Unresolved Conflict

The first interpersonal conflict that occurred in the Bible was between Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel. Genesis 4:1-7 tells us:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

“The fact that God ‘had regard for Abel and his offering” raises the question, is God completely impartial? In some texts (Exodus 2:25; Leviticus 26:9; 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 138:6), he is said to acknowledge or pay attention to a person or group of individuals. Other passages state that God is no respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11: Ephesians 6:9; 1 Peter 1:17). Although no one has a higher standing in God’s eyes because of their status in life or of something they themselves have done, God does, according to his sovereign will, pay specific attention to certain individuals and situations. The fact that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s may not have been based on the fact that Abel’s involved the shedding of blood and Cain’s did not. Some of the required Old Testament offerings were bloodless, such as the grain offering (Leviticus 2:1-14; 6:14-23; 7:9-10) and the sin offering brought by the very poor (Leviticus 5:11-13). It may have been that the attitude of faith in which Abel brought his offering pleased God rather than the offering itself” (note on Genesis 4:3-7). It says in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

God asked Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). The Hebrew words that are translated well and accepted have to do with being happy and exhibiting cheerfulness (H3190/H7613). God was pointing out to Cain that he was responsible for his own happiness and said that sin had to be mastered by him. Cain’s response to God’s intervention indicated that he was not willing to take responsibility for his own actions. Genesis 4:8-9 states, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” 1 John 3:9-12 explains that the interpersonal conflict between Cain and Abel was based on their relationship to God. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” John identified two categories of people, children of God and children of the devil, and said that it is evident which category people belong in. The phrase born of God is “spoken of God begetting in a spiritual sense which consists in regenerating, sanctifying, quickening anew, and ennobling the powers of the natural man by imparting to him a new life and a new spirit in Christ (1 John 5:1).

God’s selection of Jacob rather than Esau created a conflict between these two brothers that was never resolved. Genesis 25:21-23 tells us:

And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 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. 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 serve the younger.

The Hebrew word that is translated divided, parad (paw-radˊ) “often expresses separation of people from each other, sometimes with hostility” (H6504). Genesis 27:41 indicates that Esau hated his brother Jacob, “because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him” and Rebekah sent Jacob to live with her brother Laban, stating, “Behold, your brother comforts himself about you by planning to kill you” (Genesis 27:42).

Unresolved conflict continued to be a part of Jacob’s heritage. His son Joseph was hated by his brothers because of a dream he had that indicated he would rule over his family (Genesis 37:8). When his brothers “saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams’” (Genesis 37:18-20). Jacob’s family was forced to leave the land of Canaan because of a famine and remained in Egypt as slaves for 400 years until God sent Moses to deliver them from their bondage (Exodus 6:6). After they returned to the land that God had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, each of the twelve tribes of Israel were given an inheritance that required them to occupy specific territories within the borders of the Promised Land. The territory allotted to the tribe of the people of Benjamin “fell between the people of Judah and the people of Joseph (Joshua 18:11). The inheritance for the tribe of the people of Simeon “was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah” (Joshua 19:1). “Dan’s inheritance was on the coastal plain, south of the territory given to Ephraim” (note on Joshua 19:40-48). The inheritances of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were nestled in between the eastern and western portions of land given to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 19:10-39). The close proximity of the tribes’ inheritances to each other’s made it more likely that their unresolved conflicts would continue. “Having distributed the land to the tribes, the Lord’s next administrative regulation provided an elementary system of government; specifically a system of regional courts to deal with capital offenses having to do with manslaughter. Thus this most inflammatory of cases was removed from local jurisdiction, and a safeguard was created against the easy miscarriage of justice (with its endless blood feuds) when retribution for manslaughter was left in the hands of family members” (note on Joshua 20:1-9, KJSB).

The record we have of Jesus’ birth in the Bible indicates that he was born into an environment that was hostile to him. John’s gospel states, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Two groups of people that Jesus focused most of his attention on were neighbors and enemies. It can be assumed that both of these groups consisted of unsaved people that Jesus’ followers lived in close contact with. Neighbors might have been open to God, but enemies were not, and yet, Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies. Jesus said:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus’ message left no room for retaliation and made it clear that love was the only acceptable response to all types of harsh treatment. With regard to judging others, Jesus went on to say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

Proverbs 27:17-19 provides important insight into how positive human interaction can change the outcome of an unresolved conflict. It states:

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.
Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and he who guards his master will be honored.
As in water face reflects face,
    so the heart of man reflects the man.

Iron sharpening iron depicts the effect of a harsh attitude or fierce look toward another person. It says that “one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17), indicating that the person’s response will be made more sharp or more fierce by the attitude or look that has been displayed to him (H2300). The contrast between iron sharpening iron and a person tending a fig tree (Proverbs 27:17-18) has to do with a person’s investment in a particular relationship. The Hebrew word that is translated tends in Proverbs 27:18, natsar (naw-tsarˊ) “refers to people’s maintaining things entrusted to them, especially to keeping the truths of God in both action and mind” (H5341). Whereas a harsh attitude or a fierce look can quickly sharpen the countenance of another person, tending to a relationship over time will produce spiritual fruit in the life of a believer. Likewise, protecting someone that has authority over you will benefit you in the long run.

