Posted in Doctrine, Expository, Salvation

Letter and Spirit

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, that may be in accordance with the letter of the law but certainly not with the spirit of it”? When such is said, it is offered as some kind of criticism as though the stated obligation as to its overt requirement or outward form has been met, but somehow the proper disposition (or internal requirement of heart) intended as obligation has not been fulfilled. That is, the statement is suggesting that someone has “gone through the motions” of doing what law required, but his heart wasn’t in it or he did not comply with the intent of the requirement. He did only what the minimum requirement was, as stated or legislated, rather than the maximal and intended requirement which obligated him to do whatever he was to do with proper attitude as well regarding the purpose of the requirement.

Of course, it is very possible for a person to “go through the motions” of some realized obligation without thinking about what he is doing. A person can sing without understanding. He may move his mouth while his mind is on lunch (cf. Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:15). One can worship without worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), but if a person worships in truth, he must worship with his own spirit under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Jude 20).

This idea of (1) complying with stated requirement and (2) at the same time not complying with motive/disposition requirement is mistakenly thought by some to explain certain Bible passages contrasting “law” and “spirit.” We have some passages that do mention and/or discuss the contrast between “letter” and “spirit.” Romans 2:27-29, Romans 7:6, and 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 do this. According to Bible teaching, however, there is no such thing in Scripture as faithfully complying with legislated obligation by overt action when the action does not derive from proper disposition. For example, whatever the Jew under the law of Moses was commanded to do, he was obligated to do it with love for God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). If he failed in disposition, he failed in overt action.

The Lord’s disciples were once criticized for transgressing the tradition of the elders (Matt. 15:1-2). Jesus accused the critics of transgressing the commandment of God because of their tradition (v. 3). They were in fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s prophecies, “This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me” (v. 8). It wasn’t that they outwardly obeyed and inwardly disobeyed. They altogether disobeyed, and their disobedience entailed hypocrisy (v. 7). Honoring with lips only amounted to violation of law and, actually, to no honor at all being given to God. Pretense is not partial obedience. Hypocrisy is not law compliance with one’s obligation to any degree.

And yet, we do find in Scripture the contrast between “letter” and “spirit.” We must, however, keep the contrast in its context and not make the contrast become what it never distinguished. If we fail here with such a disregard for context, we wind up with concepts that do not derive from Scripture.

Let us briefly point out a few things that, when the contrast is made in Scripture between “letter” and “spirit,” the contrast cannot possibly mean. It is not a contrast between—

1. Being a stickler for accuracy on the one hand and, on the other, having the proper over-all disposition toward God, but without being all that concerned with the details of obligation. Have you ever heard a Christian explain a given passage in just this way? Sometimes Christians have wound up, even if unintentionally, justifying disobedience by thinking that “letter” and “spirit” suggest that accuracy of interpretation and action does not really mean much to God in the Christian dispensation. How many times have cautious brethren been accused of being “legalists” or “five-steppers” or described by some other conceptually kindred term? Such criticism may be offered because of the failure of the critic to grasp true contrasts as opposed to false ones. The Bible contrast between “letter” and “spirit” is never a contrast between accuracy with regard to divine information (the supposed “letter”) and good disposition without necessarily having accuracy of information (the alleged “spirit”). This is a humanly imagined contrast, but Scripture does not authorize it.

This suggestion that we do not really under New Testament authority have the obligation to be accurate as to information and correct in the practice of our obligations is never made in Scripture! In fact, the New Testament obligates us to know the truth (if we want to be saved) and to practice the truth (John 8:32; 1 John 3:18; Heb. 5:8-9). No Bible writer ever undermined knowing truth for certain and doing the truth. Preachers of another generation used to speak of our having purity of doctrine and practice. Amen! Those today who would have us suppose that, somehow, the grace of God is going to cover the sins of people who never know God and who never obey the gospel are wrong and dangerous (2 Thess. 1:8). Furthermore, no man can have the proper attitude toward God while at the same time trying to devise ways and means of opposing what God, who cannot lie, has already said (Rom. 1:18; Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; Rom. 3:4). One prominent preacher among us several years ago claimed that it is the case that men must be right about Christ but that surely we can be wrong about everything else. His apostasy is sad, and his comment is unfounded.

