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Suffering

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

The Sunday school lesson I taught this morning, based in 2 Corinthians 4, asked, “How can I honor God in my suffering?” Who likes to suffer? Who wants to suffer? The title of the lesson congers up all kinds of images of suffering. We might suffer due to a loss of work. We could suffer from loss of health. We can suffer from the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a marriage. We suffer when our children go astray.

Life necessarily includes a certain amount of suffering, and while the manner in which we handle our suffering can produce a testimony that honors God, that is not exactly what Paul had in mind when he penned this passage to the church in Corinth. Paul sets himself as an example of suffering, but not in the way we might think. Let’s examine the passage more closely.

(2 Corinthians 4:7)  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

What treasure to which Paul refers? It is a mystery veiled in the Old Testament to which the Jews were and still are blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14-18). At the beginning of Chapter 4, Paul explains that he has the task of unveiling the mystery (2 Corinthians 4:1) to the Jew first and also to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). The “lost” cannot understand the Gospel because it is “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Of this treasure, Paul says,  “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). He is compelled to preach, “For God, … hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face [πρόσωπον – prosopon — in the presence] of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

This treasure is kept in “earthen vessels.” By this Paul is referring to his physical body. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). The problem with “earthen vessels” – clay pots – is that they are fragile and easily broken. Consider the Fall. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:6-7). Man sinned resulting in physical and spiritual death and a curse upon God’s perfect creation.

Why place such a great treasure in such weak containers? When submitted to God, these fragile clay pots make is so “that the excellency of the power may be of God.” In that way, God receives the glory “and not of us.” Having this treasure hidden within comes at a cost. Paul, referring to himself as “we,” explains.

(2 Corinthians 4:8-9)  We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

These two verses demonstrate that Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A close examination of some key words makes this clear. The word translated “troubled” (θλίβω — thlibo) means to be “pressed, squeezed” – as a grape in a wine press. Yet, Paul is not “distressed” (στενοχωρέω — stenochoreo) meaning “crushed.” He is “perplexed” (ἀπορέω — aporeo) seeming “to have no way out;” “to be at a loss;” “to be without resources,” but not in “despair” (ἐξαπορέομαι — exaporeomai), that is, “to be utterly at a loss; or utterly destitute.” As long as God grants us breath, we can take comfort knowing that God will never abandon us. The psalmist says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

Paul states that he has been “persecuted” (διώκω – dioko), that is. “made to run or flee,” but not “forsaken” (ἐγκαταλείπω — egkataleipo), which means “to leave behind, abandon, desert.” He has been “cast down” (καταβάλλω — kataballo) – “to throw to the ground, prostate.” The implication is to be put down hard with violence, but he’s not been “destroyed” (ἀπόλλυμι — apollumi), that is, “to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin; to render useless; to kill.”

(2 Corinthians 4:10-11)  Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

Paul bears the Gospel (the treasure) in his body – his “earthen vessel.” It is the Gospel is the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The end to which he bears the Gospel is “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our [his] body.” The word “manifest” (φανερόω) means “to render apparent;” “to make actual and visible, i.e., realized;” also “to make visible or known what has been hidden or unknown” That “mystery” hidden from the Jews – God’s salvation through Jesus Christ – reveals itself in Paul’s life as it should in the life of every true believer.

The words “live” and “life” are related. The Greek word translated “live” (ζάω – zaō , verb) means “to have true life and worthy of the name;” the “essence” of living. Like was the Greek word translated “life” (ζωή – zōē, noun) means “the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God.” Jesus said, “… I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

There is another Greek word translated “life” that expresses life to a lesser degree. The Greek word βίος means “the present state of existence,” biological life. This is just mere existence. Jesus spoke of this kind of life in His “Parable of the Sower” also known as the “Parable of the Soils” (more appropriately). Comparing the soil to people, Jesus explained,  “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14). These people did not have ζωή (zōē), but Paul did.

