Confidence

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians didn’t follow his typical pattern, but was filled with a significant amount of information about his call into the ministry and what he felt was his responsibility as a servant of Christ. Paul specifically mentioned his ministry of reconciliation and said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). At the heart of Paul’s message of reconciliation was the idea that it is possible for us to be restored to divine favor. The Greek word katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) “denotes an adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, especially the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory/propitiatory death of Christ. Man changes and is reconciled. God does not change. It is translated atonement in Romans 5:11, signifying that sinners are made ‘at one’ with God” (G2643).

Paul indicated that he no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). What Paul meant by that was that his opinion of people wasn’t based on their outward appearance (G1492). The flesh is often thought of as the physical part of man, but the Greek term sarx (sarx) deals with human nature and is thought of as “the weaker element in human nature…the unregenerate state of men” (G4561). In his defense of his ministry, Paul stated, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh For the weapons of are warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4). The accusation that Paul and his companions were walking in the flesh was based on their change of plans to come to Corinth after visiting Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-18). The Corinthians thought that Paul was vacillating because he was still angry at them and hadn’t forgiven the sinner that was in their midst (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Paul explained to them that he was being led to go to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) and his confidence came from his reliance upon Christ. Paul stated:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

The Greek word that is translated confidence, pepoithesis (pep-oy’-thay-sis) is derived from the word pascho (pas’-kho) which means to suffer and signifies the sufferings of Christ. In certain tenses, pascho means “to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful)” (G3958). Paul’s reference to God making them sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant that was “not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) was most likely meant to point out that Paul and his companions were being directed by the Holy Spirit to go to certain locations at certain times so that their gospel message could be distributed in an efficient manner. As much as Paul would have liked to go to Corinth as he had planned, he knew that his ministry was dependent on God’s leading for its success (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

When he arrived in Corinth, Paul said that he did not want to “show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2). Paul may have thought it would be necessary for him to show the Corinthians his credentials so to speak. Paul tried to convince the Philippians that it was useless for him to boast of his accomplishments in the flesh. Paul told them:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:2-8)

Paul said that he counted as loss everything that he had done in his flesh because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as his Savior (Philippians 3:7-8, emphasis mine). The value Paul placed on his salvation was related to the cost that was associated with Jesus’ sacrifice of his life. Paul described it as the surpassing worth or in the Greek huperecho (hoop-er-ekh’-o) which literally means to over achieve (G2192/G5228). Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law (Philippians 3:6) meant that he had followed the Mosaic Law perfectly. And yet, Paul said about Christ, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Paul indicated that he was not walking according to the flesh, but was walking in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2-3, emphasis mine) and said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The warfare that Paul was referring to in this passage was his “apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752). It seems likely that the divine power that Paul was talking about had to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in order for him to destroy strongholds, Paul had to engage his audiences in what we might think of today as difficult conversations. The Greek word that is translated strongholds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ra-mah) is used metaphorically in this verse to refer to “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). That could be anything from a savings account to perfect attendance at church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their mindsets were skewed in their favor and could not be relied upon for spiritual security. Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mos’) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Logismos is derived from the word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) which has to do with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

Abraham was the first person to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul’s defense of his ministry was built on this principle and Paul emphasized that he had to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was most likely concerned about the contradiction and/or dilution of spiritual truth. God’s word is often contrary to the things that we hear from our government officials and the media. The implication of taking our thoughts captive is that we are able to control the mindsets that govern our behavior and can reject the negative thought patterns that keep us from doing God’s will. Obedience to Christ involves a submission to God’s will by allowing our lives to be under his control (G5218). The Greek word that is translated disobedience in 2 Corinthians 10:6, parakoe (par-ak-o-ay’) has to do with “the mind and will both wavering” (G3876). “Primarily, parakoe, means ‘hearing amiss’ (para, ‘aside,’ akouo, ‘to hear’), hence signifies ‘a refusal to hear.'” Paul’s comment, “when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:6) was most likely meant as a figurative reference to the the process of sanctification. The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) means “to fill one’s heart, to take possession of it” (G4137).

