RSS

Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

What Does It Mean To Be “God’s Chosen People”?

For 8 years I led a Bible study for inmates at “the Walls”, the castle-like maximum security prison in the middle of Waupun. During this time, one of the most interesting characters I met was neither a guard nor an inmate but another prison “minister” like me, an orthodox Rabbi not surprisingly named Moshe (Moses). Moshe was a delightful and somewhat quirky (who knows what he would say about me?) man, and the two of us developed a blessed, if not friendship, then “acquaintance-ship”. Through the years when we passed through the metal detector and were given a “ride” (the Walls’ term for being escorted in or out of the facility), I would occasionally pump him for information about his faith, and he was a fascinating tutor.

Now, along the way in life I have known or heard of people who once considered themselves Christians but who followed Moshe and many others in converting to Judaism. When I hear of such a conversion, I often want to ask the person kindly, “Have you thoughtfully considered what you’re doing?” I don’t know if they have, but it seems to me that these folks imagine that everything must be honky-dory, even with Jesus Himself; because, after all, the Jews are “God’s chosen people” and to follow Judaism is simply to get back to the foundations of the “Christian” faith, right?

Sorry…I don’t think so, at least not according to the teaching of the New Testament.

Here’s the problem: to adhere to the tenets of Judaism, you must deny that Jesus is the Messiah. Jewish people, after all, are still looking for the One who is to come. However you shake it, in their eyes, Jesus wasn’t “it”. So, unless you are a “Messianic Jew” (code for Christians with Jewish ancestry who often observe Jewish festivals and such), you reject Jesus. John makes it clear why this is a problem…

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 (ESV)

Do you see the problem? Deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and you show that you do not know the Father. Deny that Jesus is the Christ and you lose any hope of God’s provision for propitiation (1 John 2:2). The Jews are “God’s chosen people,” but Paul makes it clear that being a real Jew is a matter of sharing the faith of Abraham, who “believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22; Genesis 15:6).

All this is why Paul was so heartbroken over the state of his ancestral people. Speaking of his Jewish brothers, he said…

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:1-3 (ESV)

Moshe was a great guy, and definitely sincere, but notice that it’s not about that – some people raise sincerity to an all-important level, and in fact, Paul says that many Jews have a sincere “zeal for God.” But take note…you can be sincerely wrong.

Paul describes the heart of the Jewish problem in Romans 10:3 (above), and in so doing he describes not only Jews but also followers of all other religions, and even many who today would consider themselves Christians – Paul says they are “trying to establish their own righteousness”. But the Old Testament prophet Isaiah made it clear that any righteousness we can offer is only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus Himself says that not all who call themselves His followers will be with Him in eternity; for on Judgment Day, He warns that He will reject the many who come pleading their case with what they have “done” in His name (Matthew 7:22, 23).

So, if your current plan as you approach That Day is to point to what you’ve accomplished for God, hurry and throw the plan out the window. For the teaching of the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) is clear: the only hope of the Jews and everyone else for salvation is…the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah who has already come…2,000 years ago.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (ESV)

 

For Tuesday, November 24th: 1 John 3

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

The Ultimate “Compliment” That Peter Paid To Paul

There is a wonderful little insight that comes at the end of 2 Peter, and it has to do with how we come to know that the New Testament is the Word of God. Peter is discussing the Apostle Paul’s writings, and what he says is almost funny: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand…” Hah! Those who have tried to understand Romans 11 know just what he’s talking about. Take a look at the context…

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

That last phrase almost seems a “throwaway” comment, except that nothing in the Bible is throwaway. So, when Peter says, “…as they do the other Scriptures,” he is saying something momentous. The Greek word Peter uses for “Scriptures” is “graphe” and it is what Bible scholars would call a technical term. In other words, whenever you see the word “graphe” in the New Testament, it always refers to the Old Testament. Always.

