Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Paul

Experiencing God’s peace in the storms of life

Here’re four steps that will help you experience God’s peace in the storms of your life. (more…)


What does Romans 9 teach?

Are we robots or free agents?

I have received this comment: “As for free will, your Bible states repeatedly that there is none. Paul does so directly in Romans 9, and this God’s repeated interference, controlling people’s minds, etc, abrogate free will”. So in this post we will look at what the Bible says in Romans 9. Because of the structure of this letter, Romans 10-11 are also considered.

Context

Romans was written by Paul to believers in Rome in about AD 56. The theme of this letter is the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ. According to MacDonald, in Romans Paul answers these main questions:
– What is the subject of the letter? (1:1, 9, 15- 16)
– What is the gospel? (1:1-17)
– Why do people need the gospel? (1:18-3:20)
– According to the gospel, how can ungodly sinners be justified by a holy God? (3:21-31)
– Does the gospel agree with the Old Testament Scripture? (4:1-25)
– What are the benefits of justification in the believer’s life? (5:1-21)
– Does the teaching of salvation by grace through faith permit or even encourage sinful living? (6:1-23)
– What is the relationship of the Christian to the Old Testament law? (7:1-25)
– How is the Christian enabled to live a holy life? (8:1-39)
– Does the gospel, by promising salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, mean that God has broken His promises to His earthly people, the Jews? (9:1-11:36)
– How should those who have been justified by grace respond in their everyday lives? (12:1-16:27) (more…)


Why go to church?

If I chose to sleep in, or to watch church online, or listen to a podcast of the sermon, or to catch up on lectures in the Bible College course I’m doing, or to catch up on some other jobs, or was away for the weekend, or to look after visitors, or to go shopping, I wouldn’t have been at church yesterday. But as I didn’t do any of these things, I was able to share this message on the topic of “Why go to church?”.

We will see that going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?

Aspects of life

We can picture parts of our lives as a series of widening circles. First there is our individual life, then our family life, followed by our life in the local church and then our life in the rest of our world. We can have relationships in each of these spheres of life, such as a personal relationship with God, relationships with people in our family, in our church, and in the rest of the world. This post addresses the local church and why it’s good for us to go to church.

What is a church?

The first instance of the word “church” in the Bible is when Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18NIV). As this happened after Peter said that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, it means that the church was built on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The New Testament uses the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) 114 times, primarily of the local church, but this passage refers to the whole church rather than the local church. (more…)


Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?

Fact & fiction 6 400pxFake news is influencing aspects of our lives as important as our political viewpoints, our relationships with the environment and our life expectancies. But fake news can be extremely hard to identify. Fake news articles often lack sources. People aren’t directly quoted, and source material for statistics may not be provided. Social media and the ease of accessing information has given rise to incidences of news being distributed that is inaccurate, skewed, biased, or completely fabricated. A Google search is often used to source information, but since anyone with access to a computer can publish anything online, it’s crucial that we evaluate the information we find. That means distinguishing fact from fiction. Does the Bible contain fake news?

Some claim that the early chapters of Genesis are more poetic and theological than factual by suggesting they are a creation myth or exalted prose or semi-poetic or a defence of monotheism. And Wikipedia says that Adam and Eve “are symbolic rather than real”. Others say it’s a story that points toward a larger symbolic truth or a metaphor of the relation of God and humanity.

In this post, we will evaluate this claim by looking at what the Bible says about Adam and Eve. Were they actual people or are they symbolic or mythical? Did they live on earth or did they come from someone’s imagination? Are they literal or literary?

Old Testament

The Bible says that Adam was the first man on earth whose wife was Eve and whose oldest sons were Cain, Abel, and Seth (Gen. 2-5). He also had many other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). These people differed from animals because they were made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27NIV; Ps. 8:5-8). An Israelite named Moses edited these records about Adam when he compiled Genesis about 1450BC (Lk. 24:27, 44).

Adam is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. In 1 Chronicles 1, the genealogy of Abraham begins, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah” (1 Chron. 1:1-3). This means that the Jews who compiled this book in about 450BC (about 1,000 years after Moses) considered Adam to be the earliest ancestor of Abraham. So they confirmed that the account about Adam in Genesis was factual.

New Testament

Adam is mentioned in six passages in the New Testament – once each by Luke and Jude and four times by Paul. Luke confirms that Adam is the earliest ancestor of Abraham, “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Lk. 3:38). Here Adam is called “the son of God” because he had no human parents. This was written about 1,500 years after Moses.

In Romans 5 Paul gives a comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come (Jesus).
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s (Adam’s) sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man (Adam), how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass (Adam’s sin) resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act (Christ’s death) resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-19). The difference was that Adam’s sin was the reason there is sin and death in the world, whereas the gift of eternal life came through Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives a comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Jesus). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). The difference is that the descendants of Adam all die, whereas those who have faith in Christ will be resurrected from death to life.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives another comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man (Adam) was of the dust of the earth; the second man (Jesus) is of heaven. As was the earthly man (Adam), so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man (Jesus), so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man (Adam), so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (Jesus)” (1 Cor. 15:45-49). The difference is that the descendants of Adam all have a natural body, whereas those who have faith in Christ will be resurrected to have a spiritual body.

In 1 Timothy 2 Paul refers to events in Genesis 2-3. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). He recounts that Adam was created before Eve and implies that Eve sinned before Adam.

Jude refers to a prophecy of Enoch against the ungodly, “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against Him’” (Jude 14-15). So Jude confirms the genealogy of Genesis 5.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, He replied, “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male (Adam) and female (Eve),’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning (from the time of Adam and Eve). I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Mt. 19:4-9). In this passage Jesus quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, which in turn describe Adam and Eve as real people.

When Paul preached in Athens, he said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man (Adam) He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:24-26). Paul referred to the creation of the world from Genesis 1, the creation of humanity from Genesis 2 and the nations from Genesis 10. He obviously believed that Adam was the first man and that these were real events.

Paul also mentions Eve in 2 Corinthians 11, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). He was concerned that they would be deceived by false teachers like Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden. He obviously believed that Eve was the first woman and that these were real events.

Discussion

The method I have used to investigate whether Adam and Eve were actual people or just a mythical story to convey a message differs from the one used most commonly. I have studied what the Bible says about this topic, whereas others usually rely on scholarship outside the Bible. The problem with scholarship that is based outside the Bible (including literature and non-experimental historic science) is that it can change from year to year. What is claimed to be true now, will probably be discredited by future generations. Such knowledge is transient and changeable. And the interpretation of literary genres is very subjective. I prefer a more objective and robust approach that is based on Scriptural facts (the text of the Bible which is unchanging). The best way to interpret a Biblical passage is to investigate the text, the context, what the author says elsewhere and what other Bible authors say about the topic. This is the approach I have used in this post.

Depending on your worldview, you may not agree with my approach. But I think that a worldview based on revelation by the Creator of the universe is more reliable than one based on naturalistic human scholarship.

We have seen that the Old Testament Jews who complied scripture believed that Adam and Eve were real people (1 Ch. 1:1). As they lived over 2,400 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the writers of the New Testament believed that Adam and Eve were real people. In particular, Jesus and Paul believed Adam and Eve were real people, and they based key doctrines on what Genesis tells us about Adam and Eve. As they lived over 1,950 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

Implications

The fact that Adam and Eve are historical people helps us understand our world. The Bible says that in the beginning God made a good creation which was spoilt by Adam and Eve’s sin. This resulted in suffering and death, which was followed by God’s offer of redemption and restoration. If we deny the cause of sin, then we deny the explanation of suffering and the need of salvation. Then sin and suffering are God’s fault and there is no prospect of relief.

Because Adam and Eve are historical people we are all their descendants and there is no biological basis for racism. We are all related. Paul said, “From one man (Adam) He (God) made all the nations” (Acts 17:26).

Paul sees Adam and Christ as history’s two most important figures. If Adam wasn’t historic, then there could be a tendency to think that Jesus wasn’t historic.

Conclusion

The Old Testament Jews believed that Adam was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 1-5 describes real events. Also Jesus, Luke, Paul, and Jude all believed that Adam and Eve were real people and that the account about them in Genesis 1-5 describes real events.

Therefore, we should also believe that Adam and Eve were real people and that the account about them in Genesis 1-5 describes real events. So Adam and Eve were actual people that lived on earth, and they were not symbolic or mythical nor did they come from someone’s imagination. They are literal and not literary.

Written, May 2018

Also see: Noah: Fact or fiction?
Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction
In six days?


Teamwork

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

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

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

Examples of teamwork

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

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

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

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

Other examples

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Reference

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

Written, April 2018

 


Marriage equality

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

Australian marriage law

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

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

What Jesus said about marriage

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

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

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

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

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

What Paul said about marriage

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

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

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

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

Trajectory of marriage in the Bible

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

What Jesus said about homosexuality

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

What Paul said about homosexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trajectory of homosexuality in the Bible

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

Marriage law postal survey

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

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

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

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

The unmarried

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

Morality

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

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

Our identity in Christ

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

Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Written, September 2017

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


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 Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul

sabbath-400pxSomeone 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?

Hermeneutics

Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation of the Bible. Here’s a link to a post on this topic: Understanding the Bible.
The steps involved in understanding a passage in the Bible are as follows:
– What was the meaning when it was written? This is the original meaning.
– What were the original principles behind this meaning?
– What has changed since then?
– What are the universal principles for us today? Here we update the principles.
– What is the meaning for us today? How should we apply these universal principles?

In “What has changed since then?” we compare between then and now by considering the culture, situation, and time in history. Were God’s people living under a different covenant? Was their situation unique? We also look at all the scriptures written after the passage because God’s revelation is progressive. In the case of Jesus and Paul, we will see that they lived under different covenants.

Jesus and the Mosaic covenant

When interpreting a passage of Scripture, it’s important to understand the era being addressed. There are at least four eras in the Bible:
– The time before the Mosaic covenant.
– The Mosaic covenant (the law), from the time of Moses to the day of Pentecost.
– The church era (grace), from the day of Pentecost to the Rapture.
– The end times, after the Rapture.

The fact that our Bibles are divided into Old and New Testaments indicates that Jesus caused a major division in how God deals with humanity. John wrote, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17NIV). Paul told Christians, “you are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). The era of the law applied before Christ’s death and the era of God’s grace applied afterward (specifically after the Holy Spirit was given 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost). This explains why Christians are not required to offer animal sacrifices.

A major difference between Jesus and Paul (besides Christ’s divinity), was that they lived in different eras. Jesus lived under the Mosaic covenant, while Paul lived in the church era. This means that Jesus advocated keeping the Mosaic law which includes animal sacrifices at the temple, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath; while Paul didn’t advocate animal sacrifices at the temple, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

The tabernacle/temple together with the offerings and priesthood were an essential part of God’s Mosaic covenant with the Israelites (see Exodus – Deuteronomy). Jesus lived under this religious system. But when He died, God tore the curtain inside the temple from the top to the bottom and the 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 humanity.

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.

Also, according to the law of Moses, disobedience of the Sabbath day was punishable by death. “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death” (Ex. 31:15; 35:2). For example, a man found gathering wood on the Sabbath day was publicly stoned to death (Num. 15:32-36). But I haven’t seen this mentioned by those who advocate keeping the Jewish Sabbath today!

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 uses 1 Corinthians 11:1 to claim that Paul followed Jesus in all respects, including keeping the Sabbath day. Besides ignoring the different eras (covenants), this is an example of failure 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.

Jesus kept the Sabbath day because He lived under the law of Moses, whereas Paul preached to Jews on the Sabbath day in his early ministry until he was rejected by the Jews, and seemed to worship God on Sunday (Acts 20:6-7).

APPENDIX
The time-period before the day of Pentecost

This time-period is addressed in the biblical books before the book of Acts when the Israelites and Jews were God’s people on earth, they were required to follow the Mosaic law and offer sacrifices at the temple. As Jesus was a Jew, He followed these laws.

