Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christian living

True worship

worship 400pxWhat is “true worship”? You may think that worship is limited to a church meeting or the singing in such a meeting. But it’s much more than that!

In Romans Paul shows that worship is an important part of our Christian lives. After 11 chapters on doctrine (what we believe about what God has done for us), he turns to practice (how we should live in view of what God has done for us).

This turning point in the book of Romans begins, “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” (Rom. 12:1NIV)

Christians are urged to do something here. It says that our actions, conduct and behavior should flow from an appreciation of what God has done from us. He says, “I urge you”. It’s not a command from a dictator, but an appeal from a friend. God is urging us to live in fellowship with Him.

This appeal is in view of “God’s mercy”. All that God has done for us and given us is described in the previous 11 chapters. This includes: salvation, forgiveness, justification, grace, redemption, righteousness, peace, hope, love, reconciliation, a spiritual life, the Holy Spirit, being released from the law of Moses, and being children of God, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ. It’s so amazing that Paul concludes this section with a doxology expressing awe and wonder at what God has done and continues to do though Jesus (Rom. 11:33-36). That’s the basis of why we should live for God.

Paul says “offer your bodies” to God as a living sacrifice. This means to offer our whole lives to God, like sacrifices were offered in the ancient world. It’s our whole body, soul and spirit and all we do, not just in a meeting at church. It’s a total commitment.

It’s a “living sacrifice”. Like animals were sacrificed daily to God in the Old Testament, we are to be the sacrifice. We give up our rights and obey God. Our sacrifice is to be “holy”, exclusively for God. Just as in marriage we give ourselves fully to our spouse, so we give ourselves fully to God. The sacrifice is also to be “pleasing to God”. We are to live to please God.

This is “true and proper worship”. It’s what worship is! It’s offering ourselves to God because of all He’s done for us. It’s our logical and reasonable response to God.

We have seen that Romans 12:1 describes what worship is for each believer. It’s a way of life. It’s individual worship. This worship is not just a church meeting or singing, but the whole of our lives.

So according to the Bible, worship is a part of our response to God’s revelation. It is an attitude and an action. The attitude is offering adoration, respect and honor to God (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:14). And the action is showing this respect by a life of service, obeying God (Rom. 12:1). Everyone worships something or someone. It’s evident in how we spend our time and money.

But God also calls us to collective worship (1 Cor. 11: 23-33). That’s how our individual worship can be combined and expressed corporately. It’s an opportunity to express our adoration, respect and honor of the Lord collectively. Corporate worship is focused on what the Lord has done in dying for us. That’s one of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper. Like individual worship, this should engage our minds, wills and emotions.

Let’s worship the Lord “in the Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Written, March 2017


The ethics of IVF

ivf-4-400pxInfertility can be devastating for couples who desire to have children. But medical technology now enables some of these to have their own children.

I have been asked about what should be the Christian attitude towards in-vitro fertilization (IVF)? The world’s first baby to be conceived by IVF was born in July 1978. In 2012, about 3.5% of all children born in Australia were conceived as a result of IVF treatment. And many Christians consider IVF an acceptable means to overcome infertility.

In this blogpost we look at IVF which uses the gametes of a husband and wife, and not the use of eggs or sperm that are donated by a third party. So only the sperm and egg of the married couple themselves are being considered and not surrogacy.

IVF procedure

The process of IVF consists of taking a woman’s eggs (ova) and a man’s sperm, fertilizing them outside the body, and then implanting them back into the woman’s womb with the goal of pregnancy and childbirth. It generally involves the following stages.

Pituitary suppression – The mother’s natural menstrual cycle is switched off with drugs.
Ovarian stimulation – fertility drugs are taken to stimulate the ovaries to produce several mature eggs, instead of just one.
Egg collection – Under a general or local anaesthetic, fluid is removed from the mother’s follicles, which contain eggs. The average number of eggs collected is 8-15. This number is required because of the attrition that occurs during the IVF cycle.
Sperm collection – Sperm is obtained from the father. And the best sperm are selected.
Fertilization – After the eggs are removed from the ovarian fluid, they are placed in a dish with the sperm and allowed to fertilize. Approximately 60-70% of the eggs will fertilize. If the sperm fertilizes an egg, it becomes an embryo, which is grown in a special incubator.
Embryo transfer – After 5-6 days, the embryos are in the blastocyst stage, when the embryo is transferred to the mother’s uterus. The healthiest one or two embryos are chosen for transfer. In Australia single embryo transfer is usually recommended unless the mother is over 40 years old, if the embryos available are of suboptimal quality or if there have been several previous unsuccessful IVF attempts.
Pregnancy – If an embryo successfully implants, the mother becomes pregnant.

Some differences between IVF and natural fertilization are:
– the mother experiences large dosages of hormones and invasive medical procedures.
– several eggs are fertilized at once instead of one at a time.
– the fertilization is occurring in the laboratory (outside the body) instead of inside the uterus.
– the sperm and eggs that fertilize have been selected artificially instead of naturally. Natural conception is a complicated process that is not fully understood and so can’t be replicated in the laboratory.

What happens to surplus embryos?

IVF generally produces more embryos than those that are transferred to the mother. But what happens to these excess embryos? Poor quality embryos are usually discarded, while healthy (good quality) embryos not transferred are usually frozen and stored. What happens to these frozen embryos?
– They may be used in subsequent IVF cycles.
– They may be used in medical research and then discarded.
– They may be discarded after pregnancy and childbirth is achieved.
– They may be stored indefinitely and even completely forgotten about.
– They may be donated to couples seeking children. But donating embryos does not ensure they will survive.
– They may be implanted at a time where pregnancy is very unlikely. This is actually a means of discarding embryos.

If several embryos are made for every woman who undergoes IVF, and about half of the embryos are discarded (or frozen) during or after the process, then millions of embryos have been discarded (or frozen) over the past 40 years.

When does human life begin?

There have been many suggestions as to when life begins including:
– The moment of fertilization when 23 chromosomes from each parent are combined to comprise the genetic makeup of a new and unique individual, known as a zygote. The zygote begins as a single cell which can subdivide by mitosis.
– About six days after fertilization, when the zygote (known as a blastocyst) is implanted in the uterine wall. The blastocyst is comprised of about 200-300 cells.
– About 14 days after fertilization, when occasionally the embryo can split to produce identical (or Siamese) twins. Twelve countries restrict in vitro research on human embryos to within 14 days of fertilization. Now that the culturing of human embryos in vitro beyond 14 days seems feasible, there is pressure to relax this restriction.
– About 20 weeks after fertilization, when the thalamus (a central part of the brain that plays a role in consciousness) is formed.
– When the fetus can exist outside the mother’s womb, which with current medical technology is about 24 weeks after fertilization.
– About 26 weeks after fertilization, when brain and neural pathways are developed enough to enable mental activity.
– At birth when breathing commences.

After fertilization, an embryo usually grows within the mother’s uterus until its birth. The unborn baby is alive before it’s born as its movements can be felt by the mother and monitored by ultrasound (Lk. 1:41-44). The characteristics of life include: sustenance, growth, responsiveness and reproduction. The smallest unit of life is a single cell that has these attributes. An organism is alive when it is comprised of living cells.

As functional genetic information and cell division are characteristics of a living cell, I think that a human embryo is alive from the time of its conception (fertilization).  An embryo has a distinct human genetic code and exhibits metabolism, development, the ability to react to stimuli, and cell reproduction. And if the baby’s life is not interrupted, the embryo will someday become an adult man or woman.

As an unborn baby undergoes continual development with time, we can trace backwards in time to when life begins. But where do we stop in the list of suggestions given above? The most logical beginning of life seems to be the moment of fertilization when a new genetic organism is formed from the male and female gametes. The other suggestions are steps in the development of the fetus, with no one being more important than the other – they are all equally important. Only fertilization is unique because it’s the beginning of the sequence.

The Bible refers to the unborn as an actual person by using personal pronouns (Ps. 139:13-16). This indicates that God considers the unborn to be a person. Some contest this by saving that the passage is poetic. Here’s another passage that is more definitive:
“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Ex. 21:22-15NIV).

The context of this passage is Israelite laws for dealing with personal injuries. It is interesting that a pregnant woman is described in the Hebrew language as being “with child” (harah, Strongs #2030). So an unborn fetus is described as a “child”. In the first case there is a fine when a child is born prematurely because a pregnant woman was accidently injured. According to the Brown-Briggs-Driver lexicon, it was an “untimely birth”. But in the second case, injury to either the child or the mother incurs a more severe punishment. The same penalty applies to the unborn child and the mother. They are considered to be of equal worth under the laws that God gave Moses at Mt Sinai. So the Bible values the life of unborn children and teaches that it is wrong to harm or kill them. In this case it was accidental harm. The same would apply to intentional harm. This means that the Bible forbids intentional abortion. The Bible does not give us permission to destroy innocent human life—this would be murder (Jas. 2:11).

This understanding of the beginning of human life means that embryos are alive as a human being at the beginning of their life. What about an embryo that aborts naturally? Should we be concerned about this as the death of a human being? As this is a natural occurrence which happens according to the will of God, it isn’t necessarily wrong. Sometimes the mother may be unaware of this event. But if the parents are aware of it, then they can experience grief and loss. But for reasons only known to God, He allowed that to happen. We just need to be assured that that was the best outcome for the baby and the parents (Rom. 8:28).

Implications for IVF

One’s view of IVF will largely depend on one’s view of human intervention in the process of conception and one’s belief on the beginning of human life. If you are against human intervention, then IVF is not for you and you should seek other more natural ways to promote conception. On the other hand, if you believe that human life begins at or after implantation, then the use of IVF may be acceptable. In this case a young embryo is just a bunch of cells with the “potential” to be a baby, but it’s not a living being. However, you also need to appreciate the financial cost of IVF and the physical impact of the procedure on the mother.

IVF is more problematic if you believe that human life begins at fertilization. This means that the embryos produced in the laboratory by IVF are human lives. Usually the embryos that are not implanted are frozen or discarded. As these are not usually given the opportunity to develop into adults, their fate is equivalent to abortion. To destroy an embryo is to destroy a human being near the beginning of their life. If you want to respect human life and not destroy a human being, then IVF is only acceptable if no embryos are discarded. God values human life and does not condone murder (Exodus 20:13; Jas. 2:11).

Is the ethics of IVF a debatable matter?

As one’s view of IVF will largely depend on one’s view of human intervention in the process of conception and one’s belief on the beginning of human life, the ethics of IVF could be a debatable matter (like tattoos). These are secondary matters that are not essential to the Christian faith (Rom. 14:1 – 15:7; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:23-33). The Biblical principles that can help us determine God’s will in debatable matters are given in the Appendix.

What about freezing embryos?

Excess embryos are often frozen for future usage. However, in practice the majority of these are eventually discarded. As mentioned above, this is a concern if you believe that human life begins at fertilization, as it represents the death of a human being.

Another possibility is that excess (frozen) embryos can be donated to other infertile couples. Embryo donation programs exist to enable this process. Embryo donation is legal in Australia. Some clinics have a policy that you can only donate two or more embryos, but other clinics will facilitate a donation of a single embryo. Also, the NSW Health Central Register allows for information to be shared between donors and donor conceived children with the consent of both parties.

However, when excess embryos from IVF are frozen, they are placed in immediate danger and face an uncertain destiny. It’s not possible to guarantee that the frozen embryos will be kept safe.

Are there any alternatives to IVF?

Some alternatives to IVF are mentioned on the internet, but these may not be widely available. For example, in natural cycle IVF, there is no ovarian stimulation and only one egg is collected and one embryo implanted. So there are no excess embryos. However, it appears as though there is a lower probability of pregnancy than for normal IVF.

Mild stimulation IVF also works with a woman’s natural cycle, and uses mild ovarian stimulation. In this case 2-7 eggs are typically collected and the probability of pregnancy is similar to normal IVF. In-vitro maturation (IVM) also uses significantly less hormone drugs than IVF. Artificial insemination (also called intrauterine insemination, IUI) is a simpler process that introduces sperm into the woman’s uterus.

Also, one could use a natural method to enhance the possibly of natural conception such as the Billings or Creighton or Sympto-Thermal Methods which involve identifying the fertile period during a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Options for a Christian

If a couple believes that life begins at fertilization, then they would probably want to ensure that any human embryos are not intentionally lost or discarded. This could make it difficult to use IVF unless they can find a clinic that is willing to limit the number of eggs collected to the number that they plan to implant in the womb and willing to donate any excess embryos to other couples that are unable to conceive themselves. Unfortunately, this approach usually reduces the probability of pregnancy. This means that the woman may have to go through additional procedures and expense to have more eggs collected later on.

Conclusion

IVF is a product of medical technology which can enable some infertile couples to have children. Some people accept it as an example of modern technology, while others have some concerns. For example, it is an artificial way of producing human life. Also, many of the human embryos created by IVF are discarded. The ethics of dealing with these embryos depends on one’s view on the commencement of human life. If you believe that human life begins at fertilization and if you want to respect human life and not destroy a human being, then IVF is only acceptable if no embryos are discarded. This seems to be difficult to achieve. And although they can be donated to infertile couples, the majority of embryos that are frozen are eventually discarded.

What do you think?

Appendix: Biblical principles for debatable matters

The Bible gives principles that can help us determine God’s will in debatable matters.

God’s honor

First, we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20). When Paul said to “flee from sexual immorality”, he gave the following reason: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This means considering questions such as: Will it honor or dishonor God? Will His reputation be enhanced or harmed? Will God be exalted or disgraced? Will others think less of God, His church or of His word?

A related principle is that whatever we do should be done for the glory of God. When Paul discussed whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols he concluded, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

The next six principles involve the welfare of others.

Acting in love (Rom. 14:15)

With regard to debatable matters, Paul wrote, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24). In this area, although there is freedom of action, acting in love means that we consider the impact on others, particularly those whose conscience is weak or strict (1 Cor. 8:7). As a result of this we may need to modify our behavior and not enjoy all the liberties that we could otherwise.

Acting in love means forbearing those with a stricter conscience, not insisting on doing what we want without considering the views of those around us, in order to build them up; “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please Himself …” (Rom. 15:1-3a).

Acceptance

The practice of acceptance features in the passage in Romans, which begins with “accept those whose faith is weak” (Rom. 14:1). Those whose convictions allow them more freedom are to accept those with stricter consciences on debatable matters. Despite our differences of opinion with regard to debatable matters, believers should accept one another just as Christ has accepted us; “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).

Our fellowship with one another shouldn’t depend on one’s viewpoint on such matters. As Christ died for all believers and they have been accepted as His children, we should accept them as well (Rom. 14:15). The call to the Christian is to accept every other believer without having to pass judgment on every opinion they hold. In other words, we are to allow for differing opinions, because differing opinions do not necessarily mean a differing faith.

Harmony

With regard to debatable matters Paul wrote, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). This means promoting peace and spiritual growth and determining whether the matter would help or hinder the harmony of believers.

Don’t quarrel

Paul also wrote, “Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable (or debatable) matters” (Rom. 14:1). One way of accepting other believers is to not engage in disputes about their strict views and not force our convictions on them (Rom 14:22). We can share our opinion, but it is important to give others space to grow and to allow for the possibility that we may be wrong.

Don’t judge

Those with a strong conscience shouldn’t despise those with a strict conscience; “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not” (Rom. 14:3a). On the other hand, those with a strict conscience are not to judge others as being sinners; “the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Rom. 14:3b).

As far as our service goes as the Lord’s servants we are all accountable to Him, not to each other (Rom. 14:4, 10-13). This means respecting each other’s opinion as we can have differing views on what pleases the Lord (1 Th. 4:1). We are to allow for differing conclusions of honest believers seeking the mind of Christ, without criticism, without contempt, and without judgment (Rom. 14:10). Don’t judge one another critically to put others down (Rom. 14:13). React with love not criticism. Remember, God has accepted them. He is the judge in these matters, not us.

Note that these verses are dealing with debatable matters. We can certainly make judgements about matters that involve the fundamentals of the faith and sinful behavior.

Don’t hinder spiritual growth

There are many references to not stumbling a weaker believer (Rom. 14:13, 15, 20-21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13; 1 Cor. 10:32-33). This means refraining from doing something that is not forbidden in Scripture if it hinders the spiritual progress of those with a strict conscience, by causing them to act against their conscience. Otherwise, both parties sin.

Don’t let debatable matters destroy the work of God. Paul even extends this principle to unbelievers because he wanted them to accept Christ as their Savior; “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33). It’s loving and unselfish to think of others above ourselves (Rom. 14:15; 15:1-2).

Order in the Church

Finally, there should be unity within the local church. When he was addressing disorder in the meetings of the church in Corinth, Paul wrote; “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” and “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:33; 40). In this situation, Paul imposed some boundaries to ensure there was order instead of disorder.

Some debatable matters can affect the unity or functioning of the local church. Because the local church is to operate in an orderly way, in the case of debatable matters that directly affect the unity or functioning of the local church, there should be boundaries on what is taught and practiced. In these situations, what is taught and practiced within the church needs to be consistent and it will not always match everyone’s opinion because after all, we can have various opinions on these topics.

Written, March 2017

Also see: What does the New Testament say about Christians getting tattoos?


Encouragement for tough times

call-to-prayer-400pxI’m currently visiting Morocco and France. The Muslim call to prayer (five times each day) and poverty are common in Morocco. About 1% of the people are Christians and most of these are foreigners. Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and a substantial fine. So, it’s difficult being a Christian in Morocco. Although France is still culturally Catholic, most of the French are essentially secular (atheists). And less than 1% are evangelical Christians. Cultural and religious pressure makes it difficult to be Christians in these countries.

There is a temptation to give up following Jesus in difficult times. But tests and trials of our faith are inevitable (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:12; Jas. 1:2-3; 1 Pt. 4:12-13). The letter of 1 Thessalonians was written to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. This post addresses the highlights of this letter where we see that the prospect of Christ’s second coming encourages those facing adversity and trials.

Context

Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, with a population of over 200,000, was a busy seaport. Christianity came to Thessalonica when Paul preached the gospel and some Jews and Greeks became believers (Acts 17:1-10). After the jealous Jewish leaders started a riot, Paul and Silas escaped at night to Berea.

The believers at Thessalonica experienced trials, severe suffering, and persecution (1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul wrote to them in 50-51 AD to address the issues they faced. Jews claimed that Paul was not a real apostle; pagans persecuted them because they worshiped one God instead of many; sexual immorality was common in Greece; there were misunderstandings about the second coming of Christ; tensions arose between the congregation and the elders; and some stifled the Holy Spirit’s work, treating prophetic teachings with contempt.

Paul encouraged them “to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (4:1 NIV). This letter can be divided into six sections: model believers; Paul’s example; Paul’s joy; living to please God; the Lord’s second coming; and living as a Christian. Firstly, their joy in the middle of persecution was an example to all the Christians in Greece.

Model believers (1:1-10)

Paul regularly prayed for these believers (1:2-3). They were his children in the faith. He thanked God for their spiritual birth and growth, shown by their “work produced by faith (conversion),” their “labor prompted by love (service)” and their “endurance inspired by hope (anticipation of Christ’s return)”. Here we see that the motivation for Christian activity is faith, love and hope. The faith that God gives us results in love for God and the hope of Christ’s return, which in turn produces action such as labor and endurance.

Although persecuted for their faith, they didn’t give up. But Paul reminded them of two things (1:4-5). First, they were loved. God loves all of us, even before faith is evident in our lives (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). He loves us so much that His Son died for us. Second, they were chosen by God (Jn. 6:44). After they became Christians it was evident from their behavior that they had been chosen by God (Eph. 1:4).

The dramatic change in their lives occurred after Paul preached to them the gospel of God and Christ (2:2,8; 3:2). It came “with” four things. First, “with words” he preached about the Old Testament promises of God, who Jesus was and what He had done. Second, “with power” there was conviction of sin, repentance and conversion. The gospel has power to change lives. Third, “with the Holy Spirit” identified as the source of that power. Fourth, “with deep conviction” they knew that Paul spoke for God and they gave their lives to Him. They accepted that Paul spoke God’s Word and acted upon it and it changed their lives.

The Thessalonians imitated Paul and Christ, and were a good example to other believers (1:6-9), even though they were persecuted. Their love was shown in three ways. First, they stopped complaining and started rejoicing. They saw that God was in control and their eternal destiny was secure. Their suffering was short compared to their eternal salvation in Christ. Second, they shared the gospel with their neighbors and friends: “The Lord’s message rang out from you.” The gospel was worth telling because it gave joy and hope. Third, they trusted God to care for them daily; their “faith in God” was well known.

The Thessalonians had made a great start in their Christian life. First, they repented of selfish living and turned to God from many idols. Second, they served God out of love, which is a sacrificial concern for others (Jn. 13:34-35). Theirs was “labor prompted by love” (1:3).

They were also waiting for Christ’s return (1:10; 4:13-18; Jn. 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). God promised to take believers to be with Him at the rapture. Jesus said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3). The Christian should live expecting the Lord to come at any moment. Our hope is knowing that what God has begun through Christ’s work on earth, He will complete at His return. The trials of this life are temporary and bring endurance despite difficult circumstances. God is in control, and knows what He’s doing.

What does Paul mean when he refers to Jesus rescuing us from “the coming wrath”? The same thought is in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, in the context of the “day of the Lord.” This is a coming time when God’s wrath will be poured out on the world (Mt. 24:4-26) immediately before His return in power and judgment (Mt. 24:27-31). When Christ returns at the rapture to take believers to heaven, He will rescue them from the tribulation that will occur between the rapture and His appearing (5:1-11; 2 Pt. 2:9; Rev. 3:10).

