Individual character

Jacob, who was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), his sons and their families numbered seventy persons when they came into Egypt (Genesis 46:27). Exodus 12:37 tells us that 400 years later, when the people of Israel left Egypt, there were about “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” At the time of Jacob’s death, his twelve sons and their families were referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49:28 states, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Jacob’s blessing was transferred to his sons on an individual basis. He blessed each of his sons with a blessing that was suitable to him, meaning that the blessing was appropriate for that individual son. The Hebrew word that is translated tribes in Genesis 49:28, shebet (shayˊ-bet) means “to branch off” and literally refers to “a stick” or “the ‘rod’ as a tool used by the shepherd (Leviticus 27:32) and the teacher (2 Samuel 7:14)” (H7626). Jesus told his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6).

Jesus talked about branches in the context of discipline and productivity. The example that Jesus used of a vine that was intended to bear fruit was a universal theme that he used throughout his ministry to describe the process of salvation and was consistent between both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Jesus indicated that individual branches could be pruned or might be taken away if they did not bear fruit. This seems to be the case with regards to the tribe of Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. Simeon was left out when Moses’ pronounced his final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

Simeon was the second son of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Genesis 29:31-33 states, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.” The name Simeon means “hearing” (H8095). Simeon is derived from the Hebrew word shamaʿ (shaw-mahˊ) which means “to hear intelligently” (H8085). Shama is associated with discernment and understanding and refers to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. Simeon and his younger brother Levi responded to the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the men in the city of Shechem. Genesis 34:13-15 and 24-31 tells us:

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”…On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Simeon and Levi were outraged by the rape of their sister Dinah and took vengeance by killing all the men in Shechem. Their father Jacob was upset because their method of retaliation put his family in danger. Later, Simeon was singled out by Joseph to remain in prison while the rest of his brothers returned to Canaan to get their youngest brother Benjamin to verify their identity (Genesis 42:18-20). During this incident, Joseph’s brothers acknowledged their guilt for selling him into slavery. Genesis 42:21-23 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen (shama). That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen (shama). So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood (shama) them, for there was an interpreter between them.

The Hebrew word shama (the root word of the name Simeon) appears three times in Joseph’s brothers’ brief admission of guilt. The repeated use of shama emphasizes its importance in the message that was being conveyed. It was as if Simeon’s name and his absence were providing the other brothers with a clue about the cause of the circumstances they were experiencing (no hearing).

The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were all chosen because of the circumstances of their births (Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18) and may or may not have been a reflection of their individual character. As was the case with Abram who God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Jesus gave some of his disciples new names after they became his followers (Mark 3:16-17). The connection between a person’s name and his individual character seems to be important from the standpoint of God becoming involved in the lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul referred to individual character as your inner being and said, “For this reason I bow my knee 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” (Ephesians 3:14-16). Paul indicated that God strengthens or empowers us in our inner being. The strengthening that occurs doesn’t happen as a sudden influx of power, but as a gradual increase in energy over time (G2901).

The idea that we can grow stronger and be more energetic as we get older is contrary to the way that we usually experience life. Typically, a person will slow down and accomplish less in their later years. Caleb, one of two individuals that was delivered from slavery in Egypt and survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, gave this testimony afterward:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:6-11)

Caleb indicated that he had wholly followed the LORD and that Moses had promised him an eternal inheritance as a result of it (Joshua 14:8-9). The meaning of the name Caleb (kaw-labeˊ) isn’t completely clear, but it may have been a contraction of the Hebrew words qadesh (kaw-dasheˊ) which denotes “a (quasi) sacred person” (H6945) and leb (labe) “the heart” (H3820). Qadesh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ). “This word is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942).

The connection between the process of sanctification and the development of individual character as demonstrated in Caleb’s life may be related to what Paul described as “being joined together” and “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Paul talked about believers being members of the household of God and identified Jesus as “the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21). Paul indicated that we are growing into a holy temple and being built together into a dwelling place for God. The original temple that was built by King Solomon, was referred to as “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). The Hebrew word that is translated house, bayith (bahˊ-yith) “denotes a fixed, established structure made from some kind of materials. As a ‘permanent dwelling place’ it is usually distinguished from a tent (2 Samuel 16:21, cf. v. 22)” (H1004). 1 Kings 6:7 tells us, “When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” The large stones that were used to build the temple were chiseled into shape at a quarry so that they would fit together perfectly when they were placed in their designated spot. In the same way that the stones were prepared beforehand at the quarry, so are individuals prepared by God through the process of sanctification so that they can be joined together and built into a dwelling place for God.