The statement, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19) indicates that it is impossible for us to hide our attitude toward another person. When God confronted Cain, he made note of the fact that his face had fallen (Genesis 4:6). The Hebrew word that is translated face, paneh (paw-nehˊ) “represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). What God meant by Cain’s face falling was that Cain’s negative attitude toward Abel was evident in his facial expression. God could tell that Cain was very angry that his brother’s sacrifice had been accepted and not his own. The heart of man is considered to be the seat of his inner nature (H3820). Jesus explained to his disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19). Jesus also remarked to the Pharisees, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35). When God asked Cain, “’Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9). Cain’s response made it clear that he had no regard for his brother’s well-being. When Cain killed Abel, he intentionally murdered him and was not sorry for his crime.

Proverbs 27:4 states, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” In this proverb, jealousy is portrayed as an intense fervor that is greater than anger or wrath. The letter of James which is largely composed of general exhortations and admonitions, has been referred to as “The New Testament Book of Proverbs” (Introduction to The Letter of James). James offered warnings and advice on many difficult topics including conflict among believers and judging your neighbor. James wrote:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:1-12)

James attributed quarrels and fights to passions that are at war within us and indicated that the fallen spirit of man is responsible for his propensity to sin (note on James 4:5). James identified grace as the solution to our sin problem (James 4:6). Grace is “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

James identified three critical steps that can restore our relationship with God and others. James said, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8). The Greek word that is translated submit, hupotasso (hoop-ot-asˊ-so) means “to subordinate; reflexive to obey” (G5293). Hupotasso is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which means “under” (G5259) and tasso (tasˊ-so) which means “to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot). Submission to God involves our acceptance of the circumstances that he has placed us in and also the destiny that he has prepared for us before the world began (Ephesians 1:4-5). The allotments of land that each of the twelve tribes of Israel received as their inheritance was determined by God (Joshua 14:1). They were instructed to take possession of the land, but it was their decision to do it or not.

Resisting the devil means that we stand against him, we oppose the thoughts and feelings that he brings into our minds (G436). Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to stand against the schemes of the devil. He said, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). When we draw near to God, we are approaching him with the intent of worshipping him without any ulterior motives. We’re not trying to get something from God or trying to get God to do something that we want him to. The offerings that Cain and Abel brought to God were both acceptable types of offerings. It was the way that they were offered that caused one of them to be accepted and the other rejected. The interesting thing to note about Cain’s offering was that even though his offering wasn’t accepted, God personally interacted with Cain and attempted to prevent him from making the wrong choice. “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7). God depicted sin as something that is waiting to overtake us and said it must be mastered by us. Living with unresolved conflict is like we are leaving the door open, but don’t expect sin to come in. James advised us, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).

Faith in action

The Israelites’ miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt was followed by 40 years of wandering in the desert because they didn’t believe that God would give them the land he had promised to (Numbers 14:3-4). After the entire generation that had rebelled against God died in the wilderness, the Israelites were directed to go back to the land of Canaan and were given another opportunity to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:7-8). Joshua who replaced Moses as Israel’s leader was told, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). Joshua 3:1-4 states:

Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

Joshua’s statement, “You have not passed this way before,” (Joshua 1:6) had to do with the way the Israelites were going to cross over the Jordan. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) refers to “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). During the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before them” (Exodus 13:21-22), but when the people crossed the Jordan River, they were told, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it” (Joshua 3:3).

The change in the Israelites mode of action was directly related to them crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. Prior to crossing the Jordan, the Israelites’ mode of action was sight, the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire were visible at all times, leading them along the way. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they set out when they saw the ark of the covenant being carried by the priests, but had to keep a distance between them and it of more than a half a mile (2000 cubits), making it impossible for them to actually see it as they crossed the river, forcing them to walk by faith and not by sight. Joshua warned them, “Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go” (Joshua 3:4). The Apostle Paul related walking by faith and not by sight to operating in the spiritual realm. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:1-7)

Paul talked about a house that was not made with hands being our eternal home and said that we must put it on that “we may not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3). The Greek word that is translated to put on, ependuomai (ep-en-dooˊ-om-ahee) has to do with superimposition, where something is placed or laid over something else, typically so that both things are still evident (Oxford Languages). In that sense, the believer’s heavenly home is something that is added to our earthly home, the physical body that we now live in. Jesus’ resurrected body was similar to the physical structure he inhabited before his death, but according to Paul, something was added that was not made with hands that changed its architecture and made Jesus’ body indestructible (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4). Jesus eluded to this when he predicted his resurrection three days after he was crucified. John’s gospel tells us, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18-22).

The Israelites crossed the Jordan River on foot, at a time when doing so was impossible. The Jordan River was overflowing all its banks (Joshua 3:15) and “was most likely greater than 100 feet wide and greater than ten feet deep” (neverthirsty.org). “The Lord did not stop the flow of the Jordan until the priest’ feet were actually in the water, requiring them to exercise their faith. The swollen condition of the Jordan River at that time of the year emphasized the power of God on the Israelites’ behalf” (note on Joshua 3:15-17). Afterward, Joshua 5:13-15 tells us:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

“The ‘commander of the army of the LORD’ may have been a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. He used a phrase similar to the one spoken by the Lord when he called to Moses from within the burning bush and commanded him to take his shoes off (v. 15, cf. Exodus 3:5). The statement “Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14) suggests that Jesus’ appearance on the scene was linked to and likely dependent upon the events that had just transpired: 1) the Israelites crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3); 2) the new generation being circumcised (Joshua 5:1-9); 3) and, the first Passover in Canaan being celebrated (Joshua 5:10-12). Jesus’ role as commander of the army of the LORD is connected with God’s judgment.

