Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christian living

An attitude of gratitude

Let's thank God for transient blessings and for enduring blessingsCharles Swindoll said, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life… Attitude is more important than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, or a church, or a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past; we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you, we are in charge of our attitudes.” But how can we cultivate a lifestyle (or attitude) of thankfulness? (more…)


What about climate change?

Roy Morgan’s 2019 survey found that Australians regard environmental concerns as the major problem facing the world. This included climate change, water conservation, pollution, rubbish, famine, and cutting down rainforests. And economic concerns came next.

What does the Bible say about the natural environment? Should Christians care for the environment, or doesn’t it matter?

Biblical worldview

This post looks at the natural environment from an understanding based on the Bible, which is God’s message to us. This leads to different understandings compared to if we reject what the Bible says. It’s a theistic viewpoint, not an atheistic one. The Bible says that the universe was formed miraculously by God’s command (Ps. 33:6-9). People can look at the same world, but their interpretation depends on their worldview. It’s like wearing glasses. For example, clear glasses give a brighter view than sunglasses. (more…)


Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves

The media in Australia and other community gatekeepers treat abortion as a settled question. As a consequence, that’s how most Australians view the issue. We’re encouraged to think that, in the past, an important victory was won for women. And now, instead of being bullied to bear and care for children they never wanted, women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies – because, ultimately, abortion is a woman’s issue.

But abortion is not and never will be a settled question. (more…)


The benefits of forgiveness

Most of us avoid forgiveness like the plague because we do not want to look at our wounds. Wounds are scary, they are nasty, they are icky, it is why most of us look away when we donate blood. It is way easier to take all of that emotion and channel it into rage at another person.

In a stunning example of forgiveness, the Muslim father of one of two eight-year-old boys killed when a car crashed into a school in Sydney in November 2017 publicly forgave the woman who killed his son. He said, “We have a special message here for the lady that was involved in the accident. We want to sit with her and talk with her and tell her ‘we forgive you’. No retaliation is coming from the family of the boy, they have forgiven”. The boy’s family also disapproved of any harassment of the driver involved in the accident that killed the boys.

This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on Forgiveness by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan. It’s not an easy topic because we live in a broken guilt-driven community. But it shows the benefits of living a forgiven life – forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing. (more…)


Continual Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a North American holiday celebrated in November. It’s a day of feasting, family and football that began as a day of giving thanks for a successful harvest. The Thanksgiving meal often includes seasonal dishes such as roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

The healing of Namaan in 2 Kings 5 is an example of thanksgiving in the Bible. Namaan was a commander in the Syrian army who was healed of an incurable skin disease like leprosy when he followed instructions given by the prophet Elisha. It’s an illustration of the gospel (good news about Jesus). The disease is like sin (our main problem). The healing is like having one’s sin forgiven and peace with God. Namaan received God’s blessing even though he was a Gentile and not an Israelite. He changed from being an enemy of Israel to worshipping their God. The good news about Jesus is that sinners can have their sins forgiven and live forever with God. (more…)


The best way to live

Applying the Bible to our lives

These days many of us get our sense of right and wrong from movies. Although some of our superheroes may act like a self-sacrificing Messiah in battles to save the world, the lessons in movies are usually determined by ungodly people who want to entertain us.

When I googled “How to live”, there were 20 billion results on the internet! If I took five seconds to read each one, it would take over 30 years of reading continuously! How can we know which is the best way to live our lives? These are all the subjective opinions of many people. We can save wasting a lot of time by following the objective opinions of the God who made the world and who knows all about us. And it doesn’t take years to find because He has communicated to us in the Bible. The Bible is often called “God’s word” or “the word” because it’s a message from God. (more…)


Failure isn’t final

Our car 2 400pxA few years ago our car was involved in an accident and was written off by the insurance company. It wasn’t worth fixing and they refunded the agreed value of money so we could buy a new car. The old car had failed. It was no longer useful for us. Sometimes if we fail, we can think that we are useless to God. It’s feeling like we are written off.

Its been said that everyone makes mistakes and “the only one who never makes a mistake is the one who never does anything”. We all fail sometimes in life. We all have weaknesses. And these can lead to embarrassment, shame, guilt, disappointment, depression, giving up and wondering whether we will ever be forgiven. The important question is “How can we survive failure?”.

In this post we are going to answer this question by looking at the life of Peter in the Bible.

Context

Simon Peter was a fisherman who lived at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of Jesus’ early disciples. Peter was a leader amongst the disciples as he was a natural leader and was probably the oldest one. After he spent three years following Jesus, he was an apostle who taught the church and wrote some of the New Testament, and he was an elder in his local church.

Peter was impulsive and impetuous. He was usually the first to act and speak his mind. He was enthusiastic. A man of action. Because of this, he often failed. Here are seven examples of this:

  1. Peter rebukes Jesus

When Peter was at Caesarea Philippi (north of the Sea of Galilee), he said that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Soon after this we read that: From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mt 16:21-23NIV).

When Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. Peter thought the Messiah would be triumphant and victorious and not go through suffering, rejection, and death. But he was wrong. Jesus said that Peter was influenced by human concerns (like power and status), rather than the concerns of God who was to use what Jesus went through as a suffering servant to offer salvation to humanity.

So Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!”, which means “get away from me”. Peter protested against Christ’s death, but that was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. The cross is God’s plan for delivering humanity from their sin. Peter acted like Satan. He was influenced by Satan, and was talking like Satan. Satan tries to discourage people from obeying God. He tempts us to take the easy path.

This incident shows that the death of Christ for our sins is not an option, but a divine necessity. There’s no other way to get right with God.

So Peter failed when he rebuked Jesus and tried to get Jesus to avoid going to the cross. He was ignorant of God’s plan. It’s an example of his self-centred audacity.

  1. Peter treats Jesus like another prophet

About a week later, Peter was taken up a high mountain and was privileged to see a vision of what it will be like when Jesus comes to reign over the earth. Mark says that, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” (Mk. 9:2-7).

He saw Jesus in dazzling white talking about His death with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:30). Peter suggested putting up three shelters, one for each of them. He put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But by speaking from a cloud God rebuked Peter for comparing Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They aren’t equals, because Jesus is Lord over all. When Jesus reigns, He will be pre-eminent above everyone else.

The Bible says that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” and “He did not know what he was saying” (Lk. 9:33). So he rushed in and said the first thing that came into his mind!

This incident shows us that Jesus is the unique Son of God. He’s not just a human prophet like Moses and Elijah.

So Peter failed when he spoke before thinking. It’s called putting your foot in your mouth! Or shooting yourself in the foot. And he missed the bigger picture of seeing Christ’s glory.

  1. Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet

In biblical times, the use of open sandals made it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. A servant usually washed the feet of a host’s  guests. When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples, He began to wash the disciple’s feet. This shocked Peter. He thought it was wrong. So Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn. 13:6-9).

Peter didn’t stop to think about the spiritual significance of the foot washing. Because sin destroys our fellowship with the Lord, Peter needed spiritual cleansing. The external washing was a picture of cleansing from failure and sin. It symbolized Jesus washing away a person’s failure and sin. But Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ path to the cross.

This incident shows Jesus as a humble servant. It was before His greatest act of service.

So Peter failed when he resisted having Jesus wash his feet. He told Jesus not to do it. Fortunately he changed his mind soon after.

  1. Peter fell asleep when Jesus prayed

After the last supper, Jesus took Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them to “Stay here and keep watch” and “pray that you will not fall into temptation”, while He prayed. He asked God the Father if there was any other way by which sinners could be saved other than by His death, burial and resurrection. But there was no other way. And Jesus wanted His followers to understand the importance of prayer during difficult times.

Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). He came back and found them sleeping three times! They couldn’t stay awake when Jesus faced the thought of becoming a sin-offering for humanity. They slept when they should have been praying. They couldn’t stay awake.

This incident illustrates our human weakness.

So Peter failed to obey Jesus when he slept instead of keeping watch and praying. And later that night Peter did fall into temptation when he denied knowing Christ.

  1. Peter attacked the servant of the high priest

When Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10-11). He was trying to stop Jesus being arrested. But Jesus told him to put his sword away and Jesus healed the man’s ear. At this time, Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to die for our sins. Jesus was being arrested so He could be crucified. The time had come for Him to lay down His life. Jesus’ betrayal and death was in God’s eternal plan; it was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament, but Peter was acting against God’s plan and against God’s will. Peter failed. He didn’t understand that physical weapons are useless for spiritual warfare. Our weapons are prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Peter was on the wrong wavelength. He wasn’t on the same page as Jesus.

This incident illustrates that God’s battle is won by His power alone. The ultimate answer to our problems comes through faith in Christ, not faith in others, such as politicians.

So Peter failed when he used violence to try to stop the arrest of Jesus. He took matters into his own hands instead of bringing them to Jesus.

  1. Peter denied knowing Christ

Peter’s most famous failure is mentioned in each of the gospels (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:55-62; Jn. 18:15-19, 25-27). This occurred when Jesus was being questioned by the high priest before His crucifixion. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Here’s how Luke described it: “Then seizing Him [Jesus], they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him [Jesus].”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:54-62).

Peter had a Galilean accent that was conspicuous in Jerusalem (Mt. 27:73). And he was recognized by a relative of Malchus who had seen Peter cut off Malchus’ ear (Jn. 18:26). But he still denied knowing Jesus.

And this happened after Peter promised never to disown Jesus. After the last supper, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mk. 14:27-31). And Peter said earlier, “I will lay down my life for you [Jesus]” (Jn. 3:37). But instead of being bold before the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin (like Jesus), he couldn’t even stand up for Jesus before a servant girl!

Peter wasn’t the only disciple that failed at this time. After Jesus was arrested, they all deserted Him and fled (Mk. 14:27, 50). John was the only other disciple at the trial and crucifixion (Jn. 18:15-16; 19:26-27). They were the only disciples who followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the high priest. And Peter wasn’t a coward, he tried to cut off the head of Malchus! Peter’s denial was when his faith faltered, but it didn’t completely fail – because Jesus had prayed that his “faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). But his faith was momentarily overshadowed by his tiredness (he had been up all night) and his doubts and fears (Jesus’ case looked hopeless). He was afraid and exhausted. He found it difficult to be the odd man out. And he was unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl.

This incident illustrates human weakness and the danger of self-confidence. Even mature believers are prone to failure. Especially when they face unexpected trials and temptations. And self-confidence can lead to humiliation.

So Peter failed when he denied knowing Jesus. He did what he said he would never do. He cracked under pressure, and in a crisis he lost his courage. They were moments of disloyalty.

  1. Peter discriminated against Gentiles

Peter was a Jew, and he was the first to bring salvation to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius. However, later he was influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles.

Paul said, When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s argument continues to the end of Galatians 2. Paul emphasised that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through keeping some Jewish customs. And all believers are unified in Jesus Christ, and cultural or national differences shouldn’t affect their fellowship. Peter must have responded well to Paul’s rebuke because he referred to “our dear brother Paul” (2 Pt. 3:15) in one of his letters.

Peter contributed to racial divisions within the church. He had been mixing freely with Gentiles, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentile believers. Paul called Peter a hypocrite for following the law of Moses. But because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the behavior was corrected and Peter went on to serve God in unity amongst all races and nations.

This incident shows us that even mature Christians can lapse into sinful behavior.

So Peter failed when he discriminated against Gentiles.

Peter’s failures

Peter was a follower of Jesus who failed big-time. He was corrected by God, Jesus, and Paul! We’ve looked at seven instances where Peter failed. It was a habit of his. He failed when he misunderstood Jesus. Peter failed when he sinned. His main sin was self-confidence. His failures and sins had painful consequences.

David Reynolds 1 400pxIn October David Reynolds led for most of the Bathurst 1000 car race. But when he spun the rear tyres at a pit stop, he was given a penalty that moved him to seventh place. This failure had a consequence.

When Paul reminded the Christians of when the Israelites failed in Old Testament times, he said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He didn’t want them to repeat Israel’s mistakes. It’s a warning to the self-confident like Peter. A warning that spiritual pride often leads to a spiritual fall. A spiritual failure. It’s a warning to those who think they are spiritually strong. For example, Elijah had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, but soon after he was running away from queen Jezebel.

But Peter’s failure didn’t define him. Although it’s recorded in the Bible, it wasn’t the end of Peter. It didn’t stop him from being a leader in the early church. He was not rejected by Jesus.

But how did Peter survive failure?

Peter’s transformation

After Peter publicly denied knowing Jesus he repented and was restored to fellowship with the Lord. This restoration was recognized publicly after Christ’s resurrection. Three times Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-19). Jesus accepts this declaration, restores him to fellowship and commissions him for service by saying “feed my sheep”. The three affirmations matched the three denials. Peter learnt to be humble; he said “Lord, you know all things” (Jn. 21:17). And he told others to “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). Peter served as an apostle and a church elder (1 Pt. 5:1-4). Through Jesus, Peter learnt that failure isn’t final.

Peter was restored to service because of his repentance. God used him mightily in the early church. He preached the first sermon when the church began on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people decided to follow Jesus. He was courageous; he was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Jesus chose Peter knowing that he would fail and knowing that he would be restored. God used Peter’s failure and sin to strengthen his faith and build him up for service in the early church. It cured him of his excessive self-confidence. Jesus can transform failures into followers. Like Peter we all fail and we all sin in some way. But like Peter we can be transformed from failure to following Jesus once again. Like him we can be former failures, and not final failures.

Billy Monger 6 400pxBilly Monger is a British car racing driver. In April 2017 he was involved in a high speed crash and had the lower part of both of his legs amputated. It seemed like that was the end of his career. But in 2018 he recommenced driving a Formula 3 car with hand controls. It was a great recovery.

Now that we’ve looked at how Peter survived failure, we need to consider “How can we survive failure?”. There’re two answers to this question. The first is to ensure our failures aren’t fatal. And the second is dealing with ongoing failures.

How to ensure our failures aren’t final

Judas Iscariot failed and sinned when he betrayed Jesus. But his failure was final and fatal. How can we escape this fate? The process is summarized in this diagram.
Failure not final 1– Failure and sin separates us from God and puts us under His judgment, and if we do nothing about this separation and judgment, it is final and hell is our ultimate destiny. Although failure is an event and not a destiny, in this case it leads to a destiny. To not trust on Christ is a fatal failure and a fatal sin.
– The first step to fix the problem is to be convicted of our failure and sin. It involves recognizing it. We may feel guilty or sorry. For example, after he was confronted, the man who had been sexually immoral at Corinth was very sorry about his behavior (2 Cor. 2:7).
– The next step is to confess our failure and sin to God. It means admitting that we are wrong.
For example, David confessed his adultery, deceit and murder (Ps. 32:5).
– The next step is repentance, which is a change of behavior where our change of attitude is shown in our actions. It’s like doing a U-turn in a car to go in the opposite direction. For example, the prodigal son stopped his wild living and travelled back to his father. He remembered that his father still loved him. We cannot become a follower of Jesus without conviction, confession and repentance. That’s the way to respond to failure and sin.
– Then God promises to forgive all our failures and sins, in the past, the present and the future. Peter preached, “Repent … and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This judicial 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. Jesus died for all our failures, weaknesses, and sins. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
– After our failures and sins have been dealt with, we have peace with God and are reconciled with God. And heaven is our ultimate destiny, where all our failures are forgotten.

Now we have ensured our failures aren’t fatal, how can we deal with ongoing failures?

Dealing with ongoing failures

James says that teachers “all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). This applies to us as well.
Note the words “all” and “many”. Everyone fails sometime. And there are many ways to fail. In this passage, James addresses failures caused by the words we speak. The principle of this verse is that a sense of failure and sinfulness is necessary for our spiritual health.

