Spiritual success

The conquest of the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua began with God instructing Joshua to take the people to the other side of the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2). God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). It appears that God commanded Joshua to “be strong and courageous” because his spiritual success was linked to these two characteristics and they were not a natural part of Joshua’s personality. The Hebrew word that is translated strong, chazaq (khaw-zakˊ) means “to fasten upon” or “take hold of.” Chazaq appears in the book of Exodus in connection with Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go so that they could worship God. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought. Pharaoh was responsible for his hard heart. Four times we read: ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35)” (H2388). God’s command to be strong likely meant that he wanted Joshua to be strong in the sense of having the necessary hardihood to set himself against the people of Canaan. The Israelites were instructed to “save alive nothing that breathes” and to “devote them to complete destruction” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). The Hebrew word that is translated courageous in Joshua 1:6, ʾamats (aw-matsˊ) has to do with being mentally alert (H553). Both chazaq and ʾamats are connected with being obstinate, a personality trait that is associated with stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action despite attempts to persuade one to do so. God reemphasized the importance of strength and courage to spiritual success when he said to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

God told Joshua that he would have good success if he did everything according to the Law of Moses. The Hebrew word that is translated good success, sakal (saw-kalʾ) means “to be (causative make or act) circumspect and hence, intelligent…It’s first use in the text, in Genesis 3:6, contributes to an interesting paradox, for while the forbidden fruit was ‘to be desired to make one wise,’ it was a very unwise thing to take it! The basic meaning of sakal seems to be ‘to look at, to give attention to,’ as illustrated in this parallelism: ‘That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand…’ (Isaiah 41:20). From this develops the connotation of insight, intellectual comprehension” (H7919). God reiterated his prescription for good success when he told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). God said that Joshua should be careful to do according to all that was written in the Book of the Law because it would make his way prosperous. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) is used figuratively throughout the Old Testament of the Bible to refer to “a course of life or mode of action…In one passage derek signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life or his ‘destiny’” (H1870). When God said that Joshua’s way would be prosperous, he meant that Joshua would have spiritual success; that Joshua would thrive spiritually (H6743).

Psalm 1 echoes God’s message to Joshua and depicts spiritual success as a tree that yields its fruit at the appropriate or appointed time (H6256). It states:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

The author of Psalm 1 reinforced the message that the person who wants to experience spiritual success should meditate on the law of the LORD day and night. Biblical meditation typically involves a verbalization of scripture or rather one’s emotional reaction to its message. The Hebrew word hagah (haw-gawˊ) means “to meditate, moan, growl, utter, speak” and conveys “the idea that mental exercise, planning, often is accompanied by low talking” (H1897).

Bearing fruit was a common theme in Jesus’ teaching throughout his ministry. Jesus’ parables made it clear that bearing fruit was not the norm, but that it usually required some type of special circumstance or an intervention for it to happen. In one of his conversations with his followers, Jesus connected repentance with a fig tree’s ability to bear fruit. Luke 13:1-9 states:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The Greek word that is translated repent in Luke 13:3, metanoeo (met-an-o-ehˊ-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider…to change one’s mind or purpose” (G3340). The LORD identified the change that needed to take place in Joshua’s mind when he said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Joshua may have been dreading the moment when he was going to have lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and begin conquering the people living in the land of Canaan. The Hebrew word that is translated dismayed, chathath (khaw-thathˊ) means “to be dismayed, shattered, broken, terrified” (H2865). Joshua acted according to God’s command in spite of his natural inclination to tremble in fear and be in dread of what was going to happen (Joshua 1:10-11), but in what may have been a moment of weakness, Joshua “sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho’” (Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:1-11 tells us what happened when the two spies encountered a woman referred to as “Rahab the prostitute” (Joshua 6-17). It states:

And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Rahab’s declaration that the LORD, “he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” was a profession of faith that bolstered the spies confidence and her testimony was shared with Joshua who was then able to lead the people across the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1). In exchange for her help, Rahab was told, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the LORD gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you” (Joshua 2:14).

The two words the spies used to describe their future relationship with Rahab, deal kindly and faithfully with her, were associated with the covenant God made with Abraham. Checed (khehˊ-sed) which means kindness “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Behind all these uses with man as the subject, however, stand the repeated references to God’s cheçed. It is one of His most central characteristics. God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles” (H2617). The Hebrew word that is translated faithfully in Joshua 2:14, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). “Aman means ‘to be firm, endure, be faithful, be true, stand fast, trust, have belief, believe…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship with God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

We know that Rahab believed in God because she is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11:31, which states, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” The Greek word that is translated disobedient, apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Rahab distinguished herself from the rest of the people of Canaan because she cooperated with God’s plan and did her part to make sure that is was carried out. Being mentioned by name in Hebrews 11 meant that Rahab the prostitute was a significant contributor to the spiritual success of God’s plan of salvation. Rahab was also mentioned in James’ message about faith without works and was set alongside Abraham as an example of being justified by individual acts of faith. James said:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Rahab was likely identified as a prostitute to show that her moral depravity prior to her encounter with the Jewish spies made her an unlikely candidate to risk her life in order to help them escape. “The Hebrew term zonah (H2181) is the common word for an ‘adulterer’ or ‘prostitute’ (Leviticus 21:7; Jeremiah 5:7). The New Testament affirms that such a woman can be pardoned (Luke 7:37). Rahab was not only pardoned but raised to a position of honor. She married into an Israelite family and was an ancestor of David, thus placing her in the line of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5)” (Note on Joshua 2:1).

