The greatest commandment

Jesus’ controversial teaching enraged the religious leaders who wanted the people to see them as the authorities on Jewish religious matters. On one occasion, the chief priests and the elders directly challenged Jesus’ authority and asked him the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus’ response may have seemed like a clever sidestep, but it showed these men that he was not intimidated by their positions of power (Matthew 21:24-27). When he was later tested on his interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus clearly demonstrated his superior exegesis of God’s word. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46)

Jesus’ summation of the entire written word of God into two simple commandments likely astounded his audience, but it was his understanding of the Messiah’s identity that silenced the crowd that was trying to publicly discredit him. In other words, Jesus blew them away with his incredible insight into God’s word, so much so, that the Pharisees realized they were no match for Jesus’ keen intellect.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great and first commandment. What Jesus meant by that was that this verse of scripture takes precedence over everything else. The Greek word that is translated great, megas (megˊ-as) means “big” and is sometimes translated as higher, larger, older, profound, severe, strong, too much (G3173). The Greek word that is translated first, protos (proˊ-tos) means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Today we might refer to this verse as a heavy hitter and might think of it in terms of getting the most bang for your buck when you’re trying to understand the Bible and want to live according to its principles. Jesus said that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). I think the point that Jesus was trying to make was not that we are to love God with our heart, our soul, and our mind, but that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. The Greek word that is translated all, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “’all,’i.e. complete (in extent, amount, time or degree)” (G3650). In that sense, you could say that we are expected to love the Lord with every bit of our heart, with every bit of our soul, and with every bit of our mind.

The heart, the soul, and the mind are likely similar to the three parts of the Godhead: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit; in that we have a triune nature like God that is meant to function in an integrated fashion. We can’t love God with just our heart because we wouldn’t be able to understand who God is and have a relationship with him, nor can we love Him with just our mind because we wouldn’t feel close to Him or have a desire to be in His presence. The soul is what makes it possible for us to identify with God as an eternal being that is connected to everything around us. The issue for us is being able to focus our minds completely on God or being able to give our hearts to him without any reservations. Jesus said that we must love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). The only way that we can do that is by becoming one with God. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:120-21).

The unity that Jesus has with his Father is clearly expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Here, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Hebrew word that is translated one, ʾechad (ekh-awdˊ) means “united” (H259) and is derived from the word ʾachad (aw-khadˊ) which means “to unify, i.e. (figurative) collect (one’s thoughts)” (H258). ʾAchad is translated “go one way or other” in Ezekiel 21:16. From that standpoint, you might say that God is the unifier of all things and that His word is a unified thought that makes us go one way or the other. The fact that all believers read the same Bible and seek to live according to the same principles is what makes us look, act, and talk like each other and how we essentially become one with Jesus and the Father. Jesus,’ through the example of his relationship with his Father, took it one step further by stating that we should “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). I believe what Jesus meant by become perfectly one was that we would not just understand God’s word, but that we all would understand what it means in the context of our own lives. In other words, for each and every person to understand and seek to attain God’s perfect will for their lives. Paul talked about this in his letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 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. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

Paul indicated that there was a three-fold effort involved in becoming perfectly one. First of all, our thinking must be aligned with God’s word. Paul said, “If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). Paul is talking here about our minds being submitted to God and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensive to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience)” (G5426). Secondly, Paul instructed believers to imitate him and to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase followers together to describe the process of imitating other believers. The Greek word that is translated example, tupos (tooˊ-pos) refers to a prototype and is “spoken figuratively of a person as bearing the form and figure of another, a type, as having a certain resemblance in relations and circumstances (Romans 5:14)” (G5179). The point that Paul was trying to make was that we shouldn’t just mimic the behaviors of other Christians, but we need to pay attention to what mature believers are doing and follow their examples. Keeping our eyes on someone means that we watch them closely and therefore, regard them in our heart. It is important that we don’t regard the wrong people, such as the ones that Paul identified as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Finally, Paul indicated that Jesus will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body and said that he will do this by “the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). The involuntary transformation of our bodies suggests that the physical change that is necessary for us to become perfectly one with other believers is not something that we are able or would want to do on our own. Obviously, no one would want to follow Christ if it involved crucifixion, but according to Paul, the believers’ old man was crucified with Christ and we will all one day be united with him in a resurrection similar to his. Paul said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Moses’ recitation of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:7-21 was followed by the statement, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). The Hebrew word that is translated careful in Deuteronomy 5:32, shamar (shaw-marˊ) appears 16 times in Deuteronomy 4-6 where Moses talks about obedience to God’s commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses elaborated on his instruction to be careful and stated, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” The idea that we can forget the things that our eyes have seen and that they can depart from our heart has to do with us becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment.