Still, he says that he is “alway delivered unto death.” The “death” to which he speaks is not the cessation of physical existence. He referred to death to self (Romans 6:4-5; 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3), death to sin (Romans 6:1-2; 8:10; 1 Peter 2:24), and death to the law (Galatians 2:19). Paul summed up his attitude toward his “suffering” like this, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul dies “for Jesus’ sake.”

Verses 10 and 11 repeat the same ending phrase: “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body/mortal flesh” We “suffer” so that the “life of Jesus” in us may be apparent to the lost world around us.

(2 Corinthians 4:12-13)  So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak (quoting Psalm 116:10).

By putting his life to “death,” Paul helps others to find “life.” One commentary put it like this: “The “death” of Christ manifested in the continual “perishing of our outward man” (2Co_4:16), works peculiarly in us, and is the means of working spiritual “life” in you. The life whereof we witness in our bodily dying, extends beyond ourselves, and is brought by our very dying to you.” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary)

(2 Corinthians 4:14)  Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.

The One who raised up Jesus will do the same for us. Death is not the end. We have a hope beyond. We are joined to the “living” Christ. Paul is dead to the things of this world because he is joined to Christ. We should follow his example!

(2 Corinthians 4:15)  For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

Paul’s suffering is for the sake of the church; it is for their benefit – “for your sakes.” The Greek word translated “abundant” (πλεονάζω – pleonazō) means “to do, make or be more, that is, increase.” The word “grace” (χάρις – charis) is “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech.” The result of this “abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many “redound” (περισσεύω – perisseuō), that is, “to superabound (in quantity or quality), be in excess, be superfluous” “to the glory of God.”

(2 Corinthians 4:16)  For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

Through his “suffering,” Paul presses on – “we faint not.” Paul expresses this sentiment when he writes to the church in Philippi. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Not dissuaded by his circumstances, Paul notes that “though the outward man, [i.e., the physical body] perish, the inward man [i.e., the spirit] is renewed” (through the power of Jesus Christ in us).

(2 Corinthians 4:17)  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

Our suffering is small compared to our eternal reward. Our time on earth is but a nanosecond in the light of eternity. The “suffering” our Lord asks us to bear is but a “light affliction.” Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

(2 Corinthians 4:18)  While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Everything in this life is temporal. What lies beyond in the unseen future is eternal. The writer to the Hebrews reminds is that following the Lord requires faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Paul’s example of “suffering” had more to do with self-denial for the furtherance of the Gospel. Indeed, Paul suffered physical and mental anguish and material deprivation. His list of sufferings was long.

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, emphasis mine).

After all of this, he concludes,

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:12-13)

The answer to the question, “How can I honor God in my suffering?” is to die to self, live for God in all that we do, and trust Him to supply all your needs – especially when it comes to sharing the Gospel so that others may live. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

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Stewardship

The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)

When the topic of stewardship comes up in church, it typically comes up around the time of funding the next year’s church budget. The pastor usually brings a sermon encouraging church members to faithfully tithe – give 10% of their income – to the church. However, stewardship has almost nothing to do with tithing, although tithing is certainly a part.

A “steward,” by definition is a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another. A steward is also a person who has charge of the household of another, buying or obtaining food, directing the servants.

We find the first example of a steward in the Bible in Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2). He was steward of Abram’s household and heir apparent of Abram’s possessions since Abram at that time had no children. After Isaac, the promised son, came along and after Sarah died (Genesis 23:1-2), Abraham sent Eliezer to Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24). The responsibility was unimaginably great, and Abraham entrusted Eliezer with great wealth trusting that God would direct him to the perfect bride. This was no small trust!

The second example of a steward in the Bible is Joseph, who was sold into captivity by his brothers (Genesis 37:28). In Egypt, Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard, Potiphar, bought Joseph (Genesis 37:36) as a household slave. Soon, Joseph showed his worth and Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household. “And it came to pass from the time that he [Potiphar] had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field” (Genesis 39:5, emphasis mine).

