A New Zealand prime minister once said, “New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQs of both countries”. That’s slander; a false spoken malicious statement that damages someone’s reputation.
After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who couldn’t see or speak, the common people were astonished and wondered whether He was the Messiah. This enraged the Pharisees who claimed He did it in the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). That’s slander because Beelzebub is another word for Satan (Mt. 12:26) and Jesus said that He drove out demons in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). So they called the Holy Spirit, Satan or a demon! In saying that someone who was good was evil, they were totally wrong. Whereas as Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk. 4:16-21; 7:18-22).
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). He repeated, “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:32). The account is repeated in Mark, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29). He said that the reason for this was because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus said this because He “knew their thoughts” and their future behavior (Mt. 12:25). He knew they would continue to be hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They would stubbornly reject all the evidence before them and be blind to the truth. Forgiveness is impossible as long as one continues to reject the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Although the Pharisees observed His powerful miracles, they continued to oppose Christ until they convinced the Romans to crucify Him.
Jesus pointed out the Pharisees inconsistency (Mt. 12:25-29; 33-37). It makes no sense to say He’s a bad tree (demonic) producing good fruit (healings). Using this illustration, blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.
The Greek word translated “blaspheme” (blasphemis, Strong’s #988) means slander; speech that injures another’s good name. The ones who made these accusations were Jewish religious leaders who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem (Mk. 3:22). Because they thought their role was threatened by Jesus, they had plotted how they might kill Him (Mt. 12:14). So they were full of evil intent.
In this context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean swearing or bad language. As the Holy Spirit’s mission was to testify about Christ – “He will testify about Me” (Jn. 15:16), it was saying that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to reject Christ as the Messiah throughout their lifetime.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Th. 5:19). Also, it doesn’t apply to everyone who openly rejects Christ, because Peter and Paul did this but became leaders in the early church (Jn. 18:15-17; Acts 9:1-2). This sin is not based on a single act, but on someone’s spiritual state.
How does it apply today?
Can this unpardonable sin be committed today? There are two main views on this topic. First, it is not possible in the sense of Jesus being physically on earth performing miracles and being accused of being demon-possessed. Also, it is not mentioned in any of the letters in the Bible written to the church. Furthermore, the accusation of demon possession is rare because today many people reject the idea of a spiritual dimension to life.
Second, the outcome of this sin still occurs today. As long as people reject Christ as Savior, their sins cannot be forgiven and pardoned. Today the only sin that is unforgivable is that of not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Permanently rejecting Christ is an unforgivable sin (Jn. 3:18, 36). There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief. In this sense, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief that persists throughout life. But only God knows in advance if this will be the case.
If a person continues in apostasy (those in the early church who reverted to Judaism; rejection of Christianity by those who had professed to be Christians; false teachers), they are unforgivable – they can’t be brought to repentance while they continue to reject Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They continue “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They trample Christ underfoot, say His death was useless and insult the Holy Spirit. Persistent sin against the trinity leads to spiritual death. Such hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit is similar to the behavior of the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. As they can repent and be forgiven, apostasy is only unpardonable if it continues to death and only God knows this in advance.
As the Holy Spirit’s mission today includes convicting us of our sins (Jn. 16:7-8), is deliberate, hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent rejection of one’s sinfulness equivalent to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Written, March 2014
After Philip baptised the Ethiopian treasurer, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40NIV). Was Philip miraculously transported to Azotus, a town that may have been 30 km away? Luke, the author of Acts, would have heard about this event directly from Philip as he stayed with him in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9).
What happened to Philip is described by the Greek word harpazo (Strongs #726), which is translated above as “suddenly took”. The other occasion this word is used by Luke is when Paul was in Jerusalem and the Jews accused him of speaking against their religion: “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10). Here harpazo is translated “take by force”. In both cases someone is suddenly moved away from where they were – it is as though someone has seized them. In the second case it was via means of the troops and in the first case it was via means of the Holy Spirit.
In this brief account we are told that Philip left the Ethiopian suddenly after the baptism at the direction of the Holy Spirit. There is no clear evidence in the text that any other miracle was involved and such a miracle is not necessary to explain what happened. For example, Philip could have been shown that he had to leave the Ethiopian immediately and then travelled by the normal means of transport to Azotus. After all, that’s what happened when Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to travel to Macedonia instead of to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-10). In Paul’s case, they “got ready at once to leave for Macedonia”.
Philip’s sudden departure meant that the Ethiopian was unable to thank or reward Philip for his help. Instead of being occupied with the person God used to assist in his conversion, he was occupied with Christ as “he went on his way rejoicing”, which is much more important than Philip’s mode of travel.
Written, June 2012
The Bible is a collection of books which were written over a period of over 1,500 years with unique origin and content.
We will look at three statements about the source of the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16NIV). When written in ~67AD by Paul, this statement mainly applied to the Old Testament as not all the New Testament books had been written. But when Paul quoted from the book of Luke, he called it Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18) and Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). So today we can apply the statement to the whole Bible. This means that God is the source of every verse in the Bible.
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things (mind). For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The men who were given the message were called prophets. This passage emphasises that the words of Scripture were given by God via the Holy Spirit; and they didn’t originate from the prophet’s mind.
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). Once again, the Bible contains God’s wisdom, not human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-15). It’s “the thoughts of God” and the amazing things that “God has prepared for those who love Him”, which can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit.
As the Bible is the only book with God as the author, it is unique. The Bible is God’s message to us. The supreme God who created the universe and continues to sustain it has communicated with us. This also means that:
- The Bible has authority – coming from the ruler of the visible and invisible universe.
- The Bible is infallible. It is “completely reliable” as the source of truth, being absolutely true (2 Pet.1:19). The original text was without error and only minor copyist errors have occurred over the passage of time. When interpreted correctly, it never deceives us, never contradicts itself and can be trusted.