“It was not unusual for strangers and foreigners to go to Rahab’s house, and thus the spies would not appear suspicious there. Others who passed through the prostitute’s house would provide the spies with information on the situation in Jericho. God did not bless Rahab for lying but for her faith in the report that the spies gave” (note on Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:23-24 tells us, “Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” The two spies’ report to Joshua affirmed their belief in what Rahab had told them even though she was a prostitute and had no credibility as a woman. The reason why Rahab’s words had such a big impact on the two men who came to her for help was because she demonstrated the characteristics that the Israelites needed for spiritual success, strength and courage, when she hid the spies and lied to protect them from the king of Jericho (Joshua 2:2-3).

Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The impact of Rahab’s words is evident in the way the two spies reacted to the things she said. Jesus’ spent most of his ministry telling people things that were intended to change their lives. The power of the tongue is a way of describing the influence that a person has over another person when he says something that impacts him so much that it changes his life. The reason why the power of the tongue can lead to death or life is because hearing and believing God’s word is the only way we can be revived from spiritual death, but if we harden our hearts and rebel against God’s word we will not (Hebrews 3:16-19). The Apostle Paul explained this point in his letter to the Romans. Paul began by asking the question, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17).

Spiritual freedom

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a believer named Philemon contains important information about Paul’s attitude regarding spiritual freedom. Paul began his letter with the salutation, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1-3). Paul wrote to Philemon while he was imprisoned in Rome, so his identification of himself as a prisoner was applicable to his circumstances, but Paul reversed the situation when he added the phrase for Jesus Christ. Even though Paul was imprisoned against his will, Paul believed that God was using his situation to further the gospel. Paul discussed this point extensively in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:12-30)

Paul said that he expected his imprisonment to turn out for his deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Paul was not only talking about being released from prison, but was also talking about his “deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul went on to say that it was his eager expectation and hope that he would “not be at all ashamed” but that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). What Paul likely meant by to die is gain was that the believers’ victory over sin and death is not fully realized until we are all in heaven. Revelation 12:10-11 states, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Paul was convinced that he would be released from prison and said, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25-26). Paul echoed his confidence of being released in his letter to Philemon. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated graciously given, charizomai (khar-idˊ-zom-ahee) is spoken “of persons, to deliver up or over in answer to demands (Acts 3:14; 25:11, 16) or in answer to prayer (Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22). Charizomai is translated granted in Acts 27:24 in reference to the lives of those who were sailing with Paul to Rome being saved from death in a storm at sea. Paul encouraged his shipmates and told them, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

Paul’s faith in God made it possible for him to experience spiritual freedom even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul talked about the effectiveness of sharing your faith in his letter to Philemon. Paul said:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)

The Greek word that is translated effective in Philemon 1:6, energace (en-er-gaceˊ) has to do with the internal work of the Holy Spirit. In reference to sharing your faith, energace means that your faith is “active, operative” (G1756). Energace is translated active in Hebrews 4:12. It states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Paul’s letter was intended to activate Philemon’s faith in that Paul used his own situation of imprisonment in Rome to trigger a particular response from his fellow worker. The Greek word that is translated prisoner, desmios (desˊ-mee-os) means “a captive (as bound)” (G1198) and is derived from the word desmos (des-mosˊ), which is translated imprisonment in Philemon 1:10 and 1:12. Desmos refers to “a band i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner). Paul used the Greek word desmos in his second letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). When Paul said the word of God is not bound, he used the word deo (dehˊ-o), which appears in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Being loosed on earth speaks of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of the gospel and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what had happened to Philemon’s slave Onesimus. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).

“Paul acted in strict accordance with the requirements of the law in dealing with Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. First, Paul gave him shelter in his own hired house. He did not betray him as a fugitive nor did he send word to Philemon to come to Rome and take Onesimus back. Furthermore, Paul instructed Onesimus in the gospel, eventually leading him to salvation in Christ (Philemon 1:10). He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a trusted messenger and brother in Christ, bearing a request for Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom (Philemon 1:12). Paul did not accuse Onesimus of wrongdoing by running away from Philemon. Instead Paul stated that it was by the merciful providence of God that he had departed from Philemon. Paul desired for Philemon to receive Onesimus back no longer as a servant, but as a beloved brother and partner in Christ (Philemon 1:15-17)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon). Paul’s strict accordance to the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), gave him the assurance that he was doing God’s will when he took Onesimus in and sheltered him until he had received salvation. Paul’s plea for Onesimus was based on his obedience to God’s word. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:8-10).

Paul’s appeal to Philemon was likely prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated appeal in Philemon 1:9, parakaleo (par-ak-al-ehˊ-o) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) and kaleo (kal-ehˊ-o) which “is used particularly of the divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption” (G2564). Paul wanted Philemon to voluntarily grant Onesimus his freedom (Philemon 1:18). The Hebrew fugitive law stated, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Paul was not required to send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he likely did it so that Onesimus’ testimony could benefit the spread of the gospel (Philemon 1:11). Paul told Philemon, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 1:12-14).

The Hebrew fugitive law indicated that a slave who had escaped from his master was essentially a free person; he could not be imprisoned or returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15). This law illustrated the principle of being delivered from spiritual bondage and fits in with Jesus’ teaching about binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Jesus told the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). The Greek word that is translated free, eleuthero (el-yoo-ther-oˊ-o) means “to make free, liberate from the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22). Jesus indicated that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated slave, doulos (dooˊ-los) is the same word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he referred to Onesimus as a bondservant and said that he was sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul indicated that Onesimus’ spiritual status had changed because of his faith in Christ.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that spiritual freedom means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. Paul said:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)

According to Paul, even though believers are free in regard to righteousness, our spiritual freedom is constantly being attack. Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 10:2 tells us that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated delivers, nâtsal naw-tsalˊ) is translated escaped in the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15) and also appears in Exodus 3:7-8 where the LORD speaking to Moses out of the midst of a burning bush said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver (nâtsal) them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (emphasis mine).

