Fellowship

The Apostle Paul talked about his ministry of reconciliation and told the Corinthians that, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” meaning that God was not counting people’s trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19), but had made Jesus, the only person who ever lived a sinless life, to be the perfect sacrifice for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that God had already done everything that was necessary for them to be pardoned from their sins and concluded by stating, “Working together with him then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Paul indicated that he was co-operating with Jesus to accomplish the task of reconciling the world to God by preaching the gospel. The gospel and its result of salvation was the instrument that God chose to use to reconcile the world to himself. Because salvation is received by grace and is based on God’s free gift for the forgiveness of sins (G1656), Paul encouraged the Corinthians to act immediately and not let the opportunity they were being given pass them by. Paul referred to Isaiah 49:8, a verse of scripture that indicates the day of salvation is a specific period of time in which God’s grace is available. Paul stated:

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
    and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Paul’s emphasis on now being the favorable time and now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) meant that there was no time to waste, immediate action was required. Paul’s final plea was directed at the Corinthians hardened hearts. He stated:

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

A heart that is wide open is one that is able to be molded and shaped as when an artist is working with clay or wax (G4111). Paul’s use of the Greek word platuno (plat-oo’-no) may have been intended to draw attention to the fact that God was reaching out to the Corinthians in a distinct effort to bridge the gap between himself and the non-Jewish people groups. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that we are all one in Christ. He said:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

One of the main points that Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians was that access to God was being granted to everyone that chose to put their faith in Christ. Paul stated, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:8-12).

“The plan of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9) that Paul referred to was a mechanism by which God could unite all believers into a sound whole. The Greek word that is translated plan, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) literally means participation, but is also translated as fellowship, communion, and to communicate, thus it is used of the common experiences of Christian men and women and of the participation in the knowledge of the Son of God (G2842). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ and said, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). In other words, Paul was saying that God is able to overcome our unbelief and convince us of the trustworthiness of his Son’s death on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul used the word koinonia or participation to connect communion, a celebration of the Last Supper, to the enactment of God’s New Covenant through Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul said, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16, emphasis mine).

Partaking in communion essentially identifies you as a follower of Christ. The Greek word meta (met-ah’) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) is similar to the word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together (but much closer than 3326)” (G4862). Koinonia is derived from the Greek word sun and originated from “the idea of coming in contact with everything, not separated in the least” (G2839). The root word koinos (koy-nos’) “as an adjective, means ‘common,’ and is translated ‘unclean.'” The concept of fellowship seems to contradict what was originally established through the Mosaic Law. The primary objective of the Mosaic Law was to prevent people and things from becoming unclean and the priests that ministered in God’s tabernacle went to great lengths to separate themselves from things that were considered to be common (Exodus 19:22). Consecration, “the act of setting apart, being holy (i.e. withdrawing someone or something from profane or ordinary use)” (H6942) was a part of the initial process of setting up the tabernacle of God. Exodus Chapter 29 provides details about the consecration of priests and indicates that consecration and atonement for sin were closely related with regards to fellowship with God (Exodus 29:35-37).

After all the materials that were needed to construct the tabernacle were collected (Exodus 38:24-31), designated craftsmen began to work on the necessary articles of clothing and furniture that had to be created according to the instructions that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. Among these articles were garments that had to be worn by Aaron and his sons when they entered the tabernacle. Exodus 39:1 states, “From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD commanded Moses.” The Hebrew word that is translated Holy Place, qodesh (ko’-desh) is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dash’) which means to be clean (H6942). An important characteristic of God that differentiates him from other deities is his holiness. The song of Moses that is recorded in Exodus 15 refers to God’s holiness as being an indicator of his majesty or greatness. Exodus 15:11-13 states:

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The holy garments that Moses wore were most likely symbolic of the righteousness of Christ that Paul talked about in the context of believers being renewed in the spirit of their minds. Paul instructed the Ephesians to no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds (Ephesians 4:17) and said, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:19-24).

Paul associated the believer’s righteousness and holiness with a new self that is created after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24). Paul used the Greek term that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) metaphorically of the internal man, meaning the mind, soul, the rational man “the hidden person of the heart” (G444). Two of the holy garments that Moses wore provide us with an example of how the new man may be connected to God and other believers and is thus enabled to act with them in a unified manner. The ephod, which was worn under the breastpiece, had two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it could “be joined together” (Exodus 28:7) Two stones with the names of the sons of Israel engraved on them were set on the shoulder pieces of the ephod “as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 28;12). The breastpiece had twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. The two ends of the cords were attached to the settings of the stones of remembrance and attached in the front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod (Exodus 28:22-24). The unification of the ephod, stones of remembrance and breastpiece seem to suggest that the believer’s new self, the Holy Spirit and Jesus act like a seamless garment that encapsulates the believer’s heart and protects it from exposure to anything that might make it unclean.

