Category Archives: Volume – 60

Where is Your Confidence?

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

One thing  that I consistently find is that, when it comes down to it, we don’t truly believe what we tell ourselves we believe. It seems that a day does not pass when I do not hear myself or others express concern over the state of the government or the stock market’s latest bearish move. I consistently hear about the rapid decline of our society and the systematic erosion of morality in the church. What I believe I am hearing is an expression of fear. Do we trust the Lord when he asks us to “consider the lilies of the field” (Luke 12:16-35)? Do we believe Him when He says, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10)? Do we not have faith that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:26-32)? Sometimes, for me, the answer is no.

A few days ago, I visited the Walmart nearest the stadiums in Independence, MO. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this bumpkin was not going to be fitting in. I must admit I became a little edgy. Fifteen minutes into my visit, I heard the sound of breaking glass; I looked up to see a man running down the aisle, knocking merchandise off the shelves, with a cop hot on his heels. If I had a little dog, and I was a young girl from Kansas… well, the line writes itself.  I began to sweat some. How could I ever be okay with someone I loved shopping here? Fear started welling up inside me as I considered the dangers that my loved ones face when I’m not around. To my shame, it took every bit of thirty minutes for me to realize that I was going to have to put my trust in God on this matter. To further my shame, it took at least another five minutes for me to realize that it was God who protected my loved ones even in my presence.

Where does trust come from? I can’t say that I know, but it seems that love has something to do with it. As love is demonstrated, trust is validated. The Father loves us beyond our comprehension. The longer I’m alive and the more I experience, the more I am persuaded, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Steadfast in Fellowship

What were the first Christians like? What were they doing?

“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41:42).

It’s easy to look at this passage and only notice only the reference to doctrine. The church was steadfastly following the doctrine of the apostles. They were carefully and diligently following the apostle’s doctrine. That’s what they were doing and that’s what we should be doing. But doctrine was only one of the defining characteristics of the first Christians. They were also diligent to follow the apostles example of fellowship, breaking bread (a form of fellowship), and praying together (another form of fellowship).

It’s certainly possible for a church to focus so much one that we neglect the other. We may diligently follow the apostle’s doctrine, but if we aren’t equally zealous in following their example of fellowship, are we really Christ’s Church? The Church is defined by doctrine and fellowship. Not just doctrine. Not just fellowship.

Fellowship in the 1st Century                                                                             

Fellowship is a lot more than being friendly on Sundays. Sometimes we pat ourselves on the back if we make it to church three times in a week, but I think the first Christians would be surprised at how little time we spend with each other.

 “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47).

The first Church had all things in common. Obviously, this included spiritual things, but the first Church shared their physical things too. They shared their money, their possessions, their food, and even their homes. Most importantly, they shared their TIME. There was no place they wanted to be more than with each other. They were together daily. They ate together daily. What was their attitude like? Gladness and simplicity of heart.

How do we become a church that looks like this? Does God even expect us to be a church like this? Maybe not completely, but surely there is room for improvement. Our time is precious to us. We’re so busy that it’s hard to make time for our church family. Our things are precious to us. We save money so we can spend it on things. When is the last time you saved money to invest it in the Church or someone in the Church?

Instructions on Fellowship

Our relationships in the Church are like the relationships we have in a family. For example, do you ask your children if they’d agree to having a new sibling? No? Neither does God. God doesn’t ask you if you want a brother in Christ. He doesn’t ask you if you want a sister in Christ. You’ve got them, whether you want them or not, and he’s not asking us to have fellowship. We have fellowship with one another just by virtue of being Christians: 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” We’re a family, and God expects us to act like one.

The first step in Christian fellowship is simple. It’s not always easy, but it is simple. Love each other and don’t hate each other.

 “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).

How important is it that we love each other? 1 John 3:14-15, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” As far as God is concerned, despising a brother (or sister) is like murder.

When we really (truly) love each other, fellowship comes naturally. We will want to share our possessions, our money, our food, our homes, and our time. The first Church did this, and they kept on doing it:  Acts 4:32, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.”

The Cost of Fellowship

Fellowship isn’t free. It requires some sacrifice. If I’m going to share my possessions and my money, that’s less for me. If I’m going to share my home, that requires sacrificing some privacy. If I’m going to share my time, that means sacrificing some time I might have otherwise used for myself.