The Bible says that Christians cannot grow as followers of Jesus without regular conviction, confession and repentance of their failures and sins. For a Christian, all sin has been dealt with by the death of our Savior. Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But God allows us to fail so our faith can be strengthened. That’s what happened to Peter. He did more for Jesus Christ after his failures than he did before. His pride and self-confidence were replaced with humility and confidence in God and determination to serve Him.

The process for dealing with our ongoing failures is summarized in this diagram, which is similar to the previous one. Sin causes failures and spoils a believer’s relationship with God.Ongoing failures

Conviction. The first step is to admit our failures and 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 failure and sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13). Christians need to do this regularly. It means admitting our failures and sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. 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 fellowship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin, repentance to put things right, and then putting our failures behind us and moving ahead.

Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God once again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behavior. 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). God is a Father of all those who have trusted in Him. This parental and family forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been broken by failure and 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).

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).

Tiger Woods 4 400pxUp to 2013 golfer Tiger Woods won 79 titles. But then he struggled with personal problems and injuries. He was divorced in 2010 and his fourth back surgery was in April 2017. Many people had written him off. But in a great comeback he won the Atlanta title in September 2018.

The Bible says that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter all failed God at some time; but they recovered from this to serve God in mighty ways. For them, failure was an event, but not a destiny.

Lessons for us

We have seen that failure is a normal part of life. It’s not unusual. We should expect to fail from time to time. Failure is a fact of life.

Google+ 4 100pxEven Google has failures. In 2011, Google launched Google+, which was supposed to be the next big social network. I was thinking of posting on it with links to my blog, like I do on Twitter. But Google+ was a flop and it’s being closed down.

The ability to handle failure is a vital part of our spiritual life and a sign of maturity. Fear of failure shouldn’t dominate our mind. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.

Failure doesn’t disqualify us, even if we’ve been following Jesus for some time. God gives us another chance.

Peter was very good at failing, but he was even better at not giving up. Through his failures, Peter refused to throw in the towel. He learned from his bad decisions and allowed God to shape and mould his character. So next time you’re feeling down about yourself, remember Peter. Take a deep breath and try again.

Let’s learn from our failures and mistakes. These teach us how much we need God and His mercy in our lives. God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Remember that God sees beyond our faults and failures. If we have failed, God can make us useful again. And he continues to call us to serve Him.

Parents, let your children fail. Just as God lets us fall flat on our faces so that we may become stronger, we must allow our children the privilege of failing, too. And when they do fail, be ready to forgive them as God forgives us. For that is God’s answer to human failure.

Conclusion

So, failure isn’t final. No matter how we feel, it’s not the end. If Peter can fail, we can fail. If Peter can be restored, we can be restored. There is hope for us all.

Remember our car that was written off? It was taken to the insurer’s yard of damaged vehicles. Then it was probably sold to someone who repaired it and it’s probably still driving around today. It was restored.

Capstone-CollegeThe students at Capstone College in Poatina in Tasmania struggled at high school. Because of negative experiences, they hated school and found excuses to do other things instead. Their attendance record was poor – they were absent more than present. They were failures as students. But this failure wasn’t final or permanent or set in stone. Things have changed. They are now happy to attend school at Capstone College. Because of Capstone College, their life has turned around.

And failure needn’t be final for us also. Through Jesus, our life can turn around. The gospel solution to surviving failure is that God offers us forgiveness and restoration, and now we must confess our failures and sins to Him. So because Jesus died to pay the cost of our failures, failure isn’t final. Because of Jesus, failure isn’t final. Through Jesus, failure isn’t final. That’s how to survive failure.

Written, December 2018


Making a difference

Making a difference 2 400pxLast week I assisted with “Made to make a difference”, a Holiday Camp for children with difficult family situations. The children were encouraged to reach beyond their situation to help others. To change the world! They were taught that they were to make a difference and that they have unique gifts and abilities that can be used to help others. That’s what God created them for. And they were encouraged to be all that God created them to be. Is this post we look at the vision and culture that set the tone of this Holiday Camp.

The vision

God says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for” (Eph. 1:11Message). Our vision is to see people eternally saved, free in Christ, and inspired and empowered to be all that God has created them to be. We want children to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and to realize that they are loved, believed in and created for a purpose. God has given them gifts, talents and abilities to change the world.

We want children to be able to declare: I am a nation changer! I have been designed and created to change the world. God is my wisdom, courage and strength. He has given me gifts, talents and abilities to use to glorify Him. I am loved. I am saved. I have a purpose. It’s in Jesus Christ that I find out who I am and what I am living for. I am a child of the most High King and it’s in Him that I find my worth. Because of this, I will aim to make good choices in life.

The culture

Those caring for the children at the Holiday Camp were encouraged to behave according to the following culture.

Can do attitude. I will be a part of the solution, never the problem. “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13NLT).

This is not a job, it’s a calling. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Serving the Lord with gladness. Not being ruled by our minimum, think answers not problems. “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Empowerment starts with me. Being uncomplicated, avoiding I don’t knows, pulling people up, not down. “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’” (Neh. 8:10).

Gossip is ugly. Keep it light. “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:17-28).

Bringing people around you on the journey. Bad reflections bite you in the butt, be careful where you dump. If you want to be honored, be honoring. “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (Prov. 18:21).

I am the culture. I am the atmosphere. We all affect the spiritual culture at Camp. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Col. 3:23).

My tone of voice is not whiny. Not playing emotional games of silence, speaking words of life and encouragement. “Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing” (Ps. 100:2NASB).

I delegate but I don’t dump. Being aware of the real worlds that people work in. “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:7-9NLT).

My spirituality is attractive. Loving Jesus, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, forming a deliberate family. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

I demonstrate Christ’s love in every situation. I love like Jesus. “Christ’s love controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 Jn. 3:18).

I welcome children. I affirm their worth, dignity and significance. “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Him. When Jesus saw what was happening, He was angry with His disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then He took the children in His arms and placed His hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mk. 10:13-16).

Summary

Although this vision and culture applied to a children’s Holiday Camp, it can apply elsewhere as well. We were all made to make a difference. So let’s practice our purpose by developing a relationship with Jesus Christ, realizing that we are loved, helping the needy, and encouraging others to do the same.

Acknowledgement: The content of this blogpost was sourced from Inspiring Hope, a humanitarian organization which exists to inspire the hope of Jesus to a hurting world.

Written, October 2018


Old age and dementia

Aged care 5 400pxThe Australian Government has announced a Royal Commission into the aged care sector. It will primarily look at the quality of care provided to senior Australians in residential-care (nursing homes) and in home-care (aging in own home). The Royal Commission was announced just before Four Corners aired a two-part investigation on TV into the treatment of the elderly in aged-care homes. This included disturbing accounts of overworked staff and neglected residents.

But what does the Bible say about old age and dementia?

Aging is a part of life 

The Bible treats aging as a normal process. Solomon said there is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2NIV). In Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 he poetically describes old age (v.1-5) and death (v.6-7). This is a stage in life when we become more dependent on others. If we live long enough, we all grow old and die. Life fades away.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is one long sentence in Hebrew. It’s introduced by saying that old age is characterized by “trouble” (or difficult days) and lack of pleasure (v.1). Then it says that the arms and hands begin to tremble. The legs and knees begin to sag. Teeth are lost, and chewing is more difficult. The eyes are dimmed. Hearing diminishes. Sleep becomes more difficult and one is easily wakened. Singing and music are less appreciated. One becomes more fearful. The hair becomes white. The once active become weak. And the passions and desires of life weaken and wane.

It describes physical deterioration and loss of self-confidence (v.5a). Every part of the body is slowing down and declining—including the brain and the mind—until finally “the silver cord is severed”, “the golden bow is broken”, “the pitcher is shattered at the spring”, and “the wheel broken at the well” (v.6-7).

The elderly and those with dementia are valuable

Because they are made in the image of God, all people are important to God and should be important to us as well. This gives everyone, including  the elderly and those with dementia, dignity which demands our respect. The Bible says that because people are in the image of God, murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6). This implies that because people are in the image of God, euthanasia is also wrong.

All Christians are a child of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This applies to the elderly and those with dementia. God is still with them. Nothing can separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

So the elderly and those with dementia should be valuable to us as well.

God is always good

The Bible says that God is good. No matter our circumstances, God’s character does not change.

When God described how He sustained the Jews He said, “Even to your old age and grey hairs
I [God] am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isa. 46:4).

So in old age and dementia, God is present and sustains people.

Ultimate healing

Old age and dementia are symptoms of our sinful world, that is characterized by decay. Nothing that is physical lasts for ever. The hope of all Christians is to live eternally in the presence of God where there will be no old age or dementia. No more difficult days. Instead, one day suffering and sickness will be no more (Rom. 8:18-25). God was with us in the past, he is with us in the present, and he will be with us in the future.

So we don’t need to freeze our body after we die in the hope it can be revived and reanimated in future. The only reliable hope for immortality is via the God who designed our bodies and who controls our destinies.

What should be our response to the aged and those with dementia?

Aged care 4 400pxCare and respect

The elderly and those with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The Israelites were to respect the elderly like they respected God:
“Stand up in the presence of the aged,
show respect for the elderly
and revere your God. I am the Lord”
(Lev. 19:32). And Jesus showed love and respect to all people. The early church supported orphans and widows (Acts 6:1-6; Jas. 1:26). And the church at Ephesus supported widows without descendants (Eph. 5:3-10).

But what can we do for the elderly and those with dementia? We can show respect by providing for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs even though it may be difficult to understand what they are. Christians are urged, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9-10). And Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [who needed food, drink, hospitality and clothes] you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). This means always being kind and loving.

When supporting the elderly, we can focus on God’s comfort, forgiveness, and promises of love and eternal presence. Early memories are usually retained long into the dementia. If the person has a Christian background, reading the Bible, prayer and gospel songs can give them a sense of comfort and peace and help them feel loved. If we assist them to use all their senses—sight, sound, touch, and smell—spiritual memories will often be awakened. When we help a person feel God’s presence, even for only a moment, we have made a difference in their quality of life. Caregivers need support and respite as well.

What about us?

This reminds us that life is short and uncertain. We need to make the most of opportunities while we can. The time to receive Christ and serve the Lord is while we are still alive, in our right minds and can make a choice. Solomon says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come … “ (Eccl. 12:1). We will not have the ability to enjoy the blessing of a godly old age and a life of service to God if earlier in life we do not trust in the historical fact that God sent Jesus to remove our barrier to heaven by dying for our sin.

What can we do to prepare for old age? We can ask what spiritual disciplines are regular enough for us that they will “stick” even during dementia? Are we reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture; praying to God; singing gospel songs; and serving others? Such practices train us in godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). If we do these regularly, then they will bring motivation and comfort when we are reminded of them in our old age.

Summary

Aging is a part of life. The elderly are valuable. God is always good. And all the ailments of old age and dementia will disappear in heaven.

Meanwhile, our time on earth is limited. Let’s use our abilities and opportunities while we can to respect and care of the elderly and those with dementia.

Written, September 2018


The journey and the destination

Journey 1 400pxRecently I travelled from Australia to Europe to spend time with some family members. It was good to see them after a trip of over 26 hours. The people at the destination made the tiring trip worthwhile.

Before leaving Australia, I attended a funeral where it was said that it’s not our destination that matters, but the journey along the way. This was probably a creative way to say that life is better than death. Or focusing on the present and enjoying the present instead of worrying about what will happen at the end of life.

Bible journeys

Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Canaan, a distance of about 1770 km (1100 miles). His descendants, the Israelites, travelled from Egypt to Canaan. This took 40 years and most of the adults died along the way. Later, after their exile in Babylon, the Jews travelled back to Judah. The purpose of these journeys was achieved when the people reached their destination.

Jesus travelled within Palestine preaching the good news about the kingdom of God. Then He travelled to Jerusalem to give up His life sacrificially. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paul and the apostles took missionary journeys across the Roman Empire. For Paul, sometimes the journey was difficult (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Likewise, the purpose of these journeys was achieved at their destinations.

The journey of life

A journey is also a great metaphor for life. Life is a difficult journey and a time of testing, challenges and maybe persecution. Like Job we have many questions about life and its unfairness. But God steers His people through difficult times (Isa. 43:1-7). May God help us trust in Him for what we don’t understand (Job 42:3). And may we take up the opportunities to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over again.

But the busyness of life can distract us from the important things of life like being aware of God’s presence and His willingness to help in times of need. Life is a journey in history, with a past, present and future. As time goes by our present becomes past memories and our final destination comes closer. Death and life after death is our ultimate destination.

Lessons for us

Let’s face the reality of our journey of life. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But we often forget to consider our personal destination.

Many opinions about this topic are available on the internet. But the best ones are in the Bible because God is the “author” (or “source”) of life (Acts 3:15). And Jesus is the “word of life” and the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 48; 1 Jn. 1:1). These metaphors describe God’s role in physical and spiritual life.

Although the journey of life is better than death, it isn’t better than eternal life. Physical life ends, but spiritual life doesn’t end. And the purpose of life isn’t to enjoy ourselves or accumulate wealth or possessions. Instead our spiritual destination is more important than the journey. Is our future destination secure? At the end of our earthly life journey we will leave everything physical behind. So our enjoyment, wealth, and possessions provide no security for our future destination. But if we put God first instead of material things, we will be rewarded in heaven for the things we do that have eternal value (Mt. 6:19-24). Have we started on that spiritual journey? Do we focus on things of eternal consequence? Do we follow Jesus? Do we help other people to follow Jesus? Do we live by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Are we motivated by what lies at the end of the journey (Heb. 11:13-16)? Are we progressing spiritually (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are we becoming more Christ-like (Phil. 1:20-21)?

Written, August 2018


3 essentials of Christian leadership

Cardianl McCarrick 1 400pxPope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC following allegations of sexual abuse. This is the latest in a series of sex abuse scandals involving leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. So, what does the Bible say about the behavior of Christian leaders?

The letter of 1 Peter in the Bible shows us how God can help us get through hardship, trials and suffering. In chapter 5, it includes instructions to the elders of churches, which would apply to the leaders of any Christian ministry. This passage is written in the context of suffering. It is preceded by a passage on suffering for being a Christian (4:12-19) and is followed by a reminder to have an eternal viewpoint when they are suffering (5:10).

The passage says “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pt. 5:1-4NIV).

It’s a message to those living between the two advents of Christ. The first was when Christ suffered and the second is when He will come in great glory. We live in this time period.

When churches (and ministries) experience persecution and suffering, it is primarily the responsibility of the leaders to provide help, comfort, strength and guidance. Peter urges them to do this in view of the persecution they were enduring. He supports this by saying that he is also a Christian leader (elder). So he’s speaking from experience. He also saw Christ’s crucifixion at the first advent and he told others about it. And he knew that there will be no more suffering when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule over the earth at the second advent and he told others about it.

Main message

The main message was that they were to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them” (5:2). Here leaders are likened to shepherds and those they lead are likened to sheep. This is a common biblical metaphor. The shepherd is the dominant leadership metaphor in the Old Testament. As sheep need a shepherd, people need leaders. And Jesus was “the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11).

Peter says to take care of and watch over those you lead like shepherds take care of and watch over their sheep. A shepherd’s care is physical, while a Christian leader’s care is spiritual. Leaders are “shepherds of God’s flock” who do this work for the Good Shepherd. Then he gives them three important characteristics of a Christian leader (or church elder). These are given as three negatives (“not because you must”; “not pursuing dishonest gain “; and “not lording it over those entrusted to you”), each of which is followed by a positive (“but because you are willing”; “but eager to serve”; and “but being examples to the flock”). So Christian leaders are to be:
– willing leaders
– eager leaders, and
– examples to follow.