The fall of Jericho demonstrates how God’s judgment of unbelievers and believers’ acts of faith work together to accomplish God’s will. Joshua 6:1-5 states:

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

The manner in which God instructed the Israelites to march around the city of Jericho was meant to convey a specific message to the people of Jericho. The Hebrew word that is translated manner in Joshua 6:15, mishpat (mish-pawtˊ) is properly translated at “a verdict (favourable or unfavourable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree (human or [participle] divine law, individual or collective), including the act, the place, the suit, the crime, and the penalty…It is used to describe a legal decision or judgment rendered” (H4941). The conquest of Jericho was more than just a military confrontation with people who were entrenched in a formidable stronghold. While God was bringing judgment upon those who had long refused him, he was also working on behalf of the people with whom he had just renewed his covenant. The fall of Jericho sent a powerful message to the Canaanites that the Israelites’ successes were not merely human victories of man against man; they were victories by the true God of Israel over the Canaanites’ false gods. This event, which closely followed the crossing of the Jordan by miraculous means, impressed upon the Israelites that the same God who had led their fathers out of Egypt and through the Red Sea was with Joshua, just as he had been with Moses. Recent archeological research at Jericho has confirmed the Bible’s account, revealing that the city was destroyed around 1400 BC.

Although we are not told what was going on in the spiritual realm while the Israelites were marching around the city of Jericho for seven days, the appearance of the commander of the LORD’s army just before Joshua received his instructions (Joshua 5:13-15) suggests that a spiritual battle was about to or perhaps, had already taken place. Paul talked about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul made it sound as if spiritual warfare involved hand to hand combat when he said, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers etc.” (Ephesians 6:12). There seem to be both spiritual and physical elements to warfare as illustrated in the battle of Jericho. What is clear from Hebrews 11:30 is that faith plays a critical role in believers’ victories. It states, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.” According to this verse, the reason why the walls of Jericho fell down was because the Israelites’ faith was working when they did what God told them to and marched around the city of Jericho for seven days in a row.

Jesus explained to his disciples that faith and unbelief are counterproductive to one another. When they were unable to heal a boy who was demon possessed, the disciples asked Jesus, “’Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20). Jesus’ reference to the disciples’ little faith didn’t have anything to do with its size, but rather its ability to accomplish their objective. The Greek word oligopistos (ol-ig-opˊ-is-tos) is derived from the words oligos (ol-eeˊ-gos) which means “puny” (G4641) and pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion” (G4102), the idea being that you have a weak argument or you are unconvinced of something. When Jesus indicated that it only takes faith like a grain of mustard seed in order to move a mountain, he meant that faith is a very powerful substance and it can accomplish anything even though it is usually possessed in very small amounts. Paul described faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). The key words that Paul used, substance and evidence have to do with proving that something is the truth as opposed to fiction or just a lie. What Paul was getting at was whether or not something that was said could hold up or from a legal standpoint, be able to bring about a conviction in a court of law. The Greek word that is translated substance, hupostasis (hoop-osˊ-tas-is) refers to “what really exists under any appearance, reality, essential nature” and is spoken of God’s essence or nature in Hebrews 1:3 (G5287).

Joshua 7:1 tells us that the people of Israel broke faith with God when they disobeyed his instruction to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction. The Hebrew word that is translated broke faith, maʿal (maw-alˊ) means “to cover up; (used only figurative) to act covertly, i.e. treacherously” (H4603). Joshua wasn’t aware that Achan the son of Carmi had taken some of the devoted things and hidden them among his own belongings and “Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.’ So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai,and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:2-5). Joshua moved forward with attacking Ai without receiving any instructions from the Lord and listened to the men that were sent to spy out Ai who were convinced that they could destroy Ai with only a few thousand men. The reason why Joshua made this mistake was because of the broken faith between God and his people.

Although Joshua was unaware of Achan’s sin, God wasn’t. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”

The Israelites were instructed to stay away from everything in Jericho that was devoted to destruction because it would “make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it” (Joshua 6:18). Achan’s decision to take some of the things and hide them in his tent caused the LORD to remove his protection and the people of Israel were unable to stand before their enemies (Joshua 7:12).

The Hebrew word that is translated stand in Joshua 7:12, quwm (koom) means to “come about” and “is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Essentially, what this word has to do with is God’s will being carried out. You might even say that quwm is an indicator of whether or not God is involved in or permitting a particular thing to happen. Paul’s discussion of spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians began with the statement, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11, emphasis mine). The Greek word Paul used that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) “means ‘to make to stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). The point that Paul wanted to make was that we are dependent on God for spiritual strength. We cannot stand against the schemes of the devil unless we are relying on the Lord to do it.