Fellowship does require sacrifice, but there is so much to be gained. If you’re a part of Christ’s Church, you will never go hungry. You’ll never need a place to stay. You’ll never be without a friend. Someone will always have time for you. The friendships and fellowship we enjoy in the Church is designed to be a well-spring of encouragement, comfort, and security. This is part of the essential identity of the Lord’s Church.

Honor What is Holy

In the Old Testament, Jehovah gave Israel a number of instructions including the Tabernacle (and the various things inside of it), a Law to live by (including its various applications), as well as other things.  Israel was to value these teachings and instructions, primarily because they came from their God.  They were holy and were to be treated as such.  In the New Testament, the Lord has also given to His people instructions that are holy such as His church (and everything His church is to abide by such as its assemblies and its teachings.)  Another example is the principle of marriage as given by our Creator.  For this reason, it is called “holy matrimony.”

With this as an introduction, consider the following:  in my experience, I have found among the churches of Christ a number of congregations who practice what I call “mutual edification.”  This is the principle in which it is the brothers’ responsibility to teach to the various congregations of the Lord’s people.  Of these congregations, many are practicing this as a result of strong convictions.  They are following the NT teachings in which this was practiced among the churches.  These brethren recognize there are not any examples in the NT in which a congregation hired what today might be commonly called a “minister” to do the work of the average brothers in regard to teaching the congregations.  The work of a man who is hired to do the work of the brothers is a modern invention among the churches.

There are also many congregations that are following this principle for various other reasons.  Perhaps they cannot afford to hire a minister and they are doing the best they can.  There are also cases in which a congregation may practice this principle in order to use funds for other works.  I am finding more and more of these congregations scattered throughout, not only in the United States, but also throughout the world.

Of this latter group of congregations, it has been my experience to hear from them two very distinct responses.  The first is very positive.  I have heard brethren say how much they have learned to appreciate the great advantages of following this principle.  They often point out that they are surprised and even pleased with the personal growth and maturity that being willing to teach the body has brought the individual brothers.  Many will point out that they have been benefitted by this practice, and they are pleasantly surprised at the advantages of taking this responsibility themselves.

There is another response that is not so pleasant to hear, and they are a minority of congregations in my experience, but they do exist.  I have heard brethren actually sound very apologetic that they do not have a professional speaker or minister.  They often talk of how they “hope” to one day do “better” by having a professional to teach the congregation.  They lament that they are in such a “bad position” that the average brothers are “forced” by circumstance to do the teaching.  I do not think that this is a good attitude.

Just as with everything the Lord has given to His people, the God-approved principle of mutual edification is something holy and right.  It is something that should be valued and appreciated by brethren.  And it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.  Yes, because the brothers are not necessarily trained speakers, they may not be as eloquent as others.  Because many of the brothers have other responsibilities such as family and work that they must give attention to, they may be forced to get up a bit earlier or go to bed a bit later in order to spend time preparing to teach the brethren.  To be sure, teaching the body is not to be taken lightly.

It is worth noting the apostle Paul was not in any way apologetic when he wrote to the brethren at Rome in 15:14, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”   Paul did not write for the brethren to do this until they could hire a man to take their responsibilities from them.  When Paul wrote to the brethren at Corinth, he said in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”  He was not addressing this to the Corinthian minister, for there is certainly no hint of such a man.  He was writing to the saints as noted in 1:2. Paul was addressing the great good the brethren can do by speaking the word of the Lord to the church.

Paul was addressing these same saints in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”  The brothers had important words for the congregation when it came together.  These were words of value to the church, and they certainly should neither be ashamed nor apologetic of such!  These words were given by the Lord and therefore were holy and right!  Certainly, they were nothing to be apologetic of!

It is also worth noting when considering the value of these words there is the prophecy in Mal 3:16-18.  This prophecy was specifically speaking of the words that jewels (Christians) in the coming church would speak to one another.  These same words would help the jewels learn right and wrong and how to serve the Lord.  Are these words to be ashamed of?  Are these words to be apologized for?  Absolutely NOT!  These are words we should be thankful for and appreciate, for they ultimately come from the Lord!

