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One Interpretation, Many Applications April 23, 2016

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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One of the criticisms of the Bible is that everyone interprets it differently. This a legitimate concern. There are many people that come to different ideas on what parts of the Bible are actually teaching. Some people base their interpretations based on only one or two verses completely overlooking the literary context these verses came from. Picking out isolated verses to prove a point is called “proof-texting”. The problem with proof-texting is that it starts with the individual (their views, beliefs, experiences, etc.) and imposes those ideas onto the text. If you take verses out of their context you can find justification for almost anything you want. People have used the Bible to condone slavery, racism, the Crusades, polygamy, homosexuality, and numerous cults. The teachings on baptisms for the dead and the high status of the Pope both come from Biblical passages. There have been many things that people have wrongly believed simply because they had a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually taught.

The Church today is fractured and schizophrenic in its beliefs. We have hundreds of denominations in the US today. Most of these came about because of differences of opinions on doctrine and practice. We have some churches that put a big emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, while others see the gifts of miracles and prophecy finished with the completion of the Bible. Some people believe it is a sin to read any other translation other than the KJV. Some churches don’t allow women teachers. Some believe if you are not a Calvinist you are not a Christian. Some of these differences are a matter of tradition, but for the most part we simply disagree on what the Bible teaches.

Some people think the Bible is like an artistic painting or piece of modern art, that you look at and interpret based on how you feel. This is exemplified in the question a lot Bible study groups ask: “What does this passage mean to you?”This version of Bible study a lot of times ends up as just a pooling of ignorance. People say whatever comes to their mind, whether or not it is relevant or even accurate. Studying the Bible takes time and effort. Most people tend to give up too quickly. They think that a cursory reading of the text is sufficient.

In case you were wondering, studying and understanding the Bible is difficult and takes time. It was written in an ancient language (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). It was written thousands of years in the past in a culture that we are unfamiliar with. It was originally written for a specific audience, and because of this there were things the authors didn’t say because they didn’t have to. Their audience was already familiar with the culture and language. It is our job as faithful readers to attempt to understand what the author’s of the Bible were trying to say to their original audience. Only after we understand what it meant to those people can we make application to our lives today.

People say that since there are so many different views on what the Bible says, we can’t know what the Bible actually teaches. If we have such a diverse range of interpretations, even in the Church and among scholars, how can we know which one is correct? This is the whole reason why we have exegesis and hermeneutics. Even though it is difficult to get at what the author’s original intent was, this should be our goal.

The people who wrote the Bible, had a specific purpose for writing what they did. They had a distinct and deliberate message they were trying to convey to their audience. This is what we should be trying to uncover. This becomes even more important when we realize that these people were inspired by God.The Holy Spirit led these writers to convey a message. This wasn’t some symbolic or hidden message He was trying to convey. God had a specific message He wanted the people to understand and He gave it in a way that the people could comprehend. The more we can put ourselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the audience to which the Bible was originally written, the better we will be able to interpret the message to them. Once we understand what God was trying to say to them, we can make application to our modern context.

No one is perfect in their interpretation. Because of our distance from the original readers, there will inevitably be things we will not be 100% sure about. But, there are also things that the Bible is so clear on that we should be unified in our theology. The way I think about it is that there are two categories of the things the Bible teaches. There are essentials and non-essentials. The essentials include things like the basic Gospel message (Jesus died for our sins, was buried and resurrected), Jesus’ divinity, the trinity, the idea that Christ is coming again, etc. The non-essentials are things like style of worship, speaking in tongues, tattoos, eating pork, issues surrounding the second-coming/end times, etc. Basically, the things that you must believe in order to be saved are essentials, and those things not affecting salvation are non-essentials.

Past interpretations

We are not the first generation to read the Bible. Many people in different cultures and contexts had to make sense of what the Bible was saying for them. This is what is so great about the Bible. Its message transcends time and culture. Throughout history people have had to do the same thing we do today – read the Bible, attempt to understand its original meaning and then apply it to their lives.

I do want to make mention of some alternate interpretive methods, particularly the Jewish interpretation. One of their methods is known as PaRDeS. It is basically an acronym for Pashat, Remez, Drash and Sod. The four levels of interpretation. The Pashat is the “simple” interpretation which is essentially what I have been referring to, getting at the meaning of the author. The other three are increasingly deeper levels of meaning that attempt to find hidden meanings that can be found in the patterns of words and letters of texts. These interpretations range from symbolic (reading an idea like circumcision into a text that doesn’t explicitly talk about it but may have verbal parallels to other passages that do mention circumcision) to more hidden interpretations. These hidden interpretations often would rely on numbers. By assigning numerical values to numbers and words they would make comparisons to other words or phrases with the same numerical value. In this way, they would connect passages together that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. One thing they did believe though was that the simple meaning was the baseline, and so none of the other levels could contradict it.

There are some dangers in these types of interpretive methods. I think a lot of people see the Bible as this mysterious book with all kinds of hidden meanings that once uncovered will unlock some secret message in the text. I’ve noticed this a lot when it comes to word studies. Because most people are unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew, they think that they can uncover vast meanings hidden in the definitions of certain words. This is not the purpose of word studies. While it is true you can get a more nuanced understanding of a passage by looking both at the grammar and the Greek or Hebrew words used, this is different than trying to get a new meaning from a text by searching through a list of definitions for a word. The words themselves only have meaning because of the sentence they are in. A word doesn’t import all its different definitions to each context it is used in. It is constrained to its chosen usage. In the same way sentences or verses are limited to the context of the paragraph to which they are in.

Whether trying to get at a deeper meaning through improper use of word studies or through some sort of numerological code, we end up missing the message of the author. And this is what is important. Whatever other messages we “find” in the text, if we overlook the message of the author they are worthless. In fact, by looking for these other things instead of what the author is trying to tell us, we hinder ourselves from understanding the original message.

Application

I guess what bothers me in all this is that we aren’t satisfied with the simplicity of the Bible. Why do we think that a deeper meaning is somehow more spiritual than the plain meaning of the author? Earlier I mentioned the difficulties in the interpretive process due to time, context and language, but there are also things that are clear. A lot of the message of the Bible translates easily through all cultures and times. The ideas of love, justice, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and humility don’t need much interpretation to understand them properly. We get so caught up in the intricacies of interpretive method, that we forget to actually do what it says. The Bible isn’t just a book of a bunch of theological ideas, it is handbook for how to live. We follow it best, not when we understand it fully, but when we live out the parts we do understand.

What Would Jesus Do? – Example vs. Mission November 12, 2015

Posted by TJ Friend in Encouragements.
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All my life in Church I’ve heard this message over and over. We are supposed to be like Christ. That is literally what it means to be a “Christian”. There was even that whole WWJD craze back in the 90’s that was supposed to encourage people to follow Christ in their actions and choices. All of this is good stuff. This is probably the core of the faith, that we live our lives as Christ lived his, by loving people and carrying forth the message of hope that he came to bring. What I am saying is that this is an incomplete picture. There is more to following Jesus then simply doing what he did.

I want to pose two answers to the question “What would Jesus do?”. These two ideas answer that question in different ways and so lead to different results. When I think about Jesus’ life and how he lived I see two main categories, which I will call example and mission. Following Jesus’ example means that we live out the same values that he lived out. Jesus lived out the values Christians should live out as well. He embodied all of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:21-22). He lived a sinless life in continuous relationship with the Father. He showed what it means to serve (one example is when he washed his disciples feet) and exemplified true sacrifice by dying on a cross for our sins. He showed us not only what prayer should look like, but set an example of continually going off by himself to commune with God. He taught and lived out many other values that we need to follow today like meekness, justice, finances, relationships, honesty, integrity, and discipline. I don’t want to spend too much time on this aspect, because this is what we commonly think of when we think about following Jesus. Basically, it is living in such a way that people get a picture of what Jesus was like, or at the very least people see the influence of Jesus on your life.

The other side of this though is the idea of mission. Jesus lived a highly focused life based on the purposes God had for him. Jesus had a specific mission for his life. He knew where his life was headed and limited himself to doing things that fit into that mission. There are a lot things that characterize Jesus’ mission, but I want to focus on three things.

