sin is the source of backsliding. Sin is attractive, but it separates us from God.
Backsliding is a gradual process (a sliding back to a previous sinful condition). Remember Lot liked the fertile plain, then he settled near the city of Sodom, but he eventually moved into the city and became a city councillor. It was a gradual process.
The consequences of backsliding
Backsliding has a great impact on people’s lives and their family. Compare the lives of Lot and Abraham. God used Abraham and his descendants greatly, whereas Lot’s family were doomed. If we turn away from God we lose our personal relationship with the Lord (1 Jn. 1:6) and peace and joy and the assurance of God’s presence and His answer to our prayers (Ps. 66:18). It can also result in sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:30-32). There can be severe ongoing consequences even though a sin has been forgiven. For example, David’s grief with the death of Bathsheba’s baby son. And when we get to heaven we miss out on being rewarded by the Lord for our faithfulness (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Jn 8).
Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn. 15:6). The sin of backsliding ruins a person’s Christian testimony and witness. Instead of remaining in touch with the Lord and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit and bearing fruit, there is sinfulness and people ridicule them and their God.
These consequences are the dangers of backsliding.
The cure of backsliding
Like Saul, David failed when he sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11). But he did something about it. Not all sin leads to backsliding and turning against God for an appreciable period of time. David confessed and repented (Ps. 32:1-5; 40:1-8; 51:1-19). He called out to God, acknowledged all the wrong things that he had done and turned around to follow God once again.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:1-5). David experienced God’s mercy of forgiveness (v.1-2). He suffered when he refused to acknowledge his sin (v.3-4). But there was relief when he confessed his sin (v.5).
Likewise king Hezekiah repented of the sin of pride (2 Ch. 32:25-26). This contrast between Saul who backslid and David and Hezekiah who repented is shown in shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time. David and Hezekiah were restored to fellowship once again. Saul was not.
David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:1-3). “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). His path was corrected and his relationship with God was restored. What a contrast to Saul who turned far away from God.
We will now look at the steps in the process of restoration, which will be illustrated in a diagram.
Conviction. The first step is to admit our sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).
Confession. The next step is to confess our sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13).
Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God one again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behaviour. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).
Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). There are three kinds of forgiveness mentioned in the Bible.
God’s judicial forgiveness. God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
God’s parental forgiveness. God is a father of all those who have trusted in Him. This forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been severed by sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Christians need to do this regularly. For example, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Cor. 11: 28-29). This says we need to examine ourselves before participating in the Lord’s supper. It means admitting our sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. When they came together in Corinth, they were being selfish by discriminating against the poor (1 Cor. 11:20-21, 30-32). Their judgment was sickness and premature death, which was the Lord’s discipline. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our relationship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin and repentance to put things right.
Forgiving one another. This restores fellowship between believers. God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). We are to forgive others when they acknowledge their wrongs (Mt. 18:15-17; Lk. 17:1-10).
After a backslider has been sorry for their sins and repented, then as God has forgiven them they should be forgiven and restored to Christian fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11).
Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again. This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).
Lessons for us
We have seen how to get right with God and how to stay right with God. How to draw near to God. How to be close to the Lord. And they are the same!
What does the graph of our spiritual state against time look like? Have we started by following Jesus in the first place? If yes, have we turned away from Him? Have we responded by taking the steps to restoration?
James encourages us to pray for backsliders like Elijah prayed for the kingdom of Israel who worshipped idols (Jas. 5:16-20). Such people wander from the truth and commit many sins. If someone helps them to confess their sins and repent by turning around to follow the Lord once again, then their sins will be forgiven and they will be saved from dying prematurely under God’s judgment. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. Paul also urged us to help restore a believer “caught in a sin” (Gal. 6:1-2).
Let’s be aware of our sinfulness. The Israelites were warned that when they became prosperous they would become proud and forget the Lord (Dt. 8:10-14). That is a big risk for most of us because we have food, houses, money and possessions. We are well off compared to most people in the world.
Saul’s backsliding began with an act of disobedience which led to a life of sinful behaviour. Sin is dangerous. It grows. Let’s respond to sin like David and practice conviction, confession and repentance. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.
When we sin we don’t have to backslide because God has provided a way to turn back to Him.
Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.
Written, Sep 2013
Last time we looked at “Facing trials”. This time it’s ‘“Facing temptations”. The difference between the two is that trials come from an external source, whereas temptations come from within us. Trials test our Christian faith and can produce Christ-likeness, whereas temptations can lead to sinful behaviour and loss of fellowship with God and other people.