The book of Proverbs, which was primarily written by King Solomon who is thought by some Bible scholars to be the wisest man that ever lived, contains numerous analogies between spiritual and material things (Proverbs, Introduction, p. 714). It says in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Solomon indicated that fools have no regard for wisdom or instruction. “The fool’s only authority is himself.” He “twists God’s ways into his own” and “is insensitive to godly prodding” (H191). On the contrary, Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). The kind of fear that Solomon was referring to was the fear that is “produced by God’s word and makes a person receptive to knowledge and wisdom” (H3374). God employed wisdom as his master craftsman to create all things and thus, it is inherent in the created order (H2451). Knowledge has to do with knowing how to please God. These two qualities are the theme of the book of Proverbs as a whole. “The acquisition and application of wisdom are paramount concerns throughout the book” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7).

Solomon took great care to illustrate for us the results of becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment. Solomon began with the enticement of sinners. He said:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:8-19)

Solomon emphasized the foolishness of committing a crime by stating, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17) and then, drove home his point about the punishment that sinners will ultimately receive in his statement, “but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). The Hebrew word that is translated lives is nephesh (nehˊ-fesh). The best Biblical definition of this word is found in Psalm 103:1 where nephesh is defined as “all that is within” a person. Nephesh is usually translated as “soul” which “makes sense in most passages. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the opposition of the terms ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin. The Hebrew compares/contrasts ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer appearance’ or, as viewed in a different context, ‘what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers.’ The goal of Scripture is to make the inner and the outer consistent” (H5315).

The reason that Moses gave for the Israelites being careful to do as the LORD had commanded them was “that you may live, and that is may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). In this instance, to live meant more than physical existence, it meant to revive the spirit or to revive the heart (H2421). The Hebrew word that is translated well in Deuteronomy 5:33, towb (tobe) means “to be happy, to please, to be loved…the word naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Moses repeated the statement that it may go well with you for emphasis and linked it with the blessing that was promised to Abraham in order to drive home his point that God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was conditional and was dependent upon their obedience to his commandments (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Moses said:

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 6:3)

Afterward, Moses summarized the law by stating the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

And then, Moses concluded his summarization with some personal advice:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).

The King James Version of the Bible indicates that the words that Moses spoke should be “in” the Israelites’ hearts rather than on their hearts. The difference between something being on our heart and something being in our heart may have to do with the memorization of scripture as opposed to the external viewing of it on a scroll or in a book. Moses’ warning to not forget it or let it depart from your heart (Deuteronomy 4:9) would make more sense in that context.

One of the words that Solomon used to describe the person that ignores God’s word was simple. He asked, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Proverbs 1:22). The Hebrew word that is translated simple, pᵉtha˒iy (peth-aw-eeˊ) is derived from the word pathah (paw-thawˊ) which means “to open, i.e. be (causatively make) roomy” (H6601). In that sense, someone that is simple might be thought of as being empty headed or lacking in education. Solomon may have been thinking about a person that had never studied the scriptures or committed a single verse to memory. Solomon reproved the simple ones, encouraging them to repent before it was too late and said of wisdom:

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:24-33)

Solomon stated that “the simple are killed by their turning away” (Proverbs 1:32). The Hebrew word that is translated turning away, mᵉshubah (mesh-oo-bawˊ) means apostasy and is usually translated backsliding (H4878). What Solomon likely meant by the simple are killed by their turning away was that since the simple have turned their backs on God and have no protection from him, they will become victims of the violence that is going on in the world around them and will die as a result of it.

Do you love me?