And to a Jew like Peter, Scripture, or as we know it, the Old Testament…was beyond compare. You see, Simon Peter was not using the word “Scripture” in the sense that we sometimes say other faiths have their scriptures, Muslims – the Koran, and Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita, etc. No, no, no. “Graphe” was a precious word to Peter and the other Apostles. So, with that said, do you see what Peter is doing? He is equating Paul’s writings with other parts of the Bible. He is saying that Paul wrote Scripture. Peter is saying that Paul wrote the Bible. Now, in some ways that should be no surprise to a Christian, because we are used to understanding the New Testament as the Word of God, but if you have ever wondered what they thought of one another’s writings, now you know.

The Apostle Paul does the same thing, only with another portion of the New Testament.  Paul writes to Timothy…

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18 (ESV)

That first phrase about muzzling an ox is from Deuteronomy, so it’s no surprise that Paul refers to it as Scripture, but the second phrase is not found in the Old Testament, but in Luke’s Gospel (10:7).

So the New Testament writers were referring to one another’s writings as Scripture, and the early church, of course, followed course and did the same. It’s a fascinating little study, and one that gives me a measure of delight. I hope you too.

For Friday, November 20th: 1 John 1

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Deepest Book in the New Testament

Hebrews, that is.

Don’t you think so? The writer, Mr. Anonymous, is not exactly skimming the surface. After all, there’s the question of “Sabbath rest” and Moses and angels. There are high priests and losing your salvation (or not losing your salvation!) and solid food.

And don’t get me started about Melchizedek.

But what is Hebrews really about…really?

When you get right down to it, isn’t it about the Gospel? I mentioned in a previous post that the theme of this letter is, “Jesus is better.” And in the end, that means He is a better way of salvation. And long about chapter 10, this starts to become really clear…

  • the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…    Hebrews 10:1 (ESV)
  • For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…    Hebrews 10:4 (ESV)
  • But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…    Hebrews 10:12 (ESV)

Here’s what I’m driving at – there are those who say that the gospel is only for beginners in the Christian life. That’s what I always used to think. You get the gospel, that Christ died for your sins, and salvation is by grace alone through faith, and then you move on to the deeper stuff, the important stuff, you know, the discipleship type stuff. Grace would therefore only be for entry into the Christian life…doing would be for disciples.

But if Hebrews is really one of the most challenging books in the New Testament, and if Hebrews is really all about the Gospel, then maybe it doesn’t get any deeper than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Maybe the Gospel of Grace is the ultimate discipleship curriculum.

And as someone has said, maybe the Gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z’s. Maybe the Gospel is really what life is all about.

Consider, as a last thought, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones on the Apostle Paul:

“Here is a man writing at the full height of his maturity as a Christian, the great apostle to the Gentiles. At the very height of his experience he says, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ He has not left it to go on to some higher reaches. The cross is still everything to him. Why? Because, he has found that everything proceeds from the cross. It is the source and the fount of everything that he has as a Christian, everything that he has become, everything that he can ever hope for.”

For tomorrow, Wednesday, September 30: Hebrews 11

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

In a very brief letter of the New Testament, Paul urges his friend Philemon to release the slave Onesimus. Paul had met Onesimus in prison and led him to Christ, but once the young man was released, Paul sent him back to Philemon with this instruction:

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. Philemon 1:12-14 (ESV)

Many people have rejected the Bible because they say it condones modern day slavery, but in an instructive portion of his excellent sermon, “Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?”, Tim Keller shows how this is far from the case. In the process, he urges us to consider that the way we are understanding and (sometimes) rejecting the Bible’s teaching may just mean that we are misunderstanding what it is saying:

“It is very easy to read a passage of the Bible, read it through your cultural blinders, and therefore, misunderstand what it’s actually teaching. My example is slavery…Many, many times people say, ‘The Bible condones slavery, and that was wrong. Therefore, it’s wrong on this as well.’ Very often people start with that as the premise, and they go off in various directions to undermine biblical authority. I want to ask a question. Does the Bible actually condone slavery? You say, ‘Well, of course! Look at these passages where Paul says, ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters …’ There it is. He condones slavery.’

