Spiritual sacrifices

The Apostle Peter used the metaphor of a spiritual house to describe the structure that the whole body of believers forms as a collective unit (1 Peter 2:5). Peter stated, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). The terms Peter used, living stones, spiritual house, and spiritual sacrifices all pointed to the temple that was the focal point of the Jewish religion. Paul touched on this in his letter to the Corinthians when he addressed the topic of divisions in the church. Paul stated:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you, are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:1-17)

Paul indicated that building up the body of Christ was a joint effort that no one person could take credit for and said that each person’s work will be tested to see if it was done through human or spiritual effort. Peter may have described believers as living stones because of the effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the active nature of God’s word in the human heart. The Greek word that is translated spiritual in 1 Peter 2:5, pneumatikos (phyoo-mat-ik-os’) is used to describe things “pertaining to or proceeding from the Holy Spirit. Of persons who are spiritual, i.e. enlightened by the Holy Spirit, enjoying the influences, graces, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (G4152).

Peter stated:

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:6-8)

The word that Peter was referring to was most likely the Ten Commandments that were communicated directly to the Israelites from God on Mount Sinai shortly after they were delivered from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 19-20). The Greek term that is translated word in 1 Peter 2:8, logos (log’-os) was used by the Apostle John to identify Jesus as an eternal being that was present at the beginning of creation. John stated, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Peter indicated that those who disobey the word of God were destined to do so and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians revealed that the destiny of every person was established before the foundation of the world. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Peter indicated that the spiritual house that was being built up by believers was “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). By definition, spiritual sacrifices have to do with God’s divine influence upon the heart. The Greek word “pneumatikos always connotes the ideas of invisibility and of power. It does not occur in the Old Testament or in the Gospels; it is in fact an after-Pentecost word” (G4152). Peter most likely used the term spiritual sacrifices to differentiate between the kind of sacrifices that are made according to our own will and those that are made according to God’s will. When believers offer spiritual sacrifices they are supposed to be doing things that please God. When Jesus was baptized by John, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16). Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) means to approve of an act and stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).

Peter linked the spiritual sacrifices of believers to God’s original plan to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). After the Israelites entered the wilderness and camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses went up to God and “The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). God’s stipulation that the people obey his voice and keep his covenant was what led to the downfall of the nation of Israel. Peter was letting believers know that they were taking the place of the Israelites that were originally called to serve God. The key to our success being obedience to God’s word.

God described the nation of Israel as his “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). The Hebrew word cegullah “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves” (H5459). The descriptors “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” suggest that the kingdom of heaven centers around the spiritual sacrifices of God’s people which are dependent on faith in Jesus Christ. Peter said, “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus also quoted Psalm 118:22-23 after he told the parable of the tenants to the chief priests who wanted to know where his authority came from. Matthew 21:38-44 states:

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated people in Matthew 21:43 is ethnos (eth’-nos). Ethnos is derived from the word etho (eth’-o) which means “to be accustomed”, signifying a custom or a particular way of doing things (G1486). Ethnos has to do with human nature and in the sense of people producing fruits it refers to born again Christians who are walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Paul contrasted the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit and said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Ten Commandments were meant to restrain the Israelites from what Paul described as the works of the flesh. Paul said, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, disensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). The goal was to make the Israelites a holy nation, but without the help of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with the people directly (Exodus 19:11, 20:1), the people were afraid of him and couldn’t process the information he was communicating to them because they were spiritually dead (Exodus 20:18-19). One of the primary issues that prevented the Israelites from connecting with God was that they couldn’t approach him unless they were consecrated, which meant that they had to be cleansed from all of their sins (H6942). In other words, they needed to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, something that was impossible on a large scale until after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Exodus 20:1-17 records the discourse that took place between God and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were in essence a brief synopsis of the rules that God expected his chosen people to follow. They were as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet. 

After hearing these commandments, the people told Moses they didn’t want God to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:19). It says in Exodus 20:22, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.” The point the LORD was making was that he had already communicated all that was necessary for him to establish his covenant with the people of Israel. He didn’t need to say anything else to them.

The people of Israel understood that the essence of spiritual sacrifice was contained within the Ten Commandments. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus was teaching his disciples the principles of the kingdom of heaven, he was asked to identify “the great commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36). Essentially, what the lawyer wanted to know was which of the Ten Commandments was most likely to be broken by every person and would therefore cause everyone in the whole world to go to hell. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The two commandments that Jesus identified were similar in that they both focused on loving others. Jesus likely emphasized that we need to love God with all of our being because we tend to hold back certain parts of ourselves in order to keep a safe distance between us and our Creator. The fact that we are expected to love our neighbor as ourselves suggests that in the spiritual realm there are no boundaries between one soul and another. That’s why we must act like we are responsible for everyone’s happiness.

Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all believers would be united in the same way that he was with his Father (John 17:11). Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). The Greek words that are translated “become perfectly one,” teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) eis (ice) heis (hice) and o (o) refer to the joining together that Peter and Paul talked about when they said that believers are to be built up (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 4:16). The Greek word oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) means to be a house-builder and oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture. Peter and Paul likely used these words to convey the process of edification because believers are joined together in a systematic way that results in an enduring structure somewhat like a home that is passed on from generation to generation which can be remodeled as needed. Peter’s depiction of a spiritual house that was built using living stones (1 Peter 2:5) was probably meant to convey the idea of a community that is in constant motion. If you look at the kingdom of heaven as a state of being as opposed to a physical space that has occupants, you might see that spiritual sacrifices are ones that go beyond the boundaries of physical life and deal with the immaterial needs of human beings.

Jesus’ attempt to convince a rich young man that he didn’t need all the possessions he was depending on was most likely hindered by the young man’s image of the kingdom of heaven as a place that was luxurious and designed to provide comfort. Matthew’s gospel states, “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Jesus indicated there is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17) and suggested that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be perfect (Matthew 19:21). His disciples realized that it would be impossible for anyone to meet God’s standard because giving away one’s possessions went against the very core of human nature. Jesus’ statement, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) was meant to point out that God doesn’t expect us to go against our nature, but provides a way for us to do what is humanly impossible. Jesus went on to tell them a parable about laborers in a vineyard in order to show them that it wasn’t a matter of giving things up that hinders people from serving God, but the expectation that God will reward our spiritual sacrifices according to how long or hard we work for him. In the parable, everyone was paid the same wages even though some worked all day and others just one hour. Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). In other words, God’s goodness isn’t controlled by our human efforts to please him. It is only when we do God’s will that we receive rewards in heaven.

The body

One of the most fascinating aspects of the human body is that it has both physical and spiritual characteristics. It says in Genesis 1:26 that God created man in his image, after his own likeness. What that meant was that humans resembled God in form and shape, as well as, in the sense of his essential nature (H6754). Because of that, God said he would require a reckoning for the life of man, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:5-6). The Hebrew word translated require, darash (daw-rash’) “is often used to describe the ‘seeking of’ the Lord in the sense of entering into covenantal relationship with Him” (H1875).

God established a covenant with Noah and his sons that applied not only to them, but to every living creature that came out of the ark after the flood. God told Noah, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). The Hebrew word translated cut off, karath (kaw-rath’) “can be used of spiritual and social extermination. A person ‘cut off’ in this manner is not necessarily killed but may be driven out of the family and removed from the blessings of the covenant” (H3772). The cutting off God referred to in his covenant may have had more to do with the severance of a relationship with him and others than it did the extermination of life.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their relationship with God and each other was altered. One of the ways this change was manifested was Adam and Eve becoming aware of their nakedness. It says in Genesis 3:9-11, “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'”

Essentially, what happened to Adam and Eve when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a spiritual covering was removed and they became ashamed of their nakedness which made them feel worthless in God’s eyes (H954). When God made his covenant with Noah, it was somewhat like putting a spiritual cloke on him in that it protected him and his family from the punishment associated with sin. One of the catches to this arrangement was that it didn’t apply to the physical realm. In other words, God no longer saw Noah and his family as being naked, but they still appeared that way to each other.

