A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The grace of God

The grace of God is an overarching theme of the Bible and a central element in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stated plainly that God’s grace is what makes it possible for us to be saved. Paul said, “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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). The Greek word that is translated grace in Ephesians 2:8, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the unmerited favor that God shows us in saving us from sin, “the grace exhibited in the pardon of sins and admission to the divine kingdom…especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude” (G5485). Charis is derived from the word chairo (khah’ee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off…Particularly, to rejoice, be glad” (G5463). Paul talked about how the grace of God had caused the churches of Macedonia to give beyond their means. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Paul contrasted the Macedonians abundance of joy with their extreme poverty in order to make it clear that the Macedonians’ generosity wasn’t a result of their circumstances. It was actually in spite of their circumstances that the Macedonians had chosen to participate in the relief of the saints. Paul referred to the Macedonians “wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2), their sincere desire to give to others according to God’s riches rather than their own. Paul used the phrase “the favor of taking part” (2 Corinthians 8:4) to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the Macedonians giving. The two Greek words that are translated the favor of taking part, charis koinonia literally mean the gift of fellowship or you might say that the Macedonians’ were actively responding to the saints’ common financial need.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example by participating in the act of grace that was being presented to them by Paul’s companion Titus. Paul said, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Paul might have viewed the collection of money for the relief of the saints as an act of grace because he knew that the Corinthians would not be inclined of their own free will to give as generously as the Macedonians had. His plea for them to excel in this act of grace as they had in all the other areas of their relationship with Christ may have been Paul’s way of stirring up the Corinthians’ collective conscience and was perhaps intended to make the Corinthians feel uneasy about the fact that they weren’t doing their part. Paul understood that the grace of God was not something that could be initiated from a material perspective. God’s grace originates in the mind of Christ and is transmitted to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers are the object of God’s effort to bless mankind. Paul said, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The idea that we are God’s workmanship, a product that is made by him (G4161) is based on Paul’s comprehension of how transformation occurs in the heart of a believer. Paul understood that it is impossible for us to make ourselves good and therefore, good works are the result of God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart (G5485).

Paul talked to the Ephesians about the new life that is possible when we yield ourselves to God’s divine influence. Paul told them:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 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. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your 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 4:17-24)

Holiness was the primary objective of the legal system that Moses established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Ongoing sacrifices had to be made in order to cleanse the people from their sin. Even if someone sinned unintentionally, atonement had to be made for the sin so that the guilt of the offense would not be held against the person or the congregation of Israel as a whole (Leviticus 4).

The key to the Israelites’ release from guilt when they committed a sin against God was the grace of God which was demonstrated through his act of forgiveness. The Greek word that is translated forgiving and forgiven in Ephesians 4:32, charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) means “to bestow a favor unconditionally” (G5483). Charizomai is derived from the word charis (khar’-ece) which means graciousness. “Grace indicates favor on the part of the giver, thanks on the part of the receiver. Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God’s eleos (1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in his efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery” (G5485). The Old Testament concept of forgiveness is similar in that it depended on God’s grace, but atonement had to be made in order for forgiveness to be effective before Christ died on the cross. The Hebrew word calach (saw-lakh’), which means to forgive, is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind and measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth; for both found their fulness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22)” (H5545).

Forgiveness is mentioned most often in chapters four and five of the book of Leviticus, where it states that the priest must make atonement for a sin, and then it shall be forgiven him or them (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18). Jesus made a point of letting people know that he was able to forgive sins. On one occasion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Matthew’s gospel records the incident this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

Jesus associated his forgiveness of the paralytic man’s sins with the faith he saw in the people that brought the man to him to be healed. Matthew 9:2 states, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.‘” The connection between faith and forgiveness seems to be our reliance upon God to save us from our sinful behavior. The Greek word that is translated faith in Matthew 9:2, pistis (pis’-tis) is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102).

The important thing to note about the way faith and forgiveness work together to save us from our sins is that action is required on both parts. God’s act of grace toward us would have no effect if it weren’t for our act of faith in receiving his gift of salvation. Jesus commanded the paralytic man to “take heart” (Matthew 9:2). Essentially, what Jesus wanted was for the man to activate his faith. The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” instead of take heart to express what Jesus expected from the paralytic man. Another way of stating it would be “to have courage” (G2293). The reason why the paralytic man needed to have courage was because his guilt was getting in the way of him being able to recover from his disease. What was likely going on was that the paralytic man knew he deserved to be punished for the sins he had committed and may have associated his disability with something specific that he had done wrong in the past. It appears that the man was correct because Jesus told him his sins were forgiven (Matthew 9:2) before he commanded the paralytic man to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).

Leviticus 4:27-31 points out that it is possible for us to sin unintentionally and therefore, a penalty can be incurred without us knowing about it. This passage states:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus made it clear that his sacrificial death on the cross was intended to pay the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed. John said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that is translated takes away, airo (ah’-ee-ro) means “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove” and speaks of the effects of Jesus’ Atonement in the believer’s life (G142). John’s declaration of Jesus taking away the sin of the world was connected with the original punishment for sin that was enacted in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that Jesus brought justification and the free gift of righteousness to all when he died for the sins of the world. Paul explained:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Paul went on to talk about the gifts of grace and pointed out that God’s grace should result in generous giving. Paul said:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The principle behind generosity is that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We should think of the needs of others as we do our own needs and give as we would want others to give to us if we were the ones in need of assistance. Paul told the Corinthians, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).

Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to finish what they had started. Apparently, the Corinthians had pledged to give a certain amount toward the relief of the saints, but hadn’t followed through on it. Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:10-14). The fairness that Paul was talking about had to do with equality in their conditions rather than their status as citizens or positions in society. Paul stated plainly that he didn’t want to make things easier for the Christians in Jerusalem at the expense of believers in Corinth. Paul indicated that the Corinthians gift would be considered acceptable if is what according to what they had, not according to what they didn’t have.

One of the final requests that Jesus made of his Father when he was dying on the cross was that God would forgive the sin that was being committed against his only Son. Jesus petitioned, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The conclusion that Jesus’ crucifixion was an unintentional sin may seem a little far fetched, but our Lord understood that the collective heart of mankind was hardened by centuries of rebellion against God and the people’s lack of faith was due in part to the misrepresentation of God’s character by the Jewish priests. The Greek word that is translated know, eido (i’-do) refers to perfect knowledge (G1492) or you might say knowing someone completely. Jesus’ conclusion that the people didn’t know what they were doing was based in part on the fact that the Holy Spirit had not yet come into the world and made Jesus’ work on the cross evident to everyone. From that standpoint, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was still somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t until the people had the influence of the Holy Spirit that they were able to see things clearly, repent of their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 2:32-41).

An earnest desire

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to restore the fellowship that he had with them when he first established their church. The dishonorable behavior of some of the church’s members had caused Paul to pay them an unpleasant visit and resulted in harsh treatment of the offender. Paul urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the sinner (2 Corinthians 2:7) so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul said, “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:8-11). Paul went on to explain that his ministry of reconciliation was intended to restore fellowship between God and mankind and that we are all new creatures in Christ. Paul stated:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)

The Greek word that is translated reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18, katallage (kat-al-lay-ay’) means exchange “i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor” (G2643). Reconciliation has to do with God’s ability to give us credit for Christ’s righteousness even though we haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said that the new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Paul addressed the Corinthian sinner’s transgression by admonishing him to cleanse himself from the moral pollution that had affected not only his body, but also his spirit. Paul said, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s use of the term beloved indicated that he was speaking to someone that was a follower of Christ. The Greek term that is translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is “spoken of Christians as united with God or with each other in the bonds of holy love…meaning conjoined in the bonds of faith and love” (G27). Bringing holiness to completion was probably Paul’s way of referring to the process of sanctification which unites believers with Christ and each other. Paul implied in his letter to the Ephesians that it is possible for us to achieve spiritual success. He said that we are to “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” (Ephesians 5:1). Paul’s reference to a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God was connected to the peace offering that was a part of the moral and ethical instruction of God’s chosen people (Leviticus, Introduction, p. 113). Leviticus 1:3-9 states:

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The offering of a male without blemish signified the perfection, as well as the completion of the sacrifice that was being made. The Hebrew word that is translated blemish, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is translated blameless in Genesis 17:1-2 where it says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of perfection that God demanded from Abraham and all those who would seek entrance into his kingdom. Jesus told his followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and he later instructed a rich young man, “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” (Matthew 19:21).

The blood of the sacrificed animal was symbolically thrown against the sides of the altar in order to depict the violence involved in the act of atonement. Leviticus 17:11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The Hebrew word that is translated “to make atonement for” in Leviticus 1:4 is kaphar (kaw-far’). “On its most basic level of meaning, kaphar denotes a material transaction of ‘ransom’…The righteous God is neither implacable nor capricious, but provides Himself the ‘ransom’ or substitute sacrifice that would satisfy Him. The priest at the altar represents God Himself, bringing the requisite offering before God; sacrifice is not essentially man’s action, but God’s own act of pardoning mercy. Kaphar is first found in Genesis 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of ‘to cover over.’ Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, ‘Pitch it within and without with pitch.’ Most of the uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of ‘covering over,’ often with the blood of sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God’s sight until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

When he instituted the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated earnestly desired, epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah) epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o) were meant to emphasize the passion that Jesus had to complete his mission of saving the world. Epithumeo means “to fix the desire upon” and stresses the inward impulse to do something regardless of the outcome (G1937). Epithumia suggests that it was an irrational longing that drove Jesus to give up his life for his friends (G1939). During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve apostles that he had personally chosen to serve with him. Luke’s account of the incident states it this way:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:17-23)

Jesus’ earnest desire to institute the Lord’s Supper may have been centered around the fact that it would be the remembrance of him that would keep his ministry active in the hearts of believers. Jesus pointed out that even Peter, who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Christ, would be subject to Satan’s devices. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