The tabernacle of God was also called “the tent of meeting” (Exodus 40:1). God said, “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 tent of meeting was an appointed place for God to communicate with Moses. An important aspect of fellowship is social intercourse and the partnership that exists between believers is based on companionship (G2844). Exodus 33:11 states, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The fact that God spoke to Moses face to face implies there was a relationship, but at that time, Jesus had not yet made a way for man to be intimate with God (Hebrews 9:12). Also, there is no mention of Moses going through a process of consecration, so it would seem that the relationship Moses had with God was what made it possible for them to bridge the holiness gap and have fellowship with one another. Hebrews 11:24-27 talks about Moses’ faith and suggests that he may have been communicating with Jesus when he talked to God face to face. It states, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Paul warned the Corinthians about having fellowship with unbelievers and asked them several rhetorical questions to make the point that it was absurd for them to try and connect with unbelievers in the same way that they did believers in Christ. Paul said, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Paul’s statement that “we are the temple of the living God” was meant to emphasize the point that God lives inside of believers through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. It is impossible for us to separate ourselves from God. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Paul indicated that love is the essential ingredient that makes unbroken fellowship with God possible. The Greek word that is translated separate, chorizo (kho-rid’-zo) means to place room between (G5593) and is related to the word chasma (khas’-mah) which Jesus used to describe the permanent separation of believers and unbelievers in the afterlife. He said, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to enlarge their hearts so that God’s love could reach them before it was too late. He said, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they could only receive God’s free gift of salvation by making room for him in their hearts. Paul talked about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14) because he knew that the Corinthians were trying to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the spiritual realm. They were compromising their faith by worshipping false gods like Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15). Paul touched on something in his second letter to the Corinthians that was explained more in depth in John’s first epistle. Paul asked, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) in order to point out that fellowship assumes there is an exclusion of contradictory activities. John also stated:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

The connection between fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin may have to do with the body of Christ, which signifies his church, being defined as “a sound whole” (G4983). Because Jesus was crucified on the cross, his body became a sacred thing that was dedicated to God in its entirety. Each of us, as members of Christ’s body, receive the benefit and the effects of that sacrifice. Jesus illustrated this point in his celebration of the Last Supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:26-29). Paul mentioned the disciples’ Last Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians and referred to it as the communion of the blood and the communion of the body (1 Corinthians 10:16). The Greek word that Paul used that is translated communion is koinonia, the same word that is translated fellowship in 2 Corinthians 6:14. A key to understanding how communion/fellowship works may be found in Colossians 2:13-15 which states:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul indicated that believers are made alive together with Christ (Colossians 2:13). The Greek word suzetesis (sood-zay-teh’-o) means “to reanimate conjointly” (G4806). In other words, the body of Christ will be resurrected as a united whole due to our participation in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism (Colossians 2:12). The ultimate goal of fellowship is to get believers from earth to heaven so that we can be with Jesus throughout eternity (John 14:1-3). Paul assured the Corinthians that if they shared in his sufferings, they would also share in his comfort (2 Corinthians 1:7) and said that they should not rely on themselves, “but on the God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

God’s Family

“The apostle Peter was the most prominent disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the First Letter of Peter). Peter’s first letter, which was written around 60 A.D., was meant to be an encouragement to the Jewish believers who were enduring intense persecution and to prepare all of his readers “for the difficult times ahead of them.” Peter began his letter with an important point about the purpose of salvation. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter said that God causes us to be born again. Peter’s used the term “born again” as a way of describing what happens when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Jesus said that we must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) and told a man named Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

Jesus explained that being born of the Spirit was an invisible process that resulted in membership in God’s kingdom. It is like our physical birth from the standpoint of coming into existence, but takes place in a much more mysterious, unexplainable way. Essentially, what happens when we are born again is that we become God’s children, we become members of his household and receive an inheritance that is equivalent to Jesus’. The Apostle Paul described this same process as adoption and said that in love God “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). The difference between Peter’s description of salvation as being born again and Paul’s viewpoint of the spiritual transaction that takes place when believers enter God’s family most likely had to do with the audience that each of these men was writing to. Paul addressed his letter to the Ephesians “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Saints was a general term that applied to all believers and usually referred to the collective body of Christ (G40). Peter’s letter was addressed to a subset of that group which he referred to as “those who are the elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Elect exiles were the remnant of Jews that were scattered around the world after Jesus died on the cross. It makes sense that Peter would write to this particular group of people because he was directly responsible for continuing Jesus’ ministry after his death and resurrection. Jesus specifically stated that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:25) and his last instruction to Peter was “feed my sheep” (John 21:17).