After the flood, it says in Genesis 9:20-23, “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.” What exactly was going on in Noah’s tent isn’t completely clear from the text, but it seems likely that it didn’t have anything to do with Noah being nude in the privacy of his own home. The Hebrew word translated nakedness, ervah (er-vaw’) represents the male sex organ and implies shameful exposure (H6172). To be uncovered meant that Noah was probably engaged in some type of sexual activity (H1540), perhaps being sexually abused by his grandson Canaan, when Noah’s son Ham walked in on him. Noah cursed Canaan after he realized what had happened to him (Genesis 9:24-25).

It’s important to note that God didn’t punish Noah or Canaan for what happened between them. God’s covenant with his family made it possible for Noah to be avenged of the crime committed against him. When Noah cursed Canaan, he was pronouncing judgment on him because of what he had done. Psalm 8:2 says of the LORD, our Lord, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” Basically, what the psalmist was saying was that even babies can claim God’s vengeance. The Hebrew word translated avenger, naqam (naw-kam’) means “to grudge, i.e. avenge or punish…The Lord reserves vengeance as the sphere of his own action” (H5358).

The Apostle Paul identified sexual immorality as a serious spiritual crime because it contradicts our likeness to God. He said, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:1-3). According to Paul, Noah’s son Ham was in the wrong because he told his two brothers what he saw (Genesis 9:22). The Hebrew word translated told in Genesis 9:22, nagad (naw-gad’) has to do with bringing something to someone’s attention in order to expose the person that is being reported on. In other words, Ham wanted to discredit or shame Noah by reporting what he saw to his brothers rather than keeping the matter to himself.

Paul went on to explain that certain behavior is indicative of being in a lost or unbelieving spiritual state. He said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:4-5). The Greek word Paul used that is translated sexually immoral, pornos (por’-nos) means to sell and refers to a male prostitute as well as sex trafficking (G4205). Words that are related to pornos, porne (por’-nay) and porneia (por-ni’-ah) have to do with female prostitution, incest, and adultery. The English word pornography was originally thought of as writing about prostitutes.

Paul indicated that sexual immorality was the reason God’s wrath would be poured out on unbelievers or what Paul referred to as the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). The Greek word apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) describes disbelief as being obstinate and rebellious. “This word literally means ‘the condition of being unpersuadable’ and denotes ‘obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). Paul told the Ephesians, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:7-10).

Paul’s contrast of darkness with light was meant to show that believers and unbelievers are the exact opposites of each other. There is nothing similar about them from a spiritual standpoint. One way of understanding their differences is to think of someone that is in a state of darkness as being blind compared to someone with sight. Trying to explain what an eagle flying overhead, a mountain in the distance, or a sunset looks like to a blind person is impossible because he has no awareness of these things. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead to expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:11-14).

Paul’s instruction to expose works of darkness meant that he wanted believers to witness or share God’s word with unbelievers so that they could be convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit (G1651). For sin to become visible, it has to be linked with the conscience mind and understood as a condition that is contrary to the nature of God. Paul associated spiritual rebirth with being resurrected from the dead and used a hymn to illustrate his point. He said:

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul’s analogy of waking up had to do with a change in position. Going from a horizontal to a vertical position spiritually meant that one was able to engage in a conversation with God. Paul’s statement “Christ will shine on you” indicated that spiritual comprehension was a result of being born again.