God told Joshua that he wouldn’t be with the people of Israel anymore unless they destroyed the devoted things from among them (Joshua 7:12). The next morning, through a process of elimination, Achan was identified as the guilty person (Joshua 7:16-19). “And Achan answered Joshua, ‘Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath’” (Joshua 7:20-21). When Achan was confronted, he revealed that his action was motivated by covetousness. The real problem was not so much that the devoted things had been brought into the camp, but that Achan’s heart was not right with the LORD. Jesus explained to his disciples that the condition of our hearts determines God’s ability to interact with us and to utilize our faith. Jesus said, “’Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (Mark 7:18-23).

A spiritual bath

Jesus used the ordinary, common things of everyday life to explain important spiritual principles to his followers. The night before he was crucified, Jesus took the time to wash his disciples’ feet in order to show them how salvation cleanses us from our sins. John’s gospel tells us:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:1-5)

The first thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to realize was that he was taking on a specific role when he washed their feet. By laying aside his outer garments, taking a towel and tying it around his waist, Jesus was demonstrating that he was a servant of God. The Greek word that is translated laid aside, tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) “as a verb, means ‘to put’ is used of ‘appointment’ to any form of service. Christ used it of His followers: ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained (tithemi) you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you’ (John 15:16). The verb is used by Paul of his service in the ministry of the gospel: ‘And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enable me, for that he counted me faithful, putting (tithemi) me into the ministry’ (1 Timothy 1:12; cf. 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11)” (G5087).

John the Baptist identified the service that Jesus was appointed to do for God. John proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John indicated that Jesus would take away the sin or you might say the sinfulness of the world. The Greek word hamartia (ham-ar-teeˊ-ah) refers to the practice of sinning or proneness to sin. From the Hebrew word chataʾ comes the meaning of moral failure and refers to “the imputation or consequences of sin, the guilt and punishment of sin as in the phrase ‘to take away [or bear] sin,’ i.e. the imputation of it (John 1:29; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 9:26; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5)” (G266). Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet illustrated the effect of his atonement for sin. When Peter resisted the process, Jesus explained the purpose of what he was doing. John tells us:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Jesus used the word clean figuratively in a Levitical sense to draw his disciples’ attention to the process of purification that everyone must go through in order to enter into the presence of God.

When Jesus said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10), he was talking about regeneration which has two distinct parts; paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “(spiritual) rebirth” and anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) “renovation.” “Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparations for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824). Jesus likened being born again to a spiritual bath and said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). The reason why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, as opposed to them doing it themselves, was so that they could see that their need for his purifying effect went beyond the initial transformation of their lives.

The Old Testament of the Bible illustrates the two step process of regeneration from a physical or natural standpoint. After the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, they were expected to return to the land of their ancestors and take possession of it. The book of Numbers provides a brief synopsis of the Israelites’ transition into the second step of the process. Initially, the Israelites refused to submit themselves to God’s will. When twelve men were sent to spy out the land of Canaan to prepare Israel’s army for war, ten of the men returned and gave the people a bad report. They said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31) and as a result, “The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2-3). In the LORD’s judgment of the Israelites, there was a distinction between the people that had disobeyed the LORD and those that had confirmed their faith in him. Caleb in particular was singled out. The LORD said, “And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it” (Numbers 14:23-24).

The LORD referred to Caleb as his servant. The Hebrew word ʿebed (ehˊ-bed) “was used as a mark of humility and courtesy…Of prime significance is the use of ‘my servant’ for the Messiah in Isaiah (42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-10; 52:13-53:12)…So the Lord called ‘my righteous servant’ (Isaiah 53:11; cf. 42:6) ‘[to bear] the sin of many’ (Isaiah 53:12)” (H5650). Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet was intended to demonstrate the Messiah’s service to God in taking away the sin of the world. Jesus said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). The Greek word that is translated completely, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “all” (G3650). The Greek word holoteles (hol-ot-el-aceˊ) is a combination of the words holos and telos and means “complete to the end, i.e. absolutely perfect” (G3651). Holoteles is used by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in regards to the sanctification of the believer being extended to every part of his being. Paul stated, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (emphasis mine).

Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet was not only intended to demonstrate the Messiah’s service to God in taking away the sin of the world, but also to show us that regeneration is an ongoing process that needs to take place on a regular basis. In the same way that we bathe ourselves physically, we need to continually bathe ourselves spiritually in order to keep from becoming spiritually offensive to God. John tells us that after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he put on his outer garment and resumed his place at the table. And then:

He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:12-20)

Jesus told his disciples that they “ought to wash one another’s feet” and that he had given them an example “that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). The part of the process of regeneration that takes place on a daily basis is meant to be a joint effort. Not only are we fellow workers with God, we are fellow workers with each other.

Paul referred to believers’ joint effort of regeneration as edification or the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12) and said, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16). The Greek word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) means “architecture” and “expresses the strengthening effect of teaching…(the idea conveyed is progress resulting from patient effort)” (G3619). When we are building each other up in love, we are helping other believers to understand the truth of God’s word and are making spiritual progress together rather than alone. Paul emphasized the importance of having unity in our faith and told Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

The three descriptors Paul used: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; depict the end result of anakainosis, therefore, it seems safe to assume that Paul was talking about mature Christians helping other Christians gain spiritual strength. Anakainosis is “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life” (G342). In the case of Judas Iscariot, the disciple that betrayed Jesus, it is evident that this transformation never occurred. Jesus told his disciples, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’” (John 13:18). Jesus’ statement implied that like the others, Judas was hand-picked to be a disciple of Christ, but the end result was not spiritual regeneration. John tells us:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:21-27)

Satan’s possession of Judas’ body was possible because he was not spiritually clean (John 13:10). Judas was not born again, he had never experienced the spiritual rebirth (G3824) that the other disciples had.