Paul’s compassion for the sinner in Corinth that had disrupted his ministry was most likely a result of his understanding of the schemes of the devil. Paul talked extensively about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul encouraged believers to be joined together with the Lord in order to defeat Satan. Paul told them, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). Paul mentioned his own struggle against spiritual forces in connection with the incident in Corinth which had disrupted his ministry. Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Corinthians had repented and were also seeking a restoration of their fellowship with him. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated longing in 2 Corinthians 7:7 is translated earnestly desire in the King James Version of the Bible. In the same way that Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the Corinthians wanted to restore fellowship, or you might say, have communion with Paul.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that the grief he had caused them had served a purpose in that it worked to bring them back together and strengthened their relationship with each other and the Lord. Paul said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Paul referred to a godly grief that brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance. Repentance has to do with thinking differently about our behavior. The Greek word metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) in a religious sense implies “pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341). The reason why Paul associated repentance with godly sorrow may have been because it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that produces repentance in the believer’s heart. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 15:26). Paul talked about God as the one who comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). In this instance, comfort has to do with coming along side and encouraging someone that is in need of help (G3870).

Paul talked in his letter to the Ephesians about Christians being fellow citizens and “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). The metaphor Paul used of a holy temple in the Lord was meant to connect the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law with the process of sanctification which unites believers in and to Christ. Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the source, or you might say, the power that drives sanctification when he said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-eh’-o) is derived from the words sun (soon) which signifies union (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) which means “to be a house-builder” (G3618). Oikodomeo “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.” Paul wanted both the Ephesians and Corinthians to understand that what he was doing may have been painful for them, but was necessary for their spiritual growth. Paul told the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Paul contrasted godly grief with worldly grief in order to point out that grief in and of itself was not the objective of his message. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the work of the Holy Spirit was essential for his preaching and teaching to be effective. Paul said that worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). What he likely meant by that was that the sorrow we feel when we do something wrong can sometimes be overwhelming, Excessive grief can lead to things like suicide and depression. One of the ways that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts is that we experience the comfort of God as we admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our wrong actions. Paul said “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, godly grief draws us closer to God, not away from him. Paul said that godly grief also produces earnestness. The Greek word spoude (spoo-day’), which means “speed,” is translated many different ways, e.g. diligence, haste, earnest care, and forwardness (G4710). One of the ways to think of earnestness is a person in motion, someone that is always making forward progress. This is an important aspect of the Christian life because believers will inevitably experience setbacks and must be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again whenever they are overtaken by sin or become the target of Satan’s devices. An example of this was Peter’s restoration to the ministry after he had denied Jesus three times. Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (John 21:17-19).

Paul told the Corinthians that they had proved themselves innocent by their indignation, longing, and vindication by God (2 Corinthians 7:11). The Greek word that is translated proved, sunistemi (soon-is’-tay-mee) means “to set together” (G4921). What Paul may have meant by proved themselves innocent was that the Corinthians he was talking to had remained members of the body of Christ. They had not left the church because of the trouble they had gotten into, but had stuck it out and worked through their conflict with Paul. Paul was commending them for it and said, “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Paul’s experience with the Corinthians was considered to be a success because it led to the church being built up and the faith of the believers that were there being strengthened to the point that they became an encouragement to others that were struggling. Paul said that Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. In other words, Titus, a fellow minister and friend of Paul’s, was able to take a spiritual vacation because of the remarkable turnaround at the Corinthian church.

God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “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” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)

The end result

The dilemma that became apparent after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt was that the sinful nature of mankind made it impossible for the children of Israel to have fellowship with the LORD. God told Moses:

Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” (Exodus 33:3-5)

God described the Israelites as stiff-necked because they disobeyed one the most important of his Ten Commandments shortly after the commandments had been directly communicated to them (Exodus 20:1, 32:1). The Hebrew word that is translated consume, kalah (kaw-law’) “describes the transitory reality of fallen human nature” (H3615). What God was saying was that it was inevitable that he would have to punish the Israelites for their sin. It was only a matter of time before their rebellion against him would bring about disastrous results.

Moses was an exception to the rule in that he wanted to please God and was doing his best to fulfill his mission of bringing the people of Israel to the land that God had promised to give them (Exodus 3:7-11). Exodus 33:9-11 indicates that Moses was experiencing intimate fellowship with God. It states:

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

The Hebrew word that is translated friend in this passage, reya (ray’-ah) is translated neighbor in the ninth and tenth commandments which state, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:16-17). When a lawyer asked him the question, “who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29), Jesus responded with the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) and then asked the lawyer, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise'” (Luke 10:36-37).

The lawyer’s interpretation of the Ten Commandments brought him to the conclusion that God wanted the Israelites to show mercy to each other, a characteristic of God that is demonstrated throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. When it says that the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11), it is implied that God was showing Moses mercy when he talked with him face to face. The Hebrew word that is translated face in Exodus 33:11 is translated “presence” in Exodus 33:13-15 where Moses requested that the Lord show him his ways. These verses state:

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

Moses asked God to show him his ways so that he would know the Lord better and could do what pleased him. Moses realized that God had a different way of doing things than he did and that Moses needed to adapt to God’s way of doing things rather than the other way around. The Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek) means a road and is used figuratively to represent “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). The basic idea of the Hebrew word derek is that it represents the path that one travels through life. If you think of life as a journey that gets you from point A (birth) to point B (death), then your “ways” are the different twists and turns you take that will ultimately determine the quality and outcome of your life. Moses wanted to find favor in God’s sight which meant that he wanted God to bless his life. The King James Version of the Bible indicates that Moses wanted to find “grace” in God’s sight (Exodus 33:13). Grace or chen (khane) in Hebrew has to do with receiving special attention from God. Chen is derived from the Hebrew word chanan (khaw-nan’) which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior…Generally, this word implies the extending of ‘favor’ often when it is neither expected nor deserved” (H2603).