Even though Paul never used the term born again, it can be assumed that all believers become members of God’s family through a spiritual birth when they accept Jesus as their Savior. Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:11-19)

The Greek word that is translated household in Ephesians 2:19, oikeios (oy-ki’-os) means a relative (G3609) and it can be assumed that if we are told to address God as our Father (Matthew 6:9), that we are his children.

The reason why the children of Israel and subsequently the remnant that became known as the Jews (Nehemiah 1:2) were considered to be God’s family was because Jesus’ physical birth was associated with the descendants of Abraham (Matthew 1:1), but God didn’t refer to the children of Israel as his children, he referred to them as his people. When he appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, the LORD told him, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated people, ‘am (am) means “a people (as a congregated unit)” and is used figuratively to refer to “a flock” (H5971). Jesus often referred to the Jews as the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:25) so that they would realize that God was still dealing with them as the descendants of Abraham which God promised to give the land “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18) as an eternal possession. God indicated that a sign he would fulfill this promise was that he would deliver the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. He told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).

Exodus 12:40-41 notes that “the time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” After everyone crossed over the Red Sea, Exodus 14:30-31 states, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” The Israelites’ salvation from the hand of the Egyptians and belief in the LORD were considered to be indicators of them having a relationship with God, but even though they had a relationship with God, they didn’t think of themselves as being God’s children. That’s why when Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God, the Jews picked up stones to stone him (John 10:31-38). Jesus explained that one of the signs of his relationship to God was his miraculous ability. He said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

A miracle that Jesus performed while he was on earth was feeding multitudes of people with small amounts of food (Matthew 14:16-21). Jesus’ supernatural provision of food was meant to bolster his disciples faith and to teach them a lesson about the way that God takes care of his family (Matthew 16:8-12). When the Israelites complained to Moses about their lack of food after they entered the desert, “the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Exodus 16:4). The Israelites named the bread from heaven manna. “It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:32-33, 41). Jesus went on to say, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 48-51).

Jesus’ distinction between the bread from heaven that the Israelites ate in the wilderness and the living bread that gives eternal life was most likely meant to emphasize that receiving spiritual nourishment was not the same as being born again. God provided for the physical needs of his chosen people because their relationship to him was a material one. Peter’s letter to the elect exiles of the Dispersion pointed out that the Jews obtained their imperishable inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and that it was being kept for them in heaven ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter said, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12). In other words, the Old Testament prophets understood that there was a spiritual aspect to salvation that hadn’t yet been made available to God’s chosen people and even the angels were forbidden to talk about it until after Jesus was born.

The salvation that Jesus died to give us changed the way humans relate to God because the birth that takes place when we are born again has to do with our spirits being regenerated or made alive. Peter indicated that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls (1 Pater 1:9). The Greek word that is translated souls, psuche (psoo-khay’) refers to that vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing (Acts 20:10). “One’s understanding of this word’s relationship to related terms is contingent upon his position regarding biblical anthropology. Dichotomists view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), material and immaterial, with spirit and soul denoting the immaterial and bearing only a functional and not a metaphysical difference. Trichotomists also view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), but with the spirit and soul representing in some contexts a real subdivision of the immaterial. This latter view is here adopted” (G5590). It is the spirit that enables man to communicate with God. Jesus used the word psuche to not only refer to natural life, “but also to life as continued beyond the grave.” It is only in the Christian sense that a soul can be saved. The soul is delivered “from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991).

Peter emphasized the need for believers to act like children of God if they call him their Father. He said:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13-19)

Peter’s mention of being ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers (1 Peter 1:18) was most likely intended to bring to mind the Passover celebration that the Jews celebrated on an annual basis. The Greek words that are translated futile ways, mataios (mat’-ah-yos) anastrophe (an-as-trof-ay’) suggest that Peter was focusing on the meaningless rituals that the Jews had not only bought into, but also their expectation that God would save the Jews simply because they were descendants of Abraham (Matthew 3:9).