This is for those of you who thinks the Old Testament is obsolete and we are no longer under the law but grace… and of course the one who wrote the initial post that everyone is responding to here.
Who are you worshipping or serving? Who are you following, Christ; the Messiah or the Christian church of today and their teachings?

Christians should follow the inspired scripture that was written to the church in the first century (Acts to Revelation) and the principles within the rest of scripture that are consistent with this. This includes recognizing Christ as the Savior of humanity.

With that being said, IT IS MISLEADING TO TELL ANYONE THAT THE OLD TESTAMENT (FIRST TESTAMENT) AND THE LAWS ARE OBSOLETE. It is therefore false preaching and interpretation of the word of the Most High and the Messiah (the one you call Jesus).

The Old Testament was written to Jews living under the Mosaic covenant, not to Christians.

Hear me now those of you who are seeking the truth, let heaven and earth be my witness as you will not hear this from your pastor or the christian church of this age – THE TRUTH. And tell you the truth so tomorrow you’ll be without excuse – saying that you didn’t know.
I don’t need to run through hundreds of scripture to explain this, those who have ears will hear and those who don’t will not hear, but continue in the same way they have always been – worshipping idols.

The source of truth is proper exegesis of the Bible. I would be concerned about an interpretation that wasn’t taught by any pastor or Christian church.

They will also have you believe that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or Gentile, that Christ came for us all. But let hear what Christ and Paul have to say about this. Christ as was foretold by the angel came to save his people (not the whole world).
Matthew 1:21 (He shall save his people) In case you’re wondering who are his people then – the Israelite or Hebrews or Jews are.
Mathew 10:5 – 6 (These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel).
Christ came only for his people – The Israelites or Hebrews or Jews. Also for who the Israelites or Hebrews or Jews are today that’s a whole different conversation. But I tell you this, some of you are wise enough to already know who they are, the sign is upon their heads and all their doings. But this I tell you, certainly not the current occupants of Israel.
Now, am I saying that the gentiles will not enter the kingdom of Heaven, no, that’s not what I’m saying but there are stipulations they will have to follow in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven – to share in the salvation of the Israelites or Hebrews who are the chosen children of God.

These scriptures are about events before the day of Pentecost, so they apply to Judaism, not Christianity.

It’s true that Christ’s ministry was to the Jews. But after the Jews rejected this, put Jesus to death and rejected the preaching by the apostles, the gospel went to the Gentiles. That’s why there are more Gentiles than Jews in the Christian church today. After His death and resurrection, Jesus commanded the gospel message be taken to all nations. He told His disciples, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Also, today only Christians are children of God (Gal. 3:26). So a Jew isn’t a child of God unless they are a Christian.

To crown it all up, let us bring the Master himself (Christ; the Messiah – the one you call Jesus) on the stand. Lets hear if he said the OLD TESTAMENT AND LAWS ARE OBSOLETE.
Matthew 5:17-19 This is Christ himself speaking (Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven).
Go to your Bible and read it so you don’t think I making things up.
What did Christ come to fulfill – the sacrificial Laws.
Christ himself observed the sabbath. Luke 4:16
If the Messiah (Jesus) himself tells you that the laws and prophets are not done away with, who would you rather believe?
If you are following Christ, then why would you not follow his words but instead go about lying to the people that the old testament is obsolete? Has heaven and earth passed away, don’t you wake up in the morning and stand on the earth and see the heaven above?
John 14:15 – Christ (the one you call Jesus) is saying if you love me then keep my commandments. Here is the Messiah himself speaking to you.
Matthew 5:17 – 19 (keep the commandments of which the Sabbath is one of them)

These scriptures are about events before the day of Pentecost, so they apply to Judaism, not Christianity. At this time, the law of Moses was still operative.

Jesus said that He came to fulfil the law (Mt. 5:17). He did this by taking our penalty of death (as a substitute). Jesus’ death fulfilled all the demands of the Law (Rom. 8:1-3) Because we all sin, we face the penalty of death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Gal. 3:10; Jas. 2:10). So those who trust in Jesus are no longer under the law as He has paid the penalty.

The time-period after the day of Pentecost

This time-period is addressed in the biblical books from Acts to Revelation. 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.

Lets start with Revelation 12:9 – (And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him).
The deceiver of the whole world was cast into the earth and brethren I tell you this, he has been at work while you sleep and go about your smooth day.

The context of Revelation 12 is as follows:
– the birth and resurrection of Jesus (v.5)
– the church age (between v.5 and v.6)
– the coming tribulation (v.6-17)
So Revelation 12:9 describes events that are still future.

Now I will not be able to go through all the scriptures but I will list few so you can read. All what the writer of this blog has pointed out here, for this same reason, the apostle Paul (the apostle sent to the gentiles) was put on trial in the book of Acts.
This is Paul on trial for the same accusation that he was teaching people not to obey the laws of Moses or as the church of today so eloquently put it, old testament is obsolete. Read the Bible yourself, don’t be lazy.
Acts 21:20 – 29
Acts 24:1 – 14
Acts 25:1 – 12

I can’t see any mention of Sabbath keeping in these passages. And I’d rather agree with Paul than his accusers.

Paul was attacked by some Jews who caused a riot and tried to kill him. The Romans responded by arresting Paul (Acts 21:27-36). The Jewish religious leaders said that Paul was a trouble maker who desecrated the temple (Acts 24:5-8). Paul explained that this occurred because he preached about Jesus (Acts 26:19-23).

And Romans 11:1 – 22 will explain some of these stipulations. If you are a gentile (basically those who are not Hebrews or Jews or Israelite), hear this now, don’t boast against the natural branches who are the chosen children of the Most High. Don’t go about saying it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or Gentiles. You are being boastful, if the Father can cast out his own children, what makes you think He will not cast you out in the next second you start misbehaving? And Paul the apostle sent to the gentiles made this crystal clear as I expect you to read in Romans the 11th chapter.

Romans 11:1-22 says that although God rejected the Jews (v.15), those who became Christians like Paul weren’t rejected (v.1). Such Gentiles were chosen by grace and not by works (keeping the Jewish law) (v.5-6). Because the Jews rejected the gospel, the nation was set aside and the gospel went out to the Gentiles (v.1-12). Verses 13-24 are addressed to the Gentile nations, and not to Gentile Christians.

God’s children were those who trusted God in the Old Testaments times, and those who trusted in Jesus Christ in New Testament times. Here’s what Paul says about the church era:
“So in Christ Jesus you (Christians) 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” (Gal. 3:26-28).

God doesn’t “cast out His own children”. He only casts out unbelievers. It’s our faith that counts, not our day to day behavior – the former determines our destiny and the later our fellowship with God.

This is the major mistake the church of this age continue to make, if you don’t understand what has been written in the FIRST TESTAMENT (OLD TESTAMENT), if you have no foundation in the writings of the FIRST TESTAMENT, don’t mess with the Letters of Paul. You are only leading yourself to destruction. But then, some of you know the truth but you are simply a deceiver. You choose to deceive rather than preach the true integrity of the Gospel to the people.
2 Peter 3:16 explains why you should not mess with the letters of Paul. The writings of Paul are stumbling blocks for those pagan worshippers who claims they are following Christ but remain in the same old mindset from their pagan worshipping days. They simply don’t want to obey any laws which is why when it comes to the old testament, they’re quick to tell you that it is obsolete – the laws are done away with.
Elohim our Father is constantly testing us to know where are heart is. And if you are familiar with your Bible then you should know this, from the garden of Eden, even Joseph (the dreamer) did the same to his brothers, the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness, even when they conquer Canaan, the Most High left 4 nations to prove or test Israel. And all of these was just for Him to know whether they will obey his commandments. Same thing you will find in the letters of Paul. It is all to prove you to see whether you will obey his commandments or follow the desire of your flesh. The head apostle Peter already warned you about this in 2 Peter 3:16.
Proverb 4:7 – says wisdom is the principal thing, so therefore get wisdom. And I tell you, this age lacks wisdom.
You may be asking why are we going through this whole other discussions when this is supposed to be about the Sabbath. But if people are quoting from the letters of Paul then don’t you thing we should bring him on the stand so he can testify to this accusation? But as you have already read in Acts, Paul did not permit any of the things this brother is saying here on his page or what the Christian church is saying. It is simply misinterpretation of the letters of Paul.

2 Peter 3:16 says, “He (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction”. Peter is saying that some Biblical truths are hard to understand. He’s not criticizing Paul’s style of writing. This verse has nothing to do with following commands in the Old Testament. Instead it’s warning against distortions such as saying that the law is a way of salvation rather than a revealer of sin.

It is true that God tests people in all eras. But today God is now testing people under grace rather than under the law of Moses.

Even after Christ’s dead and resurrection, his disciple continue to observe the Sabbath.
Acts 17
Acts 13:42 (unlike the gentiles of today, the gentiles then understood the Sabbath commandment and worshipped on the Sabbath)

When Paul visited Psidian Antioch he preached about Jesus in the synagogue for two Sabbath days (Acts 13:13-52). After a large crowd gathered to hear the word of God, the Jewish religious leaders stirred up persecution that caused Paul to leave the city. In this case Paul went to the synagogue to preach to Jews, not to observe the Sabbath.

When Paul visited Thessalonica, he preached to them about Jesus (reasoning from the Old Testament) in the synagogue for three Sabbath days (Acts 17:1-8). Some believed that Jesus was the Messiah and others started a riot that caused Paul to leave the city. In this case Paul went to the synagogue to preach to Jews, not to observe the Sabbath.

Furthermore, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues at Salamis (Acts 13:5). He also preached to the Jewish women (they “began to speak to the women”) at Philippi on the Sabbath because that was when they gathered together (Acts 16:13). And Paul preached at the synagogue in Corinth on the Sabbath until he was opposed by the Jews (Acts 18:1-6).

So during Paul’s first two missionary journeys, it seems that whenever possible he preached to Jews on the Sabbath day whenever (because that was the day they gathered together to worship God). On these occasions, he was preaching about Jesus, not observing the Sabbath. This is evident because he was usually rejected by the Jews soon afterward. Also, it only happened during his first visit because the Jews would have continued to reject him.

If you don’t understand what Paul is talking don’t going around lying, just leave it along, just leave it along.
Now, use these two scriptures when you don’t understand what the Paul is talking in his letters. And this is because the christian church is founded upon the letters of Paul and not the teaching of the Messiah; Christ the one you call Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:1 – Here Paul is saying “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”. Paul is pointing out to you that he himself is just a follower.

Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This verse probably goes better with chapter 10. So the context is being unselfish (v.24, 33), doing everything for the glory of God (v.31), and not causing anyone to stumble (v.32). There is no mention of keeping the Sabbath or the Old Testament laws near this verse. After he became a Christian, Paul didn’t attend the animal sacrifices at the temple like Jesus did.

Likewise, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21) has the context of unjust suffering and not keeping the Sabbath or the Old Testament laws.

HE WHO HAS EARS LET HIM HEAR.

The full quotation is, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). This is the conclusion to each letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor (now Turkey) in Revelation 2-3. As the church originated on the day of Pentecost, the most relevant message to them is in Acts to Revelation. Likewise, today Acts to Revelation is more relevant to Christians than the rest of the Bible.

Written, November 2016

Also see: 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?
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?
Why the new covenant is better
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?


When God has plans “to prosper you” & “to give you a hope and a future” in Jeremiah 29:11, what does He mean? Does this promise apply to us today?

God's plan for you 400px“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11NIV).

This verse is part of Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. They were prisoners of war (POWs) following a Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. The death and deportment of the Jews and the eventual devastation of Jerusalem was God’s judgement of the sins of Judah. The letter was probably written about 597BC.

The exiles were in a hopeless situation. But God had plans for them. What were these plans? They are described in the adjacent verses (v. 10, 14).
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place” (Jer. 29:10).
“I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jer. 29:14).

God’s plan is that they spend 70 years as POWs in Babylon. After this they will be released and able to return to Jerusalem and their homeland. God gave them hope for their nation after all. But the benefits wouldn’t come for 70 years! In the meantime they were POWs.