The genealogies of Noah’s three sons; Shem, Ham, and Japheth showed that particular pathways or the courses of their lives were determined by the incident that occurred in Noah’s tent. The descendants of Ham whose son Canaan was cursed by Noah (Genesis 9:25) became mighty men (Genesis 10:8-9) or valiant warriors, the opposite of what you might expect from being rejected by God. One of the definitions of the Hebrew word gibbor (ghib-bore’) which means powerful is tyrant (H1368). Noah’s great grandson Nimrod established a kingdom that eventually developed into the Assyrian Empire and included such cities as Nineveh, as well as Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 10:10-19), two cities that were destroyed by God because of their gross immorality (Genesis 18:20).

Psalm 8 suggests that God’s involvement in the world is focused on the building up of families and in particular the physical connection between family members. Verses 3-4 state:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

The Hebrew phrase “set in place” indicates permanence and seems to suggest that God’s ongoing involvement in the affairs of men has to do with our physical location in relation to others. God placed the moon and the stars in specific locations in space so that they could be used for “signs” and to determine the “seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). The Hebrew word translated signs, owth (oth) means a signal. “This word represents something by which a person or group is characteristically marked” (H226). Owth also means “‘sign’ as a reminder of one’s duty” and can attest to the validity of a prophetic message.

The psalmist described God as being mindful of man (Psalm 8:4). To be mindful of something means that you are actively engaged in a thought process that will result in some sort of action related to it. The most frequent translation of the Hebrew word zakar (zaw-kar’) is remember and is usually associated with God’s remembrance of his covenants. When God established his covenant with Noah, he said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring the clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:12-15).

Flesh or basar (baw-sawr’) in Hebrew refers to the meaty part plus the skin of the human body. “This word may represent a part of the body” or “the ‘physical aspect’ of man or animals contrasted with the spirit, soul, or heart (the non-physical aspect)” (H1320). Paul likened the relationship between a husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and his church. Paul said, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:23). Paul wanted believers to understand that there is a physical connection between Jesus and his followers even though he currently resides in heaven. It could be that spiritual bonds are just like physical ones except that they are invisible.

Paul encouraged husbands to love their wives in order to sanctify them as Christ does the church and said, “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:28-30). The Greek word Paul used that is translated body, soma (so’-mah) refers to the body as a sound whole. Therefore, it can be assumed Paul was referring to the physical connection between a husband and wife, but “the body is not the man, for he himself can exist apart from his ‘body'” (G4983). Therefore, even though Paul was referring to Christ’s body as a material structure made up of numerous pieces that could be united into a functioning whole, it must be assumed that some aspects of Christ’s body are spiritual rather than physical because believers are dispersed around the world, and yet they are still a unified whole that is attached to Christ.

Paul indicated that every believer is a member or distinct body part that is essential to harmonized operation. “The unity of the body is not due to external organization but to common and vital union in Christ (G3196). Paul illustrated this point using the example of marriage. He said, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Paul’s reference to becoming one flesh probably didn’t have anything to do with sexual intercourse. Paul was likely thinking of an external connection that had to do with the complete person or you might say the whole of a person’s activities e.g. the husband and wife’s daily involvement with each other or just being a part of each other’s physical space.

One of the things that is unique about Jesus, who is God, but also a man, is that while he was living on Earth, he was only able to be in one physical location at a time. Because his body, the church is described by Paul as being made up of many members, you could say that Jesus’ body now spans the entire world. Jesus is present everywhere a believer is. What makes this possible is Christ’s union with his body which Paul described as being like a husband and wife that are joined together in holy matrimony (Ephesians 5:31). The Greek word proskollao (pros-kol-lay’o) indicates there are two aspects of the joining together that occurs in marriage. First, there is a clean break or cutting off of a relationship that already exists with one’s parents. Then, a gluing together that produces a strengthened kind of relationship between the couple. The word kollao (kol-lah’-o) refers to cement, indicating that a permanent bond is formed that cannot be reversed.

The bond between Christ and the members of his church results in a superior physical form of the human body. Paul said that Christ loved the church so that he could sanctify it, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). One of the benefits of having a relationship with Christ is that our physical body is regenerated and made to appear as if it has not been affected by sin. Paul’s used the words spot and wrinkle to illustrate the effects of sin as being like clothes that get messed up during use. Being born again is somewhat like getting a spiritual makeover in that it makes us more attractive both on the inside and out.