Jesus offered two examples of stewards. In one parable, the master gave differing amounts of money to his three stewards to manage (Matthew 25:14-30), and he went off on an extended journey. When he returned, the ones to whom he gave five and two talents respectively doubled their master’s money, but the one to whom he gave only one talent did nothing with the talent and returned to his master the original amount.

In the second example, a “nobleman” gave his ten stewards equal amounts of money (Luke 19:11-27) and left on an extended journey to claim his kingdom. Seven of the ten refused to accept him as king when he returned and paid for it with their lives. One steward took what his master entrusted to him and returned ten times the amount. A second took the “pound” he was given and return five times the amount. The third did nothing with his charge and lost his position as a steward.

From these examples, we learn that the steward possesses nothing of his own; rather, he manages the possessions of his master. More than that, the “good” steward makes a profit for his master and increased the master’s wealth.

In a similar sense, we are the stewards of all that God has put into our possession. We own nothing. It all belongs to God, and we are responsible for everything He has placed in our trust. This not only applies to our money, but it includes our time, our family, and material possessions. It also includes how we relate to those around us, our government, and our environment – God’s creation. Everything that God has placed in our realm of influence is our stewardship responsibility. One day, maybe very soon, the King will return from His extended journey, and He will expect an accounting of all that He has entrusted into our care. Will we respond like the unfaithful stewards and return to Him only what He gave us?

Now, in regard to the tithe and in light of what has been presented, giving 10% of our income back to God is a small thing. Consider that all that money you earn is not really your own. From where do your abilities to earn income come? Who ultimately provided you a job? Everything, according to our lead verse (Psalm 24:1), everything belongs to God. He could demand that you return everything to Him with interest, but He does not. He only asks for 10% to test your faithfulness and your trust in Him for your provision. This too is stewardship.

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A Soul

Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)

What comes to mind when you think of “a soul”? For most of my life, I imagined a soul as some ethereal, intangible, wispy inhabitant of our body that occupied our being that then departed when the physical body died. I suppose most people look at a soul in much the same way. Dictionary.com defines a soul as: (1) the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part; (2) the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, or as believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come; (3) the disembodied spirit of a deceased person; (4) the emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments; (5) a human being; person (emphasis mine).[1]

That last definition, I think, is the biblical understanding of “a soul.” In the Genesis account of the creation of man, I envision God (Jesus, in His pre-incarnate form) bending over a mass of reddish clay molding the human form. Scripture records, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7, emphasis mine). The Hebrew word translated “formed” is yâtsar, and it carries the idea of squeezing something into shape; to mold into the desired shape as a potter molds and forms a clay vessel. The idea goes well considering the construction material used – dust.

With the body plan complete, God, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, emphasis mine). The Hebrew words translated “breathed” and “breath” are related. From the English translation, we can see that the former is a verb and the latter is a noun. The Hebrew words are nâphach and neshâmâh respectively and both mean “a puff.” The word “soul” is also related: nephesh. It means “living creature” and it can refer to either a human being or an animal. Yes, as defined here, animals have “souls” (nephesh); however, they do not possess that special neshâmâh of life “puffed” into humans by God.

This puff of life from God caused God’s mud sculpture to rise and become a living soul with a physical body, mind, and neshâmâh (breath/spirit of life). A triune creature created in the image of God[2] hitherto known as “a living soul.” God is triune in nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Collectively we just say, “God.” Man, made in the image of God, is triune in nature: mind, body, and spirit. Collectively, the Bible refers to the unit as “a soul.”

There are many examples where this becomes obvious, but I will keep the list brief. The first example following the creation account comes when Abraham travels to Egypt and tries to pass off Sarah, his wife, as his sister. He tells Sarah, “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee” (Genesis 12:13). “My soul” (nephesh) here does not refer to his “spirit.” Abraham feared for his life – his physical life.