This plan was fulfilled with the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1:2-4; Jer. 29:11), which enabled a remnant of Jews to return to their homeland under Zerubbabel (538BC), Ezra (458BC) and Nehemiah (444BC). So this promise given in 597BC has already been fulfilled.

Application

This promise gave the POWs something to look forward to during their long exile. It also taught them that their situation wasn’t helpless or hopeless because God promised ultimate deliverance and restoration from their exile. Their way to optimism was to remember this plan for their future. But there was no shortcut; they had to go through suffering along the way.

What about us today as Christians? As the promise given to the Jewish exiles in Jeremiah 29:11 has already been fulfilled, it doesn’t apply to us today. But the principle behind the promise can apply to us today. The lesson that our situation is never helpless or hopeless applies to us as well. However, our ultimate deliverance and restoration is spiritual, not physical. When there’s despair, discouragement or bad news our hope is the good news of Jesus. Heaven is the ultimate hope for Christians, though we expect to go through suffering along the way.

God’s plan for believers is for them to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). But does He have individual plans for us today? Paul says that Christians “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Good works should be the fruit of our salvation. They are the evidence of our new life (Jas. 2:14-26). What kind of good works should we do? Those which God has “prepared in advance for us to do”. That sounds like an individual plan to me. So God does have a plan of good works for each of our lives.

Finding God’s plan for us

To find out the good works God has planned for us to do individually, we should:
– confess and repent of sin in our lives (1 Jn. 1:9);
– put God first in our life;
– study the Bible and obey it;
– ask God in prayer (Jas. 1:5);
– seize opportunities of service as they arise; and
– listen to the advice of godly Christians.

We can begin by being faithful where we are (Mt. 25:21). As we do this, God usually reveals the next step. It’s one step at a time, not a jump to our final destiny.

So if you want a verse to support the fact that God has a plan for our lives, it would be better to use Paul’s example (Eph. 2:10) than Jeremiah’s (Jer. 29:11).

Written, February 2015


What is paradise?

God's throne in heavenThe Greek word paradeisos (Strongs #3857) only occurs in the following three passages of the New Testament. It is an ancient Persian word meaning “enclosure, garden, or park”.

When Jesus was being crucified one of the criminals alongside Him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” Then Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:42-43).

When Paul described a vision he had 14 years ago, he said “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).

Jesus concludes His message to the church at Ephesus with, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).

Explanation

As Paul says he was “caught up to the third heaven” and “caught up to paradise”, “paradise” is synonymous with “the third heaven”. This is the heaven which is God’s abode (see link). The other ways of using the Greek word for “heaven” in Scripture are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe of stars and galaxies. So Paul had a personal audience with the Lord.

The repentant thief was promised that when he died from crucifixion, his soul and spirit would go to God’s dwelling place. However, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, some Jews thought that in this context “paradise” was the part of Hades which was the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection (Lk. 16:23).

The passage in Revelation says that true believers will enjoy eternal life in heaven, just like Adam and Eve enjoyed being in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. Note that it is called “the paradise of God” because God is there.

So the word “paradise” is used in the Bible to describe where God lives. This place is commonly called “heaven”.

Written, January 2015

Also see: The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?


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


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


Final words

Last-Words 2Perseverance or backsliding?

The Bible records many of the words spoken and written by people in ancient times. In this article we look at what we can learn from some of the words spoken by six godly men near the end of their lives. The men are: Joseph, Moses and Joshua from the Old Testament and Jesus, Stephen and Paul from the New Testament.

Joseph

Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob. As Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, Joseph was one of the original children of Israel! Jacob’s descendants were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt and rose to second in command under Pharaoh king of Egypt. God used him to save his family and the Egyptians from a 7-year drought – in this sense he was their savior. During this time his father’s household also moved to Egypt.

Final words. At the age of 110 years, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Gen. 50:24-25NIV). As he knew that God had promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites and trusted that God would take them from Egypt to Canaan, he made them promise to take his mummy (embalmed body) with them so it could be buried in Canaan.

Lesson for us. Joseph’s faith is an example for us to follow, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones” (Heb. 11:22). “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 1:1). So up to the end of his life Joseph trusted that God’s promises would be fulfilled. He didn’t backslide from when he trusted God in his youth.

Moses

Moses was an Israelite born in Egypt in the third generation after Joseph. God used him to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – in this sense He was their savior. In the exodus about 2 million Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea and travelled towards Canaan. He took Joseph’s mummy with him (Ex. 13:19).

Final words. Before his death at the age of 120 years Moses transferred leadership of the Israelites to Joshua and told him, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged “(Dt. 31:7-8). He encouraged Joshua to continue leading the people by reminding him of God’s continual presence. Then he taught them a new song and gave a farewell message in which he assured them of God’s protection and support, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27).

Lesson for us. Christians should appreciate God’s continual presence, protection and support via the indwelling Holy Spirit. We should be encouraged by this, whatever our role may be. This also helps us to be contented and avoid the love of money or possessions (Heb. 13:5). Also, are we training the next generation in God’s ways like Moses trained Joshua?

Joshua

As one of the faithful spies, Joshua didn’t die in the desert like the rest of the Israelites who rebelled against God. After the death of Moses he led the Israelites into Canaan.

Final words. In a farewell message before he died at the age of 110 years Joshua said, “Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14-15). He urged them to worship God instead of idols. At this time they buried Joseph’s mummy in Canaan in accordance with his request (Josh. 24:32).   The Israelites followed the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, but turned to idolatry soon afterwards (Josh. 24:31; Judges 2:7, 10-13).

Lesson for us. Godly people like Joshua can have a great influence on others. They are faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like the others who died before reaching Canaan and so didn’t enjoy their inheritance on earth.

Jesus

According to Luke’s genealogy, Jesus Christ was in the 52rd generation after Joseph (Lk. 3:23-37). Jesus was unique as He was not only a person like us, but He was also the Son of God who made the universe (Lk. 1:35)! Because He was divine, Jesus lived a perfect life and did no wrong. But He was executed and then came back to life and later returned to heaven. When Jesus died He took all the punishment that we deserve so that we can go to heaven if we trust in Him. In this sense He is a Savior for all humanity.

Final words. At the age of about 33 years, after the three hours of darkness when He was suffering crucifixion, Jesus said “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This meant that he had finished what He came to do, which was to suffer and die on our behalf. The way had been provided for sinners like us to be saved from eternal punishment and go to heaven instead. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus told His followers, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). They would tell others living across the known world about Jesus.

Lesson for us. First, we need to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, because we can’t do anything else to deserve heaven. Second, once we follow Jesus we need to share the good news about Him to others.

Stephen

Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve in the first church at Jerusalem. He was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Because Stephen preached powerfully about Jesus, the Jews made false accusations about him. In a long speech he listed the failures of the Jewish people, which made the Jews so furious that they stoned him to death.

Final words. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59-60). Jesus made similar statements before He died (Lk. 23:34, 46).

Lesson for us. The more we focus on Jesus and what he has done for us, the more we become like Him.

Paul

Paul was a young Jewish leader who persecuted Christians and was associated with the stoning of Stephen. But God changed his life in a spectacular way and he became a follower of Jesus who spread across the Roman Empire the good news of Jesus had done.

Final words. In his last letter Paul wrote, “… The time for my departure is near. 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 Tim. 4:6-8). He continued to trust God even though life had been difficult and the end of his service was near. He had obeyed the doctrines of the Christian faith and passed them on to others such as Timothy. Like the winner of a Greek athletic race was awarded a wreath (1 Cor. 9:25), his faithful service would be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Lesson for us. Godly people like Paul remain faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like Demas who “loved this world” and deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).

Summary

Until our final day, let’s imitate these godly men by having:

  • The faith of Joseph that God keeps His promises
  • The assurance of Moses that God is always with us as His Holy Spirit, who provides security and contentment.
  • The godly influence of Joshua who didn’t backslide
  • The message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ
  • The Christ-like life of Stephen
  • The perseverance of Paul who didn’t backslide

Because of the examples of these final words, “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” (Heb. 13:1-3). If we pay careful attention to these examples “we do not drift away” from an active faith in Christ (Heb. 2:1).

Written, December 2012


Big history

Made to be inhabited

A letter in a newspaper stated that Genesis chapter 1-11 is pre-history and is probably best described as a ”saga”, which is a story. They said it was a different genre to the rest of Genesis, which I assume was considered to be real history which had been verified by archaeology. Well, what does the evidence show us?

Extra-Biblical account

The history of the universe from the beginning of time according to those who reject the Bible and the God of the Bible is often told as follows:

  • About 15 billion years ago – there was a “big bang” and stars like the sun formed from the exploding gases
  • Then about 4.6 billion years ago – planets like earth formed around the stars
  • 3.5 billion years ago – the first life appeared in deep water when molecules combined to form single-celled organisms
  • 1 billion years ago – multi-cellar organisms evolved
  • 600 million years ago – invertebrate animals and fish evolved
  • 475 million years ago – land plants evolved
  • 360 million years ago – amphibians and then the first land animals evolved
  • 250 million years ago – reptiles ruled
  • 200 million years ago – birds and mammals ruled
  • 90 million years ago – flowering plants evolved
  • 200 thousand years ago – the first humans evolved

Bill Gates is funding a project to present this information online for high school students. Let’s look at what the Bible says about such “big history”.

According to Jesus

When Jesus was discussing divorce and marriage He went back to Genesis and quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife …” (Mk. 10:6-7NIV). These verses refer to the first people Adam and Eve. Here He links the “beginning of creation” with the beginning of the human race.

When Jesus was condemning the Pharisees, he quoted the range of martyrs in the Old Testament, “the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Lk. 11:50-51). Abel was in the first family (Genesis 4) and Zechariah was mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24, the last book in the Jewish Old Testament. Here He links the “beginning of the world” with the first family.

Clearly Jesus believed that early Genesis was real history, not just a story.

We can also learn something about the beginning of everything from Jesus. It is instructive to consider how Jesus demonstrated God’s power. He did many miracles; more than is recorded in the Bible (Jn. 20:30). For example:

  • A storm was calmed straight away (Mk. 4:39)
  • 5,000 men plus women and children were fed from five loaves and two fish (Mk. 6:30-44)
  • People were healed immediately: the blind could see (Mt. 20:34); the crippled could walk (Lk. 13:13) and the dead stood up (Mk. 5:42; Jn. 11:43-44).

So Jesus could change the physical world instantly. He didn’t need time to do it in gradual steps. Likewise, God can create physical things instantly. He doesn’t need time to do it in gradual steps from the simple to the complex.

According to Paul

When looking at why people who have not heard the gospel still face God’s judgment, Paul wrote “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:21). God’s attributes have been evident to people “since the creation of the world”, not just since people have been on the earth. The implication is that people have been here since the creation of the world. This is consistent with what Jesus said about Adam, Eve and Abel.

Paul also believed in Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). For example, He contrasted Adam and Jesus in three passages of the New Testament:

  • “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:44-45). From Adam we have physical life in a natural body, but from Jesus we can have eternal life now and a redeemed body at the resurrection.
  • “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin … through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-21). So death entered the world because of Adam’s sin, but eternal life is possible through Jesus.
  • “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). From Adam we have physical death, but from Jesus people can be resurrected from the dead.

So Paul viewed both Adam and Jesus as true historical characters, not as mythical figures. He saw the creation and fall into sin of early Genesis as historical events that had a significant impact on our world, not as “pre-history” stories.

According to historical records

If there has been a crime or a car accident, the police determine what happened from the evidence and by interviewing witnesses. The Biblical writers witnessed what they wrote about, except for situations such as creation when God was the witness.

History is the study of past events. We don’t use operational science because it’s only reliable for present events – we can’t do experiments on the past or the future unless we make assumptions (then the finding relies on the assumptions made). Documentary evidence is the best form of historical record. Let’s look at what the historical records in the Bible meant for its original readers, the Children of Israel.

Creation

When God gave them the ten commandments, He said “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). This was a model for their working week. In this context, the heavens are the stars and galaxies. God took 6 days to create the universe, but could have taken 6 hours, 6 minutes or 6 seconds. After all, God is outside the time of our finite world. He is infinite and all powerful.