First and foremost, Jesus’ mission entailed him going to the cross. Jesus knew this. He even warned his disciples many times that this was going to happen. Because he knew what was ahead, he wasn’t upset when Judas betrayed him. He didn’t call down angels to save him from the cross and he endured it all without accusing people or trying to defend himself. Because of his conviction, when Peter rebuked him, Jesus was able to recognize the attack of the enemy on his mission. He knew he was going to the cross and lived his life accordingly.

Second, his mission was to start a movement. He had a few short years to impart this message of salvation to 12 ordinary men. Because he knew that his time was limited, he focused his efforts on his disciples. He took them around with him on his travels and empowered them to do the things he had been doing, so that the mission would not die with him. He wasn’t interested in a lot of people knowing the basics of what he was teaching. Instead he wanted a few people to catch a hold of the vision and have it burn into their being so that it transformed their entire lives. He went so far as to hide from crowds or give such difficult teachings that only those who were fully invested would stay. He wasn’t interested in popularity or hype. He was focused on those who truly desired to follow him.

Third, Jesus explicitly says that he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 15:24). He knew his mission was to Israel. He spent his time going to different cities in Israel so that they could hear the message. The people he healed or cleansed of demons were for the most part Israelites. There were a few exceptions, but that is just what they were exceptions. He wasn’t going out of his way to help those outside of Israel, because he knew that wasn’t what he was called to do. Compare this with Paul who was “the apostle to the Gentiles”. Paul recognized that he had a different mission from those before him. He was to bring the message of salvation outside the people of Israel and offer it to the Gentiles.

What I am saying is that Jesus mission on earth was not something we can simply copy as our own mission. When thinking about the question what would Jesus do, we need to realize that some of the things he did were a part of the specific mission for his life and not necessarily for us. We all have a unique mission that God has for our lives, that is completely different from that of Jesus. We are obviously not all called to minister only to Gentiles, or die on a cross. In the same way, there are things we are called to do that Jesus was not called to do as part of his mission.

There is definitely some overlap. Just as Jesus made disciples, we too are called to make disciples. We need to be proclaiming the message that Jesus came to impart to the world. We need to pray and have faith and surround ourselves with other believers.

My desire is that every Christian would seek to understand their mission in life. Once you know what God is calling you to do with your life, you can align your behaviors and lifestyle to fit with that mission. If you are called to serve in the Church, you can pray to see how you can best serve and encourage those in the Church. If you are called to business, you can focus on exemplifying Christ in the workplace or supporting missionaries. If your mission is just to stay at home and raise your kids you can do it with confidence, knowing that God has you there for a reason. Whatever mission God has for you, do it to the best of your ability and use it as a standard for what you should or shouldn’t be doing. If someone feels called to minister to people in prison, then they should spend time ministering to people in prison, and not trying to be a light in Hollywood, or whatever other random idea that sounds good. Knowing what God has called you to do allows you to say no to things that may be good, but don’t line up with what God wants you to do.

One of the problems in the Church is that people have a vague idea of their mission, or maybe even no idea at all. So, instead of investing in the things God has for them, they either don’t do anything or do a bunch or random things with no focus. The former leads to consumer Christians who don’t contribute anything and are just looking to get fed from the Church. The latter leads to mediocrity or frustration, because you end up doing things just to do them, even if God isn’t in them. When we step into what God is calling us to do with our lives, we can be intentional and God can use us more than we could think or imagine. Jesus’ life was so focused that what he left behind is still going and growing to this day. He wants our lives to leave an impact as well. Even if what you are doing doesn’t seem spiritual, if you are following what God has called you to do, He will use you to impact the lives of those around you. In this light the question isn’t “what would Jesus do?”, but “what does Jesus want to do through me?” WDJWTDTM

Generational Christianity September 10, 2015

Posted by TJ Friend in Encouragements.
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I want to talk about something that has been on my mind recently. I read this passage and it got me thinking about the interaction between generations of people, especially those who believe in God.

The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.

Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. (Judges 2:7-13)

This passage is found at the beginning of the book of Judges and tells the result of Joshua’s death. To recap – the Israelites were given a promise (through Abraham) to receive a certain portion of land as their own. God had miraculously delivered the people from Egypt and led them on a journey to this promised land. The generation of people delivered from Egypt ended up dying in the wilderness because of their lack of faith. The next generation, led by Joshua, went throughout the land defeating the people living there. As it says in Josh 2:7, “The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel”. This second generation saw God fighting for Israel and helping them to defeat armies much greater than them. They saw God stop up the waters of the Jordan so they could cross over, they basically defeated Jericho just by marching around it and they even saw the sun stand still. They had every reason to believe God and follow him.

What saddens me about this passage is verse 10 – “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who neither knew the Lord nor what he had done for Israel”.  Probably the most important time in Israelite history was when God delivered them from Egypt. Not only did God prove his power over the Egyptians with the 10 plagues, but He literally parted the Red Sea so that they could walk across on dry ground. God proved once and for all that He was the only true God. Now, only two generations later, the people have no knowledge of what God did for His people.

Back in the book of Deuteronomy God specifically told the people to keep the commandments and “impress them” on their children.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deut 6:6-12).

In this passage, He even warns them not to forget the Lord. God’s intention was not that one generation would be blessed and honor Him. God wanted future generations to follow Him as well. God even had the people set up things to help them remember. He instituted the Passover so that they would always remember their deliverance from Egypt. He even had them set up altars like the one in Joshua 4 (after they had crossed the Jordan on dry land) to help remind the future generations.

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe,and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites,to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Josh 4:1-7)

So, what does all this mean? It means we need a shift in our perspective. We are naturally prone to forget what God has done for us. We have a tendency to think only about ourselves and our own current situation. I think these passages challenge us to broaden our perspective. We need to think generationally. When God does things for us, it is not simply for our benefit so that we can rest in His goodness. This primarily happens in the family. I actually believe that one of the reasons God instituted families was to instill the knowledge of God to the next generation. Even if children end up turning away from God, there is no excuse for someone to be born into a Christian home and not know about God.

When we look at the results of the Israelites who grew up not knowing God, we see they defaulted into idolatry and ended up incurring God’s wrath. The whole book of Judges repeats this cycle, where God would raise up a judge to save Israel, they would follow that leader until he died and then the next generation would fall back into the same sin patterns which would lead to them being taken over by other nations and God having to raise up another judge for them. The cycle would have broken if they could have carried over the dedication to serve God from one generation to the next.

We have a responsibility to take what God has done and share it with the next generation. This doesn’t just apply to those who are married with a family. We as part of the family of believers have a responsibility to share God’s goodness with the younger generation as well. We need more spiritual fathers and mothers in the Church who are willing to share what God has done for them and disciple others in the teachings of Christ.

It seems, especially in America, we are extremely individualistic. We have a hard time thinking of the Church outside of our own personal relationship. We are called to be a unit, a body, working together and supporting each other, not isolated units that share common beliefs. This individualism makes us miss God’s heart. God is eternal and his desire is that generations would be saved. We are so focused on our own individual link in the chain that we forget that we are part of a bigger chain that stretches through time as parents share with their children and those children share with their children.

I would encourage those who are older in the faith to intentionally seek out younger people to share with. Spend some time with them and let them know what God has done for you. For those who are younger, make an effort to get to know the older generation of believers. Listen and learn from their experience and knowledge. Don’t miss out on what they have to offer.

What Does it Mean to be a Christian? July 3, 2015

Posted by TJ Friend in Encouragements.
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As I’ve been thinking about this topic, I am realizing that “Christianity” is difficult to define. The word itself gives hints to its meaning, but to say that a Christian is a “little Christ” or “Christ-follower” is not specific enough. The main problem is that there are so many different ideas on what it means to be a Christian. For those outside the Church there are a wide variety of stereotypes of Christians. Some see Christianity as a religion of hate and intolerance. Others see it as a crutch for the simple minded to lean on. For others, Christianity is seen as an extension of its activity in society, so that it looks like a social justice institution. For most though, there is at least an idea of what Christianity should be. A lot of people recognize that Christians are not perfect and may not accurately represent Christianity. For these people they would say that Christianity is about love and compassion.

It is no surprise that people outside the Church would have misunderstandings of what it means to be a Christian. We, as the Church, have not done a good job in representing the Gospel to the world, either in word or deed. We have shown the world a lot of hypocrisy and such a watered down message that I am amazed people have any idea what Christianity really is.