2. Having a law and not having a law. Have you ever come across a Christian who takes the position that we do not have law from God today? Well, if we do not have law from God today, then we have no obligations from God today, if the idea of law entails obligation. In fact, if we have no law from God, we currently have no obligation to God. But, the matter of obligation is the dominant concept in “law” as described in Scripture. And that is why “law” as such is said to be unable to save anyone (cf. Rom. 7:11-13; Gal. 3:11). Law obligates, sin violates, grace eliminates. Again, we must keep contrasts in context or we wind up imagining what is never declared. For example, in Romans 6:14 Paul affirms that Christians are not under law but under grace. Now, if someone reads that and knows nothing of what Paul had already said in the same document or he does not know what Paul says later or he knows nothing of what other Bible writers say about law, he may well draw an erroneous and dangerous conclusion that Christians are not under any law whatever. But such is not expressed by Paul in this passage, however, or in any other one for that matter. In Romans 4:15 he had said that if we do not have any law, we cannot have sin. In Romans 6:1 Paul asks if we Christians should continue in sin that grace may abound. We should not, he affirms, but the possibility of even attempting this (continuing to sin so that grace may abound) is only possible because Christians do have law. In context Romans 6:14 is saying that our law (or gospel) is not a law system. And no law systems (Gentile-ism and Judaism) can save; they only condemn because there is in them no provision for actual forgiveness. Forgiveness in these systems could only be prospective (cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:1-4; Rom. 3:25-26). It was the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ that made forgiveness actually possible. That is why the gospel can be called “a law of faith” (Rom. 3:27). Why? Because, unlike Gentile-ism and Judaism, we can trust—or, have faith—in the gospel itself to save us (Rom. 1:16-17). No Gentile (under moral-law-ism or Gentile-ism) and no Jew (under Judaism) could trust in his law to save him. He will certainly be judged by his law (Rom. 2:14-15), but his salvation (if such there be) would have to come from God outside of the system of law under which he lived. The gospel is not like that (Rom. 1:16). We can trust it to save us, or to put it another way, we can trust God by trusting his message to save us! This is why the gospel can rightly be called “a law of faith.” The gospel is “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). It is “a law of liberty” (Jas. 2:12). In fact, it is the “perfect law of liberty” (Jas. 1:25). It sets us free—not from obligation, but from sin (guilt, practice, consequence).

3. Abiding by law and merely following the supposed “intention” of the law without doing what it says. Some evidently have subscribed to the notion that since we are under grace and not under law that we are at liberty to do pretty much what we want even though we do have definite and specific obligations stated in the New Testament. But what are specific obligations among friends? As long as we follow the intended purpose of an obligation, we stand all right before God, it is thought by some, even while we violate the specificity of the obligation as stated. The question is: How in the world can we follow the “intended” purpose of an obligation if we do not submit to the obligation as stated? This issue is settled by interpreting Scripture, understanding Scripture, and rightly applying Scripture. There is no scriptural authority for the concept of (1) disobeying a specific obligation and yet at the same time (2) obeying its intention. Cannot God properly describe what it is that he does and does not want me to do? How can I know what his intended purpose is beyond what he declares? If his purpose is not revealed in the specific obligation, how in the world could I find it outside of and beyond the stated obligation? Can God not make himself clear?

This approach to contrasts is a way of justifying the claim that we do not or perhaps even cannot know truth for certainty regarding obligation, but that we can comprehend God’s general intention behind the stated obligations. But then the question arises: How can we know, generally speaking, God’s intention from Scripture, but that we cannot know specific obligation from Scripture? After all, the supposed comprehension of the divine intention is derived from the articulated obligation.