The LORD told Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live'” (Exodus 33:19-20). God equated his face with his entire person (H6440) and told Moses that seeing him would result in eternal life (H2425). God couldn’t give Moses eternal life because his New Covenant of grace hadn’t yet been enacted (Matthew 26:27-28) and therefore, Moses’ sins weren’t forgiven (Hebrews 9:19-28). God’s plan for the Israelites was to transform them into a different kind of people, but he planned to do it by a different means that he did after Jesus came to the earth and died for the sins of the world. The Israelites would become a nation, one that would stand out as being devoted to God. The Lord told Moses, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Exodus 34:10). Similar to God’s creation of the planet that we live on, his involvement with the people of Israel was expected to result in a product that was different than anything that had ever been seen before. The Hebrew word that is translated created in Exodus 34:10, bara’ (baw-raw’) is only used with God as the subject. “The verb expresses creation out of nothing, an idea seen clearly in passages having to do with creation on a cosmic scale…All other verbs for ‘creating’ allow a much broader range of meaning; they have both divine and human subjects, and are used in contexts where bringing something or someone into existence is not the issue” (H1254).

The work that the LORD planned to do with the Israelites was intended to be a witness to the nations around them that God was worthy of their respect and admiration (H3372). God said that he would do marvels (Exodus 34:10). The Hebrew word pala (paw-law’) means to separate, i.e. distinguish and frequently signifies the wondrous works of God (H6381). A unique sign of God’s transformative power were the rays of light that came from Moses’ face after he talked with God. Exodus 34:29-30 tells us:

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.

The fact that the rays of light came from Moses’ face seems to suggests that they were somehow associated with his personality reflecting the image of Jesus Christ. During Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew’s gospel tells us that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2) indicating that he had been transformed into his glorified state. Moses’ experience of talking face to face with God may have been similar to what happens when Christians die because the separation of our souls from our bodies makes it possible for us to immediately enter into the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). It could be that the last 40 years of Moses’ life was spent in some type of transitory state, somewhere between physical and spiritual life.

Exodus 34:33-35 tells us that when Moses spoke to the people of Israel, he put a veil over his face and “Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.” The interesting thing about Moses covering his face with a veil was that it prevented the people from seeing the end result of his personal communication with God. Moses could have used his shining face as a means of drawing attention to himself, but he chose to keep his own glory covered up so that God’s glory would be the focus of everyone’s attention.

The Apostle Paul talked about the believers in Corinth being letters of recommendation that attested to the authenticity of his ministry. Paul began by asking the Corinthians:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The phrase Paul used “tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3) refers to the way God communicates with people today as opposed to the way his Ten Commandments were originally communicated to the Israelites. Paul said God’s commandments are not written with ink, “but with the Spirit of the living God.” The Spirit of the living God is “the vital spirit or life, the principle of life residing in man. The breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God” (G4151). In the New Testament of the Bible, the Spirit of God is in as absolute sense the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is described as descending in bodily form upon Jesus after His baptism and “as coming to and acting upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them.”

Paul went on to explain that the expression of God’s glory is something that comes naturally to believers because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul indicated that Moses covered his face with a veil because the rays of light that shone from it revealed the end result of salvation, but weren’t permanent in the same way that the Holy Spirit secures the believer’s salvation in Christ until the day of redemption (2 Corinthians 1:22). Paul stated:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11)

Paul described Moses’ ministry as a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). What he meant by that was that the Mosaic Law made it possible for God to punish the Israelites because he had given them his Ten Commandments, what he considered to be illegal activities, therefore they were aware of what they weren’t supposed to do and did it anyway. Paul indicated that the ministry of condemnation would be brought to an end and the ministry of the Spirit would far exceed its glory. It’s likely that Jesus’ death on the cross was intended to be the capstone of the Mosaic Law in that it accomplished God’s will with regards to saving mankind. Even though he was falsely condemned under the Mosaic Law, Jesus was able to fulfill its intent because he lived a perfect life according to the standard it established.