Later, when God confirmed His covenant with Abraham, God required that he and all males within his household be circumcised.[3] Disobedience to this command carried a penalty. “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:14). “That soul” (nephesh) refers to the whole person not just his spirit. Interestingly, in the account of Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot and others, the word nephesh is translated “persons” (Genesis 14:21).

Genesis 27 records the account of Jacob “stealing” his brother’s blessing by deceiving his father, Isaac. In the passage, “my soul” appears twice and “thy soul” shows up two times.[4] The meaning in each case is somewhat ambiguous; however it seems clear that its use refers to the whole person. More examples could be cited in Genesis, but other examples will help solidify my point.

Exodus records that “all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls” (Exodus 1:5, emphasis mine). Obviously, this refers to people, not disembodied spirits. Then when God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, God assured him that, “all the men are dead which sought thy life” (Exodus 4:19). The Hebrew word translated “thy life” is nephesh (soul). With regard to keeping the Sabbath, God said, “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Exodus 31:14, emphasis mine). Again we see that “a soul” is a person.

The book of Leviticus offers many examples where the word “soul” (nephesh) refers to an individual. Here is one example: “if a soul touch any unclean thing … he also shall be unclean, and guilty” (Leviticus 5:2). To touch requires a physical body. Regarding the prohibition against eating blood: “No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood” (Leviticus 17:12). Again, it requires a physical body to eat blood.

There are 420 occurrences of the word “soul” in the Old Testament and nearly twice as many occurrences of the Hebrew word nephesh translated in other forms, for example, life, creature, persons, man, mind, et al. In the majority of occurrences, the word refers to the whole person. There is at least one instance in which the word seems to refer to the spirit of one who has died. Of Rachel’s death in childbirth, Scripture records, “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18). However, we may infer that when the spirit of a person departs from the body, that person is no longer whole, and therefore no longer “a soul.” The “person” is gone; only the shell remains. The soul has departed.

My conclusion is that “a soul” is the entire person: mind, body, and spirit. According to our beginning verse, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4). We all die sooner or later; however, death, in this case, is not merely the cessation of life. This death separates the soul from the Source of Life for eternity. This is the “second death” spoken of in Revelation 20:14-15, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (emphasis mine). Jesus warned, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30, emphasis mine). The “soul” – the whole person, mind, body and spirit – that sins shall suffer the eternal consequences of “the second death.”

There is no loss of consciousness in the “second death.” That soul is very much alive and aware of his surroundings. Jesus spoke of such a one whose only sin was self-centeredness.[5] Of course, a self-centered person has no need for God, which is ultimately what landed him in hell. “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23, emphasis mine). Because the soul is the whole person, he could feel the flames of hell, and he could see what he had missed. Later on, he has a sense of concern for his five brothers who are still alive, and he requests that Lazarus be sent back to earth to go warn his brothers about this awful place. Hell apparently does nothing to change his self-centered, selfish ways. His concern is only for his brothers and not for the millions of souls in the same condition.

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4) – mind, body and spirit. In what condition is your soul today? If you are breathing, and reading this blog, and you really don’t know, there is hope, and you can settle it right now. Read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”

Notes:


[1]  “Soul” – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/soul#

[2]  Genesis 1:27

[3]  Genesis 17:1-14

[4]  Genesis 27: 4, 19, 25, 31

[5]  Luke 16:19-31

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Priests and Wine

And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: (Leviticus 10:8-9)

As a young adult being away from the watchful eye of my preacher father, I developed a problem with alcohol. No, I did not become an alcoholic, nor did I develop a habit of getting drunk – very often. I joined the Navy just before my 20th birthday, and I easily passed for 21, so I never encountered problems gaining admittance into bars. As a sailor, I felt encouraged to behave like a sailor and hit the bars with my Navy buddies. I tried hard not to allow myself to get drunk because I had seen how foolish drunks looked returning from “liberty” on a Friday night. I did not want to look like those guys!