We all face temptations from time to time. The Bible says that God doesn’t cause temptations. We shouldn’t blame God for them. Instead they come from the human mind.
The source and process of temptation is described by James: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (Jas. 1:13-14NIV).
Temptation begins as an “evil desire” in our mind. Jesus said that “evil thoughts” lead to sin (Mt. 15:18-20). Since the fall of humanity into sin we have a tendency towards evil desires. We are now self-centred.
Satan is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). He tempts us in order to make us fail (1 Cor. 7:5). He entices us like a fisherman entices fish with bait or a lure. Satan is deceitful and seductive. He is our enemy (1 Ti. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).
We are all tempted. That’s why the Bible warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Satan uses what we see. We are selfish. We choose to please ourselves instead of pleasing God.
We can respond to temptation in two ways.
The first is to yield to temptation like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-13) and like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam. 11:2-5).
If temptation is not resisted immediately, it leads to sinful behaviour. If we think about a sin long enough, we will carry out that sin. It’s inevitable just like sexual intercourse can lead to the birth of a child. The Bible says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas 1:15).
The other response is to resist temptation like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:7-12) and Jesus with Satan (Mt. 4:1-11).
Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mk. 14:38). We are weak and prone to sin. Do we pray for God to help us not to fall into sin by yielding to temptation? The Lord’s prayer says, “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (Lk. 11:4 NLT).
We are told to put on God’s armor so we can stand against Satan’s temptations (Eph. 6:10-18). And the Israelites knew, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The truths of Scripture in our mind can protect us from yielding to temptation.
We have a choice. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Do we submit to God or Satan? Do we resist Satan or God?
Look for God’s way out. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
Lessons for us
So, don’t blame God for temptation. Temptations come from Satan and our sinful nature.
Because the Lord is stronger than Satan, with His help we can resist Satan’s temptations.
Our mind is important. What do we think about? This has a strong influence on our speech and behaviour. Don’t dwell on evil thoughts. Instead, replace them with, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the truths of Scripture planted in our mind?
Written, Sep 2013
Dealing with the difficulties in life
A month ago my nephew was rushed to hospital by helicopter with serious brain injuries after a motor cycle accident. Since this time he has been unconscious. There were anxious moments when the doctors operated to alleviate the swelling of the brain. The Christian faith of his family is being tested at this difficult time. Many questions come to mind during such trials, hardships and tragedies.
The Bible says that problems, trials and troubles are inevitable in our lives. Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33NIV). James wrote about “whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas. 1:2). We can’t stop them happening. We can’t control them. They are unforeseen and uncontrollable. Our only choice is how to respond to them.
So how does the Bible say that a Christian should respond when trials and troubles come our way? First, some bad responses. We shouldn’t complain and grumble, rebel, have self-pity or give up. Looking at each of these in turn:
- Complain and grumble. Paul wrote “do not grumble as some of them (the Israelites) did” (1 Cor. 10:10). The Israelites constantly grumbled against Moses who had been appointed by God to lead them from Egypt to Canaan (Num. 16:41; 17:5). They complained and grumbled at Marah, at the desert of Sin, at Rephidim, after the spies explored Canaan, and at Kadesh (Ex. 15:22-24; 16:1-3; 17:1-3; Num. 14:1-3; 20:2-5). They complained when there was no water and they detested the manna that God provided for food (Num. 21:4-5). The Bible says not to be like them and act as though we know better than God.
- Rebel. The Israelites also rebelled against Moses and God. Miriam and Aaron talked against Moses (Num. 12:1-2). And after the spies explored Canaan, the people said “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4; Dt. 1:26-33). Then they disobeyed God by attacking the Amorites (Dt. 1:42-44). Also Korah and 250 men opposed the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1-3). The Bible says don’t be like them and take matters into our own hands. Don’t try to resolve problems in our own power. Don’t boast that we can overcome difficulties in our own power. Such self-confidence downgrades God’s care for us.
- Self-pity is self-indulgently dwelling on our own misfortune, sorrows or trials. For example, Moses asked to be excused from leadership and Jonah was more concerned about a plant that protected him from the hot sun than the children of Nineveh (Ex. 4:10-13; Jon. 4:8-11). They were focused on themselves. The Bible says don’t be like them thinking only of ourselves and seeking the sympathy of others. Because when we focus on ourselves we can’t focus on God or others. Those who pity themselves because of the circumstances of their lives fail to see God at work in them. Such self-pity is associated with self-centredness, loneliness and despair.