“You know, if you actually go into one book of the New Testament where Paul actually talks to a master/servant relationship … He talks both to Onesimus, who is a servant, and Philemon, the master. If you actually read that book and you see how Paul talks and you see how that relationship works between Onesimus and Philemon, you begin to realize this is more like something you might called indentured servanthood. It’s not what we think of as slavery. That’s the point. When you and I see the word slave in the Bible, you immediately think of seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century New World slavery, race based, African slavery. That’s immediately what you and I think of. When you do that, when you read what the Bible says, when you see the Bible’s slave and you read it through those blinders, you actually aren’t quite understanding what the Bible is teaching.

“Murray Harris was a historian who wrote a book about what slavery was like in the first century Greco-Roman world (the slaves Paul was talking to)…Interestingly enough, he says in Greco-Roman times,

  • First, slaves were not distinguishable from anyone else by race, speech, or clothing. They looked and lived like everyone else and were never segregated off from the rest of society in any way.
  • Second, slaves were more educated than their owners in many cases and many times held high managerial positions.
  • Third, from a financial standpoint, slaves made the same wages as free laborers and, therefore, were not themselves usually poor and often accrued enough personal capital to buy themselves out.
  • Fourth, very few people were slaves for life in the first century. Most expected to be manumitted after about 10 years or by their late thirties at the latest. In contrast, New World slavery (seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century slavery) was race based, and its default mode was slavery for life. Also, the African slave trade was begun and resourced through kidnapping, which the Bible unconditionally condemns in 1 Timothy 1:9–11 and Deuteronomy 24:7.

“Therefore, while the early Christians, like Saint Paul, facing first-century slavery discouraged it (like Paul was always saying to slaves, ‘Get free if you can’) but didn’t go on a campaign to end it, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Christians, when faced with New World-style slavery did work for its complete abolition because it could not be squared in any way with biblical teaching. The point is, when you hear somebody say, ‘The Bible condones slavery,’ you say, ‘No, it didn’t. Not the way you and I define slavery. It’s not talking about that. Maybe we ought to use a different word there when we translate it.’ You say (rightly so), ‘Oh, didn’t people in the South use those biblical passages (‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters …’) in order to try to subjugate the African slaves?’ Yes, but they were reading it through their cultural blinders too. It was an absolutely illegitimate twisting and perversion of what the Scripture taught. Therefore, please consider the possibility…that when you read something in the Scripture and it seems very offensive, you’re reading it through your cultural blinders.”

For tomorrow, Wednesday, September 16th: Hebrews 1

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

The Marks of a Christian

Titus 2 is fascinating – a Bible chapter telling us what should mark the life of different “life-stage” Christians (older men, younger women, etc.). Apparently each life stage has certain extra needs and challenges (younger men apparently have only one: self-controlled!). So just for fun, I took a bit of liberty and combined them, compiling a large list of what all believers should be. Doing it this way obviously leaves out some intended meaning, and so I’m not going to put it in leather and call it the Bible, but it yields some interesting results. Some traits, for instance, are repeated: self-controlled shows up four times (that says something in itself), dignified and submissive, twice each.

Read to the end to discover the secret to becoming all these things…

  • Sober-minded
  • dignified
  • self-controlled
  • sound in faith
  • loving
  • steadfast
  • reverent in behavior
  • not slanderers
  • not slaves to much wine
  • teachers of what is good
  • pure
  • working at home
  • kind
  • submissive (to their own husbands – wives / to their own masters – slaves)
  • doing good works
  • showing integrity in teaching
  • dignified
  • well-pleasing
  • not argumentative
  • not pilfering
  • showing all good faith

And I will never tire of pointing out what the Bible again and again says is the secret to becoming all that God wants us to be: His grace. So, right after Paul finishes listing these various traits, he gives us our motivation:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11, 12 (ESV)

 

For Monday, September 14: Titus 3

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What Does “To the Pure, All Things Are Pure,” Mean?

Have you ever wondered?

It’s one of those biblical proverbs that gets quoted a lot…but wrongly. Mostly, I have heard it quoted in terms of warning people away from having a “dirty mind”. You know, like you shouldn’t see sexual things in an otherwise innocent comment. If you do see a double entendre where one was not meant, it shows that your mind is not pure, because, “to the pure, all things are pure.”

But that’s not what Paul is saying.