- The Bible is profitable. God has told us what we need to know. It’s like our instruction manual for life.
The Bible tells us the history of the universe from beginning to end. It begins with the creation of the universe and contains a history of mankind from Adam and Eve to the end of history. It describes the global flood that has shaped the earth and gives a detailed history of the Jewish nation, which is confirmed by archaeology. There is also a history of God’s dealing with mankind, a history of human failures, an accurate record of human behaviour and information about heaven and hell.
The Bible answers difficult questions, such as the following. Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? What can we hope for in the future? What is our destiny? Where has humanity come from? Why are we male and female? Where does marriage come from? Why is there suffering?
The Bible deals with our greatest problem (being God’s enemy instead of His friend) and our greatest need (to be reconciled with God) and how that was addressed by Jesus. God’s plan of salvation through Jesus is the theme of Scripture. We learn the way of salvation through the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15). It also provides assurance of salvation.
The Bible tells us what to know about the unseen world, including: God, angels, Satan, and demons. It describes the interaction between the unseen and seen parts of our world. It reveals what is God like; what has God done; God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It also reveals that humans are comprised of spirit, soul and body.
As the Bible is the only reliable source of this information, it is unique (Eccl. 3:11).
The Bible uses the following powerful images to describe itself:
- A sharp sword that penetrates and judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12-13). It is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).
- A light that shines in darkness (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). It illuminates the way ahead and guides us.
- A mirror that shows our true condition (Jas. 1:22-25).
- Food (milk and solid food) that sustains us (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).
- Water that purifies us as we obey Scripture (Eph. 5:25).
- More precious than gold (Ps. 19:10).
- Sweeter than honey (Ps. 19:10).
So, the Bible is not just another book, it’s God’s unique powerful message to us. Let’s read it, study it, memorise it and obey it.
Written, September 2011
Also see: Read the Bible in one year
Most of the examples of prayer in the Bible are addressed to God the Father. Jesus told His disciples that after He returned to heaven they should make their requests to God the Father in prayer “in my name” (Jn. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26). As the name of the Lord represents His character, to ask God for something in Jesus’ name does not mean to mention this in the prayer, but to pray in accordance with Christ’s will. In order to do this, we need to be in close fellowship with the Lord, knowing His desires.
Prayer should be “in the Spirit”, which means to pray as guided by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20). Praying in the Spirit also means praying in accordance with God’s will as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us through Scripture (1 Jn. 5:14-15). In fact the Holy Spirit prays for us “in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).
As the godhead comprises the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; what about prayer to the Son and the Spirit? Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). This is consistent with the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind (1 Tim. 2:5). It is the clearest example in scripture of a prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no instance in scripture of a person praying to the Holy Spirit or mentioning the Holy Spirit in a prayer. This may be related to the fact that the Spirit prays and intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit also helps believers pray to God as their Father (Gal. 4:6). If the Holy Spirit guides our prayers and prays for us, there is no need to pray to the Spirit. On the other hand, there is no scriptural warning against prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit.
There is no instance in scripture of a person praying to angels or to the saints in heaven. The Bible certainly doesn’t advocate prayer to those who are not members of the godhead.
Written, April 2004
God’s promises in Romans 8
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, in 56 AD, Rome was a great center of power and influence in the Mediterranean world. His letter contains the main doctrines of the faith, because the Christians there needed this basic instruction. Paul begins with the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then goes on to describe how to live the Christian life – the subject of Romans 8.
Struggling with sin
Messages in the Bible should be interpreted in context. In this case the context is Romans 7, often titled “Struggling with sin.” God gives Christians the Holy Spirit and a new divine nature, but they still have the old sinful nature (Rom. 7:25). The struggle between these two natures frustrates and discourages us. We want to please God, but fail. So did the Romans – and Paul. Here’s what he wrote: “I do not understand what I do … For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15-24 NIV).
Those at Rome needed to know how to deal with this inner struggle, and so do we. And that’s in Romans 8, which has three main themes: living by the Spirit’s power, the future glory of God’s people, and God’s love. The secret to overcoming our sinful nature and living the Christian life is to live according to the promises in Romans 8, particularly those relating to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and our sin nature are in constant conflict: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).
Beginning with the promise of “no condemnation” and ending with the promise of “no separation,” Romans 8 contains at least 14 additional promises for Christians: We are not condemned to be punished (v. 1); we have been freed from the power of sin (v. 2); we have life and peace (v. 6); we are led by the Holy Spirit (v. 14); we have fellowship with God (vv. 14-16); we have an inheritance (v. 17); we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23); the Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27); God is in control, and working for our good (v. 28); we will be transformed to be like Christ (v. 29); we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30); God is for us, and no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us (vv. 31-34); God will give us all things (v. 32); nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39).
Romans 8:1states that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul found the answer to his struggle with sin in Jesus Christ: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). All believers are sinners who have been forgiven. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, so we are free from sin’s dominion. This is important to remember when we face accusations, criticisms, feelings of guilt and worthlessness. To be “in Christ” means that God now sees us united with Jesus: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We need to remind ourselves of this truth and apply it by not putting ourselves down and by accepting other believers just as Christ accepted us (Rom. 15:7).
Empowered by the Spirit
Romans 8 describes how Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit in our struggle with sin: “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (v. 11). The consequences of the Spirit’s presence are described in Romans 8.
First, the Spirit has set us free from the power of sin (v. 2). Second Corinthians 7:13 confirms this: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Isn’t that our desire? God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins (v. 3). Jesus came to earth “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). Satan is defeated, but because we still have the sinful nature, our victory over sin will not be complete until we are with the Lord (Rev. 21:4).