- Give up. The Bible says “do not lose heart” when facing hard times (Heb. 12:5). When he was suffering, Paul said, “we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1, 16). Giving up doubts God’s care for us. When we feel like giving up, we should think of what Jesus went through: “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3). So the Bible says don’t give up on God in tough situations.
Second, some good responses to trials and troubles (Heb. 12:4-12; Jas. 1:2-12). Two of these evident in these passages of the Bible are:
- Endure and persevere. Hang in there to let God work in the difficult circumstances.
- Optimism. Be positive, not negative. Realise that God always has our best and eternal interests at heart (Rom. 8:28).
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:2-4).
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12).
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children” (Heb. 12:7).
Trials enable us to develop endurance and perseverance which leads to strengthened Christian character (Heb. 12:11). Paul said, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
Our Christian faith is being tested. The physical trials of life enable a baby to grow into a child and then an adolescent and then an adult. Likewise the spiritual trials of life enable a Christian to grow more Christ-like and have the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
This is expressed in the song “Through It All” by Andrae Crouch which says:
I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys,
And I thank Him for the storms He’s brought me through.
For if I’d never had a problem, I’d never know that God could solve them,
I’d never know what faith in His Word could do.
Through it all, through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God.
Through it all, through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.
Lessons for us
So when things are tough, do we complain? Are we arrogant and defiant? Do we indulge in self-pity? Or do we give up? How has our character been moulded through it all? And how has our trust in God been affected through it all?
Let’s persevere and grow more Christ-like through all the trials that come our way.
Also see – What’s the use of trials
Written, August 2013
In the Bible, the words translated as “heaven” or “heavens” can mean either:
- The earth’s atmosphere
- The realm of the stars
- The dwelling place of God and the angels
The term the “heaven and earth” is mentioned in 26 verses of the NIV Bible. Most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 115:15, Isa. 37:16). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
The term the “heavens and earth” is mentioned in 15 verses of the NIV Bible. Likewise most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:17; Acts 14:15). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
New heavens and new earth
The term “new heavens and new earth” is mentioned in two verses (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah lived until at least 680 BC, which is about 75 years before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem when Daniel was captured and deported to Babylon (in 605 BC) and about 94 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) and took more captives. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgment and deliverance of the Jews. Isaiah predicted that the judgment was imminent (Ch. 1-39), but they would be eventually restored (Ch. 40-66). It ends with restored people living on a restored earth under the rule of the Messiah.
In this portion of the book, Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Jews would be in exile in Babylon. Isaiah 63:15 – 64:12 is a prayer of those in exile seeking deliverance from their captivity. The prayer is answered in Chapters 65-66, which mentions the new heavens and the new earth.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17NIV).
“‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’” (Isa. 66:22).
This new creation is characterised by (Is. 65:17-25; 66:19-24):
- Longevity and no infant mortality (65:20)
- There will be death and therefore sin will be present (65:20), but Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2-3).
- Children will be born (65:23)
- No war or calamity (65:23)
- Wild animals will be tame and not dangerous (65:25)
- Jews return to Jerusalem (66:20)
- Jewish worship and priesthood will be re-established, which implies that the temple will be rebuilt (66:21)
- All humanity will worship the Lord (66:23)
- Resurrected Christians will rule the world with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:6)
So the Jews are promised a time of great blessing which has not yet occurred. When he spoke to Jews who rejected Christ, Peter called this the “times of refreshing” when God will “restore everything”, which was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:17-24). As it is referred to as a 1,000 year period in Revelation 20:1-7, this is often referred to as the Millennium.
Heaven and the Millennium
But those who trusted God before the death of Christ also go to heaven (God’s dwelling place). Although most of the promises they were given were physical (like the Millennium), 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” and “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). Therefore, the verses in Isaiah probably include the eternal state of heaven. The main difference between the two is that there is sin in the Millennium, but not in heaven. Their temporal relationship is shown in the timeline. The Bible indicates that the sinful world vanishes after the Millennium and before the eternal state (Isa. 51:4-6; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).