The Thessalonians imitated Paul and Christ and were good examples for other believers in Greece. They are also good examples for us. But are we a good example for others? Are we a help or a hindrance to those we meet? The gospel produced a radical change in these believers: a new faith – they followed God instead of idols; a new love – they served God; a new hope – they anticipated the second coming of Jesus Christ; a new joy – they knew God was in control; and a new mission – spreading the gospel. God wants us to be like them.

Paul’s example (2: 1-12)

Paul preached in Thessalonica despite opposition from the Jewish leaders (2:2). Why did Paul persist in preaching the gospel to them despite its unpopularity? Paul says it was not for any of the three reasons given by the opposition (2:3-6). First, Paul was not a false teacher. He didn’t promote his private conviction, but instead preached God’s truth. Second, he didn’t encourage people to indulge in immoral behavior and do whatever they liked. Third, he did not deceive nor delude his hearers with fine words.

Then he told why they continued to preach even though it led to trouble: God had entrusted them with the gospel; It was God’s message, not theirs; They were not trying to please people but God; They knew that God’s opinion counted more than that of others.

Paul then countered two more reasons given by the opposition – flattery and greed. They never used flattery to influence others or to please people (2:5). They didn’t preach for money, even though they were entitled to support (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 2 Cor. 11:7-11). He said that God was his witness as only God can know our motives.

After dealing with the accusations against him, Paul gave more information about their behavior in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Paul’s team behaved like a nursing mother caring for her children. They were gentle, protective and loving. As a mother puts the interests of her baby ahead of her own interests, they put the interests of the Thessalonians ahead of their own. As a mother expends energy day and night for her baby, so they spent time and energy shepherding the Thessalonians. They cared about them individually. What a contrast to the false accusers!

Paul was a hard worker, a tentmaker by trade (2:9). He could have relied on the support of others, but he worked to pay his own expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding new believers, he was making and repairing tents. He worked so he wouldn’t be a burden to the poor and persecuted, and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.

Paul described their conduct in three ways (2:10). First, they were “holy” – set apart to God from sin. They had a good relationship with God. Second, they were “righteous” in character and conduct. Third, they were “blameless” towards God and people. This doesn’t mean they were sinless, but that they had confessed and knew that “God … tests our hearts” (2:4). Paul set a high standard of integrity. This is the standard of living that we should aim for; not one of wealth, but one of integrity. It is the pattern of life of those who desire to please God.

Paul also coached like a father (2:11-12). In that culture the wife did most of the nurturing and the husband was responsible for the training. Paul’s goal was that they “live lives worthy of God.” This training was one-on-one discipleship: “We dealt with each of you.” A father coaching and training his children would include three elements: “encouraging, comforting and urging.” True discipleship takes time and patience. To grow to spiritual maturity, a new Christian needs all of these elements of discipleship.

What can we learn from Paul? First, he was an apostle. While we don’t have apostles today, as they were the founders of the Christian Church (Eph. 2:20), we do have elders to provide leadership in the local church. Second, Paul was a preacher, particularly to the Gentiles. The mission to spread the gospel is a responsibility for all believers, especially those with the gift of evangelism. Third, Paul was a teacher who wrote a significant portion of the New Testament. Elders, preachers and teachers can learn from Paul who said he was a servant to the Church (Col. 1:24-26). He worked hard to bring people to the Christian faith and to help them grow in it.

Is our lifestyle drawing people to Christ? Let’s follow Paul’s example and live lives worthy of God. His key message was the gospel. His motive was to please God. His manner of living was one of courage, gentleness, hard work and holiness. He showed love to new believers. He was bold, honest, full of integrity, and a toiler. His speech and behavior brought glory to God. The Thessalonians became model believers by imitating Paul’s example. Whether we are elders, preachers, teachers or servants, we can all imitate Paul.

Paul’s joy (2:17-3:13)

Paul believed that his most important work was helping new believers grow in the Christian faith (2:19-20). As his spiritual children, they were his hope of reward and great rejoicing in heaven. The believers at Thessalonica were also Paul’s “glory and joy” on earth (2:20). His investment of time with them resulted in believers who would praise God forever. Such investments are the best we can make because the reward extends into eternity. What a great incentive for this type of work!

Paul had heard no news and wanted to find out how they were doing (3:1-2). He sent Timothy, a spiritual brother and co-worker in God’s service (1 Cor. 3:9), to accomplish three tasks: strengthen and encourage them in their faith (3:2); ensure they were not being unsettled by persecution (3:3); and check their progress in the Christian life (3:5). Paul was afraid that they may have been seduced by Satan to escape persecution by giving up their faith. The choice was loyalty to Christ or personal comfort. If they chose personal comfort, the church would wither and die and Paul’s work would have been in vain.

Paul had already reminded them to expect persecution (3:4). Timothy would have told them to expect opposition and to persist through it. He would have also reminded them of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that God was training them through their hardship.

Timothy’s good report from Thessalonica filled Paul with joy. His labor was not in vain. Their faith and love were obvious. They had pleasant memories of Paul’s visit and longed to see him again. His response was to write this letter. They were living according to his teaching and showing this by loving one another (3:6). They had the right attitude towards God, towards others and towards Paul. Although he was suffering “distress and persecution,” Paul was greatly encouraged because of their faith (3:7). He was relieved to know they were doing well (3:8). In fact, words couldn’t express His thankfulness to God (3:9).

When the Thessalonians were persecuted, Paul prayed most earnestly, frequently and specifically (3:10-13). He knew what they were going through and prayed night and day. It’s not surprising that they were “standing firm in the Lord” (3:8). Paul mentioned four things specifically in his prayer. First, he wanted to see them again. Second, he wanted to teach them further truths from God. Third, he wanted God to “clear the way” for him to come to them. God answered this prayer when he returned to Thessalonica (Acts 20:1-3). Fourth, he prayed that their love for others might increase.

In Chapter 1, Paul noted their “labor prompted by love” (1:3); they had made a great start. Their love was to include both believers and unbelievers – and even their enemies. This was the kind of love that Paul modeled. It is a love that is to be practiced continually. Our expression of love in this life leads to blamelessness in the next. If we love one another and all humanity, we will stand “blameless and holy” when Christ returns to reign on earth. The Greek word used to describe believers in the New Testament means “holy one” or “saint.” Positionally, believers are holy (set apart for God), and practically should be becoming more holy in character by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).

This is a lesson in the importance of follow-up work. It is not enough to lead sinners to the Savior; they must also be discipled towards maturity. Remember that Paul revisited many of the cities where he had preached and established a church. He sought to build up the believers in their faith, especially teaching them the truth of the Church and its importance in God’s program. The aim of such missionaries is to establish self-sustaining churches.

Making disciples was Paul’s passion. Are we like Paul? Do we encourage younger believers? Do we long to know how they are doing? Do we rejoice in their progress? Do we pray for them? Do we train them like Timothy, and then release them to do God’s work?

Are we like the Thessalonians? Do we stand firm in the Lord? Is our faith strong during suffering and temptation? Do we trust God despite the difficulties of life? Is our love evident and increasing? Are we living godly lives?

Living to please God (4:1-12)

Although the Thessalonians were pleasing God, Paul urged them to do so more and more (4:1). The Christian life is one of continual progress. Each day there are new challenges and opportunities to please God. These are important instructions for those who claim to follow the Lord. (4:2). They show us the way to live for Him.

God’s will was that the Christians in Thessalonica be sanctified. Sanctification means being set apart for God. There are three phases to sanctification – positional (at salvation), progressive and perfect (in heaven). In this passage Paul addressed progressive sanctification in daily living – a process over time, not a single event. Paul then gave two examples of sanctification – avoiding sexual immorality and pursuing brotherly love (4:4-10). And he gave them three steps to avoid sexual immorality: control sexual desires (4:4); respect the rights of others (4:6); and listen to God and love one another (4:7-10).

This passage addresses the sin of sexual immorality in the Christian community. We live in a world where many don’t know God’s biblical guidelines. Sexual immorality is promoted in movies, television and magazines. But a Christian has a different standard. Because our natural functions need to be controlled, the Thessalonians were urged to control their sexual desires (4:4) instead of indulging in “passionate lust like the pagans” who don’t trust God. This should be one of the areas where a believer should differ, or be set apart from an unbeliever.

Our behavior affects others, so there is a need for boundaries if we are to continue to be friends. Paul wrote, “No one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” (4:6a). Sexual sin harms others besides those who engage in it. Outside of marriage, there is no such thing as safe sex. In adultery, the spouse is wronged. Premarital sex wrongs one’s future spouse. Believers should respect others and not harm them by the consequences of sexual sin. “The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before” (4:6b).

We need boundaries if we are to maintain a good relationship with the Lord (4:7-10). Paul reinforced that this instruction was given by God and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. These are not Paul’s words, but God’s. He wants us to control ourselves and not fall into sin. The Holy Spirit lives within us to help us please God. Believers should follow His instruction about sexual sin.

Because our mission is to please God, we should avoid sexual immorality as it destroys the beauty of a sanctified and holy life. Sexual purity is the key to holiness. The three steps to achieve it are: controlling sexual desires, respecting the rights of others, and loving one another. Don’t follow your feelings; instead engage your mind and don’t give in to society’s sexual pressures.

Paul now changes the topic to love, and mentions two types of love. The first is the affection shared by brothers and sisters in a family – a heart love (phileo). The other is a deliberate decision to act in the interests of another – a love of the mind (agape). The relationships between believers should be driven by both loves. Our care and concern for each other is a Christian obligation, but it should be expressed with affection. It holds us together and attracts others to Christ.

Although the believers in Thessalonica loved one another and all believers in Macedonia, Paul urged them to do so “more and more.” He had already mentioned this earlier: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (3:12). Each day there are new challenges and opportunities to love one another. But how can we “love one another” daily?

Paul gave these believers three examples of loving one another (4:11-12). First, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Some who misunderstood the promise of Christ’s return were restless and panic-stricken. Others retaliated against persecution. He told them not to seek the limelight, live a life of selfish ambition or clamor for recognition, but to lead a peaceful life.

Second, he said, “mind your own business.” Some idle Thessalonians were taking undue interest in other people’s lives (2 Th. 3:11). He told them not to be busybodies who interfere in the lives of others in unnecessary, unhelpful ways. Idleness and meddling in the lives of others is incompatible with love.

Third, he said “work with your hands” to provide for your families (1 Tim. 5:8). Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they wouldn’t be a burden to others (2:9). Because of their belief in the imminent return of Christ, some in Thessalonica stopped working and relied on others for support. Two reasons were given by Paul for working: “to win the respect of outsiders” who were watching and judging Christianity and God’s Word by their behavior; and to “not be dependent on anybody”. Living quiet lives, minding our own business and earning a living are all acts of love.

The Rapture and the day of the Lord (4:13-5:11)

The Thessalonians knew of the Second Coming as part of the gospel message. In fact, some were so sure it would be soon that they gave up their jobs to prepare for it (5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). But further teaching was needed on this topic. The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they miss Christ’s coming and His Millennial kingdom? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.

He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (4:13,14,15). When someone is “asleep” or resting, we can have contact with them again after they wake. This metaphor teaches us that death is not the end; as waking follows sleep, resurrection follows death. Paul said they were “asleep in Jesus” (4:14), meaning they were in His care.

When a believer dies, there is sorrow but not despair, because there is the hope of heaven and reunion (4:13). The basis of our hope is the resurrection of the Lord (4:14). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them to heaven with Jesus at the rapture (4:14).

The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the Greek word parousia (Strongs #3952). It means both “arrival” or “coming” and “presence with.” It is the opposite of absence. In the Bible, parousia is associated with: the Rapture, when Christ returns for all true believers (4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). So the Second Coming (or “presence”) of the Lord will be a series of events that occurs over a period of time, not all at once. When we think of the Lord’s coming, we should think of a period of time, not an isolated event. For example, Christ’s first coming to earth (“presence”) was over a period of 33 years; that’s how long He was physically present on earth.

The sequence of future events can be inferred from the book of Revelation: at present the Church is on earth (Rev. 2-3); next is the Rapture, when Christ returns to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; then the Church is in heaven (Rev. 4-5); and the Tribulation is on earth (Rev. 6-18); followed by the appearing when Christ returns to earth in great power (Rev. 19); then the 1,000 year millennial kingdom (Rev. 20); and finally the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).

The Rapture (4:15-18) was a new revelation, referred to as a mystery or truth previously unknown (1 Cor. 15:51). Two categories of Christians are mentioned – those living and the dead. The bodies of the dead will not be left behind at the Rapture. The sequence of events is in four steps. First is the Lord’s return, when Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. Second is the resurrection of the dead, when the “dead in Christ” will rise first, with God recreating from the remains of dust the bodies of all who have died. Third is the transformation of the living believers who will be “caught up” (rapturo in Latin) together with the dead. Fourth is the reunion, when we will meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever.

The truth of resurrection was not the mystery, since it appeared in the Old Testament; the change of the living believers at the Lord’s return was the mystery. Paul’s answer to their concerns was this: When the Lord returns, your loved ones who have died will not miss His appearing or the Millennium.

Likewise, the “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period (5:1-4). In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (5:2; Acts 2:20; 2 Pt. 3:10). There will be judgments on God’s enemies as described by the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe events in the Tribulation, the appearing and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire.

The “day of the Lord” will be a time of judgment of unbelievers; note the words “them” and “they” (5:3). Paul gives three characteristics of that time: it will be unexpected (“like a thief in the night”), destructive (“destruction will come on them suddenly”) and inevitable (“and they will not escape”). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth. Paul likens it to the labor preceding birth. Once it starts birth follows soon after. So the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments. The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).

Paul said that there is a way of escape (5:4-5). The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,6,9,10) tell us that Christians will not go through these judgments. Paul contrasted two groups: Unbelievers are in darkness and night, while believers are in light and day. In Scripture, “light” represents what is good and true, while “darkness” represents what is evil and false (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). He said that only those in darkness will experience these judgments (5:9-10). Instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation. They will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.

Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled (5:6-8). We should be expecting Christ’s return at any moment, living for Him and not being lazy, careless, distracted, self-indulgent, or living in sinful behavior. He then said believers should exercise faith, love and hope like armor that protects us from losing control. Faith involves depending on God. Our love for the Lord and for each other can help us live for God today. And Christ’s return is our hope. The prospect of heaven helps us live for God today.

Paul’s passages on the Rapture and the day of the Lord both conclude with: “Encourage one another” (4:18; 5:11). The Rapture will be a great reunion of believers both dead and alive. Like the first century Christians, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we encouraging each other as we eagerly wait for it?

Living as a Christian (5:12-28)

Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with church elders, other believers and God. The congregation was given two responsibilities about the elders (5:12-13). It was to “respect” them and “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else. Paul also encouraged them to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (5:23; Gal. 5:22).

Next Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. (5:14-15) We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-13). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that anyone “who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior. This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.

“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work. “Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. They need our encouragement, friendship and help.

Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else”. The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.

It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving (5:16-18). Paul began with “Rejoice always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.

Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.

“Do not quench the Spirit” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church (5:19-22). This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to follow Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and follow the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful (5:23-24). Paul prayed that their (progressive) sanctification (holiness) would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul. It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.

After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him (5:25-28). Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.

Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.

Lessons for us

Let’s read the book of 1 Thessalonians when life is bleak and we are facing tough times. It reminds us: to be good examples for other believers by imitating Paul and Jesus Christ; to encourage and disciple others in the Christian faith; to please God by avoiding sexual immorality; to eagerly anticipate the second coming; and to have godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with church leaders, other believers and God. That’s how to keep following Jesus despite the difficulties of life.

The return of Christ to bring all His followers into heaven encourages those facing adversity and trials because it means an end of the sorrow, suffering and disappointment of this sinful world. This is important because it’s mentioned in each chapter of this letter (1:9-10; 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23-24). Believers are commanded to encourage each other with the fact that they “will be with the Lord forever” (4:18). The promise of Christ’s return so believers “may live together with Him” is a great encouragement (5:10-11). And it’s one of the greatest motivations for Christian service.

Let’s encourage one another to keep following Jesus. May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.

Written, November 2016

Also see these posts on 1 Thessalonians:
Model believers
Paul’s example
Paul’s joy
Living to please God
The Rapture and the day of the Lord
Living as a Christian


Why the new covenant is better

Because the old covenant is partially obsolete and the Sabbath is obsolete

moroccan-water-sellers-2-400pxMoroccan water sellers carry water in goat skins. This reminds me of the illustration of wine skins. Jesus said, “no one puts new wine into old (inelastic) wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the (fermentation) pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new (elastic) wineskins so that both are preserved” (Mt. 9:17NLT). Jesus’ ministry was not a revitalization of Judaism but a new entity – “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn, 1:17NIV). Mixing Judaism (the old) and the ministry of Jesus (the new) is like putting new wine into old wineskins. So Jesus taught that the Old Testament laws are not a part of Christianity.

In a previous post I stated that the law of Moses (or the old covenant) is now obsolete and has been replaced because Christians have been “released from the law” (Rom. 7:6NIV). As a commentator disagreed with this viewpoint, I have decided to investigate the relationship between the old covenant and the new covenant in this post.

The law (Exodus to Deuteronomy) was given to the Israelites before they entered the promised land (Ex. 31:13), while the new covenant was promised to them before they were expelled from Judah and it was initially implemented by Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:31-34; 1 Cor. 11:25). The new covenant is an unconditional agreement which God will make with the people of Israel when the Lord Jesus sets up His kingdom on earth. Believers today enjoy some of its blessings, but its complete fulfillment will occur when Israel is restored and redeemed nationally.

What Paul says

When Paul was criticized by men in Corinth who mixed law with grace by teaching Christians that they must observe certain portions of the law of Moses in order to be fully accepted by God, he responded by comparing and contrasting the old and new covenants.

He (God) has made us (apostles) competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter (the law of Moses) but of the Spirit (the gospel); for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone (the law of Moses), came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” (2 Cor. 3:6-11).

Paul says that the old (first) covenant (the law) brought:
– Condemnation because of our sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10). Under this covenant, blessing was conditional on people’s obedience (with curses and death for disobedience). It was a covenant of works. But because it depended on humanity, and no one could perfectly keep the law, condemnation (and punishment) was inevitable.
– Death (v.6-7) was the penalty for disobedience and all humanity are guilty lawbreakers.
– And it was transitory (v.11), “The letter” (v.6) (the law of Moses), and that which was “engraved in letters on stone” (v. 7) (the ten commandments) was superseded by the new covenant. It was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Note that this isn’t just the ceremonial laws, but it includes the Sabbath day requirement, which was “engraved in letters on stone”.

This is contrasted with the new covenant (the gospel) which brings:
– Freedom from the condemnation because of our sin (Jn. 8:35, 2 Cor. 3:17). Under this covenant, God promises to bless people through Christ’s sacrificial death. Because it depends on God, the new covenant is able to deliver its promised blessing to those who accept the good news of salvation. It’s a development of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, which were both unconditional (Gen. 15:9-21; 2 Sam. 7:5-16).
– Spiritual life (v.6).
– Righteousness (an inward transformation, v.9; 2 Cor. 3:18).
– More glory (v.7-11).
– And it is eternal; “it lasts” (v.11).

Clearly the new covenant is superior to the old one. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ can the condemnation and the sentence of death pronounced by the law on the lawbreaker be annulled and be replaced by the life-giving grace of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6, 16-17).

What Hebrews says

After the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is greater than a Jewish high priest, he writes,

6… the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs (Jewish high priests) as the covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
13 By calling this covenant “new,” He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:6-13).

This message is similar to Paul’s. The new covenant is a “better/superior covenant” (Heb. 7:22; 8:6) because of:
– Better promises (v.6).
– Its unconditional nature (Jer. 31:31-34). It depends on God’s faithfulness.

And the old covenant is inferior because in the first century:
– It was replaced by the new one (v.7).
– It was “obsolete and outdated” (v.13).
– It “will soon disappear”(v.13).
– It was conditional. It depended on people’s faithfulness, but they were unfaithful (v.8-9).

Hagar and Sarah

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul illustrates the difference between legalism and grace with the story of Hagar and Sarah. See Genesis 16 and 21 for the original account.

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 4:21 – 5:1),

The story had a symbolic application where Hagar represents the old covenant (the law, or legalism) and Sarah the new covenant (the gospel). Paul uses it because he said that legalizers threatened “the freedom we (Christians) have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves” (Gal. 2:4). He saw a similarity between the freedom of Christianity (the new covenant) compared to the slavery of legalism (introducing parts of the old covenant); and the freedom of Sarah/Isaac compared to the slavery of Hagar/Ishmael.

This passage teaches that the old covenant:
– Enslaves (Gal. 2:4; 4:1, 22), because sinners are slaves to sin (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:16).
– Its followers persecute those following the gospel (v.29).

But the new covenant:
– Liberates and brings freedom (4:22; 5:1). This is freedom from sin being the dominant power in our lives (Rom. 6:15-18) and from the penalty of sin.
– Will be followed by more people that the old one (v.27).
– Its followers shouldn’t go back to the slavery of legalism (5:1).
– Its followers should separate from legalism and not tolerate it in the local church (v.30).

Discussion

It’s obvious from these passages of Scripture that the new covenant is superior to the old one. But is the law of Moses (or the old covenant) now obsolete and has it been replaced? The answer seems to be yes (for Christians) and no (for non-Christians).

For Christians, the old covenant (including the Sabbath day) is obsolete and has been superseded by the new one because it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So the teaching that believers must keep the Sabbath day is contrary to Scripture, which is consistent with “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). So the Sabbath day symbolized the type of eternal rest to be enjoyed by all who would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:3a, 9). But now that Jesus has come, the symbol is obsolete because it has been fulfilled.