To be sure, there are other passages in the Scriptures we could consider, but this article is somewhat restricted by time and space.  The point is, we should never be apologetic nor ashamed of the average brothers who are willing to take time out of their lives to prepare lessons for the Lord’s people.  Conversely, those brothers who are fortunate enough to take these responsibilities must also know they are speaking of the holy word of God to the holy body of Christ.  They are to prepare lessons by putting sufficient time and effort to present words that are edifying and worthy of the Christians they are speaking to as well.

Thanks to the Lord for giving us this privilege.  Thanks to Him for giving us things that are holy and right that we can share with one another as we work at walking in His ways.

Hate vs. Good

In a book that I like to refer to, namely the Bible, we find, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).  Easy to read but so difficult to put into practice.  Just HOW do we – those of us who profess a commitment to Christ, who have been transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) –  just HOW do we love?  How do we love those in the church, and how do we love those in the world?

It seems evident to me that, when Paul wrote these words, he had Facebook in mind.  Had he logged into his account in our present time, he would have seen, as I do, no end to public vitriol.  Many divisions have formed, each side claiming to be good while the other side is evil.   Most of this vitriol, I feel, is born of fear, as in the days when mobs were stirred up against Paul and Barnabus in Iconium (Acts 14:2), and in Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:19) to name a few.  We think of Stephen as well.

Do you think this is what Paul was talking about:  to love some people and hate other people?  Can you love those in the Church and hate those in the world?  By no means!  You cannot love those in the Church UNLESS you can also love those in the world.  The two loves complement each other.

How are we to love the Church and how are we to love the world? Paul says, “Let love be genuine.”  The word for “love” here is “agape,” which to this point had been used in Romans only for divine love (5:5, 8:35, 39), but here the word indicates the kind of love that Christians (that’s you and me) are to show TO OTHERS.  It’s a love that continues forward, even if rebuffed.   We are called to live out the highest love and do so with the greatest sincerity.

We often deceive ourselves into thinking that we love others, but we not only neglect them, but we also, deep down, don’t even LIKE them.  I might say, “I love everyone, even homeless people.”  No I don’t.  I judge them. Too many are able-bodied and ought to get a job.  So I have a long way to go.

Paul tells us to go beyond pretense and sham and love sincerely.  This isn’t just an optional menu item. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).  “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).  And let’s not forget John 13:35,By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We ARE to honestly examine our hearts, asking ourselves, “Do I sincerely and without reservation, or bias, or prejudice love others?”  It the answer is uncertain, then it is time to ask God in prayer to pour His love into our hearts through the workings of the Holy Spirit, as outlined by Romans 5:5, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Paul now continues with, “Hate what is evil.”  What I notice on Facebook today is that many people focus solely on hatred.  So many posts are expressions of that hatred, which is born of fear.

When you focus only on the hate, you leave a lot of empty space where the love needs to be.  Do you remember the story in Matthew 12:43-45 about the impure spirit seeking rest?  To me, this story demonstrates the progression that occurs when we focus only on our fear and hate.  Our lives become fearful and depressed.  Evil spirits have taken up residence with ourselves, and we lose the ability to find joy in life or even remain vital, functioning human beings.   We barricade our houses against the perceived enemy, we amass the items needed for our survival because it’s only a matter of time before society falls apart.

We forget to trust God and Paul’s admonishment, “Cling to what is good.”  In such a seemingly threatening world, remember to count your many blessings.  There IS always good.  Cling to it.

In Mercy and Truth

Solomon writes in Proverbs 16:6, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” This proverb neatly encapsulates the core of the gospel. Everyone desiring the salvation of our Lord must obtain atonement for sin and depart from evil. Solomon here describes the mechanisms by which we may both obtain atonement for sin and depart from evil.

Solomon tells us that we obtain atonement for our sins through mercy. This is undeniable and is grounded in the axiom that we cannot save ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-9) and are, on our own merits, undeserving of salvation. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because we cannot stand on our own merits before the Lord, we have need of his mercy. Paul instructs us in the book of Titus that the mercy of the Lord was applied apart from anything we have done. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5) He echoes these sentiments in Romans 5:6 where he describes us as being “without strength” before the Lord. We are without strength in that we cannot save ourselves, and we need the mercy of the Lord. This part of the proverb comports quite well with the rest of the scriptures. We need mercy.  What about truth? How does truth enable us to obtain atonement for sin?