A new heaven and a new earth
The term “a new heaven and a new earth” is also mentioned two verses (2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 2 Peter 3 comments on those who doubt God’s final judgment of the physical world. They are called scoffers (v.3). As the earth was devastated by a global flood in Noah’s time, in future the universe will be devastated by a fire (v.6-7, 10-12). At this time the sinful world is replaced by a sinless one (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 21:1). This judgement occurs before the “day of God”, which is the eternal state. It’s God’s final triumph over sin and evil. Christians are told to look forward to the “day of God” and “a new heaven and a new earth” – these terms are equivalent. They are told, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). They look forward to God’s new creation where there will be no sin (Rom. 8:21). In this sense, it will be like God’s original creation. The physical universe will be transformed and renewed in a similar manner to the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:20-23). So it seems as though the eternal state has a physical component.
Most of the book of Revelation describes future events. These include the second advent of Christ as a warrior who defeats all His enemies (19:11-20), and then as a king who reigns over the earth for 1,000 years (20:4-6). The final event is the new heaven and new earth, which is the eternal state (21:1-22:5). John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).
This new creation is characterised by:
- God is present – it’s His home (22:3)
- No sadness, suffering or death and therefore no sin (21:4). It will be a place of harmony, peace and joy (Col. 3:20).
- Only Christians will be there – non-Christians are excluded (21:27). It’s their eternal home where they have a close relationship with the Lord (21:3, 7; 22:4).
- Christian will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
- Christians will be worshipping and praising the Lord, serving Him and reigning with Him (22:3, 5)
It is also described in: “Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?”
Lessons for us
We can see that those who trust God are promised a future time of blessing. It’s what they longed for (Heb. 11:16a; 2 Pt. 3:12-13). They look ahead and forward, not behind and backwards. Are we anticipating a time without sin and being in the presence of our Savior?
In view of this we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pt. 3:14). It should change our behavior. Are we pure? Are we blameless? Are we holy? Are we at peace or is there strife?
Written, July 2013
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.
Today I visited my nephew in hospital. He was in a critical condition with head injuries after a motor cycle accident. As he lay in a coma I was reminded of the fragility of life and the contrast to spiritual life and heaven.
Accidents happen. When Jesus was on earth 18 people died when the tower of Siloam collapsed in Jerusalem (Lk. 13:4).
Physical life depends on an adequate supply of oxygenated blood to our vital organs. In the big picture, life is brief. It’s transient. The Bible says it’s like a cloud or mist that appears for a while and then disappears. It’s also like a shadow and grass and flowers (1 Ch. 29:15; Job 7:6-10; Jas. 4:14; 1 Pt. 1:24). Life is unpredictable: “you do not even know what will happen tomorrow” Jas. 4:14 NIV).
Spiritual life is the main theme of the Bible. It says, “repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19NLT). This life is robust. It’s not interrupted by physical death (1 Th. 5:10). What a contrast to our physical lives!
Another difference is that there are no hospitals in heaven – God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Also, there are no cemeteries there. What a contrast to the sufferings experienced on earth (Rom. 8:18).
Can you look forward to a time when there will be no hospitals or cemeteries?
Written, July 2013
There are many choices in life and difficult decisions to make. The Bible tells us how to experience God’s guidance at these times. Proverbs 3:5-6NIV was written by King Solomon to the Israelites about 3,000 years ago and is still true for us today. It says:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
This passage on God’s guidance mentions our part, which is to trust and submit to God; and God’s part, which is to guide us through life.
First it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”. Who do we trust in? It’s dangerous to trust in someone who is unreliable and foolish. Here the Israelites were told to trust in their God who made the universe and who had led them from slavery in Egypt to Solomon’s mighty kingdom. Solomon’s father, King David, said “In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them” (Ps. 22:3). So they knew that God had answered their prayers for help and had kept His promise to make them into a great nation. We now know that God also provided a Savior for us in Jesus Christ, so today we can trust the Lord for both our eternal destiny and our daily lives.
How should we trust God? It says with all our heart or wholeheartedly like Caleb – five verses of the Old Testament say he followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Num. 14:24; Dt. 1:36; Josh. 14:6-14).
Second it says, “lean not on your own understanding”. It’s also dangerous to trust in no one except ourselves and act alone when making important decisions. Instead it’s better to consult with others. This applies even more with God because we don’t know what is best for us and others don’t have God’s insight and wisdom. If we make decisions without consulting the Lord, then we don’t allow Him to guide us.