The Holy Spirit strongly objects to His temples engaging in acts that do not pertain to them. As a result, I always experienced a twinge of guilt when I was out barhopping with my buddies. I could hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear, “My son, this is no place for you.” I attempted to atone for my sin by going to chapel on Sunday morning, but there I felt like a real hypocrite. As a result, I never felt comfortable in the bars or in church. I tried to rationalize my behavior by Scripture. The Bible does not say drinking is wrong. Even Jesus turned water into really good wine. The Bible only discourages getting drunk, and I was not doing that (except one or two times when a few got by me). However, the guilt never left me.

Finally, I yielded to the Holy Spirit. No more would I ride the fence. No longer would I “halt between two opinions.”[1] I determined never to touch any form of alcohol again, and so far, I have been faithful to that commitment. However, I still maintain that there is nothing “sinful” about having a glass of beer or wine with dinner as long as one practices moderation. Drunkenness is another matter altogether. Drunkenness is sin and is strongly discouraged in the Bible.[2] I have good Baptist friends who drink wine or beer occasionally, and I have no problem with that. If the Holy Spirit has not dealt with them as He did with me, what they do is between them and God. I love them and refuse to pass judgment on them. We are God’s children, and I think, as any parent, God deals with each one on an individual basis. “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ … I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:10, 14).

With that said, I would like to offer some food for thought and let the Holy Spirit use it as He sees fit. As I read the 10th chapter of Leviticus this week, I came across the instructions God gave to Aaron, Moses’ brother and newly installed High Priest. The instruction had to do with the priests that entered the Tabernacle to minister before the Lord. “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations” (Leviticus 10:8-9, emphasis mine). The Hebrew word translated “wine” is yayin. It is “from an unused root meaning to effervesce; wine (as fermented); by implication intoxication,”[3] The Hebrew word translated “strong drink” is shêkâr, which is “an intoxicant, that is, intensely alcoholic liquor.”[4] Clearly, this is not talking about grape juice. It is worth noting that the prohibition was against drinking wine or strong drink, period. It is also worth noting that the prohibition specified serving in the Tabernacle. (Later the same would apply to the service in the Temple.) The prohibition did not apply to them when they were “off duty.”

I found that interesting, but how does that apply to us? Some will rightly point out that this was Old Testament Law which no longer applies to Christians of the New Testament era. Is that so? To those who reject the application of the Old Testament to our lives, allow me to remind you of what Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). The New Testament did not exist when Jesus spoke these words; He referred to the only Scripture (Law) that existed in His time, the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul, who wrote 13 (arguably 14) of the New Testament books made countless references to the Old Testament. Every word of Scripture applies to us. We may be “under grace,” but that does not mean that the Law has become irrelevant. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7).

Well then, how does this prohibition given to Aaron and his sons, the priests of Israel, apply to us, who are “under grace”?

John, the beloved apostle, in his salutation to the seven churches of the Revelation said, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6, emphasis mine).

Later John observed the saints around the throne of God singing, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, emphasis mine).

Clearly, we who are born again (twice-born) and call ourselves “children of God” are “priests.” The job of a priest is to intercede between God and man (humans). A priest carries the petitions of man before God and takes the Word of God before men. Is that not what we do when we pray on behalf of others and share the Gospel with others? We are priests.

Now, as long as the priest is not ministering in the Tabernacle/Temple, he is free to drink wine or strong drink. So, we might assume that as long as we abstain on Sunday, when we go to church (the building), we are not in violation. Let us look at that a little closer.

In the Old Testament, God’s dwelling place was in the Temple. Even Jesus said as much. “And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him [God] that dwelleth therein” (Matthew 23:21). At the same time, Scripture is clear that God cannot be confined to a physical building.[5] “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet” (Acts 7:48, emphasis mine). “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24, emphasis mine). In the Old Testament, God’s presence manifested in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple even though He is not confined to any one particular place. This has to do with God’s attribute of omnipresence.