  1. A willing leader

The Bible says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (5:2). There’s a wrong way and a right way to lead. In this case, not reluctantly or under coercion or compulsion, but voluntarily. This is like Paul’s advice on giving, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Our attitude is important to God. It’s wrong to lead because there seems to be no alternative or because of exerted pressure.

When Paul was in prison, he sent Onesimus back to his master rather than have Onesimus’ help without the approval of his master; “I did not want to do anything without your (Philemon’s) consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary” (Phile. 14). Paul sought the help of volunteers, not those who had no choice in the matter. Likewise, God wants those who lead Christian ministries to do this voluntarily, and not out of a feeling of obligation or a desire of recognition or status. It’s not just a job to do, but a calling from God.

Nehemiah led the project to restore the walls of Jerusalem after they had been ruined for 150 years. His team faced mockery, attacks, distraction and temptation to sin (Neh. 4:3, 8; 6:10-12). Nehemiah understood that God had appointed him to the task and his sense of purpose invigorated the people to follow his leadership despite incredible opposition. God equips Christian leaders to overcome the challenges and obstacles and complete the tasks He’s given them to do.

  1. An eager leader

The Bible also says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— … not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve” (5:2). Not greedily looking for reward or recognition or some other benefit, but eager to serve others. They are “not a lover of money” (1 Ti. 3:3). 83% (5/6) of the warnings to the church about greed and the love of money are addressed to leaders (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7, 11; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pt. 5:2). They gladly serve without reward or recognition. They are outwardly focused, not self-focused. They desire to give, not get.

In this verse “eager” means ready, prepared, passionate and enthusiastically willing to lead. They anticipate the needs of the people and gladly initiate action to address these. They are eager to lead in a way that Paul was eager to preach the good news about Jesus to the Romans (Rom. 1:15). And in the way that the Christians in Corinth were eager to help needy believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:2).

  1. An example to follow

The Bible says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (5:3). Not as a dictator, tyrant or bully with a desire for power and control. Not like a boss who commands, dominates, intimidates, manipulates and coerces his people. Not like the leaders of Israel who “ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezek. 34:4). They were interested in themselves and not in the welfare of the people. And not like Diotrephes who loved prominence and expelled from the church those he disagreed with (3 Jn. 9-10). Christian leaders must not abuse their authority.

Recently Hun Sen was re-elected to lead Cambodia in a sham election. The leaders of Cambodia’s main opposition were jailed or exiled, and their party was dissolved and was banned from competing in the election. And independent media in Cambodia is largely silenced. So Cambodia is governed by a dictatorship, not a democracy. And its neighbors (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar) are also governed by repressive regimes.

Instead Christian leaders were to be a model or pattern to follow. Paul told young believers to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Ti. 4:12). And he told the Corinthians to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul’s example was not to lord it over others (2 Cor. 1:24). Christian leaders are not to drive God’s people, but to lead them by their examples of mature Christian character. The ancient shepherd walked in front of his sheep and called them to follow him. They showed the sheep which direction to walk.

Jesus told His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man [Jesus]did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25-28). Christian leaders are to serve and give, not demand and get. It’s self-giving, not self-serving.

“Those entrusted to you” are the people that God has given the leader to lead. God specially assigns people to leaders. They are the leader’s sphere of service. The leader is to manage these people for Jesus Christ who is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).

Lessons for us

If we are a Christian leader, let’s be willing and eager to care for people and be an example they can follow. This means not abusing others like Cardinal McCarrick is alleged to have done or any other form of abuse.

If we are under the authority of Christian leaders, let’s accept their leadership, accept their care, and follow their example (1 Pt. 5:5).

Written, July 2018

Also see:
Old Testament shepherds
New Testament shepherds
The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd is always near


Lest we forget

Lest we foget 8 400pxLast Wednesday was ANZAC Day, which is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand of those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Did you know that the phrase “Lest we forget” used to commemorate those who died in warfare came from the Bible? It came via the poem “Recessional” (see Appendix A) by Rudyard Kipling which was written towards the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. These turned into a celebration of the power of the British Empire.

The poem was written to be sung as a hymn at the end of a church service (see Appendix B for an explanation of its meaning). It acknowledges that God helped establish the British Empire. But all human power is transient and empires eventually decline and disappear. It urges the English to be humble instead of boasting about their achievements. The main warning is not to forget God. The chorus is:
“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
So the context of “Lest we forget” is God, not those who have died.

The title “Lord of hosts” comes from the KJV of the Bible (1 Sam. 1:3), which can be translated “Lord Almighty” (NIV), “Lord of Armies” (CSB), or “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (NLT). It means that God is sovereign over all other powers in the universe, including the British Empire.

The phrase “Lest we forget” comes from a warning given to the Israelites after they settled in the promised land. It says, “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Dt. 6:12KJV). Or, “be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (NLT). They were not to forget what God had done for them. But we know that the Israelites did forget God and followed idols.

So, in Recessional, “Lest we forget”, was a call to not forget God. But this song was also sung at remembrance services for those who died in warfare. And in this context, it was a call to not forget those who had given their lives for their country. In this context, the meaning of “ancient sacrifice” in the song changed from Christ’s death to the death of soldiers. This is an example of how words and phrases can change their meaning over time.

Lessons for us

As the Israelites were God’s people in Old Testament times, Christians are God’s people today. And like them, we are not to forget what God had done for us. We too can easily forget God and the ancient sacrifice of Christ for us. He gave up His life so we could have eternal life.

Let’s not be like the Israelites who forgot about God when they followed idols. Anything we can’t live without or must have is an idol that needs to be removed or put back in its place. An idol is anything that we give higher priority than God. Or anything that we think about more than we think about God.

“Lest we forget”. Don’t forget God!

Appendix A: Recessional

A poem by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Appendix B: Exegesis of Recessional

Kipling was a British poet who wrote verse for English readers. This poem was written over 120 years ago when the British Empire was a major world power. Some of the imagery used in the poem is drawn from the KJV Bible.

Verse 1

Their ancestors worshipped the God of the Bible.

Their armies trusted in this God.

They were in awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God.

They acknowledge that God helped them establish the British Empire.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 2

The 60th anniversary celebrations for Queen Victoria will end. They are transient.

The military leaders will stop parading and the visiting dignitaries (kings of Europe) will return home.

But Christ’s ancient sacrifice endures.

God wants us to be humble rather than proud and boasting. We need to confess and repent of our arrogance and boasting. This may be derived from, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17KJV). “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (NLT).

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 3

Although their Navy travels to far-away places, they can’t sustain their presence in these places.

Watch-post fires are extinguished as military personnel leave.

The 60th anniversary celebrations and the might of the British Empire is transient.

Like Nineveh and Tyre, the British empire will eventually decline and disappear. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire whose destruction by the Babylonians was predicted in the Bible (Nahum 1:1 – 3:19). Tyre was a powerful Phoenician city whose destruction by Alexander the Great was predicted in the Bible (Ezek. 26:1 – 28:19).

They acknowledge God will judge the nations and pray that He will spare them from judgment. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness (Gen. 18:20 –  19:29). The Bible teaches that God will judge nations according to their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:1-16). And in many cases, sin brings its own judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 4

They are intoxicated with the idea of colonial power.

They have no awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God. Because of these two things, they say things they shouldn’t say.

Like the Russians and Germans, they boast of their achievements.

They also boast like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 5

They are acting like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They trust in military might.

But all this is futile because it will end in dust! It is insignificant compared to the eternal nature of God.

They leave God out of their lives.

They claim to be God’s people. And they pray to God for forgiveness for their boasting and their foolish language.

Verses 3 and 5 say that they shouldn’t trust in human achievements because these don’t endure. They are fleeting.

Written, April 2018


Teamwork

Teamwork 1 400pxWhy do more than five million people a year in the US pay money to run several miles over an obstacle course where they must ascend vertical walls, slog through mud, and climb up inside a vertical pipe with water pouring down on them? Some see it as a personal challenge to push their limit of endurance or conquer their fears. For others, the attraction is teamwork where competitors help and support each other. One person called it “a no-judgment zone” where people who are strangers will reach out to help each other finish the race.

The Bible urges us to pursue teamwork as a model of living out our faith in Jesus. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His (Christ’s) return is drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25NLT). We are to encourage and motivate each other and not give up meeting together.

Our goal is not to “finish first” in the race of faith, but to encourage others by setting an example and lending a helping hand along the way. We should run together (not individually) in the race of faith. God urges us to spur each other on, be ready to help, and keep working together every day.

Examples of teamwork

A good example of teamwork is found in rebuilding the wall and gates of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3). Forty-two teams of workers each repaired a section of the wall. It wasn’t just done by the servants. The high priest, priests, levites, rulers, nobles, city officials, craftsmen, and women worked on the project. Everyone who was able to worked on the project. They worked alongside each other – the word “next” is mentioned 26 times in this chapter.

Jesus used teams. He trained a team of 12 men (the apostles) to lead the church in Jerusalem after He returned to heaven. He sent these and the seventy-two out “two by two” (Mk. 6:7; Lk. 10:1). They worked in two-man teams. And a team of women supported Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3; 19:25).

Paul used teams on his missionary journeys. Barnabas was on the first journey. Silas and Timothy were on the second journey. And Luke was on the third journey (Acts 20:5 – 21:17).

In the early churches that Paul established, a team of men (elders) provided the leadership and a team of people (deacons) served (1 Tim. 3:1-13).

Other examples

Others biblical verses that support the idea of teamwork are given below.

Peter urged Christians to love each other, share resources with those in need and serve one another. “Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Pt. 4:8-10).

Paul says that like in a human body (or a sports team) each Christian has a different role but we are to combine together harmoniously. As the body is comprised of many parts that work together, the church is to be comprised of many Christians working together and dependent on each other. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body (the church). We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom. 12:4-5). “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20).

Proverbs says that we benefit when we interact with others by sharing opinions and asking questions. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17).

Solomon also notes the advantages of working together, rather than individually. This enables people to work more efficiently, rescue one another, and defend one another against attack. A team is stronger than an individual. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble … A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).

Conclusion

We need teamwork in our marriage, in our family, in our church and in our ministries. That’s the best way to negotiate the obstacles and complete the projects.

Reference

This post is based on “Our Daily Bread” 13 March 2018.

Written, April 2018

 


Don’t forget to remember!

Anzac day 2 400pxAfter the British lost many soldiers in the early days of World War 1, this poem was written by Laurence Binyon.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

It’s an extract (called the “Ode of remembrance”) from a poem titled, “For the fallen”, that will be recited today across Australia. Today is ANZAC Day when those who died in warfare are remembered. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

The phrase “Lest We Forget”, which was taken from “Recessional”, a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, will also be mentioned in Anzac services today.

In this post we will look at what God wants us to remember and not forget.

Monuments

Explorers tree Ktaoomba 400pxAt least six monuments are mentioned in the book of Joshua. A stone monument was commonly used in ancient times as a memorial to remind future generations of what had happened at a particular place.

And monuments still exist today. When we drive to my hometown in central New South Wales, we pass at least three monuments. Near Katoomba there is the Marked Tree that reminds us of the explorers that crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. West of Orange there is a monument to Thomas Mitchell who explored inland Australia in 1836. And near Eugowra there is a monument at Escort Rock where outlaw bushrangers robbed gold from a stage coach in 1862.

Thomas Mitchell monument - Escort Way Orange 400pxAfter they crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites set up the first stone monument at Gilgal. The stones were to be “a sign” for them. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7NIV). This monument reminded the Israelites that God miraculously dammed the Jordan (even though it was flooded) so the Israelites could cross over into the promised land on dry ground.

Escort rock monument - Eugowra 400pxSecond, after Ai defeated the Israelites and Achan was stoned for disobedience and lying, “they heaped up a large pile of rocks” (Josh. 7:26). This monument reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of sin and the need to judge it.

Third, after they finally destroyed Ai, they “raised a large pile of rocks over it” (8:29). This monument reminded the Israelites that they could have victory over their enemies if sin was judged.

Fourth, on Mount Ebal, “Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses” (Josh. 8:32). This was in obedience to a command of Moses, “Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster … And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up” (Dt. 27:1-8). This monument on Mount Ebal reminded the Israelites to obey the law of Moses. It had the ten comandments written on it.

Fifth, when the army of the eastern tribes of Israel returned home after helping the western tribes to conquer Canaan, they “built an imposing altar” near the Jordan River (Josh. 22:10). When the western tribes saw this they thought that the eastern tribes were engaging in idol worship. But the following reason was given to them, “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at His sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you’” (Josh. 22:24-28). This monument near the Jordan reminded the Israelites on either side of the Jordan than they worshipped the same God.

Sixth, after the covenant was renewed at Shechem near the end of the life of Joshua, “he (Joshua) took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us.
It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us.
It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God” (Josh. 24:26-28). This monument reminded the Israelites of their promise to obey the law of Moses.

Other monuments in the Bible include:
– Samuel set up a monument near Mizpah to remind the Israelites of how the Lord gave them a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:7-12). It was named Ebenezer, which meant “stone of help”.
– After his victory over the Amalekites, Saul “set up a monument in his own honor” at Carmel. He wanted the Israelites to be reminded of his greatness.
But because he disobeyed God, his reign was taken away.
– David’s son Absalom built a monument to himself in the King’s Valley because no sons survived to carry on the family name (2 Sam. 18:18).
– The Pharisees built monuments over the tombs of the Old Testament prophets, but they plotted to kill Jesus (Mt. 23:29; Lk 11:47).
These last three monuments are memorials of humanity’s self-centredness and hypocrisy. While the others were mostly reminders of what God had done.

Berry_War_Memorial 400pxIn most Australian towns there is a monument to those who died in warfare. Many of these monuments list the names of those who died. They are reminders. I think that the Bible is the biggest reminder to us of what God has done.

But there are other examples in the Bible of remembering besides monuments. We will look at some in the Old Testament (OT) and some in the New Testament (NT).

Remembering in the OT

After interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, Joseph told him, “when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Gen. 40:14). But the Bible says, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Gen. 40:23). He only remembered Joseph after Pharaoh had a dream.

Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She was offered deliverance from the judgment of Sodom. Although she left the city, she wasn’t delivered because she turned back towards Sodom.
This is a warning to those who trifle with God’s offer of salvation through Jesus.

Moses commanded Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (Dt. 3:21-22).

Moses instructed the Israelites to remember the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and to teach them to their children (Dt.4:9-14). God remembers His covenant with the Israelites. And Israel is to remember the words and deeds of God, such as the deliverance from Egypt. They are told to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (Sinai) (Dt. 4:9-10).

In ancient times lessons from history were remembered when one generation told them to the next. For example, “things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep his commands” (Ps. 78:3-7). If this wasn’t done, the lessons of history were forgotten.
Fortunately, today we have the written version in the Bible.

Israel was urged to remember that God had delivered them from slavery on Egypt. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). This is also summarized in statements like, “Remember the days of old” (Dt. 32:7).

If Israel were ever tempted to fear their enemies, they were told to remember God’s mighty deliverances in the past, especially the deliverance from Egypt (Dt. 7: 17–19).

To remember means to not forget. If they got comfortable and satisfied, the Israelites were warned, “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Dt. 6:12). Prosperity leads to forgetfulness (Dt. 8:10-14). And the psalmist wrote, “Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law” (Ps.119:61). He was committed to remembering the law of Moses.