Third it says, “in all your ways submit to Him”. We should not leave God out of our lives, but remember Him, acknowledge Him, seek His will and do it, and serve Him faithfully. This applies “in all your ways”, which is every area of our lives. Every day of the week, not just Sunday!
Summarising, our part is to trust and submit to God and not rely on ourselves. It’s to be a commitment like marriage.
God’s part is a conditional promise; if the Israelites did their part, God promised to do His part. Likewise; if we do our part, God will do His part.
The promise is given as a metaphor: “He will make your paths straight”. As paths lead to a destination, it means we will have direction and a sense of purpose as we progress towards His goals for us. There’s no doubt about it, “He will make your paths straight”. This promise is repeated in, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans” (Prov. 16:3).
There are many options and paths in life. Have you ever followed a GPS that guided you along a long route rather than the most direct one? This is a promise that God will guide us past the detours, the side tracks and the obstacles on the pathway of life and bring us to our goal and destination. If we don’t trust Him, we add obstacles and side tracks to our daily path, which hinder us from achieving God’s will.
How does God guide us through life? He can use principles in the Bible (Acts 17:11), answered prayer (Jas. 1:5), advice from godly Christians, circumstances coming together, and an inward peace (Phil. 4:6-7, Col. 3:15) along the pathway.
Let’s do our part by trusting and submitting to God, so He can do His by guiding us through life. Let’s realise that we can’t live for the Lord in our own strength.
Written, May 2013
I have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.
Instances in the Bible
Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7). When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.
When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.
King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39). When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).
The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).
The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).
Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.
In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.
What about Abram and Hagar?
Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).
According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.
However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.
Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).
The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.
Written, May 2013
Elevated status for Christian slaves
Some people use the mention of slavery in the Bible to criticise God and the Bible. Let’s look at what the New Testament (NT) says about slavery. The Greek word “doulos” (Strongs #1401) is usually translated as “slave” or “servant”. Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire, but it was not racist, as many races were involved. The slaves were usually prisoners of war or poor people. Slavery rescued captives from death and the poor from starvation at a time when there was no government welfare or charities. In the NT, slaves are told to obey their masters and a runaway slave is told to return to their master; so it appears to condone slavery.
You may think: what’s this topic got to do with us? Slavery is not prevalent today. We will see that the slavery described in the NT was like employment. As we look at what the NT says about slaves and their masters, we can apply these principles to us as an employee working for a client, team leader, supervisor or employer, or if we lead other workers.
Philemon and Onesimus
Philemon was a slave owner in Colossae which is now in Turkey (Philemon 8-21). As the church met in his home, he may have been an elder in the local church. One of his slaves, Onesimus had apparently stolen from him and run away. But Onesimus had met Paul in Rome and become a Christian and was now willing to return to his master and be reconciled. He was willing to resume his obligation to his master. Paul wrote this letter to ask Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, no longer as a slave but as a fellow Christian (v.16). What can we learn from this short letter?
First, Paul does not issue an order to Philemon, although he was confident of his obedience (v.21). Instead he presents reasons for forgiving and accepting his runaway slave and then makes an appeal on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus had become a believer in Rome – like Philemon he was now Paul’s spiritual son and that changed everything. He had a change of character, from an escaped thief to a Christian who helped Paul. From being “useless” to being “useful” (v.11). This is a word-play because the name Onesimus means “useful”. Paul even suggests that the reason Onesimus ran away was so that he could be converted and then return as a fellow Christian. Then Paul makes his appeal, “welcome him as you would welcome me” (v.17). He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back into his household so that they could be reconciled. Although Paul did not order Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery he seems to infer it by saying he knows Philemon “will do even more than I ask” (v.21). This was the legal way to liberation from slavery; whereas escaping was illegal.
Equal before God
According to the Bible, whether someone was a slave or a master it made no difference in their standing before God. Both were sinners bound for hell and both could be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22-23). All sinners are guilty before God and so are condemned to judgement. The Bible says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13NIV). Everyone includes both slaves and masters and whatever category you can think of. So salvation is equally available to all. It’s not like one’s social standing on earth; no one has any special privileges in this respect.