God’s ability to deliver believers from wickedness is based on the authority that Christ has in the spiritual realm. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15-21)

Paul said that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The Greek words that are translated working and worked are both derived from the Greek word energes, the Greek word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he talked about the sharing of Philemon’s faith becoming effective (Philemon 1:6).

Paul indicated in his letter to the Colossians that the powerful working of God is connected with the believer’s baptism, when he identifies himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul said:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

According to Paul, believers have spiritual freedom because the record of their moral debt to God has been cancelled. When Jesus died on the cross, he disarmed the rulers and authorities that wage spiritual warfare against believers and through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Do you love me?

John’s gospel was written with a specific purpose in mind, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). John focused his attention on the fact that Jesus was an eternal being, but never lost sight of the human qualities that made Jesus like everyone else. In the last chapter of his book, John recorded a conversation between Jesus and Peter that centered on the affection and devotion that had developed between these two men. John wrote:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “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. (John 21:15-17)

Jesus began by asking Peter a question that was intended to reveal the motive behind Peter’s commitment to him. Jesus asked, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The word that Jesus used that is translated love, agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o) means “to regard with strong affection” (G25) and is used to describe the love that God has for his Son Jesus (John 3:35). The reason why Jesus asked Peter if he loved him more than these may have been because Peter’s priorities were skewed toward personal satisfaction, rather than serving the Lord.

All four of the gospels indicate that Peter and his brother Andrew were among the first group of disciples that Jesus called into his ministry. John makes note of the fact that Andrew was originally a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:35-37) and introduced Peter to Jesus. John states, “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)” (John 1:40-42). Jesus clearly discerned Simon’s inner character and gave him a new name that described him perfectly, Cephas or Peter, but the personal connection between them apparently wasn’t enough to convince Peter to follow Jesus. Luke’s gospel identifies a second encounter that resulted in Peter making a commitment to follow the Lord. Luke states:

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

The incident that occurred the day that Jesus called Peter to follow him is very similar to what was going on the third time Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after his resurrection. John states:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. (John 21:1-8)

Peter’s decision to go fishing contradicted the statement that Jesus made when he called him into his ministry, “from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10), and yet, Jesus didn’t rebuke his disciples, but encouraged them in their efforts by providing so many fish that they couldn’t haul them all in (John 21:6).

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “do you love me more than these” (John 21:15) indicated that Peter was aware that there was a difference between the way that the Lord loved him and the way that he loved Jesus. In his question, “do you love me more than these,” Jesus used the word agapao to signify the type of love that he expected from Peter. John 21:15 states, “He said to him, ‘Yes. Lord; you know that I love you.’” The Greek word that is translated love in this verse is phileo (fil-ehˊ-o) which means, “to be a friend to…Phileo is never used in a command to men to ‘love’ God…agapao is used instead, e.g., Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 4:21. The distinction between the two verbs finds a conspicuous instance in the narrative of John 21:15-17. The context itself indicates that agapao in the first two questions suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). Peter’s response seems to be appropriate given that Jesus asked him, “do you love me more than these” (John 21:15). Peter cherished Jesus more than anything or perhaps even more than anyone else, but the kind of love that Peter had wasn’t enough to keep him from denying that he knew the Lord (John 18:15-17) or from deciding to go fishing when he should have been telling people about Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:21; 21:3).

Jesus talked about love in the context of abiding (John 15:1-17). As a vine and its branches are intimately connected and dependent on each other for nourishment and support, Jesus encouraged his disciples to rely on him for their spiritual well-being. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Jesus demonstrated this principle when he told his disciples to “cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:6) after they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing (John 21:4-5). The Greek word that is translated abide, meno (menˊ-o) means “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy)” (G3306). John elaborated on this point in his first epistle. It states specifically, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:15-16). John’s statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) is confusing unless you understand the kind of love that John was talking about. John used the word agape (ag-ahˊ-pay), a derivative of the word agapao, to describe love as something that exists rather than something that we feel or something that we have to see in order for it to be real to us. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver” (G26).

God’s relationship with the Israelites was based on love (Deuteronomy 4:37) and in a similar way to Jesus’ illustration of the vine and branches, the people of Israel were expected to remain in constant fellowship with God. Moses told the Israelites, “Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today” (Deuteronomy 4:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated held fast, dabeq (daw-bakeˊ) has to do with adhering to something (H1695). Dabeq is derived from the word dabaq (daw-bakˊ) which is translated cleave in Genesis 2:24 where is says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The relationship between God and the Israelites was designed to be a permanent one that would last throughout eternity, but the basis of their relationship was sinless perfection and the Israelites could not achieve that status. Moses’ instruction to the Israelites before he died was, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Keeping your soul diligently implies a constant effort to remain aware of and responsive to the word of God and in particular, with regard to the Israelites, living each day according to the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13). If the Israelites did what they were supposed to, it would go well with them, but Moses said, if they provoked God to anger, they would “soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26).

