Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Spiritual

The role of women in the church

hillary-clinton

hillary-clintonFor the first time, a major political party has a woman, Hillary Clinton, as the front runner for President of the United States. Gains in educational achievement and advances in the economic and social standing of women have been noticeable over the past 50 years. Their changing roles and status has an impact on the family, the church and society.

This blogpost is a survey of what some key passages in the Bible teach about the role of women in the church. These passages are commonly used to determine whether there are any limits to this role. After looking at what they meant in the first century, we present the range of meanings taken to apply today. These notes relate to a church meeting when men are present. So they don’t apply to an activity where men are absent, such as women’s ministries or children’s ministries.

  1. Galatians 3:28 (written AD 50)

ESV: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
HCSB: “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
NET: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
NIV: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Context

The letter to the Galatians is about the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ and whether new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises such as male circumcision.

The paragraph (3:26-29) is about all Christians about being children (or “sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29). Consequently, they share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ.

Meaning then

In Christianity there is a unity between people that was absent under the law of Moses. The diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. Regardless of race, social class or gender, now they all had the same spiritual status before God.

Note that as human role distinctions have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God, these aren’t being addressed in this verse. However, because of belief in gender equality, today some people include gender roles in the scope of this verse.

Universal principle

Because they are united through their common relationship with Christ, God does not recognize human distinctions amongst true believers. All true Christians are equal with regard to salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. Every Christian, regardless of race, social class or gender, has the same spiritual status before God.

Those passionate about gender equality, extend the spiritual unity to equality in gender roles in the church.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today.

  • Accept all fellow Christians without showing bias, discrimination or favoritism. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7NIV). In this case, the role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, a more recent application is that women can take the same roles in the church as men. This assumes that women and men are equal in all respects, including participation in all church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/02/what-does-galatians-328-mean/

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:5 (written AD 55)

ESV: “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven”.
HCSB: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved”.
NET: “For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head”.
NIV: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (11:2-16) is about whether the head should be covered or not during prayer or prophesy (See Appendix). Paul describes their practice (v.2-5), and the reasons for it (v.6-16). He begins with a biblical principle (v.3) and then applies it to men (v.4) and women (v.5).

Many assume that the context is a church meeting, but this isn’t clear. Maybe “prayer and prophesy” imply a church meeting. The next section deals with the meeting of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). And a church meeting involving singing, teaching, prophesy, speaking in other languages and interpretation of these is addressed in 14:23-39.

Meaning then

When they pray or prophesy (see Appendix), women were to honor their man by having their head covered (11:5). In those days the man could be their husband or father or head of the household. To not do this would be to dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. It indicated that she respected the man’s authority over her.

The corollary for men was that when they pray or prophesy, they were to honor Christ by having their head uncovered (11:4).

Some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (Strongs #4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Universal principle

The principle behind the practice of head-coverings is said to be, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (11:3NIV). This means that a man is the head (in terms of leadership and authority) of a woman as God the Father is the head of Christ.

Verse 5 addresses the need to show respect to leaders and those with authority while engaged in spiritual activities.

The Greek words used in v.5 may mean man/husband or woman/wife, with the translation being chosen from the context. The ESV uses “wife” in verses that deal with wearing a veil, because they say it was a sign of being married in first-century culture. So their translation is “the head of a wife is her husband” (11:5).

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to prayer and prophesy.

  • Whether women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in church meetings when men are present is determined by other passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.
  • Or, assuming the context is a church meeting, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to head-coverings.

  • Because of the range of interpretations of this verse, whether a women wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) is best left up to each woman’s personal conscience/conviction.
  • Or, because head-coverings are no longer related to dishonor or shame, the application in the first century can’t be transferred to our modern world.
  • Or, the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.
  • Or, women should wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) as the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9).
  • Or, some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/09/how-do-we-show-respect-for-authority/

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (written AD 55)

ESV: “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”.
HCSB: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting”.
NET: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands”.
NIV: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (14:26-40) is about correcting disorder in their church meetings. In this case the meeting involved singing, teaching, prophesy (see Appendix), speaking in other languages and interpretation of these (14:23-39).