What about after they become a Christian by trusting in Christ for paying the penalty for their sin? The Bible says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). A Christian slave has the same position before God and the same inheritance as a Christian master. Social standing makes no difference in terms of salvation and its blessings. In this way, social distinctions disappear in God’s spiritual family; they are irrelevant. Such differences are replaced by equality and unity. All Christians have equal standing before God (1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11). Our unity in the family of believers transcends all other distinctions, including the social distinction, between slaves and masters. So slaves and masters and workers and team leaders have equal standing before God.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon he said that a Christian slave such as Onesimus was a “dear brother” who should be accepted as though he was the apostle Paul (Phile. 16-17)! What a change of status for a runaway slave! He now shared a common faith with his master. The principle here is “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). Because God had accepted Onesimus into His spiritual kingdom and Onesimus was serving God, then Philemon should accept him as a fellow believer. So Christianity elevated slaves to be equal with others in the family of God. By the way, this verse comes after Paul deals with matters of secondary importance in Romans 14 and Paul taught that whether a person was a master or a slave was less important than whether they were a Christian or not.
So our relationships with other believers should cut across the social barriers in our society. If God has accepted someone into His kingdom, we should accept them as fellow believers regardless of their social status. As a church we should accept any believer that seeks to follow God, regardless of their place in society. So a local church can be comprised of people with not only a diversity of nationality and culture, but also a diversity of position in society.
Also Christian slaves and their masters will be rewarded equally by God. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:7-8). So when they are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for the good things done for the Lord when they served others, there is no discrimination between slave and master, they are treated the same. There is no favoritism with God.
Christian slaves and workers
Let’s look at what the Bible says to slaves such as Onesimus and apply this to our working life. When a slave became a Christian they were to be content with their situation and not rebel and demand their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21-24). Instead they were to live the Christian life in their situation. But if they had an opportunity to be freed, they should take advantage of it.
“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves” (1 Ti. 6:1-2). Slaves must respect their masters because otherwise they may dishonor Christ’s name and Christianity.
“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Ti. 2:9-10). Christian slaves were to be loyal and trustworthy because their behavior could either help or hinder the gospel message.
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pt. 2:18). Christian slaves are told to respect and obey even hash masters. By enduring suffering, they were following Christ’s example. He suffered unjustly for the wrongs of others. As a worker are we willing to submit to a harsh client or boss? This is difficult in our day when we readily claim our rights, but forbearance is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:5-8). Slaves were to obey and serve their masters as it they were Christ. Do we give our client or boss good value? Do we work cheerfully and willingly? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we do, then we will be rewarded for this when we get to heaven. Once again how we work affects our testimony for Christ.
There are similar instructions in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). As Christians, all our work should be for the Lord. Even the most menial tasks are included in “whatever you do”. Do we serve and work as though we have two bosses: one on earth and one in heaven?
So slaves were to be content with their situation and respect their master submitting to their leadership and obeying them. What about us? Are we content with our work situation? Do we respect our team leader, submitting to their leadership and obeying them? Are we loyal and trustworthy?
Christian masters and team leaders
Let’s look at what the Bible says to slave owners such as Philemon and apply this to team leaders.
“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). They were to pay a proper wage and not exploit their workers because God was watching. Christian masters and team leaders should treat their workers with justice and fairness. The worker deserves their wages and it is the team leader’s responsibility to ensure they receive what is due to them. The worker may also deserve recognition and acknowledgement for a job done well.
“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Eph 6:9). They are not to be a bully who uses abusive or threatening language because they have a Master in heaven to whom they are accountable. Just because you may have more status on earth doesn’t mean you get preference in heaven.
As masters had positional power over slaves, so team leaders have positional power over their team. In the previous passages we saw that such power should not be abused. To put it in perspective, team leaders must report to higher powers. If not on earth, then certainly in heaven. Christian masters and team leaders are reminded of their Master in heaven.
If you are a team leader, are you devoted to the welfare of your workers (1 Ti. 6:2)? Do you treat them fairly or do you exploit them? Are you a bully? How we lead and manage others affects our testimony for Christ.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (v.18). Paul was willing to pay for whatever Onesimus owed to Philemon. He said “I will pay it back” (v.19). It seems as though Onesimus had stolen things from Philemon before he escaped and went to Rome. Now he was ready to make restitution so they could be reconciled, but Paul was going to make the repayment. Even though Onesimus was guilty of theft and was obliged to make the repayment, Paul said no, I’ll do it. Paul substituted for Onesimus. Because Paul stepped in, Onesimus could be reconciled with Philemon.