Gideon rescued the Israelites from the Midianites. But after he died they went back to idolatry. They did “not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (Jud. 8:33).

When the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem the Levites sang “Remember the wonders He (God) has done, His miracles” (1 Chron. 16:12; Ps. 105:5).

Solomon said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth”, before you face the difficulties of old age (Eccl. 12:1).

When the Jews were threatened when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encouraged them by saying, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).

What do you use to remember things? A calendar?
A notebook? Post It notes? An alarm?

There are also examples of remembering in the NT.

Remembering in the NT

Christians are told to celebrate the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of the Lord Jesus (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It’s the way that God has told us how to remember what Jesus has done for us.

Paul reminded the Ephesians to remember their hopeless situation before they trusted in Christ (Eph. 2:10-11). They had no hope of eternal life. They were ignorant of the true and living God.

The book of second Peter was written to tell believers how to deal with false teachers within the church. He describes the aim of his letter as follows:

“So I will always remind you of these things (now in the Bible), even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure (death) you will always be able to remember these things (now in the Bible)” (2 Pt. 1:12-15). Here we see that God’s purpose for the believer is to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. Churches should teach the crucial doctrines of the Christian faith. We need to be diligent with God’s truth. We need to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. This knowledge gives us stability and resilience to absorb the shocks of life. The Bible gives us stability (Mt. 4:4). We can’t live the Christian life without the Bible. Peter alludes to his imminent death. He was taking stock of himself and those to whom he was writing. He wanted them to remember certain truths about going to heaven. At death the soul is released from the body. As a Christian he has the expectation of eternal life. Our only assurance about eternity comes from the Bible. Peter wants to leave a lasting legacy. And it has lasted because we can read it today in the letter of second Peter in the Bible.

Paul said, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand” (1 Cor. 15:1). He then summarizes the gospel and focuses on the resurrection of Christ. And he told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). We need to focus on the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus. That can help us face suffering and death.

Jude said, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’. These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). We are reminded that things are not going to get any better in the professing church with time. The Bible says we are to expect the opposite. We are warned of this so we can be prepared.

The message to the church at Sardis says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:2-3). It was like they were spiritually asleep and needed to be woken up. God wanted them to get back on track and be spiritually mature. He had a purpose for them. The entire church needed to repent.

Discussion

We have looked at some monuments and some examples of remembering in the Bible. The things to be remembered under the Old Covenant in the OT, now need to be translated into equivalent things under the New Covenant in the NT. When this is done, we see that these examples show us God wants us to remember these things.

Remember our guilt and the penalty that is owed because of our sinfulness.

Remember that God has provided Jesus to be our Savior who paid that penalty – that’s the gospel (good news) message.

Remember that if we fail to accept God’s provision, we are doomed to face God’s judgement.

Remember our hopeless situation before we trusted in Christ as Savior.

Remember that people of all nationalities and cultures can worship the same God as us.

Remember to obey the commands given to Christians in the NT.

Remember that God helps us.

Remember past examples of God helping us.

Remember what the Bible says.

Remember the characteristics of the triune God.

Remember that unbelievers will infiltrate into Christendom and cause strife.

Remember to stay spiritually alert and mature.

Let’s remember these 12 things. And if we forget, let’s remind ourselves again from the Bible.

If our cell phone goes flat, we need to connect it up to the charger so the battery can be recharged. Likewise, if we are spiritually flat, we need to get our brains reconnected to the Bible so that it’s content can recharge our minds.

Lessons for us

As we pause on Anzac Day to remember those who gave their lives so we can have peace in our land, let’s remember God who sacrificed Himself to bring a future peace in heaven and earth.

God has given us the Bible “Lest we forget”. The Bible is a great reminder. Can we say, “We will remember its message”?

I use a phone alarm to remember some things. But it doesn’t work if I don’t set the alarm! I think the Bible is like an alarm. But it doesn’t work if we don’t read it!

So, don’t forget to remember!

Written, 25 April 2018 (ANZAC Day)


Rebooting ourselves

reboot-7-400pxRecently when I had a problem with my phone, I was advised to do a reboot (restart). I’d forgotten that many computer problems are fixed by a restart. Turning your computer off and on again fixes a lot of problems because you’re removing the junk that’s accumulated and starting over again fresh.

When too many programs and processes are operating they hog system resources like RAM, cause problems like slow operation, programs won’t open and error messages appear. A restart closes every program and process and wipes away the current state of the software. This includes any code that’s stuck in a misbehaving state. Once your computer starts back up again, it’s not clogged up and is often a faster, better working computer. Most computers need to be restarted at least every few days. Very few are designed to run continuously.

In the same way, we can get bogged down in the cares of this life. Our lives can become so cluttered with finances, careers, family, relationships, and the other things we spend time doing. These things can spoil our relationship with God and hinder our spiritual growth. At times like this we need to reboot and refresh our relationship with God.

Jesus often prayed alone in the morning (Mk. 1:35) or during the night (Lk. 6:12). It was like He was getting a fresh start each day. And He prayed whenever an important decision was to be made or a crisis was near. It was like He was getting a fresh start at important times in His life. So, prayer can be a way to reboot ourselves.

To refresh our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ we need to get to know them better. The best description of the character and the acts of God the Father and Jesus Christ is in the Bible. This means reading the Bible, understanding it and applying it to our lives on a daily basis. So, the Bible can be a way to reboot ourselves.

And I think that the Lord’s Supper is like getting a fresh start each week. Like computers we get busy and our mind gets occupied with what we’ve been doing. The Lord’s Supper is a good way to clear our minds and get them working how God designed them to work. We dump the junk that’s accumulated during the week when we focus on all that God has done for us. It seems that the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper once per week (Acts 20:6-7).

So how can we do a restart at the Lord’s Supper? When the Corinthians were treating each other poorly by discriminating amongst themselves and not respecting each other, Paul told them how to put things right before they took part in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34NIV). In particular, he said “anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup”. (v.27-28). The Bible says that they were to “examine” themselves before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. They were to practice self-examination before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. We are to be honest about sin in our lives in order to maintain a dynamic fellowship with the Lord. This can mean dealing with unconfessed sin by confession and repentance.

Confession and repentance

Confession is God’s reset button for our guilt. To confess is to acknowledge our sin to God and to those we have sinned against (Jas. 5:16). The Bible says, “if we confess our sins to Him (God), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 Jn. 1:9NLT). Confession should lead to repentance. To repent is to change our direction away from a sinful way of behavior towards obeying God instead. It’s turning around to follow God (Acts 3:19). It involves action by reversing our direction and going opposite to the way of sin. For the Corinthians it meant to stop discriminating amongst themselves and to start sharing things amongst themselves and so respecting each other (1 Cor. 11:33-34). Confession and repentance help us to sustain our loving relationship with God.

We all struggle with sin. Let’s examine our motives. Are we self-centered? Are we carelessness towards sin because God “forgives” us when we sin?

Like a restart often cleans up our computer so that it can work again, confession and repentance of our sins cleanses us from all wickedness. We restart when we confess our sins. This renews our mind with the thoughts of God’s new creation so we can “participate in the divine nature” (Rom. 12:2; Cor. 5:17; 2 Pt. 1:4). It’s a good way to clear our minds and get them working how God designed them to work once again.

Lessons for us

A reboot is a simple way to fix some computer problems. But it’s easy to forget. A spiritual reboot is a simple way to fix some of our problems in life. And it’s also easy to forget.

We can reboot through prayer, reading the Bible and participating in the Lord’s Supper. It always includes confession and repentance of our sinful ways. How do you like to reboot?

Written, April 2018


How to find God’s will

man on roof 3 400pxHave you heard the story about a man trapped on the top of his house during a flood? The water is swiftly rising. As this man sits on his roof, fearful of being swept away by the current, he cries out to God, “Please deliver me”.

A few moments later, a farmer friend arrives with his boat. “Hey, want a ride to safety?” he asks. “No”, replies the man on top of his house. “God is going to deliver me.”

An hour later, the water is up to the gutters. A voluntary rescue person comes by on his yellow raft. “Hey, I’m here to help get you off there and on to safety,” he yells. But the man on top of his house refuses to go. “God is going to deliver me.”

Another hour passes and now the water is halfway up the roof. The man is now on top of his chimney, nervously looking down at certain death and destruction. Fortunately, a Red Cross volunteer comes along in a canoe and offers him a ride to safety. But the man refuses. “No, God is going to deliver me.”

A couple of hours pass by and the water sweeps over the top of his house and he is carried away by the current and drowns. When he gets to heaven, he meets Jesus and says, “I thought you were going to deliver me”. Jesus replies, “I sent a boat, an inflatable raft, and a canoe; but you refused each one”. Don’t be like this man!

In the previous post we saw why it is important to know God’s will. Now we will look at how we can find God’s will for us. How does God guide us? We will see that God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us.

First, we need to be aware of the conditions for finding God’s will.

Conditions for finding God’s will

Desire

Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own” (Jn. 7:17NLT). If we want to find God’s will, we must be willing to do it even before we know what it is. So, there must be a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance. If we are walking closely with the Lord and truly desiring His will for our lives, God will place His desires in our hearts. The key is wanting God’s will, not our own. A godly person’s desires are in line with what God wants them to do (Ps. 37:4, 23, 31).

Faith

Solomon answered the question, “How can I know God’s will in my life?” with a proverb, “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” (Prov. 3:5-6NIV). This means to trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. So we are to believe that God will reveal His will to us. And be willing to submit to Him in every area of life.

James says, “when you ask (for wisdom), you must believe and not doubt” (Jas. 1:6). We must believe that God cares for us and not doubt His goodness and power.

Daily fellowship with the Lord

Romans 12:1-2 has three keys for knowing God’s will. And they all rely on daily fellowship with the Lord. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).

The first key is commitment.

a) Commitment. Like the life of a sacrificial animal was offered to God, God wants us to be totally committed to Him. We are to place our lives before God as an offering. It’s to be an exclusive relationship, like marriage. Our goal is to please God (2 Cor. 5:14-15). And give up our will so we can follow God’s plan for us.

The second key is a renewed mind.

b) A renewed mind. Our thinking is to be according to a biblical worldview. Godly thinking. Paul had the mind of Christ and didn’t think about people from a worldly point of view (1 Cor. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:16). It’s like marriage. Because they spend so much time together, a husband and wife get to know each other’s mind and ways. Daily prayer and mediation on Scripture can help us to learn God’s mind and ways.

Are spiritual factors included in our decision making? Do we have the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom in mind? Do we desire what He desires?

The third key is a godly lifestyle.

c) A godly lifestyle. Not following the pattern of the sinful world. This comes from a godly mind directing obedience to Scripture. What controls our lives? Outside influences or inner convictions? Do we live as if this world is all that there is? Have we lost the eternal point of view on our lives? Are we always thinking about ourselves and disregarding the things of God? These come from the world system, which hates God (Jn. 15:9-19).

The final condition for finding God’s will is confession and repentance of sin.

Confession and repentance of sin

Unconfessed sin keeps us from closeness to God. We are to deal with sin by confessing it and repenting (turning back to follow God). “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

If we have disobeyed God in some matter, let’s turn to Him in repentance now, before it is too late. Like Jonah, we may be able to come back into the mainstream of God’s plan for our lives.

Times of uncertainty are used by God to sift our motives too. When unsure of God’s will, we should examine ourselves to see whether we have fulfilled the prerequisites for His guidance.

Before you get a driving licence in Australia there are some pre-requisites. You need to pass:
– The driver knowledge test.
– The Hazard Perception Test.
– 120 hours of driving, including 20 hours of night driving.
– The driving practical test.
Likewise, we have seen that there are some pre-requisites for finding God’s will.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today.

The Holy Spirit

God guided Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but that method ceased when they entered Canaan. In Acts there are a few examples of God using angels and visions to guide people, but these are rare. In this post we will look at the normal means of guidance.

Finding God’s will was easier in Old Testament (OT) times because God used external ways to indicate it. The Holy Spirit now lives in a believer as a Guide, and He replaces all the external means of guidance that existed in the OT. Jesus told the disciples, “He (the Holy Spirit) will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). They wrote this down and we now have it in the New Testament (NT).

Early in His ministry, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Lk. 4:1). Jesus and the Apostles were led by the Spirit because they were said to be full of the Holy Spirit. And Christians are commanded to be full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:17).

The Holy Spirit urges us inwardly either to take or not to take a certain course of action. Normally, this is the result of much time spent in prayer, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of action. We can work through decisions with the wisdom God gives us through the Spirit. We can distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit by the growing peace He gives to our minds, as we pray over the matter (Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15). And the Holy Spirit will never lead us contrary to the teaching of the Bible.

Athletes and sporting teams have coaches to prepare them to perform at their peak. Mal Meninga coaches the Australian Rugby League team, Bert Van Marwijk has just started to coach the Australian Soccer team and Darren Lehmann has just resigned from coaching the Australian Cricket team. Fortunately, we have a coach who doesn’t retire, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also guides us through the following external means. The chief external means by which God guides His people today is the Bible.

Scripture

Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The authors of the Bible were given the words to use by the Holy Spirit. Through it believers can be equipped for life, including leaning about God’s plan, purpose and will.

John Piper says there are three stages of finding God’s will.
– Using our renewed minds to understand and apply what God commands in the Scripture.
– The application of the Scriptures to new situations in life that are not addressed in the Bible.
– The development of godly character. Most of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous.
They are just spill-over from what’s inside.

ScriptureWhen we look at the commands in the Bible we need to realize who they were written for. This is summarized in a schematic diagram where time increases from left to right. Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus, died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So the commands in Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) were written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us. The OT was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant). So these commands don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the NT. Some are repeated in the NT, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the NT, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the OT to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include the teachings of His to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant). The gospels were written to give Christians an account of the life of Jesus.

When interpreting a passage of the Bible we need to take the text and the context into account. Questions about the text include:
– Who was it written to?
– What did it mean to them?
– What’s changed since then? Are we living under a different covenant?
And questions about the context include:
– What happened before and afterwards?
– What is the situation?
Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

For example, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5;1 Pt. 2:24) could refer to either physical or spiritual healing. The context in Isaiah is “our transgressions”, “our iniquities”, “each of us has turned to our own way”, and “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). And the context in 1 Peter is “our sins”, and “die to sins and live for righteousness”. There is no mention in either passage of illness or injury. So, in these verses “healed” means forgiveness of their sins (spiritual healing), not physical healing.

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.

Biblical commands to Christians are clear to follow. They are God’s revealed will for us. Are we faithfully seeking Him on a daily basis through Bible study and prayer? Are we active in ministry at a Bible-believing church? Are we sharing our faith? Are we doing our best to live apart from sin? Are we faithful to our spouse? Are we seeking satisfaction in Christ instead of the world?

Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Models are also clear to follow.

But what about topics not mentioned in the Bible? First, we can ask does it contradict the Bible? Nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. Although the Bible doesn’t give specific answers to many problems we face, it does give us general principles. We can apply these principles to the issues we face day by day. Spiritual wisdom is the practical application of the Bible to everyday situations.

Paul urged the Ephesians to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17). We understand the will of the Lord by reflective thinking on how principles of Scripture apply to our circumstances. We find the general will of God in the Bible; we find the specific will for an individual believer through the application of principles of the Bible. We do not find this will through experiences, visions, or coincidences. We find His will through the correct use of our understanding.