The analogy of the potter and the clay is used throughout the Bible to describe the process of sanctification. It was first introduced through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Paul used the analogy of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign choice. Paul said:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.”

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:14-33)

Paul referred to Jesus as a stone of stumbling rather than the cornerstone that orients the building in a specific direction in order to point out that faith in Jesus is what tripped up the Israelites. The people of Israel were unable to shift the focus of their attention from their own individual acts of righteousness to the sacrifice that was going to be made by Jesus so that their sins could be atoned for.

Simeon’s exclusion from Moses’ blessing (Deuteronomy 33) demonstrates how free will and God’s sovereign choice work together to produce the final outcome in an individual’s life and the legacy that is passed on to future generations. A similar example can be found in the life of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)

Jesus later linked Judas’ betrayal with the process of sanctification and what Paul described as the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). After Jesus had washed his disciples feet, he said, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’” (John 13:10-15). Jesus differentiated between the initial spiritual birth of a believer and regeneration when he said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). Paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis), by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). It seems that anakainos is not just a process that God engineers to build individual character, but a joint process that all believers participate in for the collective benefit of everyone. From that standpoint, the twelve tribes of Israel modeled the type of community that the body of Christ is expected to emulate. Just as Simeon’s absence created a noticeable gap in Israel’s family structure (Genesis 42:36; Deuteronomy 33), so does the absence of individual members of the body of Christ. Paul said, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have not need of you’…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

A spiritual perspective

The Bible identifies two distinct perspectives that typically contradict each other with regards to interpretation of the events and circumstances of our lives. A materialistic perspective is concerned with the physical processes that produce things that we can see and touch; whereas, a spiritual perspective is concerned with invisible processes that produce things that cannot be seen or touched. One of the ways that the Bible distinguishes these two perspectives is by what they focus our attention on. A materialistic perspective focuses our attention on the world around us, the things that we come in contact with on a daily basis. Therefore, a materialistic perspective might also be thought of as a worldly perspective. A spiritual perspective focuses our attention on God and therefore, can be thought of as a godly perspective. Jesus told a Samaritan woman that he met at Jacob’s well, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Greek word that is translated spirit, pheuma (pnyooˊ-mah) means “a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze, by analogy or figuratively a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc.” (G4151). The analogy of a spirit being similar to a current of air has to do with the characteristics that we associate with the wind. Its strength, vigor, and force are evident even though the wind is invisible to us. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Jesus implied that being born again or born of the Spirit would result in a person being influenced by spiritual things (John 3:8). Even though we are not always aware of it, God is actively involved in every person’s life that has committed themselves to Christ. Jesus talked about this in his parable of the seed growing. He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). Jesus also used the analogy of seed in his parable of the sower and illustrated the effect that God’s word has on the human heart. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

Jesus explained to his disciples privately that the seed represented the word of God and he used the four scenarios in his parable to show them that the outcome was dependent on the condition of the human heart. 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)

The unseen activity of the human heart is an example of how a spiritual versus a materialistic perspective can alter the effect of God’s word and can change the outcome of our relationship with the Lord. Jesus pointed out that when we hear the word and do not understand it, the evil one is able to snatch away what has been sown in our hearts (Matthew 13:19). It is only when we understand what we are hearing that spiritual fruit can be produced (Matthew 13:23).

The Greek word that is translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “(to send); to put together, i.e. (mentally) to comprehend” (G4920). Suniemi is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes “union” (G4862) and has to do with fellowship with God and other believers. When Jesus told his disciples the night before his crucifixion that they would all fall away, Peter replied, “’Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with (G4862) you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:33-35). Peter’s emphatic declaration that he would not deny Jesus, even if he had to die with him, was an indication that he was looking at things from a spiritual perspective, but Peter’s actions proved otherwise. Proverbs 2:2 suggests that understanding requires an intentional effort on our part to see things from a godly perspective. Proverbs 2:1-5 states:

My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

According to King Solomon, the author of this proverb, the process of obtaining understanding involves more than just an intentional effort on our part. Solomon identified a series of steps and used the conditional language of if/then to indicate that obtaining a spiritual perspective is dependent upon us having a relationship with God. Solomon went on to say, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints” (Proverbs 2:6-8).

The Hebrew word that is translated saints in Proverbs 2:8, chasiyd (khaw-seedˊ) denotes “those who share a personal relationship with the Lord” and signifies “the state of one who fully trusts in God” (H2623). Solomon said that God watches over “the way of his saints” (Provervs 2:8). By that, Solomon meant that God charts the course of believers’ lives and makes it possible for them to be spiritually successful.

The Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan is an example of God’s direct intervention in the lives of believers. Although the Israelites were resistant to following God’s commandments and rebelled against him on numerous occasions, they eventually ended up where God had planned in advance for them to fulfill their destiny. Numbers 33 recounts the Israelites’ journey from a spiritual perspective. Even though it took them 40 years to accomplish what could have taken place in short eleven-day span of time, the Israelites were successful in achieving God’s ultimate goal, their occupation of the Promised Land. Moses explained to the people of Israel that their success was not a result of their own efforts, but a matter of being chosen by God. Moses said, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The Hebrew word that Moses used that is translated chosen, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim…Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

Moses went on to say that from a materialistic perspective, God’s choice of the Israelites didn’t make any sense. It was only because God was keeping the oath that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the Israelites received his blessing (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Moses indicated that God’s motivation for choosing the Israelites and keeping the oath that he swore to their fathers was love. Moses said:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. (Deuteronomy 7:9-11)

The contrast between those who love God and those who hate him makes it seem as if our perspective is shaped by our emotions, but the Hebrew word that is translated hate, sane (saw-nayˊ) makes it clear that it is a matter of our will or more specifically, our preference to not be associated with God. “In a weaker sense, saneʾ can signify being set against something” and it is sometimes translated as enemies, enemy or foe (H8130).

Moses’ final discourses were intended to focus the Israelites’ attention on the way they were expected to live their lives after they entered the Promised Land. Within that context was Moses’ consolidation of the Ten Commandments into a single great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) that would help them to keep a spiritual perspective of things at all times. Moses added to this commandment a guiding principle that made it crystal clear to the people of Israel that a materialistic perspective could not sustain their physical existence beyond this present world. Moses said:

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)

Moses admonished the people to remember the whole way that the LORD had led them and said that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The idea that Moses was trying to convey was that of completeness, the primary characteristic of a healthy spiritual life.

Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word that is translated perfect, teleios (telˊ-i-os) means complete or “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (G5046). The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Romans. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). The phrase that Paul used conformed to this world, has to do with the effect that living in this world has on people in general. Paul said that rather than being conformed to the world, we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. The contrast between the verbs conformed and transformed is particularly evident in their opposing emphasis on the external (conformed) and internal (transformed) influences on our minds. The present continuous tenses of both verbs indicate a process (G3339). This suggests that a spiritual perspective is gained over time as God’s word continually becomes more and more the focus our attention and the primary source of our knowledge.

John’s gospel contains a lot of information about Jesus’ mission to save the world. John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). In this instance, the world stands for the human race, mankind (G2889). In a collective sense, everyone and everything in the world needs to be redeemed from the curse of sin. Quoting Psalm 14, Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). In his high priestly prayer, shortly before he was crucified (John 17:1-26), the primary focus of Jesus’ attention was his mission to save the world. In this prayer, Jesus asked his Father to keep the ones that had been entrusted to his care. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus didn’t seem to be concerned about the world’s influence on his followers, but instead, he identified the problem as the evil one. The Greek word that Jesus used, poneros (pon-ay-rosˊ) “is connected with ponos (G4192) and means labor and expresses especially the active form of evil” (G4190). Proverbs 2 indicates that understanding is a byproduct of wisdom, which is given to us from God (Proverbs 2:6), and will guard us from the way of evil. Solomon wrote:

For wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness. (Proverbs 2:10-13)

Walking in the ways of darkness would mean that you are practicing evil and it has become a way of life for you. Solomon used the word darkness in a figurative sense to represent misery, destruction, death and may have even meant it to express ignorance of God’s word.

Moses’ assertion that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3) was based on his personal experience of leading the Israelites through the desert for forty years. One of the ways that we know Moses had developed a keen spiritual perspective by the end of his life was his understanding of the preincarnate presence of Christ in the midst of the Israelites’ camp. Moses said:

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you. (Deuteronomy 9:1-3)

Moses’ communicated his awareness of God’s presence by stating that he would go over before the Israelites and said that he would destroy the cities. Moses continued to emphasize his spiritual perspective of things when he said:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Moses repeated three times that it was not because of the Israelites righteousness that they were going to possess the land, but because of the wickedness of the nations that the people were being driven out and then Moses stated emphatically, “for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:6). The people of Israel had turned aside quickly out of the way that God had commanded them (Deuteronomy 9:12) and therefore, did not deserve his blessing; but from a spiritual perspective, they were God’s chosen people and he would not abandon them. Proverbs 2:21-22 states:

For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

The Hebrew word that is translated upright, yashar (yaw-shawrˊ) means “straight” (H3477) and is derived from the word yashar (yaw-sharˊ) which “can be used to refer to a path” and with regard to straightness “the commands of God” (H3474). “The Old Testament often talks of two paths in life and warns people to stay on the straight path and not to stray onto the crooked path (Proverbs 2:13)” (H3476). From that standpoint, staying on the straight path would mean that we look at things from a spiritual perspective and make an intentional effort to understand God’s word.