One of the ways that we can view salvation is a type of spiritual protection. In his list of the believer’s spiritual blessings, Paul noted that believers are stamped as with a signet ring or private mark for the security and preservation of our spirits. Paul said, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The key to this spiritual protection is believing in Jesus Christ. While the Israelites were in route to the Promised Land, they were accompanied by an angel and the LORD told them, “Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Exodus 23:21-22). “Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the Lord has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:21). It is a distinct possibility that the angel was the preincarnate Jesus Christ and so the Israelites protection was also based on belief in Christ, but the angel couldn’t pardon the Israelites sins and therefore, they had to go through a process of purification every time they committed a sin against God. When the Israelite soldiers engaged in a war with the Midianites, they disobeyed the LORD and took captive some of the women they weren’t supposed to. Afterward, Moses instructed the men to purify themselves. Numbers 31:19-24 states:

Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.” Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded Moses: only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless, it shall also be purified with the water for impurity. And whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water. You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp.”

The Hebrew word that is translated purify and purified in this passage is chataʾ (khaw-tawˊ). “Chataʾ means sin; sin-guilt; sin purification; sin offering…The basic nuance of chataʾ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…The verb may also refer to the result of wrongdoing, as in Genesis 43:9: ‘…Then let me bear the blame for ever’” (H2398). The statute of the law that Eleazar the priest referred to indicated that everything that could be passed through the fire should be purified in such a manner, but “whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water” (Numbers 31:23). Therefore, it seems likely that the soldiers’ purification involved taking a bath.

Jesus’ comment after washing his disciples’ feet, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash except for his feet” (John 13:10) was most likely intended to clarify the difference between purification under the Mosaic Law and what happens when a person commits a sin after he is born again. “One who has been entirely cleansed need not radical renewal, but only to be cleansed from every sin into which he may fall (John 15:3; Hebrews 10:22)” (G2513). When we sin, we don’t need to recommit our lives to the Lord, but we do need to confess our sins and repent of them. Jesus told his disciples before he washed their feet, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). The afterward that Jesus was referring to may have been Peter’s denial of the Lord. Jesus said:

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. (John 13:33-38)

Jesus linked his new commandment to love one another to Peter’s denial when he asked him the question, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38). The implication being that although Peter was saved, he still wasn’t completely clean or absolutely perfect as he may have thought (G3650/3651).

A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

God’s deliverance

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that all unsaved people live according to the covenant that God made with Noah after he destroyed every living thing on the earth (Genesis 9:8-13). Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The phrase Paul used, “the course of this world” and the person he referred to, “the prince of the power of the air” have to do with Satan’s attempt to undermine God’s plan of salvation by imitating the work of Jesus Christ. The Greek words that are translated “sons of disobedience” uihos (hwee-os’) which means “the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207) and apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) which denotes “obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). suggest that anyone that does not do the will of God is a follower of Satan.

One of the important aspects of God’s covenant with Noah was that one of Noah’s sons was cursed because he disgraced his father. Genesis 9:20-25 states:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

Genesis 10:6 indicates that Ham had four sons; Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. There’s no explanation as to why Canaan was the only one of Ham’s sons to be cursed, but it can be assumed that Canaan followed in the footsteps of his father Ham and was committed to being a son of disobedience rather than a worshipper of God.

The nation of Egypt is associated with the descendants of Ham in Psalm 105 where it says, “Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:23) and “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham’ (Psalm 105:26-27). Psalm 105 focuses on the purpose of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Psalm 105:1-6 states:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

The psalmist’s instruction to “tell of all his wondrous works!” was meant to encourage believers to remind ourselves that God is able to do things that are beyond human capability. The Hebrew word that is translated tell, siyach (see’-akh) means “to ponder, i.e. (by implication) converse (with oneself, and hence, aloud)” (H7878). The Hebrew word pala’ (paw-law’) which is translated “all his wondrous works” means to separate, i.e. distinguish and “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381). In other words, believers need to talk to themselves about God’s ability to do things that we don’t expect him to, things that we can’t do for ourselves.

Moses was instructed to deliver a series of messages to Pharaoh that were designed to make him think about what God was capable of compared to his own strength and ability. Exodus 9:13-15 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants, and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.'”‘” God wanted Pharaoh to understand that he could annihilate him and his people if he chose to, but he had a different objective in mind. God said, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:16-17).

God described Pharaoh’s behavior as exalting himself against his people. What that meant was that Pharaoh was putting himself in the place of God with the people of Israel. The Israelites were doing what Pharaoh told them to rather than listening to and obeying God’s instructions (Exodus 6:9). One of the problems that the LORD had to deal with when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt was that they were willing to submit themselves to Pharaoh, but they weren’t willing to submit themselves to God. The foremen that were responsible for making the Israelites deliver a daily quota of bricks accused Moses of bringing evil on God’s people. They said, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21). Essentially, what Moses and Aaron had to do was to get Pharaoh to drive the Israelites away, to expel them from Egypt (Exodus 11:1). Otherwise, the people of Israel wouldn’t have been willing to leave.