Peter talked about the living and abiding word of God being the imperishable seed that causes us to be born again. He said, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25).

The apostles Peter and Paul seemed to agree that obedience was the earmark of a true child of God. Obedience to the truth means that we don’t just take in God’s word, but let it affect the immaterial parts of our being. Peter said that our souls are purified by our obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1:22). Purification had to do with the ceremonial cleansing that took place in God’s temple, but Peter was probably thinking of it as a ritual that involved the taking in of God’s word on a regular basis. Paul talked about this in the context of a process called sanctification in which the believer’s mind is renewed. Paul said that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4:18) and went on to say, “But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24).

Paul indicated that the way believers become like God is by renewal “in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:24). “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment of the will of God” (G3650). Peter took this one step further by stating, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). Peter indicated that our aim shouldn’t be to just change our minds about God, but to demonstrate the same kind of love that Jesus expressed while he was living on earth. Brotherly love is characterized by kindness and is associated with being friendly or what you might think of as being a good neighbor. The Greek word philos (fee’-los) is properly translated as dear and is supposed to express fondness in the context of a family relationship (G80/G5384). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Forgiveness

Jesus warned his disciples of a future day of judgment and said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek word that is translated give account, logos (log’-os) refers to something said including the thought, “also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation” (G3056). What this seems to suggest is that everything we say is somehow being recorded and when we stand before God to be judged he will use our own statements to determine our innocence or guilt in the things we have done during our lifetimes.

Jesus indicated that people who are bound in sin are loosed by the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19) and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). The Greek word that is translated save, sozo (sode’-zo) speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). The point Jesus was making was that it is impossible for someone to save himself. Our sins must be forgiven or we will be separated from God for eternity.

Jesus taught his followers to ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12) and promised them, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ response was meant to indicate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that we can give or receive because God’s grace is sufficient to cover all sins. Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point. He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 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.”

Jesus explained that forgiveness was not based on the amount of debt one owed, but the creditor’s willingness to show compassion to another human being. Jesus said that we must forgive our brother from the heart. In other words, we need to be a compassionate person in order to express compassion to others.

Joseph’s encounter with his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food during the famine showed that he was initially hard hearted toward them and treated them cruelly (Genesis 42:7-17), but his attitude changed when he saw their remorse. Genesis 21-22 states:

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

Reuben and the others realized they were guilty of a sin against their brother and they believed God was holding them accountable for it, but they didn’t know that Joseph was the Egyptian governor they were talking to and that he understood everything they were saying because he was using an interpreter to speak to them (Genesis 42:23). After hearing their confession of guilt, it says in Genesis 42:24 that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph’s lamentation for his brothers demonstrated that he felt compassion for them. Instead of making them all stay in prison until their brother Benjamin was brought to Egypt, Joseph only took one of the brothers. “And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey” (Genesis 42:25). Joseph’s change of heart was a result of him seeing and hearing the misery of his brothers’ guilt. In his parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The Greek word that is translated pity, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy (G4697). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of tender affections” (G4698).

The Greek word that is translated mercy in Matthew 18:33, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) “means to feel sympathy with the misery of another, especially such sympathy as manifests itself in act (G1653). Eleeo is derived from the word eleos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it…It is used of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another” (G1656). After the servant who owed ten thousand talents refused to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus said, “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 you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailors, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:32-34).

Jesus talked about forgiveness in the context of salvation. The Greek word eleos “is used of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men” (G1656). The act of salvation is sometimes described as being converted. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word that is translated turn, strepho (stref’-o) means to turn quite around or reverse (G4762) and is similar to the Hebrew word shuwb (shoob). The basic meaning of the verb shuwb is movement back to the point of departure. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725).

The Hebrew word shuwb is used in Genesis 42:24 where it says of Joseph, “Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.” It seems likely that when Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept he was converted; his heart was changed and he was able to forgive his brothers. After that, Joseph showed his brothers mercy by letting them go back home, returning the money they paid for their grain, and giving them provisions for their journey (Genesis 42:25-26). Joseph’s merciful actions prompted his brothers to fear that God’s involvement in their situation would lead to their undoing. When one of the brothers saw that his money was in the mouth of his sack, “He said to his brothers, ‘My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!’ At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'”

Joseph’s brothers were fearful because they knew they were not being treated the way they should have been. The unusual circumstances of their attempt to buy food in Egypt caused these men’s hearts to fail them. In other words, Joseph’s brothers were caught off guard or you might say tripped up by what was happening to them. Joseph’s course treatment and then his reversal by sending them back home with their money hidden in their bags was not only confusing, but also detrimental to his brothers’ spiritual well-being because they were unaware of what was going on and didn’t know why the Egyptian governor (Joseph) was treating them the way he did.

