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).

Hypocrites

Jesus confronted the religious leaders that wanted him to follow certain traditions that were contrary to God’s commandments. Jesus exclaimed, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophecy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:6-9). The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player)” (G5273). The word hupokrites is derived from hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin’-om-ahee) which has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong (G2919). One way of looking at hypocrites is to see that there is a false pretense that is driving their behavior. Hypocrites pretend to be something they are not in order to get you to draw a wrong conclusion.

An example of hypocritical behavior is the story that Jacob’s sons told him in order to convince him that his favorite son Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:32). Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father gave him a special coat and loved him more than the rest of his sons (Genesis 37:4). After he told his brothers about two prophetic dreams he had of becoming a world ruler (Genesis 7-11), Joseph’s brothers conspired against him to kill him (Genesis 37:18) and ended up selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:28). “Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:31-33).

Joseph wasn’t actually dead, but his brothers wanted Jacob to believe that he was so that they wouldn’t have to explain why he didn’t come back with them when they returned from the pasture. Jacob’s conclusion that Joseph was torn to pieces by a wild animal was based on the false pretense that the blood on his coat was his own and not that of a goat (Genesis 37:31). The reason why Jacob’s sons were hypocrites was not because they lied to their father, but because they pretended not to know what happened to their brother. When they showed Jacob Joseph’s coat, they said, “please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (Genesis 37:32) as if they didn’t recognize it, but having stripped Joseph of his robe of many colors (Genesis 37:23), they knew exactly who it belonged to.

Jesus explained to his disciples that hypocrisy was a heart problem. Rather than worrying about whether or not they had defiled themselves by eating without washing their hands, Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11). What Jesus meant by being defiled was that fellowship with God had been broken off. Jesus asked his disciples, “Are you also still without understanding?” (Matthew 15:16) to point out that a connection with God was necessary for spiritual truth to make sense to them. The Greek word that is translated understanding, asunetos (as-oon’-ay-tos) means unintelligent and by implication wicked (G801). Jesus asked, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:17-18).

Jesus’ statement, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15:18) was referring to the origin of thoughts and indicated that the heart was equivalent to the mind. The Greek word kardia (kar-dee’-ah) comes from the Latin word kar (cor, “heart”). “Kardia is the heart, the chief organ of physical life, and occupies the most important place in the human system. By an easy transition the word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. It is used figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life: the seat of total depravity, the principle in the center of man’s inward life that defiles all he does (Mt 15:19, 20)” (G2588). The idea that our words come out of our hearts was not a new concept that Jesus introduced, but a reminder that the heart reveals the inner man’s true condition which is affected by having a sinful human nature.

Jacob’s false conclusion that his son had been devoured by a fierce animal could have been corrected by his other sons admitting they had sold Joseph into slavery, but they were unwilling to confess their sin. Genesis 37:34-35 states, “Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him.” The Hebrew word that is translated comforted, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (H5162).

Jacob’s refusal to be comforted about Joseph’s death suggests that he was struggling spiritually to understand why God had taken his son away from him. Jacob lacked the spiritual strength he needed to get over the devastating news that his beloved son was gone. The Apostle Paul indicated that God is the source of spiritual strength. Paul said, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). It seems reasonable to assume that the reason God didn’t give Jacob the strength he needed to repent of his son’s death was that Joseph wasn’t actually dead. Joseph was living in Egypt as a slave.

Genesis 38:1 states, “It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.” In this instance, time “connotes ‘time’ conceived as an opportunity or season” (H6256) and the words turned aside signify “God’s active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men” (H5186). One way of looking at Judah’s situation was that God decided to teach him a lesson, somewhat like the parables Jesus used to convey spiritual truth. What happened was that Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons (Genesis 38:2-5), but after the oldest one got married, God put him to death because he was wicked (Genesis 38:7). When the second son refused to give offspring to his brother by conceiving a child with his widow, the LORD put him to death also (Genesis 38:10). Finally, “Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up’ — for he feared that he would die, like his brothers” (Genesis 38:11).

Judah may have thought he had outsmarted the LORD when he kept his youngest son from marrying his brother’s widow, but God used Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar to convict Judah of his hypocrisy. Genesis 38:12-19 indicates that God was working in Judah’s life in spite of his unwillingness to do things his way. It states:

In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.

Judah didn’t think anyone would find out about him having sex with a prostitute. Three months later, when he was told his daughter-in-law was pregnant by immorality, Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (Genesis 38:24).

The critical point in Judah’s situation with his daughter-in-law was that he thought his secret was safe and that he could get away with condemning Tamar even though he was the one that was guilty of committing a sin. One thing that stood out about Tamar’s confrontation of Judah was that he couldn’t deny that he was the one that had gotten her pregnant. Genesis 38:25-26 states, “As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.'” The similarity between Tamar’s statement “Please identify whose these are” and the statement Jacob’s sons made when they showed him Joseph’s coat, “please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (Genesis 37:32) may have been what caused Judah to admit, “She is more righteous than I.” It seems that Judah not only became aware of his hypocrisy, but also repented of his sin because he refrained from having any further sexual contact with his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:26).

An interesting thing to note about Judah’s circumstances was that unlike Jacob’s reaction to losing his beloved son Joseph, Judah was comforted after his wife’s death (Genesis 38:12). The process of grieving for a loved one may be likened to repentance because of the involvement of the heart. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis is on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course” (H5162). What this seems to suggest is that being comforted means a person has grown closer to God or is more open to God’s influence in his life. Spiritual strength is similar to physical strength in that there is an increase in vigor (G2901). Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be strengthened with power in their inner beings “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). It could be that after Judah’s wife died, he was open to God’s influence in his life and that’s why he was able to see that he had wronged Tamar and needed to repent.

Judah’s statement about his daughter-in-law Tamar, “She is more righteous than I” indicated that both he and Tamar believed in the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated righteous, tsadaq (tsaw-dak’) has to do with justification by faith. “The basic meaning of tasadaq is to be righteous, be in the right, be justified, be just…This word is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance. Thus a man is accounted or dealt with as righteous. It is really the reception and exercise of tsedeq (6664)” (H6663). Tsadaq is derived from the word tsedaqah (tsed-aw-kaw’) which is translated righteousness in Genesis 15:6 where it states Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Tamar’s faith in the LORD caused her to be listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew indicated, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:2-3).

Jesus didn’t discriminate between Jews and Gentiles when it came to faith. He departed from Israel for a short period of time and entered the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21). While he was there, Jesus was approached by a woman described as a Canaanite from that region. The woman cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). The Greek word that is translated mercy, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) means “to feel sympathy with the misery of another” (G1653) and is derived from eheos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656).

Jesus didn’t immediately respond to the Canaanite woman’s plea for mercy. In fact he tried to deter her from seeking his help. He answered her, “‘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 master’s 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” (Matthew 15:24-28). The Canaanite woman referred to Jesus as Lord, indicating that she recognized his supreme authority over all of mankind (G2962). Her response, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” showed that her attitude toward Jesus was respectful and submissive to his will, but the Canaanite woman’s faith was what got Jesus’ attention.

Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman’s request because she believed he was able to do what she asked of him. Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28). Jesus connected the woman’s faith to her desire for her daughter to be made well, suggesting that it was the woman’s strong desire that caused her faith to be great or you might say big enough to get the job done (G3173). The Greek word that is translated desire, thelo (thel’-o) stresses the involvement of the will. Thelo can mean to wish something, but it implies volition and purpose, to be resolved or determined that something will happen (G2309). Jesus’ command, “Be it done” meant that he had acquiesced or gave in to the woman’s desire to have her daughter healed. Even though she was not a Jew, the woman received the same treatment from Jesus as the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).

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 and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Compassion

One of the essential characteristics of God’s plan of salvation is its impartial treatment of sinners. God’s word makes it clear that every person has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of living and that we are all “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23). Beginning with Abraham, God counted righteousness to mankind based on each individual’s belief in his ability to take away the effects of sin. Through justification, God declares believers to be innocent of all charges that are brought against them in his heavenly court of law (G1344).

The life of Jacob clearly portrays justification by faith. You might conclude that Jacob did everything wrong and yet, he ended up on the right side of God’s concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. God helped Jacob to overcome the circumstances that threatened to ruin his life. Jacob was the younger and weaker of Isaac’s twin sons, but he managed to steal his brother’s birthright and tricked his father into blessing him. Jacob also obtained the blessing of Abraham which entitled him to possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 28:13-14). With all of these advantages going for him, you would think Jacob would be content, but he continued to pursue prosperity and wound up with two wives that were just as discontent with the status quo as he was.

Jacob’s uncle Laban had two daughters. “The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:16-17). Both of these women became Jacob’s wives, but Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:30). “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). The Hebrew word that is translated hated, sane (saw-nay’) is an antonym of the Hebrew verb ‘ahab (H157), meaning to love. The reason why Jacob hated Leah may have been because she reminded him of the sin he committed against his father Isaac (Genesis 27:19). Jacob had to serve Laban for seven years in order to get Rachel as his wife, but on the evening of his wedding, Laban deceived Jacob and substituted his daughter Leah for Rachel in the consummation of their marriage (Genesis 29:25).

Leah may not have had the affection of her husband, but she gained an initial advantage over her sister Rachel by giving Jacob four sons to carry on his legacy. After Leah’s fourth son was born, Rachel envied her sister and decided to give her servant Bilhah to Jacob as a wife so that she could give birth on her behalf (Genesis 30:3). “And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son” (Genesis 30:5-6). God’s vindication of Rachel showed that he was being impartial toward each of Jacob’s wives. God could see that both Rachel and Leah were suffering from the disadvantage of having to share their husband. Rachel said God had heard her voice, in other words God understood Rachel’s situation and showed her compassion.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that when some people brought a paralytic to him lying on a bed, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2). Another way of describing what happened would be to say that Jesus was moved with compassion or you might say affected by the people bringing a paralytic to him to be healed. Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) indicating that he saved the paralytic man. Jesus then explained to the cynics who were watching him that salvation and physical healing were essentially the same thing. Matthew 9:4-7 states:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

The critical point that Jesus wanted to make clear was that the paralytic’s well-being was dependent on both his physical and spiritual health. The paralytic wouldn’t benefit from being saved if he had to continue living as a cripple and he wouldn’t be satisfied being able to walk if the guilt of his sins continued to torment him.

Jesus asked the question, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). The Greek word that is translated easier, eukopoteros (yoo-kop-o’-ter-os) suggests that it was Jesus’ intention to eliminate the paralytic’s grief or perhaps to improve his mental health (G2123). It seems likely that the paralytic’s situation had caused him to become depressed and he may have even thought about suicide in order to escape his unbearable circumstances. Jesus’ command to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6) meant that Jesus expected the paralytic to immediately start living a normal life.

Rachel viewed her moral struggle with her sister Leah as being linked to her physical ability to give her husband a son. After Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a second son, “Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed'” (Genesis 30:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated wrestled, pathal (paw-thal’) means to struggle or figuratively to be morally tortuous (H6617). The Hebrew word Yakowl (yaw-kole’) or prevailed in English refers specifically to physical ability (H3201). Even though Leah had given Jacob four sons and Bilhah had given birth to the two she claimed as her own, Rachel saw herself as having won the moral victory over her sister.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Rachel and Leah’s battle. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob two more sons and then Leah herself conceived and bore Jacob two more sons, bringing the total of Jacob’s sons to ten. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!'” (Genesis 30:22-24). The Hebrew word that is translated reproach, cherpah (kher-paw’) denotes a state of disgrace. “The disgrace found in a person or a nation become the occasion for taunting the oppressed. The disgraced received abuse by the words spoken against them and by the rumors which were spread about them” (H2781).

Jesus’ disciple Matthew who had been a tax collector for the Roman government was among the class of citizens that we might refer to today as low life or the scum of the earth. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

A sinner is a person that practices sin as a lifestyle. This category of people would most likely include prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Jesus referred to these people as being sick and in need of a physician. The Greek word that is translated physician, iatros (ee-at-ros’) refers to physical treatment, but figuratively it speaks of spiritual healing (G2395/G2390).

Jesus’ quote, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” came from the book of Hosea which focused on the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Hosea was instructed to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s message was one of mercy and redemption and indicated that God was “concerned with the attitude of the hearts of men rather than the ritualistic performance of religious acts, and he values a relationship with his people more than outward ceremonies” (note on Hosea 6:6). Hosea 6:6 states, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The words steadfast love and mercy are often used interchangeably in the Bible and refer to God’s compassion toward sinners (G1656).

Mercy is God’s attitude toward those who are in distress. The Greek word eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery. Eleos is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Jesus used the example of new wine being put into fresh wineskins to explain how regeneration makes it possible for believers to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. He said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wine- skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). The Greek term that is translated preserved, suntereo (soon-tay-reh’-o) has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and his ability to keep us from being separated from God.

Jesus used the phrase, “take heart” (Matthew 9:2, 22) to signify the effect of being saved. The King James version of the Bible translates the phrase take heart as “be of good cheer.” The Greek word tharseo (thar-seh’-o) means to have courage (G2293) and is derived from the word tharsos (thar’-sos) which means to be daring or to have boldness (G2294). It could be that Jesus used the word tharseo in order to communicate the idea of activating one’s faith by making a bold move or what we might call today taking a leap of faith. Jesus seemed to be encouraging the recipients of his grace to act out the amazing transformation that was taking place inside of them.

Genesis 30:25 indicates that “as soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.'” It was somewhat of a daring move for Jacob to attempt to separate himself from Laban when he had 12 children to feed and no means of supporting them. Thus far, the only wages Jacob had received from Laban were his wives Rachel and Leah. When Laban tried to convince him to stay a little longer, “Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?'” (Genesis 30:29-30). Jacob realized that he had been blessed by God, but the benefit had gone to Laban instead of himself because of his agreement to work for Laban in exchange for his wives. Jacob wanted to gain his independence, but he agreed to continue working for Laban, probably because he lacked the courage to try and make it on his own.

After Jacob made a deal to continue serving him, Laban cheated Jacob out of his wages (Genesis 30:35-36), so Jacob resorted to unusual methods of producing speckled and spotted livestock in order to gain an advantage over his adversary (Genesis 30:37-39). It seems likely that Jacob’s tactics were not only unconventional, but also involved some type of sorcery. Jacob may have thought he needed to fight fire with fire so to speak, but the bottom line was that God’s blessing was all that Jacob needed to succeed and yet, he continued to do things his own way and managed to get ahead in spite of his lack of faith (Genesis 30:43).

Jesus confronted two blind men when they came to him to be healed. He asked them directly, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). Jesus wanted to know if these two men were willing to entrust their spiritual well-being to him as their Savior. The two blind men replied, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28) indicating that they recognized Jesus’ deity (G4962) and wanted to be saved. Jesus responded, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ah’) suggests that the blind men’s faith in Christ was necessary for them to be healed. By putting their trust in Jesus, the blind men were giving their Savior permission to do a miracle on their behalf.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). Proclaiming the gospel meant that Jesus was telling everyone how to be saved. The fact that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages suggests that he was leaving no stone unturned in his effort to inform the masses that God’s kingdom was open for business. Matthew indicated Jesus was healing every disease and every affliction and “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).

The Greek word that is translated compassion in Matthew 9:36, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) is derived from the word splagchnon (splangkh’-non). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tender affections. It is used always in the plural, and properly denotes ‘the physical organs of the intestines’…the word is rendered ‘tender mercy’ in Luke 1:78…and ‘inward affection’ in 2 Corinthians 7:15” (G4698). The primary connection between compassion and God’s mercy is that compassion expresses the motivation behind God’s plan of salvation. The King James version indicates that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). In other words, the compassion Jesus felt inside himself prompted him to heal the people of their diseases and afflictions.

Jesus used the analogy of sheep without a shepherd to express the unbeliever’s need to be taught the word of God. The Greek definition of a sheep is “something that walks forward (a quadruped)” (G4263). Jesus may have chosen sheep to represent the multitudes that sought his help during his ministry on Earth because sheep were known for their tendency to go astray and had to rely on someone else to guide them to their destination. Jesus described the crowds as helpless and harassed (Matthew 9:36). The King James version indicates that Jesus had compassion “because they fainted, and were scattered abroad.” Another way of saying it might be that Jesus was moved with compassion because he saw that the fabric of the Jews’ society was being torn apart and he knew that they were in jeopardy of losing their political identity.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but he laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Jesus probably described the salvation of souls as a harvest because it was the result of someone’s intentional effort and occurred at a specific time each year. There was a certain amount of reliability and necessity to the process of agriculture that made it a desirable occupation. Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” suggesting that there was an abundance of work to be done, even more than the labor market could handle. One of the reasons Jesus instructed his disciples to beg God to send out evangelists to preach the gospel was because there was a lack of faith on the part of the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 9:34) and if the job was left to them, no one would be saved.

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

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

God bless you!

Repentance

Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he gave Abraham an opportunity to intercede on behalf of these two wicked cities. “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him'” (Genesis 18:17-19). God chose Abraham to be the channel through which his salvation would flow to all mankind. Because of his relationship with the LORD, Abraham was able to influence God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God described the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah as one that had reached a point of no return. “Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know'” (Genesis 18:20-21). The Hebrew word translated altogether, kalah (kaw-law’) means a completion or completely (H3617). God was going to determine if Sodom and Gomorrah had become completely corrupted by visiting the cities himself. The phrase “I will know” refers to personal experience which includes observation and recognition (H3045). The LORD’s intention was to make his final decision about whether or not the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah needed to be destroyed after he observed their behavior.

When God told Abraham what he was going to do, it says in Genesis 18:22-23 that Abraham stood before the LORD and drew near to him. What this suggests is that Abraham had an intimate conversation with the LORD in order to change his mind about what he intended to do. Abraham wanted God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were enough righteous people in the cities to take the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation (H5375). In other words, Abraham wanted God to let the righteousness of a few individuals bear the burden of Sodom and Gomorrah’s habitual deviation from his moral standards. Abraham thought ten righteous people were enough for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction (Genesis 18:32).

When the two angels that God sent to destroy Sodom arrived at the city gate, Abraham’s nephew Lot insisted they spend the night at his house (Genesis 19:3). While they were there, “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg of you my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof'” (Genesis 19:4-8). Lot’s awareness of these men’s ruthless behavior and willingness to give his virgin daughters to them showed that he had no moral conviction about their sexual purity.

Psalm 11:2-3 states, “the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The psalmist used the analogy of a broken foundation to depict a corrupt political system that was taking advantage of innocent people. His question, “What can the righteous do?” suggests that Lot’s effort to stop the men of Sodom from raping his guests was a futile effort as evidenced by the angels having to rescue him from the hands of an angry mob (Genesis 19:10-11). Surprisingly, when Lot was told that Sodom was going to be destroyed, he was confused and had to be forcefully removed from the city limits in order to be saved from God’s punishment (Genesis 19:16).

Genesis 19:16 indicates that God was being merciful to Lot when he brought him out of Sodom. The Hebrew word translated merciful, chemlah (khem-law’) means that God took pity on Lot. What this suggests is that Lot was not righteous and it was only because of Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom that God spared his life. When the angels instructed Lot to leave Sodom, Genesis 19:16 indicates,”he lingered.” The Hebrew word translated lingered, mahahh (maw-hah’) is derived from the word meh (meh) which conveys the exclamations of what! or why! Lot was most likely shocked by the news that Sodom was going to be destroyed, but his reaction seems to suggest that he was undecided about whether or not he wanted to give up the life he had established there.

Psalm 11:4-5 states, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The Hebrew word translated tests, bachan (baw-khan’) means to investigate (H974) and the word see or chazah (khaw-zaw’) in Hebrew means “to gaze at; mentally to perceive” (H2372). God already knew what was going on in Sodom before he sent his angels there to destroy it. It’s possible that the reason why the LORD went to investigate the situation (Genesis 18:21) was to determine if Lot wanted to be saved or would rather go to hell with the rest of his companions.

John the Baptist preached a simple message to get the attention of those who were in danger of eternal punishment. He told them to, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The Greek word that is translated repent, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider” (G3340). John was letting people know that their behavior had been corrupted by the culture they were living in and their minds needed to be redirected toward spiritual matters. John was described as the one who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3). The way the prophet was referring to was the way of access into the direct presence of God (G3598). Making one’s paths straight refers to such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will with regard to godly behavior (G4160).

John’s simple message might be summarized with the statement, you’re on the wrong track or you’re going in the wrong direction. John wanted people to understand that they didn’t have to live the way they were, their lives could be different. As the angels brought Lot out of Sodom, “one said, ‘Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley” (Genesis 19:17). The Hebrew word that is translated life, nephesh (neh’-fesh) refers to the inner person or soul (H5315), indicating that Lot’s physical well-being was not the issue the angel was concerned with. Remaining in Sodom would mean that Lot had rejected God’s offer of salvation and would rather be condemned with the rest of the Sodomites than separate himself from them.

Lot managed to escape Sodom, but only by the skin of his teeth. Because of his reluctance to start over, Lot asked for a compromise. He suggested to the angels that were attempting to rescue him, “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there – is it not a little one? – and my life will be saved!” (Genesis 19:20). Basically, what Lot wanted was to avoid God’s judgment, but to be able to pick up where he left off with the life he had when he was living in Sodom. Lot didn’t want to change his behavior, just his circumstances. Lot’s question, “is it not a little one?” might be interpreted as, this one isn’t so bad is it? Most likely, the town that Lot wanted to go to was just as wicked as Sodom was, but was operating on a much smaller scale. Instead of an organized crime syndicate, Zoar may have only had just a bunch of petty thieves.

After the LORD rained sulfur and fire out of heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah, it says in Genesis 19:30, “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.” The Hebrew word translated fear, yare (yaw-ray’) means to stand in awe. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). It could be that Lot finally came to a place of repentance, realized that he was in moral danger and wanted to separate himself from the wicked behavior that was threatening his spiritual well-being. In spite of his attempt to disconnect from the world around him, Lot was still overtaken by sin. His daughters became pregnant by him while he was intoxicated (Genesis 19:32-36) and gave birth to sons that became two idolatrous nations that were enemies of Abraham’s descendants (notes on Genesis 19:37 and 19:38).

John the Baptist confronted the religious leaders that came to him to be baptized. “He exclaimed, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). John indicated that repentance was a requirement for someone to be baptized. The Greek word translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) focuses on the outward expression of repentance. “This change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). In other words, John was looking for genuine acts of repentance that were evidence of having developed a relationship with God.

One of the things that was evidence of Abraham’s relationship with God was that he moved to a new location when God told him to (Genesis 12:4). God expected Abraham to sojourn or live in a land that was hostile to him. After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Abraham went to a place called Gerar where he thought, “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11). Abraham’s assumptions about Gerar caused him to hide the fact that Sarah was his wife and instead told Abimelech the king of Gerar, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). Abraham’s deception led to Abimelech taking his wife away from him and Sarah’s integrity being compromised. “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife'” (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech’s response to the message he received indicated that he recognized who was speaking to him and respected the person’s authority. He said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people. Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this” (Genesis 20:4-5). Abimelech’s declaration of innocence was based on his intent to marry Sarah and form a political alliance with Abraham (note on Genesis 20:2-18). “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart and it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6).

Abimelech’s integrity had to do with his motive being right, but his innocence had to do with his actions toward Abraham. Because they were not aligned, it could be said that Abimelech was not right with God. Even though, there was nothing about his behavior that was offensive to the Lord, Abimelech didn’t have a personal relationship with the LORD and couldn’t claim any benefit for his motive being right. Abraham had to pray to God on his behalf and then, God healed Abimelech and also healed his wife and female slaves from their infertility (Genesis 20:17-18).

When the LORD said, “it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6), he was letting Abimelech know that he didn’t have the power to control his own behavior. In other words, if God hadn’t kept Abimelech from having sexual relations with Sarah, he would have done so. God said that he didn’t let Abimelech touch Sarah (Genesis 20:6), meaning that the LORD caused circumstances beyond his control to keep Abimelech from getting physically close to or personally involved with Sarah (Genesis 20:4). This was not done to protect Abimelech’s reputation, but to keep Sarah chaste (Genesis 20:16).

Abimelech’s claim of innocence indicated that he didn’t feel any guilt or remorse for taking Sarah away from Abraham. Even though his motives were honorable, Abimelech was acting contrary to God’s will and was punished for his interference in Abraham and Sarah’s lives (Genesis 20:18). In order to make things right, Abimelech had to return Sarah to her husband “so that he will pray for you, and you shall live” (Genesis 20:7). This act of repentance is what caused Abimelech’s life to be spared. Repentance, “a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341) implies obedience to the will of God. John the Baptist described this as bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8) and said, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

John was surprised when “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14-15). John’s determination that it was inappropriate for him to baptize Jesus was based on his knowledge that Jesus had not committed any sin and therefore, did not need to repent and be baptized. Jesus explained to John that baptism was the way that God had decided to attribute righteousness to believers. In other words, baptism is the act whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into a right relationship with God (G1343).

Jesus’ statement, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) had to do with the way Old Testament believers like Abraham got saved. 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 to impute or to treat Abraham as if he had righteousness even though he didn’t. The righteousness that was imputed to Abraham was the righteousness of Christ and the method that was used to impute it to him was Jesus’ baptism. The method of water baptism is referred to as “justification by faith” (G1343).

All believers are justified by faith, but the benefits of salvation are different for New Testament believers. John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). What John was saying was that the best that Old Testament believers could hope for was to repent and have their relationship with God restored, but New Testament believers can receive power through the Holy Spirit that will enable them to control their behavior and be able to stop sinning, to be free from the effects of their sin nature.

Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” God’s verbal confirmation indicated that Jesus’ action had reversed the effects of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Whereas before it was impossible for God to be pleased with any man’s behavior, Jesus’ baptism showed that on an individual basis, acts of repentance could gain one access into the direct presence of God and restore fellowship with him permanently.

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 believer you died for 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!

Death

God’s plan of salvation included a provision for everyone to be reconciled to him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). In order for there to be a level playing field, God provided salvation by grace, as a free gift, so that no one would be left out. Paul stated, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s comparison of the wages of sin to God’s free gift of salvation showed that there was no logical reason why a person should choose to live a life of sin. He stated, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Greek word translated death, thanatos “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

Paul used the analogy of a woman that was freed from the law of marriage by the death of her husband to explain how a believer is dead to sin as a result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. Paul stated, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Paul’s primary concern was that believer’s understand that freedom from sin was something that had to be dealt with apart from the sinner’s justification by faith. Although the guilt of sin is removed instantaneously when a person is born again, the desire to commit sin does not go away. Paul admitted, “I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLV). The Apostle Paul, who is considered by most to be a model Christian wasn’t exempt from the natural human tendency to rebel against God. His description of the believer’s struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:13-25) is thought by some to be a personal testimony to the weakness of his flesh.

Paul suggested that sin is a powerful force that operates in believers and unbelievers alike. He argued, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21). Rather than giving believers an excuse to commit sin, Paul’s identification of the sin nature that dwells in everyone was most likely meant to explain why Christian’s are not made perfect when they are reconciled to God. Paul stated, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:15:14). The point Paul was trying to make was that his human body or flesh was still subject to sin as evidenced by the physical death he would eventually experience. It was only his spirit that was regenerated when he accepted Christ. Paul stated, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). It seems likely that Paul was thinking of his own physical death when he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Guilty

Paul indicated the common denominator between Jews and Gentiles was that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What Paul was saying was that the human race as a whole was affected by Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. The only hope for mankind was being justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). Paul differentiated the physical and spiritual aspects of Judaism and said, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29). Paul wanted non-Jewish believers to understand that “the true sign of belonging to God is not an outward mark on the physical body, but the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit within” (note on Romans 2:29).

The primary reason Paul wanted to remove the distinction between Jews and Gentiles was so that the Roman believers could see that they were on equal footing with Paul. There was no advantage to being born Jewish. Paul stated, “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10). Paul went on to say that spiritual blindness was the reason no one could satisfy God’s requirements. He stated, “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” The Greek word Paul used that is translated good is chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace). “This word refers not to a virtue of a person that encompasses only to a person’s word and countenance, it refers to the virtue that pervades and penetrates the whole nature, that mellows anything harsh and austere. It is that virtue that is gentle, charming, and calm, suited to the company of all good people, attracting their friendship, delightful in encouragement and moderate in manners” (G5544).

Paul’s declaration that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) was meant to bring the Romans to the conclusion that they, like the Jews, were in need of a savior. Paul explained that Jesus’ blood was the only way to remove the guilt of sin and stated, “God gave Jesus Christ to the world. Men’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ when they put their trust in Him. God gave His Son Jesus Christ to show how right He is” (Romans 3:25, NLV). Paul’s explanation of salvation centered on the fact that the blood of Christ could only atone for sins through an act of faith, putting one’s trust in him. Paul concluded by stating, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). In other words, we cannot be made righteous by doing what God’s law commands; the guilt of our sin can only be removed by putting our trust in the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s sinless son.

Faith

Paul associated New Testament believers with the covenant God made with Abraham. He said, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-7). The importance of Paul’s connection was that it meant Christians would inherit the blessings that were originally intended for the nation of Israel. The blessing Paul was referring to can be found in Genesis 15:4-7 where it talks about God’s promise to Abraham. It says, “And behold, the word of the Lord came unto him saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now towards the heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD: and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.”

Paul’s declaration of the Christian’s expected inheritance stressed the importance of faith. Paul used the word faith, or pistis in the Greek, 20 times in the book of Galatians and the word pistis appears 13 times in the third chapter of Galatians alone. The Greek word pistis is derived from the verb peitho (pi’-tho) which means “to convince” (G3982). Therefore, having faith is really just about being convinced that something is true. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham believed in the LORD, meaning Abraham was convinced that God was telling him the truth. The truth that Christians have to be convinced of is that Jesus died for our sins. Paul stated, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).

A critical point in Paul’s explanation of justification by faith was his statement, “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Galatians 3:22). What Paul was getting at was the requirement for a person to be a sinner in order to be saved. Some people do not believe they are sinners and therefore, cannot be saved. This was particularly true in Jesus’ day because the Pharisees had led people to believe that it was possible for them to keep the Mosaic Law. Jesus repeatedly pointed out that God’s standard was perfection. In one of his encounters, a young man claimed to have kept all of God’s commandments since he had reached the age of accountability. “Jesus said to him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:21-26).

Justified by faith

Paul was a change agent of sorts because even after Jesus died and was resurrected, his disciples didn’t seem to fully comprehend what he had done for them. Liberty was a foreign concept to the Jews. The temple that the Jews worshipped in was designed to constantly remind them that they were separated from God by their sin. After Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews, and everyone else, had free access to God. There wasn’t anything they could do from that point forward that wouldn’t be forgiven.

One of the problems the Jewish people had was continuing to think of themselves as God’s chosen or special people. They thought a barrier still existed between God and man. The idea that anyone could freely enter into the presence of God was beyond the Jews’ comprehension. Paul felt it was his responsibility to correct this erroneous thinking. Paul wanted the Jewish people to understand that they were no longer special. That was why they didn’t like Paul’s message and tried to kill him.

One of the ways the Jewish people tried to stop Paul’s gospel message from being accepted was to say that he had made it up, that it wasn’t really true. What he was preaching was so radical that Paul was reluctant to share his message with certain people. It took him 14 years to grow strong enough in his faith that he was willing to confront the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Peter, especially, was a problem for Paul because everyone trusted Peter and believed everything he said was directly from the Lord.

Finally, when Paul made it back to Jerusalem, he said straight out, God has spoken this message to me and I am obligated to share it with you (Galatians 2:2). “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9). Everyone finally agreed that Paul should take his message to the people outside of Israel so that they could become Christians too.

Later, Peter came to visit Paul in a city where he was preaching. Peter stirred up trouble by acting like Paul was doing something wrong. Paul confronted Peter and told him to his face that he was being a hypocrite. The dispute between these two men was about whether or not a person could work his way into heaven. Paul said, “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.