God didn’t use a long process to create everything. He commanded and it was done immediately (Ps. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3). I am not aware of any Scriptures which indicate long ages of time were involved in creation.

This is also supported by the resurrection which is described as “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). So our resurrection bodies will be created instantly. This is consistent with the original creation taking a short period of time and Christ’s miracles happening instantly. God doesn’t need lots of time to create something new.

The creation was finished on day 6, which was when Adam and Eve were created. So we know that people have been on earth since then.

A mature universe

On the day they were created, Adam named the animals and Adam and Eve were married (Gen. 2:19-20, 24). They were created as mature adults. The universe and the earth that God created were mature. Its complex interacting systems functioned properly from the beginning. The animals and plants lived in mature and functioning ecosystems. So the creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex.

This means that at that time the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. Scientists calculate the age of the universe by assuming that all the stars and galaxies have expanded to their positions after a big explosion. It is an assumption that is also based on using the red- shift of light and the Hubble law to calculate the expansion rates and the distances of galaxies. However, the Bible says that God placed them in their positions on day 4 of creation by stretching them out (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 104:2). So the difference between their apparent age of 15 billion years and the Biblical age of thousands of years represents the miracle that God did on day 4.

Genealogies


When did this happen? Is Genesis 1-11 pre-history? It is followed by Genesis 12-25 which is about Abraham. Do we know much about before this time? Yes we do. In Genesis 5 and 11 we have detailed genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-26). These are not just lists of ancestors and descendants. Their ages at the birth of their child in the family tree and their death are also given. Some Biblical genealogies have gaps because their purpose is to show their main ancestors (Ezra 7:1-5; Mt. 1:1-16). But these ones are worded in such a way as to exclude omissions and gaps. They are the most comprehensive genealogies in the Bible. Because they cover 19 generations, we know more about these people than our own ancestors!

Besides this, there are two other genealogies that cover this period in the Bible (1 Chron. 1:1-27; Lk. 3:33-38). There are three genealogies in the Bible covering the period back to Adam that some allege is pre-history! So it’s real history. It seems as though in recent times some people call it pre-history to explain the inconsistency with the recent extra-biblical account.

When you add up that dates given in Scripture you find that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago. That’s a long time, thousands of years, but it’s not millions of years. When compared to the extra-biblical timeline, the historical timeline:

  • Is documented historically instead of being calculated
  • Is shorter (about 6,000 years compared to about 15 billion years)
  • Has people appearing near the beginning (people have been here for 99.9998% of the time); instead of near the end (people have been here for 1.3% of the time). People have been here most of the time. After all, God made the world to be inhabited, “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited … I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:18-19).

Implications

The extra-biblical account is inconsistent with recorded history. As it relies on assumptions of people who were not there when it happened, clearly these assumptions are wrong. What are these incorrect assumptions?

  • They rule out a God of miracles. This means they have to rely on current physical processes and forces to explain the past.
  • Consequently, they believe that the present is the key to the past, but according to the Bible the past is the key to the present – after all history goes forwards, not backwards!
  • They believe that given enough time everything can create itself and organisms always evolve or build up gradually over time from simple to complex. Therefore the biological world has become more complex with time.
  • They believe simple organisms are primitive and developed earlier than more complex organisms.

Does it matter if the extra-biblical explanation of the past history of the world is wrong? Yes, because it destroys the gospel message. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). That’s what happens if the first three chapters of Genesis are not historical, but a story that isn’t necessarily true. This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.

This explanation moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to making it be a part of our world (which Christians call God’s creation). In this case disease, decay and death have always been a part of our world. They are the normal situation; and not viewed as being abnormal. It takes away the lack of disease and death before the fall. It puts death before sin, not after it. It puts evil before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.

Lessons for us

As believers, our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by God, not by the views of those who reject God. This means that our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by the Bible, not by the extra-biblical theories which rule out the possibility of divine intervention in the natural world, such as miracles. The Bible says that God has intervened in our big history and He will intervene again. We ignore that at our peril.

Sin, death and salvation are important aspects of the Bible and Christianity. Let’s be aware of the implications of ideas such as extra-biblical big history which are inconsistent with the Biblical record.

Finally, the Bible is not a science book; but it is a history book. It is the best record of ancient history we have today; a supreme example of ancient history; and a big history book. It contains documentary evidence by eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. So we can trust the Bible on big history.

Written, June 2012

Also see – Big history or little history?
Using history and science to investigate ancient times


Paul the tent-maker

A self-supporting missionary

Paul was a Jew who lived in the Roman Empire. His Hebrew name was Saul and his Greek name was Paul. He would have learnt his trade of tent-making as a youth as it was the Jewish custom to provide manual training for their sons (Acts 18:3). As the son of a Pharisee, at the age of 13-15 he was sent to Jerusalem to study the Jewish religion under Gamaliel, an eminent teacher of Jewish law (Acts 22:3; 26:4-5). Until his miraculous conversion, Paul was a fanatical Pharisee who persecuted Christians (Gal. 1:13-14). After all, according to Deuteronomy “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Dt. 21:23NIV). He would have thought: “How could the Messiah be one who died a criminal’s death and was cursed by God?”

Called and commended

Paul was called and commended to be a pioneer missionary to Gentiles in lands around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 9:15; Gal 1:15; 2:9). Before his first missionary journey, the Holy Spirit told the church in Antioch, “‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3). During his second missionary journey, Paul was told in a vision; “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

His message was “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Jesus came from Heaven to save us, died for our sins in our place, was raised from death and was seen by many after His resurrection. He now sits at the right hand of God who has given Him all power and authority, including the right to act as judge of all humanity. By trusting in Christ’s work we can be rescued from the coming judgment.

Let’s investigate what enabled Paul to undertake his life’s mission.

Second missionary journey

On his second missionary journey with Silas, Luke and Timothy, Paul was supported by the hospitality of believers. At Philippi, they stayed with Lydia and after a spectacular night in jail the jailer gave them a meal (Acts 16:15, 34). They stayed with Jason at Thessalonica (Acts 7:7), while at Corinth they stayed with Aquila and Priscilla for 1.5 years (Acts 18:2-3, 11). The Bible says, “because he was a tent-maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”. So, he worked at his trade of tent-making to pay his living expenses. By the way, his main training was to be a Jewish rabbi and tent-making was a manual skill he would have learnt when he was younger.

While in Corinth Paul wrote two letters to the church in Thessalonica. As Christ’s apostles, they were entitled to financial support from the Thessalonians, but they worked day and night to provide for their own needs (1 Th. 2:6; 9). They didn’t want to be a burden to the believers who were poor and persecuted. As he didn’t want to be unduly dependant on others, Paul earned his own living while he was preaching there.

Paul explains this further when he addresses those who had stopped working for a living because they expected the Lord’s return: “you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Th. 3:7-10).

Paul worked night and day at his trade of tent-making, in order to pay people for the food that he was eating.

Third missionary journey

Paul and his companions continued to be supported by the hospitality of believers on his third missionary journey. At Caesarea, they stayed with Philip the evangelist, while they stayed with Mnason at Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-10, 15-16). At Corinth, they may have stayed with Stephanas as his household “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (1 Cor. 16:15). He also told those in Rome to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).

On this trip, Paul spent three years at Ephesus (Acts 20:31). He may have stayed with Aquila and Priscilla who had moved there from Corinth (Acts 18:18-19; 1 Cor. 16:19). While he was there he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth and when he got to Macedonia, he wrote a second letter.

Paul said that the apostles supported themselves by working hard with their own hands and he urged the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:12, 16). Although he had the right as an apostle to financial support (1 Cor. 9:4-14), he didn’t use this right in Corinth (he says this three times v12, 15, 18). Instead he worked so as not to give his critics any ground for accusing him of preaching for money (1 Cor. 9:14-18). He offered the gospel free of charge so the message would not be hindered. This was an example of self-denial or self-sacrifice for the good of others. He noted that Barnabas also worked to support himself (1 Cor. 9:6). This suggests that Paul and Barnabas supported themselves on the first missionary journey as it was the only one they made together.

This message was repeated twice in his second letter:

  • When Paul was with the Corinthians he didn’t receive any financial assistance from them (2 Cor. 11:7-9). But he did receive support from other churches, including those in Macedonia. He boasted that he preached the gospel free of charge and was not a burden to anyone.
  • Also, He didn’t receive financial support because he didn’t want to be a burden on them and because he wanted them and not their possessions (2 Cor. 12:13-18). When Paul sent Titus to Corinth, Titus lived like Paul in working in an occupation so he would not have to be supported by the Corinthians.

Paul wasn’t like the false teachers who peddled the word of God for profit and tried to turn the ministry into a profitable profession (2 Cor.2:17; 11:20). In Micah’s time there were leaders who judged for a bribe, priests who taught for a price and prophets who told fortunes for money (Mi. 3:11).

Paul also wrote, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Cor. 6:3). He knew that some people look for an excuse not to listen to the message of salvation. So he was scrupulous and lived beyond reproach. He was characterised by “hard work”, which would have included manual labour such as tent-making.

When farewelling the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-35). So he also did tent-making in Ephesus. He didn’t seek material reward. Instead he worked hard making tents to provide for his needs and the needs of those who served with him. He believed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was a great example to the spiritually immature who were tempted to be lazy or greedy.

Prisoner in Rome

The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus with gifts to take care of Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (Phil. 2:25). Twice they had sent him financial support when he was a missionary in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:14-19). They supported gospel workers. Paul said their gift was like an offering and sacrifice that pleased God. It was like the Old Testament fellowship (or peace) offering that was an expression of thankfulness (Lev. 7:11-15). God is pleased when we use our material resources to do good and share with those in need (Heb. 13:16). It’s the sacrifice of our possessions.

Paul found that God meets our needs (Phil. 4:19) and he said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11-12) .

Were there any tent-makers before Paul?

You might ask, what about earlier examples in the Bible? Well in the Old Testament times the Jewish priests and Levities were supported by the tithes and offerings and sacrifices of the other people. The High Priest was the spiritual head of the nation, while the priests and Levities served in the temple. They mediated between God and the people. They inherited these roles which were restricted to the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. The priests wore special clothes. As the priests and Levites had no other occupations, it seems that they were not tent-makers. But God put an end to the Jewish priests and Levities when the temple was destroyed in AD70. If there is no temple, there is no Jewish priesthood and this has been the case for the past 1,942 years.

However, Nehemiah was a tent-maker as he was self-supporting and unlike other governors of Judah, he didn’t place a burden on the Jews who returned from captivity (Neh. 5:14-18).

In the New Testament, the Old Testament system was replaced by one where each believer is a priest with direct access to God through Jesus Christ as the High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 5:1-6; 1 Pt. 2:5). Jesus is our mediator today. There is no special building like the temple and no special priests. However, there is provision for financial support as required for apostles (1 Cor. 9:4-14), elders (1 Ti. 5:17-18), teachers (Gal. 6:6) and missionaries (Phil. 4:4-19). But each of these can be tent-makers like Paul.

What about the time of Christ? We know that the original disciples left their occupations to follow Jesus:  To the fishermen he said, “‘Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him” (Mt. 4:19-20). However, after the resurrection they went fishing again and Jesus helped them catch 153 fish (Jn. 21:1-13).

When Jesus sent His followers out on mission trips,He told them not to take money, but rely on hospitality for their support (Mt. 10:1-15; Lk. 10:1-7). Their needs were met on a day by day basis. But these instructions were changed at the Last Supper (Lk. 22:35-37). Now He tells them to take money and provisions and be prepared to protect themselves. This was probably because He was about to be crucified and ascend back to heaven and would no longer be with them physically. It is consistent with tent-making by working in order to get the money and so being able to support themselves.

Lessons for us

Paul was an example for us to follow.

Calling. Paul was called to specific missionary work. All believers are all called to share their faith where God has placed them. In this sense they are all called to be missionaries. What else has God called you to do? Like Paul, a true servant of Christ will continue to preach the good news of salvation whether they receive money for it or have to work to finance themselves. Financial reward should not be a motive for serving the Lord.

Paul’s service was supported in three ways: hospitality, giving and employment.

Hospitality. Paul and his companions often stayed in people’s homes. Such hospitality is important because the host’s names are given in Scripture. How do we use our homes? Do we use our resources to support the spread of the gospel? Are we hospitable or selfish? In the Bible, hospitality is associated with the expression of love and spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Also, when we open our homes to one another we are inviting the Lord into our homes (Mt. 25:34-40). Having people over for a meal is a great way to get to know each other better and encourage each other.

Giving. From time to time different churches provided funds to support Paul’s missionary work. Do we live economically in order to be able to give more money to support the gospel? Do we support gospel workers? After all, all we have belongs to the Lord. Are we generous or stingy?

Employment. When necessary, Paul worked as a tentmaker. He didn’t give up his trade when he was evangelising. He practiced self-support. He evangelised fellow workers like Aquila and Priscilla. He was not isolated from the ordinary working world but identified with the common people who had to work for a living. Employment enables non-Christians to see Christians in action. It also provides access to a range of people and our diligence at work and our lifestyle can influence colleagues to follow Jesus Christ. It also opens up opportunities to reach seemingly inaccessible people in new ways with the gospel. Today tent-makers have access to countries where traditional missionaries are denied. Are we using our work to further the gospel? Are we encouraging people to be tent-makers who work to support themselves while they spread the gospel?

Written June 2012


Who invented Christianity?

Divine revelation trumps human ideas

Some people think that religions such as Christianity are comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science. Their reasoning goes like this. Until a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen? Well, obviously, God did it. If a person didn’t know how something worked or why something happened, they could say, “God did it.” This is known as the “god of the gaps”. But as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where such a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, these gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor. The same argument has been applied to Christianity.

In this article we address this topic by looking at the origin of Christianity. In order to be objective, I will define “Christianity” according to what is written in the Bible, not what is written or practised elsewhere. So we are not looking at Christian practices or traditions.

Was it Paul?

Paul was a pioneer missionary in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. He spread Christianity to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys and there are at least 13 of these in the New Testament, including Romans, which is the most comprehensive description of the Christian faith. His core message was called the gospel:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ….

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17NIV).

Here we see that the God of the Bible is the source of this message, which was promised in the Old Testament. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there has been a promise that one day people can be released from the consequences of their sin. It is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Savior for sinners. The gospel is God’s power for salvation: the God that raised Jesus from the dead promises to also raise those who trust in the Savior. Also, it is for everyone who believes; Gentiles as well as Jews. There are no national barriers to this salvation. It is obtained by faith alone; by accepting that Jesus took the punishment for our sins when He was crucified. He took our penalty and we receive His righteousness and eternal life.

Paul also said: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). He emphasises the source of the gospel message: it’s “not of human origin”; he “did not receive it from any man”; he wasn’t taught it; it came “by revelation from Jesus Christ”. Therefore, Christianity was not an invention or a discovery, but it was a direct revelation from God. In fact he mentions the whole godhead as the source of the message, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:12).

Furthermore, Paul was a servant of Jesus who was sent to preach the gospel and he followed the example of Christ (Acts 26:16-18; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 11:1). So although Paul preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead he taught that the gospel was God’s idea.

Was it Peter?

Peter was a pioneer preacher to the Jews and on the day of Pentecost he preached the first gospel message after Christ ascended back to heaven. At Pentecost he quoted from the Old Testament and showed how Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. Peter witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to repent to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Did Peter invent his message? When he spoke he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). As the Jewish religious leaders saw his courage and realized that he was an unschooled, ordinary fishermen, they were astonished and noted that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). So Peter was given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit and he had been taught by Jesus. Although Peter preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead the sources of His words were the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the other apostles.

Was it the Old Testament prophets?

Both Paul and Peter referred to the Old Testament prophets when they preached the gospel. As it was foreshowed, the gospel was not a completely new idea. For example, the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, called Immanuel, meaning God with us, and would die 483 years after the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:25-26; Mic. 5:2). Also, the righteous lived by their faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).

There are also illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament. The bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness was used to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have eternal life (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). The Jewish sacrifices for forgiveness of sin foreshadowed that Jesus was our sacrifice and High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:23-28). These illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament are clearer in hindsight than they would have been for someone living at the time. However, we know that when Jesus was born Simeon and Anna were both prompted by the Holy Spirit to be waiting for the Jewish Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38).

Peter wrote about Old Testament prophecies, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own (mind) interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21). Their message was divinely inspired, originating from God, not from humanity. This is consistent with Paul who wrote that: “all Scripture was God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). The writers of the Bible were given their words by the Holy Spirit. They present spiritual truths in spiritual words. Although the Old Testament prophets promised a Messiah, they didn’t know the details of the gospel message. They didn’t invent it, but their information came from the Holy Spirit, who is God.

Was it Jesus Christ?

We have already seen that Paul said that he received the gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Also, it is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3). So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. In fact, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Christ is the source of Christianity. But what did He say?

  • He was sent into the world by God the Father (Jn. 17:3, 18, 23, 25).
  • “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34).
  • “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). He always obeyed the Father.
  • “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).

So everything He said and did was done in obedience to God the Father. Therefore, God the Father is the source of the gospel message. It was His idea.

Was Jesus Christ merely a man? This is an important question. The answer is no, because He claimed to be divine and this is supported by the evidence. First, His miracles, which included calming storms and consistently healing people instantly. He also gave His apostles the power to do miracles. Human beings don’t have these powers. Second, He resurrected from death and ascended into heaven. Human beings can’t do that. He appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). That’s a lot of witnesses. This is consistent with His claim to be equal with God. So, Christ was the divine God in a human body. He was unique.

Christianity is a revelation

We have seen that the gospel was God’s idea, which was revealed progressively to people over time from the brief promises of the Old Testament prophets, to the preaching of Peter to the Jews and then the preaching of Paul to the Gentiles. Because the gospel message seems foolish to people,  it couldn’t have been man-made (1 Cor. 1:18). Instead, God achieves His purposes in ways that seem foolish. It was a divine invention, not a human invention or discovery. That is why Christianity is unique. All other faiths and religions are products of the human mind. The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is emphasised throughout Scripture.

Old Testament

The Children of Israel were told to destroy all the people in Canaan because they were idol worshippers (Deut. 18:9-12; 20:16-18). This was God’s judgment of their sinful ways and to stop the Israelites worshipping their gods (Gen. 15:16). If the Jews worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28). Unfortunately because the Jews were unfaithful and didn’t destroy all the idol worshippers, they followed idols instead of the true God, and the consequence was that they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.

While the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, “They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands” (2 Chron. 32:19). When the Jews were told that the Lord was the only true God, they were also told that idols are worthless and “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save” (Isa. 44:6, 9; 45:20).

Idols like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor are worthless because they are man-made and they are dead. They are the product of human minds and human technology and have no power to save people from their troubles. What a contrast to the God of the Israelites who was the living Creator: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26).

New Testament

The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is also emphasised in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). It we do this, we should have no time for idolatry.

Unfortunately, most reject God’s revelation in creation and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:23, 25). This sums it up. Are we worshiping and trusting a creation or the Creator of all? The creation can be something God has made or a human creation or idea. They are both dead and have no power to save people from their sins. On the other hand, John refers to the Creator as “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3). At Lystra, Paul said, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). He is the living God.

Here we see there are two types of messages or faiths and two destinies. First Christianity, with a divine founder, the true God, the Creator and Redeemer, whose message is the gospel, God’s plan of salvation, which leads to eternal life with God. On the other hand, all other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are products of the human mind, whose message is a different gospel, which only has value in this life and leads to eternal suffering without God.

Of course, the Jewish faith as given in the Old Testament was also God’s idea, but it was superseded when the New Testament was given in the first century AD.

Lessons for us

So are religions such as Christianity comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science? This is not true for Christianity because the gospel is God’s idea, not a myth invented by people such as Paul or Peter or the Old Testament prophets. The “god of the gaps” is wrong because science has not replaced God, it has merely discovered more about God’s creation. Also, it doesn’t address our fundamental problem of sin and guilt before a holy God. Furthermore we should see God working everywhere, and not restrict Him to the areas we don’t understand.

We have seen that the Christian gospel is unique; it came from God and God is the main character. It is a revelation, not an invention or a myth. All other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are false; they are idols.

We need to be wary of modern idols of the human mind and human technology, which can occupy much of our time. They don’t help our deepest need and should be challenged like the prophets challenged pagan idolatry in the Old Testament. Above all, Paul says “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). So, let’s not get involved in the false ideas and religions that are merely the product of the human mind. Instead, let’s worship our living Creator God.

Written, June 2011


What’s the purpose of life?

Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.

The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment 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. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.

According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him.

The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.

People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.

Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.

Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.

Published, April 2012

Also see:
What are we here for?
Something to live for
Why Jesus was sent


A Look at Second Thessalonians. Part 3: Don’t be lazy

Support yourself

There are different attitudes to work. Some work long hours, while others work as little as possible. Is work a vital part of our lives or just a consequence of the fall into sin? Today we see how Paul addressed laziness at Thessalonica.

Previously, we have seen that in his second letter to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul encouraged them to persevere in their trials, suffering and persecution although they were so occupied with these that they forgot about their hope for the future. So Paul gave them an eternal perspective with a vision of the appearing when their suffering will be replaced by glory and the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. He also reminded them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. This would have helped them to cope. Then he addressed the false teaching that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. Paul points out that this is false because the antichrist had not been revealed yet. In the tribulation, the antichrist will use miracles to deceive the people as God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the antichrist’s lies. Instead, Paul told them to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you”.

The third problem in Thessalonica was that some had stopped working because they thought the Lord was returning soon. Instead of working they were being lazy and disruptive in the local church. Paul had told them in his first letter to return to work, but evidently his directions had not been obeyed.

Prayer Points (2 Th. 3:1-2NIV)

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.

Before he addressed the problem, Paul requested prayer; he wrote “pray for us” in the wicked city of Corinth. He had three prayer points:

First, pray “that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly”. The Greek word is “logos” (3056), sometimes translated as “word”, which in this context means the message from the Lord. Paul used the word “logos” twice in 1 Thessalonians: to describe the gospel (1 Th. 1:8) and to describe how the message about the rapture was a direct revelation from Christ—it was “according to the Lord’s word” (1 Th. 4:15). So Paul wanted the message of the gospel to be spread to unbelievers and the truths of the New Testament to be spread to believers. That’s what happened in Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:7).

Second, pray “that the message of the Lord may be honoured”. The Greek word is “doxazo” (1392), sometimes translated as “glorified”. What does this mean? At Pisidian Antioch, the Gentiles honoured the message by believing and obeying it (Acts 13:48-49). It was life-changing. So Paul wanted the message of the gospel to be believed and obeyed by unbelievers—that they would repent and turn to God. He also wanted the truths of the New Testament to be believed and obeyed by believers. Once again, that’s what happened in Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:7).

Third, “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith”. He wanted to be protected. Because Paul was preaching the gospel in Corinth, the unbelieving Jews opposed him and became abusive and later they accused him before the Roman governor (Acts 18:6, 12-15). These people were hindering the spread of the gospel. As Paul wanted to be able to continue preaching the gospel, they were to pray that this would not be hindered by wicked and evil unbelievers.

The secret of success (2 Th. 3:3-5)

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

He then encouraged them with a promise that the Lord will strengthen them and protect them from Satan. God is faithful, He keeps His promises. This faith is contrasted with the lack of faith in the unbelievers noted in the previous verse. Elsewhere we know that God faithfully promises to not let believers be tempted beyond what they can bear (1 Cor. 10:13) and when they confess their sins, He will faithfully forgive their sins and restore their fellowship with Himself (1 Jn. 1:9).

Paul now balances God’s provision for the Thessalonians with their responsibility to keep doing the things that Paul had commanded. It’s not good enough to relax and think that because God will look after us, then we can be lazy and ignore His commands. Christians need to be active, not passive. It’s doing the things God has commanded and continuing to do these things.