Paul addresses speaking in foreign languages (v.27-28, 39), prophesy (v.29-33, 39), and women (v.34-35). Then he emphasises that these were God’s commands (v.36-38).

Meaning then

As the “silence” in v.28 and v.30 is conditional and temporary, so the “silence” in v.34 is also conditional and temporary. What is prohibited? From the context, some say critiquing (judging) prophecies (v.29), or it could be the main topic of speaking in other languages (v.27-28, 39) and prophesy (v.29, 39). And not disrupting the meeting by asking questions (v.35).

As the speaking in v.27, 28, 29 and v.30 was public speaking, the speaking in v.34 was public speaking, not chatting (or conversation).

“The law” may mean Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in 11:8-9.

Universal principle

The passage placed some conditional and temporary restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings so as to keep the meetings orderly. Several options have been suggested as to what was restricted.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply to church meetings today when men are present.

  • Women shouldn’t preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in these church meetings. This is similar to the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or women shouldn’t speak authoritatively at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak publicly at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t chatter in church meetings.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Corinth that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Corinth.
  • Or, because 11:5 overrides 14:34-35, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 14:34-35, there should be no restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/11/order-and-disorder-in-the-church/

  1. Acts 2:17-18

ESV: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
HCSB: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NET: “‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NIV: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy”.

Date written 

AD 63. But reports an event that occurred on the day of Pentecost about AD 30.

Context

This is part of Peter’s sermon given on the day of Pentecost after the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. On this occasion they miraculously spoke in other languages. As he was speaking to Jews (2:22), he used Joel 2:28-32 to explain what had happened. Then he told them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by David and that they needed to repent of their sins and over 3,000 people did this.

The book of Joel is about the restoration and blessing of Israel after judgement and repentance. God promises to judge their enemies (Joel 2:20) and bring prosperity (2:21-27) and pour out His Holy Spirit (2:28-29). Then the signs of the day of the Lord are given, when God intervenes in history (2:30-32).

Meaning then

Peter was applying a prediction in Joel to what happened on the day of Pentecost. The point of similarity was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. This was only a partial fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy because there were no signs in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:18-19). The change concerned the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came on particular people on a temporary basis. For example, the Holy Spirit came on prophets to enable them to bring messages from God (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8). But now the Holy Spirit came to permanently live in those who trusted in Christ to pay the penalty for their sinfulness. The main point is that the Holy Spirit indwells “all people” who trust in Christ, regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”), age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves).

Universal principle

The Holy Spirit indwells anyone who trusts in Christ.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • The role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, women can preach or teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings like men.
  • Or, women can participate in all church meetings like men.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/24/what-does-acts-217-18-mean/

  1. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (written AD 64)

ESV: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”.
HCSB: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent”.
NET: “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet”.
NIV: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”.

Context

The letter of 1 Timothy was written to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).

Meaning then

A woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12). Instead she was to be submissive/obedient to the teacher (and to the Scripture being taught) and to the elders in the same way she submits herself in marriage.

So, a woman was not to teach Scripture to a man or exercise authority over a man. From the context it’s clear that the authority mentioned here is that of an elder in the local church (eldership is the next topic in the letter). An elder is a male who can teach, and who exercises authority (3:1-7).

Universal principle

Christian women shouldn’t preach/teach men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading.

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. The reason isn’t because women are spiritually inferior to men, but because the Bible commands it.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • Women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing two activities (teaching and authority), not one activity (teaching). This is consistent with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church or take other leadership roles (including praying) in a church meeting.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Ephesus.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus because the women had been deceived (v.14) by false teachers and were teaching heresy (1:3-7). However, this is speculative and the women were the victims and not the propagators of heresy (2 Tim. 3:6-7).
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) refers to abusive or destructive authority (but most Bible translations don’t accept this interpretation), women can preach and teach men, as long as they aren’t abusive or destructive. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) has a sense of usurping authority, as long as a woman operates under a man’s (or elders’) authority, she can preach and teach men. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because 1 Corinthians 11:5 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there should be no restrictions on women’s preaching, teaching in the church or leading the church as an elder.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/13/respect-and-disrespect-in-the-church/