Jesus warned his disciples about causing others to sin. He said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). One of the definitions of the Greek word that is translated sin in this verse is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Joseph’s brothers and their families were suffering because of the famine in the land of Canaan and needed food to sustain their lives. Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers and his demand that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt to prove they weren’t lying to him made it more difficult for them to return to Egypt when their food ran out a second time (Genesis 42:38).

Jesus’ reference to little ones who believe in him in Matthew 18:6 was meant to point out that any person who has faith in God is considered to be just as important and valuable to God as Jesus is. Even though Jesus used the example of a child when he talked about little ones who believe in him (Matthew 18:2, 5), it’s possible he was talking about new or immature believers. He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10-11) and then he went on to say:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18_12-14)

Jesus instructed his disciples to not go among the Gentiles, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6) and told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Therefore, it seems likely that the little ones Jesus was talking about when he warned his disciples not to cause them to sin were the Jews that were supposed to inherit God’s kingdom.

In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them had gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). The Greek word that is translated gone astray, planao (plan-ah’-o) has to do with deception and is used in Revelation 12:9 with a definite article “as a title of the Devil” (G4105). One of the reasons believers go astray is because the devil deceives them and makes them believe a lie (Ephesians 4:14). Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers may have been warranted, but it wasn’t helpful and caused a situation that was already difficult to become even worse. Joseph could have revealed his identity to his brothers when he first saw them and let them know that he was put in his position to take care of their physical needs, but instead Joseph took advantage of his brother’s guilty consciences and tortured them into thinking they were unworthy of God’s mercy. Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Gaining your brother meant that you had won him to Christ or that he had been saved (G2770). Jesus went on to say, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Spiritual bondage seems to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, except that the person that suffers is not the one who has committed the sin, but the one who was sinned against. Like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, Joseph was unwilling to forgive his brothers after God delivered him from prison and placed him a powerful position in Egypt. Instead of forgiving them, Joseph used the position God gave him to torment his brothers and to capitalize on their guilty consciences. Even though he didn’t change his behavior immediately, Joseph did begin to show signs of tenderheartedness when he “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24) after he overheard his brothers admitting, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother” (Genesis 42:21).

The mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Spiritual treasure

God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation meant that his household would grow to such a significant size that it would be recognized as a distinct “group of individuals who are considered as a unit with respect to origin, language, land, jurisprudence, and government” (H1471). Abraham believed God would bless him, but didn’t understand how he could become a great nation if he didn’t have any children to inherit his possessions. He asked, “‘O Lord, GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:2-6).

The phrase “he counted it to him” (Genesis 15:6) “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived. It means ‘to think, account, reckon, devise, plan” (H2803). The plan of salvation that God devised for Abraham and his descendants had to do with a spiritual accounting system that made it possible for someone else’s righteousness to be substituted for theirs. We know today the Savior God provided is Jesus, but Abraham wasn’t given the details of how his offspring was going to save the world. All Abraham knew was that he was going to have a son who would inherit everything he possessed, including the blessing that would ensure Christ’s birth.

Psalm 127:1 states, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” In this instance, building a house refers to a household, the members of one’s family. The Psalmist went on to say, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward, like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (Psalm 127:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated heritage, nachalah (nakh-al-aw’) is properly translated as “something inherited” (H5159) and reward or sakar (saw-kawr’) in Hebrew means payment or more concretely salary (H7939). Therefore it might be said that children have a value associated with them and could be viewed as compensation for serving God.

In addition to Ishmael, who was born to him by means of intercourse with his wife’s servant Hagar, Abraham had six sons besides Isaac (Genesis 25:2). And yet, it says in Genesis 25:5, “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.” This implies that Isaac inherited all his father’s earthly possessions when Abraham died, but what is not stated is that Isaac also inherited Abraham’s blessing from the LORD. It says in Genesis 25:11, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son.” The reason why he was treated as Abraham’s only son was because Isaac was the only son God had promised to give Abraham. Isaac was the result of the LORD building Abraham’s house and was a reward for his belief in God.