Jesus explained to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-13). Jesus made it clear that obedience was still a requirement for having a relationship with God, but he also pointed out that we are expected to keep his commandments, not the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. Jesus said that he had kept his Father’s commandments and then stated his commandment to us, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus used the Greek word agapao to describe the kind of love that we receive from him and that he wants us to give to others. As a standard of measurement, Jesus added, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In this final statement, Jesus used the word agape, suggesting that God’s love is larger or of a greater magnitude than what humans can achieve, as was demonstrated through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. Jesus’ suffering, which is depicted in Psalm 22, shows us the extreme lengths that he went to in order to save us. Jesus’ command that we love one another meant that it was his desire was for us to express his essential nature to others.  “Love can be known only from the action it prompts as God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9, 10)” (G26).

The second time that he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” (John 21:16), Jesus likely wanted to make Peter aware of the fact that his affection for him was the result of an inferior type of love that wasn’t reliable. After Peter gave the same response, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you” (John 21:16), instead of saying “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15), Jesus instructed Peter to, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16). One of the analogies that Jesus used to illustrate his relationship with his followers was the good shepherd. Jesus compared the good shepherd with a thief and a robber and said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:10-13). When Jesus told Peter to “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16), he was placing him in a position of responsibility that was comparable to his own. The Greek word that is translated tend, poimaino (poy-mahˊ-ee-no) means “to tend as a shepherd” and “refers to the whole process of shepherding, guiding, guarding, folding, and providing pasture” (G4165). Rather than just feeding his lambs, Jesus wanted Peter to care for his sheep as if they were his own. Jesus’ illustration of the hired hand as someone that sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, may have brought to Peter’s mind his denial of the Lord and perhaps made him realize that he was unworthy of the role of being a shepherd to Jesus’ followers.

When Jesus asked Peter the third time, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17), he used the Greek word phileo instead of agapao to signify the kind of love he expected from Peter and therefore, seemed to be lowering his standard of Peter’s ability to love him. John tells us, “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileo) me?’” (John 21:17), indicating that Peter felt convicted of his sin and realized that his failure had diminished his credibility as a leader. The point that Jesus probably wanted to make was not that Peter had been disqualified from serving him, but that Peter’s failure was evidence that his phileo love for Jesus was insufficient to accomplish his mission of spreading the gospel throughout the world. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus identified the key to continuous fellowship with God, unity. Jesus prayed:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 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 loved me. (John 17:20-23)

The phrase become perfectly one is translated be made perfect in one in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. The difference is significant in that the KJV indicates that the result is that we are made perfect, whereas the English Standard Version (ESV) focuses on the type of oneness that is to be achieved, perfectly one, the same kind of unity that Jesus had with his Father. Psalm 133, a song of ascents, opens with the statement, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) and concludes with, “For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3). It might be said that unity is the channel through which eternal life flows to mankind.

Jesus concluded his conversation with Peter by reconfirming his calling. After he told Peter by what kind of death he was going to glorify God, Jesus said to him, “Follow me” (John 21:19). The Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). In order for someone to be a follower of Christ, a union must take place. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that God has united all things in Christ by the shedding of his blood on the cross (Ephesians 2:13) and that God is in the process of making all believers into a single unit or body (Ephesians 2:14-16). Paul went on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). The Greek word that Paul used to signify love is agape, suggesting that God’s love is developed in us through the building up or the spiritual strengthening that results from teaching the word of God. That’s why Jesus’ final command to Peter was, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), meaning, if you really love me, then provide spiritual nourishment to my followers so that they can grow in their faith.

Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul 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. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, 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 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what He said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).

Endurance

The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy from a Roman prison and “believed that his death was near…Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering so that he could present himself to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul said:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul used three analogies to get his message across to Timothy. First, Paul told Timothy that he must share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers are mentioned throughout the New Testament account of Jesus’ ministry because of the Roman occupation of Israel at that time. The Greek word that Paul used, stratiotes (strat-ee-oˊ-tace) refers to “a (common) warrior” (G4757). Paul’s idea of a good soldier of Christ Jesus was probably someone that was always engaged in spiritual battles. Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “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” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Paul told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). The New King James Version of the Bible states it this way. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” The Apostle Peter also talked about becoming entangled in the affairs of this life in the context of false prophets and teachers. Peter said:

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)

Paul’s use of the phrase “the affairs of this life” (2 Peter 2:4) was probably meant to be interpreted in the context of normal everyday life. The Greek word that is translated life in this instance, bios (beeˊ-os) refers to “the present state of existence” and by implication “the means of livelihood” (G979). The struggle between doing God’s will and our own will often centers on the question of how we earn our living. The struggle between the two is clearly portrayed in the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. After the Israelites “set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses” (Numbers 10:13), it says in Numbers 11:1, “the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes.” Moses went on to say:

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

The strength that was dried up may have been the people’s physical appetite, but there was likely more to what was going on than just a lack of physical nourishment. The Hebrew word that is translated strength, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) in an abstract sense refers to vitality and often represents “the inner being with its thoughts and emotions” and by extension, “the whole person” (H5315). At this point in time, it seems that some of the Israelites were beginning to miss their old way of life. Moses referred to the group of people that had gathered together to complain to each other as “the rabble” (Numbers 11:4). It’s not stated exactly who these people were, but it seems likely that they were dissenters who were opposed to the military campaign that was about to take place as the Israelites approached the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1-2, 17-19).

The second analogy that Paul used to encourage Timothy’s endurance was an athlete that is engaged in a competition. Paul said, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). The point that Paul was making was that it is possible for Christians to be disqualified from the spiritual rewards that they expect to receive from God. An example of this principle was the 40 year delay that kept everyone that grumbled against the LORD from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-30), as well as Moses’ exclusion because he broke faith with the LORD (Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Paul told Timothy at the conclusion of his letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The crown of righteousness may be the crown that Paul was referring to when he said that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). If so, competing according to the rules might have something to do with preaching the gospel accurately, meaning that there isn’t anything added or taken away from the message that Jesus proclaimed to his followers.