John’s gospel was written with a specific purpose in mind, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). John focused his attention on the fact that Jesus was an eternal being, but never lost sight of the human qualities that made Jesus like everyone else. In the last chapter of his book, John recorded a conversation between Jesus and Peter that centered on the affection and devotion that had developed between these two men. John wrote:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Jesus began by asking Peter a question that was intended to reveal the motive behind Peter’s commitment to him. Jesus asked, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The word that Jesus used that is translated love, agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o) means “to regard with strong affection” (G25) and is used to describe the love that God has for his Son Jesus (John 3:35). The reason why Jesus asked Peter if he loved him more than these may have been because Peter’s priorities were skewed toward personal satisfaction, rather than serving the Lord.

All four of the gospels indicate that Peter and his brother Andrew were among the first group of disciples that Jesus called into his ministry. John makes note of the fact that Andrew was originally a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:35-37) and introduced Peter to Jesus. John states, “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)” (John 1:40-42). Jesus clearly discerned Simon’s inner character and gave him a new name that described him perfectly, Cephas or Peter, but the personal connection between them apparently wasn’t enough to convince Peter to follow Jesus. Luke’s gospel identifies a second encounter that resulted in Peter making a commitment to follow the Lord. Luke states:

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

The incident that occurred the day that Jesus called Peter to follow him is very similar to what was going on the third time Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after his resurrection. John states:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. (John 21:1-8)

Peter’s decision to go fishing contradicted the statement that Jesus made when he called him into his ministry, “from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10), and yet, Jesus didn’t rebuke his disciples, but encouraged them in their efforts by providing so many fish that they couldn’t haul them all in (John 21:6).

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “do you love me more than these” (John 21:15) indicated that Peter was aware that there was a difference between the way that the Lord loved him and the way that he loved Jesus. In his question, “do you love me more than these,” Jesus used the word agapao to signify the type of love that he expected from Peter. John 21:15 states, “He said to him, ‘Yes. Lord; you know that I love you.’” The Greek word that is translated love in this verse is phileo (fil-ehˊ-o) which means, “to be a friend to…Phileo is never used in a command to men to ‘love’ God…agapao is used instead, e.g., Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 4:21. The distinction between the two verbs finds a conspicuous instance in the narrative of John 21:15-17. The context itself indicates that agapao in the first two questions suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). Peter’s response seems to be appropriate given that Jesus asked him, “do you love me more than these” (John 21:15). Peter cherished Jesus more than anything or perhaps even more than anyone else, but the kind of love that Peter had wasn’t enough to keep him from denying that he knew the Lord (John 18:15-17) or from deciding to go fishing when he should have been telling people about Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:21; 21:3).

Jesus talked about love in the context of abiding (John 15:1-17). As a vine and its branches are intimately connected and dependent on each other for nourishment and support, Jesus encouraged his disciples to rely on him for their spiritual well-being. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Jesus demonstrated this principle when he told his disciples to “cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:6) after they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing (John 21:4-5). The Greek word that is translated abide, meno (menˊ-o) means “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy)” (G3306). John elaborated on this point in his first epistle. It states specifically, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:15-16). John’s statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) is confusing unless you understand the kind of love that John was talking about. John used the word agape (ag-ahˊ-pay), a derivative of the word agapao, to describe love as something that exists rather than something that we feel or something that we have to see in order for it to be real to us. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver” (G26).

God’s relationship with the Israelites was based on love (Deuteronomy 4:37) and in a similar way to Jesus’ illustration of the vine and branches, the people of Israel were expected to remain in constant fellowship with God. Moses told the Israelites, “Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today” (Deuteronomy 4:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated held fast, dabeq (daw-bakeˊ) has to do with adhering to something (H1695). Dabeq is derived from the word dabaq (daw-bakˊ) which is translated cleave in Genesis 2:24 where is says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The relationship between God and the Israelites was designed to be a permanent one that would last throughout eternity, but the basis of their relationship was sinless perfection and the Israelites could not achieve that status. Moses’ instruction to the Israelites before he died was, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Keeping your soul diligently implies a constant effort to remain aware of and responsive to the word of God and in particular, with regard to the Israelites, living each day according to the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13). If the Israelites did what they were supposed to, it would go well with them, but Moses said, if they provoked God to anger, they would “soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26).