In this case, Paul is like Jesus Christ and we are like Onesimus because Jesus substituted for us. We are all guilty of going our own way and rebelling against God, which is called sin. The Bible says that because we have sinned we are eternally separated from God. But Jesus took the initiative and paid the death penalty for us so we can be reconciled with God. Because Jesus stepped into our world, we can be reconciled with God. Have you taken up His offer like Onesimus did with Paul?
So does the NT condone slavery? No, it mentions slavery because slavery was prevalent when it was written. The Bible records practices in society at the time, such as slavery, which it does not necessarily approve. For example, slaves were mentioned in some of Christ’s parables because they were common at that time. However, the NT does say that kidnapping slaves is as sinful as murder because it is stealing (1 Ti. 1:9-10).
The NT regulates slavery so that the slave of a Christian master was treated as well as an employee. There was to be no abuse or exploitation but justice and fairness. When the teachings of the New Testament are followed, the evils of slavery are removed. That’s why some translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave”.
It’s all a matter of priority. According to the NT, the top priority is to live for Christ, which is more important than improving one’s social status. The main purpose of the Bible is to show the way of salvation, not to reform society. Jesus didn’t come to reform society. He came to reform people. When people repent they have a change in attitudes and behaviour. Changes that come from the inside are more effective than those that are imposed externally such as political and social reforms. Likewise the primary task for Christians today is not to change political and social structures, but to further the gospel by offering forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Anyway, we won’t have a perfect society until Jesus comes again to rule in His millennial kingdom.
Lessons for us
How we work affects our testimony for Christ. In our work life is there: respect, submission, obedience, contentment, loyalty, honesty and wholeheartedness? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we lead others at work is there justice and fairness or are we a bully? Do we realise we are accountable to God? Let’s honor God at work.
Finally, do social distinctions hinder our relationships with other Christians or affect the unity of the church? Do we have favorites? Do we ignore others? Let’s honor God at church.
Written, April 2013
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
According to a recent Australian government inquiry, the story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli in Turkey in World War 1 is largely a myth. It was found that the accounts of Simpson’s exceptional bravery were based on false or faulty evidence and fraudulent witnesses. Also, a war correspondent embellished his account of Simpson and his donkey and this was repeated until Simpson became a hero and a legend. So the heroism of Simpson and his donkey is more myth than reality and more fiction than fact. It was found that his deeds were no more exceptional than those of hundreds of other stretcher bearers working at Gallipoli at the time.
The battle of Gallipoli was a disastrous defeat for the Allies which claimed the lives of about 8,700 young Australian men. It was in the context of this bad news that the good news story of Simpson and his donkey was created.
The demise of this hero shows the importance of reliable historical records and eyewitness accounts. When the historical records were examined the facts were established and the story was found to be unreliable. This can also be the case in movies where historical accounts can be embellished until they are more myth than reality and more fiction than fact.
If this can happen for an event that occurred about 100 years ago, what about an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago! What about the story of Jesus Christ in the Bible? Fortunately, the Bible is not a myth – see my post: “How many witnesses does it take to bust a myth”. It is based on multiple eye-witnesses and contains multiple accounts of Christ’s life and His resurrection.
The writers of the Bible were usually eyewitnesses of the events they documented. On the other hand, the legend of Simpson and his donkey was not written by eyewitnesses. That’s one reason why an ancient account can be more accurate than a modern one.
So the Bible is a reliable and robust historical account of events in ancient times.
Written, March 2013
I received a comment on my blog claiming that the Hebrew language didn’t exist until the Jewish exile in Babylon. So, what does the evidence say?
According to the Bible, all people spoke the same language until around 2200 BC when God caused different languages to develop at Babel and people scattered to form different nations across the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). This was the source of the diversity of human languages.
The Hebrew nation settled in Canaan in the 14th century BC. They occupied Canaan until the first Jewish captives were deported to Babylon in 605 BC and the second wave were exiled in 586 BC when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed (Dan. 1; 2 Ki. 25).
According to Wikipedia, the Siloam inscription records the construction of Hezekiah’s tunnel. The NIV Study Bible states that Hezekiah was king of Judah between 715 BC and 686 BC (2 Ki. 18:1-2). The tunnel, leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, was designed as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians, led by Sennacherib (2 Ki. 20:20; 2 Chr. 32:30). The inscription, which was discovered in the tunnel in 1880 and has been dated at 701 BC, is written in the “Biblical Hebrew” language, which uses the ancient Hebrew alphabet. So here we have a written example of the Hebrew language that dates at least 100 years before the Jewish exile.