What bothers me the most though, is that there are so many different views on what it means to be Christian from people who claim to be Christian. I fear that in a society where we choose our own truths, the idea that there even is a “true Christianity” is heretical. We are in a time where however people want to define Christianity and live it out is their own personal choice. The reason why the world consistently accuses Christians of picking and choosing parts of the Bible they want to follow while ignoring others, is that this is exactly what a lot of people actually do. People live one way on Sunday and live completely different the rest of the week. Because of this, we are in a place now where there are many people who think they are Christian, but are only Christian in name and do not accurately represent what it means to be a Christian.

I realize that in calling out people who are not living by the sort of Christianity I am about to set forth, this puts me in a place of “judging others”. This as we know is the cardinal sin in Christianity…except that it’s not. I believe that the Bible gives clear principles on what it means to be a Christian. I believe that God has clearly revealed, through His word, what it means to be a Christian and this is the standard by which we should strive to line up with. What I am about to set forth, is not some new or idiosyncratic view of what it means to be a Christian. I am simply relaying what God Himself desires in those who claim to represent Him. If you have questions with what I am describing, look at the Scripture for yourself and see if what I am saying is true.

I want to look at three “requirements” I see in the Bible that relate to what it means to be a Christian. I see a doctrinal aspect, a transformational aspect, and a relational aspect. Before getting into these though, it is important to recognize that “salvation” is not a one-time occurrence. Once we accept Jesus we are saved, but that doesn’t mean that we are then free to live however we want. In Philippians, Paul tells us,

12 ”Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)

We have a responsibility to discipline our lives and live and grow as Christians from the moment of salvation till we die.

Doctrine – Do you believe the core elements of the Gospel?

The first aspect of Christianity is doctrinal. We can’t just believe whatever we want and claim to be Christian. One of the biggest issues the New Testament Church had to deal with was false teachers. Paul is continually warning against false teachers. He tells the church in Galatia that even if an angel proclaims to them a different message (like Mormonism proclaims) they are to reject it:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Gal 1:6-9)

There are a lot of doctrines that churches and individuals have established over time. There is no way we will agree on every single point. What we should at least agree on are the essential doctrines of the faith. If someone at least believes the core elements of Christianity, even if they are off on other doctrines, they have the foundation and can grow from there. If people are missing core elements, or have such a skewed understanding of them that they no longer mean what they originally meant, then that person cannot claim to be a Christian. If we don’t have distinguishing doctrines then how can we even know what Christianity is?

The list of the core doctrines could be potentially long, depending on how nuanced one chooses to go. I do not intend to give an exhaustive list here, just some examples of the kind of doctrines that fit in this category. One of the biggest issues is the means of salvation. In Ephesians it says, 8 ”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9). A lot of clarity can be gained from this simple passage as to what it means to be saved. Anyone who claims that you need to do any type of “work” to earn salvation is proclaiming a false gospel. Salvation is a free gift, not something you can earn. Some other core doctrines are the fact that Jesus was fully God and fully human, that He died, was buried and rose again as a substitutionary atonement for our sins. I would also add to this list a belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I don’t see how someone can claim to be a Christian and deny the very book that reveals what that means.

There are a lot of doctrines that are secondary to the core understanding of Christianity. Some of these are as minor as what type of worship music to play, or whether or not Christians should drink alcohol. There have been huge debates over free-will vs. predestination and the Charismatic movement. While there are people who would say that you have to believe one way or the other on these issues in order to be a Christian, I don’t think this is necessarily true. Just because you don’t believe that miracles still happen today doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing your best to follow God and live for Him. What we need to do is have more dialogues about what we believe and use the Bible as our standard of truth. Disagreements in the Church happen, but as long as people are holding to the core doctrines we shouldn’t allow these smaller things to divide churches.

Fruit/Works – Is there evidence of transformation?

The second aspect of Christianity is that of “fruit”. Matthew 12 talks about good trees and bad trees. Each tree is recognized by its fruit.

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:33-37)

When you become a Christian there is a change that takes place inside of you. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone the new is here”. It is like a “rebirth” where we begin a new life that is different from our old life. If someone has no evidence of a changed life, they should examine themselves to see if they are actually saved. Here are some examples of what this transformed life should look like:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:9)

15 ”Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

26 ”Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27)

14 ”What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” (James 2:14-24)

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

As we can see there are a lot “evidences” of a transformed life, from loving one another, to watching our words, and not hating people.

Obedience – Do you know God?

This third and final aspect is simply a question of knowing God. Matthew tells us that the way of salvation is difficult to find.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)

There are a lot of people who may think they are saved, but according to this verse there are many who will not find it. Just a few verses later we are told that, 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23) The only ones who will make it in are those who “know God”. Doing miracles, or casting out demons does not qualify you to make it into heaven. A Christian is therefore someone who knows God.

The way that we “know God” is by…

Doing what he commands:

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:3-6)

Not sinning

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6)

Loving one another

7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Conclusion

I want to send out a call to all Christians. I would first of all challenge you to read the Bible and know what it says. It bothers me when those outside the Church know the Bible better than we do. We are way too easily swayed by false doctrines, because we are not familiar enough with the truth. And, I am not talking about knowing all the proof texts for certain doctrines. This type of splintered reading of the Bible creates a false methodology and misses the over-arching themes of the Bible. We need to have an understanding of the “big-picture” of the Bible. This only comes from reading all of it a book at a time. It amazes me, when non-Christians bring up passages that Christians are not even aware are in the Bible. The Bible is our revelation from God on who He is and how we are to live. We can’t limit ourselves to only hearing a few verses on Sunday mornings and then neglect it the rest of the week.

Second, we actually need to live like Christians. If you don’t know where to start, just live out the verses I have shared here. The world needs to see Christians acting like Christians. We are only hindering ourselves when we live by the actions and values of the world around us. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Let God’s spirit lead you and guide you to do the things He has for you.

Finally, we need to stop sinning. This is a hard call, and technically not possible this side of heaven, what we can do though, is eliminate chronic sin patterns from our life and put boundaries in our life so that we don’t fall into big sin issues. God doesn’t want us to be weighed down with addictive behavior. He came to set us free. We need to cultivate an attitude of repentance, so that when we sin, we are quick to move forward and not dwell in condemnation. Of course no one is perfect, but we can’t claim to know God and then live our own way. All that does is show the world a false representation of who God actually is.

All of this comes down to one word – “Love”. God loved us and gave himself up for us to redeem us from the power of sin. Because of God’s love for us, we can know what love is. We start by loving God. If we love God we will love His word, because it is a reflection of who He is. We can then allow God to love us, by changing us from the inside out into the people He made us to be. This love should also stop us from sinning because we don’t want to God. Finally, as we are filled with God’s love it should overflow to those around us to such a degree that they are hungry to know our Source and we can point people to the one who, by definition, is Love.

Apostles in the Bible January 29, 2015

Posted by TJ Friend in Word Studies.
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I have been pondering the idea of apostles for the last couple weeks. I have been thinking about how we view apostles today and if that lines up with how Scripture describes apostles. In thinking about and studying this topic I have come to realize that the idea of apostles and apostleship is very confusing. There are many differing ideas of what apostles are today and even the Bible itself does not come to one clear definition of apostles. I want to do my best to describe what I think is the Biblical understanding of an apostle. Hopefully, this will bring some clarity on how we use the term today.

There are some people today who don’t believe there are any apostles left today. That all depends on how you define apostle. I believe there are at least 3 different Biblical understandings of the term “apostolos” (apostle) in the NT. If you combine the qualifications and roles of all three you will end up with conflicting ideas on what an apostle is. My goal in writing this is to break down these three categories and show why there are distinctions between them.

1. Apostle as Messenger

In the Greek the word for Apostle is the word “apostolos”. This word comes from the verb “apostello” which means “to send”. At its most general definition an apostle is one who is sent. This usage is found in John 13 (see also 2 Cor 8:23 and Phil 2:25).

16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16).

This was the common, secular usage of the word at the time. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it was during the time of the Bible that the more specific usage of the word was coined. Up until that point people used the word apostle for someone who was sent with a message (like a delegate). It had the idea of commissioning someone with a message.