Tattoo 6 400pxFor example, what about a debatable matter like tattoos? This is a secondary matter that is not essential to the Christian faith. And Christians may have different opinions and convictions about it. Some biblical principles we can consider are: God’s honor, the welfare of others (like acting in love, acceptance, harmony, don’t quarrel, don’t judge, don’t stumble a weaker believer, and don’t hinder spiritual growth), and order in the church. Also, what is the motive behind the tattoo?

On rare occasions, God may confirm His guidance to us through some specific passage in our daily Bible reading. But care is needed for we are often likely to read into a passage what is not there. God may lead us through a verse taken out of context, but this is the exception rather than the rule. God may confirm His guidance through a passage in our daily Bible-reading. But this should never be made the sole basis for guidance in any matter.

Ikea 3 400pxHave you ever bought some furniture from Ikea? It comes as a flat-pack and the components need to be assembled before they can be used. It’s best to follow the instructions. Otherwise, you might have to go back to the beginning in order to assemble the components in the correct order. The Bible is like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Prayer is another external means of guidance.

Prayer

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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). Prayer is the way to alleviate worry and experience God’s peace. God wants to know about our requests. There is peace in knowing that God is sovereign and loving.

James 1:5 says we don’t have wisdom because we don’t ask for it—so prayer is critical in seeking and living the will of God. He can use answered prayer to guide us through life.

Did you know that there is an Ikea flat-pack furniture assembly service for difficult projects? And what if we could phone up and get help with difficult Ikea projects? Prayer is like that – we get to speak with the author of the instructions.

Circumstances and opportunities are other external means of guidance.

Circumstances and opportunities

God is sovereign. He is in charge of this world. And the events that He allows are all part of His sovereign will. Nothing happens by chance. What happens to us is part of God’s sovereign will. He can control our circumstances and thereby indicate His will. God may use events in our life to point us in a certain direction. God can use circumstances either to confirm the guidance we have received or to prevent our taking a wrong step.

There are a number of cases of circumstantial guidance in the book of Acts. God used persecution to scatter the church from Jerusalem to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1). During Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas moved from one place to another when they had to flee from persecution. And after Paul was arrested, he was given opportunities to preach in Jerusalem to the crowd and to the Sanhedrin. At his trial, he preached to the governor and the king. And when he was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he preached to the sailors, to people at Malta and to people at Rome (Acts 21-28).

God may prevent us from going into paths He has not chosen for us by putting us on a sick bed or by making us miss a train, an appointment or an interview. Disappointments can be His appointments for us, if we live under His Lordship. When we do not obtain something we greatly longed for and prayed for, we can be sure that God has something better in store for us.

God may also lead us contrary to circumstances. So circumstances are not always an indication of God’s will. They must be considered only in conjunction with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and His witness through the Bible.

Is it right to ask God to indicate His will by a sign? After the advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is not a single recorded case in the NT of believers seeking to find God’s will through a sign. This seems to indicate that it is no longer God’s normal method of guidance. It served a purpose in OT times, when the Holy Spirit did not indwell people – but not now. Don’t ask God for a miracle as a sign, and don’t ask God for something so common that it is not really a sign at all. And don’t ask God for a verse as a sign. It’s probably best to not ask God to indicate His will by a sign at all.

God also works through open doors and opportunities. To steer a ship or vehicle, it needs to be moving. If we are active in responding to the opportunities before us, God will direct us.

The advice of godly believers is another external means of guidance.

The advice of godly believers

Christians are urged to encourage each other in the local church (Heb. 10:24-25). Wisdom is available from others with more experience in the Christian life. It’s good to have a mentor or a spiritual counselor or a small group who can provide guidance and support.

However, there are two extremes to avoid. One is to be completely independent of the advice of godly people. The other is to be so completely dependent on their advice as to accept it without question as God’s will for us.

There are some occasions when we should pay attention to the advice of godly people, and some occasions when we may have to go against the advice of those same people, and yet other occasions when we do not have to consult anyone at all. In any case whether we accept or reject or do not seek the advice of others, the ultimate decision must always be our own, for we are personally answerable to God for our decisions.

Daily guidance

Building house 5 400pxHow do you build a house? One brick at a time. Or one part at a time. How do we build a life? One decision at a time. There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny”. The decisions we make about God’s plan purpose and will for us shape our lives.

God may sometimes show us His will only just before we have to make a decision, and may keep us waiting a long time prior to that. In any case, He will show us only the next step at each stage. He leads us step by step because He wants us to depend on Him day by day, and to walk by faith and not by sight. For example, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). When He shows us only one step at a time, we are compelled to depend on Him. Moreover, if God showed us the whole future, it is quite likely that we would not want to obey Him fully. And so, He shows us just one step at a time and gradually makes us willing to fulfil all His will. To find God’s will for our life, therefore, all we need to do at any time is to take the next step that God shows us. As we do so, we will find God’s plan unfolding gradually. He does not expect us to find out the details of His plan before we get there.

In the smaller details of daily life, guidance is not necessarily a question of making a conscious decision. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit. A right relationship with the Lord will lead to right action.

God’s will is not static. It is dynamic! It is not always an issue of choosing A or B. In fact, many times you can choose from A to Z, and any of them will be OK. It’s our choice. Why would God give us a brain and not expect us to use it? He lets us make choices, and he gives us second chances.

Summary

We have seen that there are seven conditions for finding God’s will, plan or purpose for us. These are desire, faith, daily fellowship with the Lord, commitment, a renewed mind, a godly lifestyle, and confession and repentance of sin.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. The Holy Spirit also uses Scripture, prayer, circumstances and the advice of godly believers. So God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us. Let’s use these so that we will know, understand and follow His will for our lives.

Written, April 2018

Also see: Why is it important to know God’s will
Understanding the Bible


Why is it important to know God’s will?

About seven years ago, my wife and I visited England. We arrived at Heathrow airport near London and got a hire car to drive towards the south-west to Cornwall. We drove from the hire car depot out to the main road and onto a roundabout. But I couldn’t recognize the right turnoff, so we kept driving around the roundabout! It was overcast, so I couldn’t tell the direction from the position of the sun in the sky. And then it started to rain. So, we took an exit from the roundabout and stopped and got out a GPS and used it to find the way to go.

Since then, when we travel in a new area, we often follow Google maps. When we use it as a GPS it tells us the way to go, like “take the third exit at the roundabout”. Life is a journey with many junctions where decisions must be made. The decisions we make shape our lives. In some sense, every decision we have made – good and bad – has brought us to where we are today. We can look back on the good and bad choices we have made and can see how God has used them in our lives. Now we want to make good choices that are in line with God’s will.

In this post we are looking at why it’s important to know and understand God’s will. We will see that because God wants our will to comply with His will, nothing is as important to the life of the Christian as the will of God. That’s why God wants us to know His will.

But, what does the term “God’s will” mean? According to the dictionary, in this context, “will” means a wish, desire, choice, intention, or command. It’s what someone wants to happen. And it especially applies to someone with authority or power. For example, “It is the king’s will that the prisoner be spared”. And “A dictator imposes their will on others”.

Meaning of “will” in the Bible

The word “will” carries the idea of purpose and design. Purpose plus design equals the will of God. God has a purpose for our lives. So, “God’s will” means God’s purpose, plan or design.

The New Testament uses two main Greek nouns to describe “will” in the context of “God’s will”. The first, “boule” (Strongs #1012) often means God’s sovereign plan which is predetermined and inflexible and always comes to pass. Peter told the Jews, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan (boule) and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23NIV).

The other Greek word, “thelema” (Strongs #2307) often means God’s desire or wish. It’s God’s preferred will, which doesn’t always come to pass because it relies on human obedience.

The two wills of God

The will of God is used in two main senses in the Bible. These are “God’s sovereign will” and “God’s revealed will”.

God’s sovereign will comes from the fact that God not only created the universe, but He continues to rule over and sustain the universe. He is near, not distant. He’s not a God who created the universe and then took a holiday and left it to run on its own, while He is now remote. Instead, He has ultimate control of all that happens. He has a plan and purpose. God’s sovereign will always comes to pass. It’s hidden, and we only see it in hindsight by looking back after events have occurred, because we don’t know much about what the future holds like God does.

God’s revealed will comes from God’s commands and desires revealed in the Bible. It can be known. Because people have a free will, they can choose to either obey or disobey God’s revealed will. So, God’s revealed will doesn’t always come to pass.

The first aspect of God’s will is God’s sovereign will.

God’s sovereign will

To those who are tempted to worship idols, God said, “I am God, and there is none like me … My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’ …  What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isa. 46:8-11). And King Nebuchadnezzar praised God, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:34-35ESV). God plans the future and brings it to pass. God plans and governs everything.

Before Jesus was crucified He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). And the early Christians prayed, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27-28). It was God’s will that Jesus die. That’s what God decided would happen. So, God has a grand cosmic plan, which is shown in the schematic diagram. It begins with the creation of time and everything else and progresses through the fall, our sinful world to which Christ came as Savior, to the restoration after Jesus returns and to the new heavens and the new earth. And He has a plan or purpose for each of us as well. This goes from our birth to our death and onto eternal life. Paul says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Nothing can happen to us without God allowing it. In God’s providence He controls all events, all thoughts, and all plans for His own glory.

Paul reveals some of God’s sovereign will in Ephesians chapter 1. In the context of the early Jewish believers he says, that God “makes everything work out according to His plan” (Eph. 1:11NLT). God has a plan (which is His sovereign will) that is well thought out. It’s His purpose (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 3:11). It includes everything, nothing is left out of His plan. Everything that God planned will come to pass (Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:36). And everything that happens results from God’s will in some way.

But God never does evil and the Bible never blames God for evil or sin (Job. 1:21-22; Rom. 1:12). We have seen that it was the sovereign will of God that Jesus die. But this included the sins of Herod, Pilate, the soldiers, and the Jewish leaders. This part of God’s sovereign will is also called God’s permissive will because it involves an indirect fulfillment of God’s desire. God allows ungodly behavior and uses it to fulfil His plan. At Easter we are reminded of “When God uses evil for good”. God allows the activities of Satan. He allows people to have a free will. And He allows sin and its consequences. These happen because of human choice and God’s allowance (permission). And God allows suffering and can use it for His purposes.

That’s all we will look at about God’s sovereign will. It’s good to understand God’s plan from the old creation in Genesis to the new creation in Revelation because we make our best decisions when we understand God’s ultimate plan for us and the world. This requires an understanding of the Bible.

The other aspect of God’s will is God’s revealed will.

God’s revealed will

God’s revealed will is what God commands us to do in the Bible. It can be obeyed or disobeyed. Here’s a schematic diagram to show how this will comes to us. It was God’s idea, which was revealed to the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles by the Holy Spirit. They taught about it and wrote it down and we now have it in the Bible. We can know and understand it by reading the Bible. And then we have the choice of obeying of disobeying it.

After 11 chapters of doctrine in the letter of Romans, Paul gives the practical applications for Christians. The first two verses say what’s necessary for living the Christian life. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2NLT).

The revealed will of God is what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible. Knowing the will of God takes effort and study. It’s impossible to do the will of God without knowing it. Knowing comes before doing. But if we ignore and disobey God’s revealed will then we will be a worldly Christian with an ungodly secular lifestyle.

Paul says that the revealed will of God is good, pleasing and perfect:
– It’s intrinsically good because it’s like God’s divine nature. In fact, God’s character controls His revealed will. It’s beneficial because knowing and doing the revealed will of God brings spiritual and moral growth. If we apply the Bible in our lives, it changes and empowers us (1 Th. 2:13).
– It’s pleasing to God (1 Th. 2:4). Every Christian will ultimately be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This process begins on earth and is completed in heaven.
– It’s perfect (or complete). It can’t be improved (being the best). And mature believers know and apply the will of God to their lives.

God answers prayers that are in accordance with His will (Jn. 14:13-14; 1 Jn. 5:14-15). The better we know God’s will, the better our prayer life will be and the more He will answer our prayers.

Sometimes God allows things to occur which are not according to His desire. For example, God can allow us to disobey the revealed will of God or choose a sinful course of action. By choosing not to intervene to prevent the act, God is willing that it take place. So, the will of God can permit sin, but it doesn’t cause the sin. And the person is responsible for the sin, and not God. This is called God’s permissive will.

The revealed will of God also includes suffering. The Bible says to expect suffering and that suffering can mould our character (1 Pt. 5:12-17).

What’s God’s primary will for humanity?

God’s primary will for humanity

God created people with a free will to make decisions. But many reject God’s revealed will in the Bible. God’s primary will for humanity is that they turn to Christ and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness (2 Pt. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).

The message to scoffers who doubt that God is going to judge the world in a coming day is that “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). The delay is not because God doesn’t keep His promises, but because he is patient in giving people more time to be saved from this judgement. That’s the major desire of God’s revealed will.

Paul said that a reason to pray for all people is that God, “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Here he uses the title “God our Savior” because God wants everyone to be saved from their sin. There are two parts to this salvation: divine and human. “To be saved” is passive. We can’t save ourselves, but must be saved by God. And to be saved, we must “come to a knowledge of the truth”. God doesn’t save people against their will. He doesn’t populate heaven with rebellious subjects. Then Paul summarizes the gospel message “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Although God wants everyone to be saved, yet not everyone will be saved. God wanted the Israelites to travel from Egypt to Canaan, but most of them didn’t get there. Instead they wandered in the wilderness for 38 years where most of them died. They missed out of the promised blessing.

What’s God’s will for believers?

God’s will for believers

Once we’re saved, God has a further will for our lives. Forgiveness of sins is an entree to a life dedicated to the fulfilment of the will of God. God’s will is something for us to do, not just to believe or affirm. Because God loves us, His will for us is in our best interests.

Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50; Mk .3:35; Lk. 8:21). So, obeying God’s revealed will is evidence of membership in His spiritual family.

Paul says, “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 1:17). We need to know and understand what the will of the Lord is before we can do it.

Paul prayed for the Colossians, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way” (Col. 1:9-10). God wants us to fill our minds with His will so that we can “live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way”. Isn’t that what we want to do?

John says, “The (sinful) world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). And Peter says, “they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pt. 4:2). The will of God is opposite to the sinful desires of this world. One is eternal and the other is temporary. God’s will for our lives is the most important standard for Christian living. It’s the true purpose for the life of the believer. It should characterize Christians.

It’s like moving to a new job. We learn all about the business, its goals, vision and mission. We want to be accepted. Similarly, when we become Christians, we should find out God’s will for our lives and do it. We don’t want to displease our Boss.

There are certain things God wants us to do and not do. God’s will includes our growth to be like Christ and to glorify Him in all things. And there are good works for us to do: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Because God has given us His revealed will, He is interested in our lives. But who do we live for?

Who do we live for?

When defending himself against false teachers Paul reveals the motive for his behavior: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15NIV). The key point is that Paul was driven by Christ’s love – “Christ’s love compels us”. This love was revealed when “one (Jesus) died for all (everyone)”. And the reason He died was so that His followers “should no longer live for themselves but for Him (Jesus) who died for them and was raised again”. We should stop living for ourselves, and start living for Jesus, the Son of God. God wants us to be godly, not selfish. That’s a challenge to us. Who do we live for? Ourselves? Our family? Our church? God? You may say, “all of the above”. But in what priority? Jesus teaches that our top priority should be to follow Him (Mt. 10:37; 13:44-46; Lk. 14:26).

In this chapter of the Bible Paul also gives another motivation for his behavior. In the context of our death and resurrection, he says, “We make it our goal to please Him (Christ) … For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). We will give an account to Jesus about what we have done with our lives. Jesus will judge our lives. And then we will be rewarded accounting to what we have done. This is about rewards, not salvation. We are saved by faith, but we are rewarded according to our obedience to His will. Is our goal to please God? Or is it to please ourselves? Let’s be like Paul who wanted to please Christ.