The fact is that in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11, Romans 2:27-29, and Romans 7:6, where we find the contrast between “letter” and “spirit,” the contrast is between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ.

Posted in Deity of Christ, Expository, Miracles

Which None Other Did

In John 15:22-24 Jesus referred to the fact that the Jews had no excuse for their sin of rejecting him because of his words that he had spoken to them. He also referred to the fact that their rejection of him was in spite of the fact that he had done works which none other did. Let us briefly consider in what way his works were unlike those of any others.

First, we need to consider the amount of the works that Jesus did. Peter would later describe Jesus as one anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power, and one who went about doing good (Acts 10:38). His life was a constant display of divine power in behalf of needy men. Near the end of his first book, John would say, “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30), thus indicating that a complete record of all the miracles of the Lord was not being recorded in spite of the fact that a record of a lot of them is recorded. And in an obvious hyperbolic statement at the end of this book, John said, “there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). No one performed the amount of miracles that Jesus did.

Second, we need to consider the variety of the works that Jesus did. Think of the kind of miracles that he performed. Jesus, himself, once referred to the partial variety when he said, “Go tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up” (Matt. 11:4-5). Matthew tells us that along with the Lord’s teaching and preaching, there was the “healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people” (Matt. 11:23). The Lord’s power was amazing. He did not even have to be present at the site where his miraculous power was activated (Matt. 8:5-13). And in addition to dealing with bodily sickness and infirmity, the Lord’s power was used to terminate a storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41), to walk on water (Matt. 14:22-33), to wither a tree (Matt. 21:18-19), to instantly increase food supply (John 6:1-14), and even to raise the dead (John 11:1-44)! Such an array of power the world had never seen!

Third, we need to consider the degree of the works that Jesus did. Of course, in one sense, it would seem that the raising of the dead would be the extreme measure of power displayed by Jesus or others. But, just here, however, I am concerned about the Lord’s activity regarding demons. The Lord’s compassion regarding human distress is evidenced in several specific instances of divine cure involving the casting out of demons, a specific kind of malady evidently providentially arranged for the express purpose of demonstrating in the first century the power of God over the power of Satan, and, thus, the power of light over darkness, and the power of truth over error. It seems that God arranged for a unique kind of confrontation between his own power and that of the devil in order to further convince men in the first century of the credentials of the Christ and truth of the gospel. Demon possession was a horrible thing causing tremendous distress and/or the loss of one’s freedom (cf. Mark 9:22; Matt. 8:28-34) in response to which even some of those not able to overcome the demons on occasion attempted to do so anyway (Matt. 12:27; Acts 19:13-16). Demons were responsible agents who knew who Christ was and who knew of their eventual destiny, and divine power easily disposed of them (Matt. 8:28-29; Acts 16:16-18).

Fourth, we need to consider the reason for the works that Jesus did. Jesus said that the very works that the Father had given him to accomplish bore witness to the fact that the Father had sent him (John 5:36). The writer, John, declared that the reason for the inclusion in his first book of the record of some of the Lord’s miracles was so that “ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:31). This was a part of the uniqueness of the Lord’s miracles when compared to the miracles performed by others before him and by others after him. No mere man’s miracles had ever been utilized to support the personal claim for the divinity of the person performing the miracle. Never! This sets the Lord’s miracles apart even from those of the apostles. The “signs of the apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) set the apostles apart from everyone else who in the first century had miracle working power (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11), but the Lord’s miracles were used to prove that he was God in flesh!