Jesus talked about spiritual rewards in his Sermon on the Mount. He 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” (Matthew 6:1). Jesus made it clear that believers will be rewarded in heaven and warned his followers not to pretend to be saved in order to get some benefit from God while they were still living. Practicing righteousness can be as simple as making a donation to a needy cause, which is a great thing to do, but Jesus said that won’t get you into heaven or make any difference in your spiritual bank account.

The primary issue Jesus had with people practicing their righteousness before other people in order to receive a reward from God was that they didn’t understand God’s method of giving. Jesus said, “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 done in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4). The Greek word that is translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tos’) means concealed (G2927) and suggests that Jesus was referring to an eternal or spiritual reward.

God told Abraham that he would give his offspring a physical inheritance, but said the land would be possessed by them eternally. He said to him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14-15). The Hebrew word translated forever, olam (o-lawm’) is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point” (H5769). Olam is derived from the word alam (aw-lam’) which means “to veil from sight” (H5956). It could be that God was telling Abraham his descendants would possess the land he was looking at in some sort of future spiritual state, perhaps in heaven, but more than likely, what God meant by possessing the land forever was that in eternity the physical and spiritual worlds will be reversed. In other words, what we can see now, the physical world we live in, will eventually disappear and be replaced by a spiritual version that looks the same, but will last forever.

Jesus pointed out that the rewards we receive now are not duplicated in heaven. Jesus said when we are praised by others for doing good deeds, that’s the only reward we will get (Matthew 6:2). Jesus also made a distinction between rewards that can be seen and what is concealed or done in secret. He said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that you shouldn’t pretend to be a Christian if you’re not, but underlying his instruction to pray to God in secret was the idea that God doesn’t reward or answer meaningless prayers. If you want to get something from God, you have to ask him for it specifically and be clear about what you want him to do. Jesus gave this example of a satisfactory prayer:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Jesus indicated that this simple prayer was sufficient because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). In other words, the purpose of prayer is not to get our physical needs met, but to receive spiritual benefits from God.

The three things Jesus identified in his template for prayer were: daily bread, forgiveness of debts, and deliverance from evil. Each of these things can be viewed from both a physical and spiritual standpoint. Daily bread is obviously connected with food, but it can also refer to God’s word which is considered to be the believer’s spiritual nourishment (Matthew 4:4). Debts have a physical significance in that they are usually linked to property, but Jesus was most likely referring to debts as sins because he went on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus’ final point about deliverance from evil probably had to do with sexual sins like adultery and fornication which involve the body, but can also do damage to one’s spiritual health.

Isaac and Rebekah demonstrated appropriate prayer when they sought God’s help to become pregnant. It says in Genesis 25:21, “And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” Similar to Abraham and Sarah’s situation, Rebekah was sterile and was not physically capable of conceiving a child (H6135). This might seem unusual since Rebekah was appointed by God to be Isaac’s wife (Genesis 24:14). Even though Isaac was blessed by God (Genesis 25:11), God didn’t make it possible for Isaac to have children by natural means. The fact that God granted Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah conceived suggests that they were being rewarded by God for their faith in the same way that Abraham and Sarah were.

Jesus instructed his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus’ statement implies that there is such a thing as spiritual treasure, but he didn’t give us any details about what it looks like or what it consists of. The Greek word translated treasure, thesauros (thay-sow-ros’) means “a deposit, i.e. wealth” (G2344). Thesauros is derived from the word tithemi (tith-ay-mee) which means to place or to put and “is used of ‘appointment’ to any form of service” (G5087). It could be that there is a connection between the type of service we are involved in during our lives on Earth and the reward or treasure that we will receive when we get to heaven.

One of the things that seems to be evident from Jesus’ instruction to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven is that we can accumulate spiritual wealth in the same way that we can accumulate material wealth. From that standpoint, land, houses, furniture, and clothing might all be a part of our future spiritual life. On the other hand, Jesus warned his disciples that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus went on to say, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).

Jesus’ proclamation that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (Matthew 6:25) was probably intended to point out that we need to prioritize how we spend our time while we are living on Earth. He went on to say, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33). The Greek word translated seek first, proton (pro’-ton) is derived from the word protos (pro’tos) which means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Jesus seemed to be saying that the only thing believers need to be concerned with is their relationship with Christ. If so, then salvation is only the first step in a believer’s lifelong quest to know God more intimately.