Second, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that Christians are on the way to eternal life and peace (v. 6; Gal. 6:8). Both come through Christ’s sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; 6:23). We already have what many desire: a future to look forward to and assurance that God controls everything.
Third, we are led by the Spirit, who guides us into all truth (v. 14; Jn. 16:13). Christians are to “live by” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-25). The Spirit told Philip to go to the Ethiopian’s chariot and stay near it. After the Ethiopian was baptized, the Spirit suddenly took Philip away (Acts 8:29-39). Also, the Spirit told the church at Antioch to commend Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:2). The Spirit leads us through various means such as the Bible, prayer and other believers.
Fourth, we have fellowship with God: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). We are children in God’s family; the Spirit confirms this (v. 16). God is so close to us that we can call Him “Abba” (“daddy” in Aramaic). Slaves were forbidden to address the family head this way. Children shouldn’t fear their parents, we should not fear God.
Fifth, we have an inheritance: “If we are children, then we are heirs” (v. 17, Gal. 4:6-7). Shouldn’t the prospect of an inheritance excite us? The Bible calls us “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This is amazing when we realize that God owns everything! We will reign with Christ (Rev. 20:6). All creation looks forward to the time when our relationship with God is revealed. We have the Spirit as a foretaste of future glory. This is a great promise for those who suffer (vv. 17-23). But we don’t have to wait to experience God’s generosity. He has already given us His Son, the greatest gift, “will He not also … graciously give us all things” (v. 32).
Sixth, we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23). Just as He raised Christ from the dead, at Christ’s return the Spirit will resurrect and change the bodies of all believers (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Th. 4:13-18). We can look forward to bodies that will never wear out.
Finally, the Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27). Jesus said that the Spirit would be a helper who is always with us (Jn. 14:16). The Greek word describing the Spirit, “paraclete,” means a legal advocate, comforter or counselor. The Spirit understands our difficulties when we can’t even express them, and prays for us: He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). So we should pray to the Father guided by the Spirit and in His power (Eph. 2:18; Jude 20). When we are feeling weak, fearful or inadequate, remember that the Holy Spirit pleads for us.
God works for our good
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (v. 28). This verse does not say that all things are good or that we will be wealthy, healthy and safe from tragedy. It says that God is in control, and is at work in our lives to bring about His good purposes. Whatever the situation, God will bring good out of it. Of course, we may not always see it.
What does “His purpose” mean? In verse 29 we see that it means “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Whatever God allows in our lives is designed to make us more like Christ. Our lives are not controlled by the stars, chance or luck, but by a loving God who is working for us. This promise applies to “those who love Him” – to Christians. Those who do not have such a relationship with God have no hope and no one to turn to. For them life can seem futile. We should encourage others to accept Jesus as their Savior so God can work in their lives.
We will be transformed
God is in the business of making us like Christ (v. 29). As the Spirit works within us, we become more like Him in character, attitudes, responses and priorities. Our behavior will show more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). God knows all about us and is working to bring us to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:14-19). This process will be complete when Christ returns and we will be transformed – free from sin, and with resurrected bodies: “When He appears we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2; Phil. 3:21). The power for this transformation “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We need to allow the Spirit to make us more like Christ. Meanwhile, we experience frustration because we’re not there yet. Along with the rest of creation we groan until God’s purposes are fulfilled (vv. 22-23).
Paul writes that we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30). We are righteous before God and fit for His presence – free from the guilt, penalty, and power of sin. This is an outcome of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 4:25). Furthermore, we will share His glory. This is so certain that it is written in the past tense – as already done! This is true for all believers in Christ, showing that each believer has a wonderful destiny.
God is for us
Because God is for us, no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (v. 31). What difference does it make who is against us? With God on our side, any opposition ultimately faces defeat. If someone accuses us, we can tell them that our sins have already been forgiven, and the penalty has already been paid on the cross (1 Jn. 1:9). God has promised victory for His people amidst adversity (Mt. 16:18). We are victorious because Christ has died for us, has been raised from the dead and is now at God’s right hand pleading for us. With the all-powerful God helping us, no lesser power can interfere. We have God on our side.
The final section of Romans 8 emphasizes that nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39). People can be separated from each other by all sorts of trouble. Instead of separating us from Christ’s love, these things draw us closer to Him. Paul was convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love: Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither today’s fears nor tomorrow’s worries, not even hell’s power can keep us from God’s love. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus (vv. 38-39). The conclusion is that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Through Christ we have overwhelming victory (v. 37).
What a great list of promises to help us in our struggle with sin! Coming from God, they are more than promises, being privileges and truths to enjoy. God has given us everything we need to live for Him. We should be Romans 8 Christians, using the promises and resources He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our greatest ally in the struggle against sin. We are forgiven and freed from the power of sin; the Holy Spirit guides us and guarantees eternal life and peace; as children in His family, we have fellowship with God and a great inheritance; God works for our good in everything; we will be transformed and receive new bodies; we have been made fit for God’s presence and will share His glory; God is for us, so no one can accuse, condemn, or defeat us; nothing can separate us from God.
God empowers us through the Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the sinful nature (vv. 12-14). This means daily turning away from all known sins. We may need to help one another by confessing our sins to and praying for each other (Jas. 5:16). We should read the Bible each day to renew our mind (Rom. 12:2). Paul said think about “whatever is true … noble … right … pure … lovely … admirable … excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). What a striking metaphor! Our selfish feelings and desires have been killed.
Living in the Spirit means consulting with God about our priorities and not trying to do it on our own. This liberates us from the demands and expectations of others. Living in the Spirit involves both submitting to God and resisting sinful desires (Jas. 4:7) And thank God we have His power to do it!
Published, May 2002
How should we respond to Jude’s advice?