The good shepherd

The transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua took place shortly before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Canaan. At the end of Moses’ life, Numbers 27:12-17 tells us:

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.) Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”

Moses’ association of the people of Israel with sheep was due at least in part to the substitutionary process of atonement that had become a part of the Israelites’ daily lives. When a burnt offering was made, it says in Leviticus 1:3-4 that the person making the offering was to “bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” The people of Israel understood that the burnt offering was being sacrificed in their place and that the sacrifice was meant to pay the penalty for the person’s sin so that the person’s sin could be cancelled or forgiven by God (H7521/H3722). The daily burnt offering consisted of “two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering” (Numbers 28:3). Therefore, large flocks of sheep were necessary to sustain the Israelites’ daily sacrifices.

Moses’ depiction of the Israelites as “sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17) established the importance of the role of a shepherd in the spiritual lives of God’s people. The Hebrew word that is translated shepherd, raʿah (raw-awˊ) appears in Jacob’s blessing of his son Joseph as a reference to Jesus. It says in Genesis 49:23-24, “The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).” King David also referred to God as his shepherd. Psalm 23 illustrates how God’s spiritual leadership works in the lives of believers. It states:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (Psalm 23:1-6)

The Hebrew word raʿah also appears in the book of Jeremiah in connection with faithless Israel being called to repentance. Jeremiah 3:12-15 states:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.

Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the Lord;
    for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.’”

The Apostle Paul identified the shepherd as one of the essential roles in the body of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The King James Version of the Bible states Ephesians 4:12 this way, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Paul identified edification as a key feature of spiritual growth and said, “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 whole body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Jesus told his disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32) and then, he added:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

Jesus used the illustration of entering and exiting the sheepfold to depict the process of salvation that God used to make him the Savior of the World and said, “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus’ death on the cross was a critical component in God’s plan of salvation because the penalty for everyone’s sins had to be paid in order for his sacrifice to be sufficient to save us. Jesus said that anyone who “climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” because some of the Jews’ religious leaders were teaching them that they could be saved by keeping the Mosaic Law and were in essence stealing souls from God’s kingdom.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 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. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:7-15)

Jesus indicated that the shepherd is the owner of the sheep (John 10:12) and said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) means to know in an absolute sense through the perception of the mind and has to do with “what one is or professes to be…with the idea of volition or goodwill: to know and approve or love, to care for” (G1097).

Jesus talked about being the door of the sheep and said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). Jesus discussed entrance into the kingdom of heaven at length with a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Greek word that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) speaks literally “of the ‘lifting’ up of Christ in His crucifixion” (G5312). The belief that gains us entrance into the kingdom of heaven is that Christ died for our sins, not that he is just “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but that Christ died for me personally and is the atoning sacrifice for my sin, one that satisfies the debt I owe to God completely (Leviticus 1:4; Hebrews 10:1-18).

Jesus said that all who came before him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8). This seems to suggest that all of the Old Testament and even the New Testament priests were intentionally leading the people of Israel astray. Israel’s first High Priest, Moses’ brother Aaron, was responsible for the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:2-6) and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering unauthorized fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). The connection between Israel’s priests and Satan’s attempt to thwart God’s plan of salvation is particularly evident in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Luke’s gospel tells us, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6).

Jesus said that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Jesus’ reference to the thief in this instance might be construed to mean Satan or the devil who are considered to be the enemies of our souls (1 Peter 5:8). In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that Satan is able to stop people from being saved by preventing the gospel from taking root in their hearts. Jesus told his disciples, “The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them” (Mark 4:14-15). The Greek words that are translated steal, kill, and destroy in John 10:10 have to do with the eternal state of a person’s soul. The Greek word that is translated destroy, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) means “to destroy fully” and is “spoken of eternal death, i.e. future punishment, exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom…This eternal death is called the second death (Revelation 20:14).” With respect to sheep, apollumi means “to be lost to the owner (Luke 21:18; John 6:12)” and is “spoken of those who wander away and are lost, e.g. the prodigal son (Luke 15:24); sheep straying in the desert (Luke 15:4, 6)” (G622).