Jesus describes himself in John 14:6 as “the truth.” Jesus is also described as the Word in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This idea that the truth in the form of the Word of God allows us to obtain salvation also conforms to the rest of scripture. Jesus tells us, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Paul exhorts the Galatians in 3:1 to obey the truth. Doing so, he implies that the truth is the Gospel or the Word of God. So the Lord has revealed his truth in the form of his Son, and the divine revelation of his will through the word. This does not mean that by broadcasting the truth the Lord has provided for our salvation. The revealed truth of the Lord does not immediately impart salvation upon those whom it strikes. So, how is it that in truth we are saved? In truth we must respond to the truth of the Lord.

Responding to the truth in truth is key to obtaining atonement for our sins. John writes in 1 John 1:8-9 statements that strongly support this:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Here, John gives us the example of confession as a mechanism for responding in truth. In the book of third John, he talks about the brethren walking in the truth, “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (verses 3-4).  When we hear the truth and conform our lives to the truth we are walking in truth.

So when Solomon says we obtain salvation in truth, it encompasses the truth broadcasted by the Lord, and our response to that truth by conforming ourselves to him. Solomon does not leave the proverb at mercy and truth. He continues by telling us, “And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:6).

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:19 that Christians must depart from iniquity, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Solomon is instructing us in this proverb that fear is one of the keys to departing from evil. If heeded, the fear of the Lord can be a powerful tool for change in our lives.

This message resounds throughout scripture. When giving instruction to the children of Israel about the conduct of their future kings, the Lord commanded that they copy and read the law. The purpose of this was so that the king would learn to fear the Lord and thus do his will.

“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19).

This passage instructs us that a natural outcome of reading the word of the Lord is a fear of the Lord, and that fearing the Lord will help us keep his commandments. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 8:13 that “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.”  If we fear God, we will do what he says. If we do what he says we will flee evil. In fact, Solomon tells us that we will hate evil.  “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Fear, truth and mercy are powerful tools for the Christian. By them we have opportunity to learn about the Lord, his sacrifice for us, and are motivated flee from evil and walk in truth.

The Fear of God

Long ago, the children of Israel were given the opportunity to hear the very words of God. The Lord God Almighty spoke to them and declared to them his commandments. The mountain shook, the lightning flashed, the voice of the Lord boomed out as smoke billowed from the mountain that the people surrounded. All the people were filled with awe and they cried out to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).

This reaction is a normal reaction, an expected reaction. In the face of the glory and power of God, these people wanted a protective barrier between them and Him. That barrier was Moses. And this very divide was immortalized by Moses having to wear a veil whenever he would come before the people, and then by the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the Tabernacle. From this point forward, God was always set apart from his people.

This attitude is a normal human reaction. We often react badly to authority figures, especially when there is the possibility of punishment. It is not unusual for my children to become very unhappy and to want to leave my presence. Job was aware of this difficulty as well, for he recognized that a man can’t stand before God. Job actually says, “If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:3).

This is an absolute truth. We cannot justify ourselves before God, because he does know everything that we have done, and everything we are going to do, and everything will come into judgment on the last day. Knowing all this, it is right and proper for us to fear God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Fear of God can be a wonderful thing, motivating us to do the right thing. However, it should be noted that our fear should not cause us to become inactive. Excessive fear can do that! This is one of the reasons that fear is not always the best motivator. Fear can get things started, but then fear can cause inaction. It is a problem if you don’t know what the right thing is, and you become afraid of doing anything because you are uncertain of what is right and what is wrong.

In this light, we consider Moses, the man in the middle. Moses was a man with whom God spoke face to face. His reaction to God’s presence was very different from the rest of the people. While they are still at Mount Sinai, Moses turns to the Lord and requests, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). The very thing that most of the world wants to avoid, Moses desires. Even when God warns Moses that he cannot see him and live, Moses still presses forward. Moses would rather die in the presence of the Lord than to live apart from him.

Job, too, expressed this desire to be in the presence of God, even though he knew it would consume him. Just shortly after declaring that he was not, and could not be innocent before God, he then says, “Let Him take His rod away from me, and do not let dread of Him terrify me. Then I would speak and not fear him, but it is not so with me” (Job 9:34-35).

Job did not want the fear of God to overwhelm him, and Moses did not let fear stop him. Rather, they both desired to come to the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the one who fashioned it all. This is an attitude that we should seek to emulate. It is a reminder that though God is a truly fearsome being, he is the one thing that we should be seeking the most in this world and the next. We should not let our fear of death prevent us from going after a relationship with him.

We need to be like Moses and Job and many other of the heroes of the Bible and seek after a relationship with God. To this end, Job desired someone to stand between him and God, someone who would take the rod of God away from man (see Job 9:32-33). God knew of this need and made a plan from the very beginning to provide just such a person. However, this person would need to be special. He would have to be a man, so he could understand what it means to be a man, and he would need to be a God, so that they could understand what it means to be God.

To have a person who combines these two attributes seems impossible to the world and even to many who are aware of Jesus. Yet that is one of the great mysteries of who Jesus is. Jesus is man and Jesus is God. He was made human so that he could be a merciful and faithful High Priest giving aid to those who are being tempted, because he shared in their weakness (Hebrews 2:14-18). Yet, in doing this, it was Jesus giving up his divine nature to become human (Philippians 2:5-7). So then, Jesus managed to combine the two natures into one.

In this we have an opportunity of hope. We desire to be with God and now we have someone who will be able to help us stand before God and he is one who will help us in our weakness. Even more than that, he also helps to remove that fear that has prevented so many from coming before the throne of God.

In sending Jesus to us, God reminded us that he isn’t just a fearsome deity, but also a God of love. We know what love is, because Jesus came for us and was willing to die so that we could have hope. And here’s the kicker: love drives out fear (1 John 4:16-18). This means that we can freely approach the one who created the universe, who made the stars and who keeps everything running, and we can call him, “Father.” Instead of being motivated by fear, we can be motivated by our love for him and do the things that will please him, not worrying about punishment, but rejoicing in the great gift that he has given to us.

Moses and Job would have rejoiced to hear the promise that Jesus has given to us: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). We can not only come into his presence, but we may sit with our Father, and there may be no greater reward than that.

Two Sons and a Loving Father

Finding fault in others, while missing or overlooking our own faults, is a characteristic that humans have perfected.  Jesus observed this human failure and addressed it though his wise teaching many times.  In the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), Christ provides an example that is easy to miss, but one Christians should take quite seriously.  The message of the older son in this story is often overlooked because the focus seems to be on the wayward son, the rebel.  But Jesus told this story to share two types of error into which children of God can fall.

The younger son had little respect for the father and the stable life that he had provided.  He selfishly asked for his inheritance so that he could go off and focus on himself.  He leaves, wastes everything, hits bottom and then humbly returns to ask forgiveness. Just being accepted back by his father would be good enough.  But before this son can say anything, the father sees him in the distance and runs to hug him as an expression of his love.  The father then throws a big party to rejoice because of the return of his lost son.  Sometimes we think that this is where the story ends, but in reality, the story is just beginning.

The older brother had been out working in the field, and when he returns, he is surprised that there is a party.  When he finds out the reason for the party, he does not react well.  This older son shows just as much disrespect for the father as the younger son had shown, by selfishly questioning why his brother deserved the attention.  It wasn’t an innocent question asked in love because the story goes on to explain that he was so angry that he didn’t even go inside the house.

It may have seemed that the older brother did everything right because he didn’t appear to be rebellious. The reality is that he was tempted to believe that his obedience trumped the mercy of the father.  He showed no more respect for the father than his younger brother did.  Too often we can be tempted in this same way.  We attend church every Sunday.  We let people around us know that we are Christians.  We take pride in our obedience.  Each of these are good things to do but not things that by themselves provide salvation.

In the end, the father tells the older son that “all I have is yours.”  One might think that this statement was about the money and land the father had and that the younger brother would get nothing.  The story doesn’t work that way though.  The father had much more to give than money and land, as the younger brother has already learned.

The story Jesus told addresses our need for the Father and his loving care for us.  The Father desires our service, but he desires service that is grounded in our humble devotion.  He wants all to be saved:  2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” We become like the older brother when we think that we can, through works and obedience, earn salvation by ourselves; when we act like the Father loves us more because we do good things.  We must recognize the depth of the Father’s love, the value of being His servant and the inheritance that awaits and live in faithful obedience as a result.