Here is the full verse…

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. Titus 1:15 (ESV)

He is talking about life as a Christian. If you are a believer, you are cleansed by the blood of Christ, and you are therefore by definition, pure. And, as Paul said elsewhere, “all things are lawful for me.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) In other words, all things are pure for you to partake in. Or, as Paul wrote to Timothy,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1 (ESV)

The scariest part of Titus 1:15, however, is the second part (…to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure…). In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, Homer Kent Jr. writes, “To unbelievers, however, nothing is clean because their sinful lives, thoughts, and motives, which are at cross-purposes with God, will infect even that which is intrinsically pure. Good food will be used to gain strength tor evil deeds. Such persons are defiled in their intellectual and moral nature so that their decisions and attitudes are no longer reliable guides. Only the light of the Gospel and the regeneration of the Spirit can bring such persons into real purity.”

Here is at least one great application – there is a freedom in Christ which is not possible to those outside of Him. Though people outside of the family of God often think we are the ones who are constrained, how wrong they are. In truth, there is a world of freedom available to us, yet we should not use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but should serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). Unbelievers, on the other hand, are constrained to live lives of “wrong choices” and impurity.

Their only hope is the only hope of us all – the blood of Christ, which cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

 

For tomorrow, Friday, September 11: Titus 2

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

The Joy of Books

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 2 Timothy 4:13 (ESV)

Now here is a kindred spirit: Paul is writing his protégé Timothy from prison, and apparently, the younger man is coming for a visit. So Paul tells him that when he does finally hit the road, he should be sure to bring three things: first, a cloak he lent to Carpus (Roman prisons can be cold), books, and then, especially, the parchments.

So, aside from wanting to be warm in prison, Paul wanted something to read.

Ah, books.

As for me, my first love for books was of the comic variety. Sometime after 2nd or 3rd grade I began to purchase comic books at Reeves Drug store in downtown Antioch, Illinois. Action Comics, Superman, Batman, etc. I know that you non-comic readers probably think this a very juvenile appreciation, and I actually was pretty young, but I did read them through high school, and loved them. My dad had been a comic book fan in his day, and while Mom thought they were a waste of money, in contrast Dad would often ask me if he could read them after I was finished. So I can be thankful for Mom trying to teach me thrift, and for Dad…well, just thankful for Dad.

In English class during 6th or 7th grade, I remember being able to order books, along with a cool kids mag called “Dynamite!” Oh, the days when the box of books would arrive and we could take our beloved possessions home. Perhaps it was here that I began to love my books. And it developed quickly. In high school, visiting in my room one day, my good buddy Ed joked that I had a book on every subject imaginable. Not quite…but it would have been nice.

Then I became a Christian in 1982, and I discovered the Great Book. Oh my. A book of God’s words! Could there be anything greater? Answer: No, not at all. And on a lesser but happy note, it was at this same time that I discovered there was actually something called a “Christian book store”. No way. This was glorious. I had passed by “religious book stores” in my pre-Christian days, but they were largely invisible. Now I got it: a whole bookstore devoted to Jesus. And they had Petra and Amy Grant records too. Life was good.

And then God called me to full-time vocational ministry. This was clearly one of his great kindnesses to me. I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of churches give their pastors what is called a book allowance. It’s true here: every year at Edgewood, they give me more money to buy more books. You should be me.

My latest joy in books was discovered 3 or 4 years ago when I happened onto Audible books. I had listened to books before, of course, but never so conveniently with an app on the phone. Now I could literally read almost all the time (bike rides, showering, doing the dishes, etc). My kids were home for Labor Day weekend, and I drove them back to college Monday night. After saying goodbye, it was just me and three hours of highway, during which I enjoyed good time with my latest “listen”: Exodus by Leon Uris, historical fiction about the establishment of a Jewish homeland. No wasted time, just joy.

So all this is to say that I appreciate Paul’s desires, and I would concur. And if you ever hear that I’ve been locked up (hopefully for preaching the gospel and not grand theft auto), and you’re coming for a visit, well you know…don’t come empty handed.

 

Tomorrow: Thursday, September 10th: Titus 1

 

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: