Spiritual contamination

The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was primary focused on defending his position as a minister of the gospel. There was a faction in the congregation at Corinth who denied that Paul was truly an apostle of Jesus (Introduction to the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians). Paul asked the Corinthians, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul argued that the proof of his apostleship was the result of his ministry. Paul had established the church in Corinth during his first stay there and was responsible for its early growth. Paul was offended that the Corinthians had doubted his apostleship and stated, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).

Paul went on to explain that the Corinthians minds had been contaminated by their interaction with unbelievers. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against forming relationships that compromised their faith. Paul said:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Paul used the term unequally yoked to describe relationships between believers and unbelievers. This might have been Paul’s way of saying that the Corinthians were getting involved in illegal activities, but more than likely the point Paul was trying to make was that there would be diminished productivity if believers worked with unbelievers. The term unequally yoked means that two different kinds of animals are being forced to work together to pull a load (G2086). The stronger animal is hindered by the weaker animal and the difference in strength creates friction between them.

Paul used several words in his argument against being unequally yoked that were connected with the early church’s growth and development. Paul asked the Corinthians, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). The words partnership, fellowship, accord, portion, and agreement all imply that a spiritual union of some type has taken place. A key word that was used by the first Christians to describe their association with each other was koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). The Greek word koinonia means “partnership, i.e. (literal) participation, or (social) intercourse” (G2842). Koinonia is derived from the word koinos which means common. Koinos was used figuratively by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in reference to “those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20)” (G2844). This relates back to the practices of the Israelites who were commanded to separate themselves from the people and things around them that would cause them to be unclean or spiritually contaminated.

Leviticus 11:1-3 states, “And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.'” The LORD went on to say that certain animals were from a ceremonial or moral sense considered to be contaminated and would defile a person if they were eaten (Leviticus 11:24). The key point in the concept of becoming defiled was physical contact. Leviticus 11:26 states, “Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean.” This was illustrated in the book of Genesis when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. It says in Genesis 34:2, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her” (KJV). God’s justification for keeping the Israelites uncontaminated was they were expected to be holy because he was holy. He said:

“Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:41-45)

The Hebrew word that is translated holy in Leviticus 11:44, qadowsh (kaw-doshe’) is “an adjective meaning sacred, holy. It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony. It designates that which is the opposite of common or profane. It could be said that qadowsh is a positive term regarding the character of its referent, where common is a neutral term and profane a very negative term. This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

Paul’s message to the Corinthians focused on the separation that was necessary for God’s people to achieve holiness. Quoting Isaiah 52:11, Paul stated, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). The Greek word Paul used that is translated be separate has to do with physically separating yourself from someone (G873), but it could be that Paul was trying to convey the idea of being stand-offish or you might say emotionally distant in that you no longer consider yourself to be in a close relationship with that person. Paul told the Corinthians, “Since we have these promises, beloved. let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Defilement refers to pollution in a moral sense (G3436). In order to cleanse ourselves from moral pollution, we need salvation. We need the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It says in the book of Hebrews, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

Paul’s concern for the Corinthians’ moral purity was based on his conclusion that they were being taught incorrect doctrine. Paul told the Corinthians, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Paul’s emphasis of the importance of our thought processes in keeping us devoted to Christ made it clear that spiritual warfare was a key factor in believers becoming spiritually contaminated. Paul indicated that our thoughts can lead us astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. The Greek word that is translated thoughts, noema (no’-ay-mah) means “a perception” (G3540). Paul used the word noema five times in his second letter to the Corinthians. The first time Paul mentioned noema was in 2 Corinthians 2:11 when he was talking about being outwitted by Satan and the need to forgive the sinner. Paul said, “I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (emphasis mine). Satan’s designs could be mental tricks that he uses to get us to perceive things incorrectly so that God’s word doesn’t seem practical or necessary in our lives. Paul said that the minds of unbelievers are being blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14) by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that we need to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis mine).

The Greek word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that is translated led astray, phtheiro (fthi’-ro) is translated corrupted in the King James Version of the Bible. Phtheiro has to do with the ruin that comes as a result of negative moral influences and generally means “to bring to a worse state.” It can also mean “to corrupt, with the meaning of to subvert or corrupt opinions” (H5351). With regard to corrupt opinions, Paul said, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). What Paul meant by you put up with it was that the Corinthians were giving him the impression that they were fine with the false doctrines that had been infiltrating their church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that they were to a certain extent being raped by these false teachers because their devotion to Christ was being questioned by other churches such as the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:24) and Paul himself was at risk of being humiliated by their behavior (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul understood that the real source of the Corinthians spiritual contamination was demonic forces and it was likely that they did not have the spiritual strength to defend themselves. Paul tried to expose the enemy’s activities in a way that would make the Corinthians more aware of the devil’s tactics. Paul said, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Greek word that is translated disguising, metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) means “to transform, change the outward form or appearance of something” (G3345). Paul used the word metaschematizo in his letter to the Philippians in connection with believers spiritual transformation after death. Paul said, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21, emphasis mine).

Satan’s ability to disguise or transform himself into an angel of light is the primary reason why it is so difficult for believers to recognize and to separate themselves from his activities. Paul contrasted his experiences as an apostle with those of the Corinthians in order to point out that our perception of what life is supposed to be like as a Christian is often skewed in the wrong direction. Paul declared:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Paul elaborated on his list of personal afflictions in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Corinthians 11:25-31).