Paul’s final analogy, the hard working farmer, indicated that the principle of sowing and reaping came into play with regard to suffering and endurance. Paul said, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Metaphorically, fruit as it relates to work or deeds is “the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the character of the power producing it” (G2590). Paul’s suggestion that the hard-working farmer should receive the first share of the crops meant that the person preaching the gospel would receive some of the benefits of his own message. In other words, the power of the Holy Spirit would spill over into his own life as the preacher of the gospel went about sowing the seeds of God’s word. Paul concluded with the statement, “Think over what I say; for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Paul seemed to be aware of the fact that his words of encouragement to Timothy weren’t really all that encouraging, at least not from a human perspective. The Greek words that Paul used, noieo (noy-ehˊ-o) which is translated think over and sunesis (soonˊ-es-is) which is translated understand have to do with the faculties of the mind and may be connected with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Paul told the Ephesians that they must “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 4:21-24). Basically, what Paul was referring to was the process of sanctification which results in the divine character of God being manifested in the life of the believer (G38).

After the Israelites complained to the LORD about their misfortunes (Numbers 11:1), they were commanded to sanctify or consecrate themselves (Numbers 11:18). Numbers 11:18-20 states:

“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”

The Hebrew word that is translated rejected, maʾaç (maw-asˊ) speaks of “despising one’s spiritual condition” and describes the Israelites’ actions “in refusing to heed God or accept his authority” (H3988). The Israelites were instructed to consecrate themselves, meaning that they had to go through a process of rededicating themselves to the LORD in order to reinstate his blessing upon them.

Moses’ role of keeping the Israelites in check was a difficult one because of the constant friction between God and his chosen people. Moses asked the LORD:

“Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:11-14)

A short while later, Moses’ authority was challenged by his own brother and sister. Numbers 12:1-9 states:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

Moses’ personal relationship with the LORD made it possible for him to understand things that no other human being could. God said that he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8).

Like Moses, Paul suffered because of the message that the Lord entrusted to him. Paul said that he was suffering, “bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). The Greek word that is translated endure, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which refers to an inferior position or condition (G5259) and meno (menˊ-o) which speaks of “a person remaining in a state or condition” (G3306). The literal translation of hupomeno is “to stay under,” meaning to remain in an inferior position (5278). Paul said that he was enduring prison for the sake of the elect, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul believed that he was in prison because it was a part of his ministry, something that he needed to do to in order to finish his race (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering because of the assurance that he had of future rewards. Paul said:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated reign, sumbasileuo (soom-bas-il-yooˊ-o) refers to a co-regent (G4821). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus talked about his future glory in his high priestly prayer to his Father. Jesus said, “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 loved me” (John 17:22-23).

One of the conditions that Paul identified for being approved by God was being able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul contrasted being able to rightly handle the word of truth with irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). Another way of describing irreverent babble might be a fruitless or meaningless discussion. Some people talk about God in a way that destroys other people’s faith rather than building it up. Paul used the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had said that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18), in order to illustrate how a central fact could undermine the entire gospel. Paul encouraged Timothy to cleanse himself from what is dishonorable, so that he would be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul’s final recommendation for endurance had to do with the spiritual battles associated with winning souls for Christ. Paul said:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Paul’s description of salvation as coming to our senses and escaping from the snare of the devil emphasized the importance of spiritual warfare and its role in helping or hindering a person’s belief in God. The Greek word that is translated captured, zogreo (dzogue-rehˊ-o) means “to take alive (make a prisoner of war)” (G2221). The concept of a prisoner of war suggests that the devil is able to render believers useless to God by tricking them into believing things that are untrue.

Paul admonished Timothy “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and then went on to explain that it is the condition of our hearts when we share the gospel that makes all the difference in the success or failure of our attempt. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The idea that Paul was conveying of presenting ourselves to God was about the genuineness of our faith or you might say the accuracy of our view of ourselves compared to God’s view of us. We might think we are right with God, but when we stand in God’s presence every unconfessed sin will be exposed. Paul wrote in his message to the Hebrews:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

The shrinking back that Paul mentioned may have had something to do with lowering a sail and so slackening the course of the ship. Paul was likely referring to being remiss in holding to the truth of the gospel (G5288). In other words, leaving out some of the details of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to unbelievers is a dangerous compromise that can diminish your faith and result in spiritual ruin. 

Spiritual contamination

The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was primary focused on defending his position as a minister of the gospel. There was a faction in the congregation at Corinth who denied that Paul was truly an apostle of Jesus (Introduction to the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians). Paul asked 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). Paul argued that the proof of his apostleship was the result of his ministry. Paul had established the church in Corinth during his first stay there and was responsible for its early growth. Paul was offended that the Corinthians had doubted his apostleship and stated, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).

Paul went on to explain that the Corinthians minds had been contaminated by their interaction with unbelievers. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against forming relationships that compromised their faith. Paul said:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Paul used the term unequally yoked to describe relationships between believers and unbelievers. This might have been Paul’s way of saying that the Corinthians were getting involved in illegal activities, but more than likely the point Paul was trying to make was that there would be diminished productivity if believers worked with unbelievers. The term unequally yoked means that two different kinds of animals are being forced to work together to pull a load (G2086). The stronger animal is hindered by the weaker animal and the difference in strength creates friction between them.