The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 A.D., so, where does God reside now? “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, emphasis mine). “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As Christians, we confess Jesus as our Lord (Boss) and Savior and that His Spirit dwells/resides within us. If that is true, then we are the dwelling place, i.e., the Temple, of the Holy Spirit, and we are living temples not “made with hands.” We also acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is fully God. Therefore, because God dwells in us, we are living temples of God. Does God only dwell in His temples sometimes or always? Always, of course. God promises, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5); therefore we are always His temples. At the same time, we are priests of God. We are priests occupying God’s temples continually. Since God prohibits His priests from drinking wine or strong drink while ministering in His temple, then it follows that we should abstain from wine and strong drink at all times. God has not abrogated this command simply because we are now living under the New Testament. Rather, the command has taken on greater significance. That is something to think about.

Notes:


[1]  1 Kings 18:21

[2]  1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:18

[3] Definition from Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6

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Imminent

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, gave a press briefing on Friday, January 10, 2020,[1] concerning increased sanctions for Iran following Iran’s rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq. At the end of the briefing, they opened the floor for questions from the press corps. As has become common practice these days, the questions coming from the Press avoided the topic at hand, and rather addressed the irrelevant question of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Someone questioned the targeting of a “foreign diplomat,” and Pompeo pointed out that our intelligence found that Soleimani planned to strike our embassies in the area and that the threats were imminent. One genius fake news reporter challenged the Secretary, “What is your definition of ‘imminent’?” I had to laugh!

It comes as no surprise that the request for a definition of the word “imminent” should arise. The “left” in this country, and around the world, has become proficient in distorting the language so that words become whatever the user wants them to be. For example, “hate” means “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward [something or someone]; detest [something or someone].”[2] However, for the left, “hate” means opposition to anything they favor. The practice of redefining terms probably started much earlier than this, but my first vivid recollection of this practice came at the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton. Remember his now infamous line? “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Words used to have meaning. However, in a day when biology no longer determines the sex of a person, words can take on whatever meaning the user wants them to mean. Not so with God. He emphatically states, “For I am the LORD, I change not…” (Malachi 3:6). The writer to the Hebrews says of God the Son, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Of His Word, Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).

The word “imminent” does not appear in the King James Bible; however, the concept is there. The word “imminent” means that something is “likely to occur at any moment.”[3] The precise moment of such an event cannot be known or determined. It could happen at any time. If one can know or determine the time of a future event, it is no longer “imminent” because it is now “expected.” The two words are synonymous, however with expectation comes the connotation of the precise timing and location of a future event. The expectation of an impending event allows for ample preparation. Jesus said, “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matthew 24:43). If the man of the house had “known” when the thief would come, he would have been “expecting” him and made preparations. The implication here is that the coming of the thief was “imminent,” not “expected.”

The fake news reporter exhibited her ignorance by asking Pompeo what he meant by “imminent.” Our military intelligence could not predict where or when Soleimani would strike, only that his intention was to strike soon. That made it imminent.

Christ’s return for His Bride, the Church, is imminent. It has been imminent for over 2000 years. Before His crucifixion, Jesus promised, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). Paul taught the imminency of the Lord’s return at “the last trump” when we would “not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,”[4] but he did not say when. It’s imminent. It could happen at any time. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). His coming is imminent, like “a thief in the night.”

Unlike the “goodman of the house” in Jesus’ example who was unprepared for the imminency of the thief’s arrival, we have good reason to be expectant of the Lord’s imminent return. We cannot know the day nor the hour when the Lord will return.[5] It could be at any time. It is imminent. Therefore, we must watch expectantly, and make preparations.