When the Corinthians disputed about what leader they followed, Paul said “they (each leader) will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8). Likewise, each believer will be rewarded according to how much they have lived for God compared to how much they lived without considering what God would want them to do. Then he says, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:13-15). This is a metaphor saying that in future our behavior will be judged by Jesus Christ. As a fire reveals what’s combustible and what’s not combustible, Jesus will reveal what’s done in accordance with His will and what’s not done in accordance with His will. So, there are eternal consequences for how we live our lives.

It’s best to live for God because He created our world and He continues to sustain it. It’s always best to follow the maker’s instructions. Job said, “the life of every living thing is in His (God’s) hand, and the breath of every human being” (Job. 12:10). And Paul said, “Everything was created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16NLT). This includes us. God is the source of our life.

What are the consequences of living outside God’s will?

Consequences of living outside God’s will

The Bible teaches that there are consequences to how we live our lives. The Israelites died in the wilderness. Saul and Solomon lost their kingdoms. When the Galatians were living outside God’s will by following sinful ways Paul listed the consequences. They lost the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23NLT). Instead, they practiced: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). So, they lapsed into sinful habits. Those who make their decisions without seeking God’s guidance will be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.

True love and freedom only exists in the will of God (Jn. 8:32). The freedom outside of God’s ways is only a freedom to do more sin. A sin is anything that isn’t pleasing to God. It may be something we do or say, or an evil thought or selfish motive — but whatever it is, it isn’t God’s will. Sin is anything outside God’s will. It hinders and entangles us (Heb. 12:1). And God hates sin.

God told Adam and Eve not to eat from one particular tree because He wanted to protect them. That’s the beauty of obedience. It protects like a boundary fence. In Australia, schools have boundary fences. It’s safe inside them. And parents teach children not to cross the street when a car is coming. These are protective boundaries.

The Australian cricket captain Steve Smith knows that there are consequences for disobeying the laws of cricket (he has been banned from playing for 12 months). Likewise, there are consequences if we disobey God’s revealed will.

Knowing and doing

But knowing God’s revealed will is not enough. It’s like an App on your smartphone which is no good unless you activate it. The App is comprised of coded instructions. Just having it sitting in your phone and not using it is no better than not having it at all. But when you press the icon the program is activated, and you see the results on the screen. When we obey God’s revealed will it is activated, and we will see the results in our lives and in those around us.

Epaphras prayed that the Colossians “may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12ESV, NET). This means that they understand and apply the principles of Bible to their situations in life. There is nothing better for us than doing “all the will of God”. But the will of God may hurt; it may be an uphill battle.

Do you know that suffering comes by the will of God?

Suffering comes by the will of God

God created humanity with the freedom to make choices. This includes choosing between good and bad, right and wrong. We aren’t robots that only respond to instructions and we aren’t driven only by instinct. Because we can make choices, we will experience the consequences of these choices.

Peter said, “it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Pt. 3:17). It is God’s will to do what is right, even if suffering is the result. And undeserved suffering makes us partners in Christ’s suffering.

Peter also said, “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pt. 4:19). We are to continue trusting the God who made us (as part of the original creation) and who saved us (as part of the new creation) because He is faithful. We should hand over the control of our lives to Him.

Why is it important to know God’s will?

We have seen that the Bible gives at least 13 reasons why it’s important to know God’s will. Knowing and living for God’s will for us:
Shows us the only way to heaven. By faith in Christ.
Shows us how to live.
Gives meaning to our lives. This motivates us and gives us a passion.
Helps us make decisions. How do we spend our time and resources? These are limited. We can’t do everything we want to do. Instead if we know God’s will, we can focus on what’s important.
Develops our character and values. We adopt godly thinking and a godly lifestyle. We “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4). We become more Christ-like. We reap the fruit of the Spirit.
Enables growth towards spiritual maturity.
Prepares us for heaven. When Jesus asks, “What did you do with the life I gave you?”, it will it be obvious if we lived for ourselves or for God’s plan for us. This life is preparation for the next. And we aren’t reincarnated on earth.
Pleases God.
Brings assurance and contentment.
Improves our prayer life.
Is evidence of membership in God’s spiritual family.
Protects us from losing the fruit of the Spirit.
Protects us from sinful habits.

Conclusion

Because God wants our will to comply with His will, nothing is as important to the life of the Christian as the will of God. That’s why God wants us to know His will (Acts 22:14), to understand His will (Eph. 5:17), and to do His will (Mt. 7:21).

But whose will is dominant in our lives? Ours or God’s? Let’s make knowing and understanding God’s will for us a way of life. A part of our character. A regular commitment. Then it will guide and influence our mind and conscience and emotions and all the things we do.

Written, April 2018

Also see: How to find God’s will


Three good habits

The Marshmallow Test 2 400pxIn the marshmallow test a researcher places a marshmallow in front of a pre-schooler and tells them that if they can wait about 15 minutes before eating it, they will get a second marshmallow. The choice is: one treat right now or two treats later. It demonstrates the power of habit and willpower (or self-control).

Our habits affect or control our lives. A habit is something we do regularly and that tends to occur subconsciously. It involves our attitudes, behaviors, characteristics and customs. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. But it is possible to form new habits through the repetition of new actions in small steps (that take no more than 5 minutes). And It takes at least 60 consecutive days to establish a habit.

God lists three habits in the Bible that go together like the layers in a sandwich.

The sandwich

When he wrote a letter to encourage the Christians at Thessalonica who were enduring persecution, Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18NIV). This is comprised of three commands: to be joyful, to be prayerful and to be thankful. It would have been easier if the Bible said, “Rejoice sometimes, pray occasionally, and give thanks when you feel like it”. Instead the standard is higher than that: always, continually, and in all circumstances.

These three commands cover our past, present and future. We rejoice in the present, pray for the future and give thanks for the past. Paul repeated them to Christians in Rome, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).

The first command is to rejoice always.

Be joyful

“Rejoice always” means to be cheerful or joyful all the time, not just sometimes. This includes good and adverse circumstances. Paul was joyful when he heard about their ongoing faith in the Lord (1 Th. 3:9). But the Christians at Thessalonica were to rejoice although they were being persecuted (Acts 17:5-9; 1 Th. 2:14). And Paul and Silas sang joyfully in prison (Acts 16:25).

When we face difficulties, we have a choice: either we can focus on our trials and lapse into self-pity. Or we can set our minds on the things above, where Christ is at the right hand of God, and rejoice. Paul also said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). So to rejoice always means that we must make this deliberate choice to focus on the Lord and the inheritance that we have in Him, not on our difficult circumstances.

Joy is different to happiness. Joy is an inner attitude whereas happiness is an emotional response to good circumstances. Because it works from the inside out, joy does not depend on our circumstances. God and Jesus are the source and subject of our joy. Biblical joy comes from who God and Jesus are and what they do. And we know that God is in control of the circumstances. As joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s a consequence of a godly life (Gal. 5:22-23). It depends on our relationship with God.

So there is some truth in the Monty Python comedy song “Always look on the bright side of life”. For a Christian, there is always a bright side of life. And that’s eternal life.

The second command is to pray continually.

Be prayful

“Pray continually” means to pray at regular times and to be persistent in prayer. Our prayers should be frequent and persistent. It includes always being willing and ready to pray as the need arises. This indicates one’s dependence on God.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy continually prayed for them and Paul asked them to pray for him and his companions (1 Th. 1:2; 5:25). Likewise, we need to pray for one another.

Our communication with family and friends is hindered if our cell phone is switched off or the battery is flat. Likewise, our communication with God is hindered if we don’t pray continually.

The third command is to give thanks in all circumstances.

Be thankful

“Give thanks in all circumstances” means to give thanks in all circumstances because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). Note that it is “in” the circumstance, not “for” the circumstance. If we gave thanks “for” everything that would mean that we give thanks for Satan and his plan for the world!

Instead we thank God  no matter what happens, as long as we don’t excuse sin. Whatever comes in our lives comes in by the will of God. Like joy, our thankfulness depends on our relationship in Christ rather than on the circumstances of life.

Paul also said, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

Paul usually includes thanksgiving at the beginning of his letters. In this case, Paul thanked God continually because they accepted the message that he brought from God (1 Th. 1:2; 3:9).

Thanksgiving is the time of year when North Americans spend time with family and friends and reflect on all that they are grateful for. But God wants us to be thankful every day of the year.

Each of these three commands are God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

In Christ Jesus

“God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” means that that God wants His people to be joyful, prayerful and thankful. In these areas of life we can know God’s will without a doubt. This part of God’s will is also especially revealed by the example of Christ Jesus. But we can only obey them if we are “in Christ Jesus”. Christians are in union with Christ because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Paul told them that as Christians they are collectively and individually “in Christ” (1 Th. 1:1; 2:14; 4:16). And their hope was “in our Lord Jesus Christ” – they were waiting for His return (1 Th. 1:3).

Lessons for us

It’s God’s will for His followers to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. God wants us to do these three things regularly. Every day of our life. Jesus taught about them. And He modelled them in His daily life. Let’s imitate Him in being joyful, prayerful and thankful.

Written, March 2018


Leading children

child safe 4 400pxAccording to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations. Many spoke of having their innocence stolen, their childhood lost, their education and prospective career taken from them and their personal relationships damaged. For many, sexual abuse is a trauma they can never escape. It can affect every aspect of their lives. The Commission found that society’s values and mechanisms which were available to regulate and control aberrant behavior failed.

Because children are vulnerable to abuse, protecting them and promoting their safety is important. We want to keep children safe and ensure their well-being. As a result of the Commission, those leading children must pass a “Working with Children Check”.

We can lead children in the family, in recreational activities and in educational activities. This is a privilege and a responsibility.

Watch your power

Those leading children have positional power, spiritual power and worldview power. Because leaders are responsible for the child’s safety and welfare, these powers need to be respected and controlled.

Teachers and parents have positional power over children. And because of their size and maturity, adults always have power over children. Such leaders have authority because of their position with respect to children which must be exercised with care because children are vulnerable. Misuse of positional power can cause emotional harm to children.

Those leading children can have spiritual power, Their view of God, prayer and the Bible may be evident to the children. Do we give these priority or are they only considered in times of need? Are our spiritual attitudes legalistic, liberal or reasonable? Misuse of this power can cause spiritual harm to children.

I’m doing a course on worldviews like theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, pantheism, new age, and postmodernism (Sire, 2009). Clearly, everyone has a worldview. Did you know that we can influence the worldview of others, particularly children?

Those leading children influence their worldview. This includes beliefs about God, the universe, humanity, history and morality. Our beliefs and attitudes about these can be contagious. This is important because a child’s mind is receptive and their response to the Bible’s message of salvation can determine their eternal destiny.

But did you know that we can learn lessons from children?

Imitate their trust and humility

Jesus said, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mk. 10:15; Lk. 18:17NIV). Little children have unwavering trust in their carers. That’s the kind of faith God wants us to have in Him and the message He has given us in the Bible, Let’s cultivate a constant trust in the God of the Bible who created the universe and all that is in it and who provided Jesus to be the source of our eternal life.

Little children are also humble (Mt. 18:1-4). They are totally dependent on others, particularly their parents. And they imitate their parents. Although little children can be selfish, they don’t have much to be proud about. Jesus said, “anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:4NLT). And humility is one of the steps of repentance (Jas. 4:6-10). Acknowledging our sinfulness and relying on the God’s spiritual power through Jesus rather than always being self-reliant is an act of humility.

Lessons for us

Let’s respect the privilege and responsibility of leading children by serving them like Jesus served His generation. This includes respecting our positional authority, spiritual power and worldview influence. And imitating their continual faith and humility.

Reference

Sire J W (2009) “The universe next door – A basic Worldview Catalogue”, Intervarsity Press.

Written, March 2018


Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

February-18_BuyMeAMercedes_400pxWhen Christian hypocrisy is so bad it draws public rebuke in the form of a parody song – there is a deep problem. In her song, ‘Mercedes Benz’, American rock singer, Janis Joplin sarcastically prays to God for a luxury car so she can compete with her friends, “who all drive Porsches”. Next she asks for a color TV, followed by a night on the town. “Prove that you love me, and buy the next round” she sings.

The mind space of some Christians is hard to fathom. Speaking about Himself, Jesus said, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man (Jesus) has no place even to lay His head‘ (Matthew 8:20). Yet the advert on the back of one Christian magazine boasted, ‘Our pastors all drive late model Mercedes Benz cars’. The point was clear, ‘You can see how much God loves our church, because we’re all so rich!’

But Jesus said that if anyone wanted to be His disciple they should, ‘give up their own way, take up their cross, and follow Him’ (Mark 8:34). Sadly, in the rich West, Christians struggle to give up their own way. It’s so easy to justify the quality lifestyle products, expensive holidays and renovations. Would you rather be noticed as the one who has the most or the least? So Christians join the endless, upgrade cycle of every other Western consumer.

Meanwhile in other parts of the world – or just your own neighborhood – there are people without. The release of Joplin’s song in 1970 coincided with a terrible famine in Nigeria caused by the Biafran civil war. One reason the famine shocked the world is this photo taken by Peter Williams in 1969 showing three young boys looking hauntingly at the camera. Their unflinching gaze asks so many hard questions. In obvious need of urgent food and safety, it’s not clear who will help.

Yet the Bible challenges anyone reading it to help those who are less fortunate. The logic is simple… if God is prepared to love us by sending His son to die for us at the cross, then how can we also, not be generous to others?

The author James in the Bible wrote this about prayer.
“You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:2-3).

It’s right to pray for our daily bread. But let’s also pray for opportunities to be as generous to others as God has been to us.

Bible Verse: 2 Corinthians 9:7 God loves a person who gives cheerfully”.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to be more generous to others.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

 


The essential 100 challenge

E 100 challenge 1 400pxHere’s a systematic approach to start or restart reading the Bible. The challenge is to read 100 key Bible passages – 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament. The passages are usually one to two chapters in length and can easily be read in 10 minutes or less. They include the Historical books, Poetry and Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles (Letters) and Revelation. This gives a big picture of the Bible. And it’s designed to develop a daily Bible reading habit. It works because it’s simple, flexible, and achievable.

The Challenge, which is published by Scripture Union, is available on the the E100 Challenge app and the YouVersion app. A version has also been developed for children, which is called “The Big Bible Challenge”.