In his first letter, Peter talked about straying sheep returning to the Shepherd. Peter said of Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to preach the gospel, he instructed them, “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), but later Jesus relented when a Canaanite woman asked him to heal her daughter. Matthew 15:24-28 states:

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep further illustrated the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to save a lost soul. Luke’s account of this parable states:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)

Jesus portrayed the shepherd as rejoicing because he had found his lost sheep, but clarified what had actually happened when he said that there was joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. One of the ways we know we are saved is that we experience God’s presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we repent of our sins, we make it possible for our fellowship with God to be restored. The Apostle Paul explained the reconciliation that takes place when we are saved in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:11-16)

After he told the Jews that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The Greek word that is translated abundantly, perissos (per-is-sosˊ) is derived from the word peiro in the sense of going beyond the boundaries of ordinary existence. Peiro “means ‘on the other side, across,’ is used with the definite article, signifying the regions ‘beyond,’ the opposite shore” (G4008). From that standpoint, the abundant life that Jesus was talking about may have been a type of heaven on earth, an ability to experience eternal life in the here and now.

Jesus told the Jews, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11), and then, went on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). Jesus indicated that he was laying down his life for the sheep of his own accord. In other words, Jesus wasn’t being forced to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world. Jesus had the same free will that we do and was given the ability to decide for himself whether or not he would go through with the crucifixion. The reason why Jesus did it was because he knew he would be resurrected three days later. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Jesus rebuked Peter because he was looking at things from a human perspective. The only way we can really comprehend and truly appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is by looking at things from an eternal perspective.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

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).

Spiritual disclosure

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a prayer that was meant to encourage their spiritual growth. Paul asked, “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” (Ephesians 1:17-18). The phrase “eyes of your hearts” refers to one’s ability to see things that are normally covered up or kept secret in order to prevent them from being disclosed to the wrong person. The Greek word that is translated enlightened, photizo (fo-tid’-zo) is used figuratively to refer to the impartation of moral and spiritual light (G5461). What Paul meant was that he wanted the Holy Spirit to illuminate the minds of the Ephesian believers so that they could understand spiritual truth. The implication being that without the help of the Holy Spirit it would be impossible for the Ephesians to understand what God was saying to them through Paul’s teaching.

The Greek word that is translated revelation in Ephesians 1:17, apokalupsis (ap-ok-al-oop’-sis) means disclosure or an uncovering (G602). Apokalupsis probably originated from the idea of discovering a crime. The reason why the knowledge of God can only be received through a revelation or spiritual disclosure is because the devil has stolen our ability to discern the truth about our creator. In a sense, we are spiritually blindfolded until God decides to reveal himself to us by way of photizo or shedding light on the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18). Paul said that it is by grace that we are saved through faith. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul went on to say that believers are God’s workmanship, something that is produced by an inward act of the mind or will (G4160). Paul said, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

The process of spiritual growth includes several stages, one of which King David described as being like a weaned child. David said about the difficult situation he was dealing with, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). David realized that his circumstances were out of his control and had decided to accept them rather than scream his head off to God like a hungry child that wanted to be fed immediately. David said, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1). The Hebrew word that is translated marvelous, pala’ (paw-law’) has to do with distinguishing the supernatural ability of God. “Pala’, as a verb, means ‘to be marvelous, be extraordinary, be beyond one’s power to do” (H6381). David said that he did not occupy himself with things too great and too marvelous from him. In other words he left things in God’s hands rather than trying to work them out himself.

After Laban departed and returned home, Genesis 32:1-2 tells us that “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” The angels of God did not accidentally cross Jacob’s path, but were there to intentionally intervene in his situation. When it says that the angels of God met him, it implies that Jacob was like a target that they were focused in on and that there was a reason why the angelic host had been sent there. The fact that Jacob was able to see the angels suggests that he had become consciously aware of the supernatural activity that was taking place around him. The reason why he said “This is God’s camp!” (Genesis 32:2) was because Jacob recognized that a spiritual war was taking place (H4264) and yet, he seemed to ignore the angels presence and went about his business as if nothing unusual was happening.

Rather than continuing on his journey, Jacob stopped for the night and sent messengers ahead of him to let his brother Esau know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape'” (Genesis 32:6-8). The thought didn’t seem to occur to Jacob that God’s heavenly host was there to help him and that he had nothing to worry about with regard to engaging in a battle with the four hundred men that were headed toward him with his brother Esau. Even though Jacob could see the angels of God, the eyes of his heart had not been enlightened and he was therefore ignorant about what God was doing in his midst.

John the Baptist is an example of an Old Testament believer that saw Jesus, Israel’s Messiah with his own eyes and yet, was unable to spiritually comprehend what his ministry was all about. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” (Matthew 11:2-3). John’s question seems completely absurd given that he had already declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Savior of the World did not mean that he understood his mission of spreading the gospel. Matthew said, “And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me'” (Matthew 11:4-6). In other words, Jesus wanted John to know that he needed to be saved like everyone else.