Jesus told the story of the loving Father to teach that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that we are all loved like children by a Father that loved us so much that he gave His only son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Whether we rebel outwardly or inwardly, he still rejoices when we repent.

 

What was the Sin of Moses?

In Numbers 20, we read about the story of Moses bringing water from the rock and committing a sin that was so egregious that it kept him from entering the promised land. There seems to be a different explanation of this sin for every commentary ever written, so perhaps we can’t all agree on the specificity of the sin, but surely we can learn some valuable lessons from the discussion.

There were actually two events that occurred where God commanded Moses to take water out of the rock. The event in Numbers 20 happens near the end of the 40 year wandering whereas the first event happens near the beginning in Exodus 17.  It appears that Moses did not sin during the first event, so let’s analyze his actions here before we go on to the matter at hand.

In Exodus 17:5-6 we read that it seems this particular event was more of a private ceremony between Moses, God and the elders of Israel. God said that He would stand on the rock and Moses was to take the rod that he used to turn the Nile into blood and strike the rock and the water would spring forth. Verse 6 says only, “And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” This simple statement speaks volumes about the character of Moses. Time and time again in the face of trials, adversity and constant complaining from the people he was leading, Moses suppressed any selfish feelings and simply followed the commands of God. In Numbers 12:3 we read, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

In spite of his humility, we find out that Moses is a human being in Numbers 20. Up until verse 8, the story is very similar to the Exodus account. Moses was still supposed to take the rod, but God asks Moses to do everything else differently. This time the entire assembly (not just the elders) would be brought before the rock to witness God’s greatness. “And before their eyes,” you are to SPEAK unto the rock so that it will give up its water.

Verse 9 says, “And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing he did correctly here. What was the sin of Moses? Here are your choices. First of all, without any command to do so, in his anger, he presumed to speak on God’s behalf to rebuke the people. Next he says, must “we” bring water from this rock. I believe by “we” Moses is referring to himself and Aaron; but even if it is assumed that Moses is referring to himself and God, he is still missing the opportunity “in the eyes of the people” to show that all glory belongs to God. Instead of speaking to the rock as clearly commanded by God this time, he smites the rock as he no doubt remembers he was commanded last time. But even then, he takes it upon himself to beat the rock one more time for good measure. So what was the sin of Moses? It appears that it is a culmination of all of these things as God makes it clear in several passages. In the 12th verse we have, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Deuteronomy 32:51 says, “because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.” Psalm 106:32-33 says, “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.”

From these passages we see that Moses “believed not” or had a moment of weakness in his faith and failed to sanctify God. Sanctify means to “set apart.”  God required the whole assembly to be present to demonstrate to them that He should be sanctified as their powerful and gracious God. Notice that despite Moses, He accomplished this goal as we read in the 13th verse, “This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.” This is why the water still sprang forth even though Moses did not heed the Lord’s command. Although Moses failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the people, God was still sanctified. As we read in Romans 8, nothing, not even flawed leadership can separate us from the love of God.

As a side note, the question might be asked, “Why did God tell Moses to bring the rod if he wasn’t supposed to use it to smite the rock?” I believe the answer to this is found three chapters earlier in Numbers 17 and also gives us some insight into the words Moses used in rebuking the people. The 17th chapter tells the story about God selecting Aaron’s rod by having it blossom. It was to be kept by the ark of the covenant as a sign to remind the people of their rebelliousness. Compare what Moses presumes to say on God’s behalf in 20:10 with what the Lord says here in 17:10. “And the LORD said unto Moses, bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.”

Sun Tzu, in his book the Art of War, wrote to always attack where they least suspect it. Sometimes that could mean where the enemy thinks they have strength so they are not as vigilant. Satan caused Job to sin through his impatience, Peter to sin through his failed courage, and unfortunately Moses to sin on his least humble day. How much easier would it be for Satan to attack us in this same way? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  It’s easy for us to focus on the sin of Moses. Stains look so much worse the whiter the robe of righteousness. We shouldn’t forget that Hebrews 11:38 says the world was not worthy of men like Moses. Although this one sin didn’t block his entry into the spiritual Promised Land, it did stop him from entering the physical one.