Build yourselves up in your most holy faith
The church. Are believers growing and maturing in the Christian faith? Is the younger generation being trained to maturity, so they can train the next generation (2 Tim. 2:2)? Are there processes to ensure this happens, whether in large or small groups? Do you know who your teachers are? Are they teaching? Are we teaching important principles and not majoring in minor ones? Are we teaching on current issues? Do we speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)?
Yourself. Are you ready to learn from the Bible and from others? Do you know your spiritual gifts? Are you a teacher? Should you be teaching others? Do you study the Bible? Do you have a teacher to help with questions you may have? Are you willing to respect the opinion of others on debateable matters where Christians may disagree?
Pray in the Holy Spirit
The church. Do we encourage people to get to know each other well enough to share their needs and to pray for the important issues of life? Does this include spiritual needs? Are there small groups where this can happen? Do you have people who can discern God’s will or do you function mainly according to custom and tradition?
Yourself. Do you pray for the needs of others and for God’s purposes? Do you have some friends that you can share and pray together with?
Keep yourselves in God’s love
The church. Is the Lord’s love evident in your meetings such as the Lord’s Supper and times of fellowship? Are these joyful occasions and ones where people are encouraged and will want to attend? Do you include new songs? What about fellowship with believers in other churches in your area? Remember, they are also part of the body of Christ.
Yourself. Do you attend and contribute to meetings where God’s love is expressed? Do you examine and judge yourself to stay in fellowship with God? Do you express hospitality to others?
Wait for the Lord’s return
The church. Do we give believers hope for the future by reminding them of the Lord’s return? Do we give people a reason to have an optimistic view of their future?
Yourself. Does this help you to live a pure life? Do you expect that the Lord could return at any moment of time?
Reach out to help others
The church. Do we encourage outreach by evangelists and missionaries? Do we identify and help those with this gift? Do we invite evangelists and missionaries to visit; share with them and help them practically?
Yourself. I hope you don’t isolate yourself from non-believers. Do you make friends with them so they can be introduced to the gospel? Do you pray for and support the work of evangelists and missionaries?
Written, April 2002
Jude’s advice on living for God
The letter of Jude addresses apostasy in the church. An apostate is someone who professes to be a believer but is not a true Christian—the Greek word means defection or revolt. They deny the fundamentals of the faith. Judas Iscariot is a good example—he travelled with Jesus and the apostles, but showed his true character when he betrayed the Lord.
The apostates at that time were the Gnostics who regarded matter as being inherently evil and spirit as being good. This lead to hedonism as a result of the idea that the body could do anything it wanted to. They were selfish immoral heretics, who denied that Jesus was God’s son, that He died for the sins of the world and that He rose back to life (Jude 4,18). They also divided the church and didn’t have the Holy Spirit with them (Jude 19).
How should a Christian respond to such opposition, gross sinfulness and ungodliness? In this case it was coming from within the professing church. Jude lists five things that they could do in this situation. These would apply to any believers facing opposition and ungodliness. It describes how Christians should live for God in a sinful world.
Build yourselves up in your most holy faith
The first activity is to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith” or build your lives on the foundation of your most holy faith (Jude 20NIV). The Greek word used for “build” in this verse is used elsewhere to describe:
- God and the Bible (Acts 20:32)
- teaching in the local church (1 Cor. 3:10, 12, 14).
- teaching of the writers of the New Testament (Eph. 2:20)
- Living as though Jesus is Lord: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). This is similar to Jude 20 and shows that the building is linked with being “strengthened in the faith”.
These are the things we should be building on and with—they are the contents of our belief, that is Christian “faith”. As they come from God, they are called “holy” (Jude 20).
Building up conveys a sense of growth and strengthening. Jude had urged them to “contend for the faith” (v.3) they had been given. This is a command to guard and defend Biblical truth. Similarly, Paul writes that believers should contend for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose them (Phil. 1:27-28). So the Christian faith as given in the Bible is entrusted to us and we need to know it well enough to defend it.
When we accept Christ as Savior and Lord, we begin a lifetime of spiritual growth—we are to keep on building: “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:23). This is a personal responsibility: “build yourselvesup”. Some effort is required here to respond to all God has given us in the Bible by assimilating it into our lives. Paul expressed a similar thought, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 3:18). There are two parts to this growth; grace and truth! This means becoming more like Christ (Jn. 1:14).
The fundamentals of the Christian faith should be taught by preachers and teachers and understood by believers. When this happens there is a response of thankfulness (Col. 2:7). Preachers, teachers and small group leaders are builders in the local church (1 Cor. 3:10-17). They may build using “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw”. Teaching can either be of lasting worth or only of passing value or of no value at all. It can be tested against the teachings of the Bible.
Paul and Barnabas strengthened believers and encouraged them to remain true to the faith (Acts 14:21-22 ). We should help each other in this: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11). So, it should be a corporate activity, not just an individual one.
Pray in the Holy Spirit
Next Jude writes that we should “Pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). This means to pray as guided by the Holy Spirit. It’s a part of living each day by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:18-20). We need an active prayer life. Share your life with God; after all you are His ambassador. Pray for each other. Paul doesn’t ask to be released from prison, but that he may declare the gospel.
Praying in the Spirit also means praying in accordance with God’s will as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us through Scripture. “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).
Prayer replaces anxiety with peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit prays for us! “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).
Keep yourselves in God’s love
Then Jude calls Christians to “Keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 21). The word “keep” has been used to describe how Jesus watches us and protects us from evil (1 Jn. 5:18; Jude 1). This would have been comforting to those experiencing persecution.