Jesus explained to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-13). Jesus made it clear that obedience was still a requirement for having a relationship with God, but he also pointed out that we are expected to keep his commandments, not the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. Jesus said that he had kept his Father’s commandments and then stated his commandment to us, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus used the Greek word agapao to describe the kind of love that we receive from him and that he wants us to give to others. As a standard of measurement, Jesus added, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In this final statement, Jesus used the word agape, suggesting that God’s love is larger or of a greater magnitude than what humans can achieve, as was demonstrated through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. Jesus’ suffering, which is depicted in Psalm 22, shows us the extreme lengths that he went to in order to save us. Jesus’ command that we love one another meant that it was his desire was for us to express his essential nature to others.  “Love can be known only from the action it prompts as God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9, 10)” (G26).

The second time that he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” (John 21:16), Jesus likely wanted to make Peter aware of the fact that his affection for him was the result of an inferior type of love that wasn’t reliable. After Peter gave the same response, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you” (John 21:16), instead of saying “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15), Jesus instructed Peter to, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16). One of the analogies that Jesus used to illustrate his relationship with his followers was the good shepherd. Jesus compared the good shepherd with a thief and a robber and said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:10-13). When Jesus told Peter to “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16), he was placing him in a position of responsibility that was comparable to his own. The Greek word that is translated tend, poimaino (poy-mahˊ-ee-no) means “to tend as a shepherd” and “refers to the whole process of shepherding, guiding, guarding, folding, and providing pasture” (G4165). Rather than just feeding his lambs, Jesus wanted Peter to care for his sheep as if they were his own. Jesus’ illustration of the hired hand as someone that sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, may have brought to Peter’s mind his denial of the Lord and perhaps made him realize that he was unworthy of the role of being a shepherd to Jesus’ followers.

When Jesus asked Peter the third time, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17), he used the Greek word phileo instead of agapao to signify the kind of love he expected from Peter and therefore, seemed to be lowering his standard of Peter’s ability to love him. John tells us, “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileo) me?’” (John 21:17), indicating that Peter felt convicted of his sin and realized that his failure had diminished his credibility as a leader. The point that Jesus probably wanted to make was not that Peter had been disqualified from serving him, but that Peter’s failure was evidence that his phileo love for Jesus was insufficient to accomplish his mission of spreading the gospel throughout the world. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus identified the key to continuous fellowship with God, unity. Jesus prayed:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

The phrase become perfectly one is translated be made perfect in one in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. The difference is significant in that the KJV indicates that the result is that we are made perfect, whereas the English Standard Version (ESV) focuses on the type of oneness that is to be achieved, perfectly one, the same kind of unity that Jesus had with his Father. Psalm 133, a song of ascents, opens with the statement, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) and concludes with, “For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3). It might be said that unity is the channel through which eternal life flows to mankind.

Jesus concluded his conversation with Peter by reconfirming his calling. After he told Peter by what kind of death he was going to glorify God, Jesus said to him, “Follow me” (John 21:19). The Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). In order for someone to be a follower of Christ, a union must take place. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that God has united all things in Christ by the shedding of his blood on the cross (Ephesians 2:13) and that God is in the process of making all believers into a single unit or body (Ephesians 2:14-16). Paul went on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). The Greek word that Paul used to signify love is agape, suggesting that God’s love is developed in us through the building up or the spiritual strengthening that results from teaching the word of God. That’s why Jesus’ final command to Peter was, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), meaning, if you really love me, then provide spiritual nourishment to my followers so that they can grow in their faith.

A remodeling project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Paradise

The first Hebrew word that appears in the Bible, re’shiyth (ray-sheeth’) is translated “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), but it’s literal meaning is “the first, in place, time, order or rank” (H7225). Re’shiyth corresponds to the temporal aspect of starting something new or expressing oneself through a willful act. It says in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” What this means is that at some specific point in time, when time actually first started to exist, the first thing God ever did was to create the visible sky and the air we breathe, as well as, the invisible heaven where he lives and a planet that he named Earth (Genesis 1:10). The Hebrew word translated created in Genesis 1:1, bara’ (baw-raw’) can only be associated with God because “Only God can ‘create’ in the sense implied by bara’. The verb expresses creation out of nothing, an idea seen clearly in the passages having to do with creation on a cosmic scale” (H1254).