In a way, every Christian fits this category. We are all sent out with a message to proclaim (Matt 28:19-20). So, if we take this as our only definition of apostle then clearly there are still apostles today, since we all fit that category. However, this is not the only way to define apostles.

2. Apostles as the Twelve

The twelve disciples are also called apostles: 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles (Luke 6:13). This is the most common use of the term apostle in the Bible. After the loss of Judas, the eleven remaining disciples wanted to find someone to replace him. They set forth some requirements of what it would take to be one of the Twelve.

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

In looking at this passage there seems to be a specific role for these 12 “apostles”. They were to be “witnesses of his resurrection”. This understanding of an apostle is limited to those who had been with Jesus since the beginning and could be a witness of his resurrection. Paul fits into this category because of his encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). He was the last person to see Jesus after the resurrection as shown in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

These apostles are also sent with a message. For Paul, he received a special message that the Gospel, which was primarily for the Jews, was now open to the Gentiles. These apostles were sent out specifically by Jesus to proclaim the message of salvation. In order to validate their message God worked many miracles through them. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles (1 Cor 12:12). 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles (Acts 2:43).

Some people will take these verses as universal qualifications for apostles. But, this is just the qualifications for this particular type of apostle. If these are the requirements for all types of apostles then there is no way we could have any apostles today, since no one today has seen Jesus or been with him since the beginning of his ministry.

Unfortunately, people will take it one step further saying that since there are no more apostles, then there is no more need to validate their unique role as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and therefore signs and wonders have also died with these apostles. I think this only applies if you take this view of apostles as the only view and if you believe the only purpose for signs and wonders was to validate their message. As we have seen their are at least two descriptions of apostles in the NT (and we are about to see the third). Also, the Bible talks about many different reasons for signs and wonders besides validating apostles (one of the most common being Jesus’ compassion on people).

3. Apostles as Gifts

This third understanding of apostles is harder to define. There are only a few passages that talk about the gift of apostleship. One of them is Ephesians 4:11-12:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The reason why I label these categories as “gifts” is that it specifically says that they are given to the Church. In this understanding of apostles they are given to equip the people of God for service and build it up so that the Church may be united in faith/knowledge and be mature. As of yet, we as the Church have not attained to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. It is for that reason that we still need apostles (and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) to help us grow and develop in our faith.

Ephesians 2:20 says that the Church was built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. So, as some would claim, since the foundation has been laid, there is no longer need for apostles or prophets. To some degree this is true. We don’t need to re-lay the foundation that has already been laid. But, if apostles and prophets were necessary for the foundation how much more are they necessary for the building itself.

Another passage that shows this idea of apostleship is in 1 Corinthians:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. (1 Cor 12:27-31)

This passage first of all separates the gifts of healing from the gift of apostleship. Because they are separate this shows that healings and miracles were not limited to the apostles. This passage is talking about the different gifts that people have. Here Paul lays out a hierarchy of the gifts. He says that first are apostles and then at the end he says to eagerly desire the greater gifts. It seems clear that Paul wants us to desire the gift of an apostle, even more than the other gifts.

Trying to discern what this gift actually is, is a challenge. It must be in someway related to the idea of sending, because it is from the root apostello – to send. Also, it is separated from the gifts of evangelism, pastoring, teaching, and prophecy as we just saw in Ephesians 4:11. From what I can tell, this gift is most similar to that of a missionary. I would say it is someone with a specific message (the Gospel) being sent to a specific group of people. This could also involve church planting.

The Title of Apostle

I want to add one more thought on the idea of apostles. There are some people today who claim the title of an apostle. Although there are some people in the Bible who claimed that title, I believe they were only those in the second category – those who had specifically seen Jesus and were witnesses to his message. For people today to claim status based on a gifting seems prideful. A gift is something that is freely given. It should be used with humility to serve others, not to put yourself on a pedestal.

Preparation and Ministry December 26, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Encouragements.
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I want to talk today about the importance of preparation. Too often our desire is to rush into the ministry God has for us thinking that that is what is important. What we fail to realize though is that if we are not fully ready we are susceptible to all types of attacks from the enemy. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”. Those in leadership, teachers, or others in authority over others, will be judged by a higher standard, because they are not only responsible for themselves but all those under them. God’s desire is not that people would fail their area of ministry. Unfortunately, there are many leaders who have lost their position of leadership due to things like hidden sin or burn out. God allows us to go through seasons of preparation so that we will be able to sustain the calling he has for us, so that we don’t fall into these traps. I want to look at two biblical examples of people that God took through seasons of preparation.

Joseph (Gen 37-50)

Joseph’s story is fairly well known, so I don’t want to recap the whole thing. I just want to hit a few highlights. God gave Joseph two dreams when he was younger (Gen 37:5-10) both showing that his family would bow down to him. God was showing Joseph a glimpse of the future he had for him as a ruler in Egypt. It is interesting to see what type of preparation God thinks is important for those who would lead a nation. In Joseph’s case, he was sold into slavery (Gen 37:28) and eventually thrown in jail (Gen 39), before he was made second in command of all Egypt. What strikes me though is Joseph’s faithfulness and integrity in the midst of all he went through. As a slave, he did his duties so well that the master (Potiphar) put him in charge of the whole house. Joseph even resisted the temptation to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, which is what eventually got him thrown in jail.

When he was in jail he remained faithful. The Lord gave him favor and Joseph was placed in charge of other prisoners. Joseph didn’t give up, and he didn’t shrink back from what God had for him in that season. He wasn’t focused on the future so that he saw his current situation as a “stepping stone” to future ministry. He was present and did his duties with excellence. The text never records him complaining on doubting God. He was simply faithfully doing whatever was put in front of him.

I believe God allowed Joseph to go through this time so that when he would eventually be elevated to a place of prominence he would have the character and wisdom to rule justly.

Moses

The main story of Moses is found in Exodus, but there is a recap in Acts 7. According to Acts 7:23-30, Moses was forty years old when he fled to Midian and spent forty years there before he saw the burning bush.

23 “As he was approaching the age of 40, he decided to visit his brothers, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his brothers would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’

27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed him away, saying:

Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday?

29 “At this disclosure, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons. 30 After 40 years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush.

According to this passage Moses had a desire to free his people (v. 25). Apparently God had already spoken something to him about him delivering the Israelites. In trying to do things his own way though, he ended up killing someone, alienating his own people and going on the run for his life.

Moses spent forty years in the desert of Midian. While there he got married and had a family. As a shepherd, he spent most of his time wandering around the countryside looking for food for the sheep. Not much is said about this part of his life. Whatever happened though, brought him to the place where he was willing to follow God’s plan for setting the Israelites free. I think it was this 40 year desert season that formed his character. I think it was because of this that Moses was called the most humble man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3).

When I look at Moses and Joseph, I see two great leaders who God took through long seasons of insignificance before they were placed in positions of prominence. Even Jesus himself didn’t start his ministry until he was 30 (Luke 3:23). Seasons of preparation are usually necessary for us to go through to form our character. James 1 talks about rejoicing in trials because they ultimately form our character.

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

This is where we have missed it in our view of leadership in the Church. People are too anxious to get into positions of leadership before they are ready. Gifting and calling do not trump character. In 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 Paul gives instruction for selecting the leaders of the churches. What he talks about are character traits. He doesn’t talk about schooling or spiritual gifts or charisma or business savy. What he talks about are people who live holy, righteous lives and are faithful to the truth of the Gospel.

Developing patience

I believe in God. I believe his promises are true and I believe that his timing is perfect. Sometimes (oftentimes) God speaks a promise over someone’s life that is for the distant future. We get ourselves in trouble when we try to make the promise come true by our own efforts. God spoke a huge promise to Abraham (then Abram) that he would be the father of many nations and would inherit a land that he had never been to. But, instead of waiting and allowing God to fulfill the promise his way, Abraham took matters into his own hands. Basically, because his wife was barren, Abraham (taking his wife’s advice) got one of the servant girls pregnant so that his line would continue through their offspring. The consequences of that decision are still being felt to this day. Instead of waiting, Abraham tried to force something that should never have been.

The time between receiving a promise and the fulfillment of that promise is a crucial time. It is in this time where we grow in patience. It allows our faith to grow. Faith is believing something even when we can’t see any evidence that it will happen (Heb 11:1).