The Coming of the Canon

Since the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, a great deal of misinformation has been circulating concerning the New Testament’s origins, namely, how its books were collected, when, and by whom.  Despite the book’s opening disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, its fabricated history has come to be believed by many as true, and is now frequently cited as grounds for distrusting the New Testament’s witness concerning Christ and the early church.  It is not within the scope of this article to expose all the errors—many, egregious, and obvious—that undergird the The Da Vinci Code’s storyline, but rather to answer with facts the very important question the novel has raised: “How did the New Testament come to be?”

Before getting into the meat of the answer, it may do us well to take a moment to familiarize ourselves with a frequently used term related to this subject — “canon.”  This word comes to us from Hebrew (qaneh) via Greek (kanon), and originally had the basic meaning of “reed” (our word “cane” is derived from it).  Since a reed was sometimes used as a measuring rod, kanon came to refer to a “standard” or a “rule.”  And since a measuring rod might be marked in units of length (like a modern ruler), kanon came to mean a series of such marks, and hence, finally acquired the general sense of a “series” or “list.”  And so, when we speak of the “canon” of Scripture (as many do), we are speaking of the “list” of writings that is regarded as inspired, and therefore, the “rule” or “standard” for our lives.

Contrary to the thinking of some, authority precedes canonicity.  That is to say, the writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets did not come to possess authority because they were included in the canon, but were included in the canon because they possessed authority.  Simple, but very important.  And the recognition of their inspired authority did not take hundreds of years to develop.  Rather, the writings of the apostles and prophets were both presented and received as authoritative at the time of their composition.  Consider the following:

  • • Paul claimed that his writings contained “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthains 14:37), and said that Christ spoke through him (2 Corinthians 13:13).  Peter acknowledged these claims, referring to “all [Paul’s] epistles” (his accumulated body of work) as part of “the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15, 16).
  • • Peter wrote that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).  Jude acknowledged Peter’s inspiration, citing this very prophecy, exhorting his readers to remember it (Jude 17, 18).
  • Luke recorded Jesus saying, “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7).  Paul quoted this statement, introducing it with the phrase, “For the Scripture says” (1 Timothy 5:18), leaving no question where he stood concerning Luke’s gospel.

Paul acknowledged Luke.  Peter acknowledged Paul.  Jude acknowledged Peter.  And other similar examples could be cited.  It was known very early on that a new covenant canon was in the making and whose writings God was using to make it.

And uninspired history offers further testimony to this.  The earliest Christian document we have outside of the New Testament is 1 Clement, a letter sent from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth around A.D. 95 while the apostle John was still walking the earth.  Its antiquity is evidenced by its reference to Corinth’s plurality of elders and its interchangeable use of the terms bishop and presbyter.  The second century false doctrine of distinguishing between the two had not yet taken hold.  In the letter, the Romans exhort the Corinthians to turn from their divisive behavior, and refer—either through citation or allusion—to 12 different books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter.  Clearly, it was known among these churches that these books were inspired (i.e. “canonical”).  Why else would they have been appealed to?  And, furthermore, the letter would not be expected to contain quotations from every book they knew to be inspired, just as lessons and articles, today, do not contain quotations from every book we trust.  These 12 were only a portion of their recognized canon.

All this is telling testimony.  Brethren in the first century didn’t need an “official” “Church council” to tell them which books were from God.  They knew by other and better means.  They could “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  They could test those who claimed to be apostles (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 12:12) and those who claimed to be prophets (Deuteronomy18:21-22; 13:1-3).  They could “test the spirits, whether they [were] from God” (1 John 4:2).  Like the Bereans, they could weigh the unproven against the proven “to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  They could even inquire of an actual apostle if needed.  And who knows what role spiritual gifts may have played in this work? (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:8, 10)

Still, did it take time for all churches in all places to be certain about all the books?  Yes.  In a world where geographic isolation was a profound reality, where no message could travel faster than a horse, where a man like Apollos could still have not heard about baptism into Christ even though it had been taught 20+ years before, where the limitations of scrolls and codices may not have allowed all the books to be gathered into one volume…where a government would seize and burn your Scriptures…yes, in a world like that, it took time for knowledge of the complete New Testament canon to become universal.