To “keep” often means to guard—Paul was guarded in prison (Acts 12:5,6; 16:23). He also guarded the Christian faith (2 Tim. 4:7). He asked us to guard our lives by keeping free from sin (1 Tim. 5:22). To keep yourselves in God’s love means to live in God’s love—to guard our lives so that His love controls us (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Of course, no-one can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). God always loves us, but when sin comes into our life we longer enjoy His love. Let nothing come between us and God—if it does, then confess it and turn away from it (1 Jn. 1:9). Then we can enjoy His love and let it influence us and express it to others.
Is God’s love central in your mind, will and emotions? Paul wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Th. 3:5). When this happens it is evident in how we live, “if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him (1 Jn. 2:5). Similarly, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (Jn. 15:10). Also, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (Jn. 14:21).
To live in God’s love means to show it to others (1 Jn. 3:16-18). So, it includes what we do as well as what we say. God’s love for us should flow through to our love for each other, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).
Another mention of “love” in Jude’s letter is the “love feast” (v.12)— a common meal eaten by early Christians before the Lord’s supper. Times of fellowship and the Lord’s supper should help us to live in God’s love.
Like learning Christian doctrine and prayer, living in God’s love has a corporate component—we can’t do it all by ourselves. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). We need to encourage one another in these important aspects of the Christian life whenever we meet together.
It is interesting to note that these first three activities were practiced by the early church; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Wait for the Lord’s return
Jude also urges Christians to “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). To “wait” means looking forward and expecting a favorable reception. Paul wrote that believers should “wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). Christ’s coming is to “bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28). When Christ returns He will come to take His people home to heaven. This is the next phase of God’s great work of salvation; they will be like Christ, with new bodies and free from the presence of sin (1 Jn. 3:2). Ultimately, we are looking forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13).
In the New Testament, the word “wait” is closely connected with how we live our lives. For example, we should “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” and be “eager to do what is good” while we wait (Tit. 2:12-14). Also, we “ought to live holy and godly lives” as we wait (2 Pt. 3:11-12). So waiting for the Lord’s return involves changing our behavior!
The prospect of the Lord’s second coming should encourage us; “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). We have hope regardless of what our situation may be. We should use it to encourage one another; we are on a journey and we haven’t reached our destination. The best is yet to come. It should help us to live godly lives—“Everyone who has this hope will keep themselves pure, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3).
Reach out to help others
Finally, Jude calls Christians to “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23).
In the case of apostasy in the church and those following false teachers there are three situations. Firstly, leaders and those actively promoting this behavior need to be dealt with firmly. This is the responsibility of the elders (Acts 20:28-31). For example, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 Jn. 10-11). We should not show hospitality to such people.
For the remainder there are two courses of action. Secondly, “be merciful to those who doubt”—show kindness by helping and correcting them. The word “doubt” means lack of faith. Jesus expressed mercy in healing the demon-possessed man, while lack of mercy is illustrated by the servant who should have forgiven his fellow-servant (Mt. 18:33; Mk. 5:19). We need to reach out compassionately to these people and help them replace their doubts with true Christian faith. This is how Jesus responded to people, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). So He healed, fed and taught them (Mt. 14:14; 15:32, Mk. 6:34).
Thirdly, “snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”. Remember Lot had to be snatched from the city of Sodom before it was destroyed (Gen. 19:15-17). Some need strong warning, instruction or action to stop them following false teachers or to remove them from bad situations. But be aware of the influence of sin. In Old Testament times the clothing of those with infectious skin diseases such as leprosy had to be burned (Lev. 13:47-52). This illustrates the care that must be taken when dealing with people who have been involved with serious sins. Sin is tempting and can be contagious, we must do all we can to avoid catching it. In these situations it is best not to act alone; get others to pray and help in any rescue mission.
Those living in fellowship with God will show mercy to others (Jas. 2:13). An example of “mercy mixed with fear” is “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
Of course, like Jesus, our compassion should reach those outside the church. We should encourage each to reach out to those who don’t know God and who are slaves of sin.
Living for God today
Today we often face apathy rather than apostasy. I think Jude’s advice applies in both situations. What world view are you building your life on? What are you keeping because of its value? What are you waiting for in anticipation? Are you praying? Are you reaching out to help others?
Whatever challenge you face, contend for the faith by following Jude’s advice. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith—learn about it from the Bible, which is how God speaks to us. Pray in the Holy Spirit—speak to God. Keep yourselves in God’s love—apply the Bible to your life. Wait for the Lord’s return and reach out to help others. These should be top priority for Christians and for local churches. We can’t control what happens around us, but we can influence our response to it and live godly lives.
If you are faithful in this, God promises to “keep you from falling” down here (like apostates and false teachers) and to “present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” up there (Jude 24). Then you will respond in praise, “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” (Jude 25).
Written, April 2002
About 4,000 years ago Abraham received some special promises when God spoke to him. The bible contains many other promises as well and in this article we look at some key promises given for Christians today. As Abraham had to listen in order to hear God’s promises to him, we should read the Bible to know God’s promises for us.
A survey of the New Testament
The Greek word for promise is “epangalia”. This article is based on a survey of every occurrence of this word and its close derivatives in the New Testament that relate to God’s promises—this was 60 verses, which are all referenced below. I am assuming that these verses indicate God’s key promises for Christians living between the day of Pentecost and the rapture. We will look at the context of these verses to help discover—what message did they convey to those of the early church and what is their message for us?
The topics that relate to the word “promise” in these verses are listed in the table below. It is interesting that half of the verses relate to promises given to Abraham and his descendants—the majority of these being in the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. This is not surprising as a majority of the early Christians were Jewish and the Old Testament was the only Scripture that the early church possessed. Therefore, God often used illustrations from the Old Testament. Also, these books deal with topics of those times, such as the fact that justification by faith and not works is taught in the Old Testament, and with the trap of legalistic Judaism.