Paul used several words in his argument against being unequally yoked that were connected with the early church’s growth and development. Paul asked the Corinthians, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). The words partnership, fellowship, accord, portion, and agreement all imply that a spiritual union of some type has taken place. A key word that was used by the first Christians to describe their association with each other was koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). The Greek word koinonia means “partnership, i.e. (literal) participation, or (social) intercourse” (G2842). Koinonia is derived from the word koinos which means common. Koinos was used figuratively by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in reference to “those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20)” (G2844). This relates back to the practices of the Israelites who were commanded to separate themselves from the people and things around them that would cause them to be unclean or spiritually contaminated.

Leviticus 11:1-3 states, “And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.'” The LORD went on to say that certain animals were from a ceremonial or moral sense considered to be contaminated and would defile a person if they were eaten (Leviticus 11:24). The key point in the concept of becoming defiled was physical contact. Leviticus 11:26 states, “Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean.” This was illustrated in the book of Genesis when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. It says in Genesis 34:2, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her” (KJV). God’s justification for keeping the Israelites uncontaminated was they were expected to be holy because he was holy. He said:

“Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:41-45)

The Hebrew word that is translated holy in Leviticus 11:44, qadowsh (kaw-doshe’) is “an adjective meaning sacred, holy. It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony. It designates that which is the opposite of common or profane. It could be said that qadowsh is a positive term regarding the character of its referent, where common is a neutral term and profane a very negative term. This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

Paul’s message to the Corinthians focused on the separation that was necessary for God’s people to achieve holiness. Quoting Isaiah 52:11, Paul stated, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). The Greek word Paul used that is translated be separate has to do with physically separating yourself from someone (G873), but it could be that Paul was trying to convey the idea of being stand-offish or you might say emotionally distant in that you no longer consider yourself to be in a close relationship with that person. Paul told the Corinthians, “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). Defilement refers to pollution in a moral sense (G3436). In order to cleanse ourselves from moral pollution, we need salvation. We need the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It says in the book of Hebrews, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

Paul’s concern for the Corinthians’ moral purity was based on his conclusion that they were being taught incorrect doctrine. Paul told the Corinthians, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Paul’s emphasis of the importance of our thought processes in keeping us devoted to Christ made it clear that spiritual warfare was a key factor in believers becoming spiritually contaminated. Paul indicated that our thoughts can lead us astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. The Greek word that is translated thoughts, noema (no’-ay-mah) means “a perception” (G3540). Paul used the word noema five times in his second letter to the Corinthians. The first time Paul mentioned noema was in 2 Corinthians 2:11 when he was talking about being outwitted by Satan and the need to forgive the sinner. Paul said, “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” (emphasis mine). Satan’s designs could be mental tricks that he uses to get us to perceive things incorrectly so that God’s word doesn’t seem practical or necessary in our lives. Paul said that the minds of unbelievers are being blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14) by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that we need to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis mine).

The Greek word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that is translated led astray, phtheiro (fthi’-ro) is translated corrupted in the King James Version of the Bible. Phtheiro has to do with the ruin that comes as a result of negative moral influences and generally means “to bring to a worse state.” It can also mean “to corrupt, with the meaning of to subvert or corrupt opinions” (H5351). With regard to corrupt opinions, Paul said, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). What Paul meant by you put up with it was that the Corinthians were giving him the impression that they were fine with the false doctrines that had been infiltrating their church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that they were to a certain extent being raped by these false teachers because their devotion to Christ was being questioned by other churches such as the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:24) and Paul himself was at risk of being humiliated by their behavior (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul understood that the real source of the Corinthians spiritual contamination was demonic forces and it was likely that they did not have the spiritual strength to defend themselves. Paul tried to expose the enemy’s activities in a way that would make the Corinthians more aware of the devil’s tactics. Paul said, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Greek word that is translated disguising, metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) means “to transform, change the outward form or appearance of something” (G3345). Paul used the word metaschematizo in his letter to the Philippians in connection with believers spiritual transformation after death. Paul said, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21, emphasis mine).

Satan’s ability to disguise or transform himself into an angel of light is the primary reason why it is so difficult for believers to recognize and to separate themselves from his activities. Paul contrasted his experiences as an apostle with those of the Corinthians in order to point out that our perception of what life is supposed to be like as a Christian is often skewed in the wrong direction. Paul declared:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Paul elaborated on his list of personal afflictions in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Corinthians 11:25-31).

Paul’s experience of being associated with Christ’s gospel is consistent with many of the Old Testament prophets that were faithful to God’s word. One of the difficulties that Christians face in their attempt to avoid spiritual contamination is that they will likely be mocked and mistreated by the people that are closest to them. Before David became king of Israel, he was hunted and nearly killed by King Saul on multiple occasions. His hopeless situation brought David to the brink of despair. When he ended up in the hands of a pagan king that had no regard for him or the God that he served (1 Samuel 21:10-13), David wrote Psalm 56, his personal testimony about God’s love and faithfulness to those who serve him. David prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4). King Saul’s hostility toward David was evidence of the spiritual conflict that was going on behind the scenes. David was able to transcend his circumstances and seemed to realize that his physical separation from Saul made it possible for him to be closer to God. David wrote:

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life. (Psalm 56:8-13)

David’s recognition that he must perform his vows to the LORD was a direct result of the spiritual union he had with his Savior. David knew that he didn’t have a chance of surviving when the Philistines seized him in Gath (1 Samuel 21:11). Therefore, he needed the LORD’s protection and had to make sure that his heart was right before God. The Hebrew word that is translated vows, neder (neh’-der) means “a promise (to God)” (H5088). David’s spiritual devotion may have been called into question when he fled Jerusalem and sought refuge in the land of Gath, but David made it clear that he hadn’t compromised his relationship with the LORD. David remained loyal to God’s calling and “departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam” (1 Samuel 22:1) in order to keep himself from being spiritually contaminated by living with the Philistines.