  1. Male leadership

Jesus selected and trained 12 disciples who were all male. He sent them out to preach to the Jews and heal the sick. Did Jesus only choose men to do this because He was following the cultural practices of that era? No! In fact, during His ministry He broke many social customs by mixing with tax collectors and prostitutes, speaking to women in public, eating without ceremonial hand washing, condemning Pharisees, and condemning merchandise at the temple. He also corrected teachings of the religious leaders on divorce and the Sabbath. So, Jesus was willing to break social customs.

The 12 apostles were the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:2; 9:27). When churches were established in other places, elders were appointed to lead them (Acts 14:23). As the church grew in Jerusalem, elders were added to the leadership team (Acts 15:4, 6, 23). The qualifications of such an elder include being “a husband”, so women are excluded from this role (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6)   So, the leaders of New Testament churches (called elders or overseers) were all men. This means that although Hillary Clinton is the front running Democratic candidate for the US presidency, as a woman she couldn’t be on the eldership team of a church that functioned according to biblical teaching.

  1. Discussion

From the above summary it is evident that, according to various interpretations, some of these biblical passages seem to imply no restrictions on women in the church (Acts 2:17-18; Gal. 3:28), while others seem to imply some restrictions (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 1:12). These two viewpoints are called “egalitarian” and “complementarian”, respectively.

Of course some people also use extra-biblical sources to develop their viewpoint on this topic. For example, feminists tend to reject bible passages that they claim are based on a patriarchal system. In this case, the biblical meaning can be modified and over-ruled according to tradition, reason, experience or post-biblical revelation. I don’t use this approach because of the dominant impact of the extra-biblical factors.

Because of the clear biblical instructions on male leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6) and male leadership in the family/marriage (Eph. 5:22-24), I take a complementarian viewpoint. Here’s a link to more detailed article on this topic:
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/01/25/gender-roles-in-the-family-and-the-church/

But there are a range of options within the complementarian viewpoint. For example, in a church meeting where men are present, should a women be allowed to:

  • Chair/Compere/Lead the meeting?
  • Lead the singing?
  • Preach and teach the sermon?
  • Pray?
  • Read Scripture?

The only one of these that is clearly prohibited in Scripture is preaching and teaching the sermon (1 Tim. 1:12). So there are plenty of other opportunities for women’s participation. What do you think?

  1. Appendix – What about “prophesy”?

Prophesy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophesy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophesy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophesy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, today we apply the biblical principles for prophesy to preaching and teaching.

The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400-year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the New Testament has been followed by a 1,900-year silence. 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. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).

Written, May 2016

Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
How do we show respect for authority?
Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church
Gender roles in the family and the church


The world’s most testable religion

Christianity testable 400px
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The “Questions from atheists” Facebook page claims that “Christianity is the world’s most testable religion”. And “There is a huge difference between Christianity and other religions”. They have posted a video online that compares the origin of Christianity against the origin of other religions. Here’s what it says:

How other religions began
– Someone had a private idea about God, or
– Someone had a private dream about God, or
– Someone had a private encounter with an angel

Then that person told the rest of the world.

This makes other religions impossible to verify because there are no eye-witnesses of the prime event.

How Christianity began
– Jesus spent three years doing miracles and teaching publicly (There were at least three Passovers during this period – Jn. 2:23;6:6; 12:1), and
– Jesus was executed publicly (Mt. 27:39-43; Lk. 23:4-49), and
– Jesus was buried (Mt. 27:62-66) and rose from a public tomb publicly (Mt. 28:11-15), and
– Jesus showed that He was alive publicly (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

Then the public told the rest of the world.

Conclusion

So, Christianity is the world’s most testable religion. That’s a good reason why the Christian Bible is the best place to look for spiritual answers.

Reference
This blogpost reproduces information on the “Questions from atheists” Facebook page, which was brought to my attention by Steve Warsa.