But it did happen.  By A.D. 170, every book of the New Testament had been acknowledged as inspired by multiple voices.  And two centuries years from that time, every book would be acknowledged by all.  Later Catholic councils did not determine the parameters of the canon, but only acknowledged the canon that was already in existence, the same canon of 27 books we trust today.

Building Up the Temple

The temple built by Solomon lasted about three hundred and fifty years and then was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, in divine judgment. Seventy years later, the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon dedicated a second temple, much smaller than the one Solomon built, and the sacrificial system was restored, as predicted by Jeremiah. The second temple was eventually renovated and expanded in the latter part of King Herod’s reign, about five hundred years after it was built, with work continuing for several decades, throughout the lifetime of Jesus on earth. Construction finally terminated in the early 60s A.D., about the time Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Then the second Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., by the Romans, as predicted by Jesus. From that time, the Jewish sacrificial system initiated at Mt. Sinai through Moses ended, and several generations later in Rabbinic Judaism a symbolic system of prayers and rituals centered in the synagogues and homes of the Jews among the nations became the traditional substitute. Almost two millennia have passed with no Jerusalem temple, although since the late nineteenth century, interest in building a third Jerusalem temple has been stirred again, an interest further inflamed by the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel in 1947. Zionists and evangelical premillennialists have great interest in a revived Jewish temple system.

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D., stamping out a Jewish revolt against the Romans, there was  a second Jewish revolt in 132 A.D., led by a man known as Bar Kokhba (Son of The Star), who presented himself as the Christ, during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Bar Kokhba intended to restore Jewish dominion over Jerusalem, rebuild the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. The rebellion was put down by Hadrian’s forces, brutally and at great cost in lives, and Bar Kokhba died in 135, with one result being that Jews were banned from Jerusalem, the province of Judea was dissolved into Syria Palestine, and the city renamed Aelia Capitolina. A little more than two centuries later in 363 A.D. a Roman emperor remembered as Julian the Apostate wanted to destroy Christian influence in the empire and reaffirm paganism. Part of his program included restoring the Jews to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple there. Christians of the era believed that Julian’s motive was to undermine the prophecies of Jesus in the New Testament about the destruction of the temple (see Matthew 24-25). The emperor authorized funds and resources to build a third temple, but several historians, both Christian and pagan, reported that the work was thwarted first by disaster, fireballs bursting forth from the foundation stones of the temple, and an earthquake, and then by the abrupt death of Julian (see Ammianus Marcellinus, “Res Gestae,” Book 23, for example). After almost 3 more centuries passed, in 610 A.D., the Persian Sassanid Empire gained control of Jerusalem and again proposed rebuilding the Jewish temple, but that effort too fizzled and died.

Meanwhile, what did Jesus say about building a third temple in Jerusalem? He clearly and accurately prophesied the destruction of the second temple in all its grandeur, “not one stone left upon another,” (Matthew 24:1-2), but what did he say about building another temple? Early in his ministry when he visited Jerusalem’s temple and denounced turning his “Father’s house into a market” the Jews demanded a sign proving his authority (John 2:16-18).  Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days” (verse 19). This answer seemingly confused the Jews who cited the ongoing building project that was then forty-six years in progress, but John tells us that “the temple he had spoken of was his body” which his disciples later understood when he was raised from the dead (John 2:21-22), and they “believed the scripture and the words Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus proposed to raise up a temple, and that temple was his body. When Jesus later spoke to the Samaritan woman at Sychar (Shechem), he told her:

“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:21-24).

Subsequent New Testament references speak of the fading glory of the Mosaic mode of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and the increasing glory of heartfelt worship of those who come to God by the Spirit.

“If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:7-11, and see Hebrews 8:13).

When the New Testament speaks of a temple being built, it is as Jesus said, the temple of His body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), made up of living stones being built together. Peter had confessed faith in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God, and Jesus promised that “on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-19). Peter later wrote that Jesus is “the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him. You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).  The church, the body of Christ, is God’s house,

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple to the Lord… built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22).

This is the temple Jesus proposed to raise up, and he is the builder of the house of God in which Moses was a servant, as described in Hebrews 3:1-6, which concludes that “Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” Jesus built the temple God wanted. He spoke of no other. Despite every effort to destroy or distract true worship, his temple stands firm as the “place” for worship in spirit and truth.