Paul’s conclusion that the bond between Christ and his church was a profound mystery (Ephesians 5:32) indicated that there were probably some aspects to this special kind of relationship that Paul didn’t completely understand. The Greek word translated mystery, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) “in the New Testament denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, I now that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

A remodeling project

Every remodeling project begins with the demolition of something that needs to be transformed. God began his remodeling of Earth with the destruction of every living thing that he had created. God warned Noah, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground” (Genesis 7:4). The phrase blot out is properly translated as “to stroke or rub” and by implication to erase (H4229). In a sense, you could say that God intended to get rid of the evidence of his creative effort, but there was more to his plan than destroying everything that was alive.

The Hebrew word that is translated living thing, yequwm (yek-oom’) refers to something that is standing (H3351). Yequwm is derived from the word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, to stand up, come about” (H6965). Quwm is sometimes used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged.” I believe God’s complete destruction of life on Earth was connected to his plan of salvation and was intended to enable a different kind of structure for life on Earth to be established.

One of the ways of looking at the world we live in is an orderly arrangement of things that God controls (G2889). The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos) is derived from the word komizo (kom-id’-zo) which means to provide for (G2865). God’s decision to blot out all of the life that he had created was based on his awareness of mankind’s need to get rid of the effects of his sinful behavior. God specifically intended to flood the Earth so that he could provide a means of salvation for the world, but his plan began with a single person, Noah.

God commanded Noah to “Go into the ark, you and all your household” (Genesis 7:1) and it says in Genesis 7:5 that “Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.” The Hebrew word translated did, ‘asah (aw-saw’) has to do with the relationship of an individual to another in his action or behavior in the sense of what one does. “The emphasis here is on an ongoing mutual relationship between two parties obligating them to a reciprocal act” (H6213). Noah responded to God’s command because he wanted to have a relationship with him or you might say because Noah wanted to keep his relationship with the LORD intact.

God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18) guaranteed that he and his family would be saved from the flood that was intended to wipe out every living thing from the face of the earth. Even though God guaranteed his safety, Noah had to do something to put God’s promise into effect. Noah’s obedience to God’s command to build the ark and bring in all the animals that he wanted him to save (Genesis 6:14, 19) symbolized Noah’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation, but to a certain extent, you could say that Noah still had to save himself by doing what was necessary for his life to be spared.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explained that everyone has to make a choice to leave behind the world that is controlled by Satan and become a member of God’s family. He stated:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5)

Genesis 7:16 states, “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.” The Hebrew word translated shut him in, cagar (saw-gar’) figuratively means to surrender and in an extreme sense, “to imprison” (H5462). This seems to suggest that God shut the door of the ark from the outside so that no one could escape. A Hebrew word that is similar to cagar that might clarify why God shut Noah and his family inside the ark is cegullah (seg-ool-law’) which means to shut up in the sense of wealth being preserved. “Cegullah signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God’s personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what He wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people” (H5459).

The Apostle Paul referred to himself as “a prisoner for the Lord” and encouraged the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). The Greek word Paul used that is translated prisoner, desmios (des’-mee-os) refers to “a captive (as bound)” (G1198), meaning a prisoner that is in shackles or some other form of physical constraint. Paul considered himself to be serving a good cause by suffering for his commitment to preaching the gospel. In reference to walking in a manner worthy of one’s calling, Paul said believers should walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Noah and his family experienced extremely dangerous circumstances during their captivity in the ark which lasted for a whole year (Genesis 7:11, 8:14). It’s likely that Noah had to deal with some issues related to creating and maintaining a peaceful environment. Paul’s instruction to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) had to do with agreement about the principles of Christianity. Paul felt that it was his job to preach to the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:7), but there were many obstacles to him doing that. One of the specific claims that was brought against Paul while he was in Ephesus was that he was ruining their economy by preaching against idolatry (Acts 19:26-27). After a riot broke out, Paul had to flee Ephesus (Acts 20:1) and was forced to say his final goodbyes from a distance (Acts 20:25).