Hebrew belongs to the Semantic family of languages which were used in the middle east. Geographically it was a Canaanite language like Phoenician, Ugaritic and Moabite. The Bible notes that Jacob’s language was different to Aramaic (Gen. 31:47). Scholars believe that Hebrew was spoken in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the 10th to 7th centuries BC.
Therefore, the reader’s comment seems to be inconsistent with the evidence available. It can be shown that the Hebrew language originated well before the Babylonian exile. In fact, Wikipedia claims that there is evidence of “Biblical Hebrew” as far back as the 10th century BC, which extends to the days of king David (2 Sam. 5:4). The Gezer calendar is dated in this time period.
Written, March 2013
When the armies of three nations ran out of water they sought the help of Elisha the prophet (2 Ki. 3:9-27). Elisha received a message from God saying that He would use a miracle to provide water for themselves and their animals. This happened on the following morning and God also used the appearance of the water to defeat their enemy. So God did more than they requested (Eph. 3:20).
The first part of God’s message as given in verse 16 has been translated in two ways:
- “Make this valley full of ditches” (NKJV). This emphasises that the armies were to dig the ditches (or pits) and then the Lord would provide the water.
- “I will fill this valley with pools of water” (NIV). This emphasises that God would provide the water.
See link for a comparison between different translations and a translation note from the New English Translation (NET). Here we see that both alternatives occur in more than one translation. The difference depends on whether the command is assumed to be literal or hyperbolic (a figure of speech). It has also been said that in this context “ditches” (or pits) and “pools” are nearly synonymous.
Possible applications to the two alternative translations are:
- Pray, listen to God and do all you can to accomplish His purposes, while trusting God to act.
- Pray and then wait and trust God to act.
Written, February 2013
What did Jesus mean when He said He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16)?
This statement is included in a description of how Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover festival with His disciples just before He was executed.
When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God”. After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Lk. 22:14-18NIV).
The Lord looked forward to this occasion because it was the last Passover that He would share with His disciples and the last Passover of His first advent on earth. He also looked ahead to the kingdom of God. The previous mention of the “kingdom of God” in the book of Luke is associated with a description of Christ’s second advent (Lk. 21:25-31). This means that the next time He would be on earth to celebrate such a Jewish festival would be during His millennial kingdom, after His second advent on earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus would eat no more Passover meals until this time.
Link to outline of events associated with the second advent.
As He is talking about a physical meal (v.15-16) and a physical drink (v.17-18), the Lord is addressing a future physical kingdom and not a spiritual one. At this time, the temple will be rebuilt, the Jewish priesthood restored and the Israelites will occupy their promised land (Ezek. Ch. 40-48). They will also resume Jewish festivals like the Passover (Ezek. 45:21). So, the future Passover is also physical like it was in the Old Testament (OT) times.
In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (Jn. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7). Through His sacrificial death on the cross He paid the penalty for our sin. In this way, Jesus was like the Passover lamb, which died as a substitute (Ex. 12:21-30). Furthermore, He was crucified on Passover day. But the fact that Christ has delivered sinners from hell and been victorious over Satan and the forces of evil will not be evident until He returns in great power to establish His kingdom on earth.
How is the Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God”? As the Israelites escape from slavery wasn’t realised until the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, so Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21). The purpose of the Passover was so the Israelites could settle in Canaan as God’s people, living according to His commands. But because they disobeyed and rebelled against God over many years, God allowed them to be invaded and scattered to foreign countries. After this God predicted the Gentile kingdoms that would rule over the Jews, culminating with a promise to establish His eternal kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44). So the victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalised when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth.
Soon after this passage in Luke, Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God” once again when He promised that the disciples would reign over the earth in the coming kingdom (Lk. 22:29-30; Rev. 5:9-10). So at this Passover, Christ looked ahead to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
At the Passover the OT Jews remembered their rescue from slavery in Egypt, whereas in the coming kingdom Jewish believers will remember that through the death of Christ, they have been rescued from the penalty of their sin.
In summary, Jesus hasn’t eaten the Passover since He ascended into heaven. Only after He returns to the earth as king to establish the kingdom of God on earth will He be able to celebrate the Passover again. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom.
Written, February 2013
Also see: An outline of future events