Paul’s experience of being associated with Christ’s gospel is consistent with many of the Old Testament prophets that were faithful to God’s word. One of the difficulties that Christians face in their attempt to avoid spiritual contamination is that they will likely be mocked and mistreated by the people that are closest to them. Before David became king of Israel, he was hunted and nearly killed by King Saul on multiple occasions. His hopeless situation brought David to the brink of despair. When he ended up in the hands of a pagan king that had no regard for him or the God that he served (1 Samuel 21:10-13), David wrote Psalm 56, his personal testimony about God’s love and faithfulness to those who serve him. David prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4). King Saul’s hostility toward David was evidence of the spiritual conflict that was going on behind the scenes. David was able to transcend his circumstances and seemed to realize that his physical separation from Saul made it possible for him to be closer to God. David wrote:

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life. (Psalm 56:8-13)

David’s recognition that he must perform his vows to the LORD was a direct result of the spiritual union he had with his Savior. David knew that he didn’t have a chance of surviving when the Philistines seized him in Gath (1 Samuel 21:11). Therefore, he needed the LORD’s protection and had to make sure that his heart was right before God. The Hebrew word that is translated vows, neder (neh’-der) means “a promise (to God)” (H5088). David’s spiritual devotion may have been called into question when he fled Jerusalem and sought refuge in the land of Gath, but David made it clear that he hadn’t compromised his relationship with the LORD. David remained loyal to God’s calling and “departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam” (1 Samuel 22:1) in order to keep himself from being spiritually contaminated by living with the Philistines.

God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “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). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)

Hypocrites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus didn’t immediately respond to the Canaanite woman’s plea for mercy. In fact he tried to deter her from seeking his help. He answered her, “‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:24-28). The Canaanite woman referred to Jesus as Lord, indicating that she recognized his supreme authority over all of mankind (G2962). Her response, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” showed that her attitude toward Jesus was respectful and submissive to his will, but the Canaanite woman’s faith was what got Jesus’ attention.

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Temptation

Paul compared the Corinthian believers to the Israelites that wandered in the wilderness for 40 years in order to illustrate their need for spiritual nourishment. Paul said that the Israelites “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthian 10:3-4, ESV). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their spiritual health was dependent upon a regular intake of spiritual food. Paul’s declaration that Christ was the Rock that provided water was based on Jesus’ statement to a Samaritan woman that he met at a well. He told her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14, ESV). Jesus went on to explain that we obtain our spiritual nourishment through worshipping God. He said, ” But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

Paul talked about the Israelites’ being tempted in the wilderness and said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, ESV). Paul may have wanted to stress the importance of the time period in which he lived by describing it as “the end of the ages.” What Paul was referring to was the culmination or end result of God’s work of saving his chosen people. Although the age of God’s grace has been going on now for more than 2000 years, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a single event that marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites to give them a Messiah. Therefore, Paul warned the Corinthians to not take for granted their spiritual health. He stated, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Paul was probably focusing his attention on the Corinthian Jews in particular when he talked about being tempted to ignore the gift of salvation that Jesus had made available to them. The Greek words translated stand and fall in 1 Corinthians 10:12 likely have something to do with the Israelites’ status as God’s chosen people. Stands or histemi in the Greek is comparable to the word tithemi (tith’-ay-mee) which was used by Peter to refer to unbelieving Israel (1 Peter 2:8). What seems clear from Paul’s discussion of temptation was that it was related to spiritual health. Paul stated, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you to be tempted beyond your ability; but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV). The phrase “beyond your ability” refers to spiritual strength that can be attained through spiritual exercise or as an inherited trait. To be able to do something means that you have the power to accomplish it. Paul concluded his lesson on temptation with this admonition, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). In other words, don’t do things that you obviously know are wrong.

Spiritual maturity

James, who is thought to be the oldest brother of Jesus (Introduction, The General Epistle of James, p. 1777), wrote about the purpose of spiritual maturity and the process we have to go through to gain spiritual experience. He said, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4). According to James’ teaching, we obtain spiritual maturity by experiencing various difficulties in our lives and the evidence that we have achieved maturity is our exhibition of patience in those situations. The Greek word James used that is translated patience, hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay’) means endurance, constancy (G5281). Another way of describing this quality would be stick-to-itness or not giving up when our circumstances become difficult.

James indicated the motivation for us to strive for spiritual maturity was the reward of a crown of life. He said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12). The crown James was referring to may have been a wreath given to the winner of a race (note on 2 Timothy 4:8) in ancient Olympic games. The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of a race in his exhortation to live a life that is guided by faith. He said, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). James echoed Paul’s teaching in his identification of God’s word as the source of our spiritual strength. He said, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

One of the unique aspects of James’ teaching was his emphasis on doing what God’s word tells us to. He said, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Three times, James emphatically stated that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20, 26). What he may have meant by this statement was that faith was designed to do something, specifically, to bring about change in our lives. Therefore, if faith doesn’t produce change, it has become useless to us, like a dead body that can’t breath or move around anymore. James used a practical example to illustrate his point that spiritual maturity differentiates believers from the rest of the world and linked faith to something as simple as being able to keep our mouths shut when we are tempted to say something cruel or vindictive to a loved one. He stated, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue amongst our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature: and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame: it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison…Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge amongst you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:6-8, 13).