Genesis 1:2 records the state of Earth when it was first created. It says, “The earth was without form, and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew terms that are translated “without form,” (H8414) “void,” (H922) and “darkness” (H2822) all suggest that Earth was in a negative state before God caused life to exist. It could be that the natural state of the universe is desolation and waste unless or until God intervenes. It says in Genesis 1:2 that “the Spirit of God” was hovering over the waters that covered the entire planet. The Hebrew word translated hovering, rachaph (raw-khaf’) means “to brood” (H7363), inferring that God wasn’t happy with the situation on Earth and was contemplating what to do about it before he took action.

The first six days of recorded history depict what took place when God transformed the Earth into a paradise where mankind could enjoy the fruits of his labor. It is important to note that the things that took place in the first six days, which are recorded in Genesis 1:3-27, don’t have anything to do with the creation of Earth, but only what God did to cause life to exist on our planet. The difference between what happened when God created the universe and what he did to cause life to exist afterward is that we don’t know how God created the universe out of nothing, but we do know that life came into existence by way of God’s spoken words. Genesis 1:3 states, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

The unusual thing about the light that God caused to exist on day one was that it didn’t come from the sun, moon, or stars. These things weren’t brought into existence until day four (Genesis 1:14-19). The initial source of light in the universe was God himself. Revelation 21:23 indicates there will come a time in the future when the sun and moon will no longer be needed on Earth “for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” God’s glory is associated with his attributes and power as revealed through creation (G1391). God’s superior power and position is attested to in Psalm 148 which illustrates the grandeur of God’s creative work and shows us that the purpose of everything that exists is to glorify God. It says, “Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away” (Psalm 148:5-6).

The Hebrew word that is translated established in Psalm 148:6, ‘amad (aw-mad’) refers to something or someone that is meant to worship God. The changeless and immovable nature of things that ‘amad alludes to is associated with “the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in himself” (H5975). One way to look at ‘amad’s connection with creation would be to see that God’s eternal existence requires that other things also exist eternally. God’s original plan was to create an eternal paradise that would accommodate his own and mankind’s need for a place to live forever (Ephesians 1:9). The heavens and the earth were designed by God to be eternal dwelling places or houses where he and man would always co-exist (Ephesians 1:14).

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with a description of the spiritual blessings that every believer in Jesus Christ receives. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6). Paul indicated that God selected everyone that would receive his gift of salvation or eternal life through Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. In other words, God’s plan of salvation was set in motion before there was ever a need for it from a human perspective. God’s primary objective was to have a family that would exist eternally.

Adam and Eve could have fulfilled God’s objective of having an eternal family if they had never sinned. Genesis 2:15-17 states, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'” God’s original commandment to man was meant to protect him from the effects of sin; separation from God and spiritual as well as physical death. The reason why the consequences of the original sin were so severe was probably because God allowed Adam to exercise his free will and therefore, to disassociate or essentially to disconnect himself spiritually from his creator. God told Adam that he would die if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17) and it was his responsibility to share that information with Eve. It’s possible that Adam didn’t tell Eve exactly what God said or that she didn’t fully comprehend what death meant, but she was still accountable to God for her sin.

Psalm 148:11-13 indicates that everyone is expected to honor God and to submit themselves to his will. The psalmist stated, “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above the earth and heaven.” The Hebrew word translated majesty in this passage, howd (hode) refers to the superior power and position of kings. In every use of the word howd “the one so described evokes a sense of amazement and satisfaction in the mind of the beholder” (H1935).