Written, May 2016


Looking for spiritual answers

Story of God

Story of GodThe National Geographic Channel is screening a documentary series “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It asks big cosmological questions like; How did we get here? What happens when we die? Why does evil exist? What is the apocalypse? And, the power of miracles. The series blends science, history, anthropology and personal experience on a journey to understand humanity’s religious devotion. It tells the story of religion and spirituality, across disciplines and faiths.

Freeman played God in the movie “Bruce Almighty”. When asked about his picture of God, Freeman said, “I don’t think there is an image of God. I like the idea of rays coming down from clouds. I like the idea of seeing the Milky Way on a clear and starry night or under a full moon. That is the essence of existence. You’re there totally with the great unknown. That’s God”. Also, “The highest power is the human mind. That’s where God came from, and my belief in God is my belief in myself”.

Many people are aware of a spiritual dimension to life. They may sense a divine higher being that provides meaning and purpose and moral guidance. Or they may realize that their capacity for thinking, willing and feeling is beyond the physical realm. The fact that we need to find meaning and purpose in our lives means that we are spiritual beings.

A Google search on “spiritual answers” gives a range of responses including those based on, meditation, yoga, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, psychics, mysticism, and higher consciousness. Some say that all religions lead to God and heaven. But, according to the Bible that’s not true.

True and false

When Jesus was in Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman for water to drink from the well. In their conversation Jesus mentioned her previous five husbands. She responded by calling him a prophet and discussing places of worship. Then Jesus said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:21-22NIV). The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Samaritans worshipped the true God, but their failure to accept much of His revelation meant that they knew little about Him. They mixed the law of Moses with idolatry and built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Consequently, Jesus condemned their ways of worship and spiritual practices, which must have been inconsistent with the Old Testament (the Bible at that time). He corrected her by saying that God’s revelation in Scripture came through the Jews (their Scripture taught that a Messiah was coming into the world) and the Messiah (who was talking to her) was Jewish.

Jesus is saying that God can now be worshipped in any place. In the Old Testament the Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle (as it moved from Sinai to Canaan) or at the temple (in Jerusalem). But after Jesus came, there’s no one special place to worship God. Instead, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). We can worship God anywhere. And corporate worship is possible wherever Christians gather together. Also, Jesus said that He was metaphorically the new temple, the new meeting place with God – “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19).

Then Jesus said that because God is spirit, people must worship God “in the Spirit and in truth” – “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Because truth is associated with Jesus Christ, true worship must include Jesus (Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. And He’s “the way and the truth and the life”. So there is true worship and false worship. There is true religion and false religion. There is true spirituality and false spirituality. This is how to test spiritual answers. Because the Samaritan worship didn’t include Jesus (as Messiah), it was a false worship. A false religion. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). If you reject Jesus, you reject the true God. This means that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion or philosophy that does not accept Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who came to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and humanity is false. The Bible says that only one religion leads to God and heaven – true Christianity. Despite our pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic and all-tolerant world, all other religions are false.

What about Morgan Freeman’s search around the world for spiritual answers? He said that “the great unknown” is God. Is this true or false? It’s false because God has revealed much more about Himself in the Bible. His search doesn’t include Jesus at all. And God is much more that our mind or our self-belief. What about all the religions and philosophies? All except Christianity as described in the Bible are false. They don’t include Jesus. Or if they do include Jesus, it’s not the Jesus described in the Bible.

Lessons for us

Don’t be like Morgan Freeman and look for spiritual answers in the wrong places. And the results of a Google search that don’t include Jesus as described in the Bible are wrong places.

It’s easy to be influenced by others. For example, the Israelites were influenced to worship the gods of other nations. Likewise, today we can be influenced by the news media, social media, academics, politicians, and movies. In fact, we can be influenced by anyone.

Let’s look in the Bible for our spiritual answers and not be swayed by the other false religions and philosophies.