Key promises mentioned in the New Testament
|Given to Abraham and his descendants||32||53|
|Second coming or end times||6||10|
|Children of God||1||2|
|All God’s promises||2||3|
Old Testament promises mentioned in the New Testament
The greatest occurrence of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament relates to the promises given to Abraham and his descendants (Acts 7:5,17; Rom. 4:20-21; 9:4, 8, 9; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 6:13; 7:6; 11:9,13,17,33). The three main messages in these passages are summarised below:
Firstly, God keeps His promises—Isaac was born “as the result of a promise” (Gal. 4:23NIV). “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). This happened because of Abraham’s faith and God’s power (Heb 11:11).
This was an important message for the early church, particularly in times of persecution. They knew that their sins had been forgiven and they had a home in heaven. This gave them hope and security. It is also important for us during difficult and disappointing times—if we can’t trust in God, who can we trust? No-one. In a post-modern world, characterised by change and instability, it can be difficult to trust in God. When our faith is weak we act as though God is a part of creation; but of course God is not like us—He is reliable and always keeps His promises.
Secondly, Jesus was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:23,32; 26:6; Heb. 11:39). Paul wrote, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (Rom 15:8). The remainder of this sentence says Christ came so that the Gentiles would also praise God. When sinners put their faith in Christ, they share in the promises given to Abraham (Gal. 3:29; 4:28).
As already mentioned a majority of the early Christians were Jewish. When they realised that Jesus was the Messiah, they converted from Judaism to Christianity and this truth about Jesus would have featured in evangelism to the Jews. For example, on the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” and Stephen told the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, “you betrayed and murdered the Messiah”.
The message for us is that all God’s promises are fulfilled through Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). Paul writes that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing because we belong to Christ. The promises in the Old Testament look ahead to Christ and those for the future rely on His great sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Finally, God’s promise of salvation (and eternal life) is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt. In Romans 4 Paul shows how the gospel is in harmony with the Old Testament—God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith in Him (Rom 4:13-14)—“The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). The Old Testament law was only a temporary measure until the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:17-19, 21-22). So, eternal life is guaranteed to those who have faith in God like Abraham did (Heb. 11:11).
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the Jews in the times of the early church. They endeavored to live in strict accordance with the Old Testament law as interpreted and amplified by the scribes and their tradition and they believed in salvation by works. Consequently, the message of salvation by faith and not works was a vital distinction between Christianity and Judaism.
This truth is also important for us as it is fundamental to the Christian faith. Salvation is a gift that God promises to those who receive it by faith. There is no way we can earn our salvation. As a result of this salvation all believers are assured of participating in and receiving the remaining promises.
The second most prevalent topic associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament is that of eternal life. When we accept Christ as Savior, we receive eternal life which is valuable now and when we get to heaven. Eternal life enables us to live for Christ today and to look forward to life after death (1 Jn. 2:25; 1 Tim. 4:8). Eternal life is one of the “better promises” in the new covenant that came though Christ (Heb. 8:6). It is shared by all believers—there is no distinction based on race or any other difference between believers (Eph. 3:6).
As Paul wrote concerning “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”, people who followed God in Old Testament times will be included in those who share eternal life (Tit. 1:2).
Heaven, the place of eternal rest is still available to all who believe in Christ (2 Tim 1:1; Heb 4:1; 6:17). It is an “eternal inheritance” for all those who have been freed from the penalty of their sins by Christ’s death (Heb 6:12; 9:15; Jas. 2:5). All believers have eternal life and are looking forward to new bodies, the marriage supper of the Lamb and living with the Lord.
Heaven also includes rewards given at the judgement seat of Christ for service done for the Lord. For example, those who persevere under trials are promised “the crown of life”, which may be a deeper appreciation of eternal life in heaven (Jas. 1:12).
As God promises eternal life as a gift to sinners who receive it by faith it is guaranteed to all believers (Rom 4:16). We can be confident of this based on God’s Word, because we can’t earn salvation by good works.
Some in the early church thought Jews were privileged and so they looked down on Gentiles. But the fact that they both had eternal life and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit illustrated that there should be no barrier between them—Christianity is multinational! The same applies today—we should accept all true Christians as Christ would—regardless of differences in race, in status, or in gender.
The Holy Spirit
The word “epangalia” in the New Testament is also often associated with the topic of the Holy Spirit. Before His ascension, Christ promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come as had been promised in the Old Testament (Is. 44:3; Ezek. 36:27; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4). The Holy Spirit is God and He gives believers a divine power. This happened initially on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33). This promise was for all believers, whether they were Jews (“you and your children”) or Gentiles (“all who are far off”) (Acts 2:39).
The Holy Spirit indwells a believer when they trust in the good news of God’s offer of salvation—“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph 1:13). This pattern—hearing the message, believing it, and then receiving the Holy Spirit—was evident when Peter spoke at Cornelius’ house. The gift of the Holy Spirit is part of the blessings that were promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:14).
These verses also teach that the Holy Spirit is a sign that we belong to God and that He will protect us and will keep His promises.
This promise is equally important to the early church and to us. The New Testament is full of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and they are instructed to “be filled with the Spirit”. He is God with us on a continual basis—God speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit. He is a great helper and teacher and will remind us of relevant Scripture.
Second coming or end times
The second coming of Christ and other future events are also often associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews was written for those struggling with leaving Judaism for Christianity, who were encouraged to preserver until they received the reward that God had promised (Heb. 10:36). This reward is explained in the next verse as being when Christ returns to take Christians to be with Himself at the rapture. It is important that our present circumstances do not cause us to forget about the wonderful future that God has promised us—“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). God is reliable and will keep His promises.