Genesis 1:26 indicates that man was made in God’s image. It states, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let him have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” The Hebrew word translated likeness, demuwth (dem-ooth’) “signifies the original after which a thing is patterned” (H1823). Adam was not a clone of God, but his physical appearance may have resembled Jesus’ who was the exact representation of God in the form of a man. The Hebrew word translated image in Genesis 1:26, tselem (tseh’-lem) signifies a replica or statue (H6754). What this might suggest is that when God formed Adam out of the dust, he was in a sense making an image of himself, somewhat like a self-portrait that captures the essential physical characteristics that make identification possible.

The glory of God was not transferred to Adam, but it is implied through his action of creating man in his own image that God wanted to share his power and position with mankind. God said that Adam was to have dominion over every living thing (Genesis 1:28). The Hebrew word translated dominion, radah (raw-daw’) means to tread down or subjugate (H7287). One of the things that differentiated Adam from the rest of God’s creation was that he was given a free will, meaning he could decide for himself what he wanted to do. The only restriction God placed on Adam was that he could not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). Adam was forbidden to eat from this particular tree because eating its fruit would give him the experience of evil, and therefore, the knowledge of both good and evil (H3045).

The Hebrew word translated evil in Genesis 2:9, ra’ “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as the a breach of harmony, and a breaking up what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). God’s plan of salvation was put in place before the foundation of the world to counterbalance the effects of humans’ sinful nature. Paul told the Ephesians that God in his insight and wisdom knew that mankind would fail and made a way for everyone to be redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7-8). According to this plan, God intends to unite all things in heaven and things on earth to Christ at the end of time (Ephesians 1:10).

According to the Apostle Paul, God’s provision of salvation was set forth “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). God’s grace is his unmerited favor that manifests itself as “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Although grace is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, “God’s eleos (H1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in his efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness.” Grace is activated in an individual’s life through belief. Paul said of Jesus, “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).

It is possible that if Adam had been left alone in the garden of Eden, sin would not have entered into the paradise that God created on Earth, but God said that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, so he created “him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 1:18). Adam and Eve were created by God as distinctly different individuals with the intention that they would be joined together into a single entity that he referred to as the flesh. In order for them to accurately represent God, there needed to be “a loving unity of more than one person” (H6754). The way this unity was to take place was through a process of leaving and cleaving. It says in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus reiterated the importance of leaving and cleaving in his teaching about divorce and added, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

The Greek word translated joined together is derived from the words zeugos (dzyoo’-gos) which means a couple or a pair of anything (G2201) and sun (soon) which denotes union by association or companionship (G4682). Adam and Eve were created by God to be constant companions that were inseparable for life. It says in Genesis 2:25 that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Perhaps the most important aspect of the paradise that God created for mankind was that there wasn’t supposed to be any shame or feelings of worthlessness in it. Nudity was the natural state of man and was probably meant to reveal the beauty of the human body as a tribute to God’s masterful creation, somewhat like how the Mona Lisa reflects Leonardo De Vinci’s remarkable talent.

The fact that Earth existed as a desolate, barren planet before it was transformed into a magnificent world where beauty and life were possible suggests that God always meant to transform lives rather than make them perfect to start out with. We know that God planned in advance to save mankind (Ephesians 1:4) and expected to recreate the world that he initially established (Revelation 21:1). What this means for us is that we have to accept that we need God’s help to make things right. Paul prayed for the Ephesians “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17). Paul’s prayer alludes to the fact that Jesus made it possible for Christians to have the knowledge of good and evil without the punishment that goes along with it.

Paul’s prayer identified God as the source of enlightenment. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would have the eyes of their hearts enlightened and would know the hope to which God had called them” (Ephesians 1:18). The Greek word translated enlightened, photizo (fo-tid’-zo) means to shed rays, i.e. to shine or to brighten up (G5461). Photizo is also translated as give light and bring to light. Having our hearts enlightened means that we are able to understand God’s word and can apply it to our own individual circumstances. Paul’s statement about knowing the hope to which God has called us is most likely a reference to accepting God’s gift of salvation, indicating that Paul wanted the Ephesians to become believers.

Paul was convinced that God was able to and would save anyone that wanted to have a relationship with him. Paul’s reference to “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19) emphasized that God has no limitations when it comes to saving people. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13) and also indicated that Jesus was given “all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:21). Paul described Jesus as “the last Adam” and said that he “was made a quickening spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). What Paul probably meant by that was that Jesus was able to undo the effects of the original sin. As a result of being born again, anyone who wants to can go to heaven and have fellowship with God. Paul stated, “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:48-49).