Don’t despise small beginnings

Why am I saying all this? I know a lot of people who are anxious to get into ministry. They want to serve God and be used to change people’s lives. This is definitely admirable and for a lot of people this desire is from God. The problem comes when we are dissatisfied with where we are because it is not where we think we should be. We have bought into the lie that some ministries are more important than others, either because they are bigger or more influential. What we fail to realize is that as Christians we are ministers wherever we go and whatever we do. Whatever stage of the journey you are on, God has you there for a reason. If you are a youth leader, for instance, and you feel like God has called you to be a pastor, don’t slack on your duties or blame God that He has not fulfilled His promises. God will allow you to go through seasons of training and development to get you ready for future positions. It all comes back to the principle that whoever is faithful with little will be given much. Take whatever is before you and work at it with all your heart. Look at your role as if it was the most important role you could have been given, because it is. Leading 5 youth is no more important than leading a congregation of 5,000. Success is not based on numbers, but how you impact the people God has put in front of you.

I realize for a lot of us there are things God has called us to that seem impossible based on our current situation. God’s not looking for people who are exceptionally gifted, or talented. He is looking for people who are faithful to where they are at. Even if you are not in any professional ministry at all, do the best wherever you are. Be the best employee at your job. Be the best parent or spouse you can be. Your present situation is your ministry. Even if it’s small or seemingly insignificant it is of utmost importance. Not only do you have the opportunity to deeply impact those around you, but you also are in a place to grow your character. Instead of worrying about the future, focus your energy on the present. How can you best serve those around you right now?

Did Jesus Drink Alcohol? November 11, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Uncategorized.
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In the Christian community there are two main errors that people make when it comes to alcohol. On one side there is excess, where people drink as much as they want whenever they want. People on this side either think the Bible has nothing relevant to say about drinking alcohol or they don’t care what the Bible says and just want to live their life however they see fit. For them, the sections about drunkenness (i.e. Eph. 5:18) were only relevant to that culture and shouldn’t be applied today. This view has a low view of the Bible and a high view of self.

In response to this, there has arisen a movement of abstinence from all alcohol. People who saw the pain of alcoholism and the potential problems associated with drinking decided that it was better not to drink at all; not only taking a personal vow to not drink, but prohibiting others from doing so as well. In effect they made drinking a sin and condemned those who did it. This view claims to have a high view of Scripture, but in actuality is simply religious legalism. The problem here is a lack of understanding of what the Bible actually teaches on this subject.

As Christians, our goal should be to imitate Christ. The question then becomes, “did Jesus himself drink alcohol?” If so, we can say that the Bible allows at least some degree of drinking, and if not, we can make a case that we shouldn’t drink either. In order to do this, I want to first look at why people might think Jesus didn’t drink any alcohol and then finish with some passages showing that he did actually drink alcohol.

Nazirite Vows

Some people believe that Jesus took a Nazirite vow for his entire life and as part of the requirements to be a Nazirite, he didn’t drink alcohol. This is not to be confused with the term “Nazareth” or “Nazarene”. Jesus was in fact a “Nazarene” a person from “Nazareth”, but this is different than taking a “Nazirite” vow.

A Nazirite vow was a special vow people could make to God to consecrate themselves for a season. For the most part these were temporary vows, but there are examples of people who were to be set apart as Nazirites for their entire lives. The requirements to take on a Nazirite vow are laid out in Numbers 16:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

“‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

“‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead bodyEven if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.

Numbers 6:1-8

There are three main requirements for the Nazirite vow.

  1. Don’t drink wine or eat anything related to grapes.
  2. Don’t cut your hair.
  3. Don’t go near dead bodies (this includes both human and animal bodies).

The best Biblical example of someone taking on a Nazirite vow for their whole life is Sampson. In Judges 13 we see God specifically calling him out as a lifelong Nazirite:

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.

A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son.Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Judges 13:1-5

Unfortunately, Sampson broke his vow and lost the strength God had given him.

Another example of a lifelong Nazirite is John the Baptist. Although the term “Nazarite” is not used, God tells his parents not to allow him to have any wine or other fermented drink. Because this is one of the 3 main requirements for Nazirites a lot of scholars believe him to be one. This is seen in Luke 1:

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Luke 1:8-17

The thing that both Sampson and John the Baptist have in common is that God spoke to their parents ahead of time, giving them requirements that would set them apart specifically as Nazirites. In reading the account of the angel coming to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38) there is nothing about Jesus not drinking wine or not shaving his head. There isn’t even anything about him being set apart. As we look through the gospels though we do see him doing things that would have broken the Nazirite vow. There is no mention of Jesus cutting his hair or letting it grow, so we can’t take that requirement into account. As for being near dead bodies, there is clear evidence throughout the Gospels that Jesus not only went near them, but even touched them. Jesus went near the tomb of Lazarus to raise him from the dead (John 11), he grabbed the dead hand of Jairus’ daughter to heal her (Luke 8:54), and approached people carrying a dead person to heal him (Luke 7:11-15).

Jesus on the cross

There is another passage which could cause people to think that Jesus didn’t drink alcohol. When Jesus was on the cross he was offered a mixture of wine and myrrh, which he didn’t take.

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but

Mark 15:21-24 (cf. Matt. 27:34)

There is a lot of evidence for the medicinal use of wine in the Bible. Proverbs 31:6 says that alcohol should be used to ease the pain of those who are suffering. The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 uses wine and oil to dress the wounds of the man who was beaten (Luke 10:34). Paul even encourages Timothy to use wine to help with his stomach illness (1 Tim 5:23). In the case of Jesus on the cross, the soldiers were probably giving him the wine to ease his pain. Jesus wasn’t taking a stand against alcohol in general here; he was refusing to limit his suffering by drugging himself. He didn’t want to take the easy way out by numbing himself to the pain.

Jesus and alcohol

When people think about Jesus and alcohol usually they think of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine in John 2:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

John 2:1-10

At the very least we can say that Jesus did not have an issue being around people who were drinking. He even encourages it by turning the water into wine. Weddings were a time of celebration and drinking wine was a way to celebrate. It is not clear whether or not Jesus drank the wine here, but he did celebrate with the couple and had nothing against them using wine for their celebration.

(On a side note the word used throughout this passage for wine is the common word for wine in the New Testament. It is clear from the context that this is in fact wine and not grape juice. We can see this in verse 10 where he says that usually people bring out the cheap wine at the end of the celebration after people have already drank too much and can’t tell the difference. Grape juice in this context would not make any sense.)

For me one of the clearest examples of drinking alcohol is at the Last Supper. Jesus clearly drinks from the cup and passes it around for his disciples to drink from as well. He even tells them that this is the last time he will be drinking until they meet up again in his Father’s kingdom. (Again, this is wine not grape juice. The term “fruit of the vine” is a metaphor for wine.)

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matt 26:27-29 (cf. Mark 14:23-25; Luke22:20)

Finally there is this passage in Luke 7 (and Matt 11) where Jesus is compared with John the Baptist:

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Luke 7:33-34 (Matt 11:18)

As I noted above, John the Baptist was most likely a Nazirite and people said that he was demon possessed. Jesus is doing the very opposite of John the Baptist (another reason to believe that Jesus did not take a Nazirite vow) and eating and drinking with people. The people’s criticism of Jesus was that he was a “drunkard”. This only makes sense if Jesus was actually drinking alcohol. Although the people were condemning Jesus as a drunkard, I don’t believe Jesus was actually getting drunk. The Bible is very clear on not drinking to excess and so I believe their criticism was false, in the same way their criticism of John the Baptist was false. He obviously did not have a demon if he was leading people in repentance toward God.

Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with “tax collectors” and “sinners”. Part of what made Jesus so unique was that he was willing to spend time with these people. Drinking was a common part of the society back then and there is no reason to think that Jesus would have avoided all alcohol. What we need to understand is his motives for drinking. He was willing to drink with people as part of a social gathering to foster community and unity. He was willing to celebrate with people on their special occasion. What he was not willing to do though was use alcohol as a sedative to numb his pain (either physical or emotional).