Scoffers say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?”—they do not believe that God is coming to judge the world (2 Pt. 3:4). So, why has there been a long delay in the coming of God’s judgement? The reason is that He is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). He is giving people every opportunity to be saved. He waited 120 years before He sent the flood and has waited thousands of years before destroying the world with fire.
God has promised many awesome demonstrations of His power after He takes the believers to be with Himself during the rapture (Heb. 12:26). But, believers are to look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13). This is the eternal state after God has triumphed over Satan and evil.
This expectation can help believers through life’s struggles—whether they live in the first century or today. It gives them an eternal perspective.
Children of God
The promises of 2 Corthinians 7:1, mentioned in the previous verses, include that believers are “sons and daughters” of God the Father and that God welcomes those who stand against evil. There are two relationships here: between a child and a parent and between siblings. As a result of this promise, we receive blessings from God and from one another.
A parent has special care for their child who they nurture and encourage from infancy to adolescence and then to adulthood—that’s how God cares for us. Meanwhile a child is to obey their parents—and Christians are to obey and imitate God.
Although siblings can be rivals, they share a common family and the same parents. As a consequence of this relationship, most of us help and care for others in our family. Likewise believers, who follow the same Savior and share the same destiny, should care for one another.
The illustration of being children of God applies to the early church and to today. All believers need to appreciate they serve a loving Father. However the situation regarding relationships between believers has changed in the past 1,900 years. The early church was small and all believers fellowshipped with one another, except when dictators such as Diotrephes had their way. Today there are different Christian denominations and we need to remember we are children in a global family comprising believers from all Christian denominations, not just the one we happen to support. The Bible emphasises that God has no favorites, nor should we.
All God’s promises
The remaining instances of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament are two verses that relate to all of God’s promises. We mentioned earlier that all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
God has given us everything we need to live for Him including “His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4). It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 promises in the Bible. They are “very great” because they help us do such things as:
- “participate in the divine nature”—as we appreciate what God has promised, we become more like Him, and
- “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”—God’s promises can help us resist temptation—when temptations come we should claim the promises.
Application to us
These promises can have a strong influence on our lives when we remember:
- We follow a God who keeps His promises—look back at history. Our God is reliable and trustworthy.
- All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ – Christ has “better promises” than any others in the world because they are given by the God who made the universe and continues to sustain it.
- Salvation is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt—this is a fundamental of the Christian faith.
- The Holy Spirit is God with us on a continual basis—we should be more aware of His presence as all our power to live for Christ comes from the Holy Spirit.
- We are children of God—we have a global family and should welcome fellowship with other believers. The early church was not restricted to a small community—it witnessed in Jerusalem, then Judea the southern section of Palestine, then Samaria in central Palestine and then to the ends of the earth. Like evangelism, our fellowship should spread out across the land. Paul had to be reminded by the Lord when he was in Corinth; “I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city”. We need to be aware of other believers in our community who are also a part of the body of Christ and not avoid them or isolate ourselves from them.
- We should be looking forward to Christ’s return to fulfil His promises concerning the future. This includes eternal life in heaven and seeing Jesus exalted to the highest place and seeing every knee bow before Him and hearing every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and singing together with all creation, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
- God doesn’t reveal His promises to us unless we read them in the Bible—so we need to: read them, understand them, meditate on them, and store them in our memories. If you have trouble sleeping at night, then be like David who wrote, “I lie awake at night thinking of your promises” (Ps. 119:148). Then we can say, “I have hidden your word in my heart” (Ps. 119:11). As a consequence you will realise that they are great promises and they will become precious to you, and The Holy Spirit will recall them when you need refreshment and encouragement—“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles” (Ps. 119:50).
Written, March 2003
The word “Christian” means a follower of Christ. The beginning of a new year is a good time to focus on some of the words He spoke – in particular, His first words, His most important words and His last recorded words – and determine how well we are following Him.
His First Words
When He was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind to talk with the teachers in the temple while His parents headed for home after the festival of the Passover. When they returned and found Him, Mary said, “‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:48-52 NIV).
The two different fathers mentioned in this passage show the two main relationships of His youth. First, He was aware of His unique relationship with God. At 12 years, He was doing God’s business. Of course, that’s why He came to earth. One example of this relationship was that He prayed regularly. Second, He obeyed His parents. They were part of His human family. Later He said, “Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). All believers are part of His spiritual family. One example of this relationship was His compassion for people. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and wanted to care for them like a hen cares for her chicks (Mt. 9:36; 23:37). So, this incident and the Lord’s first recorded words show that His two main relationships were with God and with people.
His Most Important Words
During His ministry, one of the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mk. 12:29-31).
The Jews had at least 600 laws at this time. When asked which was the most important, Jesus said to put God first and people next. He simplified their complex religious requirements into two relationships – with God and with others. Our priorities should be likewise – God first, people next and selfish things last.
His Last Recorded Words
Before Jesus ascended, the apostles asked Him: “‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:6-9).
They expected the earthly kingdom to commence, but didn’t know that this wouldn’t happened until after the gospel was taken to the Gentile nations. Instead the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to give them power to witness for Him across the known world. Witnessing is introducing people to God. This mission for the apostles, which is also the Church’s mission, involves the two relationships already mentioned – with God and others. They would no longer have the Lord to guide them physically, but all believers now have the Holy Spirit to guide them spiritually.
Starting today, let’s devote our lives to God’s business – really giving Him top priority, and really loving one another – the essence of Jesus’ most important words.
Published, January 2010
In this Series on 1 Thessalonians we have seen that Paul visited and preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. Because he couldn’t visit them for some time, he wrote a letter of encouragement. From 4:1 to 5:11 Paul reminded them how to please God – avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. Instead of grieving for those who had died, they were to look forward to being reunited with them and to be awake and sober as they looked forward to the Lord’s return. Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with the elders, other believers and God.