After completing the challenge, you can try to “Read the Bible in one year”, where two passages are given for each day, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

Old Testament

In the Beginning
1. Creation. Genesis 1:1-2:25
2. The Fall. Genesis 3:1-24
3. The Flood. Genesis 6:5-7:24
4. God’s Covenant with Noah. Genesis 8:1-9:17
5. Tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9

Abraham, Issac and Jacob
6. The Call of Abram. Genesis 12:1-20
7. God’s Covenant with Abram. Genesis 15:1-21
8. Issac’s Birth and Sacrifice. Genesis 21:1-22:19
9. Jacob and Esau Conflict. Genesis 27:1-28:22
10. Jacob and Esau Reconcile. Genesis 32:1-33:20

The Story of Joseph
11. Joseph Sold Into Slavery. Genesis 37:1-36
12. Prison and a Promotion. Genesis 39:1-41:57
13. Ten Brothers Go to Egypt. Genesis 42:1-38
14. The Brothers Return. Genesis 43:1-44:34
15. Joseph Reveals His Identity. Genesis 45:1-46:7

Moses and the Exodus
16. Birth of Moses. Exodus 1:1-2:25
17. Moses and the Burning Bush. Exodus 3:1-22
18. The Ten Plagues. Exodus 6:28-11:10
19. Passover and Exodus. Exodus 12:1-42
20. Crossing the Red Sea. Exodus 13:17-14:31

The Law and the Land
21. The Ten Commandments. Exodus 19:1-20:21
22. The Golden Calf. Exodus 32:1-34:35
23. Joshua Succeeds Moses. Joshua 1:1-18
24. Crossing the Jordan. Joshua 3:1-4:24
25. The Fall of Jericho. Joshua 5:13-6:27

The Judges
26. Israel’s Disobedience. Judges 2:6-3:6
27. Deborah Leads Israel. Judges 4:1-5:31
28. Gideon Defeats Midianites. Judges 6:1-7:25
29. Samson Defeats the Philistines. Judges 13:1-16:31
30. The Story of Ruth. Ruth 1:1-4:22

The Rise of Israel
31. Samuel Listens to God. 1 Samuel 1:1-3:21
32. King Saul. 1 Samuel 8:1-10:27
33. David and Goliath. 1 Samuel 16:1-18:16
34. David vs. Saul. 1 Samuel 23:7-24:22
35. King David. 2 Samuel 5:1-7:29

The Fall of Israel
36. David and Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 11:1-12:31
37. King Solomon. 1 Kings 2:1-3:28
38. Solomon’s Temple. 1 Kings 6:1-8:21
39. Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. 1 Kings 16:29-19:18
40. The Fall of Jerusalem. 2 Kings 25:1-30

The Psalms and Proverbs
41. The Lord is My Shepherd. Psalm 23
42. Have Mercy on Me. Psalm 51
43. Praise the Lord. Psalm 103
44. Godly Wisdom. Proverbs 1:1-4:27
45. The Proverbs of Solomon. Proverbs 16:1-18:24

The Prophets
46. The Suffering Servant. Isaiah 51:1-53:12
47. Jeremiah’s Call and Message. Jeremiah 1:1-3:5
48. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel 6:1-28
49. The Story of Jonah. Jonah 1:1-4:11
50. The Day of Judgement. Malachi 2:10-4:6

New Testament

The Living Word
51. The Word Became Flesh. John 1:1-18
52. Gabriel’s Message. Luke 1:1-80
53. The Birth of Jesus. Luke 2:1-40
54. John the Baptist. Luke 3:1-20
55. The Temptation of Jesus. Matthew 4:1-17

The Teachings of Jesus
56. Sermon on the Mount – Part 1. Matthew 5:1-6:4
57. Sermon on the Mount – Part 2. Matthew 6:5-7:29
58. The Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 13:1-58
59. The Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37
60. The Prodigal Son. Luke 15:11-32

The Miracles of Jesus
61. Feeding the Five Thousand. Luke 9:1-17
62. Walking on Water. Matthew 14:22-36
63. Healing a Blind Man. John 9:1-41
64. Healing a Demon-Possessed Man. Mark 5:1-20
65. Raising Lazarus from the Dead. John 11:1-44

The Cross of Christ
66. The Last Supper. Luke 22:1-46
67. Arrest and Trial. John 18:1-40
68. The Crucifixion. John 19:1-42
69. The Resurrection. John 20:1-21:25
70. The Ascension. Acts 1:1-11

The Church is Born
71. The Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:1-47
72. Growth and Persecution. Acts 3:1-4:37
73. The First Martyr. Acts 6:8-8:8
74. Sharing the Word. Acts 8:26-40
75. Good News for All. Acts 10:1-11:18

The Travels of Paul
76. The Road to Damascus. Acts 9:1-31
77. The First Missionary Journey. Acts 13:1-14:28
78. The Council at Jerusalem. Acts 15:1-35
79. More Missionary Journeys. Acts 16:6-20:38
80. The Trip to Rome. Acts 25:23-28:31

Paul to the Churches
81. More Than Conquerors. Romans 8:1-39
82. The Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:1-26
83. The Armor of God. Ephesians 6:10-20
84. Rejoice in the Lord. Philippians 4:4-9
85. The Supremacy of Christ. Colossians 1:15-23

Paul to the Leaders
86. Elders and Deacons. 1 Timothy 3:1-16
87. The Love of Money. 1 Timothy 6:3-21
88. Good Soldiers of Christ. 2 Timothy 2:1-26
89. All Scripture is God-breathed. 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8
90. The Coming of the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

The Apostles’ Teaching
91. The Most Excellent Way. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
92. A New Creation in Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6:2
93. Be Holy. 1 Peter 1:13-2:12
94. Faith and Works. James 1:1-2:26
95. Love One Another. 1 John 3:11-4:21

The Revelation
96. A Voice and a Vision. Revelation 1:1-20
97. Messages to the Churches. Revelation 2:1-3:22
98. The Throne of Heaven. Revelation 4:1-7:17
99. Hallelujah!. Revelation 19:1-20:15
100. The New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:1-22:21

© Scripture Union 2010

Posted, October 2017


Marriage equality

Vote no 4a 400pxOn Sunday morning Sydneysiders could not miss “Vote No” sprawled across the sky. A skywriting Cessna plane wrote these words high over the city. The sky message attracted a lot of attention on social media both for and against the No campaign. Who would have thought that the act of saying that you were going to vote NO (and paying a skywriter to write that message in the sky) was so radical, even subversive!

Australian marriage law

This month Australia faces a postal survey on same-sex marriage. The current marriage law says that marriage is between a man and a woman. A typical church marriage rite says, “Marriage is the God ordained covenantal union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. There are three main parts. It’s “God ordained”. God designed marriage for humanity. It’s a “covenantal union”. Malachi criticized the Jews for being unfaithful to “the wife of your marriage covenant” (Mal.2:14NIV). A covenant is a binding agreement. But it’s not merely a human contract, because Jesus says that God joins husband and wife together (Mt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9). In this case it’s a promise to be faithful to one another for life, regardless of what the future may hold. It’s a special relationship between the genders. A one-on-one, male-female, relationship; which was the case with Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation. And it’s for a lifetime (“for life”).

This blogpost differs from many others on this topic because it’s based on the Bible and not on reason. Let’s begin with what Jesus says about marriage.

What Jesus said about marriage

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, He told them about God’s plan for marriage, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them (people) male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together (in marriage), let no one separate (in divorce)” (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9). Jesus goes back to the time before sin came into the world to show God’s original intention for marriage. Then He says that humanity was created in two genders: male and female (Gen. 1:27). That should be obvious to us. When a baby is born, it’s announced as being either a boy or a girl. There’s no gender ambiguity at birth! Our gender is determined by our genome and we can’t change that. But Facebook has at least 50 gender options! How confusing. Then the two genders are given as the reason (“For this reason”) why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s easy to understand. In this way, marriage is linked to God’s creation. “United” means that there is a strong bond between husband and wife. “One flesh” means sharing all of life together, like a body that doesn’t separate until death. God designed husband and wife to complement each other. Jesus recognizes that the first marriage was between Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman). It wasn’t between Adam and Steve or between Madam and Eve! The pattern of marriage was established in the Garden of Eden, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So according to the Bible, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Jesus quotes this verse and adds that because God has joined the couple together in marriage, it’s meant to be a lifelong union (“let no one separate”). Jesus showed that God’s original intention for marriage still applied in a sinful world. And it applies everywhere because it was instituted in the Garden of Eden before cultures began. In fact, marriage and gender exist until we go to heaven (Mt. 22:29-30; Mk. 12:24-25; Lk. 20:34-36). So, Jesus answers the question on divorce in the context of marriage being heterosexual, not homosexual.

God’s plan for mankind is that sexual relationships are so important that they are protected by the marriage covenant. God places a boundary around these sexual relationships where any sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are prohibited. This means that sexual intimacy is designed to be between a husband and a wife. According to God, that’s the only “safe sex”! Any other sexual activity (hetero or homo or pornographic) is a corruption of God’s design. It’s “dangerous sex”. And if we ignore God’s design there will be consequences.

This is Jesus’ definition of marriage. And same-sex marriage isn’t included. Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way He defined marriage already excluded it! So, according to Jesus, the term “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction, an oxymoron. The words “same-sex” and “marriage” don’t go together. Biblical marriage combines both genders, and it’s not a single gender relationship.

Notice that the word ”love” isn’t mentioned in this definition of marriage. This means that any loving relationship isn’t necessarily marriage.

Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). One of the important functions of the first marriage was to produce and nurture children. This is the example of marriage that Jesus tells those in the first century AD to follow. Of course, it only makes sense in the case of heterosexual marriage. There was no way to produce children from homosexual relationships.

What Paul said about marriage

Paul’s main instructions for marriage are given in Ephesians 5:22-33. And a short summary of these is given in Colossians 3:19-19, Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. He commands husbands to lead and love their wives, and wives to respect and submit to their husbands. These are commands for heterosexual marriage between a husband and a wife.

Husbands are to care for their wives like Christ cares for the church (v.29). As Christians are like Christ’s body, a wife is like a husband’s body (v.28,30). These are close relationships. Then Paul, like Jesus, connects back to the origin of marriage in Genesis 2:24. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Marriage is the formation of a new family. The bond between husband and wife should be the closest of all bonds between human beings.

Marriage also reflects the union between Christ (symbolized as the bridegroom) and the church (symbolized as the bride)(v.32). The bond between Christ and the church should be the closest in all human relationships. This union culminates in the wedding of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). So heaven begins with a wedding! The Bible begins in Genesis with a marriage and ends in Revelation with a marriage. At the wedding in heaven, two different types of people are united (Jesus and the church). In the Bible they are likened to husband and wife, man and woman; and not man and man or woman and woman. The illustration only works for heterosexual marriage, and not for homosexual marriage (as there is no “husband” or “wife”, just “partners”).

Lifelong marriage between a man and a woman guarantees children their biological birthright to a mother and a father and has a proven track record of providing them with protection, education, welfare, support and nurture. No other arrangement has improved upon the benefits of biblical marriage.

Trajectory of marriage in the Bible

We have seen that God’s design for marriage involved one man and one woman. On a graph of marriage practice through the ages, this is near the top of the graph. This is the “safe sex” line that represents protection by the marriage covenant. In the Old Testament, Lamech had two wives (Gen. 4:19, 23). He was part of the 7th generation on earth. Polygamy occurs from this time onwards in the Old Testament. This even included Jacob, David and Solomon. So the graph goes downwards. These marriages were not according to God’s design. They are reported and described in the Bible, but they were not prescribed by God. They caused social chaos in families and societies. Solomon’s foreign wives lead him into idolatry. So polygamy wasn’t an example to follow. In the 5th century BC when the Jews returned to Judea after their exile, Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi commanded them to get rid of their foreign wives (Ezra Ch 9-10; Neh. 13:23-27; Mal. 2:10-12). Malachi also denounced them divorcing their wives (Mal. 2:13-17). They had been unfaithful to their wives and breaking their marriage covenants. So the graph moves upwards because the Jews in Judea improved their marriage practice at this time. In the New Testament Jesus restored the original design for marriage of one man and one woman and this continued in the early church. So, the graph moves up to the top once again.Marriage trajectoryHow does the same-sex marriage proposal compare to this trajectory? It’s not on the line! Adding a new category to marriage works against the Bible’s trajectory on marriage. It’s like in the Old Testament when polygamy was added as a new category to marriage and the curve goes down. In the Old Testament, God let people deviate from His marriage design, but there were serious consequences. Likewise, today God will let people deviate from His marriage design, and the curve will go down again, and there will be serious consequences.

What Jesus said about homosexuality

How do we know what Jesus thought of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality) when it’s not mentioned specifically in the gospels? We can find out from the Old Testament because it describes the principles and practices of Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jew who lived under the Old Testament law. He obeyed the law of Moses (Jn. 8:29,55) and He didn’t sin in any way (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pt. 2:22). So, He would have followed the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations, such as: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22). And, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Lev. 20:13). So Jesus would have prohibited any homosexual sexual activity as it was against the laws of Moses for sexual relationships. As this was accepted by the Jews that He came to teach, He didn’t need to discuss this topic.

What Paul said about homosexuality

Paul describes the behavior of those who reject God’s revelation in creation, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (sexual immorality) … Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations (heterosexual marriage) for unnatural ones (homosexual sexual activity). In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women (heterosexual marriage) and were inflamed with lust for one another (homosexual sexual activity). Men committed shameful acts with other men (homosexual sexual activity), and received in themselves the due penalty for their error…. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1:24-27, 32).

Losing a proper view of God (v. 23) leads to sexual immorality (v.24), including homosexuality (v.26-27). In particular, homosexual sexual activity is described as “shameful lusts”, “unnatural” and “shameful acts”. That’s God’s view. But ignoring it leads to a society without shame. It’s an unnatural sexual activity because it’s an abnormal sexual activity. Natural (normal) sexual activity is in heterosexual marriage, which is fruitful (can produce new life). This was God’s order in creation (Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife). If Adam or Eve was homosexual, there would be no humanity!

This passage says that homosexual sexual activity (which was prevalent in the Roman Empire) was one of the characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle. The other characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle were idol worship (v.23, 25), other sexual immorality (v.24) and “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (v. 29-31). This list of sins identifies those who were not Christians.

God’s judgement for these people who reject His revelation is given in v.32 as eternal separation from God (spiritual “death”). What a sad outcome of going one’s own way. So rejecting God’s truth has eternal consequences. The only way for such people to avoid God’s judgment is to repent (stop this behavior) and turn to God.

So what did this passage mean in the 1st century AD? The characteristics of ungodly behavior are given and idolatry and homosexual sexual activity are condemned in particular. It meant that anyone who practiced idolatry was under God’s judgment. And anyone who practiced homosexual sexual activity was under God’s judgment. And the same applied to the other behaviors listed in v.29-31. There are similar lists elsewhere (1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Everyone was condemned! All were sinners who deserved eternal punishment in hell. The only way to avoid this punishment was to accept the good news about Jesus.

So homosexual sexual activity was one of the characteristics of the flesh (sinful nature; Gal. 5:19-21). It was a human invention, and not God’s intention. This means that the Bible condemned homosexual sexual activity in the 1st century AD. As there are no qualifications given, any and all homosexual sexual activity was condemned. They were all sinful.

The biblical principles for the church to follow haven’t changed since the1st century AD. And people still reject God’s revelation in creation. So human rebellion against God hasn’t changed. And idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexual sexual activity, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, and slander still occur. And people are still God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, promise-breakers, cruel, and ruthless. So human nature hasn’t changed, although history, society and technology have changed. Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all homosexual sexual activity is unnatural and against God’s order of creation.

What about same-sex attraction? This passage is addressing homosexual sexual behavior and not just homosexual attraction. There is a difference between being a practicing homosexual and having a homosexual tendency. Adam and Eve were created with an opposite sex attraction. But same-sex attraction is a result of the fall into sin. The temptation isn’t sinful. It is the sexual practice that the Bible condemns, not the orientation. The Holy Spirit gives believers the power to resist temptation (1 Cor.10:13). There are many who have an attraction to their own gender but refuse to give in to it. By the power of the Spirit, they have disciplined themselves to resist the temptation and to live in purity.

Trajectory of homosexuality in the Bible

We have seen that homosexual sexual activity is condemned by the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations. These applied throughout the Old Testament up to the time of Jesus. On a graph of homosexuality through the ages, this is near the bottom of the graph. As Paul also condemned homosexual sexual activity, the graph stays down during the church age. God consistently disapproves it. Every biblical text on this topic is negative. This leaves no scope for homosexual sexual activity to be approved by the church as acceptable behavior.Homosexuality trajectoryThis graph isn’t unique to homosexuality. The same graph applies to adultery, divorce, incest, and any other sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. It’s the “dangerous sex” line that represents corruption of God’s good design.