The veil that Moses used to cover his face appears to represent at a personal level the veil inside the tabernacle that divided the two areas know as the holy place and the most holy place (Exodus 26:33). After Jesus yielded up his spirit on the cross, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51) indicating that the barrier that separated God and man had been permanently eliminated. Paul told the Corinthians:

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (2 Corinthians 3:12-16)

Paul’s reference to the outcome of what was being brought to an end was intended to let the Corinthians know that the end result of the legal system that God put in place was the death of Israel’s Messiah, an act that made it possible for God and man to be permanently reconciled. This was a much more meaningful outcome than the sanctification that took place through Moses’ direct communication with God. Paul said that the Israelites minds were hardened, meaning they were unable to comprehend God’s intention for giving them the Ten Commandments, because there was a veil over their hearts. Paul used the descriptor of a veil over the heart to illustrate how the process of salvation works. Like the high priest that entered the most holy place once a year on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:13-15), Christ enters the hearts of believers and applies his own blood to the mercy seat of their consciences in order to take away the guilt of their sins (Leviticus 16:20-22). Therefore, Paul said, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16). In other words, there is no more need for atonement because Christ’s perfect life has been substituted for our own (Hebrews 10:12).

Paul wrapped up his explanation of how God’s glory is manifested in believers with a concluding statement that eluded to the fact that the end result of a believer’s sanctification is the liberty to do as one pleases. Paul said:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

The Greek word that is translated freedom in 2 Corinthians 3:17, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-ee’-ah) means freedom from the Mosaic Law and from the yoke of external observances in general, but the primary function of this freedom is to deliver us “from the dominion of sinful appetites and passions” (G1657). Paul said, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). In other words, it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes freedom possible and our submission to him that brings about our transformation into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). The unveiled face that Paul referred to could be thought of as intimacy with God. It says in Exodus 33:11 that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The image of being face to face with God has to do with the essence of who we really are being revealed to another person. When we get to the point where we are being completely transparent with God about our thoughts, feelings, and desires; we connect with him at the core of our being and are transformed into a new person, one that wants to please God more than anything else.

Living in the spirit

The Bible identifies three distinct parts of human beings that make it possible for us to be alive: the body, the soul, and the spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). What we think of as our bodies, the physical part of our being, the Bible describes as the flesh, the material nature as distinguished from that which is spiritual and intangible. The Greek word sarx (sarx) is specifically used in reference to the mortal body in distinction from a future and spiritual existence. Sarx implies weakness, frailty, imperfection, both physical and moral and by implication represents human nature. Sarx is “used specifically of the incarnation of Christ, His incarnate human nature” (G4651). The Apostle Peter talked about Jesus suffering for righteousness sake and said, “For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The soul (psuche, psoo-khay’) is that immaterial part of man that is held in common with animals. It is the vital principle, the animating element in men and animals and is “the seat of the senses, desires, affections, appetites, passions, the lower aspect of one’s nature” (G5590). Jesus spoke of the soul as the driving force in our lives and even equated it with life itself (Matthew 6:25). He said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) is unique to man and is “the breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50).” When the Bible talks about spirit, in general, it is referring to “a simple, incorporeal, immaterial being (thought of as possessing higher capabilities than man does in his present state)” (G4151).

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit, who is often associated with the spiritual nature of God (Ephesians 6:17), is a distinct person that is “spoken of in connection with God the Father, as having intimate union or oneness with him” (G4151). The Holy Spirit is described “as coming to and acting upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them (Ephesians 3:16; 6:18)…The technical expression ‘to be baptized in [or with] the Holy Spirit’ refers to the spiritual baptism into the body of Christ for all those who were truly saved (Matthew 3:11).” Jesus described the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” that would be with us forever (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit’s first appearance on earth is recorded in Acts 2:1-4 where it says, “When the day of Pentecost arrived they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Moses’ initial encounter with God may have involved all three persons of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Exodus 3:1-6 states:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

When Moses turned aside to see why the bush was not burned, he was in essence entering into the spiritual realm, or you might say turning on his spiritual senses, which then made it possible for God to communicate with him. Jesus often used the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15) to get people’s spiritual attention and said, “this is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Jesus used the Greek word suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee), which is translated understand, figuratively to mean bringing together something in the mind, “to grasp concepts and see the proper relation between them. Hence, to comprehend, understand, perceive” (G4920). Jesus linked understanding with the heart to conversion to Christ and said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). In other words, the human spirit is predisposed toward communion with God, but our flesh lacks spiritual acuity.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that there is an internal conflict going on in believers between our spirit and our flesh. Paul stated:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)

Paul described the law as being spiritual and said that he delighted in the law of God in his inner being. What Paul most likely meant by his inner being was the new nature that Jesus Christ gives to believers (G444). God promised the Israelites he would give them “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26) and foretold of a covenant that he would establish with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

The centerpiece of the first covenant that was established with the people of Israel was the Ten Commandments which God spoke to them directly from the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). Afterward, God said, “You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven” (Exodus 20:22). It seemed to be important that the Israelites hear the basic terms of their covenant with God directly from him. When it came time for them to confirm the covenant, “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do. And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3-4). Somewhat like how the Holy Spirit remains with Christians and illuminates and empowers them, God traveled with the Israelites through the desert in the form of an angel. Exodus 23:20-21 states:

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.”