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).

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 mission

Jesus associated the salvation of souls with a harvest that required laborers to reap the crop and he told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37). The laborers that Jesus was referring to were men that were called to preach the gospel. Jesus chose twelve apostles that were given the mission of informing “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” that the kingdom of heaven was approaching (Matthew 10:6-7). According to Matthew, the names of Jesus’ apostles were, “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:2-4).

Jesus gave his twelve apostles specific instructions about how they were to conduct themselves while they were out preaching (Matthew 10:7-14). The apostles were thought of as ambassadors of the Gospel and were delegated miraculous powers that they were at liberty to use as they pleased (G1849/G652). Jesus instructed his apostles to, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). The mission the apostles received was primarily concerned with the well-being of God’s chosen people. God had promised to send the Jews a Messiah that would save their nation from its spiritual destitution (G622).

Jesus’ program of discipleship was not simply learning the doctrine of Christ, but getting to know Christ Himself and applying the knowledge so as to walk differently from the rest of the world (G3129). Jesus told his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” and said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). Jesus made it clear that the supernatural powers that the apostles were given were not meant to be used as a means of gaining wealth. He told them, “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food” (Matthew 10:9-10).

Jesus indicated that his apostles weren’t expected to benefit materially from the work they were doing for God’s kingdom. The principle that Jesus wanted his disciples to demonstrate to the Jews was the grace of God. Jesus said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8) in order to point out that salvation was a gift from God and should not be offered on the basis of merit or any other condition. Jesus said, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:14-15).

One of the characteristics of the covenant that God made with Abraham was that it provided a means of judging the world. God told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Before he sent his son to Paddan-aram to get a wife, Isaac blessed Jacob and gave him this benediction, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). God confirmed his covenant with Jacob and told him, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

God said he would bring Jacob back to the land, indicating that he would cause Jacob to return to the course that he had departed from when he left his father’s household for Paddan-aram. The Hebrew word that is translated return, shuwb (shoob) is associated with having a relationship with God. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Jacob’s experience in Paddan-aram seems to suggest that he didn’t have a relationship with God. Three times Jacob agreed to serve his uncle Laban in exchange for possessions that he probably could have obtained much more easily if he had been willing to accept God’s help. It wasn’t until Jacob “saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before” that he took action to leave his uncle’s home (Genesis 31:2, 17-18).

Genesis 31:1-3 states: “Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.'” One way of interpreting God’s message would be that he was telling Jacob to go back where he belonged. Jacob had been away from his hometown for 20 years and his behavior and mannerisms had likely changed quite a bit as a result of living with his uncle Laban. After gathering together his wives and children and packing up all of his belongings and it says that “Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:20-21).

The Hebrew word that is translated tricked in Genesis 31:20 is leb (labe) which means the heart. In the Hebrew language,”The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). Jacob’s action of fleeing Laban’s home without telling him suggests that he didn’t trust his uncle or was too weak to stand up to him. It could be that Jacob lacked confidence because he was riddled with guilt about having stolen his brother’s birthright (Genesis 25:31) and deceiving his father so that he would bless him instead of his twin brother Esau (Genesis 27:19).

The LORD’s instruction to “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred” (Genesis 31:3) implies that God wanted Jacob to go back to his father’s house and deal with the conflicts that he had left unresolved. Genesis 31:21 tells us that Jacob “set his face” toward the location of Isaac’s camp, indicating that Jacob intended to obey the LORD’s command, but as he was fleeing, “Laban overtook Jacob” (Genesis 31:25) and confronted him with a crime, putting Jacob on the defensive.

And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods? (Genesis 31:26-30)

Jacob didn’t know that his wife Rachel had stolen her father’s idols and responded to Laban’s accusation by declaring, “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live” (Genesis 31:32).

Jacob’s rash behavior was compounded by the fact that he didn’t know how to control his emotions. Jacob became angry and berated Laban for chasing him down and falsely accusing him (Genesis 31:36). In the end, the only way Laban could save face was to make a covenant with Jacob. “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm” (Genesis 31:51-52). Even though Jacob and Laban agreed to live harmoniously with each other, the nations that they established, Israel and Syria were in constant conflict with each other throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and remain bitter enemies to this day.

When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), he told them, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mathew 10:16). The conflict that Jesus expected his disciples to encounter had to do with the deception of false prophets. Jesus had previously warned his followers to “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). In order to discern the motives of their adversaries, Jesus told his disciples to “be as wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, the apostles needed to keep mentally alert and use their cognitive faculties to outwit the false teachers that wanted to undermine their message of hope.

Jesus’ admonition to be “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) may have been a reference to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the salvation of souls. The Greek word that is translated innocent, akeraios (ak-er’-ah-yos) means unmixed (G185) and is derived from the word kerannumi (ker-an’-noo-mee) which means to mingle (G2767). What Jesus may have meant by the phrase innocent as doves was that his disciples shouldn’t interfere with or try to take the place of the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. The primary objective of the twelve apostles mission was to bear witness or more succinctly, to proclaim the truths of the gospel as revealed to them by Jesus Christ during his three-year ministry on Earth.