Remember, the Thessalonians were being persecuted. Under these circumstances, Paul urges them to have God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. This is the opposite of being bitter and giving up. Here the “heart” means the unseen part of us such as our mind, will, and emotions.

The Lord endured as an example for us: “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus … He endured the cross … consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1-3). Likewise, they were to “never tire of doing what is good” (v.13). Those who had been obeying Paul’s instructions were encouraged to keep it up. Even though there were those who were lazy, this shouldn’t stop the others doing what is good. This included not giving up on the lazy ones but carrying out Paul’s instructions.

Work for a living (2 Th. 3:6-15)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

Ever since the days of Adam, people must work for a living. Adam had to work and take care of the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). After the fall into sin this work became arduous (Gen. 3:17-19).

Paul now addresses the third major problem in the church at Thessalonica. It seems as though some of the Thessalonians thought the Lord was returning soon, so they stopped working and relied on others to support them. So they were idle instead of working and this lead to them interfering with other people’s affairs. What is a Paul’s solution to this problem? First, he says these people are out of line with what he had taught them (v.6). Here’s what they were advised to do.

Follow Paul’s example (v.7-9).

Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they would not be a burden to others (1 Th. 2:9). Paul was a tent maker by trade. Although he could have relied on the support of others for food, accommodation and money, he worked night and day to pay his expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding the new believers, he was probably making and repairing tents. Paul was self supporting; he didn’t seek funds from those to whom he was preaching the gospel. The reason he worked was so he wouldn’t be a burden to those who were poor and persecuted and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.

Now he urges those who had stopped working to follow his example (v.7). Although he had the right to financial help, Paul “did not use this right” of support in Corinth so that the gospel would not be hindered (1 Cor. 9:12, 14). Instead, he offered the gospel “free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). He then gives another reason for supporting himself: Paul wanted to be a model for them to imitate; an example to be followed.

Command them to get back to work (v.11-12).

Previously, Paul told them how to increase in their love for one another (1 Th. 4:11-12). First they were to “mind your own business”.  Instead, some Thessalonians, probably because of idleness, were taking undue interest on other people’s lives. They were commanded not to be a busybody who interferes in the lives of others in an unnecessary and unhelpful way, because idleness and meddling in the lives of others is not loving. Second, they were to “work with your hands” in order to provide for themselves and their family (1 Tim. 5:8). In the context of caring for widows, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Two reasons were given in 1 Th. 4:11-12 for working to support themselves: “To win the respect of outsiders”—they were being watched by people who judged Christianity and God’s Word by their behavior; and to “not be dependent on anybody”—not to be a burden to others.

He had also instructed them how to deal with those who disobeyed this command, “warn those who are idle and disruptive” (1 Th. 5:14). Those who had stopped working were disorderly, disobedient and rebellious busybodies who caused disruption in the local church. This behaviour was unacceptable. They were to be warned to get back to work so as to be able to support themselves and their families. We will see they could also be warned by saying that: “we will stop helping you” and “we will no longer socialise with you”.

Now Paul gives further instructions about these people who were minding everybody’s business but their own (v.11-12). When they could no longer find any meaning in their work, they started messing in other people’s business, criticizing, grumbling, gossiping, and trying to control others. Paul commanded and urged them to get back to work to support themselves and their families. How they behaved would have affected their witness for the Lord. How could they urge people to get their spiritual lives in order, if they couldn’t get their physical lives in order?

Don’t help them (v.10)

Now we will look at how Paul advised then to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions. Paul said don’t help them by feeding and supporting them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior. This is addressed to those who are “unwilling to work”, not those who cannot work. If an able-bodied Christian refused to work, neither should they eat. This rule was to stop them becoming busybodies that disrupt the local church. Does this conflict with the fact that Christians should be kind and loving? No, it is a tough love that draws a boundary against encouraging laziness. That’s why this article is titled, “Don’t be lazy”.

Keep away from them (v.6, 14-15).

This was followed by further instructions on how to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions. Finally Paul commands them in Christ’s name not to socialise with believers who refused to work and who were disrupting the local church. The Greek words used mean to “withdraw” from or “avoid” and to not keep company with them. It was to be a more distant relationship instead of a close one. This let them know that this behavior was not acceptable. The purpose of this discipline was to awaken their conscience to make them feel ashamed of their behavior and give them a reason to change it. They can still have some of the benefits of the family, but their part is restricted until they repent and are restored to the close relationship.

Paul warns them not to take it too far, so they feel like an enemy. Don’t make them feel like an unbeliever, as they don’t deserve to be expelled from the church. In the case of expulsion, people are to be treated as an unbeliever; as though they are not in the family (Mt. 18:17). Note that the instruction was addressed to the behavior of fellow believers, not to the behavior of unbelievers.

Our resources (2 Thess. 3:16-18)

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Paul finishes reminding them of the Lord’s peace, presence and grace. They could have “peace at all times and in every way”, including when they faced the problems created by those who refused to work for a living. They needed this peaceful attitude as they addressed these problems. The Lord of peace was with all of them, including those who were idle and disruptive.

Perhaps because of poor eyesight, Paul dictated his letters to a secretary (Rom. 16:22), but near the end of some he added some words in his own handwriting. This practice was his distinguishing mark. Then as usual he ended the letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians. This is God’s unmerited favor though the saving work of Christ.

Lessons for us

Do we follow Paul’s example and pray that the gospel and the truths of the Bible would spread rapidly and obeyed? Is that our mission as well? Do we pray that preachers and teachers would be protected? Surely this is what all missionaries and those serving the Lord would request.

Do we realise that our success in living for God relies on God’s promises of strength and protection and our obedience to the commands and principles for believers in the church? Do we feel secure? We have God’s love and His protection. Are we consistent? We can learn for Christ’s persistence.

Paul worked hard night and day to support himself while he preaching the gospel. He was an example to be followed. Are we? What sort of a witness is our work? Do we support our families? Work is important because it gives a sense of worth and meaning in our lives. But there were believers at Thessalonica who refused to work and were disruptive busybodies in the local church. Are we idle?

Today we don’t face the problem that people are so ardently looking forward to the Lord’s return that they abandon their daily duties. Instead we are so busy with our business and money-making that we forget that the Lord could return at any moment. Nevertheless, the same principles apply in cases of disobedience. What would Paul say to us? Would it be that we work too much instead of not enough? Are we so busy with our things that there is little time for God’s things?  Are we lazy, busy or too busy supporting our families?

Do we do the things God has commanded, like “Love one another”; “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10); or are disobedient, or are we hypocrites?

Paul wasn’t lazy. Are we lazy or busy for God? Let’s be like Paul by being busy for God and busy supporting our families.

Written, April 2007

See the first articles in this series:
Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)
Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)
Also see summary of 2 Thessalonians: Don’t be deceived


A Look at Second Thessalonians. Part 2: Standing firm against false teachings

A measure of maturity

Have you ever googled a Biblical or spiritual topic? You’ll find an amazing the range of ideas and interpretations, because anyone can post their thoughts on the web. There is no quality control!  So, how should we deal with teachings which don’t match Scripture? There are many of these posted on the internet for anyone to read. Today we see how Paul addressed such a situation in Thessalonica.

In our previous article we looked at the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the believers at Thessalonica. Paul encouraged them to persevere in their trials, suffering and persecution by reminding them that their primary relationship was with the Father and the Son; who are the source of grace, peace and endurance. By holding out against the pressures and temptations of this life it was evident that God was at work in their lives in developing character and maturity. The Thessalonians were so occupied with suffering and persecution that they forgot about their hope for the future. So Paul gave them an eternal perspective with a vision of the appearing when their suffering will be replaced by glory. There will be great power and glory when the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. He also reminded them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. This would have helped them to cope.

Not only were the believers in Thessalonica suffering physically, but they were being attacked by a false teaching. A rumour was spreading about the end of the age.

The False Teaching (2 Th. 2:1-2NIV)

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

Paul now addresses a misunderstanding that had arisen in Thessalonica. Because of the persecution they were enduring, some thought that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. False teachings such as this are unsettling and alarming—they introduce doubt and uncertainty about the truth and can destroy the unity within a church. Paul now addresses this false teaching. Firstly, he says that it didn’t come from him and secondly, he corrects it.

There was a rumour that the idea that they were in the day of the Lord came from Paul. Some said it was a prophecy—a direct revelation from God, others that Paul had taught it by word of mouth, and others that he had written it in a letter. Paul says that these were only allegations; they were not true. He also refers to the rapture: “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him”.  The Greek word before this clause is translated “concerning” in most bibles, but a better translation is “because of” or “by”. It is clear from 1 Thess 4:13 – 5:11, that the rapture and the day of the Lord are different events; in fact they have been divided into separate chapters in this instance. The word “concerning” implies that 2 Thess 2 is about the rapture, but this is not the case. Instead, Paul is saying that because of the rapture they should not think they were in the day of the Lord. By the rapture they will be taken to heaven before the day of the Lord occurs on earth.

The sequence of future events is evident in the book of Revelation. At present the church is on earth. The next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. Then while the church is in heaven, there will be a period of tribulation on the earth, which will end with the appearing of the Lord in great power and glory. This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.

The false teaching said that they were in the tribulation period, which was not the case as the church was still present on earth.

The Antichrist (2 Th. 2:3-5)

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

Paul then helps them not to be deceived again on this topic. He says that two things need to happen before the day of the Lord is present. First, there is a “rebellion”. This Greek word, which is also used in Acts 21:21, means “defection from the truth” or “apostasy”. This seems to indicate a major rejection of faith in God during the tribulation. During a time of great persecution many will turn away from the faith rather than suffer and die (Mt. 24:10-12). Instead of love there will be betrayal, hate, wickedness and false prophets.

Then the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He is the antichrist, because he sets himself up as God and no other form of worship will be allowed. He even has an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem (Rev. 13:14). This event, which marks the middle of the tribulation period, had been described earlier by Daniel and Christ (Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15). Furthermore, the antichrist is a “man doomed to destruction”, because he is destined to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). The same description was also given to Judas Iscariot (Jn. 17:12). Paul had previously told them about these things, but they had forgotten them.

The Restrainer (2 Th. 2:6-8)

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming.

Paul says that the antichrist will not be revealed until that which is holding him back is taken away (v.6). He will certainly be revealed when he displays miraculous power through signs and wonders (v.9).

In v.7 it is evident that the antichrist and the power of evil are being held back by a person or a group of people. The Greek word for the restrainer means to “hold fast or down” and is used as a metaphor. Paul doesn’t say who the restrainer is; some have suggested it the principal of law and order as found in human government or the Holy Spirit or believers as indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwelling believers seems to fit best. Jesus said, “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). The Spirit is here because the world rejected Christ and He went back to heaven. The fact that He is here demonstrates the world’s guilt. Also, when he wrote about testing false teachers, John said “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:3-4). Those who do not acknowledge that Jesus was divine are following the spirit of antichrist. But believers can overcome such false teachers because the Holy Spirit helps them detect error.

Believers are like salt and light in this world: in this sense they hold back the “power of lawlessness” (Mt. 5:13-14). Salt preserves and light removes darkness. Their influence on the world through the indwelling Holy Spirit will be removed at the rapture and the restraint on lawlessness will be gone (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). We see that the power of lawlessness was already at work in Paul’s time and we know that evil is present in our world today (v.7). But it will be fully revealed during the tribulation. This universal evil will be present on earth until the restrainer is removed—then it will be judged. For example, the great flood didn’t come until Noah’s family were safely in the boat and Sodom was not destroyed until Lot’s family were safely away from the city. So, God will not judge the evil in this world until He has taken His people to safety in heaven.

Although the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, He came to the earth on the day of Pentecost to indwell believers (Jn. 14:16-17). He will leave the earth in this sense when all believers are raptured to heaven. Of course in the tribulation He will still be in the world convicting people of sin in the same way as in Old Testament times.

So in v.8 we see that the antichrist will be revealed during the tribulation and his reign of terror is described in the next section. At the end of this period, the antichrist will be destroyed when the Lord appears in great power and glory (Is. 11:4).