However, the ministry of the law to unsaved people hasn’t ended: “the law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Tim. 1:8). The proper use of the law of Moses is to produce the knowledge of sin and so lead to repentance – the law was designed to show people their sinfulness (Rom. 3:20b; 5:20; 7:7). But as the Sabbath day law isn’t to be practiced by believers today, it can’t produce the knowledge of sin in unbelievers and so lead to repentance – “the law is made not for the righteous” (1 Tim. 1:9). In this respect, it is unique in the ten commandments. This is a consequence of the Sabbath day command not being repeated in the portion of the New Testament that’s addressed to the church.

old-new-400pxConclusion

The new covenant is superior to the old one. For believers, the old covenant (including the Sabbath day) is obsolete and has been superseded by the new one.  But for non-believers, the old covenant (except the Sabbath day) can produce the knowledge of sin and so lead to repentance. So in both cases, the Sabbath day is now obsolete.

Written, November 2016

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses.  Is this true?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What dos the Bible say on this topic?
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?


Strong and weak spiritual foundations

Storm 2 400pxHeavy rain, strong winds and high tides battered the eastern coast of Australia recently. Sections of some seaside homes in Sydney were washed into the ocean during huge swell. And floods caused extensive damage in Tasmania.

This reminds me of the story that Jesus told about two builders (Mt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:47-49). The wise one built their house on a strong rock foundation, while the foolish one built their house on a weak sandy foundation. When a storm came, the house on the strong foundation wasn’t damaged, but the one on the weak foundation collapsed and was destroyed.

This blogpost looks and our spiritual foundations and how these can be strong or weak.

Types of spiritual foundations

An awareness of the spiritual aspect of life can help us get through tough times. This can give us a different perspective on life and help us see the big picture. But what sort of foundation is our spirituality based on? Obviously, strong robust and reliable foundations are better that weak fragile and unreliable foundations. As a building’s foundations affect the building, so our spiritual foundations affect our spiritual life and thereby our physical life.

In many ways our spirituality and our interpretation of doctrine and theology is based on what we believe is the source or foundation of our spiritual authority. This authority or foundation depends on our assumption about God’s revelation to humanity. There are two main viewpoints or paradigms. The first is that God has revealed Himself only in the Christian Bible. And the second is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible.

The Bible also says that God is revealed in a general sense in His physical creation (Rom. 1:20) and in the human conscience (Rom. 2:15). But these types of general revelation aren’t addressed in this post.

Only Biblical revelation

The first main viewpoint about how God reveals himself to us is based on the historical record in the Bible, which was written between 1430 BC and AD 95. There are two main sections in the Bible. The Old Testament is God’s revelation before the birth of Christ, when the Israelites were God’s people. It was written by prophets who received the message from God “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21NIV). The New Testament is God’s revelation in the first century AD. It has two subsections: the gospels describe the final years of the old Jewish covenant, while the remainder describes the early church, when Christians were God’s people. The Bible teaches that together the Old and New Testaments provide all we need to know about God and His interaction with humanity.

Although the Bible wasn’t written to us, it contains information and principles that are still relevant today. When we apply a Bible passage to our lives we need to discern who it was written to, the era being described and the universal principle being taught. In particular, we need to be careful interpreting and applying passages written about the Jewish era because we live in the Christian era, not the Jewish one. We will now look at some Bible passages that support this viewpoint.

In the context of persecution of Christians and dealing with false teachers, Paul told Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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. 3:15-17). So the words of the Bible are the words of God Himself. Also, the Bible is both necessary and sufficient to show us the way of salvation and to equip us for Christian living. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not via any of the teachings given below under “Continual revelation”. The gospel of Jesus Christ described in the New Testament is the only strong spiritual foundation (1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20).

In the context of disunity within a local church, Paul quoted the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written” (2 Cor. 4:6). He wanted the believers in Corinth to evaluate everything and everyone by the Scriptures. He didn’t want them to put other teachers or other teachings above Scripture. Their authority was to be Scripture and nothing else or no-one else.

Canon complete

The last commandment in the Bible is a warning, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (Rev. 22:18-19). There are similar warnings in the Old Testament (Dt. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6). As the subjects of the book of Revelation are woven throughout the Bible, this passage condemns any tampering with Scripture. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete.

Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” and “guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). We have this truth recorded by the apostles and their associates in the New Testament. Today the Holy Spirit can use Scripture to guide us into all the truth. Paul told the Ephesians “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27), which was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” and written down in Scripture (Eph. 3:4-5).

Jude said that the Christian faith documented by the apostles was “once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). This means it’s complete and not subject to change. So the Bible is a closed system of truth, with no new revelation being given through inspired prophets or apostles. It’s God’s complete revelation, containing all the spiritual truth that God wants us to know. Through it, God has revealed everything He wants us to know about spiritual matters. And nothing has been lost from God’s revelation.

go-kart-tragedy 2 400pxIn April 2010, a 26-year-old woman was driving a go-kart at Port Stephens, when part of her clothing became entangled in the drive axle of her vehicle, strangling her and resulting in her death. The operator was fined $32,000 with costs of $18,000 for failing to comply with two Australian Standards for amusement rides and devices. The standard says go-kart riders were required to “not wear loose fitting clothing that could become entangled in any part of the kart” and the moving parts of the go-kart must be covered. Failing to follow this safety standard was physically dangerous. Likewise, failing to follow the Bible is spiritually dangerous because the Bible is God’s spiritual standard for us.

Continual revelation

The second main viewpoint is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible. These extra-biblical revelations may include religious teachings, religious books, traditions, or ongoing revelation via dreams, visions or prophecies.

In this case it is assumed that Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” implies that new truth will continue to be revealed after the Bible was complete (Jn. 16:13). However, this promise was written to people who attended a Jewish synagogue, so it wasn’t written directly to us today (Jn. 16:2). Instead the new truth was revealed after the day of Pentecost and written in the New Testament for us to learn about today.

Other religious teachings

Some religious teachings aren’t consistent with the teachings of the Bible. For example, the teachings: that salvation is by grace plus works, that salvation can be obtained after death, that Jesus isn’t God, that God isn’t a trinity, that baptism is necessary for salvation, that infants should be baptized, that hell isn’t eternal punishment, that Sabbath worship is for the churches today, that Revelation 6-22 is not about the future, that God has finished with Israel and the church has replaced Israel, that Mary was sinless, that the Pope is infallible, that prophets are infallible, and that God decides who will be saved and who will be condemned.

Because they differ from what the Bible teaches, these beliefs should be rejected. To accept such teachings as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. In the previous section we saw that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these other religious teachings, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious teachings should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other religious books

Religious books like the Book of Mormon, the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Shruti, the Buddhist Tripitaka, “Science and health with key to the Scriptures” of Christian Science, Education in the New Age, and the Scientology Handbook, claim to be the word of God. And the evolutionary ideas of Darwin’s “On the Origin of species” are used to promote atheism. But these books always contradict the Bible in some way. For example, the Koran teaches that Jesus was just another prophet, whereas the Bible teaches that He was the divine Son of God -– the way, the truth and the life. Only one of these can be right. They can’t both be right! If you try to combine the two, then you must disregard some of the teachings of the Bible. So to accept another religious book as a spiritual authority or foundation, means giving it more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to the other religious books, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

None of these sacred books can meet even one of the standards on which the canon of the Bible was established. For example, their authors don’t satisfy the biblical definition of a prophet or an apostle or have a direct link to such a person (like Mark, Luke and James).

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious books should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other human traditions

After the Jewish religious leaders asked “why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders” … Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mt. 15:1-6). So Jesus placed Scripture above tradition. In this case, a tradition had been developed to avoid supporting aged parents.

Paul warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). Here he writes against religious teachings that aren’t based on the Bible. These human speculations become traditions when they are adopted as customs.

To accept such traditions as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to other traditions, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all traditions should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical visions

Paul warns those in Colossae: “a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind” (Col. 2:18-19). They loved talking on and on about their spiritual experiences (which probably included visions of angels), but in reality these were only coming out of their own mind. Dreams and visions are subjective experiences. In those days, the Gnostics entered into ecstatic experiences which had no basis in biblical revelation. Since the canon of Scripture (the list of books that belong in the Bible) has closed, there is no further need for more revelation from God.

In contrast to the written word of God, spiritual experiences and feelings are also subjective and can’t be verified. And when interpreting Scripture, we need to ensure our experiences and biases don’t distort the process. Instead, we should test our experience against the Bible.

To accept dreams, visions and spiritual experiences as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to dreams, visions and experiences, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all dreams, visions, and experiences should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical prophecies

The Bible says that prophecy is a direct message from God (Dt. 18:18). In the chapter on love, Paul wrote “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease … For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The Corinthians had been occupied with spiritual gifts like prophecy but Paul says love is more important because it lasts longer than prophecy.

So, before the completion of the New Testament, God gave messages to the church by prophecies, but sometime after that the prophecies would cease and disappear. When is that time? The Bible says it’s “when completeness comes”. There are two main views about this.
– When there is perfection, which occurs when we go to heaven.
– Or when the New Testament was complete, which was about 40 years after Paul wrote this letter.

The second view is the best explanation. Two situations are being compared in this passage, the “partial” and the “complete”; the “now” and the “then” (v.9-10, 12). The gift of prophecy in the New Testament church was God’s partial revelation before His full revelation was available when the Bible was completed. Paul gives two illustrations of this (v.11-12). The first compares childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity). The second compares seeing something in a dim mirror to seeing it in a clear mirror (or limited sight to full sight, or indistinct to distinct). Then he says, “now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (v.12). As the “know in part” was individual prophecies, the “know fully” was the complete collection of prophecies. So at a future time this knowledge changes from being partial to being complete. The complete revelation in the New Testament gives us all we need to know from a divine viewpoint.

Then he says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v.13). So, after prophecy has “ceased”, faith hope and love “remain”. They last longer than prophecy. How long? Faith and hope last in our lifetime; that is until we get to heaven, which means when we die or when Christ returns at the rapture. That’s when our faith will be replaced by sight and our hope will be realized (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1). But love is the greatest because it goes on for eternity when we will be with God, who is love.

Why is this a better explanation than saying that prophecy continues until the rapture? First, it’s obvious that all physical activities such as spiritual gifts finish when we die. That’s a no-brainer! So if this was the meaning, why mention it all? Second, the text implies that prophecy ceases before faith and hope. They don’t cease at the same time. Third, it’s consistent with the canon of the Bible being complete. Because new revelations (or prophecies) would be adding to what’s in the Bible. Fourth, the context is revelation from God, not fellowship with God. Fifth, “complete” (or “whole”) is a better match for “partial” (they are both quantitative words), whereas “perfect” (or “unblemished”) doesn’t match “partial” (one is quantitative and the other is qualitative). Sixth, the Greek word translated “complete” (teleios Strongs #5046) is also used in James 1:25 to describe Scripture.

So the spiritual gift of prophecy was temporary for when the apostles were writing the New Testament. During this period divine guidance was provided through gifts such as prophecy. Each prophecy provided only a part of the complete revelation given in the New Testament. For example, Paul didn’t have the writings of John. In the Bible, the Old Testament is called a “prophetic message” and the New Testament “prophetic writings” (Rom. 16:26; 2 Pet. 1:19-20).

Going back to the builders mentioned at the beginning of this message. The wise builder is like those who obey Scripture, while the foolish builder is like those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:24, 26). In the same passage, Jesus also said that true and false prophets are distinguished by their fruit, where good fruit symbolizes those who obey Scripture and bad fruit symbolizes those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:15-20). So Jesus taught the Jews to use Scripture to test prophecies. Likewise, we should use Scripture to test prophecies.

As the Scriptures are final and complete, there is no need for new prophecy (direct revelation from God) today. The revelation God has given in Scripture is totally adequate to instruct us in the things of God now. As Scripture is complete, any teaching or revelation that’s not consistent with the Bible is not God-given. There’s no ongoing new revelation.

To accept new prophecies as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these prophecies, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all prophecies should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Lessons for us

In the age of the internet and the credit card, we are warned about financial scams. Recently one of our credit cards was cancelled because of a rouge transaction of $970. But what about spiritual scams? Are we spiritually intelligent to distinguish the true from the false? Or are we gullible? Do we reject error?

We have seen that the only strong, robust and reliable spiritual foundation is the Christian Bible. Do we base our spiritual life on Scripture? Do we trust objective Scripture more than we trust our subjective feelings? This is the only spiritual foundation that can help us survive the storms of life. It’s important because our view of Scripture can affect our eternal destiny.

Other spiritual foundations which rely on religious teachings, religious books, traditions, dreams, visions, experiences or modern prophecies and are inconsistent with Scripture are weak, fragile and unreliable. Are we confused with all the foundations available in the spiritual supermarket? Do we test everything against Scripture? Do we only accept what is consistent with the Bible? Or in the spirit of tolerance (which is the spirit of our age), do we accept these weak foundations and risk our lives collapsing in the storms of life?

Let’s take the safe option of a strong spiritual foundation (Eph. 2:20).

Written, June 2016


Never give up!

Runner 1The Jamaican singer Sean Paul said “The whole world is under pressure right now — the financial meltdown, war, terrorism, people are dealing with a lot so I wrote ‘Never Give Up’ about how I felt and how other people are feeling, too”. It’s a powerful song with a message of hope and strength for people who are struggling in Jamaica.

The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were struggling and were tempted to give up following Jesus. This post addresses the highlights of this book where we see that we can keep following Jesus despite adversity.

Context

Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (12:4-13; 13:3). Because of their hardship and suffering, they were tired and weak (12:3, 12-13). This also impacted their spiritual lives. They were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish customs. They were spiritually weak.

The book is written like a sermon, rather than a letter. It’s a “word of exhortation” and the same phrase is used in Acts to describe a sermon (Acts 13:15; Heb. 13:22). Also “say” and “speak” are used consistently instead of “write” (2:5; 5:11; 6:9; 8:1; 11:32).

Hebrews deals with the struggle of leaving one religious system for another. In this case it was leaving Judaism for Christianity. Leaving the inferior for the superior. It promotes the supremacy of Jesus Christ above all other spiritual teachers. This book also shows how to deal with persecution and keep following Jesus even when we are tempted to give up. It also stresses the danger of not believing the gospel message.

As Hebrews was probably written to a church in about AD 67-70, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.

Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. The first thing they were to know is that Jesus is better than all their Jewish heroes.

Jesus is greater than …. (Ch 1-10)

Jesus is superior to the prophets (1:1-3). The revelation of God’s truth is added progressively in the Bible as we move from Genesis through to Revelation. The Old Testament was written by the prophets. What Jesus taught is summarized in the gospels. His teachings supersede those of the Old Testament prophets. Other reasons why Christ is superior to the prophets are that He made the universe and sustains it. He is the divine God. While the prophets predicted the Messiah (Acts 10:43), Jesus was the Messiah. Through His death, our sins can be forgiven. And after His resurrection and ascension, He now sits on a place of honor and privilege at God’s right hand. So of course He is greater than the prophets. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than experts and scientists.

Jesus is also superior to angels (1:4-14; 2:5). Angels brought messages from God and protected God’s people. As Son of God, Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father. The angels praised God at His birth (Lk. 2:13-14) and will worship Christ when He returns to rule over the earth (1:6). Jesus is in a position of honor and power at God’s right hand, while angels serve God’s people (11:13-14). Jesus did what angels couldn’t do, He became a human being and offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for our sin. So of course He is greater than the angels. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than those promoting spiritual experiences.

Jesus is also superior to Moses and Joshua (3:1-6; 4:6-11). Jesus represents God to us and also represents us before God. He is a mediator or go-between. Moses served the Israelites, but Jesus was equal with God who made them His people. While Joshua was unable to provide rest for the Israelites in the land of Canaan, it is available through Jesus Christ. So of course He is greater than Moses and Joshua. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than the leaders of nations.

high priest 2 cropped 400pxJesus is also superior to the Jewish high priests (4:14 – 5:10; 6:20 – 8:2). He represents God to us like a high priest did for the Jews. But the eternal priesthood of Jesus has replaced the temporary priesthood of Aaron. Because of Jesus, both the Jewish priesthood and the Jewish law have been replaced. When Jesus died this was signified by the tearing apart from top to bottom of the curtain to the Most Holy Place in the temple. (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). Jesus didn’t need to offer sacrifices for His own sins because he was sinless. Also, “He offered Himself”, not an animal. So of course He is greater than the Jewish high priests. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than the religious leaders.

Jesus’ sacrifice is also superior to the Jewish sacrifices (8:3 – 10:14). His sacrifice only needed to be offered once, not annually like Yom Kippur. It was “once for all”. It brought in a new covenant that could include all nations, not just Jews. So of course Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices. Today we can say that Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than our good works.

Because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the greatest of all. So let’s follow and live for Him.

After Hebrews 10:18 the book changes from doctrine to practice, and the next two chapters give reasons to keep following Jesus even when we feel like giving up. The second thing they were to know is that following Jesus is like running in a marathon.

Keep on running (Ch 10-12)

The writer says the Christian life is like running a marathon and urges them to endure and persevere. It’s not an easy jog. We must be ready to continue, persist, and keep going. That’s why this blog is titled, “Never give up!”. A key passage of the book is:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3NIV)

He gives them three ways to keep following Jesus. First, by focusing on God and Jesus and believing God’s promises given in the Bible. We don’t run in our own strength because Jesus creates and completes our faith. We can “draw near to God” by meditating on God’s word the Bible and praying to Him. Second, by encouraging one another to love and good deeds. This means putting others above ourselves and not giving up meeting together. And third, by removing obstacles that hinder us following Jesus. We can throw them off by establishing boundaries and practicing discipline.

Hebrews also gives five reasons to keep following Jesus even when we are tempted to give up. These are: because Jesus is the greatest example (He is the only way to a relationship with God and has paid the price for access to heaven), because of other people who lived by faith (Hebrews 11 gives many other examples of people who lived by faith in Old Testament times), because of our past experience (they had endured persecution and suffering in the past), because of God’s promises (their spiritual blessings were more valuable than their physical possessions, and they could look forward to the coming resurrection), and because adversity develops our character (God is teaching us, correcting us and transforming us like a parent trains a child).

For these reasons we can keep following Him even when we feel like giving up when facing adversity.

The third thing they were to know is the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins.

God’s greatest warning (Ch. 2-12)

Five warnings are also included in the first 12 chapters of Hebrews. These warnings are written in strong language. They are imperatives and commands, not just models to follow. While Noah and the Old Testament prophets warned their generations of God’s imminent judgment (2 Pt. 2:5), these warnings apply to us today.

The first warning is against “drifting away” and ignoring God’s gift of salvation by remaining in unbelief (2:1-4). The Bible says ignoring the gospel leads to disaster. The second is against “unbelief”, which is dangerous because it leads to missing out on heaven (3:7 – 4:13). This book was written to professing Christians; they were not all true believers. Some were unbelievers; they had “sinful unbelieving” hearts. The third is against “falling away”: the danger of apostasy, which is hearing the gospel and renouncing it instead of accepting it (6:4-8). In this case, it’s impossible for them to repent. The fourth is against “deliberately sinning after knowing the truth”, because the apostate will be punished severely for rejecting the gospel and opposing Christianity (10:26-31). This punishment is worse than death – because it goes beyond death. Finally there is a warning against “turning away”, where unbelievers are warned of a greater punishment than experienced by the Israelites in the wilderness (12:25-29).

So, unbelief and apostasy are dangerous. God’s greatest warning for us is the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins. Are we warning unbelievers? In particular an apostate (a professing Christian who becomes a traitor or spiritual terrorist who undermines Christianity) is doomed to punishment in hell. You can read all about them in the book of Jude.

The only way to escape God’s anger, judgment and punishment is to accept Christ’s sacrifice in the place of sinners like us. Let’s do this and turn around (repent) and persevere by trusting God day by day.

Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.

How to please God (Ch 13)

Hebrews 13 400pxHebrews 13 begins with three outward things (13:1-3). They were to love one another like siblings in a spiritual family, to be hospitable to strangers and to have empathy for Christians who are suffering by sharing their feelings.

It then looks at two inward things (13:4-5). They were to be sexually pure because sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). They were also to be contented in order to avoid the love of money. This is possible by realizing that the Lord is always with us by His Spirit and can be trusted for our safety, protection and economic welfare.

Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life. They were to respect and follow godly church leaders (13:7-8, 17). The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They also cared for their spiritual welfare.

Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism (13:9-12). Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength gained by following Jesus to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.

Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices, including suffering for Christ, words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus, and good works (13:13-16). God is pleased when we live like this, because it shows that He is more valuable than the things of this world.

Then they are urged to keep on praying because prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him (13:18-19). Finally they are to recognize God’s work through Jesus Christ, whose death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity (13:20-21). His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out. And that they would let God work through them.

Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.

Lessons for us

Let’s read the book of Hebrews when we are struggling and tempted to give up following Jesus. It reminds us that Jesus is better than all our heroes, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon, the danger of not believing the gospel message, and how to please God.

Do we realize that Jesus is superior to all our heroes? He is greater than all other spiritual teachers. Because He is unique, let’s encourage each other to follow Jesus as Lord. Are we reminding each other of the greatness of Jesus and what He has done and God’s promises in Scripture?

Are we encouraged to persevere and keep following Jesus even when we are tempted to give up? This is evidence of genuine faith in Christ. Let’s encourage one another to keep following Jesus.

Do we know the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins? Have we accepted God’s rescue plan by confessing our sins and trusting that Jesus has paid the penalty for them?

So from the book of Hebrews we see that we can keep following Jesus despite adversity.

Written, December 2015

Also see:
Jesus is greater than … – Heb. Ch 1-10
Keep on running – Heb. Ch 10-12
God’s greatest warning to us – Heb. Ch 2-12
How to please God – Heb. Ch 13


What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?

Sabbath vs Lord's DayI have received the following comment about a post on whether Christians should gather together on the Sabbath day.