God said that he had raised Pharaoh up in order to show him his power so that his name would be “proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). One of the ways that the Hebrew verb ‘amad (aw-mad’) can be used is to signify something that is immovable or unchanging (H5975). ‘Amad was most likely being used in reference to Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go. God exercised force against Pharaoh by destroying everything that was connected to his creation. Exodus 9:23-25 states, “And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.” God’s dominion over the land of Egypt was clearly demonstrated by his ability to kill everything that lived there including man and beast. The hail’s violent crushing of plants and trees was likely symbolic of the devastation that occurred during the flood of Noah’s day when the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of heaven were opened and God blotted out all life that was on the ground (Genesis 7:11, 23).

Pharaoh’s attitude toward God began to change when he saw that there was no hail in the land of Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Exodus 9:27-29 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned, the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’ Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD, the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.'” The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata’ (khaw-taw’) is sin conceived as missing the road or mark. “From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs” (H2398). Pharaoh’s admission of guilt indicated he understood that he had done something wrong, but it didn’t go so far as to affect a change in his behavior. Exodus 9:34-35 indicates that Pharaoh had not actually repented of his sin. It states, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”

The battle of the wills between God and Pharaoh was similar to the battle that all unbelievers go through when they are forced to admit that they don’t have the power to control their own circumstances. The essential element that was missing in Pharaoh’s situation was the gift of God’s grace. After describing the spiritual condition of unsaved men (Ephesians 2:1-3), Paul went on to tell the Ephesians, “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…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). Paul emphasized the hopelessness of those that are opposed to God’s will when 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” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

The Greek word that is translated hope in Ephesians 2:12, elpis (el-pece’) has to do with the unseen and the future. As a noun in the New Testament, it means a “favorable and confident expectation, a forward look with assurance” (G1680). To be without God in the world means that one is an atheist. “In Ephesians 2:12 the phrase indicates, not only that the Gentiles were void of any true recognition of God, and hence became morally godless (Romans 1:19-32); but, being given up by God they were excluded from communion with God and from the privileges granted to Israel (cf. Galatians 4:8)” (G112). Paul explained that the reason why Pharaoh was unable to have faith was because he had no knowledge of God and was alienated from him because of the hardness of his heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Paul used the words futility and ignorance to describe the mental barriers that can inhibit faith. One of the benefits of the miracles that Moses performed was that they revealed God’s existence and displayed his magnificent power to Pharaoh and his people. Each time the plagues were removed, Pharaoh was given the opportunity to repent and do God’s will.

One of the reasons the LORD eventually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, meaning God dulled his spiritual senses and made it impossible for him to believe, was because the LORD was strengthening the Israelites faith at the expense of the Egyptians unbelief. Exodus 10:1-2 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.'” The Hebrew word that is translated know, yada’ (yaw-dah’) means to have an intimate experiential knowledge and primarily has to do with relational knowledge, “it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God was in the process of developing a relationship with his people when he delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. An important aspect of yada’ is the involvement of the senses, especially eyesight. In other words, you are only able to ascertain who someone really is by seeing them in action.

Pharaoh’s servants seemed to be able to grasp the situation better than he did because they knew there was no hope for them apart from God. Exodus 10:7 states, “Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?'” Pharaoh’s servants expected Egypt to cease to exist as a result of the plagues that they were experiencing. Rather than completely destroying Egypt, God’s intention was to bring Pharaoh to his knees (Exodus 10:3). God’s discipline of Pharaoh was likely a result of his attempt to make things right in spite of the hardened state of his heart. After a plague of locusts wiped out all the vegetation that survived the hail, Exodus 10:16-17 states, “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.'” The natural disasters that God used to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt were perceived to be instruments of death and each of the ten plagues became more intense as they progressed. The actual result of the plagues was not so much meant to be the death of the Egyptians as it was an awareness of their lost or unregenerate spiritual state (Exodus 10:7).

The ninth plague that the Egyptians experienced may have been designed to make them feel like they were living in hell. Exodus 10:21 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'” The pitch darkness that lasted for three days made it impossible for anyone to move about or even to recognize each another (Exodus 10:22-23). The Hebrew word that is translated darkness, choshek (kho-shek’) is derived from the word chashak (khaw-shak’) which means “to be dark (as withholding light)” (H2821). In other words, there was a concealment or blocking out of all the light in the land of Egypt for three whole days. God said that the darkness was to be felt. What he may have meant by that was that the Egyptians would experience the effects of not having the sun, moon or stars as resources. After the light was restored, some of the Egyptians no doubt realized the extreme depths of their depravity and may have felt like they had been resurrected from the dead. Paul used the analogy of things that were once hidden being exposed by the light to describe the experience of being born again and encouraged unbelievers to let the light of Christ shine on them. Referring to a hymn that was used by early Christians, Paul stated:

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul went on to warn believers that they should be careful about how they use the freedom that Christ has purchased for them. Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Greek word that is translated “making the best use of,” is exagorazo (ex-ag-or-ad’-zo). “Exagorazo, as a verb, is a strengthened form of agorazo (59 – “to buy”), and denotes “to buy out,” especially of purchasing a slave with a view of his freedom” (G1805). Christ paid the ransom to God for the life of every believer in order to satisfy the demands of His holy character. Paul’s admonition to walk not as unwise but as wise was meant to point out that like God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, there is a purpose for each believer’s salvation; to do God’s will and we must be pay attention to that because the devil is actively engaged in a war against us (Ephesians 6:10-11).