Jesus explained to his disciples that John was no different than anyone else. Yes, John had been given the gift of prophecy, but that did not mean that the eyes of his heart had been enlightened. John had limited knowledge of God’s plan of salvation and was operating under the assumption that Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on Earth immediately. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). What Jesus was saying was that John knew more than anyone else from a human standpoint about how God’s kingdom was supposed to operate and yet, he still hadn’t received the spiritual disclosure from God that was necessary to place his trust in Christ. John was blinded to the fact that Jesus was in the process of saving the world even though he was on his way to being crucified by the very people he had come to save.

Jesus told his disciples, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The Greek word that is translated suffered violence, biazo (bee-ad’-zo) means to “force one’s way into” (G971). Biazo is derived from the root word bios (bee’-os) which means life, i.e. literally “the present state of existence” (G969). The phrase “the violent take it by force” has to do with exerting energy in order to accomplish something. What Jesus may have meant by his comment that the kingdom of heaven had suffered violence until he came into the world was that before salvation was offered to man as a gift from God, the only way people could obtain eternal life was by fighting for it or you might say to demand that God give it to them, except that it was the other way around, God was continually forcing the Israelites to let him save them.

Jacob’s struggle to do things his own way instead of following God’s instructions culminated when he spent the night at Mahanaim, a place he described as “God’s camp” (Genesis 32:2). When Jacob discovered that his brother was on his way to meet him with 400 men, he prayed this prayer:

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of Esau for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'” (Genesis 32:9-12)

In his hour of desperation, Jacob poured out his heart to God and was finally willing to ask for his help. One indication that Jacob had a genuine change of heart was that he sent his brother a present in order to make peace with him (Genesis 32:20).

Jacob indicated that he wanted to appease his brother Esau and said, “Perhaps he will accept me” (Genesis 32:20). The Hebrew word that is translated accept, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). Jacob realized that he had sinned against Esau and wanted his brother to absolve him of his spiritual debt. Unfortunately, the debt Jacob owed wasn’t to Esau, but to God. During the night, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety, “And he was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). The wrestling match that took place at Mahanaim may have had both physical and spiritual qualities. The person that wrestled with Jacob was simply identified as a man, but later was recognized by Jacob as God (Genesis 32:30). Therefore, it seems likely that God’s purpose in having hand to hand combat with Jacob was to bring him to a point of submission. It says that, “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25).

God’s use of force to disable Jacob suggests that he wasn’t going to let Jacob win their battle of the wills and yet, it says in Genesis 32:28 that God told Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The Hebrew name Israel or Yisra’el (yes-raw-ale’) means “he will rule (as) God” (H3478). The key to understanding Jacob’s victory over God could be his demand to be blessed by his creator. After the man put Jacob’s hip out of joint, it says in Genesis 32:26, “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'” Jacob was determined to get the spiritual advantage he felt he needed in order to succeed in life. The implied benefits of God’s blessing were righteousness, prosperity, and eternal life (H1293). All of these things together could be summed up in what we think of today as being saved, “the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus in whom alone it is to be obtained” G4991).

It isn’t clear how much of what happened at Mahanaim was understood by Jacob. The only thing we are told is that Jacob called the place where he wrestled with God “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered'” (Genesis 32:30). The Hebrew words that are translated “seen God face to face,” ra’ah (raw-aw’) ‘elohiym (el-o-heem’) paneh (paw-neh’) indicate that Jacob could perceive God’s attitude toward him (H7200/H430/H6440). In other words, Jacob’s personal encounter with God made it possible for him to tell by the look on God’s face how he felt about him. Paneh which is translated face to face is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) and most likely meant that God was turning towards Jacob or becoming attached to him in the sense of developing a relationship with him (H6437). It’s possible that the Lord was giving Jacob a chance to see that he was his friend, not an adversary that needed to be beaten. The Hebrew word that is translated delivered in Genesis 32:20, natsal (naw-tsal) is the same word Jacob used when he prayed that God would deliver him from the hand of his brother,” so it seems likely that Jacob thought God would kill him if he got too close to him, but discovered that it was safe for him to interact with God in an intimate manner.

Jesus thanked his Father, whom he referred to as the Lord of heaven and earth, because he had hidden the things that he was teaching the people from “the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus was comparing those who had intellectual capability with a simple minded person who had no ability to communicate spiritual truths. Jesus was pointing out that spiritual disclosure wasn’t dependent on a person’s intellectual development, but could even be received by someone that was a brand new believer. An example of this principle was the complicated doctrine that Paul delivered in his letter to the Ephesians, Gentiles that had been deeply immersed in worshipping the Greek goddess of Diana until Paul arrived on the scene. Paul talked to the Ephesians about spiritual blessings in Christ and covered such topics as predestination, redemption, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14) and then, Paul indicated that he was praying that God would give the Ephesian believers the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation of Jesus, so that they could comprehend these great truths.