Fifth and finally, we need to consider the climax of the works that Jesus did. The Lord once expressed the profound truth that he had received “commandment” from the Father regarding his right to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). This is an astonishing revelation. When Jesus died he did not die by physical exhaustion. Before releasing his spirit, he cried with a loud voice, something impossible for a person worn out to do (Matt. 27:50). No one simply took his life from him as Peter on Pentecost declared (Acts 2:23). Jesus surrendered his life on his own in the midst of an attempt by others to take it from him. He laid down his own life. But then, by the commandment of God, Jesus had the right to take it again. In fact, Jesus had said that the Father loved him because of this situation: he was going to lay down his life so that he might take it again (John 10:17)! No one ever in the history of the raised dead had ever by their own authority come forth from the grave. But Jesus did!

Paul would later write to the Roman brethren that by the resurrection of Christ, in a special sense God declared him to be his own Son. Speaking of Jesus, Paul wrote, “who was declared the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The Lord’s own resurrection was the product of power and of his own holiness. Having known no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), he was able to overcome the grave (Heb. 2:14-15; Rom. 4:25). In a sense, this was the climax to all the other miracles he had performed.

Posted in Expository, Nature of Man, Old Testament

And Afterward (Reflections on Psalm 73:24)

The Psalmist’s plight is dire in chapter seventy-three. Even though “God is good to Israel” (v. 1, ESV), the writer’s “feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped” (v. 2). Spiritual catastrophe has come too close for comfort. How? The Psalmist has begun to envy the wicked (v. 3-12), who are “always at ease” and “increase in riches.” His thinking grows so skewed he begins to ponder that “in vain have I kept my heart clean” (v. 13). Surveying the scene of prospering sinners is leading him toward the conclusion that serving God is not worth the effort.

Trying to figure out why the wicked are blessed “seemed to me a wearisome task” (v. 16), that is, “until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (v. 17). Thankfully, a more accurate perspective sets in. The writer realizes that the apparent success of evil is fleeting, and that God will “set them in slippery places” and “make them fall to ruin” (v. 18). The unrighteous will be “destroyed in a moment” disappearing swiftly as “a dream when one awakes” (v. 20).

Then the Psalmist gets brutally honest about his own bad behavior. He humbly confesses to God that “my soul was embittered” (v. 21), and that “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (v. 22). But, in spite of the author’s shortcomings, God is still holding onto his hand (v. 23). His salvation will be God’s doing, in spite of the writer’s painful flaws.

At this point the Psalmist pens a striking passage (v. 24-26):

24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Compared to the New Testament (which is rife with discussions of the afterlife), Old Testament passages teaching the soul’s immortality seem few and far between (there are several scattered verses, but they will not be considered here). What does the Psalmist mean by asserting, “and afterward you will receive me to glory”? Since God is “in heaven,” and the Psalmist desires “nothing on earth” (v. 25), to be received “to glory” is an apparent reference to heaven. This is reinforced by the writer’s statement that “My flesh and my heart may fail” (v. 26)—evidently referring to the eventual death of his physical body. Nevertheless, after he has been guided with divine counsel (v. 24), and after his flesh fails (v. 26), he will be received “to glory” (v. 24) because God is “in heaven” and nothing remains “on earth” to be desired (v. 25). This hopeful outlook is possible only because, with flesh failing, “God is the strength of my heart…forever” (v. 26).

Could Psalm 73:24 be a bold Old Testament claim on the soul’s immortality and eternal destiny? On this Scripture Keil and Delitzsch comment that, even though the “heavenly triumph of the church” had not yet been foretold, faith in God “had already a transparent depth which penetrated beyond Hades into an eternal life…It is just this that is also the nerve of the proof of the resurrection of the dead which Jesus advances in opposition to the Sadducees (Matt. 22:32)” (Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5, pp. 493-494). Craig C. Broyles notes, “If verse 24 does point to some kind of resurrection, it is interesting to note how the writer arrived at this conclusion. He did so not by virtue of a supposed immortality of the soul but by virtue of God himself and the kind of relationship he establishes. Because ‘God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (v. 26), I shall therefore live on with God’” (New International Biblical Commentary on Psalms, pp. 304-305). It is worth observing that the Hebrew verb for “you will receive” in v. 24 is “identical to that found in Psalm 49:15 (‘But God will redeem my soul from the grave; he will surely take me to himself’) and Genesis 5:24 (‘Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away’), both of which seem to point to a divine act that transcends death” (ibid., p. 304). The Pulpit Commentary weighs in by quoting a professor who remarked about Psalm 73:24 that “the poet has that religious intuition which forms the kernel of the hope of immortality” (vol. VIII, p. 72).