Noah’s three sons and their wives entered the ark with him, but there is no evidence to suggest that any or all of them were in agreement with his decision to obey the LORD’s command. Noah’s faith was an internal persuasion that most likely contradicted his external circumstances. There were no signs that confirmed Noah’s belief that a flood was imminent and that all who lived on Earth were going to be destroyed by God (Hebrews 11:7). The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and Paul said he “condemned the world,” and became an “heir of righteousness” by his faith (Hebrews 11:7). The single thing that differentiated Noah from everyone else was his conviction that God was going to do what he said he would.

Peter connected the flood of Noah’s day to the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3) and indicated that the word of God “that brought watery destruction on the wicked of Noah’s day will bring fiery destruction on the world that exists today and on its wicked people” (note on 2 Peter 3:7, KJSB). According to Peter, Noah’s salvation from the flood illustrates God’s redemption of his chosen people and typifies baptism. Peter said of Noah’s confinement to the ark while water covered the face of the Earth, “This is like baptism to us. Baptism does not mean we wash our bodies clean. It means we are saved from the punishment of sin and go to God in prayer with a heart that says we are right. This can be done because Christ was raised from the dead” (1 Peter 3:21, NLV).

Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:4-7). Paul’s argument that there is only one hope for mankind makes it clear that God’s salvation of Noah and his family was not different from what we are able to experience today. The critical element that connects these two ways of being born again is water baptism. “Baptism is a symbol of salvation in that it depicts Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and our identification with Him in these experiences” (note on 1 Peter 3:21, KJSB).

It says in Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” The Hebrew word translated remembered, zakar (zaw-kar) is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized)” (H2142). You could say that God’s covenant with Noah caused Noah to be recognized as a member of God’s family. Somewhat like the bond between a mother and her child, God and Noah became permanently attached to each other in such a way that God would never forget about or abandon Noah because of the feelings he had from him. The bond between God and Noah was most likely the same kind of bond Paul referred to as the “bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Paul indicated the primary characteristic of believers that are joined together in the bond of peace is unity. The Greek word Paul used, henotes (hen-ot’-ace) is derived from the word heis (hice) which represents the primary numeral one (G1520). Emphatically, this means “a single (‘one’), to the exclusion of others.” Henotes may be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of believers. Since there is only one God and one faith that is received from him, it makes sense that all believers will eventually come to the same conclusions about their belief in Christ, that his incarnation made it possible for him to die for the sins of the world (note on Ephesians 4:8-10).

God’s renovation of the world would not have been possible if he was unable to systematically replicate its original structure. One of the things that had to be preserved during the 375 days that Noah and his family were in the ark was the spiritual ecosystem that connected every living thing to its partner in the physical realm. It says in Genesis 7:8-9, “Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.” The perfect one to one correlation of males and females meant that every living thing that went into the ark had to come out alive or God’s spiritual ecosystem would be disrupted.

The ark that Noah built was somewhat like a life preserver that was meant to keep the lives of all those who were in it safe until they were able to return to the land. In the same way that a dismantled plumbing system has to be replicated or it won’t function properly, the people and animals living on the ark each represented a critical piece of structure that had to go back in place and be able to function properly after the flood was over. Paul used the metaphor of a human body to describe the structure that results from believers being united by knowledge of the Son of God. He said, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Paul talked about the whole body of Christ being joined and held together (Ephesians 4:16) as if it was a physical structure with pieces that could be perfectly connected to each other. The Greek word Paul used that is translated building up in Ephesians 4:12, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture (G3619) and implies that there is a spiritual building or structure that every believer functions within. Paul indicated this building is being repaired or adjusted to fit the needs of its members as growth takes place (G2675). The way this adjustment happens is through a complete discernment or comprehension of God’s plan of salvation (Ephesians 4:13).