I am so disturbed to learn that we as Christians have decided that the Sabbath which was commanded by God can be dealt away with. There is nowhere in scripture we are told to change that. In face Jesus says if you love me follow my commandments. There was no new commandment set by Jesus to abandon the sabbath. He said I came to do my fathers will. Sunday worship comes from Rome and the worship of Roman gods. The same goes for Christmas and Easter. All these are pagan celebrations which has infiltrated the church. The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabath. In the book of Revelation, John declares he saw seven golden candle sticks, a symbol from the old testament and Christ was in the midst of this. The God, Yahweh has never changed and will never changed. His laws remains the same till the end of time. I truly believe its satan worship if we tell Christains to worship on Sunday’s and don’t follow the laws of God. That’s against everything God stands for, if you love me keep my commandments. Which commandments? We still obey the laws because we Gentiles are the spiritual Israelites, but our path way salvation is Christ not just obeying the Law. I dont understand why anyone will teach this to the Christian world that you can disobey the Creator because of what man has decided it’s the new religion. Wake up and come out of Babylon, we are called by God and not by man. There if God says 7th day is the week is the day of worship, nothing changes because Yahweh doesn’t change. The first day of the week is the worship of the Sun God, do some research and you will know Constantine started this with the Roman Church. You cannot change God’s Law or command. Jesus said I came to fulfill, not to change. Jesus said I came to do my fathers will. So there is no where Sunday worship was instituted and declared the Holy Day of the Lord. Brother George ask the Holy Spirit for deep teaching and insight so you don’t deceive his children. Shalom

This post is based on a survey of the instances when the Sabbath day (7th day of the week) is mentioned in the New Testament between Acts and Revelation inclusive. These are the books of the Bible that apply to the Christian church, which began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In the previous books of the Bible (Exodus to John), the Israelites (or Jews) are God’s special people on earth who are commanded to obey the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath). Because there is no Jewish temple (with altars for sacrifices) or priesthood, today it is impossible to practice the Mosaic covenant as it was followed in the Old Testament.

We will see that the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.

In this post we look at whether the instances of Sabbath day observance between Acts and Revelation are a command, a model to follow or merely a report of events. Instances of Sunday (1st day of the week) observance will be considered in the same way so the two can be compared.

Is Sabbath day observance 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 worth following today.

Sabbath observance commanded

I am not aware of any command to observe the Sabbath day between Acts and Revelation in the Bible. It is interesting to note that the other nine of the ten commandments given to Moses are repeated as commandments for Christians in this portion of Scripture, but the 4th commandment isn’t. Also, when they joined the early church which was largely Jewish, the Gentile Christians weren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath (Acts 15:19-20). Furthermore, Sabbath breaking is never mentioned as a sin in this portion of the Bible.

But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?

Sabbath observance modelled

During his first missionary journey, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue at Pisidian Antioch on two Sabbath days (Acts 13:14-49), but the message was rejected by the Jews. Then Paul preached to the Gentiles and they accepted the message. Paul and Barnabas left this town when they were expelled by the Jewish leaders (Acts 13:50-51).

During his second missionary journey, at Philippi Paul went outside the city gate to the river on the Sabbath day, where he expected to find a place of prayer (Acts 16:13-15). Paul must have preached there because Lydia responded to his message. But Paul and Silas had to leave this town after they were imprisoned. According to the NIV Study Bible, there were so few Jews in Philippi that there was no synagogue (ten married men were required), so the Jews who were there met for prayer along the banks of the Pangites river. It was customary for such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water.

Next Paul visited Thessalonica where: “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:2-4). After this the Jewish leaders forced them to leave the city.

When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:4-5NIV). But when the Jews opposed him and became abusive, Paul went next door and preached to the Gentiles.

So on his missionary trips Paul had a custom of visiting synagogues on the Sabbath. Why did he do this? What did he do there? From the four accounts summarized above we see that he preached that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament. Paul kept on doing this until he was forced to leave because of Jewish opposition. Then he preached to the Gentiles. So the purpose of this custom was to preach the message about Jesus to the Jews because they knew about the Old Testament. Paul only went to the synagogue on the Sabbath because there was an audience there for his message.

What is the example for us to follow? It is about preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity and not about observing the Jewish Sabbath day. The other main occurrence of preaching to the Jews was Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). This was on a Sunday because the day of Pentecost was the 50th day after the after the Sabbath of Passover week (Lev. 23:15-16). So the apostles preached whenever the Jews were gathered together, whether it was on the Sabbath or on Sunday. The day of the week they preached wasn’t important to them.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that the early church met on the Sabbath. The meetings that Paul attended on the Sabbath during his missionary journeys were meetings of Jews held in a synagogue.

But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded or modelled for the church, is it reported?

Sabbath observance reported

I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to observance of the Sabbath day. The only other occasions the Sabbath is mentioned are in Colossians and Hebrews.

Paul prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17NIV). The examples given in this passage are arranged in the order of annual, monthly, and weekly. From Numbers 28:9-25 it is clear that the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals (such as the Passover), the New Moon celebration was the monthly Jewish offering, and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath. As Christ has come, there is no value in keeping these things that foreshadowed His coming. Observance of these holy days is no longer required. Today we celebrate the reality, not the shadows.

Also, the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This is the spiritual rest of salvation through faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3) that is likened to the physical rest of the Sabbath. Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30).

How does this compare with what the New Testament says about Sunday observance?

Is Sunday observance a command, a model or a report?

Sunday observance commanded

I am not aware of any command to observe Sunday (the 1st day of the week) between Acts and Revelation in the Bible.

But if Sunday observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?

Sunday observance modelled

When they visited Troas during Paul’s third missionary journey, Luke reported “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight” (Acts 20:7). In the previous verse it says that they stayed in Troas for seven days. Although he was in a hurry to travel to Jerusalem over the next month Paul seems to have waited until he could meet with the local church when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6, 16). This is the most likely meaning of the saying “we came together to break bread”. It didn’t mean an ordinary meal, because they would have had these during the rest of the week and because Paul preached and taught as well. The Lord’s Supper and the apostles’ teaching, which are mentioned on this occasion, were two of the corporate activities of the early church (Acts 2:42). Therefore, the statement in the comment that “The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabbath” is false.

Was this an unusual farewell meeting, and not necessarily indicative of normal practice? The fact that Paul spoke to midnight was probably unusual as the reason given for this is “because he intended to leave the next day”. But there is nothing in the passage to indicate that their celebration of the Lord’s supper was unusual or that Paul speaking after this celebration was unusual. In fact the prime reason given for meeting together on Sunday was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There is a spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper and Sunday – the former symbolizes Christ’s death and the latter His resurrection.

So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and carry out other corporate activities.

When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth he urged them to support needy believers in Jerusalem, “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Paul doesn’t say exactly how this money is collected, “set aside” or saved up. The Greek noun translated “collection” (Strongs #3048) only occurs I these two verses and none other in the Bible. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexion, in this context it means “money collected for the poor”. The passage seems to promote systematic giving. There was to be a collection each week so that the amount could accumulate over time and there would be no need for a collection when Paul came. So it was a corporate collection, not one done individually (if it was individual, there would need to be a collection when Paul came). If Paul wanted the collection to be done “at home” he could have included this phase as in 1 Corinthians 11:34; 14:35. This means that the finances of the early church were centralized as they were amongst the apostles when Jesus was on earth (Jn. 12:6; 13:29). So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians when they gathered together on the first day of the week to collect money from each other to support the needy.

Although Sunday observance is modelled for the church, is it reported elsewhere?

Sunday observance reported

I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to Sunday observance. The only other possible mention of the first day of the week was when John said he saw a vision of Christ “on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). The only other occurrence of this Greek adjective (Strongs #2960) in Scripture is a reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). According to the NIV Study Bible, “The Lord’s Day” is a technical term for the first day of the week because Jesus rose from the dead on that day. It could indicate that John and the early church treated Sunday in a special way among all days.

Some think that Romans 14:5-6 addresses Sabbath or Sunday observance, but there is no evidence of this from the context of this passage.

Sabbath observance and Sunday observance compared

We have seen that the Greek noun for Sabbath (Strongs #4521) is associated with Paul preaching in the synagogue. It’s an example of Paul adapting to the customs of the Jews in order to win them to the Lord. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor. 9:19-20).

On the other hand, the phrase “the first day of the week” (Strong’s #1520 and #4521) is associated with gathering together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). This phrase is also linked in the gospels with Christ’s resurrection (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk.24:1; Jn. 20:1). So the resurrection of Christ seems to be the reason why the early church met on Sunday and this practice has continued down through the ages. Of course Christians can meet on other days of the week as the Bible doesn’t prohibit this. But there is no spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper (and His resurrection) and the Sabbath day.

I am not aware of any command given between Acts and Revelation in the Bible to the early church to observe either the Sabbath day or Sunday. There is no biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be a day of worship.

It seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and to carry out other corporate activities including collecting money from each other to support the needy. But it’s not a day of rest or a holy day like the Sabbath was for the Jews. The only Christian practice in the Bible that’s related to the Sabbath is preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity. As one of the opportunities was when Jews gathered on the Sabbath, that was when Paul preached (until he was rejected by the Jewish leaders). There is no model to follow for the church to meet on the Sabbath. It was only the Jews who held their services on the Sabbath.

Conclusion

A study of the portion of the Bible written about and to the early church (Acts to Revelation, inclusive) shows evidence for Sunday observance of the Lord’s supper and other corporate activities by Christians, but there is no evidence of Sabbath observance.

So the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.

Written, September 2015

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God what does the Bible say about this topic?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?


Why was Judah the most prominent tribe of Israel?

Consequences 401pxAfter he was out drinking with some mates one night, Jonothan Beninka tried to walk home along a railway track. But he fell and knocked himself out and finished up in hospital after being hit by a train. He lost an arm, a leg and some fingers. Every day he feels like crying because of the impact of his injuries on the relationship he has with his family. He can’t pick up his children like most dads. One decision changed his whole life forever.

When we look at the lives of the sons of Jacob in the Bible, we see that our choices have consequences. In particular, sinful behavior has negative consequences.

Judah’s prominence

The nation of Israel was named after Jacob whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). Jacob had 12 sons and in those days the position of leadership of the family clan was usually passed on to the eldest son. And the eldest son’s birthright was a double portion of the inheritance (Dt. 21:17).

But we see from the Bible that the tribe of Judah (4th son) became prominent instead of the tribe of Reuben (1st son) – king David was a descendant of Judah (10th generation, 1 Chron. 2:1-15), Jerusalem the capital of Israel was located in their territory and they were the last tribe to be conquered and taken into captivity. This was unusual because Judah was the fourth oldest son of Jacob and not the firstborn.

Of Judah’s descendants, the most prominent in the Old Testament is king David and the most prominent in the New Testament is Jesus Christ. Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6), the “son of David” (Mt. 1:1; 22:42; Lk. 1:32, 69; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). One of Christ’s titles is, “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This relates to Judah being promised the right to rule “until he to whom it belongs [Jesus] shall come” (Gen. 49:8-10).

After the Babylonian exile, the Israelites were called “Jews”. This name is derived from the word “Judah” and was used because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were descendants of the kingdom of Judah (the rest had assimilated into other nations). Also, the Jewish religion was known as “Judaism”. So Judah’s prominence is reflected by these words.

Jacob’s last words

When he was on his death bed Jacob gave a farewell message to each of his sons (Gen. 49:1-28). Beginning at the eldest and progressing to the youngest, he predicted what was in store for their descendants.

Although he is the firstborn, Reuben is told he is unstable and will not excel because he slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22, 49:4). In those days it was customary for new kings to assume the harem of their predecessors (2 Sa. 3:7; 12:8; 16:21; 1Ki. 2:22). So this was an arrogant and premature claim to the rights of the firstborn. Because of his sin of incest, Reuben lost the rights of the firstborn. His right to extra land was given to Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1-2) and his leadership right was given to Judah.

If the eldest son lost the rights of the firstborn, we would expect these rights to be transferred to the second-born son. Simeon was Israel’s second son. Israel tells Simeon and Levi (his third son) that their descendants would be scattered and dispersed within the nation of Israel. This was fulfilled when the Levites weren’t given an allocation of land like the other tribes and Simeon’s allocation was surrounded by Judah’s – the tribe of Simeon was assimilated into the tribe of Judah. (Josh. 14:4; 19:1-9). The reason given is that they were angry, cruel and violent (Gen. 49:5-7). For example, after their sister Dinah was raped by Shechem (Gen. 34:1-7), Simeon and Levi killed all the men of the city and plundered their women, children, and possessions (Gen. 34:25-30). Also, this increased the threat of the Canaanites attacking Jacob’s family.

Jacob’s greatest and longest blessings are given to Judah and Joseph (Gen. 49:8-12; 22-26). Judah is promised leadership over the other tribes, which was fulfilled by king David. Jesus Christ was also a descendant of Judah (Mt. 1:3; Lk. 3:33). Judah would be praised for victories over their enemies. Their supremacy is symbolized by the lion’s supremacy in the animal kingdom. Some of Judah’s descendants are also promised peace and prosperity (Gen. 49:11-12).

So, there are two main reasons why Judah was the most prominent tribe of Israel. First, Reuben forfeited his rights by his incest and Simeon and Levi forfeited their rights by their cruelty and violence. They were disqualified for misconduct. Judah was the next in the order of birth and that is why he received the blessing. Second, this prominence was prophesized by Jacob before he died.

But the brother’s treatment of Joseph also offers some insight into this topic.

Treatment of Joseph

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. After Joseph dreamt that his family would bow down to him, his brothers were filled with jealousy and hatred toward him (Gen. 37:4-5, 8, 11). When Joseph was sent by his father to visit his brothers, they plotted to kill him. Judah’s leadership potential is shown when they agree to his suggestion to sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill him (Gen. 37:26-27). Joseph is taken to Egypt where he rises to a prominent position before there is to be a famine. During the famine, his brothers travel to Egypt seeking food.

When Joseph commanded his brothers to bring Benjamin to Egypt, Reuben told his father that he would put both of his sons to death if he didn’t bring Benjamin back (Gen 42:37). On the other hand, Judah said that he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety and be personally responsible for him (Gen. 43:8-9). If he didn’t bring Benjamin back, then he would bear the blame all his life. Here we see that Judah was willing to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety, whereas Reuben offered his sons to take the consequences instead.

When the brothers returned to the city because Joseph’s silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, the Bible says that “Judah and his brothers” went into Joseph’s house (Gen. 44:14NIV). And then Judah responded on behalf of the brothers when Joseph said “What is this you have done?” (Gen. 44:15-34). So Judah takes a leadership role amongst his brothers. He also offered to stay at Joseph’s in Egypt instead of Benjamin so that Benjamin could return to his father (Gen. 44:33-34). This is in accordance with his previous offer to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety.

When Jacob’s family moved to Egypt during the famine, “Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen” (Gen. 46:28). So Jacob recognized Judah’s leadership role in his family.

So we see that before Jacob made his predictions, Judah took a leadership role in his family and took personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. His conduct qualified him for this role.

Lessons for us

The choices made by Reuben disqualified him from receiving the rights of the firstborn. These rights weren’t transferred to Simeon or Levi because of the choices they made. But the rights were transferred to Judah because of how he chose to behave. So, our choices have consequences.

Reuben, Simeon and Levi experienced negative consequences because of their sinful behavior. So sinful behavior has negative consequences.

What has changed since then? We aren’t Israelites living under the law, but Christians living under the new covenant instituted by Jesus. Our eldest sons don’t inherit leadership of the family or a double portion of our wealth. Instead, humility is important and we receive spiritual rewards after death at the Judgment Seat of Christ. So, our choices do have consequences – in this life and after death.

Sin separates us from the God who empowers us. It weakens us. So our sinful behavior does have negative consequences. It can also have some lasting consequences as Jonothan Beninka found out. But when we confess and repent of our sin, our relationship with the Lord is restored (1 Jn. 1:9).

Written, July 2015


Fast and slow

fox & dog 390px“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is a sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet. It has been used to practice writing and typing and to display the characters of computer fonts. The hare and the tortoise is a story where the slow tortoise wins a race with a fast hare. This sentence and this story both contrast something that is fast with something that is slow. James also contrasts the fast and the slow when he writes in the Bible,
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (Jas. 1:19-20NIV).

The context of this passage is that the book of James describes how the Christian life is to be lived. After addressing external trials and internal temptations, he turns to obeying God’s word.

Are we “quick to listen” to what God tells us in the Bible? Are we ready to listen to godly advice? This is the first step to accepting God’s word and obeying it (Jas. 1:21-22).

Are we “slow to speak”? Do we keep a tight rein on the words we say (Jas. 1:26). Or do our words give us away? Are we hypocrites who both praise God and denigrate other people (Jas. 3:9-12)?

Are we “slow to become angry”? Do we lose our temper?

Are we “quick to listen” to other people or are we long-winded (Job 16:3)? If we listen attentively to what people say, then we will come to know what life is like for them. Who speaks the most during our conversations? Is it more about us or more about them? If it’s us then we are probably not listening enough. Let’s be ready to listen so we can reflect the person’s feelings and summarize what they are telling us. Then listen again to their response and see if we were right. Don’t assume we know what life is like for them. It we haven’t understood properly, they can correct us. Such listening is a vital skill in caring for each other.

As Jesus said a tree is recognized by its fruit (Mt. 7:20), the state of our spiritual life is evident from our attitudes and behavior. Do we show the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)?

So there’s a time to be fast and a time to be slow. As followers of Christ, let’s be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.

Written, July 2015


How to please God

Bridge climb 2 400pxChecklist in Hebrews 13

Before you climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge there’s a checklist that covers your: age, height, blood alcohol reading, pregnancy status, essential medication, and health. To climb the bridge, you need to satisfy all these requirements.

Today we are looking at a checklist given at the end of Hebrews that helps us to keep following Jesus and not turn back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.

Context

Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish religious customs. Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. First, that Jesus is greater than all their Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses, and the priests (Ch 1-10). Second, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race (Ch 10-12). As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us. Third, the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins (Ch. 1-12). Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.

As Hebrews was probably written to a church about AD 68, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.

Hebrews 13 begins with three outward things.

Love one another (v.1)

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

The Greek noun used here is philadelphia (Strongs #5360), which is love among brothers and sisters in a family. It describes the connection and relationship that should be felt with all true Christians. Because God is now like our Father and we are like His children, all who have trusted in Him are like siblings in a spiritual family. That’s why we often call each other brothers and sisters. These metaphors should influence our thoughts and behavior towards each other. Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love (philadelphia)” (Rom. 12:10NIV).

Do we feel the family connection with believers in our church? Do we feel the connection with other believers in our area? In our city? In our state? In our nation? In other nations across the world?

Practice hospitality (v.2)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

The Greek noun translated “hospitality” (#5381) means friendliness shown to strangers. It’s providing them with food and shelter. The Bible also says “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” and “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Christians who were fleeing from persecution certainly needed hospitality. Jesus commended those who showed hospitality, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt. 25:35).

By showing hospitality, we can support God’s people and God’s servants. Abraham (Gen. 18:1-15), Lot (Gen. 19:1-17), Gideon (Jud. 6:11-24 and Samson’s father Manoah (Jud. 13:9-23) each showed hospitality to angels although they didn’t know who their visitors were at the time.

Do we show hospitality to Christians who are in need? Have we taken the initiative and invited them into our home? In this way we can share in their Christian lives and our family can benefit from the interaction. Do we show hospitality to non-Christians? Have we invited a non-Christian into our home over the past year? This can be a blessing to both families.

Practice empathy (v.3)

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Christians were imprisoned and mistreated during this time of persecution. Their colleagues were told to remember them in a particular way. The Greek text says “as being bound with them” in prison and “as also yourselves being in their body” when they are mistreated. This is empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Paul expressed it as, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Previously they had “stood side by side” with those who were persecuted and “suffered along with those in prison” (Heb. 10:33-34). Also, Jesus commended those who visited prisoners, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt. 25:36). Ancient prisons didn’t give prisoners any food, so visits from friends were essential.

Do we have empathy for Christians who are suffering? Can we imagine what it is like walking in their shoes?

Hebrews 13 then addresses two inward things.

Be sexually pure (v.4)

wedding 2 400pxMarriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Before sin came into the world, God created marriage between a man and a woman. He wants us to hold it in high regard. On the other hand, the Bible says that sexual immorality is a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Besides the problems it causes in this life, it brings God’s judgement unless one is pardoned through Christ’s death as our substitute.

A reason to honor marriage is because it is to be an example of the loving relationship between Christ and His bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage is dishonoured by adultery and sexual immorality, which is having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse. Sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). God’s people need to exercise self-control in this area. After all, one of the gifts of the Spirit is self-control.

How are we influenced by the loose sexual standards in society today? What about pornography? If we are married, are we faithful to our spouse?

Be contented (v.5-6)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

These Christians were tempted to want more money and what it can buy. Paul used the same Greek adjective (#866) to say that a church elder shouldn’t be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). He also learnt “to be content whatever the circumstances” and taught that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, which brings griefs and causes people to wander from the Christian faith (Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). Instead they were to be content with what they had, which was Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Verse 5 quotes Moses at the end of his life telling the Israelites that God would help them possess the land of Canaan, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6). This strong promise is the key to being freed from the love of money. It’s realizing that God is always with us; we’re never alone.

Verse 6 quotes the Israelites giving thanks to God for deliverance from their enemies “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; He is my helper” (Ps. 118:6-7). Nothing can separate us from God and His love and His promise of eternal life. Likewise, Christians can trust God for their safety, protection and economic welfare. They shouldn’t fear financial loss or poverty. Instead trust God to take care of you.

If we believe the promise that the Lord is always with us and empowers us, then we will love one another, show hospitality and empathy, be sexually pure, and avoid the love of money.

Are we contented with what we have in life? Or are we discontent and influenced by materialism? Are we greedy? Are we afraid of the future? Or do we trust that the Lord is with us?

Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life like this.