Written, May 2016


Songs in the Bible

Singing 2 400px

Singing 2 400pxSinging is good for you. It can have physical and psychological benefits and help you to feel good. Singing improves the memory and can alleviate depression. It involves the mind, the emotions and the body. It’s been said that, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought”. In ancient times, when few people could read or write, stories were passed down through song, because songs are memorable.

Group singing has three benefits. It enables the expression of our emotions, which can increase our confidence. It requires a flexible mind in order to make the correct sounds, which can make us more creative and adaptable to life’s challenges. And it connects us socially to others with a common purpose. So group singing can enhance our wellbeing.

In this post we look at some songs in the Bible. We know that Jesus sang with His disciples and Paul and Silas sang in prison (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:15). And there are songs throughout the Bible.

About one third of the Bible is poetry. For example, the Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations are all poetic. Some of these poems are the lyrics of songs. For example, Psalms, Song of Songs and Lamentations. There are 150 songs in the book of Psalms. It was the Israelites song book. They must have been passionate singers. In all, there are about 185 songs mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at a few of them.

The first song – after a great victory

The first song mentioned in the Bible happens after one of its greatest miracles. God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from Pharaoh’s army. When the Egyptians pursue them, the sea flows back over them, washing away their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. This was a display of God’s power over nature and a picture of salvation.

What was the people’s response? The Bible says, “when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant” (Ex. 14:31NIV). They then had a great celebration that included music, singing and dancing. It was like after victory in battle (1 Sam. 18:6-7; 2 Sam. 1:20). The lyrics of the song they sang are in the Bible. It had five parts.

The chorus is (Ex. 15:1, 21):
“Sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
He has hurled into the sea”
Here they are summarizing and praising God for what He had done.

Who God is (v.2-3). They praise God as a strong warrior and say “He is my God”.

What God has done (v.4-12). They retell the defeat of the powerful Egyptian army. How they “drowned in the Red Sea”. Only their God had such power.

What God would do in future (v. 13-17). They predict that God will lead them in the conquest and occupation of Canaan. When the Edomites, the Philistines and the Canaanites hear what God had done, they would be terrified. This was later confirmed by Rahab (Josh. 2:9-11).

Conclusion (v.18). “The Lord reigns for ever and ever”. His powerful rule is eternal.

So the first song in the Bible celebrated a great military victory over their enemies. The lesson for us is that as God delivered the Israelites from slavery, through Jesus He can deliver us from the slavery of our sinfulness.

The last song – anticipates a great victory

The last song mentioned in the Bible happens in heaven when there is a time of great tribulation on earth. It’s sung by those who were martyred for their faith in God. They sang the song “of Moses and of the Lamb”.
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3-4).

The song is comprised of quotations from the Old Testament. The context is God’s judgement of the ungodly. Those martyred in the tribulation are celebrating God’s coming victory over the ungodly. When Jesus returns in power and glory, He will right the wrongs on our world (2 Th. 1:6-9). Justice will be administered by our mighty God (“Lord God almighty”) over all the nations (He’s “King of the nations”).  He is unique (“You alone are holy”). And in the millennial kingdom, He will be worshipped by all nations.

Because of His sacrificial death, Jesus is worthy to execute judgment, as described earlier in Revelation in the new song also sung in heaven:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

So the last song in the Bible celebrates the final victory over Satan and those who oppose God. They anticipate deliverance from the presence of sin. The lesson for us is that in future all the wrongs and injustice in our world will be made right through Jesus and justice will be done.

The longest song – All about the Bible

Psalm 119 is a massive acrostic poem of 176 verses. There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, the eight verses in each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter.

The theme of Psalm 119 is the Hebrew Bible which is called by names such as: “law”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “commands”, “laws”, “decrees”, “word”, and “promise”. It’s mentioned in almost every verse. For example, Psalm 119:89-96 can be titled “God’s enduring word”:
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

This stanza begins by saying that God’s word is eternal and ends by saying that it’s boundless. So, God’s word is a reliable enduring foundation for our faith. God also established and sustains creation. Through exposure to the Scriptures we can be saved from the penalty of sin. Peter wrote, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pt. 1:23). An acquaintance with God’s word reminds us to confess our sins a daily basis in order to maintain our relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:9).