Conclusion

My goal through this was not to give a comprehensive look at the Biblical perspective on drinking alcohol. I wanted instead to hone in on Jesus’ view and use that as a standard by which we can judge our own motives. More than the question of whether what we are doing (alcohol or anything else) is wrong, is the question of what is motivating to do what we are doing. For Jesus, his motives were to connect with people and celebrate with them. He wasn’t using alcohol to fix any emotional brokenness or numb his feelings. He didn’t need to drink to have a good time or feel relaxed. It was more about connecting with people.

For us today, we should have a similar view of drinking. Obviously, we don’t want to do anything illegal. But outside of drinking and driving or underage drinking, we should feel free to drink occasionally. (The Bible is clear about not drinking to excess or getting drunk.) It is when we start relying on alcohol to satisfy a need that it was never intended to fill that we get into trouble. On the other hand we shouldn’t be afraid to drink because we might go too far. Know your limits and stay within them.

Should Christians Date Unbelievers August 8, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.
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Intro

For those who know me, it should be obvious where I stand on this issue. My goal in writing this though is not to just give my opinion, but to see what the Bible actually says. One of the biggest problems in the Church today is that people do not take the time to search the Scriptures for themselves and see what it actually says. Sermons, teachings and books have replaced Bible study as our source for truth. We would rather eat a pastor’s regurgitated revelation than come to the source directly and put in the time and effort necessary to discover truth for ourselves.

I am going to use a lot of Scripture as I talk about this topic. Some verses I am just going to mention without quoting them directly. I encourage you to grab a Bible so you can look up these passages for yourself. Hopefully, through this you will gain a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject. Even if you don’t agree with my conclusions, take the time to look at these verses, or any others that may apply, so that you are forming your view from the standard of truth found in the Bible.

Old Testament

Before we get into the New Testament and the key text on this issue (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), I want to start with the Old Testament. Since the writers of the New Testament built a lot of their ideas from the foundation of the Old Testament it is important to understand the background of the OT.

God was clear with the Israelites that He did not want them to intermarry with the peoples from the surrounding nations.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
Deut 7:1-4

Here in Deuteronomy, we can see part of the reason for this. In verse 4, they are warned that foreign wives would turn their children away from following God to serve other gods. This is in direct violation of the first commandment that they should have no other gods before Him. God knew that their hearts would be led astray if they united themselves to the peoples around them. The Israelites were to be to God a holy (set apart) people. The natural result of two people getting married who worship separate gods is compromise.

Again we see, in Nehemiah, the seriousness of this offense.

23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
Neh 13:23-27

Nehemiah rebukes some of the men of Judah who had married foreign women. He uses Solomon as an example of how people can be led astray. Solomon was the wisest man who had ever lived and yet, even he, ended up building altars and worshipping foreign deities because his heart was drawn away by his wives. (The account of Solomon’s compromise is found in 1 Kings 11).
One of the strongest men who ever lived was Sampson. (His story is found in Judges 13-17.) Sampson fell in love with a woman (Delilah) from a foreign nation. If you remember the story, she coerced Sampson into giving away the secret of his strength and then exploited that secret for money. She clearly did not have his best interest in mind, but he was blinded by his emotions. She gives us a clear example of the problem with mixed allegiances. Her heart was not to follow after God, and her morals were corrupt. She ended up nagging Sampson so much that he compromised the very source of his strength.

These are two negative examples of people in the OT marrying people who weren’t part of the people of God. For a positive example let’s look at Proverbs 31. At the end of the book of Proverbs is a description of an ideal wife. The description is summed up in verse 31, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”. Having a great personality or looking good is not what is important Biblically. These are superficial characteristics and potentially misleading. What is important in a wife (or husband) is her relationship to God.

New Testament

Now that we have taken a brief look at the Old Testament, let’s look at what the New Testament has to say about this issue. As we look at the New Testament we can see that the idea of dating is completely absent. Dating is a relative new concept. In Biblical times, people simply got married. The idea of short term intimate bonding with a lot of different people to find out who you are compatible with is a foreign one. If you are not even interested in getting married to the person you are dating then it doesn’t matter if you are dating a Christian or an Unbeliever. This type of “trying people on to see if they fit” mentality is completely secular and should be avoided, if nothing else at least to preserve your heart from the cycle of bonding and severing that results from becoming emotionally/physically attached to people. Also, these type of short term relationships train us to be led by our emotions and undermine the values of commitment and faithfulness. When people lose interest or things get hard they simply break up. This type of dating is basically just training for divorce. Don’t get involved with someone unless you would consider marrying them.
The question the Bible answers is if you should marry an unbeliever or not. As we saw in the OT, God did not want the Israelites marrying those who were not part of the people of God. The same is true of the New Testament. I want to look at 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. This is the “unequally yoked” passage. (I have broken it down into phrases to help see the message of the text and so that you can have an example of what I do when studying a passage. I like breaking verses into smaller units to see the conjuctions and transitions more easily.)

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers;
for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness,
or what fellowship has light with darkness?
15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial,
or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
For we are the temple of the living God;
just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God,
and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Although this is fairly straightforward, I want to comment on a few things. First, I am using the New International Version (NIV) for this text. Their translation of verse 14 has the phrase “bound together”. This is a translation of the Greek – heterozugeo, which is better translated as “unequally yoked together”. You can see the two parts of the word heterozugeo, “hetero” and “zugos”. “Zugos” is the Greek word for “yoke” and “hetero” is the word for “different”. Unfortunately, this word only occurs once in the New Testament. The only other use in the Bible is found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Leviticus 19:19. Here it is used to forbid the mating of two different types of animals. A yoke is used to join two things together, and in the Corinthian passage Paul is using it to forbid the joining of two different people.

Although this is the only NT use of the word heterozugeo, there is another word made from the same word that helps shed some light on what this word means. The word “sunzugeo” has the same root word “zugos” – yoke. In this case it has the prefix “sun” which basically means “together”, so whereas heterozugeo is unequally yoked, sunzugeo is joined together. This is the word used in Mark 10:9 for joined together.

7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh. ’So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (cf. Matt. 19:6)

The context of this Mark passage is clearly about marriage, and because of the similarity of these two words, we can at least say that marriage is in the range of meaning for “heterozugeo”. The question we need to answer is what Paul was referring to by the phrase “unequally yoked”. This contrast between believers and unbelievers (in v. 15) is also found in the first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:12-16), where Paul gives instructions to Christians who are already married as to how they should relate to each other. This context shows how the terms “believer” and “unbeliever” are used by Paul in discussions about marriage. So, both the word translated unequally yoked (heterozugeo) and the idea of believers vs. unbelievers both have ties to marriage. Even if Paul has other things in mind, he at least has marriage in mind. In fact, he probably does have other unions in mind. He uses a lot of different terms to emphasize the oppositeness of the union – righteousness and lawlessness; light and darkness; Christ and Belial; believer and unbeliever; temple of God and idols. He is saying that things that are opposite do not go together. Someone who believes in God and someone who does not are opposite, and therefore should be joined together.

Verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 6 gives us a reason why. We are the temple of the living God. God has called us to be holy. He desires for us to be separate from the world around us – “come out from their midst and be separate” (v 17). Holiness is one of the main attributes of God. We cannot house God’s presence while putting our time and energy into someone who doesn’t even believe in God.

Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 7. In this discussion on marriage Paul states that, “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:30). Paul says, if your husband dies you are free to marry again, “only in the Lord”. Someone who does not believe in God can not fit under the category of “in the Lord”. Mark 10:9 says, “What God has joined together let no man separate”. How can someone seek God’s blessing in marriage when they are in a relationship God does not approve of?

In 1 Peter 3:1-7, Peter gives instructions for both husbands and wives on how they should live together. The instructions to the wives does not make sense if the wife is not a believer. Likewise, the instructions to husbands only makes sense in the context of two believers joined in marriage. In verse 7 he says, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Not only is prayer assumed by husbands, but the husband and wife are coheirs of the gracious gift of life (i.e. salvation).
We need to understand what the purpose of Christian marriage is. It isn’t just to make us happy or meet our emotional needs. (By the way, if you are looking for another person to fill a need that only God can meet you will remain unfulfilled.) Marriage has a few purposes, one of which is to be an example of Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5 lays this out for us.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:21-32

This passage has a lot to say about marriage and the roles of husbands and wives. I would encourage you to read it and study it (including the context around it) to understand marriage the way God intended it. We misrepresent God when we enter into relationships with unbelievers.