We have waited for over 2000 years. How imminent can His return be? Many become discouraged at the delay, like the five virgins without extra oil for their lamps.[6] Such attitudes are to be expected. The Apostle Peter predicted, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Many prophecies concerning “the last days” address Jesus’ return to set up His thousand-year reign on earth. The Old Testament contains most of these prophecies. Jesus spoke of these times in His Olivet Discourse,[7] and most of the Book of Revelation focuses on the time of Great Tribulation just before He returns. These prophecies provide great detail of the events that will transpire in “the last days” during the seven years[8] before the Lord’s return. However, no signs detail the “Rapture”[9] of the Church. We are told that it will happen, but we are not told when or how; it’s imminent. The Rapture[10] must take place before the time of Tribulation “For God hath not appointed us [His Church] to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

So, although we have waited more than 2000 years for the Bridegroom[11] to come for His Bride (the Church), we can know the time is near. How? We can know because of the convergence of the end-time signs. Israel, because it is the focus of all end-time prophecy, and the events surrounding Israel, is our primary sign. None of the end-time prophecies can come to pass without Israel being in her place. Of the rebirth of Israel, God’s “fig tree,” Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). We are that generation. It has been almost 72 years since Israel’s rebirth, and according to the psalmist, a man’s life is between 70 and 80 years (Psalm 90:10). There are too many signs to include in this article, but the fact that Israel is in place makes all the other signs that much more relevant. The signs tell us the end is near, so the Rapture of the Church is more imminent now than ever before. It could happen anytime now.

Notes:


[1]  Press Briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTCErLFbu4Q

[2]  Hate: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hate?s=t

[3]  Imminent: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/imminent?s=t

[4]  1 Corinthians 15:50-53

[5]  Matthew 25:13

[6]  Matthew 25:1-13

[7]  Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21

[8]  Daniel 9:24-27

[9]  End-Times 101 – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/06/10/end-times-101/

[10]  End-Times 102 – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/06/17/end-times-102/

[11]  Matthew 25:1-13

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What the Law Does

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Many Christians today adopt the attitude that the Old Testament Law no longer applies because we are not under the Law but under Grace. That is certainly true. However, the fact that we are under Grace does in no way render the Law irrelevant or make it of no effect.

The Law given in the Old Testament accomplished two things. It codified what God expected of His people, Israel, and it provided specific practices for God’s people to follow that set them apart from the pagan nations among whom they lived. They were to be “holy” as their God in heaven is holy, i.e., set apart, consecrated, distinct.

The Law provided a third way for the people to relate to God through the sacrificial system which provided a way to atone for or “cover” the sins of the people. However, the sacrificial system did not provide a permanent solution to the sin problem. Sacrifices were made for all kinds of infractions of the Law, and like sin, they were a perpetual practice. The continual offering of sacrifices illustrated the insufficiency of sacrifices to fully atone for the sin of the people. Even so, the sacrifices required faith in the offering otherwise they became a ritual practice akin to pagan practices. God rejected such sacrifices.

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me. (Jeremiah 6:20)

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)

One thing we learn from the Old Testament is that it is impossible to keep the Law, and that it is insufficient to atone for sin. Our opening verse makes it clear, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). The only sacrifice sufficient to atone for sin is the one offered by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and the blood He shed on the cross. Sin – all sin, for all time – was paid in full when Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). However, Jesus did not remain dead. On the third day, He rose from the dead and conquered the “last enemy”[1] giving us access to eternal life by the simple act of believing. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The Old Testament teaches us that we are incapable of keeping God’s Law, therefore we are doomed by that standard. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine). Grace is God’s gift to us. Grace is “unmerited favor.” Grace cannot be earned through any human effort because “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). Grace is a gift, bought and paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As with any gift, it must be accepted before it becomes one’s own possession.