Living With Church Leaders
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NIV
These verses address leadership in the local church. The Bible teaches that each church is to be led by a group of qualified elders who share this responsibility. Several characteristics of elders are mentioned here. They are to “work hard” at caring for people. They are to be “over” the congregation, meaning that they are to maintain or rule. In other letters Paul said that they “direct the affairs of the church” and “lead” (1 Tim. 5:17; Rom. 12:8). Both Paul and Peter likened their care to spiritual parents caring for a family (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Elders are also to “admonish” or gently reprove the congregation. Paul used the same word when he told them to warn anyone who didn’t obey his instructions (2 Th. 3:15). Elders are to remind the church of God’s truths and the dangers of living a self-centered life.
In this passage, the congregation was given two responsibilities with respect to the elders. It was to “respect” them. This Greek word is translated as “acknowledge” (TNIV), “know” (KJV), “recognize” (NKJV), “appreciate” (NASB) and “honor” (NLT). The congregation needs to know the elders if they are going to trust and follow them. They are also to “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else.
In this context Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (1 Th. 5:23; Gal. 5:22). There is a need to value all the elders, as favoring one divides the congregation. Also, elders should serve the whole congregation, not just part of it. Paul wrote elsewhere that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace” and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 14:19; 12:18).
Living With Believers
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15
Here Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-11). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that “anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior (2 Th. 3:10-13). This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.
“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work.
“Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. Paul also taught that we shouldn’t stumble those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1-15; 1 Cor. 8:13). They need our encouragement, friendship and help.
Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). When someone hurts us, we should not get angry and retaliate, but rather seek reconciliation (Mt. 18:15-17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.
Living Before God In All Circumstances
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Paul began with “Be joyful always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. In Philippians 4:4 he added that our rejoicing should be “in the Lord.” This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1 Th. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.
Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. For example, when Peter was in prison, the believers prayed and he was released (Acts 12:1-19). We should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).
Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Believers should be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7) even in the trials and difficulties which mature us. We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. Daniel prayed three times a day, “giving thanks to his God” even though his life was in danger (Dan. 6:10-12). We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.
Living Before God As He Guides
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church. This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to keep the Spirit’s fire burning by following Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and by following the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. Paul also said that those listening to prophets should discern or “weigh carefully” what they say (1 Cor. 14:29). They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful. There are different aspects to sanctification (holiness), and here he addressed progressive sanctification. Paul prayed that their sanctification would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul.
It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28
After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. The kiss was a normal greeting of that day, similar to a handshake in western countries. It expressed friendship with fellow believers. Paul wanted “to have this letter read to all” brothers and sisters, a statement not found in any of his other letters (5:27); he thought it was that important. We should read it with this in mind.
Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.
Lessons For Us
Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.
May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.
Published, June 2009
See the next article in this series:
- Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)
See the first article in this series:
- Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.” – Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV
These verses from Ephesians 1 summarize what God has done for believers. They were written by Paul to believers in Ephesus, but they also apply to us today. What a wonderful record of favors and gifts! Here we see that God the Father is the source of our salvation (1:3-6), Jesus Christ is the means of our salvation (1:7-12) and the Holy Spirit is the proof of our salvation (1:13-14). Each believer’s blessings are associated with each member of the Godhead. We are very rich in the invisible spiritual dimension of life.
Before the creation of the world, God the Father chose us to be part of His holy people (election). He did this by adopting us as children into His family (adoption). As slaves were freed from captivity by the payment of a ransom, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins by His death (redemption). This means that our sins are now forgiven (forgiveness). God’s plan for the universe – to bring everything in the material and spiritual world under the authority of Christ – has been revealed to us (dominion). The presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer is our mark of divine ownership and security (sealed). He is a deposit or guarantee of all that God has promised (inheritance). These blessings can’t be bought with money and they can’t be taken away by tragedy.
It is clear that the Lord Jesus is the center of God’s plan of salvation. Eleven times in these 12 verses of Ephesians 1 we read: “in Christ” or “in Him” or “in the one He loves” or “through Jesus Christ.” This is also expressed in song by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty: “In Christ alone my hope is found.” These blessings are our source of security, joy and hope. Are you enjoying them?
God deserves all our praise for His wonderful kindness (1:6) shown in the many spiritual blessings He has for those who trust Him (1:14). The believer’s purpose in life is to praise God, and He has given us many reasons to do so (1:3,11,12).
Published, May 2008
God is three persons in one – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19; Acts 2:32-33; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). In a way that only He can understand, God is a trinity: three in one and one in three. The relationship between each member of the Godhead and the believer is outlined below.
First, God is their Father (Jn. 20:17; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:6-7) and they are His children (1 Jn. 3:1). He has a great inheritance for them. God hears their prayers and forgives them when they confess and repent (Acts 8:22, Eph. 3:14-19; Col. 1:3). In response, they should serve God the Father (Rev. 1:6).
Second, the Lord Jesus Christ (the Son) is now in heaven preparing a place for them (Mk. 16:19; Jn. 14:2). When they sin He defends them and pleads their case (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). He also sustains the universe they live in (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
Third, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would live in all His followers (Jn. 14:17; Acts 2:38-39). The Holy Spirit is their counselor, advocate, intercessor and comforter (Jn. 16:7). He teaches and reminds them (Jn. 14:26); testifies about Christ (Jn. 15:26); convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11); guides them into truth and reveals the things of God to them (Jn. 16:13-15); calls them to specific ministries (Acts 13:2-4); forbids certain actions (Acts 16:6-7); intercedes for them in prayer (Rom. 8:26-27); guides their prayers (Jude 20); and changes their character to be more like Christ (Gal. 5:22-25).
It is good for the believer to know and understand what each member of the Triune Godhead is doing for those who are His.
Published, October 2007