Follow godly church leaders (v.7-8, 17)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

They are given the example of godly church leaders to follow and imitate. In the past these leaders had taught them God’s word. The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They didn’t go back to their previous Jewish ways of worship. That’s the kind of faith to follow and imitate.

These leaders’ teaching and faith was based on the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v.8). This means that His character is the same, not that He does the same things in every age. As God, He has the same love, wisdom, righteousness, power, knowledge and plan. He never changes His mind because of unforeseen circumstances.

Church leaders are also mentioned in v.17.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Church elders are to care for (“keep watch over”) the spiritual welfare of the congregation. Elders are accountable to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ for this pastoral care. This is serious business. They will be asked, what did you teach? How did you live? How did you care for the lonely, the suffering, and the disobedient?

The congregation is to respect, trust and follow such godly leaders (elders) because of the work they do. This gives them joy and the congregation benefits.

If we are an elder are we a godly example for the congregation? Are we keeping watch over them? Do we pray for them regularly? Are we interested in their spiritual growth? Are we ready to give an account of our time and effort used in this task? If we are in the congregation, do we respect the elders? Do we pray for them? Are we willing to let them take an interest in our spiritual growth?

Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism.

Follow Jesus (v.9-12)

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (v.9-10)

Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.

Then it says “we have an altar”, which is a figure of speech (metonymy) for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Through it we can have forgiveness and hope. Instead of Jewish rituals and rules, we have Christ’s supreme sacrifice and the blessings it brings. All those involved with the Jewish religion had no right to the better things of Christianity (because they rejected Jesus as their Savior). They must first confess and repent of their sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. (v.11-12)

Under the Jewish sacrificial system, certain animals were killed and their blood was brought into the most holy place of the temple by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin. The people’s sins were symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal. The body of the animal was disposed of away from the temple (or “outside the camp”) (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:12, 21; 9:11; 16:14, 27). Likewise, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem at a place where criminals (those rejected by society) were punished (Jn. 19:17). His death enabled us to have our sins forgiven so we can be holy before God. It says that God can make us holy through the death of Jesus (“His own blood” means His death).

Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old ways of life? To the things that occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord.

Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices.

Suffering, praise and good works (v.13-16)

Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (v.13-14)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (v.16-17)

Instead of offering sacrifices at Jerusalem, as Christians they were to offer three other kinds of sacrifices. The first is a sacrifice of suffering for Christ (v.13-14). Because Jesus suffered outside the city of Jerusalem to meet our need (v.12), Christians are urged to join Jesus in His sufferings (v.13). “The camp” represented their old Jewish religion centred at Jerusalem (for us it can mean our previous way of life before we followed Christ). The Jewish believers escaped from Jerusalem because they were persecuted and ridiculed by the Jewish religious leaders for following Jesus (Acts 8:1-4). They suffered insults and shame. As disciples of Christ they denied themselves, took up their cross and followed Him (Mk. 8:34). Likewise, to meet the needs of this world we need to leave our comforts and security. Instead of putting our efforts into building our lives in this world, which won’t endure; we should be putting them into heaven, which is everlasting.

The Jewish religion was centred on the city of Jerusalem. That’s where the temple was.
But Christians don’t have a special city on earth. Instead, they look ahead to the new Jerusalem (the coming city) where God and Jesus are enthroned (v.14). Unlike earthy cities, this city is permanent and secure. They long for heaven and its joy and eternal pleasures (Ps. 16:11). Because they are satisfied with all that God has done, they long to be with Him. They value the Creator above the creation. They’re only visiting this planet, it’s not their home.

The second is a sacrifice of words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus (v.15). It’s “through Jesus” because that’s the only way we can approach God (Heb. 7:25; 10:19-21). He’s our mediator. This is to be “continual” verbal praise, not just on Sunday. Every day of the week and in good times and bad times (Acts 16:23-25). It flows from our satisfaction with God and longing to be with Him (v.14). How can we creatively mention our faith in Jesus and God’s greatness and goodness in our conversations? Are our meetings God-centred?

The third is a sacrifice of good works (v.16). It says “to do good and to share with others” who are in need. This would include the things mentioned earlier in the chapter, such as using our time and possessions in loving one another, and showing hospitality and empathy. Living for others. Doing the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). Then a reason is given for doing this “for with such sacrifices God is pleased”. God is pleased with this sacrifice because when we live like this, we show that He is more valuable than the things of this world. If God is our treasure, we’ll serve Him by helping others instead of being devoted to the things of this world.

How do we rate on these sacrifices? Are we willing to suffer and be ridiculed because we are a Christian? What about moving outside our churches to evangelize our neighbourhoods, our cities, our nation and the nations of the world? Do we have a heart of praise? Do we live for others?

Up to now the book of Hebrews has been like a sermon, but it finishes like a letter.

Keep praying (v.18-19)

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

The writer appeals for their prayers. Because he says he has a clear conscience and desires to live honorably in every way, he may have been attacked by Jewish critics. As he also asks them to pray that he might be able to visit them soon, it seems as though he had been delayed. Perhaps he was in prison (v.23). Prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him.

Do we pray for others?

The writer now expresses his final desire and prayer for those he is writing to.

Recognize God’s work (v.20-21)

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

He calls God the “God of peace”, because through Jesus we can have peace with God. Our sins separate us from God, but through Jesus we can be reconciled and draw near to God.

The fact that Jesus was raised back to life after being in the tomb showed that His mission was accomplished – His death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity. Because of this we can share in God’s eternal covenant, which is also called the new covenant. A covenant is a promise, and because of what Jesus did, we know that God keeps His promises.

Jesus is called the “great Shepherd of the sheep”, which is a metaphor for a great leader of all the redeemed. Sheep need guiding to fresh pasture and protection from predators. Because He is alive, and because by His Spirit He is always with us, He can guide and protect those who follow Him.

His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out (also see Phil. 2:13). Doing God’s will is what pleases Him. Then they could be faithful and keep following and serving Christ and have inner strength and faith to persevere to the end (Jer.32:40).

All this equipping believers and pleasing God is achieved “through Jesus Christ”. It’s the same explanation as given for how Paul learnt to be content in all circumstances: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s why Jesus deserves glory and praise for ever and ever.

Do we give Jesus glory, honor and praise as our great spiritual leader? Do we realize that God equips us and works in us? Are we like Paul whose goal was to please God (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10; 1 Th. 4:1)?

Conclusion

Hebrews 13 400pxWe have seen that an understanding of the greatness of Jesus, the importance of perseverance and the danger of unbelief needs to be expressed by loving one another; showing hospitality and empathy; sexual purity; avoiding the love of money; following Jesus and godly church leaders instead of false teachings; persevering in the Christian faith by accepting suffering, by continual praise and by doing good works; prayer; and by letting God work though us.

In 1935 a Boeing B-17 aircraft crashed when being evaluated by the US Army. The crash was caused by pilot error. When they realized that flying the plane was too complex to rely on the pilot’s memory, they developed checklists to make sure nothing was forgotten.

Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.

Written, May 2015

Also see summary of the book of Hebrews:
Never give up!


Three types of fear

Fear diagram Feb 2015 400pxWhat do we fear? Terrorist attacks? The rise of radical Islamism? Danger? Crime? Failure? Rejection? Change? Loss? The future? The unknown? Uncertainty? Being alone? Unemployment? The rising cost of living? Economic recession? Climate change? Immigration? Pain? Death? Dentists? Public speaking? Heights? Snakes?

Fear can help us respond to a dangerous situation, but constant fear is debilitating. This can lead to anxiety, which is prevalent today.

The fear (reverence and respect) of God is a feeling of awe and praise of a small creature before their immense Creator. This type of fear is unusual today.

Let’s look at what the Bible says about these types of fear. We’ll see that through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Although we shouldn’t be afraid, healthy fears help us live godly lives and we need to reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.

Method

There are at least 10 Greek words that are used in the New Testament to describe “fear”. The two most common ones are:
phobeo (Strongs #5399) is a verb which means either to fear and be afraid, or to reverence.
phobos (Strongs #5401) is a noun which means either fear, or reverence and respect for authority.

In this study we looked at the 81 occurrences of all the 10 Greek words for “fear” in the books of the Bible written to the early church; Acts to Revelation inclusive (see the references in the next four sections). These occurrences were grouped according to whether they were about fear or about reverence/respect. We begin by looking at the fears of unbelievers.

Fears of unbelievers

Sometimes the first-century Jewish and Roman authorities were afraid. The captain of the temple guard and his officers didn’t use force to recapture the apostles because they feared that the people, who highly regarded the apostles, would stone them (Acts 5:26). The magistrates were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens because they had been beaten publicly without a trial (Acts 16:38). Likewise, the Roman commander in Jerusalem was afraid when he found out that Paul was a Roman citizen because he had put him in chains (Acts 22:29). Later because he was afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by the crowd, the commander had Paul taken to the barracks (Acts 23:10).

When Paul was a prisoner he was sent to Italy by ship. A storm with hurricane force winds struck when they were near Crete and the ship was driven towards Malta for 14 days. During the storm, the sailors were afraid the ship would run aground, and near Malta they feared the ship would be dashed against the rocks (Acts 27:17, 29).

People are afraid when they face punishment. When we do wrong we are afraid of those in authority because we will be punished (Rom. 13:4). Those living under the law feared God’s judgment, but believers don’t live in this fear (Rom. 8:15). When a Philippian jailer thought all his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake, he was about to kill himself. After Paul reassured him that all the prisoners were still there, the jailor was convicted of his sinfulness and he fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked what to do to be saved from going to hell (Acts 16:29).

Unbelievers will be afraid when they face God at the Great White Throne to be judged because their names are not in the book of life. The degree of their punishment will be according to the evil deeds they have done. When Paul spoke about the judgment to come, Felix was afraid (Acts 24:25). An apostate is someone who professed to be a Christian and attended a local church, but abandons the Christian faith. The Bible says they will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31). Unbelievers (whose destiny is hell, not heaven) are described as being cowards because, unlike the overcomer, they are afraid to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Rev. 21:7-8).

People of the earth will be afraid after God’s future judgments. When two of God’s witnesses are resurrected after being martyred, those who see them will be afraid (Rev. 11:11, 13). After the two witnesses ascend to heaven, there will be a severe earthquake and the survivors will be afraid. When Babylon falls, the kings of the earth and the merchants will be afraid (Rev. 18:10, 15).

Finally, people are afraid of dying. The Bible says this fear is like slavery (Heb. 2:15).

These are mainly examples of fearing danger, punishment, and death. They may be called protective fear where people respond to protect themselves. This is a healthy kind of fear. In the case of chronic fear, people are too anxious and doubtful to respond appropriately. This is an unhealthy kind of fear, which keeps us from doing things we should do. It is an anxiety which can lead to depression and mental illness (such as phobias, which are persistent fears of objects or situations).

Next we look at the fears of those who trusted in God.

Fears of believers

People are afraid when they see a demonstration of God’s power. Moses trembled with fear at the burning bush and was greatly afraid at the sight at Mount Sinai (Acts 7:32; Heb. 12:21). Cornelius was afraid when an angel spoke to him (Acts 10:4). And people were afraid when they heard how Ananias and Sapphira died (Acts 5:5, 11).

Christians should fear sin and its consequences. We should be afraid that some people haven’t yet accepted God’s plan of salvation and so they aren’t going to heaven (Heb. 4:1). If an elder sins in such a way as to harm the testimony of the church they are to be rebuked publicly so the others may fear falling into sin (1 Tim. 5:20). When responding to victims of apostasy, we should fear being trapped by the allure of sin (Jude 1:23).

Paul was afraid about the effectiveness of his preaching and teaching ministry. He was humble when he visited Corinth as he came in weakness with great fear and trembling (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul was afraid that the Corinthians may be deceived by false teachers and that if he visits them, they will be disorderly (2 Cor. 11:3; 12:20). At Macedonia, he was harassed by internal fears because he was hoping that Titus would give him news about the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 7:5-7). This was alleviated when Titus told him about the Corinthians’ sorrow and their longing to see Paul. Also, Paul was afraid he had wasted his efforts in Galatia because they were following Jewish practices (Gal 4:11).

Sometimes the apostles were told to not be afraid. At Antioch, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of bullies in the circumcision group (Gal 2:12). But he stopped this after he was rebuked by Paul. When he was on the island of Patmos, John fell at His feet when he saw Christ, but was told to not be afraid (Rev 1:17). After Paul was converted he escaped Damascus (as the Jews planned to kill him) and went to Jerusalem. When he tried to join the disciples, they were afraid of him because they didn’t believe that he was a disciple (Acts 9:26-27). But they accepted Paul after Barnabas told them about Paul’s conversion and preaching.

These are mainly examples of fearing God’s power, sin and its consequences, pride, and that one’s preaching and teaching may not be effective. These are healthy fears as they are associated with godly living.

Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear. Next we look when those who trusted in God demonstrated courage instead of fear.

Not afraid

Moses’ parents weren’t afraid of the kings edict to drown every Hebrew boy that is born and Moses didn’t fear Pharaoh’s anger (Heb. 11:23, 27). The Psalmist wasn’t afraid when he was in trouble because the Lord was with him (Heb. 13:6).

The early Christians were to be courageous when they faced persecution. They were not to fear threats or be frightened when persecuted and not retaliate, but endure it patiently and be kind to their persecutors (1 Pt. 3:14). The church in Smyrna was told not to be afraid of persecution and to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). All this is possible because the Holy Spirit makes believers courageous and not timid; “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7NIV).

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him to not be afraid because “I am with you” and no one would harm him and there were many people in Corinth who would follow the Lord (Acts 18:9). During the storm, an angel told Paul to not be afraid of shipwreck because he would stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:24). Also, Paul told the Romans, if you do what’s right, then there is no need to fear those who are in authority (Rom 13:3).

As marriage thrives in a climate of love, honor and respect, there is no place for fear in a healthy marriage. Peter said wives shouldn’t be terrified of their husbands (except for cases of domestic violence, which isn’t acceptable) (1 Pt. 3:6).

Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).

Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has paid the penalty. John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). Christ’s death on our behalf is the “perfect love” that “drives out fear” of God’s judgment.

These are examples of courage and not fearing authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, your husband, and God’s judgment. This courage is healthy because it is associated with godly living.

The second meaning of “fear” in Scripture is to indicate reverence and respect for authority.

Reverence

Godly men who lived in Old Testament times had an attitude of reverence and respect for God. For example, after being warned by God of the coming judgment, in holy fear (reverence and respect) Noah built an ark to save his family (Heb. 11:7).

People were filled with awe at the miracles done by the apostles when the church was formed at Jerusalem (Acts 2:43). Although they were mainly Jews, it soon became evident that there were Gentiles who also had an attitude of reverence and respect for God. Cornelius and his family were devout and God-fearing (Acts 10:2, 22). They believed in one God and the moral and ethical teachings of the Jews. Likewise, there were Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch who reverenced and respected the Lord (Acts 13:16, 26). When Peter realized that God accepted Gentiles, he said God accepts those who respect Him and do what is right (Acts 10:35). When someone lives up to the revelation they have received about the Lord, He makes sure that they hear the gospel and so has the opportunity to be saved.

Gentiles shouldn’t be proud that there are more of them in God’s family today than Jews, but they should respect God (Rom 11:20).

After the people in Ephesus realized that Paul’s miracles were greater than the false exorcists, they were also filled with a deep sense of awe and the Lord’s name was honored (Acts 19:17).

Believers are commanded to give respect and honor to those owed respect and honor (Rom 13:7). This includes revering and respecting God and worshiping Him with reverence and awe (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Pt. 2:17; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pt. 1:17). This is opposite to unbelievers, who don’t revere or respect God (Rom 3:18). There is a reward for those who revere God (Rev. 11:18). When believers respected the Lord, the early church grew (Acts 9:31). So although they didn’t fear persecution, they revered Christ as Lord (1 Pt. 3:14, 15).

Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Similarly, we should fear displeasing the Lord. Jesus is another example for us; He prayed with reverent submission (Heb. 5:7).

The Corinthians respected the Lord and they received Titus “with fear and trembling”, which means with a sense of reverence before the Lord (2 Cor. 7:11, 15). Paul urged the Philippians to work on deliverance from their contentions “with fear and trembling”, which means with a sense of reverence before the Lord (Phil. 2:12-13).

In the gospel of the coming kingdom, people are told to respect God and worship Him, not a man (Rev 14:7). At that time, God’s judgments on the earth will show that He is a God of holiness (Rev. 15:4). They will cause all nations to revere, glorify, and worship Him.

Slaves, children, and wives are to submit to their masters, parents and husbands out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21). As already mentioned, respect is part of a healthy marriage. While the husband is to love his wife, the wife is to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). Wives should also be morally pure, which springs from reverence toward the Lord (of course this principle applies to husbands as well) (1 Pt. 3:2).

Slaves should respect and obey their masters (no only when they are watching or to earn their favour) with sincerity and with reverence to the Lord (Eph. 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Pt. 2:18). Similarly, as God’s slaves/servants, our attitude towards Him should be one of reverence and respect (Rev. 19:5).

These are examples of reverence and respect for God, who warns of coming judgment, who enabled the apostles and their delegates to do miracles, and who we wish to please as our Lord. They may be called respectful fear, which is a healthy fear associated with godly living. This reverence leads to slaves, children, and wives submitting to their masters, parents and husbands.

Lessons for us

From these Scriptures we see that if we obey the law, there is no need to fear punishment from authorities. But do we fear danger or death? If we have no external resources to help us, it is natural to fear these possibilities. But through faith in Christ, these fears can be replaced with courage, security, protection and peace when we realize that Christ is with us (Acts 18:9-10; Heb. 13:6). Prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Pt. 5:7). Then we can practice protective fear without lapsing into chronic fear.

As Christians, do we fear God’s power, sin and its consequences, pride, displeasing the Lord, or that our service and ministry may not be effective? These are healthy fears that help us live godly lives.

The apostles were courageous when they faced the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13; 5:29). This courage came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8; 2 Tim. 1:7). After Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he was told by the Lord to have courage because he would also stand before Caesar in Rome (Acts 23:11). Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties, including false teachers (1 Cor. 16:13). Do we have courage instead of fear when we face authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, or God’s judgment? This courage comes from the Holy Spirit who empowers believers for godly living.

Do we go against the tide in a world where one’s rights are given priority over one’s responsibilities? Do we reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord? Then we can practice respectful fear. Do we respect His message for us in the Bible? Do we respect our employer, parents, spouse and our church elders?

Less respect of God leads to more trust in humanity, which leads to more anxiety and chronic fear. It also leads to less respect for authority in families, schools, and society. When parents don’t respect God, children don’t respect parents. When teachers don’t respect God, students don’t respect teachers. When our leaders don’t respect God, people don’t respect the police, the judiciary or the government.

Conclusion

Let’s bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear based on assumed dangers. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.

Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Although we shouldn’t be afraid, healthy fears help us live godly lives and we need to reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.

Written, February 2015

Also see: How to overcome fear


The fight

runny nose 400pxRunny nose, excess mucus, wheeze, dry cough, heavy chest, sore muscles, aches and pains, headache, loss of appetite, and fatigue. My body’s in a combat zone! My immune system has been fighting since these symptoms arose after a long haul jet flight. I’ve read that these symptoms can go on for weeks regardless of the treatment followed. I know the body will eventually return to normal, but not how long it will take. In the meantime I’ve fasted, restricted my diet, rested, tried shallow breathing and taken medication.

Paul used the metaphor of a fight to describe: the self-control required for Christian service; the way to oppose false teachers and godless philosophies; and how to live the Christian life daily.

The Christian’s main task is to serve the Lord. For this they need self-control, just like a boxer or any sportsman (1 Cor. 9:24-27). In fact, to help attain success, sportsmen need to exercise self-control in all parts of their life.

Paul fought against false teachers and godless philosophies (2 Cor. 10:4-5) by comparing them against what God has revealed in Scripture. He used the divine power of the Bible to demolish these human arguments because they undermined the knowledge of God. He wanted all humanity’s teachings and speculations judged in the light of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul compared contending against false teachers to fighting in a battle (1 Ti. 1:18).

Paul urges Timothy to strive to live out his Christian faith in daily life like a soldier (1 Ti. 6:12; 2 Ti. 2:3). Discipline is required to be ready for service for the Lord, while not being distracted by less important things.

Near the end of his life Paul looked back over 30 years of ministry and wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Ti. 4:7-8NIV). He looked forward to the reward for faithful service.

Paul also said we are in a literal battle against Satan and his demons (Eph. 4:12). The weapons provided for us in this fight are: to live by the truths of Scripture, to live with integrity, to be ready to share the good news of the gospel, to exercise our Christian faith by always trusting in the Lord and His word, to realize our salvation assures us of ultimate victory, to trust God’s revelation in the Bible, and to pray continually (Eph. 4:10-20).

Remember our spiritual disciplines and battles are more important than our physical ones. But we need to care for our physical life so as to be able to continue serving the Lord.

Written, February 2015


What about keeping the Sabbath day?

torn curtain 1Someone has commented on keeping the Sabbath day. The comment is given below in italics and my reply in normal type. Here is a link to the post commented on: “I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?

The temple and the Mosaic covenant

The tabernacle/temple together with the offerings and priesthood were an essential part of God’s Mosaic covenant with the Israelites (see Exodus – Deuteronomy). At that time God lived on earth in a building and people could only approach Him via an offering made by a priest. God left the first temple because of their gross sinfulness (Ezek. 8-10). This temple was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians when the Israelites were driven from their homeland. But a new one was built after the Jewish exile in Babylon (Ezra 3-6). And after this fell into disrepair, a new one was built by King Herod.

Why was the inner curtain of Herod’s temple torn in two when Jesus died (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45)? This would have shocked the Jews – their most holy place was no longer hidden by the curtain. They would have repaired or replaced the curtain as soon as possible. The writer of Hebrews says that the curtain was a symbol of Christ’s body (Heb. 10:19-20). Because of Christ’s death and because of His High Priestly role, we can “enter the most Holy Place”. We can approach God without the need of a human priest. Soon after this on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to live in God’s people. So God left the temple and His presence on earth was taken by the Holy Spirit. This temple was subsequently destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans invaded Jerusalem. The torn curtain, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the fact that the temple has not been rebuilt for a period of over 1,900 years indicates a significant change in God’s relationship with mankind.

Consequently, I have divided the comments according to whether they related to Scriptures dealing with events before or after the day of Pentecost.

Summary

The commentator advocates keeping the Sabbath today as it was kept when Jesus was on earth about 2,000 years ago.

But the Sabbath day is a sign of the Mosaic covenant given to the Israelites about 3,450 years ago (Ex. 31:13-17). They were to keep it until it was fulfilled when Jesus died. Jesus was a Jew who kept the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath) and taught Jews who were living under the Mosaic law. This period under the law of Moses covers Exodus to John (inclusive) in the Bible.

After the day of Pentecost, there was a new way to approach God. This doesn’t involve Jewish laws like male circumcision (or animal sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath) because Paul wrote against this in Galatians. However, 9 of the ten commandments are repeated in this section of the Bible. But the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath is not repeated. This significant fact is ignored by those that want to impose Sabbath keeping today.

Unfortunately the commentator doesn’t seem to recognise that the Greek word for “law” (nomos) has several meanings, including God’s teaching for the church in the New Testament. Instead he seems to assume it always means the Torah or God’s teaching in the Pentateuch. Also, he fails to use the context when interpreting a passage from the Bible. This context should be deduced from the surrounding Scriptures and not imposed by the reader by selecting verses elsewhere in Scripture (i.e. “cherry picking”).

Overall, the comment seems to be an example of eisegesis (an interpretation that is imposed on the biblical text by the reader – it comes from the reader’s preconceived ideas) rather than exegesis (an interpretation that is obtained/derived from the biblical text).

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Keep on running

Runner 1Today is the Australian National Rugby League (Football) grand final. Some of the games in the finals have been exciting with teams winning by just one point. The aim of the game is to take the ball to the try line. The player with the ball keeps running towards the try line. This isn’t easy, because of obstacles in the form of being tackled by the opposition players. The players try their hardest until the end, because some teams that were behind during the game can turn the score around and finish up the winner. Although they may be tempted to give up when they are weary, they persevere to the end of the game.

What if the player with the ball stopped and refused to run even though they weren’t injured? What if they turned around and ran in the opposite direction?! This would be easier for the player because there would be no opposition, but a huge disappointment to the team, the coach and the supporters. They would think he had a mental breakdown or was a traitor.

In this article we are looking at Hebrews chapters 10-12, where the writer says that following Jesus is like running in a marathon where perseverance is required (which was familiar for his original readers). We will see that, because of the benefits of Jesus’ death and His promised coming again, we can keep following Him even when we feel like giving up.

Context

Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (Heb. 12:4-13; 13:3). Because of their hardship and suffering, they were tired and weak (Heb. 12:3, 12-13). This also impacted their spiritual lives. They were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish customs. They were spiritually weak.

As Hebrews was probably written to a church in about AD 67-70, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.

Hebrews tells them what they needed to know and to do. In the first 10 chapters we saw that Jesus is greater than all the Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses and Joshua, and the priests. He is also greater than all our heroes, whoever they may be, including scientists, those promoting spiritual experiences, the leaders of nations and religions. Hebrews 1-10 finishes with showing how Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices and any good works we might think help us get to heaven.

Halfway through chapter 10 there is a change from doctrine to practice. Hebrews 10:19 onwards tells us what to do in view of the fact that Jesus is greater than all our heroes and that His sacrifice is greater than any of ours.

This passage begins with the word “therefore” and says they should persevere in the Christian faith (10:19, 34, 36, 38). Then in chapter 11 many examples are given of those who lived by faith in OT times. This is followed in chapter 12 by the word “therefore” once again and the key passage:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3NIV)

Running with perseverance (Heb. 12:1-3)

Have you started the race? Have you ever decided to follow Jesus? There are several warnings about this in the book of Hebrews that we will cover in the next article of this series. Today, we are looking at those who have started but are being tempted to give up.

The main message here is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. This metaphor says that our life as a Christian is like a running race. We are to be like an athlete who perseveres and doesn’t quit. The writer uses similar Greek words in:
• “you endured in a great conflict full of suffering” (10:32).
• “you need to persevere” to be rewarded at the end of the race (10:36).
• Jesus “endured the cross” (12:2)
• Jesus endured opposition from sinners (12:3).
• “Endure hardship” (12:7).
So endurance and perseverance is a major theme of these chapters.

The opposite of persevering in a race is to “grow weary and lose heart” and stop running (12:3). Paul said “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). His goal was to encourage others to follow Jesus.

Eric 3As we are to run with perseverance and endurance, it is not an easy jog. We must be ready to continue, persist, and keep going.

Eric Moussambani (the eel) from Equatorial Guinea struggled to swim 100m at the Sydney Olympics. The other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified so he swam it alone. He was very slow, but he finished the race. He persisted even though he wasn’t a good swimmer.

Do we give up following Jesus? Do we give up reading the Bible, praying, going to church? Or have we decided there will be “no turning back”, like it says in the song “Christ is enough”:
I have decided to follow Jesus; No turning back, no turning back

Hebrews gives three ways to keep following Jesus.

How to keep on running

By focusing on God & Jesus

Those who were to run with perseverance were to focus on Jesus – “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:2a). We don’t run in our own strength because Jesus creates and completes our faith. God works in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus (13:21). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Jesus was sustained by the joy of the triumph at the end: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame” (12:2b). A runner is sustained by the reward at the end of the race. Our reward is to see God and be free from sin.

The pattern continues, “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3). Life was difficult for the Lord. As He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:20), so we will also face hardships. But when we realise that our hardships are small compared to His and He will help us endure, our attitude should be to never give up.

Chapter 10 says “since we have” a great sacrifice in Jesus and “since we have” a great High Priest on Jesus, “let us draw near to God” (10:19-22). There is a similar thought in “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16).We can walk right up to God and get near to Him with confidence because Jesus has cleared the way. That’s how we can obtain all the help we need.

After all, Jesus came to earth to make a way for us to come to God – “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pt. 3:18). That’s the good news in the Bible.

We know that God is always with us (Ps. 23:4; 13:5-6), but how can we “draw near” to Him? When we meditate on God’s word the Bible and pray to Him, we realize He is with us and cares for us. Hebrews says we come to Him with sincerity and assurance because we are clean and pure through salvation and holiness (10:19-22). We are urged to be holy because practical holiness is evidence of our positional holiness (12:14).

Then it says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (10:23). We trust in God’s promises given in the Bible. For example, Jesus promised to return to take us to be with Him eternally in heaven.

Next we see how this hope is to be expressed in our daily lives.

By encouraging one another (10:24-25)

“Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). We are urged to think about what we can do to stimulate others to love and good deeds. In what we say and do, we should encourage each other to put others above ourselves. This kind of love is expressed by good deeds and not giving up meeting together. It seems that some were deserting and abandoning Christianity and reverting to Judaism. Instead they were to encourage one another when they met together. This is mutual encouragement like in a small group. So the verse is saying to us, “not giving up meeting in small groups, as some are in the habit of doing” (10:25). What is your habit with regard to small groups? Do you attend regularly, intermittently or not at all?

Also, we are to live in peace with each other (12:14). We can’t encourage each other when there is conflict, strife and turmoil.

By removing obstacles

Bethany 4Chapter 12 says “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). This means throwing off not just sin that entangles us, but “everything that hinders”. How do we spend our time? How do certain people influence us? Ask: does it help me run the race; does it help me follow Jesus; do they help me run the race? Many things can hinder us following Jesus. We can throw them off by establishing boundaries and practicing discipline. Doing this encourages the “lame” who struggle in the Christian faith (12:13). We can be a living example for them.

Bethany Hamilton lost her arm in a shark attack and then leant to ride a surfboard again and competed in surfing competitions. She persevered in her hardship and God used her to encourage others in the Christian faith.

Do we use some of these ways to keep following Jesus when we are tempted to give up? Do we study and meditate on the Scriptures? How often do we pray? Do we trust God’s promises? Are we inspired by how Jesus faced opposition? Do we think about how to stimulate others to love and good deeds? Are we encouraging each other when we meet together? Are we in a small group? Do we know what hinders us following Jesus? Can we do something about it?

Hebrews also gives five reasons to keep following Jesus.

Why keep on running?

Because Jesus is the greatest example

The first 10 chapters showed that Jesus is greater than all our heroes. He is the only way to a relationship with God and has paid the price for access to heaven. He is the greatest example for us to follow (12:2-3). He empowers us (Phil. 4:13).

Because of other Biblical examples (Heb. 11)

Hebrews 11 gives many other examples of people who lived by faith in Old Testament times: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, David and the judges and prophets. They believed God’s promises and acted on them because “without faith it’s impossible to please God” (11: 6). “All these people were living by faith when they died” (11:13, 20-22). They finished the race. Their example is showing we can do it too. They persevered in hardship, persecution and suffering and looked forward to the Messiah and His kingdom. They had a passion for God, believing that He is better than what life can give us and what death can take from us.

The New Testament also has many examples of people who lived by faith like Stephen, Peter, John, Paul, and Timothy and those who taught the word of God in churches (13:7). Near the end of his life Paul said “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He persevered to the end and didn’t give up.

Because of our past experience (10:32-34a)

They were told, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property” (10:32-34a).

Here they are reminded that they had endured persecution and suffering in the past. It’s an example of how they encouraged one another – by visiting their brothers and sisters who were in prison for their Christian faith. Because they had endured in the past, they could endure now. They needed to keep on living by faith. Previous experience can help us.

Because of God’s promises (10:34)

How could they do this? It says they “joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (10:34b). Their spiritual blessings were more valuable than their physical possessions. They were encouraged to persevere because they will receive God’s promised reward (10:35-37). They were like Enoch who pleased God and not like those who displeased Him (10:37; 11:5-6).

Another promise to look forward to is the coming resurrection. This reason is given before the “therefore” at the beginning of chapter 12. None of the Old Testament heroes of the faith “received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (11:39-40). God plans to resurrect us together; the believers of the Old Testament and the New Testament periods. We will have new bodies in a glorious new age where sin and its effects are banished. That’s what we can look forward to!

Because adversity develops our character (12:4-11)

Like Jesus, they were suffering persecution. It was “opposition from sinners” that threatened to make them “weary and lose heart” (12:3). It was painful, although none had lost their lives yet (12:4, 11). But they were discouraged.

They are told that the suffering is God’s discipline. “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as His son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children … God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness … it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12: 5-7, 10, 11).

So God moulds our character in times of adversity. It’s because He loves us like a parent loves a child. It helps us, because it’s for our good, our holiness, our peace and our righteousness. It purifies us, refines us, and strengthens our faith (2 Cor. 1:8-9). He promises to bring good from all our hardship and pain. He is teaching us and correcting us and transforming us like a parent trains a child. It trains us like an athlete trains for a race. As a result we become more godly and Christ-like. But we need to persevere and not give up.

bradbury4Then it says, “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (12:12-13). The explanation of suffering being God’s discipline is to help us keep on running the race. So we don’t give up or detour to an easier path. How we run affects weaker believers (“the lame”). Stronger faith smooths the path for them and helps them recover. To give up roughens their path so they trip and fall and become weaker and more disabled.

In 2002, Steven Bradbury won Australia’s first winter Olympic gold medal. In the 1,000m speed skating final he was the slowest skater. But he persisted and won after the other four skaters crashed. Bradbury’s strategy was to cruise behind his opponents and hope that some of them crashed, as he realised he was slower and could not match their pace.

Do we use some of these reasons to motivate us to keep following Jesus when we are tempted to give up? Are we inspired by the heroes in the Bible who followed God until they died? Are we inspired by Jesus who is the greatest of them all? Can we look back to previous times when we persevered in difficult circumstances? What is our attitude to hardship and suffering? Are we aware that God uses these to mould our character?

Conclusion

We have seen that following Jesus is like running in a marathon or in a rugby league game. Athletes and football players keep running through adversity.

We can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus, encouraging one another, and removing the obstacles that hinder us. The reasons we can keep following Jesus through adversity include: the examples of the heroes of the Bible, particularly Jesus; our past experience; God’s promises; and the fact that adversity develops our character.

So because of the benefits of Jesus’ death and His promised coming again, we can keep following Him even when we are tempted to give up.

Written, October 2014

Also see the next article in this series:
God’s greatest warning for us – Heb. Ch 2-12

Also see summary of the book of Hebrews:
Never give up!


A mother’s influence

mother and childOn Mother’s Day we honor our mothers. It’s been said that the most powerful force in a child’s life is their mother’s influence. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this topic.

In Biblical times, infants and young children spent most of the time under their mother’s care (Gen. 32:11). Samuel remained with Hannah until he was weaned, when he would be at least three years of age (1 Sam. 1:22-24). Nursing mothers gently care for their children (1 Th. 2:7). The Bible says that after weaning, a child is content to be “with its mother” because it has learnt to trust its mother (Ps. 131:2NIV).

As Israelite children were commanded to respect and obey their parents, they were also influenced by their father (Ex. 20:2; Lev. 19:3; Dt. 21:18-21). As they usually lived in extended households, children in Biblical times were also influenced by their relatives. When they were old enough to be married, they would be influenced by their spouse. A spouse’s family would also be influential if a person moved to live with that family.

Proverbs

Solomon advised parents, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). The first word can also be translated as “train” and “teach”. It is probably associated with discipline, as the Hebrew word translated “children” is also mentioned in Proverbs 22: 15 and 23:13.

This is a proverb that is generally true, but not a promise or guarantee. It is the best course to a desired outcome. Children are more likely to be godly if they are trained in such a way. But other factors can come in like the influence of others.

Another proverb says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Prov. 14:1). It contrasts two types of woman. The first is focused on her family, whereas the second tears down her family. The first is godly, while the second is ungodly.

Paul’s advice

When Paul gives instructions to Christian households he addresses wives, husbands, children and fathers, but not mothers (Eph. 5:22 – 6:4; Col. 3:18-21). The fathers are told “do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” and “do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Obviously the mothers didn’t require any command about bringing up their children. Maybe because they went through a 9-month pregnancy and breastfed their children, they developed a strong bond with their children.

However, Paul says that older women should urge younger ones to love their children (Tit. 2:3-4). He also says that one of the good deeds of a wife was bringing up children (1 Tim. 5:9-10).

Godly mothers

Paul told a godly woman, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth” (2 Jn. 1:4). Note the word he used was “some”, not “all”. This shows godly faith in two generations. For example, Hannah was a godly mother whose child Samuel grew up to be godly (1 Sam. 1:24-28). Also, three proverbs that King Lemuel was taught by his mother are recorded in the Bible (Prov. 31:1-9). As a prayer meeting was held in her home, presumably both John Mark and his mother were godly (Acts 12:12).

Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Ti. 1:5). This shows godly faith in three generations. A godly grandmother was followed by a godly mother who was followed by a godly son. He also wrote, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15). This implies that these women probably taught the Scriptures to Timothy when he was an infant.

So godly mothers can have a positive influence on their children.

Ungodly mothers

But sometimes a mother’s influence is not the best. One of the reasons for the spread of wickedness before the flood in Noah’s day seems to be the strong influence that mothers have on their children (Gen 6:1-5). The Israelites were commanded not to intermarry with the Canaanites because they will turn their children to follow idols (Dt. 7:3-4). King Ahaziah and King Joram were ungodly like their parents (1 Ki. 22:52, 2 Ki. 3:2). However, as in the previous category, a child can differ from their parents. For example, King Asa was godly unlike his grandmother (2 Chron. 15:16).

So, ungodly mothers can have a negative influence on their children.

Lessons for us

This shows that mothers can have a significant influence on their children.

If you are a mother, do you have a positive or a negative impact on your children? Do you discipline them fairly? Are you building them up or tearing them down? Are you “walking in the truth”? Do you have a sincere Christian faith?

If you are a father, do you support your wife?

Do you honor and respect your mother?

Written, May 2014


Selfies

Selfie 1 400pxSelfies are common in social media like Facebook and Instagram. It’s easy because all smart phones have cameras. A selfie is a photo of yourself. It’s is all about me. I am in the center of the photo. The word “selfie” was first used in an Australian internet forum in 2002. But what does the Bible say about selfies? We will see that normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.

Context

Let’s look at a verse on a Christian’s relationships with others: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8NIV). The letter of 1 Peter was written to churches facing suffering and persecution. The verses beforehand address a Christian’s relationships with the government, their employer and their spouse (1 Peter 2:13 – 3:7). The main attitudes to be shown in these relationships are respect and submission. The verses afterward address a Christian’s response to suffering and persecution, which is to be characterized by doing good and pursuing peace.

Respect

Our verse lists five characteristics: like-mindedness, sympathy, family love, compassion, and humility. These may be grouped into two categories of “respect” and “care”.

If we are like-minded and humble towards each other, we will respect each other. Being like-minded is to have unity and to be harmonious. Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16). It is like a musical instrument playing along with others in a band or orchestra or a person singing in a choir.

How do we get along with other Christians, especially those at church? Are we harmonious together? Or are we just a disjointed group of individuals who don’t get along together?

Being humble is the opposite of being proud and having an inflated view of one’s importance. Peter also wrote, “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). It’s as essential as clothing. So it’s not all about me. It’s all about you. It’s all about us. That’s what’s wrong with selfies and wanting people to “like” us on social media.

Are we happy for others to succeed and to take a more prominent role than us? Do we seek recognition for what we do?

Care

If we have sympathy, family love and compassion towards each other, we care for each other. I think “empathy” would be a better translation than “sympathy”. The verb form is used in Hebrews to say that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses because He was temped like us (Heb. 4:15NIV). It means to be in touch with another’s emotions and feelings. Paul wrote, “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Do we recognize what life is like for each other and share the ups and downs? Or do we ignore them?

As all true Christians are children of God, we are to love one another as those in the same family or team. And we know that families and teams can be great or terrible. It’s meant to be great because Paul associates this type of love with humility, generosity and hospitality (Rom. 12:10-13).

The third aspect of our care for each other given in this verse is compassion. Paul associates this with kindness and a forgiving attitude (Eph. 4:32) and John says it is helping a fellow-believer and is associated with sacrificial love (1 Jn. 3:16-18).

Are our relationships with each other like this? Or do we go through the motions without any real empathy, love and compassion? We live in a selfish world. Selfies are common. At times like these, the Israelites were told to “stop doing wrong” and “learn to do right” (Is. 1:16-17). This is a change of 180 degrees. For us this means to stop focusing on our self so much.

My smart phone has two cameras that aim 180 degrees apart. When one lens is aimed at me, the other is aimed away from me. If we want to take less selfies, we need to either use the other lens and aim away from us.

So let’s look around and get involved in each other’s lives because God wants us to care for each other like He does.

Conclusion

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be empathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8). These are the characteristics of normal Christian relationships. They reflect the attitude and example of Christ.

So let’s be respectful towards each other – full of respect. And careful towards each other – full of care. Let’s respect and care for one another because normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.

Written, April 2014


3 ways to resist temptation

temptation 5When you pay at a gas station or store, have you been asked “Would like to buy something else with that?” Then you see lots of attractive snacks, drinks & fast food. How would you respond? When you are browsing on the web and you see links to articles like: “The rape case that captivated America” and “Virgins auctioned and bedded in film”? What would you do? We live in a sea of temptation, which entices us to do something that is sinful.

Now you have probably resisted food, drink, and drug addictions, and adultery, all of which can devastate people’s lives. But what about the temptation to think we are doing OK in life? And the temptation to be liked and recognized? When you give in to these, what is it doing to your life?

Fortunately God has provided three ways to resist temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13NIV:
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”.

Context

Corinth was a wealthy pagan Greek city. Paul wrote this letter to their church to instruct them about problems that they faced. There were divisions in the church, they accepted sexual immorality, they were taking their disputes to pagan courts, they were abusing the Lord’s supper, and there was false teaching about the resurrection of the dead. There were questions about married life, about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, about church meetings, and about the use of spiritual gifts.

Our verse comes from a passage on eating food that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-11:1). It was written to a church that was out of control. The Bible says they lacked self-control just like the Israelites on the trip from Egypt to Canaan when they were tempted to eat, drink, party, have sex, worship idols and grumble to God (1 Cor. 10:7-10). Is this familiar? Have we ever been tempted to: eat too much, drink too much, party too much, have sex, let someone or something take the place of God in our lives, or complain to God? So the verse is Christian teaching on how to resist such temptations.

It is preceded by a warning, “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (v. 12). Don’t be over confident about temptation; instead be careful not to yield to it. Because we are all prone to giving in to temptation and sinning against God. We can all lack self-control.

Normalizing temptation

The first way to resist temptation is, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind”. Our temptations are no different from what others experience. They are not unique. Every temptation we face is “common to mankind”. Everyone is tempted. Whether they ate food offered to idols in Corinth or not. Temptation is normal. It’s common. It’s usual. So, don’t be surprised when you are tempted. It happens everyday. It happens all the time. The verse says “when you are tempted”, not “if you are tempted”. So, expect to be tempted. Be ready for it.

Because temptation is normal, it’s not new. Temptation is not a modern invention; it’s been around since the days of Adam and Eve. For this reason, we can learn from the temptations faced in Biblical times and from the ways they were resisted.