After Rebekah became pregnant, it says in Genesis 25:22, “The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.” Rebekah didn’t understand what was going on, but since God had made her pregnant, she believed that he knew what was happening inside her, so she asked him to explain the situation. The Hebrew word that is translated inquire, darash (daw-rash’) is properly translated as “to tread or frequent; usually to follow (for pursuit or search)” (H1875). Darash “indicates a private seeking of God in prayer for direction.” Rebekah was doing what Jesus instructed his disciples to, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall sever the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

Rebekah didn’t know that she was having twins and that they would play a role in the establishment of contradictory cultures within Abraham’s household. Another way of explaining what was going to happen was that Rebekah’s twin sons would develop two different lifestyles that would result in a split or dividing up of the family’s spiritual and material wealth. The oldest, Esau pursued physical wealth, but his brother Jacob pursued spiritual treasure.

The New Life Version of Psalm 127:2 states, “You rise up early, and go to bed late, and work hard for your food, all for nothing. For the Lord gives to His loved ones even while they sleep.” The picture the Psalmist was portraying was that of a godless person’s useless effort to get rich. The phrase, “You rise up early” has to do with one’s effort to gain wealth apart from or in opposition to God’s sovereign will. The idea that the Lord gives to His loved ones even while they sleep suggests that there is no physical effort expended by them. All believers have to do is go about their normal daily activities and God will take care of their needs on a continual basis.

One part of the spiritual inheritance that was transferred from Abraham to Isaac was a birthright that entitled his first male child to a double portion of his estate. Since Esau and Jacob were male twins, they were both technically Isaac’s first born son, but because Esau came out of the womb first, he was given that privilege. Jacob wasn’t satisfied with that arrangement, so he used extortion to obtain the birthright for himself. Genesis 25:29-34 indicates that Isaac despised his birthright and sold it to his brother for a bowl of stew. It states:

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

It might seem that Esau had little regard for material possessions given that he was willing to give up his birthright to Jacob so easily, but what was behind Esau’s action was his belief that he didn’t need God’s help to become wealthy. Esau was a skilled hunter who was quite capable of providing for himself. Esau’s statement, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32) suggests that his appetites ruled his behavior and he was unwilling to wait even a short while to fulfill his need for food when he was hungry.

The sinful way that Jacob went about obtaining his brother’s birthright showed that it was very important to him. Jacob may have felt that he deserved to inherit more of his father’s possessions than his brother did, but what may have been his real motivation was Jacob’s desire to be his father’s favorite son. It says in Genesis 25:28, “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Isaac had a strong emotional attachment to Esau (H157), which means he probably ignored Jacob completely or gave him very little attention compared to his brother. Isaac was used to having all of his father Abraham’s love and adoration and may have replicated that kind relationship with his son Esau. As a result, Jacob was left to his own devices and was willing to take advantage of Esau’s situation in order to gain his father’s love.

Jacob might not have known that he had already been chosen by the LORD to be Isaac’s heir and it was God’s will for him to eventually triumph over his brother Esau. The prophecy that Rebekah received about her two sons indicated that Esau would serve Jacob (Genesis 25:23). The Hebrew word that is translated serve, `abad (aw-bad’) refers to work, but its underlying meaning has to do with having a relationship with God (H5647). What God might have meant when he said “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23) was that Esau and his descendants would be dependent on Jacob’s family for their salvation because Jesus, their Messiah would be born through him.

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

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

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

God bless you!

A remodeling project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Confession of faith

Paul identified the two-step process by which salvation can be obtained. He said, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV). The Greek word translated confess, homologeo means “to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction” (G3670). Another way of looking at a confession of faith is to see it as a means of identifying oneself with the death of Jesus on the cross. You are confessing that Christ died for or because of your sins. He is your personal savior by way of accepting his death as punishment for your sins.

Placing ones faith in Jesus Christ is a transaction that takes place in the heart, but Paul emphasized that a confession of faith was necessary for the transaction to be complete. He stated, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10, ESV). Verbal acknowledgement of having placed one’s faith in Christ can be as simple as telling someone, I believe in Jesus. Paul didn’t stipulate that any kind of formal confession had to occur. It was merely the outward confession of the inward faith that needed to take place.

Paul acknowledged the simplicity of receiving salvation by stating that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). The intent behind calling on the name of the Lord is to express interest in being saved. Basically, what Paul was saying was that anyone that wants to be saved can be. There is not a limit to God’s grace. It’s not as if God could say, I’m sorry, heaven is full and I’m not going to let anyone else in. Paul said that God is “rich unto all that call upon him” meaning he can make more room if necessary. The only limit to God’s grace is our willingness to receive it.