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the Lord has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

An interesting thing to note about the preincarnate existence of Jesus is that God told the Israelites “he will not pardon your transgressions” (Exodus 23:21, emphasis added). The Hebrew word that is translated pardon, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). In his preincarnate state, Jesus’ role seems to be comparable to what it will be like when he returns to the earth and judges all of mankind. Jesus said of this final judgment, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'” (Matthew 25:31-34). Jesus’ depiction of those who are blessed by his Father as sheep might be connected with the role he played in the Israelites journey through the wilderness. God said that he would send his angel before the people to guard them on the way (Exodus 23:20). The Hebrew word that is translated guard, shamar (shaw-mar) means to watch carefully over, to care for and “also indicates caring for sheep (1 Samuel 17:20)” (H8104). The Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek), which is translated way, “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathway of one’s life” (H1870). It’s likely that guarding the people on the way meant that Jesus would keep the children of Israel in the will of God by making sure that they reached the land that God promised to give them.

Moses and seventy of the elders of Israel were given the opportunity to see Jesus in his glorified state after the people of Israel confirmed their covenant with the LORD. Exodus 24:9-11 states, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” One of the meanings of the word chazah (khaw-zaw’), which is translated beheld, is “‘to see’ in a prophetic vision” (H2372). The prophet Ezekiel saw a similar scene in heaven and recorded his prophetic vision this way:

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1:26-28)

Moses and the elders’ experience was not described as a vision and it’s possible that they were somehow transported through time when they “went up and saw the God of Israel” (Exodus 24:9). The Hebrew word chazah means “to gaze at; (mentally) to perceive” (H2372). Evidently, these men were able to spiritually perceive what was going on in heaven and shared a meal with Jesus (Exodus 24:11) just as his twelve disciples did when they confirmed the New Covenant with him during their last supper together (Matthew 26:26-29).

Peter indicated that suffering was associated with living in the spirit and said, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Peter’s recommendation of filling our minds with the kinds of thoughts that Jesus did in order to combat our spiritual enemy, the devil was similar to Paul’s prescription for spiritual success. Paul stated:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 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. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your 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 4:17-24)

Putting off your old self and being renewed in the spirit of your minds has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated renewed, ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o) means to renovate or reform. “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).

Peter contrasted people who are living in the spirit with those who are spiritually dead and said that the gospel was preached to the dead so that they might “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6), indicating that the key to living in the spirit is a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we are living in the spirit, we are shifting the focus of our attention away from the material needs of our bodies onto the immaterial world around us. Heaven is sometimes thought of as a distant place that we go to when we die, but John the Baptist declared during his ministry that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:2). The phrase is at hand can be understood to mean near in the sense of being close to you (G1448). A person can come near to God by embracing the Gospel (G1451). Paul told the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Peter encouraged believers to “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and went on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter didn’t hide the fact that living in the spirit might lead to persecution and suffering from a human standpoint, but he also made it clear that we will rejoice and be glad that we have been good stewards of God’s grace when Christ returns to judge the world (1 Peter 4:3-11).

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.

Ministering to God’s people

Moses was selected by God to act as an intermediary between the children of Israel and Pharaoh, an Egyptian king that was afflicting them through forced manual labor (Exodus 3:7). God gave Moses a specific message to deliver to his people. He said:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘” (Exodus 3:16-17)

Moses didn’t think the children of Israel would listen to him and so he responded, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you'” (Exodus 4:1).

The challenge that Moses faced was that the Israelites hadn’t heard from God in more than 400 years. The long period of silence may have been due to the children of Israel being content with their circumstances and determined to stay in Egypt in spite of the oppression that they were experiencing there. Moses’ objection to delivering God’s message was centered around the people’s lack of faith, which was evident to him when he tried to intervene in a physical dispute between two Hebrew slaves (Exodus 2:14). In order to bolster Moses’ confidence and to strengthen his influence with the Israelites, God gave Moses the ability to perform three signs or you might say marks of authenticity (H226) that would make his divine authority evident. Exodus 4:8-9 states, “‘If they will not believe you,’ God said, ‘or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.'”

Moses argued that he couldn’t accept the assignment God was giving him because he wasn’t qualified to express divine communication (Exodus 4:10). This led to his brother Aaron being designated his spokesman to the children of Israel. Exodus 4:14-17 states: “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth, and I will be with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.'” The King James Version of the Bible states Exodus 4:16 this way, “And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” The idea that Aaron could be to Moses instead of a mouth and Moses could be to Aaron instead of God had to do with their spiritual interaction with each other and the children of Israel. What God was saying was that Moses’ responsibility as the deliverer of God’s people could not be abdicated to anyone else, but he could use Aaron as a spokesman or more literally his voice (H6310) instead of delivering God’s message himself.

Even though Moses was able to receive assistance from his brother in conveying the message God wanted him to the children of Israel, Moses was specifically instructed to perform the miracles that God intended to use to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. Exodus 4:21 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'” The Hebrew word that is translated miracle, mopeth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4159). God said that he had put these miracles in Moses’ power. In other words, Moses had the ability to perform miracles without God’s assistance. The Hebrew word that is translated put, siym (seem) “means to impute” (H7760). In the King James Version of the Bible, James 2:23 is stated this way: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Imputation is an accounting term that is used to designate that an account has been reconciled. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

God credited Moses’ account with a specific amount of divine power that enabled him to perform the miracles that God wanted him to. Moses’ special role in God’s deliverance of the children of Israel was noted during Jesus’ transfiguration when Moses along with Elijah appeared “talking with him” (Matthew 17:3). Elijah was also know for performing extraordinary miracles including raising a widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:22). At the time of his death, Elijah’s successor Elisha requested from him, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha’s reference to a double portion suggests that Elijah’s miraculous ability was measured or you might say portioned out and could be transferred from one person to another. The purpose of the miracles that Elijah and Elisha performed was similar to that of Moses’, to convict the Israelites of their sins and cause them to repent. Matthew often referred to the miracles Jesus performed as mighty works and also associated them with people being brought to a point of repentance. Matthew stated this about Jesus’ ministry. “Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (Matthew 11:20-22).