How evil works (2 Th. 2:9-12)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The antichrist will work like Satan works. He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that these miracles prove that he is divine (v.10). But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the antichrist is the Messiah (v.11); God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.

Those deceived are described as: “perishing”, “they refused to love the truth”, they “have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”. Because of their unbelief, they will be condemned by God—their names will not be written in the book of life (v.12; Rev. 20:15). However, we also know that many people will be saved in the tribulation (Rev. 7:9-14).

So how does this evil work?

  • In the unseen spiritual world—that’s how Satan works.
  • It can use counterfeit miracles.
  • Deceptively—things that seem to be good finish up being destructive.
  • In those who have no time for God or the Scriptures.

Thanksgiving (2 Th. 2:13-14)

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

After describing the antichrist and his followers, Paul now contrasts them with the Christians at Thessalonica. This change from bad news to good news is indicated by the word “but”. He thanks God for saving them (v.13). This salvation involves the past, the present and the future. In the past, God chose them to be believers in the early church. But the Bible doesn’t teach that God chose others to be destined for hell. Instead His desire is that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but many reject this offer of salvation. In the present, the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and the need to accept the gift of salvation. In the future, Christians will share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, because they will be with Him and like Him forever (v.14). That’s a summary of God’s work throughout history and in our world today.

Both God and humanity play roles in this salvation. The three members of the trinity are mentioned in v.13; God chose them, the Lord loved them and the Spirit sanctified them. On the human side, the Thessalonians were called to be believers when God used Paul to preach the gospel to them (v.14). Also, the people needed to believe (v.13) and act on the truth of the gospel.

Paul now concludes his message saying despite the hard times they were going through, they should “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (v.15). This is the key verse of this chapter. In those days doctrine was taught verbally by apostolic and prophetic messages and written in letters. But we now have the teachings of the apostle Paul and the other inspired authors written in the Bible, which should be the foundation and anchor of our faith. So, the defence and remedy against false teachings is to follow and obey the instructions and principles in God’s Word.

Paul urged them not to quit or give in to evil but to draw on the resources that God had given them to handle the pressures of life. Similarly, he told those in Ephesus to—“stand against the devil’s schemes”; “stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”; and to “stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-18).

Paul’s Prayer (2 Th. 2:15-17)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Then he prayed that God would encourage and strengthen them inwardly in order to produce good deeds and good speech outwardly. Their greatest resource was God Himself. By mentioning both the Son and the Father, he is emphasizing their unity. Paul also mentions three things about God: He loved them, He gave them “eternal encouragement”, and He gave them “good hope”. Likewise, because of the gift of His Son for us, our sin has been forgiven and so believers have the eternal encouragement now and the hope of a future with the Lord. So our source of encouragement and hope should be God’s promises in the Bible. Also, note that the Christian life is not just words to know, but deeds to do. All the principles of God’s word need to be put into practice. Otherwise, we are hypocrites if we say the right words but never apply these to ourselves.

Other false teachings

There are many references to false teachings in the New Testament. These often related to mixing Jewish religion or Greek religions with Christianity. Paul faced Jewish legalism, the gospel of good works and those forcing Jewish customs on others. The Gnostics, who believed that matter was evil, had myths that required special knowledge and wisdom to interpret. For example, Hymenaeus and Philetus denied the bodily resurrection and thought there was only a spiritual resurrection (2 Tim. 2:17-18).  Such philosophy (Col. 2:8) is seeking wisdom outside God’s revelation—it puts human reason above God.

Others: opposed the truth (2 Tim. 3:8); taught false doctrines, myths and endless genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-7); worshipped angels, and promoted harsh rules and treatment of the body (Col. 2:16-23); prohibited marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4: 1-3); and promoted controversies and quarrels over words (1 Tim. 6:3-5). These false teachers were conceited (1 Tim. 6:4), selfish (Rom. 16:18), cunning, crafty and deceitful (Eph. 4:14). They were influenced by demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Their teachings brought strife and spread like gangrene and cancer and destroyed peoples faith like these diseases destroy bodily tissue (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).

We need maturity in order to distinguish good from evil and to avoid being blown off course by false teachings (Eph. 4:13-14; Heb. 5:14). False teachers could be recognised by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3), their false gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), and their bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). Don’t welcome false teachers or false teachings into your house or the local church (2 Jn. 7-11), instead keep away from them and have nothing to do with them (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:21; 3:5-9). Finally, false teachers will be judged by God (2 Pet. 2:1-21).

Lessons for us

Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about future prophetic events. This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should include prophecy when teaching young believers.

But the Thessalonians had forgotten what Paul had told them about the future. This shows the importance of being reminded of the truths of scripture. Just because we have heard or read them in the past, doesn’t mean that we will remember them in the future. We can be reminded by personal Bible study and by listening to teaching from the Bible.

Two of our greatest resources are God and the truths of scripture. Like the Thessalonians we should also “stand firm and hold fast” to the principles of God’s Word. Let’s live by the true teachings, so we won’t be deceived by the false ones. This will lead to maturity and being able to distinguish between what is true and what is false.

When we hear new teachings, don’t ignore them. Instead check with the Bible as we may have forgotten what we have learnt from it. If you are uncertain about a particular teaching consult with someone who is “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).

What is “the lie” that Satan is spreading today? You can run your own life. You can do whatever you want to. It’s called humanism; the worship of humanity. It is opposite to the gospel, which says we should hand our life over to the Lord, who will encourage and strengthen us to live with Him.

Written, April 2007

See the next article in this series: Don’t be lazy
Also see summary of 2 Thessalonians: Don’t be deceived


Looking ahead in the New Year

New Year’s day is celebrated in Sydney, Australia with a magnificent fireworks display. In Old Testament times the Jews celebrated the New Year as well. They had two calendars, a religious one and a civil one, that were six months apart – similar to our financial year and calendar year. The first month of the religious calendar, Nissan, is in the spring (Northern Hemisphere) when Passover is celebrated. However, the Jewish new Year is in Tishri, the seventh month of the religious calendar, in autumn, when the Jewish new Year festival, Rosh Hashanah is observed. “Rosh Hashanah” means “first of the year.”

In Biblical times this day was called the Festival of Trumpets and ram’s horns were blown, no work was done and special sacrifices were offered to the Lord (Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1-6). The trumpets made a joyful noise on the new year and the Jews looked ahead committing the nation to God for the coming year. Most other Jewish festivals looked back to God’s deliverance (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Tabernacles), to God’s provision (Firstfruits, Pentecost), and to atone for their sins (Day of Atonement).

We look ahead

Christians also look back and look ahead. For example, in the Lord’s supper we look back to the crucifixion, but we only do this “until He comes”, then we look ahead. Let’s see at what Paul had to say about this topic.

In Philippians 3:12-15 (TNIV) he wrote “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.”

Just before these verses, in Philippians 3:4-6, Paul listed his impeccable heritage and personal achievements such as, “confidence in the flesh … circumcised … a Hebrew of Hebrews … a Pharisee … persecuting the Church … faultless.” He once thought these things were valuable, but after being saved he considered them worthless compared with the infinite value of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. Instead of living for these things, he wanted to live as Jesus lived. He was willing to suffer like Jesus and to be a martyr. Then he looked ahead, repeating the phrase “I press on”. And he gave two reasons for pressing on.

Paul pressed on

First, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12). When did Christ take hold of Paul? When He confronted him on the road to Damascus. On this occasion the Lord said to a man named Ananias, “This man is My chosen instrument to proclaim My name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.” (Acts 9:15-16). Also, Paul was to be an example of what Christ can do in a person’s life. He pressed on to fulfil the purpose for which he was saved. And his was a lifetime mission, that’s why Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (v.13).

Second, Paul said ” I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v.14). Like a runner in a race, Paul’s goal was to finish the race of life and receive the crown of righteousness at the Judgement Seat of Christ and to enjoy the blessings of heaven (2 Tim. 4:8). The spiritual race is a lifetime marathon! There is no retirement in the spiritual life!

Besides this he said, “Forgetting what is behind” (v.13), looking ahead and not turning back to the past. It’s hard to walk or run if you are looking back! Paul wanted to advance, not retreat. In fact he was “straining toward what is ahead” (v.13) – looking ahead and moving ahead!

God looks ahead

Are you readyGod also looks ahead. For example, before the tenth plague God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and take these on their exodus or departure (Ex. 11:2). What was the purpose of this? Wouldn’t these just add to the weight of their luggage on the long journey? He was looking ahead to the building of the tabernacle, and providing them with the materials they would need in the future, even though they had no idea at the time what they would need (Ex. 25:1-8).

So God is always looking ahead. Whatever you are going through now may just be God preparing you for tomorrow. It may be God giving you the tools that you will use years later. We don’t know what is ahead. But let’s remember that God has prepared us for it, and He causes everything to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

In the coming year, let’s be like Paul and “press on” to fulfil the lifetime purpose for which God has called us, and continue to use our abilities and talents for Him. Let’s resolve this new year to press on towards the finish of the race of life, not looking back, but looking ahead and moving ahead with the Lord.

Published, January 2012


Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 2

Our attitude towards illness and healing

We all experience ill health from time to time! What should be our attitude about it? Does God promise good health? Will He always answer prayers for healing?

Healing In The Early Church
The gift of healing was evident in the early Church (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30), and when crowds gathered around Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas, the sick were healed. Even when they were touched by Peter’s shadow and Paul’s handkerchief or apron, they were healed (Acts 5:15-16; 19:11-12). Dorcas and Eutychus were brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-10). Everybody knew about these healings and were astonished (Acts 4:16; 8:13).

In this context Luke wrote: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12 NIV). And Paul asserted that such “signs, wonders and miracles” characterized the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). They helped to confirm that the gospel message was divine (Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:3-4), and that the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit. In particular, the Jews were more likely to believe something associated with a miracle (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22). How else could the apostles prove that Christ had sent them? These miracles confirmed the gospel message.

When God’s People Get Sick
I’ve heard people say that Christians should never suffer illness because Jesus has already suffered for us. They are wrongly using Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, because these verses tell us that the Lord suffered for our sins, not our sicknesses. Let’s look again at the New Testament epistles to see what they say about healing today.

Paul wrote this to those in Galatia: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn” (Gal. 4:13-14). Paul, the man that God used to write much of the New Testament, suffered illness. This shows that godliness did not keep him from getting sick, nor will it keep us from getting sick.

After he saw a vision of heaven, Paul wrote: “To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). The Lord didn’t heal Paul of his “thorn,” which may have been an eye disease (Gal. 4:15; 6:11). God does not always heal us either.

Paul left Trophimus, a coworker, sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). And he wrote this about another coworker, Epaphroditus: “He was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Here we see that healing is a mercy, not a promise that we should expect or demand.

In the case of Paul and Epaphroditus, while their spiritual condition was good, their physical condition was not so good. This shows that healing does not depend on the strength of our faith or the lack of it. Paul prayed three times about his “thorn,” and then accepted it. God doesn’t remove all our pain, and He doesn’t fix everything. In fact the Bible promises suffering for believers (Jn. 16:33). We should pray like Christ: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).

Paul told Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Timothy was often ill, maybe because of a weak stomach, so Paul’s advice was to use a little wine. He wasn’t told just to pray about it, but to do something. And wine was a commonly prescribed medical treatment to help heal stomach ailments.

Paul wrote to Gaius: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn. 2). It seems as though Gaius was not well physically. Paul prayed that his physical health would match his spiritual health.

We can see the following four things from these examples: sickness is not necessarily a result of one’s sin; we can’t gauge a person’s spiritual state from his physical state; if a person isn’t healed, it’s not due to a lack of faith; and no promise of physical healing is given to the Church. Although we should pray for healing, there is no guarantee that healing will come. After all, if the Lord doesn’t return to rapture us, we will all eventually die.

Confession Of Sin
James wrote this about sickness and sin: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:14-16).