The New Testament leaves Christians in no doubt about the afterlife, judgment, heaven and hell. But we need not think that people in Old Testament times had no clue about the soul. They had far less information than we, but God made sure they still had access to certain spiritual truths, including Psalm 73:24 and “the kernel of the hope of immortality.”

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, Expository, New Testament, Salvation

Baptism In One Spirit Per 1 Corinthians 12:13

Last Sunday, I listened to a faithful gospel preacher as he misinterpreted this passage. Sadly, I misinterpreted this passage most of my preaching life. It was all because I failed to understand that Holy Spirit baptism entailed no miracle whatever! As you, I was taught that there are three measures of the Spirit among men (while there actually are none—John 3:34), and that baptism in Spirit was a miracle. But this was all wrong, so sadly wrong, and these mistakes affected all of our biblical interpretation of passages that mentioned the Spirit and his relationship to us.

Think about the words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Please go immediately to Galatians 3:26-29 for the language of Paul there. And please return to John 7:37-39 immediately for the language there. Do you see concept and language connection?

But, because (1) we all knew there was only one baptism, and because (2) we all knew that water was for the remission of sins, we concluded that we must “interpret” 1 Corinthians 12:13 to mean that we were baptized “by” the Holy Spirit (usually taken to mean by the teaching of the Holy Spirit). How many times have you heard this “interpretation”? We were told that we were baptized in water in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit. My, my! This was an honest but ignorant and unintentional interpretive mistake that we made. But most of us made it. Think! Is there any other passage in the New Testament that supports the claim that the Spirit is an AGENT who baptizes anyone? No! However, we do have passages that claim that JESUS HIMSELF would be the agent who baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Interestingly, Luke in describing the difference between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism, says that John baptized “with” water, using the dative case of the word “water.” However, he used the preposition “in” (Gr. en) when he said that Jesus would baptize “in” Holy Spirit. Now, we do not reject water as the element in the first baptism on the basis that the proper translation is “with water” rather than “in water.” Do we? No, we do not. Secondly, John said that Jesus would baptize not “with” the Holy Spirit but “in” the Holy Spirit! So, we allow “with” to mean “in” but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we force “in” to mean “by,” and the only reason we did this was because we took baptism “in” Spirit to mean a miraculous baptism! We were trying, in our ignorance, to be logically consistent.

Too, in Matthew’s rendering of the account, in both references to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, he uses the same preposition, “in” (Gr. en). Whatever John was doing with water, Jesus would do with Spirit. If John immersed people “in” water, then Jesus would immerse people “in” Spirit. There is no getting around this. John in his preaching used both water and Spirit as elements. John and Jesus were both agents! We must be fair with the text. Ephesians 5:26 is no help in trying to get around what Matthew says that John did. Paul in Ephesians 5:26 says that Jesus cleansed us by “the washing of the water with the word.” But “the word” is applied to cleansing, and not to regeneration. And they are not the same. So, the passage does not support the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us through his teaching in his word!

Also, if Jesus in John 3:3-5 said that a person must be born of both water and Spirit, and if to be born of water means to be baptized in water, then just so does to be born of Spirit mean to be baptized in Spirit.