Marriage law postal survey

The Australian marriage survey, which is being mailed out now, asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” It’s a simple question with big implications. The idea is to redefine marriage by making gender irrelevant to marriage and by making the procreation of children irrelevant to marriage. This is a massive change in social policy and shouldn’t happen without thorough consideration of the consequences of such a change.

If we plan a new project, under the planning legislation, we are required to undertake an environmental impact assessment. And organizations have risk management procedures to ensure their activities are safe. These include risk assessment. Yet there’s no mention anywhere of the risks of this change in social policy. The possible consequences include loss of freedom of speech, loss of religious freedom, forced acceptance of same-sex marriage, loss of parental rights, children not being raised by their birth parents, children conceived by IVF who won’t know who their biological parents are, and surrogate mothers. If the law changes, Christians who follow the Bible will out of step with the law of the land. Christianity will become a counter-culture.

If the law changes then it will be used to silence dissent. It will impact Christian participation in education, charity and welfare. How will the law treat those disobedient citizens who hold to a Biblical understanding of marriage? It seems as though there will be negative social and religious impacts. And we will move closer to secular society, where people write their own Bible. We should vote “no”, because it’s against the Bible and there has been no disclosure or discussion of the likely impacts. We do a social impact assessment of a new shopping center, but not for a new marriage law!

“Marriage equality” is a catchy slogan for same-sex marriage. How could anyone oppose equality in marriage? It’s very deceptive. Of course, what we should be asking is what the slogan means and how it will be put into practice.

The unmarried

What about those who aren’t married? This is a larger fraction of the population than those having same-sex attraction. Jesus wasn’t married and Paul was unmarried when he wrote his letters to Christians. Paul gives advice to the unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 25-38. His principle was if you are married, don’t get divorced, and if you are unmarried stay that way if you can because you will have more time to serve the Lord and marriage brings extra troubles. Paul is writing to a church where there was immorality and persecution (v2, 26, 28). He says marriage is not God’s will for everyone. Some people have the gift to remain single. It’s good and preferable to remain unmarried if God enables you to control your sexual temptations because you can serve the Lord with less distractions. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (v.9). So Paul says the only alternative to heterosexual marriage is celibacy (abstaining from sexual relationships). People are free to choose between biblical marriage and celibacy.

Morality

We have looked at what God says in the Bible about marriage and homosexuality. God is our creator and the source of morality. He defines what is right and wrong. People don’t set the standard, God does. We are not autonomous. We need to appreciate the difference between a creator and a created being. God defines gender and marriage. Whatever humanity defines it to be doesn’t matter. We are all accountable to God. Changing the meaning of a term like “marriage” in our culture will not in any way change God’s standards.

God is good and His commands are good. God’s design for marriage is good. And it’s good for everyone. For all of our society. He is our authority on important matters like this. And His words in scripture are our authority.

Our identity in Christ

As Christians, we should find our identity as children of God, not in our achievements or sexuality or any other label. The Holy Spirit lives in us and grows the fruit of the Spirit. We are a new creation. We are citizens of heaven. We are special in God’s sight. We are made in the image of God. And we are God’s handiwork.

Discussion

Paul told the self-righteous, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same (kind of) things” (Rom. 2:1). It’s easy to be a hypocrite. We’re all sinners in one way or another. Paul also challenged the Jews about hypocrisy, “you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law” (Rom. 2:21-23)?

Likewise, do we lapse into idolatry (anything that replaces God), or greed, or deceit, or gossiping, or lying? These are all listed alongside homosexuality in Romans 1:29-31. The Bible says that people who practice any of these (and similar) sins are not true Christians. The solution is to confess our failures and repent (change behavior) and turn to follow God once again (1 Jn. 1:9). So let’s always try to honor God and follow His will, be content and generous, and be honest.

God switch 400pxIdolatry is when the “God switch” in our life is turned off. For many people it’s off permanently – that’s why we are having a marriage survey. But what about us? How often do we switch off God and go our own way?

We are Christ’s representatives on earth who are to be like light and salt in society. Let’s speak up for the truth, but do it in a loving way (Eph.4:15). Are we ready to face persecution after marriage is redefined, because the law of the land will be against God’s definition of marriage? Will we be able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34)?

How should we deal with instances of homosexual sexual activity? We can look at how Jesus responded to adultery and how Paul responded to incest (Jn. 8:1-11; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). Jesus didn’t condemn or pardon the adulteress, but He told her to “leave your life of sin” (Jn.8:11). And Paul said that ongoing sexual immorality amongst church members, including homosexual sexual activity, is to be judged by excommunication (1 Cor. 5:9-11). If the offender is sorry and repentant of such a serious sin, they should be lovingly restored to church fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11). This means that Christians should not tolerate homosexual sexual activity or same-sex marriage amongst church members.

Also, Paul says that Christians are not to judge the sins of unbelievers because God will judge them at the great white throne (1 Cor. 5:12-13; Rev. 21:11-15). This means that Christians should tolerate homosexual sexual activity and same-sex marriage (if it is legalized) amongst people who aren’t church members. We are not the moral police. Leave it up to God to be the judge. Church should be a safe place for the vulnerable. It should be safe for all kinds of people. Is our church a safe place? Is it a refuge? Are we a welcoming accepting church? Anyone should be free to walk into our church and be welcomed and accepted. After all Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Mt. 9:13; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:32).

Conclusion

We have seen that according to Jesus and Paul, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Consequently, the term “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron.

As the Bible condemns any sexual activity outside marriage as sinful, it condemns any homosexual sexual activity or same-sex marriage as a lifestyle for Christians. But Christians should tolerate unbelievers who follow such a lifestyle. The reason for this is that they are sinners who need to see God’s love. And like the Corinthians, they can turn around to follow Jesus.

Let’s leave the God switch turned “on” and vote “no” in the marriage survey!

Written, September 2017

Also see: Gender and marriage
Same-sex marriage
Jesus and marriage


Jesus and marriage

Thousands rallied at Sydney Town Hall to campaign for same-sex marriage. And there are new laws against hate speech during Australia’s same-sex marriage postal survey. The survey, which is being mailed out now, asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The current marriage law says that marriage is between a man and a woman. But what did Jesus say about marriage? To investigate this topic, we will look at the books of Matthew to John in the New Testament.

I have previously written a blogpost on what the Bible says about gender and marriage, which shows that the early church taught that marriage is between one man and one woman. We will see that Jesus taught this truth as well.

Husband and wife

The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband or a group of people, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “husband” or “husbands” in 8 verses in Matthew to John.

The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “wife” or “wife’s” in 37 verses and “wives” in one verse in Matthew to John.

Is heterosexual marriage a command, a model or a report?

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not necessarily worth following today. For this post, all the verses in the ESV that included any of the words, “husband”, “wife”, or “marriage” were examined.

Heterosexual marriage commanded

When Jesus was asked about divorce He replied, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them (people) male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together (in marriage), let no one separate (in divorce)” (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9NIV). Jesus goes back to the time before sin came into the world to show God’s original intention for marriage. Then He says that humanity was created in two genders: male and female (Gen. 1:27). That should be obvious to us. When a baby is born, it’s announced as being either a boy or a girl. There’s no gender ambiguity at birth! Our gender is determined by our genome and we can’t change that. Then the two genders are given as the reason (“For this reason”) why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s easy to understand. In this way, marriage is linked to God’s creation. “United” means that there is a strong bond between husband and wife. “One flesh” means sharing all of life together, like a body that doesn’t separate until death. God designed husband and wife to complement each other. Jesus recognizes that the first marriage was between Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman). It wasn’t between Adam and Steve or between Madam and Eve! The pattern of marriage was established in the Garden of Eden, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So according to the Bible, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Jesus quotes this verse and adds that because God has joined the couple together in marriage, it’s meant to be a lifelong union (“let no one separate”). Jesus showed that God’s original intention for marriage still applied in a sinful world. In fact, it applies until we go to heaven (Mt. 22:29-30; Mk. 12:24-25; Lk. 20:34-36). So, Jesus answers the question on divorce in the context of marriage being heterosexual.

This is Jesus’ definition of marriage. And same-sex marriage isn’t included.  Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it! So the term “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction, an oxymoron.

Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). This means that one of the important functions of the first marriage was to produce and nurture children. This is the example of marriage that Jesus tells those in the first century AD to follow. Of course, it only makes sense in the case of heterosexual marriage. There was no way to produce children from homosexual relationships.

Whenever Jesus taught about adultery (Lk. 16:18) and divorce (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18), He assumed that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But what about models of marriage in the gospels that aren’t commands?

Heterosexual marriage modelled

There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the time of Jesus was monogamous and heterosexual and that Jesus approved of this pattern for marriage.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5-24). And Jesus’ family had a father and mother, Joseph and Mary (Mt. 1:20, 24). One of the woman near the cross was Mary the wife of Clopas (Jn. 19:25). And when Jesus listed a man’s family He included a wife and children (Mt. 19:29; Lk. 14:26; 18:29).

In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus said that the servant had a wife and children (Mt. 18:25). In the parable of the ten virgins, the women were waiting to celebrate a wedding banquet. As a bridegroom is mentioned, the marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 25:1-10).

Jesus performed a miracle (turned water into wine) at a wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). As He attended the feast with His mother and disciples, Jesus clearly approved of marriage. Also, because the marriage involved a bridegroom (v.9), it was between a man and a woman. Jesus also used weddings in His parables and metaphors (Mt. 9:15; 22:1-12; 25:1-10; Mk. 2:19-20; Lk. 5:34; 12:36; 14:8). And John the Baptist used a bride, bridegroom and best-man in an illustration (Jn.3:29).

But what about when marriage is reported in the gospels and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?

Heterosexual marriage reported

The prophetess Anna became a widow after seven years of marriage to her husband (Lk. 2:36). And when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, they both assumed that a woman like her usually had a husband (Jn. 4:16-18).

When they asked Jesus about divorce, the Jewish religious leaders assumed that marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 19:3; Mk. 10:2). And the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question which involved a woman marrying seven brothers in turn under the levirate marriage law (Mt. 22:23-28; Mk. 12:18-23; Lk. 20:27-33). Although this looked like serial monogamy, in each case the woman was widowed  before she remarried.

John the Baptist denounced the marriage of Herodias to Herod Antipas, after she had been married to Herod Philip (Mt.14:3; Mk. 6:17-18; Lk. 3:19). Pilate was married (Mt. 27:19). And Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household, was married to Joanna (Lk. 8:3).

These verses indicate that the most common pattern of marriage when Jesus was alive was monogamous and heterosexual, where a man was married to a woman.

Other types of marriage?

I am not aware of any other verses between Matthew and John in the Bible that are related to marriage. So, the Bible doesn’t teach any other pattern for marriage besides a man and a woman. This means that homosexual marriage is a human invention, whereas heterosexual marriage is God-ordained.

Discussion

Clearly, all the marriages referred to above involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).

How do we know what Jesus thought of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality) when it’s not mentioned specifically in the gospels? We can find out from the Old Testament because it describes the principles and practices of Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jew who lived under the Old Testament law. He obeyed the law of Moses (Jn. 8:29,55) and He didn’t sin in any way (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pt. 2:22). So, He would have followed the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations, such as:
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Lev. 20:13).
So Jesus would have prohibited any homosexual sexual activity as it was against the laws of Moses for sexual relationships.

Conclusion

We have seen that according to Jesus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Consequently, the term “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron.

Written, September 2017

Also see: Gender and marriage
Same-sex marriage
Marriage equality


The Canberra Declaration

Canberra declaration 1This document was drafted in 2010 by a number of concerned Christian leaders from various backgrounds. It is a national declaration about the Judeo-Christian foundations which have made the West and Australia free, prosperous and democratic. It directs us to some of the key issues and values facing not just this nation, but all nations. The values listed here are very much under threat, and need to be vigorously and courageously championed.

The Preamble to the Australian Constitution contains the words, “Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”. As Australian citizens we continue to declare that we too put our trust in Almighty God.

For centuries, to speak of Western civilization was to speak of Christian civilization. The two were in many ways synonymous. The values that we have cherished and sought to strengthen are in large measure founded on the Judeo-Christian belief system. The many freedoms, advantages, opportunities, values and liberties which characterize the West owe much to the growth of Christianity with its inherent belief in the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God and the code of behavior that flows from this belief.

The Canberra Declaration follows on from the 2009 Manhattan Declaration and the 2010 Westminster Declaration. It declares that when Christian values are respected and allowed freedom of expression, not just confined to so-called sacred spaces but in the public arena as well, society is richer and healthier.

We wish to emphasize three areas that demand particular attention in our contemporary Australian society, namely religious freedom, marriage and the family, and the sanctity of human life. Were we to undermine any one of these values, the social fabric of our nation would be seriously weakened, to our personal and collective detriment.

Religious Freedom

Religious freedom includes freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. The importance of these freedoms is shown in countries where they are threatened or absent. Police states and totalitarian nations inevitably begin with the curtailment of basic liberties, including religious freedom and the right to speak one’s mind and conscience. This includes the right to change one’s religious beliefs.

We affirm the basic necessity of freedom of conscience, having the liberty to speak publicly about one’s faith and beliefs, and having the right to practise the religion of one’s choice. If these freedoms are removed – even in the name of supposed benefits – the prized values of democracy and liberty are seriously undermined.

In Australia today these freedoms are being restricted by laws which, although appearing positive on first reading, have the potential to lead to unintended and unacceptable consequences. These laws include anti-discrimination legislation, hate crime laws and legislation on religious and sexual vilification – each of which may be interpreted in a way that effectively works as a barrier to religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Thus the signers of this declaration affirm the fundamental right of Australians to religious freedom and freedom of speech, and we oppose legislation which denies such freedoms. We likewise oppose laws subjugating our nation to foreign powers and instrumentalities which restrict these freedoms.

Marriage and Family

Another vital package of values and social benefits is the long-standing institution of the natural family resulting from marriage between a man and a woman – as affirmed by the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act: “…the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

No other social institution has done so much good for people and for nations, yet marriage is being undermined, to the detriment of children, individuals, and society itself.

Lifelong marriage between a man and a woman guarantees children their biological birthright to a mother and a father and has a proven track record of providing them with protection, education, welfare, support and nurture. No other arrangement has improved upon the benefits of marriage.

In the face of competing alternatives and moves to redefine marriage, we affirm the importance and social utility of marriage between a man and a woman and the families formed thereby.

Human Life

The third important set of values revolves around the sanctity of human life which is being undermined in much of the Western world, through abortion, euthanasia, and some of the new reproductive technologies.

We believe that all human life, being made in the image of God, has intrinsic and equal value from conception to life’s natural end.

The very heart of a humane and civilized society is based on the way it treats its most vulnerable and innocent members including the unborn and the disabled. We therefore insist on the right of all persons, including those who are vulnerable or dependent, to protection from conception to natural death. We will support, protect, and be advocates for such people, since to do anything less is to weaken our humanity and despise our personhood.

We will not comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves the intentional taking of innocent human life.

Conclusion

Religious freedom, marriage and family, and the sacredness of human life have provided the foundations enabling Western democratic societies to flourish. We erode these foundations at our peril.

The faith which is at the heart of many of the values and strengths underpinning the Australian nation now compels us to speak up in their defence.

For the future of this nation, and for our children’s future, we call upon all like-minded citizens to support and sign this declaration.

Posted, April 2017