Jesus warned his disciples that men would deliver them over to courts and flog them in their synagogues, “and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:17-19). Jesus didn’t downplay the danger associated with his disciples mission, but encouraged them to stay one step ahead of their enemies. He said, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23).

Jesus’ reference to his return to Earth suggests that the mission he was sending his apostles on would not be completed in their lifetimes. It could be that Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the bigger picture and was concerned about their willingness to stay at the task if their lives were in constant danger. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

One of the motivations Jesus gave his disciples for expending their lives for the sake of preaching the gospel was that it would result in special recognition from God. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but who ever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated acknowledge, homologeo (hom-ol-og-eh’-o) literally means “to speak the same thing” (G3670). What this seems to suggest is that a believer’s profession of faith needed to be validated by the things that he said to other people about God.

When the LORD told Jacob to return to the land of his fathers, God said that he would be with him (Genesis 31:3). What that meant was that Jacob would be protected from harm. God was assuring Jacob that he and his family would make it to their destination safely and he would take care of any problems they encountered along the way. God protected Jacob when spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to “be careful not to say anything to Jacob either good or bad” (Genesis 31:24). Apparently, Laban was going to try and stop Jacob from leaving again and the LORD intervened so that he wouldn’t do that.

Jacob’s interaction with Laban seems to suggest that he didn’t believe God would protect him. Jacob told Laban that he fled without saying goodbye because he was afraid that Laban was going to take his daughters away from him by force (Genesis 31:31). Jacob referred to the LORD in an impersonal way when he said, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty handed” (Genesis 31:42). Later, Jacob affirmed a covenant with Laban by swearing “by the Fear of his father Isaac” (Genesis 31:33), indicating that it was the authority of his father’s faith in God and not his own that made their agreement binding.

Jacob didn’t go so far as to deny God, but his behavior clearly demonstrated that he wasn’t trusting in the LORD. The Greek word that is translated denies in Matthew 10:33, arneomai (ar-neh’-om-ahee) means to contradict with regard to one’s speech (G720). When Laban confronted him, Jacob denied taking his uncle’s gods. Jacob even became angry and berated Laban for making a false accusation against him, but the idols were actually hidden in his wife’s saddle (Genesis 31: 34-35). Even though Jacob was unaware of what Rachel had done, he was responsible for her actions and deserved to be punished for the crime.

Jesus told his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). The Greek word that is translated to set, dichazo (dee-khad’-zo) means to cut apart or divide in two (G1369). Figuratively, dichazo means to alienate oneself, something that Jacob seemed to do on a regular basis.

The conflict between Jacob and Laban was inevitable because these two men stood on opposite sides of God’s kingdom. Jacob was the designated heir of God’s covenant with Abraham and Laban was doing everything he could to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. Even though Laban managed to delay Jacob’s return to his father’s household for 20 years, Jacob eventually broke free from Laban’s control and seemed to be determined to make a fresh start when he set his face toward the hill country of Gilead (Genesis 31:21). The only problem was that Jacob still wasn’t ready to submit himself to God’s will and thought he needed to stay on Laban’s good side and agreed to make a covenant with him (Genesis 31:53).

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

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

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

God bless you!

Seven churches

The book of Revelation is believed to have been written by the Apostle John near the end of his life while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. John began his book by explaining his situation. He stated, “I, John, am your Christian brother. I have shared with you in suffering because of Jesus Christ. I have also shared with you His holy nation and we have not given up. I was put on the island called Patmos because I preached the Word of God and told about Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9, NLV). John went on to say that he had received a visit from the resurrected Jesus Christ who told him, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicia” (Revelation 1:11).

The seven churches identified in the book of Revelation were actual churches that existed at the end of the first century, They were all located about 50 miles apart, forming a circle in the Roman province of Asia which lies in modern western Turkey (note on Revelation 1:4). It is not known why these particular churches were singled out, but they apparently had some significance in the establishment of Jesus’ worldwide ministry of spreading the gospel. The seven churches were represented by seven candlesticks in John’s vision of the resurrected Christ. John stated:

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (Revelation 1:12-16)

The representation of the churches by candlesticks may have had something to do with the illustration Jesus used of Christians being salt and light. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).

The seven churches identified in the book of Revelation were both commended and rebuked by Jesus for the work they were doing to establish God’s kingdom on Earth. John was given specific instructions to write to each of these churches and to let them know what Jesus had told him about their ministries. The seven distinct messages are recorded in Revelation chapters two and three. Each of the messages began with unique identifier of the resurrected Lord and ended with a promised reward for those that overcame a specific type of opposition to their ministry. The message to the Ephesians stated:

“These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary…To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.'” (Revelation 2:1-7, NKJV)

The Greek word translated overcomes, nikao (nik-ah’-o) is derived from the word nike (nee’-kay) which figuratively refers to a means of success (G3529). Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesians was to “do the first works” (Revelation 2:5). What he most likely meant by that was to get back to the basics of preaching the gospel. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addressed the topic of spiritual warfare. Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12, NKJV).

Jesus’ promises to the believers that were able to overcome obstacles to their ministries (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21) indicated there was a spiritual battle going on, even in the early church, that could potentially keep his gospel from being spread around the world. It is likely that John’s messages to the seven churches were meant to shore up their efforts and encourage these early warriors to do as Paul had done, fight the good fight and finish their course (2 Timothy 4:7).

Jesus’ final promise to the church of Laodiceans seemed to be one that applied to all Christians and suggested that the rewards Jesus promised for overcoming applied to his millennial reign on Earth. He said, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). At the end of the Great Tribulation, John indicated all believers would reign with Christ for a thousand years. He said, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).