Paul emphasized the importance of preaching the gospel in his explanation of how people get saved. He said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The kind of hearing Paul was talking about was not just listening to a message. The Greek word he used, akoe (ak-o-ay’) means a decision is made in the sense of a courtroom hearing where a verdict is given by a judge or jury after hearing testimony. In essence, what Paul was saying was that you have to decide if what you’ve heard is true or false. I believe this or I don’t believe it. The key to salvation being that your faith is activated when you hear the gospel and you are able to discern the truth because your spirit has been quickened or reanimated by God (Ephesians 2:5).

Chosen

Many different descriptors have been used in personal testimonies about how Christians got saved. Some have said, I decided to follow Jesus or I found God. Another way of describing it might be, I accepted the Lord or I gave my life to Christ. What really happens when a person enters the kingdom of God is he responds to God’s calling, he submits himself to the will of God. Paul used the example of the Israelites’ rejection of God to show that God is the initiator in the process of salvation. Paul explained, “Not as thought the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children, but in Isaac shall they seed be called” (Romans 9:6-7). In other words, God wasn’t trying to save everyone that was identified as an Israelite, only those that were designated by his calling or those whom he commanded to enter his kingdom.

Paul differentiated Isaac’s twin sons Jacob and Esau by their election, a divine selection between them by God. Paul noted, “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) it was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger” (Romans 9:11). Paul went on to say, “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:15-16). God’s mercy and compassion can be thought of as counter measures to the sinfulness of mankind. If it weren’t for God’s mercy and compassion, Earth would be an unbearable place to live. It’s only because God intervenes and transforms individuals into the image of his son that love and kindness exist in the world.

For those that might object to God’s favoritism, Paul referred back to the prophet Jeremiah’s parable of the potter and clay and stated:

But you will ask me, “Why does God blame men for what they do? Who can go against what God wants?” Who are you to talk back to God? A pot being made from clay does not talk to the man making it and say, “Why did you make me like this?” The man making the pots has the right to use the clay as he wants to. He can make two pots from the same piece of clay. One can have an important use. The other one can be of little use. It may be that God wants to show His power and His anger against sin. He waits a long time on some men who are ready to be destroyed. God also wanted to show His shining-greatness to those He has given His loving-kindness. He made them ready for His shining-greatness from the beginning. (Romans 9:19-23, NLV)

Paul validated God’s system of election by showing that God had not excluded anyone from his plan of salvation because he made it possible for both Jews and Gentiles to be saved (Romans 9:24). The primary reason the doors of heaven were opened to everyone was so that God’s compassionate nature could be displayed to the world. Referring to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, Paul stated, “For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth” (Romans 9:28). The short work that Paul was talking about was most likely the grafting in of the Gentiles into God’s covenant relationship with Israel. Even though Jesus came to Earth as Israel’s Messiah, he said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

A free gift

Salvation is something that happens to us, not something we can accomplish ourselves. Paul described salvation as a free gift and said, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). Among the many things that happens automatically when a person accepts God’s free gift of salvation is the complete removal of guilt of any sins that have been committed against him (Romans 3:24-25). As a result of this transaction, Paul encouraged believers to “walk in newness of life” and “not serve sin” (Romans 6:4, 6).

Paul’s exhortation to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4) was meant to challenge believers to make themselves living testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Greek word Paul used that is translated life, zoe (dzo-ay’) refers to life in the absolute sense (G2222). Zoe is derived from the word zao which has to do with the recovery of physical life from the power of death (G2198). Paul made it clear that eternal life was the result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. He stated, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21, ESV).

Serving sin is what we do when we allow addictions to dictate our behavior. Paul said our old man, the person we were before we were saved, was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) and “he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). The Greek word Paul used that is translated freed, dikaioo (dik-ah-yo’-o) means to render or regard as innocent. Dikaioo is related to the process of reconciliation in the sense of being justified by Christ’s death on the cross. “‘Justification’ being 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). What Paul was saying was that being freed from guilt should make us want to stop sinning.

Paul contrasted the results of sin and God’s free gift of salvation in order to show the absurdity of living in sin after having received salvation. He asked, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16, NKJV). Paul concluded his argument by stating, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The primary reason Paul gave for overcoming the addiction of sin was its guaranteed payment of death, conscious existence in separation from God (G2288). Paul compared the wages of sin to the gift of God in order to emphasize that salvation could not be earned through acts of righteousness.

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.