Jesus referred to the day of judgment in his Olivet Discourse when he said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36-39). Jesus used a parable to illustrate the reason why people would be unaware of his return. He said:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Jesus’ portrayal of the virgins as being wise and foolish meant that they were depending on their cognitive abilities to discern the bridegroom’s arrival. The Greek word that is translated foolish, moros (mo-ros’) indicates that the mind is “dull or stupid (as if shut up)” (G3473). Moros is derived from the word musterion (moos-tay-ree-on) which “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 illumined by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus indicated that the five wise virgins took flasks of oil with their lamps. When the five foolish virgins asked them to share their oil with them, “the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves'” (Matthew 25:9). The dealers that the five foolish virgins were instructed to go to appear to have been authentic sources of divine wisdom, but the foolish virgins missed the opportunity to attend the wedding feast because “the door was shut” when they returned (Matthew 25:10). Afterward, they were told “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). A clue to the five foolish virgins rejection might be the statement, “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast” (Matthew 25:10). The Greek word that is translated ready, hetoimos (het’-oy-mos) “denotes ‘preparation’; it is found in Ephesians 6:15, of having the feet shod with the ‘preparation’ of the gospel of peace; it also has the meaning of firm footing (foundation); if that is the meaning in Ephesians 6:15, the gospel itself is to be the firm footing of the believer, his walk being worthy of it and therefore a testimony in regard to it” (G2092).

Jesus followed up his parable of the ten virgins with the parable of the ten talents to further clarify the connection between his gospel message being presented and God’s qualifications for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He said, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted them with his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matthew 25:14-15). The phrase “to each according to his ability” points to a distribution of miraculous power that was meant to be used for increasing the master’s wealth. The Greek word that is translated “according to” in Matthew 25:15, kata (kat-ah’) is used in Philippians 3:20-21 to link the believer’s transformation with Christ’s ability to subdue all things to himself. Paul also used kata to link God’s riches with his ability to supply all of the believers needs. Paul promised, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, emphasis mine).

The fact that the master’s servants were given different amounts of resources according to their ability suggests that the master knew what his servants were capable of and wanted to capitalize on it. The Greek word that is translated ability, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) “almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person” (G1411). Therefore, the ability Jesus was referring to was most likely a result of the indwelling and/or filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). The settling of accounts most likely had to do with the profit that was gained from the use of the talents that had been given to each servant. Jesus said, “he who had received five talents came forward, bringing five talents more” (Matthew 25:20). It could be that the talents in Jesus’ parable were meant to represent spiritual truths. For example, if the servant was given five talents or spiritual truths (perhaps through someone else’s instruction) and then, built on that knowledge by gaining insight into five more spiritual truths, the servant was given credit for the additional knowledge he had gained and was able to pass on to others.

The servant that received only one talent may have been entrusted with a single foundational truth such as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” When he was asked to account for his activities while his master was away, he stated, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25). The master’s outrage that his resource had been wasted may have been due to the fact that his servant had likened him to a harsh, even inhuman character (G4642) when said, “I knew you to be a hard man.” Evidently, the servant didn’t know his master very well and demonstrated that he was not equipped to handle even the most basic responsibility of his master’s work. The servant said he was afraid and “hid” his talent in the ground. His master responded, “You wicked and slothful servant!” (Matthew 25:26), suggesting that his servant’s behavior was a disgrace to him.

Jesus talked about the final judgment of mankind in terms of a separation and elimination of anyone that did not display certain characteristics. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus indicated that the sheep would inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world because “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Jesus’ use of the terms sheep and goats indicated that he was using figurative language and wasn’t referring to actual food, drink or clothing being given to him. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3, 6). The Greek word that is translated naked, gumnos (goom-nos’) is used figuratively of being destitute of spiritual goods (G1131) and sick or astheneo (as-then-eh’-o) of being not settled in the faith (G770). Therefore, the remedies would have needed to be spiritual nourishment i.e. the gospel.

Jesus contrasted the responses of the sheep and the goats to show that they were both unaware of their spiritual service to the King. The sheep asked, “And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” (Matthew 25:38-39). The sheep’s lack of awareness seems to confirm that the activities identified were spiritual rather than physical because they didn’t remember ever doing the things they were credited with. On the other hand, the goats replied, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44). The goats claimed to have taken care of every needy person and may have actually done so from a physical standpoint, but they clearly misunderstood what was expected of them. The Greek word that is translated minister, diakonia (dee-ak-on-eh’-o) technically means to act as a Christian deacon (G1247). Diakonia is used in Matthew 20:28 where it says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (KJV). The Apostle Paul used the word diakonia when he said, “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints” (Romans 15:25, KJV).