Today we have glossy brochures, catchy slogans and dynamic ads. Enticing shopping centres with aromas of the coffee shop, the food court and the confectionery shop with all that chocolate. Delicious cakes at the bakery. Colorful walls of TVs in stores. Lots of food and technology. Temptation is everywhere. It is not unusual or rare. But we are not forced to give in to these temptations. Instead we have a choice to either resist or give in each time we are tempted. That’s why with God’s help we can resist it.

But temptation is not only normal, it is also bearable.

Bearing temptation

The Bible says, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. He promises to limit the intensity of our temptations. It’s capped. It won’t be more than you can stand. You won’t be pushed past your limit. There is no such thing as an unbearable temptation.

Sports athletes do weights and exercises to strengthen their bodies. Their targets are beyond what they can do in the beginning. The same applies if you go to the gym or boot camp or fitness training. Later they discover they can reach their targets after all. God knows our strength greater than we do. He knows how much we can handle, and how much we can’t. So God allows temptations when the pressure is on, but it is controlled pressure. It will never be more than we can handle. That’s why with God’s help we can resist it.

But temptation is not only normal and bearable, it is also escapable.

Escaping temptation

The Bible says, “But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”. Here God promises a way for us to resist the temptation to sin. A way of escape is one of the ways we can bear or endure temptation.

When Potiphar’s wife wanted to have sex with Joseph, he refused, he avoided her and he ran out of the house. When Satan tempted Jesus, He responded by quoting from the Bible. God provided them with ways to escape; which were physical and spiritual.

This applies to us as well. The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). God is with us in our temptations. He will not leave us or forsake us. He will provide a way of escape. He’ll always be there to help you come through it.  That’s why with God’s help we can resist it

Conclusion

So, let’s remember the promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Because temptation is normal and bearable and escapable, we can resist it. This includes the temptations to think we are doing OK in life and to be liked and recognized. Let’s use these promises to resist the temptations we face each day.

Written, Oct 2013


What about God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them?

Mitre Peak Milford Sound New Zealand

Jesus Christ talked about moving mountains on two occasions.

Mountain moving from here to there

When the disciples asked why they couldn’t drive a demon out of a boy who had seizures, Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17:20NIV). The reason was also given as “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mk. 9:29).

They lacked faith and prayer. Because of unbelief, they didn’t pray about it. The “mountain” is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced (see Appendix below). They should have exercised their faith in God by praying about the problem. The prayer would be answered if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. Miracles can happen when we pray under these circumstances.

Mountain thrown into the sea

On the Monday before His crucifixion, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it was unfruitful. He then taught his disciples how to deal with the problems of fruitlessness and obstacles and difficulties. Once again the mountain illustrates the obstacles and difficulties. This is described in two gospels:

Mark 11:22-24 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Mt 21:21-22  Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

They were to exercise their faith in God by praying about the problem. God promised to answer if they believe and don’t doubt. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for answered prayer. Such confidence needs to rely on a promise from God or an assurance that the request is according to God’s will. The ultimate source of such confidence is the words of Scripture or the witness of the Holy Spirit. So the prayer needs to be in accordance with the conditions given in the Bible.

We can approach God confidently in prayer because He promises to answer prayers that are “according to His will”. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). That’s how Jesus prayed at Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39, 42) and how He told His disciples to pray (Jn. 14:13-14). And of course, God’s will is given most clearly in the Bible.

Other conditions for answered prayer include: forgiving others (Mk. 11:25), confessing and repenting of sin (Ps. 66:18), obeying God’s commands (1 Jn. 3:22), right motives (Jas. 4:3), and persevering in prayer (Lk. 18:1-8). They also apply to other passages which may seem to imply that we can get whatever we ask for (Mt. 7:7-8; Lk. 11:9-10; Jn. 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24; 1 Jn. 3:22).

God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied. So, how are you praying?

Appendix

Some other biblical examples of the figurative use of “mountains” to mean obstacles and difficulties are given below.

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (Zech. 4:7). The context of this verse is that the Israelites faced opposition to rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem after they returned from exile (Ezra 4:1-5, 24). Zerubbabel was their governor (civil leader) at that time. The verse is part of a prediction that the temple would be rebuilt after the “mighty mountain” (a symbol of the opposition to the rebuilding) became “level ground” (a symbol of the opposition being removed). The “capstone” is the final stone to be put in place.

“If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). This verse is in a chapter which teaches that the use of spiritual gifts must be motivated by love. In this instance, the spiritual gift is being able to trust God to overcome or remove difficulties or obstacles. If such a gift was only used for one’s own benefit and not for helping other believers, it is of no value.

Written, September 2013


Resisting temptation

When you pay at a store or gas (petrol) station, have you been asked if you would like to buy something else with that? Then you see loads of snacks, fast food and sugary drinks. It’s a food temptation called ambush marketing. We also have temptations in supermarkets, in shopping centres, in advertising, in marketing, in our entertainment, in technological hardware and software and even on our Facebook pages! We live in a sea of temptation.

Temptation entices us to do something that is sinful. Fortunately God has provided three ways to resist the temptations we face in life: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13NIV). The Greek word translated “temptation” and “tempted” in this verse can mean either outer trials that test our faith or inner temptations to sin. Here we will apply it to the inner temptations to sin.

Context

Corinth was a wealthy pagan Greek city. Paul wrote this letter to their church to instruct them about problems that they faced. There were divisions in the church, they accepted sexual immorality, they were taking their disputes to pagan courts, they were abusing the Lord’s supper, and there was false teaching about the resurrection of the dead. There were questions about married life, about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, about church meetings, and about the use of spiritual gifts.

This verse comes from a passage on eating food that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-11:1). Paul begins by stating the principle that we shouldn’t stumble a believer with a weak conscience by causing them to act against their conscience with regard to a debatable matter (1 Cor. 8). So Paul would not exercise his right to eat food that had been offered to an idol if there was a Christian present who thought this was sinful. Then he illustrates this principle (1 Cor. 10). First, although as an apostle Paul had the right to be supported financially by the church, he didn’t claim this so that people couldn’t say that he was preaching for money. Second, he followed the customs of those he was preaching to, so they would be more likely to accept the gospel message. Third, like an athlete he exercised self-control and discipline when serving the Lord so as not to miss his reward. Fourth, the Israelites lacked self-control. In the exodus God rescued them from slavery, but they were punished for idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling to God (1 Cor. 10:1-10).

So this verse was written to a church that was out of control. They lacked self-control. It is Christian teaching on self-control. They needed to learn how to recognise the temptations they faced and how to resist these temptations.

Warning

Then the Bible applies what happed to the Israelites to us today (v.11). They are examples for us. They are warnings for us. The Bible was written for our benefit (Rom. 15:4). It has many lessons for us. The warning of this passage is spelled out “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (v. 12). To think we are “standing firm” against temptation means being confident or complacent about temptation. The warning is to be careful we don’t yield to temptation. We all face temptation on a daily basis. We are all prone to giving in to temptation and sinning against God. We can all lack self-control.

Then three ways are given to resist temptation.

Temptation is normal

The Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind”. So, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience” (NLT). Sometimes we think why am I so weak? Why do I always yield to this sinful desire, and give in to that addiction? Why am I always being tempted?

But our temptations are not unique. Every temptation we face is “common to mankind”. We all face temptation. Everyone is tempted. Temptation is normal for humanity. It’s usual. It’s common. So, don’t be surprised when you are tempted. It happens all the time. Expect to be tempted. For example, Paul warns us to beware when helping someone who has been sinful, because we may also be tempted to sin (Gal. 6:1).

Because temptation is normal, it’s not new. It’s been around since the days of Adam and Eve. Temptation is not a modern invention. For this reason, we can learn from the temptations faced in Biblical times and the ways they were resisted.

The normal process of temptation

The normal process of temptation is described by James: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death”  (Jas. 1:13-15).

Resist temptationTemptation begins as an “evil desire” in our mind. Jesus said that “evil thoughts” lead to sin (Mt. 15:18-20; Mk. 7:20-23). Since the fall of humanity into sin we have a tendency towards evil desires. We are now self-centred. Given time, the temptation from an evil desire leads to sin and then to spiritual death and other consequences. Even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41). The evil desire is influenced by Satan and our sinful nature. The process stops if we resist the temptation and there is victory over the temptation. So there is a choice to yield to or resist the temptation as shown in the diagram.

Satan is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). He tempts us in order to make us fail (1 Cor. 7:5). He entices us like a fisherman entices fish with bait or a lure. Satan is deceitful and seductive. He is our enemy (1 Ti. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).

Temptation is not sinful. We know that Jesus was tempted by Satan, but didn’t sin (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). But yielding to temptation is sinful.

So temptation is like when fish see a fisherman’s bait or lure. If they eat it they are hooked. Otherwise, they can swim on their way. Likewise, if we take the bait when tempted then we are hooked and dragged away into sinful behavior and its consequences. That’s the normal process of temptation. But if we don’t take the bait and resist the temptation, we can continue serving the Lord.

The normal tools of temptation

The normal tools of temptation are described in this warning, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).

This describes Satan’s tools, the aspects of the sinful world that he uses as bait to lure us into sin. They are evil desires arising from:

  • The lust of the flesh. This is our sinful human nature. Our sinful appetites.
  • The lust of the eyes. This is what we see. It can also symbolise our minds. What we think about.
  • The pride of life. This is boasting about what we have and what we do. Selfish ambition. Seeking to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and jealousy in others.

For example, the Israelites were tempted to eat, drink, indulge in revelry, indulge in sexual immorality, worship idols and grumble to God (1 Cor. 10:7-10). These are still normal temptations today. Have we ever been tempted to: eat too much, drink too much, party too much, commit sexual sins, let someone or something take the place of God in our lives, or complain to God?

So, temptation is a common experience of all human beings. But temptation is not only normal, it is also bearable.

Temptation is bearable

The Bible says, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. So, “He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand” (NLT) and “He’ll never let you be pushed past your limit” (Message). God doesn’t promise that we won’t be tempted, but He does promise to limit its intensity. Life is tough. Temptation is common. But there is no such thing as an unbearable temptation.

God knows our strength greater than we do. He knows how much we can handle, and how much we cannot. One of the basic principles of sports and athletic training is to strengthen us to do things we don’t think we can do right now, to put more pressure on us than we think we can handle. And we discover we can handle it. This is what God does with us. He allows temptations when the pressure on, but it is controlled pressure. It will never be more than we can handle. Let’s look at some examples of this.

Bearable temptations in the Old Testament

The heroes of faith in Old Testament times are listed in Hebrews 11. They endured much shame and suffering rather that give up on God. They could have avoided this by renouncing God. That would have been a great temptation to them. Instead they resisted this temptation and continued to trust God’s promises.

Here’s what they went through (Heb. 11:33-39). They faced the dangers of lions, fire and swords. They were tortured, flogged, imprisoned, jeered, murdered, homeless, persecuted and mistreated. Because they remained faithful, we know that their temptations were bearable. Also, Job remained faithful after he lost his family, his wealth and his health. His temptations were bearable.

Bearable temptations in the New Testament

Paul is one of the heroes of faith in New Testament. Here’s what he went through.
2 Cor. 11:23-27: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

Paul would have been tempted to avoid all this by stopping serving the Lord. Because he remained faithful, we know that his temptations were bearable.

So, the temptations faced by God’s people are bearable. But temptation is not only normal and bearable, it is also escapable.

Temptation is escapable

The Bible says, “But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”. So, “He will also provide a way of escape” (HCSB). Not only does God promise to limit the intensity of our temptations, He promises a way to resist them. God enables us to resist the temptation to sin. He will provide a way out for us.

The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). When those heroes of faith faced their troubles, all human support was usually stripped away. They learnt that God alone strengthens us at these times. He gets us through life’s temptations. In this sense, He is the way out. The way of escape. The Message says, “He’ll always be there to help you come through it”.

Joshua was told that God “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:8). David faced trouble without fear because God was with him (Ps. 23:5). God was close beside him. Likewise, God is with us in our temptations. He will not leave us or forsake us. He will provide a way of escape.

So, how did Joseph and Jesus escape temptations?

How Joseph escaped temptations

Joseph was a slave of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard in Egypt. Potiphar put him in charge of his household. Here’s how Joseph responded to temptation.
Gen. 39:6-12 “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care … My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”

When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph “refused to be with her”. He avoided the temptation as much as possible. Unlike Sampson, he didn’t give in to the pressure that went on “day after day” (Jud. 14:17; 16:16-17). So let’s avoid situations where we are likely to be tempted.

When Joseph was confronted again he “ran out of the house”. He had an escape plan. We have fire escape plans, but do we have plans to escape temptations?

How Jesus escaped temptations

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11):

  • To use His supernatural powers to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread.
  • To jump from the highest point of the temple to test God’s promise of protection and attract public attention.
  • To avoid the suffering of the cross and take an easy shortcut to world domination.

In each case Jesus responded to temptation by quoting from the Bible. He answered, “It is written …”. So Satan can tempt those controlled by the Holy Spirit, but they can resist him with the truths of Scripture. The Israelites knew, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The truths of Scripture in our mind can protect us from yielding to temptation. Bible knowledge can help us to resist temptation.

Our mind is important. Let’s think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the truths of Scripture planted in our mind?

Lessons for us

So let’s be warned by the history of the Israelites of the danger of yielding to temptation. Don’t be hooked and dragged away by Satan. Resisting temptation requires self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). So the Holy Spirit helps us to resist temptation.

Remember the promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Because temptation is normal, we can resist it.
Because temptation is bearable, we can resist it.
Because temptation is escapable, we can resist it.
Because temptation is normal and bearable and escapable, we can resist it.

God has given us these reasons to exercise self-control when we face temptations. Let’s remember and use these ways to resist the temptations we face.

Written September 2013


Two life lessons from king Saul

A few years ago we made a photo collage of all the members of our church. Everyone’s face was in it. For various reasons some of these people no longer come to our church. More would be missing if we had photos taken 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wonder how many of these are still following Jesus today. Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith, don’t finish well. There is a danger of turning away from God. Today we are looking at two life lessons from king Saul. One is an example to follow and the other is an example to avoid.

Saul followed God

Until he met Samuel the prophet, Saul was an ordinary guy who worked for his father by doing jobs, like searching for lost donkeys. This changed when Samuel told Saul that he was chosen to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:27 – 10:1). Saul changed to follow God. The Bible says that he was changed into a different person because he received power from God; God was with him and changed his heart (1 Sam.10:6, 7, 9). He was now up with the prophets instead of down with the donkeys. The people were so amazed when he prophesied with the prophets, they exclaimed “Is Saul among the prophets” (1 Sam. 10:10).

After Saul was declared to be their king, the people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king” (1 Sam. 10:17-24). Saul had many military victories. After they defeated the Ammonites, there was a great celebration and the people renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15).

So Saul was called by God and he followed God’s leading. What a great example for those who have been called to trust in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ. The Bible says “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17). We are not kings, but God has placed us in situations where we can serve Him daily.

God used Samuel to call Saul and He uses the Holy Spirit and the gospel message to call us to follow Him today (1 Th. 1:5; 2 Th. 2:14). During this period of his reign he served God faithfully. And faithfulness characterises those who follow the Lord as it is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

All is going well so far for Saul. But life is a marathon, not a sprint. We now turn to the next stage of Saul’s life.

Saul turned away from God

Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.

Saul for blogNext Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). He reverted. Instead of being up with the prophets, he was back down with the donkeys. Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).

After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).

So Saul went from bad to worse. When he was afraid of the Philistines, he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4). Saul didn’t finish well.

What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?

The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Ephesians stopped loving the Lord and were told to repent and do the things they did at first (Rev. 2:4-5). The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter. The churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea were urged to repent and turn around to follow God once again (Rev. 2:16, 21; 3:3, 19).

Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world more.

The Bible says sin is the source of turning away from God. And the cure is confession of the sin and turning back towards God in repentance. David and Hezekiah and good examples of this.

Lessons for us

The two life lessons from king Saul correspond to the two stages of his reign. The first was faithful and fruitful, but the second was unfaithful and unfruitful. In the first he was godly and obedient, but in the second he was ungodly and wicked. In the first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but in the second he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. Although Saul’s reign started well, it didn’t finish well. Solomon followed the same pattern.

Let’s follow Saul’s good example. Let’s follow God faithfully like the first period of his reign. Let’s serve the Lord in the daily circumstances that He has given to us.

Also let’s choose to not follow his bad example. Don’t turn away from God like the second period of Saul’s reign. Keep living up here, not down there because turning away from God ruins our Christian testimony. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.

When we sin we don’t have to turn away from God because He has provided a way to turn back to Him. Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.

Written, September 2013


The dangers of backsliding

How many people continue to follow Jesus as their life progresses? Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith don’t finish well. What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?

A backslider stops following the Lord and falls back into a previous sinful way of life. They desert the Christian faith and are unfaithful and unfruitful.  It’s the opposite of repentance and conversion which is turning towards God. It’s also different to apostasy, which is when unbelievers become enemies of Christ after they were associated with the Christian faith (1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Pt. 2:20-22; 1 Jn. 5:16-17).

Let’s look at how we can avoid backsliding and recover from backsliding in our Christian life.

King Saul

King Saul had some natural advantages in life: he was handsome and a head taller than anyone else (1 Sam. 9:2). When Saul was looking for his father’s lost donkeys, he met Samuel the prophet. At this time Samuel privately anointed Saul as king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). After this he received power from God and prophesised – He gave God’s message to the people (1 Sam. 10:6, 9-11). Then Samuel summoned the nation and went through a selection process until Saul was publicly declared to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:17-24). The people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king”.

When Saul heard that the Ammonites had besieged the city of Jabesh Gilead, he organised an army of 330,000 men and defeated them (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Then the Israelites celebrated again and renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15). This was the pinnacle of Saul’s life.

Saul 13Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. That was the beginning of his backsliding. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.

Saul had many military victories, but when he foolishly told his troops not to eat food, the enemy Philistines escaped (1 Sam. 14:24, 26, 47-48). Then Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).

After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).

When he was afraid of the Philistines, Saul consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4).

So we have seen the rise and fall of king Saul because he turned away from God.

The same happened to king Solomon who turned away from God to idolatry after he married foreign women (1 Ki. 11:1-13). It says “Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord”. Both kings started well, but didn’t finish well. And this is shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time.

Kings of Judah

Some of the kings of Judah also began well, but didn’t finish well.

Joash ruled for 40 years from the age of seven years. While his uncle the High Priest was alive, he followed God (2 Chron. 24:1-16). During this time he repaired the temple. But after Jehoiada died Joash forsook God and worshipped idols (2 Chron. 24:17-27). When they were rebuked by the new High Priest, Joash had him killed. Then they were defeated by their enemies and Joash was assassinated. So his reign had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness. And this is shown in the graph of his spiritual state against time.

KingJudah5His son Amaziah who reigned for 29 years followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 25:1-13). During this period he obeyed God by dismissing the troops he had hired from the kingdom of Israel and defeated his enemies. But then he “turned away from following the Lord” and worshipped idols, attacked Israel and was defeated, and was assassinated (2 Chron. 25:14-24). So his reign had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.

His son Uzziah who reigned for 52 years also followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 26:1-15). But afterwards “his pride led to his downfall” and he disobeyed God by taking a priestly role and was punished with leprosy and was banished from the palace for the rest of his life (2 Chron. 26:16-21). So his reign also had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.

Asa who ruled earlier for 41 years also followed this pattern. In the good years “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 15:11-15). Later he relied on a foreign king instead of on God, he imprisoned the prophet who rebuked him and he oppressed the people (2 Chron. 16:2-12). So his reign also had two periods, one of godliness, followed by one of wickedness.

All these kings of Judah started well, but didn’t finish well as shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time. They turned away from following the Lord.

New Testament

Backsliding also occurred in New Testament times. The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world.

The cause of backsliding

Backsliding is when we stop following Christ. In this world, we’re all prone to failure. We all sin. Saul’s sin of disobedience was the beginning of his turning away from God. Sin is the source of backsliding. Sin is attractive, but it separates us from God.

Backsliding is a gradual process (a sliding back to a previous sinful condition). Remember Lot liked the fertile plain, then he settled near the city of Sodom, but he eventually moved into the city and became a city councillor. It was a gradual process.

The consequences of backsliding

Backsliding has a great impact on people’s lives and their family. Compare the lives of Lot and Abraham. God used Abraham and his descendants greatly, whereas Lot’s family were doomed. If we turn away from God we lose our personal relationship with the Lord (1 Jn. 1:6) and peace and joy and the assurance of God’s presence and His answer to our prayers (Ps. 66:18). It can also result in sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:30-32). There can be severe ongoing consequences even though a sin has been forgiven. For example, David’s grief with the death of Bathsheba’s baby son. And when we get to heaven we miss out on being rewarded by the Lord for our faithfulness (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Jn 8).

Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn. 15:6). The sin of backsliding ruins a person’s Christian testimony and witness. Instead of remaining in touch with the Lord and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit and bearing fruit, there is sinfulness and people ridicule them and their God.

These consequences are the dangers of backsliding.

The cure of backsliding

Like Saul, David failed when he sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11). But he did something about it. Not all sin leads to backsliding and turning against God for an appreciable period of time. David confessed and repented (Ps. 32:1-5; 40:1-8; 51:1-19). He called out to God, acknowledged all the wrong things that he had done and turned around to follow God once again.

LifeHezekiah“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:1-5). David experienced God’s mercy of forgiveness (v.1-2). He suffered when he refused to acknowledge his sin (v.3-4). But there was relief when he confessed his sin (v.5).

Likewise king Hezekiah repented of the sin of pride (2 Ch. 32:25-26). This contrast between Saul who backslid and David and Hezekiah who repented is shown in shown in the graph of their spiritual state against time. David and Hezekiah were restored to fellowship once again. Saul was not.

David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:1-3). “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). His path was corrected and his relationship with God was restored. What a contrast to Saul who turned far away from God.