Conclusion

There is a lot more that can be said on this topic. I have tried to just give a brief Biblical basis for abstaining from relationships with unbelievers. This issue comes back to what we believe about the Bible. If the Bible says that this is wrong and we do it anyway, then we have set ourselves above the authority of the Bible. Our own personal happiness is not reason enough to trump Scripture. Following Christ is worth far more than the temporary pleasures of this world. I want to leave you with one final Scripture to meditate on – 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character”.

A lot of my thoughts on this issue were informed by teachings from Voddie Baucham. Here is what he has to say about Christians dating unbelievers.

Enjoy.

Eating Shellfish and Interpretative Methodologies June 24, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Uncategorized.
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Does the Bible prohibit eating shellfish? Before I answer this question I want you to take a second to think about how you would answer it. If you are familiar with the Bible, what verses would you site either for or against it? What arguments would you use to support your position?

I want to use this question as an example of different ways people come to the Bible. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people (whether knowingly or not) who misuse the Bible. Verses are taken out of context and even twisted to fit what people want the Bible to say. I chose this issue because it is relatively minor. We aren’t having huge debates over whether or not it is a sin to eat shellfish. Churches aren’t splitting because of it, nor are there massive amounts of books being written on this subject. Most of all though, this issue is something we can actually discuss without getting so emotional that the truth is drowned out.

How you answer this question says a lot about your view of the Bible and your approach to interpreting it. I want to go over a few different arguments people use when answering questions about what the Bible says on a specific issue. These arguments will be general enough to apply to different questions, but I am using the specific issue of eating shellfish as an example. My hope is that when you hear these arguments, applying to shellfish or any other issue, you will recognize the problem with them and be able to answer them Biblically.

Before we get into the arguments, let’s take a look at the two passages that people use to argue against eating shellfish.

 “‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.”

Lev. 11:9-12 

“Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales. But anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean.”

Deut. 14:9-10 

Whatever your view on this issue is, it must take these passages into account if you want to remain faithful to the authority of Scripture.

 

1. The Argument from Silence

There are some people that will say that if a specific word does not appear in Scripture then the Bible has nothing to say about it. In the case of eating shellfish, one could argue that since the word “shellfish” never appears in the Bible then the Bible has nothing to say about it. In fact the passages above are the closest references to the word “shellfish” in the Bible. You could make this sound even more dramatic by saying that Jesus himself never talked about shellfish, neither did Paul or any of the other New Testament writers. Of course this is false. We will get to Jesus’ thoughts on this issue later. But, just because the specific wording isn’t used doesn’t mean that the Bible is silent on the issue. If you read the two passages above, they clearly define our modern day understanding of shellfish. If a passage describes or even defines a specific idea isn’t that just as good as the word itself? The wording could have been more specific, listing out every animal that has fins and scales, and then listing out every animal that doesn’t have fins and scales, but this is a much more efficient way to say the exact same thing. By giving a general principle for people to follow there is less confusion on what is acceptable or not.

We can’t say that because a word is not found in the Bible, that the Bible has nothing to say about it. There are many things that the Bible doesn’t specifically address by exact word, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible has nothing to say about them. The word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t there. There are many issues today that the Biblical writers were not aware of. The great thing about the Bible is that because it was inspired by God, the message is applicable across time. We can apply the same principles today to our current situations that the original readers/hearers would have applied to their situations.

 

2. The Argument of Irrelevance

This argument is mostly applied to Old Testament law specifically Leviticus and Deuteronomy. There are a lot of laws in these two books that we currently don’t follow today. I would encourage you to read these two books for yourself (especially Leviticus) to see what they actually say. People will say that since some of these laws are not for us today, then we should disregard these books as relevant for today. In looking at the question of eating shellfish, someone might claim that this is simply and outdated law and therefore we don’t need to follow it. I have seen people use this law as an example of Christian hypocrisy. (This is part of the reason why I wanted to talk about it.) People will accuse Christians of “picking and choosing” which parts of the Bible to follow and which ones to discard seemingly at random. Some even use this to dismiss the entire Old Testament as irrelevant for us today (now that we have the New Testament), or even worse, disregard the entire Bible.

What saddens me about this argument is its lack of respect for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Instead of taking the time to study these passages and understand their purpose for being written, we simply discard them. The Bible isn’t a book of human thoughts and ideas, these are the words of God Himself (1 Thes 2:13). For thousands of years people gave their lives to copying and preserving these words so that we could have them today. People like William Tyndale literally died to make sure that we could read the Bible in our own language. Christians throughout history have sacrificed a lot on account of this book. God wanted us to have the Bible for a reason. All of it is important (2 Tim 3:16). Our frivolous handling of the Word of God shows our lack of reverence for it. Even if the message of a passage doesn’t seem relevant for today, we should ask the question why God, in His sovereignty, preserved it for us. We should ask ourselves if there is any message or teaching we can apply to ourselves today. In the case of eating shellfish, even if you believe this passage is irrelevant and doesn’t apply to us today, you should still try to understand why it was recorded in Scripture and if there is another point of application you can make for your life.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the laws in the Old Testament. As with any passage in the Bible, we need to read contextually. A lot of people assume that there are only two ways to understand these laws. Either we should follow all of them or none of them. Critics will say that because we don’t follow all these laws today, that we are just choosing the ones we want to follow based on personal preference or some other random method. If this was accurate, that there are people that choose which laws to follow based on their own desires, then we do have a problem. We need to have some sort of methodology to understand which laws apply today and which one’s don’t.

There are some laws in the Old Testament that we legitimately don’t need follow today. This doesn’t mean that they are irrelevant for us, but that we need to work harder to find application for our lives today. The Israelites, as God’s chosen people, were to be set apart from the nations around them.

You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.

Leviticus 18:3

But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. “You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart.”

Leviticus 20:24-26

These laws were not only for the benefit of the Israelites, but also as a witness to the nations around them. As Moses says:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:5-8

Just because these laws were specifically for the Israelites at that time, does not mean they are all irrelevant. Some of the laws transcended that particular context and are still valid for us today. Obviously the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) are still important today. There were also things that God judged the other nations for, that God also was calling Israel to obey. If God thought a practice was so bad that he destroyed nations for it, we should also not do it today. Leviticus 18 is a good example of this. This chapter lists a bunch of laws prohibiting different types of sexual relations. We see God prohibiting adultery (18:7), bestiality (18:23), and even a prohibition against child sacrifice (18:21). God judged other nations for these sins. How much more will He judge us when we commit these sins?

“‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

Leviticus 18:24-27

If we take passages like Leviticus 18 and say they are irrelevant, we have to say that these other laws are also irrelevant for us today. If some of these other laws are discarded as unimportant then the Bible also loses its voice on things such as bestiality or brother-sister sexual relations.

When we come to the laws in the Old Testament we need to look at the entire scope of Scripture. Sometimes God will specifically say a law from the Old Testament is no longer valid for us today. (This is the case with all the laws relating to animal sacrifices. Also, the rules regarding circumcision are no longer for us today.) There are laws in the O.T. which are reinforced in the New Testament. When we look at the Ten Commandments we see that Jesus himself took these to a higher level in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Jesus says that whereas the law prohibited actions, people will be judged now for their evil intentions. He gives the example of murder (one of the Ten Commandments) and says that we will be judged (Matt 5:21-22) if we hate our brother. He also talks about adultery and says that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matt 5:27-28).

We will look at what the New Testament has to say about eating shellfish later. The New Testament is actually pretty clear on this issue. If we limit ourselves to only looking at one or two verses from the Old Testament on particular issues we can actually miss the Biblical teaching on them. The entire Bible is inspired by God and if we are serious about following the teachings of the Bible we need to understand canonically (entire bible) what the Bible teaches.

 

3. The Argument of Love

The argument of love says that love is the highest good and so anything that is done in love is inherently good. This is somewhat a Biblical argument in that Scripture talks about love as the fulfillment of the law.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Rom 13:8-10

In the case of eating shellfish, someone might claim that they “love” eating lobster or clams and therefore it must be good to eat them.