Paul identified five roles involved in the equipping or complete furnishing of the spiritual building that is made up of believers: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Paul indicated each of these roles has a unique contribution to make in believers’ spiritual growth. Paul said they are like joints or ligaments that join muscle to bone and “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). The process whereby this growth takes place is fellowship or in the Greek, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). Paul referred to koinonia as the “plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made know to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10, italics mine).

To a certain extent, you could say that Noah and his family were the first members of Christ’s church and their time on the ark was an opportunity for Noah and his family to learn firsthand what God’s plan of salvation was really all about. After they were released from the ark, it says in Genesis 8:20-21, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.”

God’s conclusion that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth confirmed that Noah’s righteousness was not a result of his own human nature. “Although righteous Noah and his family had been saved, he and his offspring were the descendants of Adam and carried in their hearts the inheritance of sin” (note on Genesis 8:21, KJSB). Paul described the sinful condition of humans as “the futility of their minds” and said, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18).

Paul’s description of unbelievers as being “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18) basically meant they were alienated from God’s family and therefore didn’t fit in with the body of Christ. You might say they were stray parts because God had no use for them due to their ignorance of his plan of salvation. Paul told the Ephesians that they needed to “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated renewed in Ephesians 4:23, ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o) means to renovate. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365). In other words, Paul’s instruction to put off the old self and put on the new self meant that he wanted the Ephesians to be born again and to be completely remodeled into dwelling place that was fit for God’s Holy Spirit.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

One body

God didn’t plan for there to be numerous denominations and factions among believers. When Paul received a revelation from God about his ministry, he was told that the Gentiles and Jews would be “of the same body” (Ephesians 3:6). “These words indicate the unique aspect of the mystery that was not previously known: the equality and mutuality that Gentiles had with Jews in the church, the one body. That Gentiles would turn to the God of Israel and be saved was prophesied in the OT (see Rom 15:9-12); that they would come into an organic unity with believing Jews on an equal footing was unexpected” (note on Ephesians 3:6).

Paul stated, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6, NKJV). Paul’s focus on the oneness of believers in Christ was likely meant to point out that there should be no distinctions between Christians. We are all saved and on our way to heaven. Everything else is a matter of individual belief, not the teaching of Jesus Christ. What Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand was that they were not a new or different religious group from the Jews. They were not supposed to be isolated from the Jewish churches, but integrated into them.

Paul’s description of believers as one body (Ephesians 4:4) emphasized the connectedness, the integration of the individual parts, and collective functioning that should be evident in Jesus’ followers. Paul talked about the edifying of the body of Christ and told the Ephesians, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:14-16, NKJV).

The Greek word translated edifying, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) has to do with architecture and refers to the structure by which something is perceived to be a building. When we think of the church as a building that we go to we are missing the point of what Paul was trying to say about how Jesus’ church should function. Believers are supposed to be joined by their faith and work together as a single unit that functions collectively to spread the gospel around the world. The key ingredient that you could say is the glue or mortar that holds everything together is love. The Greek word Paul used in Ephesians 4:16 is agape. Sometimes referred to as Christian love, agape signifies the kind of love that is derived from Christ.

A perfect fit

Part of the reason Paul knew it was foolish of him to boast about his super-apostle position in the ministry of Jesus Christ was because he realized he was equal with everyone else when it came to God’s mercy or compassion. Paul stated, ” Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.” The Greek word translated edification, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Paul talked about the believer’s body being a tabernacle or tent and said, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). With regards to edification, Paul was implying that the building of God, our eternal home in heaven was being constructed by way of his ministry.