We will now look at the steps in the process of restoration, which will be illustrated in a diagram.

Conviction. The first step is to admit our sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).

Confession. The next step is to confess our sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13).

Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God one again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behaviour. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).

Restoration8Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). There are three kinds of forgiveness mentioned in the Bible.

God’s judicial forgiveness. God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness?  If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?

God’s parental forgiveness. God is a father of all those who have trusted in Him. This forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been severed by sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

Christians need to do this regularly. For example, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Cor. 11: 28-29). This says we need to examine ourselves before participating in the Lord’s supper. It means admitting our sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. When they came together in Corinth, they were being selfish by discriminating against the poor (1 Cor. 11:20-21, 30-32). Their judgment was sickness and premature death, which was the Lord’s discipline. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our relationship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin and repentance to put things right.

Forgiving one another. This restores fellowship between believers. God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). We are to forgive others when they acknowledge their wrongs (Mt. 18:15-17; Lk. 17:1-10).

After a backslider has been sorry for their sins and repented, then as God has forgiven them they should be forgiven and restored to Christian fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again. This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).

Lessons for us

We have seen how to get right with God and how to stay right with God. How to draw near to God. How to be close to the Lord. And they are the same!

What does the graph of our spiritual state against time look like? Have we started by following Jesus in the first place? If yes, have we turned away from Him? Have we responded by taking the steps to restoration?

James encourages us to pray for backsliders like Elijah prayed for the kingdom of Israel who worshipped idols (Jas. 5:16-20). Such people wander from the truth and commit many sins. If someone helps them to confess their sins and repent by turning around to follow the Lord once again, then their sins will be forgiven and they will be saved from dying prematurely under God’s judgment. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. Paul also urged us to help restore a believer “caught in a sin” (Gal. 6:1-2).

Let’s be aware of our sinfulness. The Israelites were warned that when they became prosperous they would become proud and forget the Lord (Dt. 8:10-14). That is a big risk for most of us because we have food, houses, money and possessions. We are well off compared to most people in the world.

Saul’s backsliding began with an act of disobedience which led to a life of sinful behaviour. Sin is dangerous. It grows. Let’s respond to sin like David and practice conviction, confession and repentance. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.

When we sin we don’t have to backslide because God has provided a way to turn back to Him.

Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.

Written, Sep 2013


Facing temptations

Fishing LuresLast time we looked at “Facing trials”. This time it’s ‘“Facing temptations”. The difference between the two is that trials come from an external source, whereas temptations come from within us. Trials test our Christian faith and can produce Christ-likeness, whereas temptations can lead to sinful behaviour and loss of fellowship with God and other people.

We all face temptations from time to time. The Bible says that God doesn’t cause temptations. We shouldn’t blame God for them. Instead they come from the human mind.

The source and process of temptation is described by James: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (Jas. 1:13-14NIV).

Temptation begins as an “evil desire” in our mind. Jesus said that “evil thoughts” lead to sin (Mt. 15:18-20). Since the fall of humanity into sin we have a tendency towards evil desires. We are now self-centred.

Satan is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). He tempts us in order to make us fail (1 Cor. 7:5). He entices us like a fisherman entices fish with bait or a lure. Satan is deceitful and seductive. He is our enemy (1 Ti. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).

We are all tempted. That’s why the Bible warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Satan uses what we see. We are selfish. We choose to please ourselves instead of pleasing God.

We can respond to temptation in two ways.

The first is to yield to temptation like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-13) and like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam. 11:2-5).

If temptation is not resisted immediately, it leads to sinful behaviour. If we think about a sin long enough, we will carry out that sin. It’s inevitable just like sexual intercourse can lead to the birth of a child. The Bible says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas 1:15).

The other response is to resist temptation like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:7-12) and Jesus with Satan (Mt. 4:1-11).

Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mk. 14:38). We are weak and prone to sin. Do we pray for God to help us not to fall into sin by yielding to temptation? The Lord’s prayer says, “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (Lk. 11:4 NLT).

We are told to put on God’s armor so we can stand against Satan’s temptations (Eph. 6:10-18). And the Israelites knew, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The truths of Scripture in our mind can protect us from yielding to temptation.

We have a choice. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Do we submit to God or Satan? Do we resist Satan or God?

Look for God’s way out. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

Lessons for us

So, don’t blame God for temptation. Temptations come from Satan and our sinful nature.

Because the Lord is stronger than Satan, with His help we can resist Satan’s temptations.

Our mind is important. What do we think about? This has a strong influence on our speech and behaviour. Don’t dwell on evil thoughts. Instead, replace them with, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the truths of Scripture planted in our mind?

Written, Sep 2013


Slavery and freedom

We are all slaves to what we follow

Immigrants to Australia are told we have freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement. We are a democracy with laws against discrimination based on race, gender, disability or age. People are autonomous and are generally free to live as they want to. Therefore, we don’t have slavery where people are owned by their master and are totally dependent on them. But are we really free?

Slaves of sin

Jesus said we are not as free as we think. When He was on earth, He told the Jews “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32NIV). They objected: we’ve never been slaves, so how can we be set free? They had forgotten about the Babylonian captivity. Also, in Jesus’ time they were ruled by the Romans. But Jesus explained “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (v.34).

So Jesus describes two types of people. Those who are slaves and those who are free. First the slaves. He says whoever practices sin is a slave of sin. As slaves have masters, such people are owned and controlled and committed to sin. They can’t break free by their own strength. Sinners can’t escape sin. Are we like them; slaves of sin, ignorance, false teaching, and superstition?

Second the freed. But “if the Son (Jesus Christ) sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v.36). When a person trusts in Christ’s sacrificial death, they are freed from the slavery of sin. The evidence of this is that they “hold to my teaching”. They follow Jesus. Is there enough evidence to show that we follow Jesus? Jesus calls these people sons.

Are you a slave or a son (v.35)? Here we see that because slavery was common in Biblical times, the Bible often uses it to illustrate spiritual truths. And there are more to come.

Freedom purchased – Redemption

Slavery can involve hard work and cruelty. Slaves seek freedom from their slavery. Let’s look at two examples from the Old Testament. First, when God promised to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He said, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:6).

To redeem means to buy back or to release by means of a payment. It costs. This was illustrated in the 10th plague when the firstborn across Egypt died, except for the Israelites. In this case the payment was the lamb that died instead of the first born (Ex. 13:13-15). So God used a mighty display of power (described as “an outstretched arm”) to release them from slavery. He also judged the Egyptians in the plagues and when the army and their chariots and horses were lost in the Red Sea.

The second example is how debt slaves could be freed from their slavery. When people fell into debt they could sell some or all of their family into slavery so they could work to eventually repay the debt (Lev. 25:47-49). Such debt slavery was a form of welfare. If a relative was able to repay the debt, then a debt slave could be released from their master. The price was determined by the number of years remaining until the year of jubilee when debts were cancelled (Lev. 25:50-52).  This person was called the redeemer and the money paid was called the ransom (Lev. 19:20). The redeemer rescues people from a bad situation. In this case they were freed from slavery as shown in the diagram.

Slavery & sin - Diagram 1 400pxThe Bible uses this illustration to describe what Jesus did. The Jews thought that Jesus would redeem them from Roman domination (Lk. 24:21), but God had a different redemption in mind (Rom. 3:24).

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole’” (Gal. 3:13). The curse of the law is death. That’s the main punishment for not keeping the commandments (with diseases & disasters Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 11:26-28; 27:14-26; 28:15-67; 29; 19-28).  Here we see that Jesus took the punishment instead so the Jewish believers were completely delivered from the law. He came “to redeem those under the law” (Gal. 4:5). That was the price paid for our deliverance from sin as well. The Bible says, “You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23).

Slavery & sin Diagram 2 400pxIt’s like being released from slavery or kidnapping and set free. Jesus came to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45) and “as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:6) – where the NLT says, “He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone”. This redemption results in “forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). This means we can be released from the eternal penalty of our sins. The diagram shows that what Jesus did is similar to when a debt slave is redeemed by a ransom. Christ is the Redeemer and His death is the ransom paid.

The Bible says that Jesus died “to redeem us from all wickedness” (Tit. 2:14). We are delivered from being dominated by sin. From being slaves to sin. From being addicted to sin. We are also redeemed from our “empty way of life” (1 Pt. 1:18). All this is summarised as “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). The Redeemer (Christ) paid the ransom (death) to release us from being slaves to sin. So Jesus is a Redeemer who can rescue us from slavery to sin.

Jesus as God’s slave 

But Jesus was not just a Redeemer. When God promised the Messiah in Isaiah, He was called “my servant” (Isa. 42:1; 49:3, 6; 52:13; 53:11). “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” (Isa. 53:11NLT).

The Hebrew word translated as “servant” in this verse is ebed (Strong’s  #5650), which means “slave”. It’s clear that these passages about the servant in Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 52:13-53:12) refer to the Lord Jesus because He was to experience suffering and be exalted (Isa. 52:13; 53:11). The image is of an obedient slave. This obedience was shown in the garden of Gethsemane when He prayed “your will be done” (Mt. 26:42). The Bible also says that He took “the very nature of a servant” when He lived as a human being (Phil. 2:7). The Greek word translated as “servant” in this verse is doulos (Strong’s  #1401), which means “slave”.

That’s amazing! The one we call Lord was like a slave! The Redeemer was God’s slave. This means that redemption through Christ was God’s idea.  It also means that Jesus obeyed God the Father as a slave obeyed their master. He is the greatest example of obedience and faithfulness for those who have been redeemed from slavery to sin to be God’s sons.

Slaves of Christ

What about those who have been redeemed? The Bible says that Peter, James, Paul and Epaphras were slaves of Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:1; Col. 4:12; Jas. 1:1; 2 Pt. 1:1). Elsewhere Christians are called “slaves of Christ” who did the will of God from their heart (Eph. 6:6). What does this mean?

Slavery & sin Diagram 3 400pxSlaves serve their master who is their lord as shown in the diagram. Jesus Christ has paid the price to release Christians from slavery to sin and Satan and they are now His slave as shown in the diagram. They now have a new master. He is their Lord and they are to serve Him. This applies to people from all nations as Peter told the Gentile Cornelius that Jesus Christ is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The Greek word translated “Lord” was kyrios (Strongs #2962), which means supreme in power and authority.  It’s a title of honor and respect used by slaves to their masters (Mt. 13:27). Like a soldier says “Sir” to their commander. To confess Jesus as “Lord” is to say He is our “master” and “owner” and we are His slave. Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). In the New Testament, both Jesus Christ and God the Father are called “Lord”.

This illustration is consistent with the Old Testament where the Israelites were said to be God’s slaves. But they were unfaithful. As the Jews were to be devoted to God and Christ was devoted to His Father, so Christians are to be devoted to following and serving Christ.

Slaves of obedience and righteous living

We have looked at being slaves of sin and slaves of Christ. We are all slaves to what we follow. Sin and Christ are like two masters. The Bible teaches that we are slaves to one or the other. Its main message is that we have a choice of master. Paul describes this in Romans 6:

“Since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realise that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:15-23NLT)

Paul says that we are slaves to what controls us (v.16). No one is autonomous. We are either slaves of sin or slaves of Christ. In the first case, sin enslaves by spreading. It’s addictive. Sin can’t be avoided or overcome. Paul said, “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Rom. 7:21). Sin leads to more sin and being deeper into sin (v.19). It means we do things that we are ashamed of (v.21). And sin results in death. Moral death. Physical death. Eternal punishment and separation from God. This is summarised in the diagram.

The only alternative is to obey God so that sin no longer dominates. Believers have a new master! They are slaves of obedience and righteous living, which leads to holiness and eternal life. This choice is also shown in the diagram.

Our choices

Because slavery was common in Biblical times, the Bible often uses it to illustrate spiritual truths. We have seen that because we are all controlled by something, there is no such thing as absolute autonomy and freedom. Instead there are choices to be made. Jesus said that we can’t serve two masters like God and money (Mt. 6:24). We can’t follow each way. It’s either one or the other.

We are born as slaves to sin. If we remain that way this leads to more sin and death and the consequence is eternal punishment. But we can be rescued from this situation. God has sent a redeemer who has paid the price so we can be God’s sons instead of slaves to sin. The consequence is eternal life instead of eternal punishment. Have you accepted this offer? It’s the most important decision in our lives.

Christians are redeemed from their previous way of life. They have a new master and Lord. Now they should obey and serve Christ like a slave does to a master and like Jesus obeyed and served God. This leads to holiness and the consequence is eternal life.

As we are all slaves to what we follow, let’s choose Christ as our master and Lord and obey and serve Him daily.

The choice Christians face each day is do I serve sin or do I serve God? Of course it’s best to follow our new master, not the old one. If we lapse, then we can confess our sin and repent by changing our behaviour.

Our choices have consequences. We reap what we sow and harvest what we plant (Gal. 7:7-10). Let’s remember, if we have trusted in the Lord Jesus, then we are His slaves. Then we will seek to please Him and He will work in our lives.

Also see – Does the Bible condone slavery? Part 1 (OT)
Does the New Testament condone slavery?

Written, July 2013


Does the New Testament condone slavery?

Roman slave & masterElevated status for Christian slaves

Some people use the mention of slavery in the Bible to criticise God and the Bible. Let’s look at what the New Testament (NT) says about slavery. The Greek word “doulos” (Strongs #1401) is usually translated as “slave” or “servant”. Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire, but it was not racist, as many races were involved. The slaves were usually prisoners of war or poor people. Slavery rescued captives from death and the poor from starvation at a time when there was no government welfare or charities. In the NT, slaves are told to obey their masters and a runaway slave is told to return to their master; so it appears to condone slavery.

You may think: what’s this topic got to do with us? Slavery is not prevalent today. We will see that the slavery described in the NT was like employment. As we look at what the NT says about slaves and their masters, we can apply these principles to us as an employee working for a client, team leader, supervisor or employer, or if we lead other workers.

Philemon and Onesimus

Philemon was a slave owner in Colossae which is now in Turkey (Philemon 8-21). As the church met in his home, he may have been an elder in the local church. One of his slaves, Onesimus had apparently stolen from him and run away. But Onesimus had met Paul in Rome and become a Christian and was now willing to return to his master and be reconciled. He was willing to resume his obligation to his master.  Paul wrote this letter to ask Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, no longer as a slave but as a fellow Christian (v.16). What can we learn from this short letter?

First, Paul does not issue an order to Philemon, although he was confident of his obedience (v.21). Instead he presents reasons for forgiving and accepting his runaway slave and then makes an appeal on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus had become a believer in Rome – like Philemon he was now Paul’s spiritual son and that changed everything. He had a change of character, from an escaped thief to a Christian who helped Paul. From being “useless” to being “useful” (v.11). This is a word-play because the name Onesimus means “useful”. Paul even suggests that the reason Onesimus ran away was so that he could be converted and then return as a fellow Christian. Then Paul makes his appeal, “welcome him as you would welcome me” (v.17). He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back into his household so that they could be reconciled. Although Paul did not order Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery he seems to infer it by saying he knows Philemon “will do even more than I ask” (v.21). This was the legal way to liberation from slavery; whereas escaping was illegal.

Equal before God

According to the Bible, whether someone was a slave or a master it made no difference in their standing before God. Both were sinners bound for hell and both could be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22-23). All sinners are guilty before God and so are condemned to judgement. The Bible says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13NIV). Everyone includes both slaves and masters and whatever category you can think of. So salvation is equally available to all. It’s not like one’s social standing on earth; no one has any special privileges in this respect.

What about after they become a Christian by trusting in Christ for paying the penalty for their sin? The Bible says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). A Christian slave has the same position before God and the same inheritance as a Christian master. Social standing makes no difference in terms of salvation and its blessings. In this way, social distinctions disappear in God’s spiritual family; they are irrelevant. Such differences are replaced by equality and unity. All Christians have equal standing before God (1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11). Our unity in the family of believers transcends all other distinctions, including the social distinction, between slaves and masters. So slaves and masters and workers and team leaders have equal standing before God.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon he said that a Christian slave such as Onesimus was a “dear brother” who should be accepted as though he was the apostle Paul (Phile. 16-17)! What a change of status for a runaway slave! He now shared a common faith with his master. The principle here is “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). Because God had accepted Onesimus into His spiritual kingdom and Onesimus was serving God, then Philemon should accept him as a fellow believer. So Christianity elevated slaves to be equal with others in the family of God. By the way, this verse comes after Paul deals with matters of secondary importance in Romans 14 and Paul taught that whether a person was a master or a slave was less important than whether they were a Christian or not.

So our relationships with other believers should cut across the social barriers in our society. If God has accepted someone into His kingdom, we should accept them as fellow believers regardless of their social status. As a church we should accept any believer that seeks to follow God, regardless of their place in society. So a local church can be comprised of people with not only a diversity of nationality and culture, but also a diversity of position in society.

Also Christian slaves and their masters will be rewarded equally by God. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:7-8). So when they are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for the good things done for the Lord when they served others, there is no discrimination between slave and master, they are treated the same. There is no favoritism with God.

Christian slaves and workers

Let’s look at what the Bible says to slaves such as Onesimus and apply this to our working life. When a slave became a Christian they were to be content with their situation and not rebel and demand their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21-24). Instead they were to live the Christian life in their situation. But if they had an opportunity to be freed, they should take advantage of it.

“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves” (1 Ti. 6:1-2). Slaves must respect their masters because otherwise they may dishonor Christ’s name and Christianity.

“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Ti. 2:9-10). Christian slaves were to be loyal and trustworthy because their behavior could either help or hinder the gospel message.

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pt. 2:18). Christian slaves are told to respect and obey even hash masters. By enduring suffering, they were following Christ’s example. He suffered unjustly for the wrongs of others. As a worker are we willing to submit to a harsh client or boss? This is difficult in our day when we readily claim our rights, but forbearance is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:5-8). Slaves were to obey and serve their masters as if they were Christ. Do we give our client or boss good value? Do we work cheerfully and willingly? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we do, then we will be rewarded for this when we get to heaven. Once again how we work affects our testimony for Christ.

There are similar instructions in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). As Christians, all our work should be for the Lord. Even the most menial tasks are included in “whatever you do”. Do we serve and work as though we have two bosses: one on earth and one in heaven?

So slaves were to be content with their situation and respect their master submitting to their leadership and obeying them. What about us? Are we content with our work situation? Do we respect our team leader, submitting to their leadership and obeying them? Are we loyal and trustworthy?

Christian masters and team leaders

Let’s look at what the Bible says to slave owners such as Philemon and apply this to team leaders.

“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). They were to pay a proper wage and not exploit their workers because God was watching. Christian masters and team leaders should treat their workers with justice and fairness. The worker deserves their wages and it is the team leader’s responsibility to ensure they receive what is due to them. The worker may also deserve recognition and acknowledgement for a job done well.

“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Eph 6:9). They are not to be a bully who uses abusive or threatening language because they have a Master in heaven to whom they are accountable. Just because you may have more status on earth doesn’t mean you get preference in heaven.

As masters had positional power over slaves, so team leaders have positional power over their team. In the previous passages we saw that such power should not be abused. To put it in perspective, team leaders must report to higher powers. If not on earth, then certainly in heaven. Christian masters and team leaders are reminded of their Master in heaven.

If you are a team leader, are you devoted to the welfare of your workers (1 Ti. 6:2)? Do you treat them fairly or do you exploit them? Are you a bully? How we lead and manage others affects our testimony for Christ.

Reconciliation

In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (v.18). Paul was willing to pay for whatever Onesimus owed to Philemon. He said “I will pay it back” (v.19). It seems as though Onesimus had stolen things from Philemon before he escaped and went to Rome. Now he was ready to make restitution so they could be reconciled, but Paul was going to make the repayment. Even though Onesimus was guilty of theft and was obliged to make the repayment, Paul said no, I’ll do it. Paul substituted for Onesimus. Because Paul stepped in, Onesimus could be reconciled with Philemon.

In this case, Paul is like Jesus Christ and we are like Onesimus because Jesus substituted for us. We are all guilty of going our own way and rebelling against God, which is called sin. The Bible says that because we have sinned we are eternally separated from God. But Jesus took the initiative and paid the death penalty for us so we can be reconciled with God. Because Jesus stepped into our world, we can be reconciled with God. Have you taken up His offer like Onesimus did with Paul?

Conclusion

So does the NT condone slavery? No, it mentions slavery because slavery was prevalent when it was written. The Bible records practices in society at the time, such as slavery, which it does not necessarily approve. For example, slaves were mentioned in some of Christ’s parables because they were common at that time. However, the NT does say that kidnapping slaves is as sinful as murder because it is stealing (1 Ti. 1:9-10).

The NT regulates slavery so that the slave of a Christian master was treated as well as an employee. There was to be no abuse or exploitation but justice and fairness. When the teachings of the New Testament are followed, the evils of slavery are removed. That’s why some translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave”.

It’s all a matter of priority. According to the NT, the top priority is to live for Christ, which is more important than improving one’s social status. The main purpose of the Bible is to show the way of salvation, not to reform society. Jesus didn’t come to reform society. He came to reform people. When people repent they have a change in attitudes and behaviour. Changes that come from the inside are more effective than those that are imposed externally such as political and social reforms. Likewise the primary task for Christians today is not to change political and social structures, but to further the gospel by offering forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Anyway, we won’t have a perfect society until Jesus comes again to rule in His millennial kingdom.

Lessons for us

How we work affects our testimony for Christ. In our work life is there: respect, submission, obedience, contentment, loyalty, honesty and wholeheartedness? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we lead others at work is there justice and fairness or are we a bully? Do we realize we are accountable to God? Let’s honor God at work.

Finally, do social distinctions hinder our relationships with other Christians or affect the unity of the church? Do we have favorites? Do we ignore others? Let’s honor God at church.

Also see – Does the Bible condone slavery? Part 1 (OT)
Slavery and freedom

Written, April 2013