The priests in the Old Testament were consecrated to God so that they could do the work that was assigned to them without any wavering. During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, a ram was killed “and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet” (Leviticus 8:23-24). The blood symbolized consecration and by placing it on the ears of Aaron and his sons Moses was designating that the priests were consecrated in order to “hearken to the word and commandments of God” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). Leviticus 10:1-2 shows us that consecration didn’t guarantee obedience to God. It states:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came down from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

The unauthorized fire that Nadab and Abihu offered was something that was outside the law of God (H2114). Therefore, it was something that was done according to their flesh, meaning that they weren’t listening or paying attention to what God told them to do. Moses explained to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). Being near to God involves entrance into his presence as well as being actively and personally involved with him (H7126). In order to be sanctified, God has to be separated from anyone or anything that is not dedicated to him. Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience demonstrated their lack spiritual discernment and made it clear that they had not submitted themselves to God’s will as a result of being ordinated into the priesthood.

Jesus made the same comment several times in order to emphasize the importance of listening to what he had to say. After he told the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus probably wasn’t talking about having physical ears because that would have meant he was directing his comment to pretty much everyone in the crowd. It seems likely that there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ instruction. The prophet Isaiah’s commission from the Lord included some distinction about the spiritual aspect of hearing God’s voice. He said:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

Isaiah’s message pointed out that hearing is connected to understanding and seeing is connected to perception in the spiritual realm. The Lord suggested that making the people’s ears heavy would prevent them from being able to hear him. The Hebrew word that is translated heavy, kabed (kaw-bade’) is related to being weighed down by something and seems to be associated with the burden of sin (H5313). Another form of the word kabed “bears the connotation of heaviness as an enduring, ever-present quality, a lasting thing. Used in a negative but extended sense, the word depicts sin as a yoke ever pressing down upon one” (H3515).

Paul instructed the Corinthians to, “Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:7-8). Paul acknowledged the fact that the Corinthians had a right to be confident as a result of their relationship to Christ, but he also cautioned them to not go too far with it because of the authority that had been given him to oversee their church. The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) comes from the meaning of “‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases…the right to exercise power” (G1849). Paul indicated that his authority was given to him so that he could build up the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and that his area of influence entitled him to certain privileges because God had assigned it to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that his confidence was not a threat to the Corinthians because he was being directed by God to help them grow in their faith. The important thing that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand was that a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error, but God is not subject to error. Therefore, Paul concluded, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Reconciliation

The thing that separates the human race from all other creatures on the earth is that it was created for the specific purpose of having fellowship with God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man in his own image, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The fall of mankind resulted in the separation of God and man (Genesis 3:8) and made it necessary for something to be done to restore the fellowship that was once existed (Genesis 3:15). One of the first steps in God’s plan of salvation was the establishment of a covenant with Abraham that made it possible for them to have a relationship based on equality. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means that God ‘reckoned’ Abraham’s faith as righteousness (H2803). Reckon is an accounting term that has to do with settling accounts, to make a calculation. Generally, the word chashab “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived.” Therefore, when God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, he was applying the credit that was established when Jesus died on the cross in advance in order to make it possible for Abraham to be free from his moral debt. The biblical term for this is act is atonement. The theological meaning is that of “‘covering over,’ often with the blood of a sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

The beginning of the restoration of fellowship between God and mankind was the construction of a tabernacle which was also referred to as the tent of meeting, a place where God could reside among the Israelites (Exodus 25:8). God told Moses, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The materials that were needed for constructing the tabernacle were taken from the Israelites’ personal possessions through freewill offerings that had to eventually be stopped because the people brought much more than was needed for doing the work that the LORD had commanded them to (Exodus Exodus 36:5). Exodus 38:24-25 states that “all the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels by the shekel of the sanctuary.” Using today’s prices, the silver and gold that was used for constructing the tabernacle would have been worth about $70 million dollars. The interesting thing about the huge amount of gold and silver that was collected was that it came from millions of pieces of jewelry and other such trinkets that weren’t worth very much on an individual basis (Exodus 35:22). It was only because everyone did their small part that the massive fortune that it took to build the temple was able to be accumulated.

In spite of their extreme value, the articles that were inside the tabernacle were not kept under lock and key. The tabernacle or tent of meeting as it was also known was literally a tent that was made up of ten curtains that were clasped together so that they appeared to be a single structure (Exodus 26:6). The simple arrangement of the articles inside the tabernacle suggest that it was meant to be for the most part an open space where God’s glory could rest (Exodus 40:34-35). Exodus 40:2-8 describes the tabernacle’s layout. It states:

“On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps. And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.”

The most important item in the tabernacle was the ark of the testimony which was separated from everything else by a linen veil (Exodus 40:3). The Hebrew word that is translated veil in Exodus 40:3, paroketh (paw-roh’-keth) is derived from the word perek (peh’-rek) which means “to break apart; fracture, i.e. severity” (H6331). It could be that the veil was somewhat like a do not enter sign that served as a warning to any curious observers that might have been thinking about checking out its contents. The ark of the testimony is described in Exodus 25:10-16 which states:

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”

A cubit was roughly 18 inches, so the dimensions of the ark would have been about 45 inches long by 27 inches wide and 27 inches high. The fact that the ark was overlaid with pure gold inside and out meant that it was not only expensive to produce, but also very heavy. The poles that were used to carry the ark were very dense and therefore, resistant to decay, but they also added additional weight that made transporting the ark an arduous task. The stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments were kept inside the ark and were identified as “God’s testimony (Exodus 25:16; 31:18; 32:15).” Because the Ten Commandments represent the covenant that God made with Israel, they are also called the “‘tables of the covenant’ (see Deuteronomy 9:9; 11:15);” and they were preeminent in the tabernacle. As a result, the tabernacle is sometimes called the tabernacle of the testimony; and the ark is sometimes called the ark of the testimony (H5715).

The Apostle Paul talked about God’s word in the context of something that is being veiled from unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Paul may have associated his gospel with the ark of the testimony because he received it from God through direct revelation (Ephesians 3:5). Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us: (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul referred to his physical body as a jar of clay in order to emphasize the point that God was using him as a vessel for carrying his word to the Gentiles, but being made out of clay meant that Paul wasn’t necessarily a good vessel or one that was enhancing the contents of his message in any way. Paul indicated that the surpassing power of the gospel, which was its ability to draw men to God, belonged to God and not to those who were preaching it (2 Corinthians 4:7). The Greek word that is translated surpassing, huperbole (hoop-er-bol-ay’) comes from the word huperballo (hoop-er-bal’-lo) which means “to throw beyond the usual mark” or surpass in the sense of going above and beyond the call of duty (G5235). The Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to miraculous power (G1411) makes it seem as if surpassing power would have been unnecessary, but I think that Paul wanted people to understand that God’s word has no limits. It can achieve anything that God wants it to. Paul said:

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 2:13-16)

The reconciliation that Paul was talking about had to do with bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles under one covenant that would make it possible for them to share in the riches of God’s grace. Paul explained to the Ephesians that Jesus achieved a level of excellence that would result in God’s commandments being fulfilled. 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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 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 4:11-16)

The body building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16) was one of the main lessons of Paul’s gospel and a central theme of Jesus’ teaching during his ministry on earth. When he was asked to give a brief summary of the Mosaic Law, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Paul used the comparison of a tent and a building to drive home the point that our physical bodies, though similar to our spiritual bodies, do not have the same capacity to make us feel at home in God’s presence. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Paul’s reference to being found naked was related to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It says in Genesis 3:7-11, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'” Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God because they knew they had disobeyed his commandment and became aware of the fact that they were naked through their sin. “Nakedness (the uncovered sex organs) is symbolic of shame” (H6172). Paul used nakedness as an analogy when he compared mortality with eternal life. He explained, “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4), meaning that God’s gift of eternal life takes away the shame that sin makes us feel.

Jesus was able reconcile God and mankind because his death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin that ever had and would be in the future committed against God (Hebrews 9:26). Paul said that “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The guarantee that Paul was talking about was “part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest” (G728). In this instance, that means that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a partial reality of what it will be like when believers are resurrected and have the full benefit of eternal life. Paul concluded, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Walking by faith is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and minds. In order to walk by faith, we have to depend on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the way that God wants us to live our lives. Paul said, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he had done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul’s use of the word soma (so’-mah), which is translated body in this verse, was not meant to draw attention to the physical activities of our day to day life, but to emphasize the current reality of living on earth. Paul said that each of us will receive what we are due for what we have done during the time in which we were limited by physical existence (Matthew 25:14-46).

Paul summarized his message about Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation this way:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

The essential point that Paul wanted to make was that the way God was able to reconcile the world to himself was by not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul described a process that he later referred to as regeneration in which believers become a new creation. He said, “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul talked about regeneration in his letter to Titus where he stated, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Regeneration “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 the act by which God brings him from death to life” (G3824). Paul also mentioned the renewal of the Holy Spirit: “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.” Paul indicated that the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit work together to bring believers into a state of oneness with God and others. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus asked that his followers might “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). In other words, Jesus’ request was that we would be completely reconciled to God and others, meaning that there would be equality between us and Jesus in God’s accounting system.

Godly behavior

Jesus summarized the entire Mosaic Law into two simple commandments that focused everyone’s attention on loving God and other people. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). When God first spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, he intended that the children of Israel would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), but the Apostle Peter’s first letter indicated that never happened and that believers in Jesus Christ have become the treasured possession that God sought for himself (1 Peter 2:9). The details contained within the Mosaic Law were meant to provide specific examples of how to deal with the various conflicts that would inevitably arise from living in a close-knit community. Most of the laws dealt with conflicts between family members and neighbors that were interacting on a regular basis. They are still applicable today because the principles behind the laws are eternal and can prevent believers from harming the people they love.

At first glance, the laws about slaves might seem irrelevant, but Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of heaven clearly portrayed believers as servants (Matthew 10:24) and he often talked about doing God’s will in the context of a slave that was being obedient to his master (Matthew 18:22-35, 22:2-14, 25:14-30). The laws about slaves introduced an important principle that carries over into God’s plan of salvation, the redemption of souls. Exodus 21:7-11 states, “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.” This law partially explains why God hasn’t forsaken the people of Israel even though they haven’t met his expectations with regard to becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The nation of Israel was originally intended to be the bride of Christ, but the church has replaced it and now has the responsibility of making disciples of all the nations and teaching them all that Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18-20). The concept of redemption had to do with the liberation of human beings from slavery, but it can also be applied to sinful behavior and addictions to harmful substances. The Hebrew word that is translated redeemed in Exodus 21:8, padah (paw-daw’) means to release. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (H6299). Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant portrayed God’s forgiveness of sins as something that should be reciprocated. After a servant that owed his master ten thousand talents was released from his debt, he went out and demanded payment from his fellow servant who was unable to pay him the small amount he owed. The parable states, “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:29-35).

In addition to introducing the concept of redemption, the Mosaic Law also taught the Israelites about the principle of restitution. Although the laws that dealt with restitution may have seemed like common sense, it was necessary for them to be spelled out because of the natural human tendency to justify our own behavior, while at the same time condemning the actions of others. Exodus 21:33-34 states, “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his” and “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution” (Exodus 22:5-6). The Hebrew word that is translated full restitution, shalam (shaw-lam’) means “to be safe (in mind, body, or estate)…Shalam means to finish, complete, repay, reward. The Hebrew root denotes perfection in the sense that a condition or action is complete…Perfection and completeness is primarily attributed to God. He is deficient in nothing; His attributes are not marred by any shortcomings; His power is not limited by weakness” (H7999). Therefore, when a person makes full restitution, he is exhibiting godly behavior.

Peter’s first letter indicated that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Essentially, what that meant was that we have been released from sin’s power to control our behavior and can live a godly life if we choose to. The Greek word that is translated die in the phrase “die to sin,” apogenomenos (ap-og-en-om’-en-os) means to be absent (G581) and seems to suggest that our sinful human nature has been removed, but Peter indicated that we might die to sin. In other words, dying to sin involves volition and is not guaranteed through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. As hard as we may try to do things that please God, righteousness is not something that we can attain through our own efforts, it is something that is imputed to us, or credited to our account, because we have identified ourselves with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism. As far as God is concerned, anyone that accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior has fulfilled all the requirements of the Mosaic Law and will be rewarded with eternal life. What is left then is for us to reflect the character of Jesus through conscious choices that align us with God’s will.

Peter specifically addressed the conduct of husbands and wives and gave instructions to all believers that were intended to be a model for godly behavior. After stating that believers are to be subject to every human institution, Peter went on to say, “Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:1-4). The Greek word hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) which is translated be subject “was originally a Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (G5293). Peter encouraged wives to be subject to their husbands so that if they weren’t believers they would be won over to the Lord without their wives having to say anything to them about being a follower of Christ. This was important in the time period in which Peter gave this instruction because Christians were being persecuted for their faith and wives were expected to conform to their husbands’ belief system.

Peter’s mention of a woman’s external adorning in contrast with her internal beauty was likely intended to point out that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was meant to transform our character and make us look different to the outside world. The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos), which is translated adorning, is often used in connection with worldly people and sometimes is associated with a system of government that is opposed to Christ. The Apostle Paul used the word kosmos in his letter to the Ephesians to describe the former way of life that believers are expected to leave behind when they choose to follow Christ. Paul 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” (Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis added). Peter indicated that wives should let their adorning be “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). In that sense, adorning had to do with a woman’s attractiveness and Peter wanted women to know that the hidden person of the heart could be much more compelling to a man than the way she dressed herself.

The hidden person of the heart is connected with the mortal human nature that affects our behavior. When we think of ourselves exhibiting godly behavior, we have to realize that our mortal human nature is a hindrance to us becoming like Christ. Peter encouraged wives to display “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Imperishable beauty implies immortality and suggests that Peter was referring to the Holy Spirit when he talked about the hidden person of the heart. It could be that Peter meant for wives to rely on the Holy Spirit to make them godly women, but his comment about a gentle and quiet spirit being very precious to God seems to suggest that there is a volitional element involved in all godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated very precious, poluteles (pol-oo-tel-ace’) was used in Mark’s gospel to describe the ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3). It seems likely that Peter was referring to a gentle and quiet spirit as being a type of spiritual sacrifice that pleases God and wanted women to know that godly behavior is more important to the Lord than any other type of sacrifice that a believer can make.

After he addressed the conduct of their wives, Peter told husbands, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter made it clear that husbands should treat their wives as equals and should not expect their prayers to be answered if they were treating them with disrespect. Peter told men to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” An understanding way is one that is based on a comprehension of God’s word. Typically, men received instruction in the holy scriptures and then, passed the information along to their wives, but they were not required to and weren’t held accountable for their wives’ spiritual training. The Apostle Paul seemed to have a more liberal viewpoint than Peter about women’s involvement in the church and even identified Phebe as being a teacher of God’s word at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). When Peter described wives as being the weaker vessel, he may have meant that they were at a disadvantage when it came to getting an education and didn’t typically have access to the Old Testament scriptures which were important for understanding the bigger picture of God’s plan of salvation.

In his general comment to all believers, Peter stated, “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). The qualities Peter identified were focused on the collective suffering of believers that was due to the persecution of the church. The Greek word that is translated sympathy, sumpathes (soom-path-ace’) is derived from the word sumpascho (soom-pas’-kho) which means “to experience pain jointly or of the same kind (specifically persecution; to sympathize)” (G4841). Peter continued, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). To bless someone means that you speak well of them. Peter indicated that believers are called to bless others which may have meant that believers were expected to intercede on behalf of unbelievers in order for them to receive salvation. Since Peter was referring to Christians blessing those who do evil to them, it seems likely that he was talking about the Roman officials that were persecuting the church, but Peter may have been thinking about the internal conflict that was taking place within the Jewish community.

Peter’s first letter was most likely written in the AD 60s not long before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. Peter addressed his letter to the Jewish exiles in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) north of the Taursus Mountains (Introduction to the first letter of Peter, p. 1418). This particular group of Jews had already left the land of Israel and were living among foreigners which made them particularly vulnerable to outside pressure to conform to the Roman government’s way of doing things. Peter asked, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

Having a good conscience is something that happens when we exhibit godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated conscience in 1 Peter 3:16 is suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) which means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…Suneidesis literally means ‘a knowing,’ a co-knowledge with one’s self, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives. The word is stressing that we receive input from our surroundings [temptations, decision-making events, etc.] and we are driven to make a decision. We compare what we know with our conscience [con – ‘with’, science ‘knowledge’], our knowledge base about this input. If we follow our conscience we act according to what we know to be true about the situation and the consequences/blessings of our decision. We can violate our conscience by overriding that knowledge” (G4893). That’s why Paul said that we need “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).

Peter explained that water baptism does not wash our sins away like when we take a bath to clean ourselves, but makes it possible for us to put on the righteousness of Christ. Using the ark that saved Noah and his family from the flood as an example, Peter said, “Baptism which corresponds to this, now saves you not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Essentially, what Peter was saying was that when we get baptized we are expressing a desire to be cleansed from our sins and it is because of that act that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, resulting in a good or you might say clear conscience. The reason why Peter said that we are saved through baptism is because it protects us from being condemned by our own consciences when we stand before God in the final judgment and are asked to give an account of our actions during our lifetimes on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). When John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ desire to be baptized by him, Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

Spiritual sacrifices

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

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

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

Peter stated:

For it stands in Scripture:

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Bondage

The death of Jacob and then his son Joseph ended an era of spiritual prosperity in the lives of God’s chosen people. Even though Joseph and his brothers were reunited, there seemed to be an element of distrust among them that lingered for the rest of their lives. It says in Genesis 50:15, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.'” Joseph was disappointed that his brothers didn’t understand God’s will and reminded them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:20-21).

“When the Hyksos invaded Egypt and gained political power, the descendants of Jacob were forced into slavery (Exodus 1:8, 10)” (Introduction to Exodus, p. 64). It says in Exodus 1:8-12:

Now there arose a king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raames. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.

The Egyptian taskmasters were rulers that had the authority to punish the people of Israel if they didn’t do what was expected of them. The taskmasters afflicted the Israelites “with heavy burdens” (Genesis 1:11). The Hebrew word that is translated afflict, ‘anah (aw-naw’) “often expresses harsh and painful treatment” (H6031). The purpose of their affliction was to morally degrade the Israelites, to make them think less of themselves and to bring them into submission to Pharaoh.

It says in Exodus 1:11 that the Israelites were afflicted “with heavy burdens.” That meant that the people were suffering physically, but there was likely a spiritual aspect to their burdens as well. Jesus told his followers to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Greek term that is translated heavy laden, phortizo (for-tid’-zo) means “to load up (properly as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety)” (G5412). Jesus went on to say, “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” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus indicated that the type of burden people needed to be relieved from was their personal development. The idea that we need rest for our souls comes from our human tendency to relentlessly pursue happiness. Jesus said we should learn from him. In other words, we should follow his example of how to serve God appropriately.

Jesus didn’t sidestep the issue of spiritual bondage. He told his followers they needed to take his yoke upon them (Matthew 11:29). A yoke signifies servitude and is used metaphorically “of submission to authority” (G2218). The point Jesus was making was that we get to choose who our spiritual master will be, God or Satan, but we must and will serve one or the other of them. Spiritual servitude, or if you will spiritual bondage, is not optional. Jesus’ instruction to “learn from me” meant that we can find relief from our spiritual work through an understanding and application of Jesus’ teaching. The Greek word manthano (man-than’-o) is not simply doctrine of Christ, but Christ himself, a process of not merely getting to know the person but of so applying the knowledge as to walk differently from unbelievers (G3129). Jesus said his yoke was easy, meaning that it was a natural fit and was useful for everyday life (G5543). Jesus’ reference to his burden being light was most likely related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phero (fer’-o) which means to ‘bear’ or carry “is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342).

The Apostle Paul indicated that there is an ongoing battle between God’s people and Satan’s army because our loyalty to God often wavers. Paul said we are to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul’s description of spiritual warfare as wrestling was meant to point out that personal interaction with Satan’s demonic forces is inevitable and probably happens more often than we realize. The Greek word that is translated wrestle, pale (pal’-ay) means to sway or vibrate (G3823). The Greek word palin (pal’-in), from which the word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is derived, means anew or again and refers to the repetition of ideas or events (G3825). Paliggenesia means rebirth and refers to the regeneration of believers, “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” (G3824).

Paul indicated that Satan’s organization consists of various invisible agents that he identified as rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. Spiritual rulers are first in political rank or power (G757) and may have a direct correspondence to rulers in the physical realm in that spiritual rulers are assigned on a one to one basis to interact with political leaders that control the world’s power. Spiritual authorities are free agents that probably act as disrupters of peace. The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) signifies “the right to exercise power” and indicates Satan’s spiritual authorities can do as they please (G1949). Cosmic powers or kosmokrator (kos-mok-rat’-ore) in the Greek means “a world-ruler, an epithet of Satan.” Ephesians 6:12 “shows that not earthly potentates are indicated, but spirit powers, who under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888).

It seems likely that the Egyptian king that set taskmasters over the people of Israel to afflict them (Exodus 1:11) was under the influence of a cosmic power and/or spiritual ruler. The taskmasters themselves played a part in making the Israelites lives miserable because “they ruthlessly made them work as slaves” (Exodus 1:14), but not everyone in Egypt was being controlled by Satan. Exodus 1:15-17 states, “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” The midwives were rewarded by God (Exodus 1:20) because their disobedience made it possible for Moses to be born.

Paul’s final category of Satan’s invisible agents, the spiritual forces of evil, are likely demons that inhabit human bodies. The Greek word that is translated spiritual, pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’) refers to men in Christ who walk so as to please God and the blessings that accrue to the regenerate men. In fact, “all that is produced and maintained among men by the operations of the Spirit of God is ‘spiritual'” (G4152). Therefore, the spiritual forces of evil could be counterparts to spirit-filled believers. They operate in the same way, but instead of producing the effects of spiritual regeneration, spiritual forces of evil produce spiritual degradation, a moral decline in the behavior of an individual, for example a serial rapist who becomes more and more violent or twisted over time in his acts of sexual abuse.

Jesus warned the crowds and his disciples about the religious leaders that were leading them astray. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on peoples’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). The language Jesus used of tying up heavy burdens and laying them on peoples shoulders suggests physical labor, but he was clearly talking about the religious practices the were being imposed on the Jews. The Greek word that is translated tie up, desmeuo (des-myoo’-o) means “to be a binder (captor), i.e. to enchain ( a prisoner)” (G1195) and carries the connotation of someone being held hostage or an oppressive situation. Exodus 1:12 indicates that the Israelites were being oppressed by their taskmasters, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”

God’s blessing was on the Israelites while they endured slavery in Egypt and Jesus associated humility with spiritual success. Jesus told his disciples, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). The difference between affliction which produces spiritual growth and spiritual bondage which enslaves the believer to demonic forces may be the willingness on the part of those who are dealing with it to rely on God for help. Paul instructed believers to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). The Greek word that is translated take up, analambano (an-al-am-ban’-o) means to receive or to get hold of something that is being offered to you (G353/2983). Jesus used the Greek word lambano when he said, “everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:8), the implication being that it’s not a matter of God’s willingness to give us what we need, but our unwillingness to ask him for it.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians revealed that the power to fight against the schemes of the devil comes from Christ. Paul referred to the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe that was at work when Jesus was raised from the dead and said that God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21). Paul emphasized that Jesus is not just above other spiritual rulers and authorities, but far above all rule and authority, suggesting that Christ’s power is of a better quality and that it is superior to any other type. The Greek word that is translated power in Ephesians 1:21, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) refers to miraculous power (G1411) and dominion, kuriotes (koo-ree-ot’-ace) denotes lordship or someone that is supreme in authority and is associated with Jesus’ deity (G2963/2962).

Jesus pronounced eight woes on the scribes and Pharisees that were interfering with his ministry and began with a scathing rebuke of their hypocrisy. He stated, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:14). What Jesus meant by shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s face was that God’s compassion wasn’t being received because people were under the impression that you had to work your way into heaven. Jesus reiterated that the religious leaders were mistaken about the way to get to heaven by stating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:16). In this instance, Jesus used the Greek word huios (hwee-os’) to refer to a child. “Primarily this word stresses the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207).

Jesus’ identification of the scribes and Pharisees as children of hell suggests that they were so much under the control and influence of demonic forces that it was impossible to tell the difference between them and the demons that he often cast out of people. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites in Matthew 23:14 and 16, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees were only pretending to be concerned about keeping God’s commandments and were intentionally breaking the laws they expected others to keep. Jesus told them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). Jesus concluded by stating, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

Jesus broadened his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees to include the entire city of Jerusalem. He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 24:37). Jesus’ statement shows that in general, the population of Jerusalem had turned away from God and were unwilling to repent. The Greek words thelo (thel’-o) and ouch (ookh) which are translated not willing stress the finality of a decision in conjunction with the nature of the person that is deciding (G2309/G3756). Another way of expressing what Jesus meant by not willing might be “it wasn’t what you wanted to happen” or “you didn’t like that outcome.” Something that became clear about the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt over time was that they were content with things the way they were. One way of looking at it might be to say that they didn’t want to give up the security of their steady jobs.

Jesus expressed to the people he was talking to at the temple in Jerusalem that it was his desire to gather them “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus’ comparison of himself to a hen was likely meant to convey the tender heartedness with which God was inclined to deal with his chosen people. Jesus invited all who were tired of trying to work their way into heaven to come to him because he was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-29). The Greek word that is translated gentle is praios (prah’-os). “Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will” (G4235). Jesus demonstrated his trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation by willingly going to the cross to die for the sins of the world. He also told his disciples that, “If any man 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 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” (Matthew 16:24-25, 27).

Likeminded

Paul’s understanding of the mind of Christ was that it operated like the central processing unit of a computer that executed a program he referred to as the perfect will of God. Paul told the Roman believers, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). Paul considered Jesus’ life to be the only example that believers needed to follow. He instructed the Philippians to , “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

The Greek word translated fashion in Philippians 2:8, schema (skhay’-mah) means a figure as a mode or circumstance. “Men saw in Christ a human form, bearing, language, action, mode of life…in general the state and relations of a human being, so that in the entire mode of His appearance He made Himself known and was recognized as a man” (G4976). Paul identified the primary objective of a life that is conformed to the will of God as edification (Romans 15:2). The Greek word translated edification in Romans 15:2, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) is a compound of the words oikos (oy’-kos), which means a dwelling and by implication a family or household (G3624), and doma (do’-mah) which means an edifice or rooftop (G1430). Together these two words convey the idea of architecture or a structure that meets the needs of its household members. Within the concept of edification lies the hidden meaning of connectedness, a characteristic that should permeate the lives of believers.

Paul said, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). What Paul was intending was that the mature Christians would support those who were new in their faith so that they could be integrated into the church without fear of condemnation because they might still be involved in a sinful lifestyle. Paul told the Romans, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6). Paul’s description of God as patient and merciful was probably intended to reframe the Roman believers attitudes around appropriate Christian behavior. Paul concluded by stating, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).

The key point Paul was trying to make was that likemindedness should result in a positive attitude. Paul’s use of the title, “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13) was most likely his way of saying that God is known for his optimism or you might say that he has a can do attitude. In order to remind the Roman believers that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and equally able to discern the will of God, Paul told them, “And I am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). The words Paul used that are translated full and filled suggest that he was talking about the living water that Jesus referred to in his conversation with a woman he met at a Samaritan well (John 4:14). Eluding to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus told the woman, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth ” (John 4:14, NKJV).

Reconciliation

The primary objective of Jesus’ ministry on Earth was to reconcile God to mankind. The Apostle Paul talked about the process of reconciliation from three different perspectives. Paul said the believer receives the righteousness of God and is “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:24, 28). Justification has to do with being innocent, free from guilt (G1344). Paul clarified his statement about being justified by faith by stating that righteousness is reckoned or counted to the believer (Romans 4:5. The Greek word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory that is estimate” (G3049). Paul used the word logizomai nineteen times in his letter to the Romans. Logizomai is derived from the word logos which has to do with something being said, but it also includes the thought and the motive behind it that makes it a divine expression (G3056).

Another way that Paul described reconciliation was blessedness. He said, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Romans 4:7-8). Logizomai is translated “will not impute” in this passage to signify God’s forgiveness of sins. In other words, a believer’s sins are not counted against him with regards to obtaining God’s blessing. Paul said, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into his grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). The access Paul was referring may have been the presence of God which dwelt in the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat in God’s temple. The veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:51). Paul indicated our reconciliation with God gives us access into his grace, or the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life of a believer (G5485).

The end result of our reconciliation is being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul indicated “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). The picture Paul painted of God’s love coming to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was that of a fountain overflowing or gushing forth with water (G1632). Paul’s intent was likely to show us that God’s love is a constant source of refreshment that can be drawn on at any time. Paul went on to explain that our reconciliation is dependent on a boundless, inexplicable type of love that originates with God. He said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. ” (Romans 5:8, 10, NKJV). God demonstrated his love in a very real, tangible way by sending Jesus to Earth to die for everyone’s sins. All we have to do to be reconciled to God is to accept the free gift of salvation that he provided.