Jesus concluded his lesson on the final judgment by stating about the goats, “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46). It might be easy to assume from this lesson that ministering to God’s people is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but the point I believe Jesus was making in his parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents was that the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit was what made service possible and also made the virgins ready for the marriage feast when the bridegroom arrived. The presence of the Holy Spirit is what differentiates believers from unbelievers and may differentiate the sheep from the goats. Jesus’ description of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is similar to the Great White Throne Judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 which indicates that “the dead were judged…according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12). The Greek word translated dead, nekros (nek-ros’) refers to “the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). Therefore, ministering to God’s people could be a type of escape clause that enables the unsaved to enter God’s kingdom, but Revelation 20:15 indicates, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Christ in you

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Christianity to comprehend is the fact that Jesus lives in the heart of every believer. Paul referred to this doctrinal truth as a secret and said;

Now I am full of joy to be suffering for you. In my own body I am doing my share of what has to be done to make Christ’s sufferings complete. This is for His body which is the Church. I became a preacher in His church for your good. In the plan of God I am to preach the Good News. This great secret was hidden to the people of times past, but it is now made known to those who belong to Christ. God wants these great riches of the hidden truth to be made known to the people who are not Jews. The secret is this: Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come. We preach Christ. We tell every man how he must live. We use wisdom in teaching every man. We do this so every man will be complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:24-28, NLV)

Paul wanted the believers in Colosse to understand that the truth of the gospel was not conveyed to them through natural means, but that God had imparted the wisdom and knowledge of Christ directly to them through his Holy Spirit. Paul described the supernatural process of regeneration in Colossians 2:11-15. He said:

When you became a Christian, you were set free from the sinful things of the world. This was not done by human hands. You were set free from the sins of your old self by what was done in Christ’s body. When you were baptized, you were buried as Christ was buried. When you were raised up in baptism, you were raised as Christ was raised. You were raised to a new life by putting your trust in God. It was God Who raised Jesus from the dead. When you were dead in your sins, you were not set free from the sinful things of the world. But God forgave your sins and gave you new life through Christ. We had broken the Law many ways. Those sins were held against us by the Law. That Law had writings which said we were sinners. But now He has destroyed that writing by nailing it to the cross. God took away the power of the leaders of this world and the powers of darkness. He showed them to the world. The battle was won over them through Christ. (NLV)

Christ’s death on the cross was the final step in God’s effort to reconcile the world to himself. Because the penalty for all our sins was paid by Jesus, we are able to live free from the guilt of sin and escape the penalty of death that we deserve. Through the process of regeneration we have not only been united with Christ, but also with every other believer in the world. Paul said, “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19, NKJV).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated knit together in Colossians 2:19 is sumbibazo (soom-bib-ad’-zo) which means “to drive together that is unite (in association or affection)” (G4822). Mentally, sumbibazo infers showing or teaching someone something. The Greek word sumbibazo is derived from the words sun (soon) and basis (bas’-ece). These two words have to do with Jesus’ ministry on earth when he was spending all his time with his disciples teaching them about the kingdom of heaven (G939/G4862). What Paul was saying was that when we become Christians, we enter into the same kind of relationship with Jesus that his disciples had. He is with us all the time, actually dwelling inside us through his Holy Spirit, and he causes us to grow spiritually.

Spiritual success

A major problem with life is that it always ends in death. The goal of Jesus’ ministry on Earth was to overcome death, to make a way for humans to live forever. Jesus told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). The Apostle Paul expanded on this point by stating, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, ESV). The Greek word translated condemnation, katakrima means an adverse sentence or verdict (G2631). Paul was referring to the punishment that is associated with sin and made it clear that believers are excluded from God’s judgment of mankind.

One of the stipulations Paul placed on the believer’s freedom from condemnation was to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by that was to think about things from a spiritual or eternal perspective rather than a carnal or temporal perspective. Paul said, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The Greek words translated spiritually minded, pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) phronema (fron’-ay-mah) have to do with the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (G4151/G5427). In other words, Paul was saying that we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and let him tell us what to do in order to achieve spiritual success. Paul described this process as intercession and stated:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Intercession is possible because the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer and is able to see what is going on from both a temporal and an eternal perspective. An advantage that believers have over unbelievers is that the Holy Spirit knows the will of God and can lead us to do the right thing in every situation. Paul stated, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Paul associated God’s calling with his purpose in the life of a believer and suggested there was a spiritual joining that takes place when a believer accepts Christ. Paul may have been referring to the marriage supper of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:9 which is probably retroactive to the believer’s date of salvation.

In addition to the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, Jesus is also interceding for believers in heaven. Paul asked, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Paul made it clear that our spiritual success is not dependent on our knowledge or understanding of God’s will. Even as much as we might like to know everything that God has planned for our lives, we have to live on a need to know basis of what God wants us to do. Many of the things that we do during our life on Earth that are God’s will for us might not be known to us until we get to heaven.