This passage connects physical sickness, prayer, sin, forgiveness and healing. Was this person sick as a direct result of some sin? The elders were called to pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. As oil was traditionally used to dedicate people and things to God’s service (Ex. 30:30; 40:9), it may symbolize dedicating the sick person to the Lord’s care. People today can pray for recovery as God promises healing under these circumstances.

In Corinth, the sin of selfishness – “not recognizing the body of the Lord” at their love feasts – brought sickness and sometimes death (1 Cor. 11:30). This example links our physical and our spiritual health. For our health, we need to confess sins – such as selfishness, worry, anger, jealousy, pride and gluttony – and develop selfcontrol in these areas of our life. Selfcontrol is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a significant aid to good health.

How God Uses Illness
The Bible gives five examples of how we can actually benefit from illness.

1. It reveals God’s power. After Paul prayed to have his “thorn” removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). God gives strength to suffer because His power is more evident when we’re weak.

2. It helps us rely more on God. Paul claimed that his troubles “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Here we see that the allpowerful God will give us the strength to endure through suffering.

3. It gives us a reason to give thanks. According to Paul, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor.1:10-11). The Corinthians prayed for Paul when he was in trouble, and their prayers were answered.

4. It gives us experiences that can help others. Paul said that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). People are encouraged when we empathize with their situation. They see that someone understands. How we suffer illnesses can be an example for others.

5. It develops our spiritual character. Paul wrote that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Enduring sickness can develop perseverance (2 Cor. 1:6), just as exercise develops physical strength. God uses suffering to mold character and help us realize that He’s working in us.

Paul wanted to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10-11). He wanted to live like Christ did. It takes divine strength to suffer for Christ. God uses illness to draw us closer to Him, to teach us lessons we would learn in no other way and to provide us with new opportunities to help others.

We have no choice about when we will experience the pain of illness and injury, but we have a choice in how we respond. To give up, complain or wallow in selfpity in tough times, stumbles weak believers who are watching us (Heb. 12:12-13). Instead, we should encourage those that are weary (Isa. 50:4) by accepting pain and sickness as being God’s will for us, and live a life of perseverance, patience and endurance (2 Th. 1:4; Heb. 12:7-11; Jas. 1:2-4,12; 5:7-11). The Bible teaches that God uses difficult times for our growth.

Lessons For Us
Although there were many miraculous healings in the early Church, today healing is a mercy, not a promise. Remember, Paul was not healed of his thorn in the flesh. When God does not heal, it’s not because of our lack of faith. Instead, He wants us to persevere in sickness and pain so that His power may be revealed, that we may rely more on Him, that there will be prayer and thanksgiving, that we can use our experience to help others, and that we can develop our Christian character.

God is more concerned about our spiritual health than our physical health (1 Tim. 4:8). This doesn’t mean that we should neglect our physical health, but as our bodies wear out, they should wear out while serving Him. Let’s get our priorities right. God wants us to be spiritually healthy, and looking forward to that time when sickness and suffering are no more.

Published May 2010

Also see: Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 1
What does “by his wounds you have been healed” mean?


Boats and bicycles

How are you travelling?

During a visit to the Netherlands I was amazed at the number of boats and bicycles throughout the country. The boats and bicycles are used for transport and recreation. Many of the boats sail along a network canals. Others are house boats. One company combines the two modes of transport by offering bicycle tours with overnight accommodation on a barge.

The word “nether” means “lower”. The Netherlands as the name suggests is a low-lying country. Almost half of the land is below sea level. Elsewhere, the elevation rarely exceeds 50 meters (or 160 feet). Vaalserberg near the border with Belgium and Germany is the nations highest point at 321 meters (or 1053 feet) above sea level. Yet it is only 25 kilometers (or 16 miles) from canals near the Maas river.

Boats

Boating is a way of life to the Dutch. There are numerous canals, rivers and lakes and some locks between waterways at different heights. The total length of the navigable canals is approximately 7,000 kilometers (or 4,350 miles). Some canals are elevated to carry boats above the freeway. Two wonderful cruising areas are the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht region and the lake region of Friesland in the north.

In the New Testament we read that Jesus and His disciples travelled in boats, while Paul travelled in ships. The most dramatic voyages in the bible are Jonah’s towards Tarshish and Paul’s to Rome (Jon. 1:1-2:10; Acts 27:1-14). A violent storm arose on both occasions and the ship threatened to break up. The sailors were afraid and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jon. 1:5; Acts 27:18). Due to miraculous circumstances no lives were lost.

Jonah and Paul were both sent to the headquarters of an empire; Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, and Rome, the Roman capital. Jonah was running away from God by travelling in the opposite direction to God’s command (Jon. 1:2-3). Paul was obeying God (Acts 23:11). This reminds me we are all travelling in the journey of life. Which direction are you going? If you are going in the wrong direction, are you willing to acknowledge this and turn to God like Jonah?

Bicycles

There are approximately 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, which is more than one per person. Bicycles can go along narrow alleys and other places where other motor vehicles can’t. They can also be taken on trains and ridden in the city and in the countryside. This reminds me of the parable of the great banquet, which is an illustration of the gospel message being spread across the world (Lk. 14:16-24).

After the original invitations to the banquet were rejected, the invitation went to whoever could be found from the “streets and alleys of the town” and the “roads and country lanes” (vv. 21, 23NIV). This includes all kinds of thoroughfares. It is like the pattern of evangelism, which includes people in all kinds of places—“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Jerusalem” was the city they were in at the time and the chief city in Judea. “Judea” was the surrounding region that had a large Jewish population. “Samaria” was an adjacent region that had no dealings with the Jews. “The ends of the earth” at that time was the known world around the Mediterranean Sea. This is the pattern of evangelism that was followed by the early church—firstly Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-7:60), then surrounding and adjacent regions (Acts 8:1-9:31), and then more distant lands (Acts 9:32- 28:31). It shows that evangelism should begin in your neighbourhood and extend across the globe. So, let’s take the gospel whenever and wherever we travel, on bike, boat or some other way!

Written, January 2003


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 6: Living As A Christian

In this Series on 1 Thessalonians we have seen that Paul visited and preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. Because he couldn’t visit them for some time, he wrote a letter of encouragement. From 4:1 to 5:11 Paul reminded them how to please God – avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. Instead of grieving for those who had died, they were to look forward to being reunited with them and to be awake and sober as they looked forward to the Lord’s return. Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with the elders, other believers and God.

Living With Church Leaders
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NIV

These verses address leadership in the local church. The Bible teaches that each church is to be led by a group of qualified elders who share this responsibility. Several characteristics of elders are mentioned here. They are to “work hard” at caring for people. They are to be “over” the congregation, meaning that they are to maintain or rule. In other letters Paul said that they “direct the affairs of the church” and “lead” (1 Tim. 5:17; Rom. 12:8). Both Paul and Peter likened their care to spiritual parents caring for a family (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Elders are also to “admonish” or gently reprove the congregation. Paul used the same word when he told them to warn anyone who didn’t obey his instructions (2 Th. 3:15). Elders are to remind the church of God’s truths and the dangers of living a self-centered life.

In this passage, the congregation was given two responsibilities with respect to the elders. It was to “respect” them. This Greek word is translated as “acknowledge” (TNIV), “know” (KJV), “recognize” (NKJV), “appreciate” (NASB) and “honor” (NLT). The congregation needs to know the elders if they are going to trust and follow them. They are also to “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else.

In this context Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (1 Th. 5:23; Gal. 5:22). There is a need to value all the elders, as favoring one divides the congregation. Also, elders should serve the whole congregation, not just part of it. Paul wrote elsewhere that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace” and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 14:19; 12:18).

Living With Believers
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Here Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-11). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that “anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior (2 Th. 3:10-13). This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.

“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work.

“Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. Paul also taught that we shouldn’t stumble those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1-15; 1 Cor. 8:13). They need our encouragement, friendship and help.

Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). When someone hurts us, we should not get angry and retaliate, but rather seek reconciliation (Mt. 18:15-17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.

Living Before God In All Circumstances
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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

Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. For example, when Peter was in prison, the believers prayed and he was released (Acts 12:1-19). We should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).

Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Believers should be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7) even in the trials and difficulties which mature us. We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. Daniel prayed three times a day, “giving thanks to his God” even though his life was in danger (Dan. 6:10-12). We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.

Living Before God As He Guides
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church. This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to keep the Spirit’s fire burning by following Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and by following the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. Paul also said that those listening to prophets should discern or “weigh carefully” what they say (1 Cor. 14:29). They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Paul’s Prayer
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful. There are different aspects to sanctification (holiness), and here he addressed progressive sanctification. Paul prayed that their sanctification would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul.

It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.

In Conclusion
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. The kiss was a normal greeting of that day, similar to a handshake in western countries. It expressed friendship with fellow believers. Paul wanted “to have this letter read to all” brothers and sisters, a statement not found in any of his other letters (5:27); he thought it was that important. We should read it with this in mind.

Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.

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

May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.

Published, June 2009

See the next article in this series: Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)

See the first article in this series: Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)
Also see summary of 1 Thessalonians: Encouragement for tough times


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 5: The Rapture And The Day Of The Lord

In this Series we have seen that Paul visited Thessalonica and in response to his preaching a church was established. Because he was unable to visit them for some time, he wrote a letter to encourage these new believers. In chapter 4 Paul told them how to live to please God. They were to avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. In this part we will look at the Second Coming, a major theme mentioned in each chapter (1 Th. 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23). 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 (1 Th. 5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). Further teaching was needed on this topic.

Death Is Like Sleep
“We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV).

The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1 Th. 1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they see their loved ones before the final resurrection at the end of time (Jn. 11:24)? Also Paul had probably taught them that Christ was coming back to reign and that Christians would reign with Him (Rev. 20:6). Would those who had already died miss this? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.

He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (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. The soul and spirit don’t sleep in death, as they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

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). Paul wrote elsewhere: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them with Jesus (4:14). When will this be? When Jesus returns in power and glory. The dead won’t miss the glory of the coming kingdom.

A Period Of Time
The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the word parousia. 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 (1 Th. 4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (1 Th. 2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). 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.

This sequence of future events can be inferred from The Revelation: the Church on earth (Rev. 2-3); the Rapture, that is Christ’s return to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; the Church in heaven (Rev. 4-5); the Tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); the appearing, that is Christ’s return to earth in great power (Rev. 19); the Millennium, a 1,000 year kingdom (Rev. 20); and the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).

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. In fact, one of His names is “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).

The Rapture
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

The Rapture (4:15) 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. The command is probably addressed to the dead (Jn. 5:28-29; 11:43). 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. Jesus summarized the Rapture this way: “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 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 described this sudden change: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Paul also wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). When He returns, our bodies will be transformed to be like His resurrection body – suited to heaven, not subject to sickness, decay or death, and free from sin and its effects. This is called the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). The Bible doesn’t say whether it will be a secret or a public event. Because it takes place in a flash, some say it won’t be seen by unbelievers. Others say it will be heard. 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.

The Day Of The Lord
“About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).

The “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period. In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (Acts 2:20; 1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). It will be characterized by gloom, darkness and destruction. The sun moon and stars will be darkened (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12). 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, destructive and inevitable.

First, Jesus said it will be unexpected: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth.

Second, He also said it will be destructive, and described it as follows: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Mt. 24:21). The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).

Third, it will be inevitable, like the labor preceding birth. Once it starts a woman can’t change her mind, and birth follows soon after. Paul said the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments.

Salvation Instead Of Suffering
“But you … are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).

Paul said that there is a way of escape. The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,9,10) 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. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him” (1 Th. 5:9-10).

Verses 9-10 tell us that instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation; they will be with Christ where there is no sin. Other verses also show that Christians will not experience the suffering described in the “day of the Lord” or the Tribulation (Rom. 5:9; 1 Th. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10). Instead, we will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.

Living In View Of The Second Coming
“Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).

Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled. 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. We should also be sober, seeking to further the kingdom of God instead of our own entertainment, being self-controlled and not losing control of our 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 have similar conclusions: “Encourage one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11).

Lessons For Us
The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. 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?

Published, May 2009

See the next article in this series: Living as a Christian
Also see summary of 1 Thessalonians: Encouragement for tough times