What good, then, is the Old Testament Law, if one cannot gain salvation, i.e., eternal life, by keeping it (not that you could if you tried)? Paul provides the following affirmation: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). We are declared “just” when we place our “faith” in what Jesus did for us on the cross. That is a “done deal” outside the keeping (“the deeds”) of the law. Then Paul poses and responds to our question. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). The Greek word translated “establish” is histēmi, and it means “to cause to stand.”

The Law still stands. It is not required to gain eternal life nor is it needed to maintain our salvation. However, it does serve as our guide to holy living which God still requires of His children. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Jesus tied our love for Him to the keeping of His commandments.[2] Jesus spoke these words 25-30 years before the first Gospel was written, so His commandments were the same commandments He gave to Moses, which are summarized in two great commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind (your whole being), and love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

But what does that look like? Our opening verse tells us: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Granted, much of the Mosaic Law had direct application to the culture of that time, however, the principles therein apply to our modern time. Take for instance the laws given to dress. The reason for those laws served to make the children of Israel distinct from the people among whom they lived. God still wants the same for us today. We shouldn’t dress and look like the lost world around us. We should be distinct. We should be holy as our Father in heaven is holy – set apart from the world. Speaking of us, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). What the law does is show us how not to live like the world.

Notes:


[1]  1 Corinthians 15:26

[2]  John 14:15, 21; 15:10

[3]  Matthew 22:36-40

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Vegan Adam & Eve

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. (Genesis 1:29-30)

This week a young woman that looked to be in her early to mid-thirties asked me if Adam and Eve were vegans. She was slender and attractive, giving me the impression that she wanted to justify her vegan lifestyle from Scripture. Personally, I do not care what one chooses to eat as long as they do not try to impose their diet on me.[1]

Veganism, like most belief systems, can get rather complicated. For starters, vegans are vegetarian, and one can be a vegetarian without being a vegan. Vegans go beyond simple vegetarianism. “Distinctions may be made between several categories of veganism. Dietary vegans (also known as strict vegetarians) refrain from consuming animal products, not only meat but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances. The term ethical vegan (also known as moral vegetarian) is often applied to those who not only follow a vegan diet but extend the philosophy into other areas of their lives, and oppose the use of animals for any purpose. Another term is environmental veganism, which refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable”[2]

Whether or not Adam and Eve were vegans cannot be determined by the creation account recorded in Scripture. Certainly, Adam and Eve were vegetarians as were “every beast of the earth … every fowl of the air … [and] every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life” (Genesis 1:30). God gave “every green herb for [food].”

However, were Adam and Eve required to abstain from drinking milk from cows or goats? Did they make cheese from the milk of other animals? Were they allowed to eat chicken eggs? One might argue that infertile eggs have no potential of producing a living bird, so maybe eggs would be allowed. Scripture is silent on the matter. Let us assume, however, that initially, they were strict vegetarians, i.e., vegans, and that they only ate vegetable matter and nothing from animals. We might assume so since they were naked in the Garden of Eden,[3] and they made clothes of fig leaves when they discovered their nakedness.

Their stay in the Garden was short-lived.[4] They soon sinned and their ethical veganism would have ended at that point. The shame of their nakedness and sin required the slaughter of an innocent animal for covering, and God Himself performed the sacrifice[5] to clothe them in animal skins. After that, the practice of animal sacrifice continued, as we find Abel offering an animal sacrifice in Genesis 4:4. However, it is hard to imagine that they would find domesticated animals useful only for sacrifice and not for any other purpose like wool, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. Scripture is silent on this, so we should not be dogmatic.

After the Flood, God sanctioned the eating of animal flesh. “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Genesis 9:3). If humans were vegans before, all that ended after the Flood. The lady that raised the question was not satisfied with my answer, but since I had answered from Scripture, she could raise no further objection.

Notes:


[1]  Romans 14:16-23

[2]  “Veganism” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism

[3]  Genesis 3:7

[4]  “A Nutshell History of the World” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/10/28/a-nutshell-history-of-the-world/

[5]  Genesis 3:21

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