One sinner

As Jesus passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, he came across a man that was eager to meet him (Luke 19:3-4). Luke identified Zaccheus as a chief tax collector and noted that he was rich (Luke 19:2). Zaccheus’ occupation is “referred to only here in the Bible, probably designating one in charge of a district, with other tax collectors under him. The region was prosperous at this time, so it is no wonder that Zaccheus had grown rich” (note on Luke 19:2). The problem with Zaccheus’ profession was that he worked for the Roman government and was probably perceived to be a traitor. It is likely that everyone hated Zaccheus except for those who worked in the same profession. When Jesus decided to stay at Zaccheus’ house, the crowd complained about it, saying, “That he has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner” (Luke 19:7).

Tax collectors and sinners were often associated with one another (Matthew 9:10, 11:19, Mark 2:15, Luke 5:30); most likely because they were both perceived to be the outcasts of society. The assumption that Zaccheus was a sinner may have been based on him having a reputation for stealing money from his constituents. When Jesus told Zaccheus he was going to stay at his house, it says in Luke 19:8 that “Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Jesus responded to Zaccheus’ gesture by stating, “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he is also a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Greek word translated lost in Luke 19:10 is apollumi. The idea apollumi conveys “is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). In Zaccheus’ case, it could have meant being separated from loved ones or isolated from the community because of his job as a chief tax collector. According to the Apostle Paul, the destruction of unbelievers is “not annihilation, but exclusion from the Lord’s presence (2 Thessalonians 1:9); thus the ruin of life and all its proud accomplishments” (note on 1 Thessalonians 5:3). In that sense, you could say that a sinner’s life is wasted because all that is accomplished is lost at the time of his death. The Greek term that is usually translated sin, harmartano is properly translated “to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize)” (G264).

Jesus likened his mission of seeking and saving the lost to a shepherd searching for his one lost sheep. He asked his listeners, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4). Jesus went on to say that repentance from sin was a cause for celebration and was witnessed by those who are in heaven. He told his audience, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). Zaccheus’ conversion is an important example of God’s unbiased desire to reverse the effects of sin in any and every person’s life that is willing to admit he had missed the mark and alienated himself from God. As a result of his repentance, not only was Zaccheus saved, but his entire family was also (Luke 19:9).

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something Christians are expected to do. Jesus described it as an obligation, like something required of a slave or servant (Luke 17:9-10). One of the reasons Christians are expected to forgive others for the sins they commit against them is because they have received forgiveness from God. Jesus said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). It could be that God expects his children to forgive others because it is a basic principle of his kingdom, something that everything else depends on. Without forgiveness, salvation would be worthless.

Jesus told his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1, ESV). Jesus made it clear that sin was a part of life, but he also wanted his disciples to know there was a penalty for leading others astray. He said, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast  into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2, ESV). In order to avoid the temptation of sin, Jesus told his disciples, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3, ESV).

In a way,  you could say that forgiveness is a type of cure for sin. It’s like putting a bandage on an open wound. If there is no forgiveness, then the wound can get infected and might lead to death. The example Jesus gave of the brother that sinned repeatedly, but repented every time, may have been meant to convey the idea that sin is like an addictive behavior. It can take a while for it to be brought under control. As long as someone is aware that what he is doing is wrong, and wants to stop doing it, the bandage of forgiveness needs to continually be reapplied. The idea being that although it may take longer, the wound will eventually be healed.

Jesus’ disciples looked at forgiveness as an act of faith. In response to Jesus’ command to forgive him every time a brother repents, it says in Luke 17:5, “And the apostles said unto the Lord, increase our faith.” Rather than faith, Jesus implied forgiveness required a forced act of obedience. The only thing that would convince someone to do it would be harsh discipline. Jesus reminded his disciples that they were called to serve God and commanded to forgive others. He then concluded, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10, ESV).

 

 

Lost and Found

Jesus used an analogy of being lost to describe people that have sinned against God. In a series of three parables, Jesus taught that the secret to being found was repentance, “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (G3340). In his first parable, Jesus said that the lost sheep was so important to its owner that he was willing to leave his other 99 sheep behind in order to find it (Luke 15:4). Afterward, Jesus said of the owner, “And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:6). Jesus compared the sheep owner’s rejoicing to what happens in heaven when a sinner repents. He said, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.

Jesus’ example showed that the goal of having a relationship with God was not to be perfect, but to recognize when we have sinned against him or “missed the mark” (G266). Jesus’ second parable pointed out that every person has value to God and that the value of a sinner is no different than the value of someone who has not sinned. Jesus asked the question, “What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?” (Luke 15:8). The woman’s effort to find her lost coin illustrated her responsibility to keep track of it and her diligence in recovering it. This example shows us that God is responsible for saving sinners and does not want anyone to remain lost or without his forgiveness.