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

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

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

God bless you!

The nation of Israel

God’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation of his descendants was only partially fulfilled when the twelve tribes of Israel settled in the Promised Land. Abraham’s grandson Jacob was the father of the twelve men from whom the twelve tribes became established. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he was overpowered by him in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:28). The name Israel means “he will rule (as) God” (3478). When the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria and its people sent into exile, it appeared that God’s effort to establish a nation from Abraham’s descendants had failed, but the nation of Israel was never intended to be a political institution. God wanted his spiritual kingdom to be manifested physically on earth.

A nation is similar to a body in that its individual members are considered to be a single unit that functions interdependently. The real purpose of a nation is to give its people a shared identity. When God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he was giving him a new identity, one that would remain in tact until God’s kingdom was manifested on earth. In order for the nation of Israel to look like God’s kingdom, all of the twelve tribes had to be included. Speaking of the final outcome he was working towards, God told Jeremiah, “The fierce anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it. At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 30:24-31:1).

The issue that had to be resolved in order for Israel to be restored to a single united kingdom as it had been in king David’s day was its people had to turn away from their practice of idolatry. Isaiah described the situation as a covenant with death (Isaiah 28:15). God’s remedy was Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation…And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:16,18). God’s love for his chosen people was so powerful that his grace became a way for him to turn them away from their idols. He said, “For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow… And my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:13-14).

God’s restoration of the nation of Israel was identified as a “new thing.” Isaiah declared on behalf of the LORD, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you them” (Isaiah 42:9). The voluntary return of God’s people to their homeland was considered a new thing because they had rejected him over and over again. The only way to adequately describe the difference between the former things and the new that was expected to take place was a transformation of the heart. The once proud and rebellious people of the northern kingdom of Israel would become like an adoring bride (Jeremiah 31:22). All of Israel will one day embrace with tender and unfailing love the one they crucified.

Marriage alliance

Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa the king of Judah, reigned during the last 12 – 13 years of Ahab’s life. Sometime during that period, probably around the time when Ahab repented of taking Naboth’s vineyard away from him, “Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:44). Jehoshaphat’s motive for making peace could have been Ahab’s defeat of Ben-hadad. Jehoshaphat may have interpreted the deliverance of the Syrian army as a sign that Ahab was in God’s favor.

The peace agreement between Jehoshaphat and Ahab was in the form of a marriage alliance between their two children. Ahab’s daughter Athaliah was given to Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram as a wife in order to unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Because of this agreement, when Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go with him to battle against Syria (1 Kings 22:4), Jehoshaphat couldn’t say no without jeopardizing their relationship.

Jehoshaphat attempted to influence Ahab into walking with the LORD (1 Kings 22:7), but Ahab’s heart was bent toward doing evil. Even after the prophet Micaiah told Ahab he would be killed in battle (1 Kings 22:17), Ahab attacked the king of Syria anyway. Ahab thought he could outwit his enemy by disguising himself. It says in 1 Kings 22:30 that Ahab “said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes.” In other words, Ahab wanted Jehoshaphat to act as a decoy and risk his life to prevent Ahab from being killed.

It is likely Jehoshaphat agreed because he believed he would be killed anyway. Micaiah’s prophecy indicated Israel’s army would be left leaderless, “he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd” (1 Kings 22:17). When the captains of Ben-hadad army saw Jehoshaphat, they thought he was the king of Israel. “And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out. And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots perceived that is was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him” (1 Kings 22:32-33).

The word translated cried in 1 Kings 22:32, za‘aq is most frequently used for crying out for divine aid (2199). Jehoshaphat cried out to God for help and the captains of the chariots perceived that he was not the king of Israel, the man they were looking for, and left him alone. In the moment when Jehoshaphat cried out to the LORD, God could have ignored his plea for help. Jehoshaphat had no business going to battle with Syria after Micaiah prophesied they would be defeated, but God did help him, because Jehoshaphat was honoring his peace agreement with Ahab.