As you can see, the main problem with this argument is a misunderstanding of the word “love”. If we are going to live out the virtue of love then we need to do it as God defines it, not how we define it. Claiming to “love” shellfish is really just saying that you really like it. When you are eating lobster or shrimp, you don’t form a deep intimate bond with it. You eat the good parts and throw out the bad parts. This is a selfish type of love in that it is entirely based on one’s own desires for self-gratification.

Unfortunately there when we look at relationships today, we can see a lot of things that are called “love” that are not actually loving (or even abuse). There are people that say they love each other, but will talk about them behind their back. People will lie to each other and say all kinds of mean things to each other, all the while claiming to love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives a great description of godly love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is patient and kind, and keeps no record of wrongs. Can you really say you love someone if you make fun of them or put them down, even if you are joking? Is it loving to lie to people or ignore them? We need a revolution in relationships today. What we call love is mostly motivated by our own selfish desires and wants and isn’t the type of humble service and self-sacrifice that God desires.

In order to understand Biblical love, we need to understand God’s love. We can’t put our definition of love above God’s, since He is the very embodiment of love. God is love. The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Whatever else we love should be second to our love for God. John 14:15 says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Loving God, means keeping his commandments. We don’t follow God’s commands to earn our righteousness or His love. When we truly love God, the natural outcome will be to follow His commands.

The problem arises when what we enjoy takes the place of loving God. If the Bible teaches that something is a sin and we do it anyway, we are not loving God with our actions. We can’t allow any other love to take the place of our love for God. By not following His commands we are essentially saying that we don’t love God.

 

4. The Argument of Tolerance

Tolerance is one of those concepts that the world highly values that has infiltrated into the Church. A lot of people will claim (both in and out of the Church) that love is the highest value, but practically speaking, tolerance seems to be the highest good today. As I see it, tolerance is the view that people should be allowed to live their lives however they want without being judged by others. If you say anything against what someone is doing it is considered intolerant.

Someone might say they enjoying eating shellfish, so they should be able to eat it. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says about it, and if anyone says it’s wrong then they are being intolerant. The way someone chooses to live in effect trumps both the Bible and truth.

The problem with this is that it starts with the individual as the source of what is right and wrong. If you already believe something is right or wrong, you will read the Bible through that lens and potentially misread the Bible to fit your desires. We cannot be the measure of what is right and wrong. The ultimate authority must be in what God has spoken. He is the one who created us and knows what is best.

The question becomes, is there anything that can be considered wrong? Can we tell someone what they are doing is wrong, or would that be judgmental? I feel like we are losing our voice in society. The argument of tolerance is an argument that, in effect, silences objections. Instead of discussing issues, we end up shutting people down. Whatever your view on an issue, you should have the humility to listen to the other side and be willing to challenge your own position. We are only hurting ourselves when we hinder rational discussion and debate.

I need to make one final point on this argument. There are some people that are legitimately intolerant. They can be so focused on what they believe is true that they put others down, bully them or even verbally or physically attack them. Even if you believe you are right, it is never alright to harm others because they believe something different. We need to be gracious in our speech and respectful of others. There needs to be some sort of middle ground where we can disagree with someone and yet not belittle or insult them in the process. We have some work to do as a society to get to the point where this is the norm, but I am believing for it.

 

Does the Bible prohibit the eating of shellfish?

I have provided a number of arguments that people might use to validate their desire to eat shellfish. Our final authority though should be the Bible as God’s word to us. As we look at the two verses I put at the beginning of this post, we can see a clear prohibition of eating shellfish (even though the word “shellfish” isn’t there). As I mentioned before, we need to take these into account if we want to be faithful to the text. If these were the only two verses about eating shellfish then it might be clear, but there are actually more passages that we need to look at to understand the overall message of the Bible on this issue.

I want to briefly look at two passages from the New Testament that can inform are view on this issue. In Acts there is a passage that talks about a vision God gives to Peter. In this vision God tells Peter to eat food that was “unclean”. In this passage God is changing Peter’s views on what is clean and what is unclean. Ultimately, this is the beginning of the Gentiles being included into the people of God. Right after this, Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius and both he and his family (all Gentiles) get saved. This passage teaches that foods that were once considered unclean are now clean, and in the same way, people that were once considered unclean are now clean.

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Acts 10:9-15

One final passage I want to look at is from the Gospels. Jesus is teaching the people that the things that defile people are their evil thoughts and actions, not the food they eat. Food goes into the body and them comes out of their body. It is actually the things that come out of people’s hearts that defiles them. Jesus in this passage is affirming the eating of shellfish for today.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-23

 

Conclusion

There are many issues that we are facing in our society today. We need to have an answer to the questions the world is asking. I have provided a few of the arguments people use to either discount or misread the Bible. If we truly value Scripture we will seek to understand it in its entirety. Even when we come across difficult passages we can’t give up on the Bible, but dive in deeper and seek to understand what they are saying. The Bible may not specifically mention an issue, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible has nothing to say about it. There are always principles we can apply to whatever issue we are going through. As we prayerfully seek God and meditate on His truth, He will guide us and direct us righteously.

 

 

What did you come out to see? (Luke 7:24-26) June 1, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.
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I was thinking about a passage recently: Luke 7:24-26. I want to talk a little about this specific section, but I wanted to put the rest of the passage so that you could see it in its context (see below). I have heard a lot of sermons in my life, and there are certain passages that get preached over and over again, while others get skipped altogether. I personally have never heard anything on Luke 7:24-26, although I have at least heard pastors mention some of the Scriptures around it. I’ve heard pastors talk about verses 18-23, usually making the point that Jesus’ proof that he was the Messiah was found in the miraculous things he did.

I’ve also heard a lot about verse 28 – “…the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (speaking of John the Baptist). This is somewhat of a difficult saying, but I think he is talking about the beginning of the new covenant. John the Baptist was the final prophet before Jesus came. He preached repentance and holiness, but it wasn’t until Jesus came and ushered in the Kingdom of God that people had the opportunity to be fully and completely cleansed of their sins. All those after John who believe in Jesus are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6) and don’t have to worry about continually offering animal sacrifices to be cleansed from their sins.
All that is interesting stuff, but I want to talk about this middle passage (vv. 24-26). Jesus asks the people what they came out to see, a reed swayed by the wind, or a man dressed in fine clothes. This is actually a rhetorical question. He knows that the answer is “no”. He is trying to get them to think about why they actually came out.

By looking at the comparisons Jesus makes, we can get an idea of what he is talking about. First, the two images he gives of a reed and a man in fine clothes are most likely parallel to each other, meaning that they are talking about the same topic. The question then is, what do a reed swaying in the wind and a man in fine clothes have in common? But, whatever the answer to that question is, also has to contrast what he says later, that they came out to see a prophet.

The idea of a reed blowing, contrasts its rigidity. It is soft, flexible and flows with the wind. The idea of a man in fine clothes contrasts well with John the Baptist’s clothes, which consisted of camel’s hair and a leather belt. The idea that Jesus is conveying here is the contrast between what they were coming to see. He is contrasting the softness of a reed, or the luxury of a man in fine clothes with the roughness of John the Baptist. They weren’t there, to see something fancy, they were there to hear a prophet. The people obviously weren’t going out to the desert to see John’s clothes or to be entertained. They were there to hear the word of the Lord.

For the people who heard Jesus speak these words, they probably thought about why they came out there. They would agree that they weren’t looking to see something that would entertain them. They were there to hear what God wanted to say to them. Even though the message (check out Luke 3) was pretty harsh, it was truth. It was this message that they were seeking, not the person.

For us today, we don’t have to go out to the desert to hear God. We have His word, the Bible, readily available. We need to ask ourselves a similar question, “what am I coming to the Bible to see?”. Are we just reading the Bible to hear some cool stories? Do we have some preconceived doctrine that we are trying to find support of in the Bible? Or, are we actually coming to the Bible because we believe it is God’s word to us? Are we willing to hear what God would say to us, even if it is uncomfortable, or might make us have to change? Are we even willing to ask God to speak to us through His word, or is it just something we do because we feel we have to?

Luke 7:18-32
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

27 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Reflection
As you read the Bible, I would encourage you to pray before you start. Ask God to speak what He wants to speak to you as you read. Come with expectancy. God wants to speak to you. When He does, take that message to heart. These are the words of God. If we let them, they will transform our lives.