Jesus’ final parable about the lost son illustrated how our free will can lead to our own detriment. In this story, the son took his inheritance and moved away so he could do what he wanted to with it. After his money ran out, he had no means of supporting himself, so the son “went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed the swine” (Luke 15:15). The Greek word translated joined himself, kollao (kol-lah’-o) means to glue or to stick. Kallao is also translated as cleave, suggesting a type of permanent relationship similar to a marriage. One way of interpreting the lost son’s relationship with this stranger could be to say they were codependent or the stranger was in some way supporting the lost son’s addiction.

Eventually, the son reached a point of desperation, what we might refer to today as hitting rock bottom. At that point, Jesus said the lost son “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). The words Jesus used to describe the son’s condition suggests that repentance is a realization that we are God’s children. In other words, we belong to God and he has the right and responsibility to take care of us. When the lost son returned home, his father gladly welcomed him back into his home and gave a party in his honor. It says in Luke 15:21-21, “And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”

Upside down religion

The purpose of the Mosaic Law was to keep the Israelites from being separated from God. Over the years, the content of God’s message to his people was transferred from generation to generation by means of a religious system that focused on purity or “cleanness” (Psalm 18:20), which meant you were undefiled or without blemish, i.e. perfect, complete, whole in God’s sight. At the time of Jesus ministry, the Jewish religious system had gotten so far off track from God’s original intent that Jesus called its leaders hypocrites (Matthew 15:7). They pretended to know what they were talking about, when in actuality, they were blind to the truth of God’s word. Jesus said of these religious experts, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).

What was happening among God’s people could be referred to as upside down religion. In other words, they were doing the opposite of what God wanted them to. An example Jesus used to illustrate his point was the fifth of God’s Ten Commandments, which stated, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). The Jews were being taught that it was lawful for them to take resources that could benefit their parents and give them to God as a gift or sacrificial offering (Matthew 15:5-6). Jesus said about this practice, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6). The Greek term Jesus used that is translated none effect is akuroo (ak-oo-ro’-o), which means to invalidate.

Jesus described this upside down form of religion as the blind leading the blind. He told his disciples, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Even though the Pharisees false teaching was harmful to those that believed it, Jesus knew it was useless to try and change the minds of those who were unable to see the error of their ways. Instead, Jesus presented them with the truth and left it up to each individual to believe or not believe what he said. Mark tells us of Jesus’ response, “And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 7:14-16).

The problem with the Jews upside down religion was that it took the emphasis off of being separated from God and put it on cleanness or what could be described as self-righteous religiosity. When his disciples asked him to explain what he had said to the people, Jesus asked them, “Are ye so without understanding also?” (Mark 7:18). This remark revealed that even Jesus’ twelve apostles had been influenced by the Pharisee’s false doctrine about the importance of making sacrifices to God. In order to set the record straight about what actually separated them from God, Jesus stated, “Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart…for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23).

Forgiveness of sins

The link between sin and disease in the minds of the Jews made it necessary for Jesus to deal with the topic of sin while he was in the process of healing those that came to him for restoration of their health and well-being. One of these instances was when a man described as “sick of the palsy” (Mark 2:3) was brought to Jesus as he was teaching in a home in Capernaum. Mark said of this event, “And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:4-5).

Nothing is know about the condition of the man with the palsy except that he was unable to walk. The Greek word translated palsy, paralutikos means to loosen beside that is relax and is a term associated with being paralyzed or enfeebled (3885). Mark’s reference to the man being sick suggests that this man had an illness that caused his paralysis, perhaps something like what we know today as Lou Gehrig’s disease where the body’s muscles cease to function properly. An interesting aspect of Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is that in around 90-95% of the cases, the cause for ALS in not known. In about 5-10% of the cases, the condition was passed on from parents. If the man sick of the palsy had ALS, the mysterious aspect of the onset of his disease might explain why it was associated with sinful behavior and assumed that he was being punished by God.

It says in Mark 2:5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” The faith that Jesus saw was probably that of the four men that broke open the roof and let the man down on his bed so Jesus could heal him. The Greek word used here for faith, pistis refers to reliance upon Christ for salvation (4102). Most likely, the four men were known by Jesus and their belief in him is what caused him to deal with the issue of the sick man’s sins before or rather than just healing him. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus guaranteed that when he died, the man sick with the palsy would go to heaven and one day be reunited with his believing friends. Afterward, when he commanded the man to, “Arise, and take up thy bed and walk, and go thy way into thy house” (Mark 2:11), Jesus demonstrated his willingness to give this man a second chance at living his life according to God’s laws.

The Greek word translated sins, hamartia literally means “a missing of the mark” (266). Sin should be viewed as a principle or source of action. From God’s perspective, sin is seen as a governing principle or the power behind our actions. When we choose to go our own way rather than the way that God directs us to, we are sinning against God and will be punished for our disobedience. Forgiveness of sins is when God removes or takes away the effect of the wrong things we have done. An illustration that is used to explain forgiveness is that of a husband divorcing his wife. In that situation, there is no longer a legal claim to assets or an inheritance. The divorced person is freed from all legal obligations. Behind the concept of forgiveness is the idea of abandonment. Whereas sin once had a claim to our life and our possessions, forgiveness allows us to abandon sin and also takes away sin’s ability to claim anything from us in the future.