So the longest song in the Bible celebrates God’s word, which is available to us in the Bible. The heading that I’ve given it is “All about the Bible”. It’s about how important the Bible is and how it can guide and help us in our daily life. The lesson for us is that we can trust God’s unchanging word.

The shortest song – God keeps His promises

The two shortest songs in the Bible, which are comprised of five Hebrew words, are in 2 Chronicles.

After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (about 958 BC), the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place of the temple. Then “Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
‘He is good;
His love endures forever’
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God” (2 Chr. 5:13-14). So they celebrated the ark’s transfer from the tabernacle to the temple with this song. God had kept His promise to bring them into the Promised Land.

About 100 years later, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah (860 BC). When the Moabite and Ammonite armies came to attack, Jehoshaphat prayed to God for help. He was told to go to the pass of Ziz near the end of the gorge in the desert of Jeruel. “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chr. 20:17).

Early the next morning they set out and Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
‘Give thanks to the Lord,
for His love endures forever’” (2 Chr. 20:21).
So the army was led by the singers! As they began to sing and praise God, the Lord caused the enemy to kill themselves. So the Israelites showed they trusted God to deliver them from their enemies by singing this song.

A verse based on these two short songs occurs six times in the Bible (1 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). It says,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever”.
Two reasons are given to give thanks to the Lord. First, “He is good”. That’s a part of God’s nature. Second “His love endures forever”. Under the old covenants, God promised to love the Israelites (Dt. 7:8-9, 12-13; 23:5; 2 Sam. 7:15). So this covenant love never ends. It goes on and on.

The last sentence of this verse, “His love endures for ever” occurs 43 times in the Bible. 26 of these are in Psalm 136 where it is repeated as a chorus or refrain. Under the old covenant, the Israelites knew that God loved them eternally.

So the shortest songs in the Bible reminded God’s Old Testament people that God keeps His promises and He helps them. Today Christians live under the new covenant of God’s grace. Likewise, He will keep His promises to us and help us as His New Testament people.

Summary

Songs are a powerful way to express our Christian faith and to remind us of what God has done for us.

The first and last songs in the Bible are songs of deliverance from enemies and the ungodly. They are songs of salvation. So let’s sing songs of Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer.

The longest song in the Bible emphasised the importance of God’s word. Let’s use the Bible to guide and help us in our daily life. So let’s sing songs that remind us of Scriptural events and Scriptural truths.

The shortest songs in the Bible were reminders of God’s covenants with His people. So let’s sings songs about God’s promises to us.

Christians are told to sing “to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col. 3:16). So, let’s “Give thanks to the Lord (our Creator and Redeemer), for He is good; His love (shown by Christ’s sacrifice) endures forever”.

Written, April 2016


You’ve got to enjoy life!

Prince 3

Prince 3Today the music legend, Prince, died suddenly aged 57 years. According to Billboard, Prince was “One of the most iconic musicians in music history”. “His legacy as a musician, a singer, a style icon and an endlessly creative mind is nearly unparalleled, and his influence stretches from pop to R&B to funk to hip-hop and everywhere in between”. Tony Parsons wrote: “Prince danced like Fred Astaire, he played guitar like Hendrix, he wrote songs as good as Dylan, he smashed as many barriers as Bowie”. Prince received seven Grammy Awards from 32 nominations. Over his 35-year career, he released 39 solo studio albums. Four of these were No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

When discussing the death on radio today, a commentator said “You’ve got to enjoy life”; presumably because it can end suddenly. King Solomon tried living like this.

Solomon enjoyed life

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. (Eccl. 2:1-3NLT)

Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10).

His attitude was: enjoy life while you can!

“So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.” (Eccl. 3:12-13)

“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15).

“Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne! Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Eccl. 9:7-10).

But Solomon found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 2:11; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfilment and lasting satisfaction are elusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing.

Death, the leveller

100% of people die. Solomon realized that we all share a common destiny (Eccl. 9:2-3). Death is a great leveller. It happens to the rich and famous like Prince and to ordinary people like us.