Jesus told his disciples, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). This seems to suggest that Jesus was entrusted with the sole responsibility of disclosing spiritual truth to believers. Jesus said that all things had been handed over to him, meaning that everything there was to know about God’s kingdom was transmitted to him by his Father. The Greek word that is translated chooses in the phrase “whom the Son chooses,” boulomai (boo’-lom-ahee) “expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will” (G1014), indicating that God’s gift of salvation was distributed by means of Jesus choosing who would be saved. Paul said that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, Jesus identified the people he wanted to save and communicated it to his Father before the world was created. Jesus’ desire to have certain individuals with him throughout eternity was based on God’s love for humanity.

One of the ways we know what kind of people Jesus wanted to be with him in his Father’s eternal kingdom was who he invited to follow him. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus was looking for people that were tired of carrying the burdens of their sins around with them. Jesus said that his followers could find rest for their souls by taking his yoke upon them. The Greek word that is translated yoke, zugos (dzoo-gos’) means to join and refers to a coupling that enables two people to work together to complete a task (G2218). Jesus said that his yoke was easy, meaning that everything that was needed to get the job done was being provided (G5543); and his burden was light, it would be easy to handle (G1645). The only thing that Jesus required from those that wanted to be saved was faith and he made that possible by enlightening the eyes of the believer’s heart.

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!

A remodeling project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Process of spiritual growth

Peter’s second epistle is believed to have been written not long before he was martyred for his faith during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (The Second Epistle General of Peter, Introduction). Peter’s final instructions focused on the process of spiritual growth. Somewhat like stepping stones that mark an unfamiliar pathway, Peter identified the characteristics that result from a believer’s diligent effort to produce spiritual fruit. Peter said, “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Peter assumed that the people he was writing to had already been born again because he told them to add to their faith virtue (2 Peter 1:5). Faith in this context is the initial reliance upon Christ for salvation (G4102), a decision to accept Jesus as your savior. Peter indicated that after being born again, a person must learn to or at least make an effort to be virtuous. The Greek word translated virtue, arete (ar-et’-ay) is properly translated as manliness or valor (G703). Arete has to do with the impression one makes on another person. You could say that it is the image of ourselves that we project to others or our appearance. What I believe Peter was getting at was that after we become Christians, we should start looking like Christians. People should notice and be impressed by our Christlike behavior.

Peter instructed believers to add to their virtue knowledge (2 Peter 1:5). The Greek word Peter used that is translated knowledge is gnosis (gno’-sis). Gnosis denotes spiritual truth and in this instance is concerned with the initial understanding that one should have of his or her faith, what it means to be a Christian. In other words, Peter was saying that Christians should understand the Bible enough to answer the question, what does it mean to be saved? The first three steps that Peter identified in the process of spiritual growth were things that almost every person that has been born again is able to do as soon as or shortly after becoming a Christian. They don’t take very much effort. Therefore, you could say they have to do with being a baby Christian, someone that has not really started to mature yet.

Peter said we are to add to our knowledge temperance or self control. Paul mentioned temperance in his list of spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:23). This seems to suggests that Peter was shifting gears and was beginning to focus on the kind of spiritual growth that is usually associated with a mature Christian. The Greek word translated temperance, “Egkrateia is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites” (G1466). For some people this might be a rather easy task, but for others it can take a long time, sometimes a lifetime for them to get their addictions and habits under control. Peter’s next step, patience is what I would refer to as the characteristic that separates the men from the boys. Patience or hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay’) is also translated as waiting, but it is more than just sitting idly by and expecting something to happen. Patience has to do with enduring trials and is sometimes associated with God’s disciplining of his children.

According to James, patience perfects Christian character (James 1:4). “fellowship in the patience of Christ is therefore the condition upon which believers are to be admitted to reign with Him, 2 Ti 2:12; Rev 1:9” G5281). Peter encouraged believers to go beyond this point and instructed them to add to their patience godliness (2 Peter 1:6). Godliness has to do with conforming oneself to the will of God (G2150). I believe this is where the transformation of a believer’s life becomes evident to everyone around him. You could say that the Christian that exhibits godliness definitely stands out in a crowd. I think this step in the spiritual growth process is where the majority of Christians drop out or give up, thinking that it is too hard or not worth it. I can say from my own personal experience that this step is not for the faint of heart.

The next step in the process of spiritual growth is one that might seem like it should be at the beginning rather than the end. Peter said we are to add to our godliness brotherly kindness (2 Peter 1:7). Brotherly kindness or philadelphia in the Greek represents the kind of love that is usually expressed between blood relatives, but in this context it refers to all believers or the family of God. The final step in the process of spiritual growth, charity is closely linked with brotherly kindness. The Greek word Peter used that is translated charity, agape is the highest or purest form of love that can be expressed between two people. It conveys “the attitude of God toward his Son” (G26). I believe what Peter was getting at was that in order to reach full maturity as a Christian, we need to first learn how to love other believers the same way we love our own family members and then, we need to be able to love everyone else the same way we love ourselves.

Spiritual discipline

Hebrews chapter twelve focuses on the task off exercising our faith. In the same way that the great heroes of faith identified in chapter eleven had to demonstrate their reliance upon God, so believers today are expected to make every effort to not give up on what they say they believe God is going to do in their lives. In the context of a competition, we are told, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).

The sin that does so easily ensnare us is a reference to unbelief. Our faith is constantly under attack because the world we live in is a contradiction to it that cannot be explained away. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, died on a cross as a criminal. Thinking of him as the Savior of the world, takes a significant amount of spiritual effort. One of the most difficult statements in the Bible to comprehend is, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:6, NKJV).

One of the ways believers are expected to think of themselves is children. Since everyone had been or still is a child, it is easy for us to imagine a parent correcting or disciplining us as a child. The Greek word translated chastens, paideuo (pahee-dyoo’-o) actually means “to train up a child” (G3811). Most people who are good parents discipline their children in ways that are sometimes perceived to be harsh or what we use to call being strict. The intent was to keep our children out of trouble. God’s children should be associated with godly behavior.

The purpose of spiritual discipline is explained in Hebrews 12:11. It says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (NKJV). The peaceable fruit of righteousness means that people are able to see evidence of God’s work in our lives. When a person goes through a difficult time and survives, and even gets stronger in the process, it is usually because his faith was at work in spite of his difficult circumstance.

The author of Hebrews identified two specific types of spiritual discipline. The instruction to “make straight paths for your feet lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Hebrews 12:13) refers to Bible study. Sometimes the truth is painful, but we have to continue to read and study the Bible even when it hurts. Ultimately, the word of God heals and restores us and makes it possible for us to stay on course.

The second type of spiritual discipline is associated with a root of bitterness that springs up and causes us trouble (Hebrews 12:15). I believe this refers to wounds from our past. You might think of a root of bitterness as a weed that was pulled out of a garden, but the root was left behind, therefore, it is able to come up again. Jealousy is often a source of bitterness because we don’t like it when someone takes what is rightfully ours. Once bitterness takes root in our hearts, it is very difficult to get rid of it. The only way to remove a root of bitterness completely is to accept that what has been lost is irretrievable and it is time to move on.

Christ in you

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

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

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

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

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

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

A building project

Paul’s analogy of spiritual growth focused on the progressive steps that were necessary to reach spiritual maturity. Paul began by pointing out that God’s gift of salvation did not guarantee spiritual growth. He stated, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The two Christian characteristics Paul compared in this passage, spiritual versus carnal, represented the difference between being supernaturally regenerated or born again and unregenerated, living an animal-like existence. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were not only acting like babies, but also were in danger of missing the whole point of their salvation. His statement, “I have fed you with milk” (1 Corinthians 3:2) eluded to the Corinthians’ immaturity and lack of awareness of their own bad behavior. Most likely, Paul was trying to make the point that his advice needed to be taken seriously and not treated as meaningless babble.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that spiritual maturity required a process of growth similar to a building project or planting a garden. The process of growth involved stages that might be compared to things like laying a foundation, erecting a structure, etc. Paul started by making it clear that he and others might be involved in the process, but God alone produced the results. He stated, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul differentiated himself from other teachers by indicating he was a masterbuilder, a chief constructor or architect (G753). He said, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

Paul seemed to be concerned that his work of preaching the gospel was being undermined by teaching that was inconsistent with God’s plan of salvation. Paul didn’t give any examples of the errant messages that were being circulated, but implied that Jesus Christ’s role was not being emphasized enough. It could be that the process of salvation was being miscommunicated and Paul needed to remind the Corinthians that their supernatural regeneration was a result of what Jesus did for them through his substitutionary death on the cross. Paul explained that when it comes to the process of salvation our work and Christ’s work are two separate things. Although we cannot save ourselves, our service to God contributes to our spiritual growth and development and we will one day be judged for the results we’ve produced. Paul stated, “Every man’s  work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthian’s 3:13).