From Paul’s statement, we know that the process of edification is connected to the teaching of God’s word. One of the clues Paul gave us about how the process of edification works can be found in 2 Corinthians 13:9 where it says, “For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong; and this also we wish, even your perfection.” The Greek word translated perfection is katartisis. “This word means making a fit” (G2676). Kartartisis is derived from the word katartizo which comes from the words kata and artios. The word artios “stresses that in which nothing is maimed. It refers not only to the presence of all the parts that are necessary for completeness, but also to the further adaptation and aptitude of these parts for their designed purpose” (G739). Apparently, Paul was saying that the strengths and weaknesses of each believers’ knowledge of God’s word should balance each other out so that when we are joined together in the body of Christ there will be no discrepancies in our understanding of the scriptures.

Paul concluded his letter to the Corinthians with the statement, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Paul’s commands to be perfect and be of one mind suggested that he expected believers to study God’s word and to discuss their beliefs with other Christians. The Greek word translated mind, phroneo means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion” (G5426). Paul’s statement to be of one mind was specifically meant to express the uniting of everyone’s opinions; what we might refer to today as a consensus or everyone being on the same page. With regard to edification, Paul’s instruction to be perfect meant that there would be a perfect fit or joining together of everyone’s minds so that individual opinions were adjusted according to the truth of God’s word and therefore, there would be no errors in the Corinthians’ thinking.

The body of Christ

Paul talked about spiritual gifts in the context of supernatural regeneration or what Jesus referred to as being born again (John 3:3). Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to understand that being identified with Christ meant you would receive a particular spiritual capability that was different than your natural capability in order to facilitate the effective functioning of the body of Christ. Paul said:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, ESV)

Paul described all believers collectively as the body of Christ and explained that in the same way that a human body has many parts that enable it to function effectively, so all believers are expected to function as a collective unit. Paul referred to both diversity and unity in his description of the spiritual capabilities that every believer is given and stated, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).

The point I believe Paul was trying to make was that spiritual gifts are only useful in a collective sense. Paul used the expression tempered together (1 Corinthians 12:24) to describe the process God uses to unify the body of Christ. The Greek word sugkerannumi (soong-ker-an’-noo-mee) means “to commingle” (G4786). Figuratively, sugkerannumi can mean to assimilate. Paul was most likely talking about Christians being joined together culturally. One of the Old Testament uses of the phrase tempered together had to do with the creation of a perfume that was placed before the ark in the most holy place of God’s temple (Exodus 30:34-36). The individual elements of this holy anointing oil were beaten together until they dissolved and became an aromatic fragrance comparable to a priceless perfume. When Paul said there should be “no schism” in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:25), he was probably referring to an expensive garment that had been sewn together in such a way that it was impossible to tell that it wasn’t a single piece of cloth. Together, these illustrations suggest that the body of Christ is like an Olympic athlete that is able to accomplish superhuman feats through its collective efforts.

Discipline

The rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem after Peter began preaching the gospel made it especially vulnerable to chaos and confusion. An unusual aspect of this large congregation was that they shared all their resources. It says in Acts 4:32, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.” Based on the number of reported conversions (Acts 2:41, 4:4), there may have been as many as 10,000 believers joined together in a communal living situation. Luke’s notation that the believers were “of one heart and one soul” meant that they were united spiritually. There was an inner connection that made these believers think and act as if they were a single entity, something the Apostle Paul referred to as “the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4).

Even though the believers in Jerusalem shared an unusual experience of intimate fellowship, they were not free from conflict or relationship problems. Luke reported an incident where a couple tried to deceive people into thinking they were joined with everyone else, but were actually living a lie. It says in Acts 4:34-5:4:

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need…But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

The pressure to conform to everyone else’s standard may have made Ananias and his wife Sapphira vulnerable to Satan’s influence. Although there was no expectation for this couple to cooperate with the collection of resources, they seemed to feel it was necessary for them to sell their property and at least pretend to give all their money away.

The discipline that was used to correct the situation may have been perceived to be a harsh judgment from God, but it’s likely that is was necessary to correct the situation in such a way that it would send a strong message to those that wanted to take advantage of the generosity of others that God wasn’t going to allow his church to be corrupted by Satan’s influence. After Peter exposed Ananias’ lie, it says in Acts 5:5, “And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.”