Here’s what Solomon concluded from his investigation into all the ways of living without God:

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor Him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” (Eccl. 12:1).

Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey His commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Eccl.  12:13-14).

From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.

If our quest is to enjoy life, then it will absorb so much of our time and energy that we will miss the purpose of our life. This life is the support act for the main show. It’s the prelude to eternity.

Prince’s biographer said he was spiritual. I wonder what this means? But salvation isn’t based on our goodness. Instead, it’s based on Jesus’s goodness, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Conclusion

According to the Bible, we are not here just to enjoy life or to be spiritual. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately, God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift?

Written, April 2016

 


Safe and secure

Mt Solitary IMG_5874 400px

Mt Solitary IMG_5874 400pxAs we’ve become more connected with internet and wireless devices, the dangers we face online have grown. The threats include malware, malicious web sites, identity theft, ransomeware, pornography, scams and hacking. In order to be safe, we need to defend ourselves against them. An ancient Hebrew song reminds us how we can be safe and secure against the dangers we face in the journey of life.

1I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. (Ps. 121NIV)

This is the second in a series of 15 songs that are titled, “A song of ascent”. Three times a year the Israelites travelled to Jerusalem for a religious festival (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16; Ps. 122:3-4). Jerusalem is in the mountains and they probably sang these songs during their pilgrimage. The roads went upwards towards Jerusalem, which is at an elevation of 770 metres above sea level. These songs reflect events on the journey to Jerusalem, and metaphorically of events in the journey through human life.

Some think that “the mountains” in this song were the places where the pagans worshipped their gods (Dt. 12:2; 1 Ki. 11:7). Sometimes the Israelites worshipped idols in these high places. And Judah’s kings were judged according to whether they destroyed them or not. For example, king Josiah removed all the idolatrous shrines at the high places (2 Ki. 23:19). If this is the singer’s meaning, then he is saying that he is helped by the God who made the mountains, and not by the idols.

Another interpretation is that “the mountains” is a metaphor for the dangers faced in life. However, as the other instances of this word in the songs of ascents refer to Mount Zion and to the mountains that surround Jerusalem, I think “the mountains” in verse 1 are physical and not figurative (Ps. 125:1-2).

The key word in this song is “protect” (or keep, watch over, guard, shield, preserve). In the Hebrew language it’s shamar (Strongs 8104). It occurs six times to emphasise that God protects His people. He is like a watchman guarding a city or a bird shielding its young (Ps. 91:4; 127:1).

1I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Like Daniel prayed toward Jerusalem (Dan. 6:10-11), the singer is looking towards the mountains where God dwelt in the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Ps. 48:2; Isa. 8:18). They trust in the God of creation to protect them on the journey to Jerusalem. After all, He’s the one who made the mountains and the universe. He who also made the Israelite nation, helps them individually. God knows every detail of their situation.

He will not let your foot slip—
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

There was a risk of slipping and falling down a steep slope on the roads towards Jerusalem. And we can face all sorts of danger every day of our lives. But God knows about it 24/7. He doesn’t need to sleep like us. He can help us keep standing and keep going on our journey of life. In Psalms, slipping is a metaphor for doubting one’s faith in God (Ps. 73:2; 94:18) and ceasing to value Scripture (Ps. 17:7; 37:31). So, it probably refers to their spiritual life more than their physical life. This promise was given to Israel who were God’s people in the Old Testament. There are similar promises in the New Testament that God protects the spiritual lives of Christians.
“the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one” (2 Th. 3:3).
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

While travelling towards Jerusalem, there was a risk of facing heat, cold, rain, snow, lightning and wind. As they didn’t have motor vehicles like us, they were exposed to the weather when they travelled. Like a hat protects us from sunburn and a bodyguard protects us from danger, God protects us from every evil influence during the day and the night. Mentioning the sun by day and the moon by night is a poetic figure of speech to indicate all day-time and night-time dangers. This is an example of merism (where opposites incorporate all between them): heaven/earth, sun/moon, day/night, going/coming, now/forevermore.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

There was a risk of robbery on the roads towards Jerusalem. Your life could be threatened. And in early Australia, travellers could be robbed by outlaw bushrangers. But God protects us in all we do. Our spiritual lives are secure.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Lessons for us

Like a Jew travelling to Jerusalem we’re on the journey of life. I hope we’re all prepared, by being part of God’s people today.

The Jewish pilgrims were assured of safety through God’s protection. They could trust God to help them. Let’s remember that God still protects those who trust in Him. We’re eternally secure. He’s mainly interested in our spiritual welfare. That’s why we should look up to Him in prayer for help in our daily lives. It’s good to have a source of outside help.

Written, for hike to Mt Solitary, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia in April 2016


Apocalyptic imagery: Batman versus Superman in “Dawn of Justice”

batman v superman 2 400pxThis recent Hollywood blockbuster features Superman and Batman in violent battles to save the world from destruction. They also battle each other. The whirlwind of effects-driven action is visually stunning. Devastation abounds with an atmosphere of gloom and doom.

But, although the movie features futuristic technology, ancient apocalyptic and theological themes are evident.

Heroes

Superman is a god-like figure. But he’s seen as a threat to humanity (like Jesus was viewed by the Jewish religious leaders). That’s why Batman fights Superman, even though they are both meant to be heroes.

Superman is a Jesus-like modern-day savior. A super-hero. Like Jesus, he has a human form. And like Jesus, he finishes up in a grave.

In one of the battle scenes there is a silhouette of a cross on the horizon amongst the wreckage. Is this an intentional biblical link or is it accidental?

In fact, there’s a trinity of heroes in this movie – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (an immortal warrior). This reminds me of the triune biblical God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So there are plenty of heroes in this virtual universe.

Villains

But, a movie needs villains as well as heroes. The super-villain is Lex Luthor who frames Superman. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring Superman down. He also manipulates Batman and Superman to heighten their animosity toward each other. This reminds me of Satan tempting Jesus (Mt. 4:1-11).

Luthor is a Satan-like figure. At the end of the movie he is arrested and imprisoned. This reminds me that in future Satan will be imprisoned for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).

Sequel

Although Superman is killed and buried at the end of the movie, a faint heartbeat echoes from his coffin and the dirt around it begins to levitate! Clearly, it’s not the end of Superman. There will be a sequel that fans can look forward to.

This reminds me that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead three days later. The Bible says that, because of this, humanity can be rescued from their world of gloom and doom into God’s world of love, joy, peace and hope. There is a future that Christians can look forward to.

Violent battles

This movie is full of violent battles. The Bible is also full of battles. In the Old Testament the Israelites battle against their enemies and in the New Testament there are several battles. Christians suffer persecution. Christians also face personal battles such as Paul struggling against his sinful desires (Rom. 8:15-25). And there are many battles in the apocalyptic world described in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation there are the four horsemen who symbolize wars, famines, plagues, and wild beasts that bring death to 25% of the population (Rev. 6). Also, natural disasters are prevalent (Rev. 6:12-14; 8:7-12). People will be tortured (Rev. 9:3-11). Four demons kill 33% of humanity (Rev. 9:14-19). God’s witnesses will be martyred (Rev. 6:9-11; 11:1-13). Satanic leaders are called beasts (Rev. 13). Then there’s more plagues and natural disasters culminating in the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16). Finally, Jesus comes as a warrior to defeat all of those who oppose Him (Rev. 19:11-21). I wonder if anyone will make a movie about the real apocalypse?

Lessons for us

Moving from the world of Hollywood imagination back to the real world. In our universe there is good and evil. There is suffering and tragedy. There are dreams and nightmares.

What’s the reason for the evil and suffering? According to the Bible it’s because we all follow Satan (who is like Luthor) unless we turn to follow Jesus (who is like Superman). Without the saving power of Jesus in our life, we have no hope and ultimately face gloom and doom.

Let’s make Jesus our Superman!

batman v superman 1400px

Written, April 2016


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