My good friend, Glenn Jobe taught me several years ago that Acts 1:8 proves that there is no miracle in Holy Spirit baptism. The verb “is come” is an aorist participle which indicates action antecedent to that of the main verb, “shall receive.” That is, the power which would enable the apostles to be the Lord’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” came after their reception of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The power did not come before nor at the same time as but AFTER the baptism! The KJV is helpful in its translation: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” We have correctly taught that salvation follows baptism in water as Mark 16:16 teaches. The passage says that the one believing and being baptized shall be saved. Both “believing” and “being baptized” are aorist participles which indicate action prior to that of the main verb, “shall be saved.” It is an aorist participle in Acts 1:8!

Furthermore, while water baptism in the book of Acts is always connected to remission of sins, baptism in Holy Spirit is not. It follows forgiveness rather than to provide it. It is the regeneration of which Paul speaks in Titus 3:5-6. Only a forgiven man can then be given spiritual life! But, think about it: when we were baptized in water, we had to come up out of and leave the water. Water is not the church! When we came up from the water, we were already in the Holy Spirit, and remained in him! Jesus had immersed us in Spirit while we were being immersed in water. This is how and why it can correctly be said that we arise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) because life was given us while we were under the water following forgiveness! But we remained in Spirit after we left the water. Following our immersion in water, we came up from it while remaining in Spirit! We are, Paul says, “in Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Being in Spirit is being in the non-personal but spiritual body of Christ (Romans 8:1; Colossians1:18). And just as with regard to any physical human birth, our spiritual birth entails two elements (John 3:3-5). And remember, before Paul mentioned our baptism in Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he had already reminded the brethren at Corinth that the Jews had been baptized unto Moses by being baptized in two elements (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Posted in Expository, General

The World

It is insightful to realize that the word “world” in our English translations does not refer to the same thing all the time. There are several different meanings that surface as one contemplates the contexts in which the word is found. Let us consider this important English word in varying uses.

One, there is the “world” as universe. This is the world of “the heaven and the earth” of which Moses wrote. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Years later Paul in Athens would assert that our Maker was “The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth…” (Acts 17:24). Our universe is most remarkable in its makeup and in its design. It is indeed a marvel. The psalmist would affirm, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psa. 19:1-4a). The world and its components testify clearly to the existence of our God (Acts 14:17). The evidence is so obvious that a man who in his own heart denies God is a fool (Psa. 14:1; 53:1).

Two, there is the “world” of sin. The apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Here the world of sin is described. It is the description of evil and how it comes about in the lives of men. The three categories or vehicles for the expression of sin in humans have always been limited to the three classes John gives. Moses had written long ago before John, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh, MD), and that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes, MD), and a tree to be desired to make one wise (pride of life, MD), she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). All of the sin of all of the people from Adam on down has come via these three routes. This is the world of sin.

Three, there is the “world” of sinners. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God did not send his son to die for the universe. And God doesn’t love sin. But he does love sinners in whose behalf he sent his son. But the sinners in whose behalf his son died were human sinners—not angelic ones (Heb. 2:16). I would offer the suggestion that the reason why Jesus did not die for sinful angels (2 Pet. 2:4), but did die for sinful men has to do with the nature of their sins. The free will of man was poised at the point of connection between flesh and spirit (Gal. 5:17). The free will of angels was not. And since there is an inherent weakness in flesh (Matt. 26:41), Adam’s sin was one of weakness while angelic sin has always been one of rebellion (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6). Jesus died for sinful men and in John 3:16 we are told that believers “should not perish” (not “shall not perish). The verb is in the subjunctive mood rather than the indicative. It is no promise that believers will be saved, but it is the affirmation that Jesus died so that believers could be saved, and that God wanted them to be saved.

Four, there is the “world” that is a period of time. When Paul affirmed that God made the world (Acts 17:24), he used a word that derives from “cosmos.” When John described the world of evil (1 John 2:15-17), he used the same word. The world that God loved (John 3:16) is identified by the same word. But when we come to Matthew 18:20 we find another word that is translated “world.” It is a Greek word that derives from aiown, which refers to a period of time or an era. When the Lord promised the apostles that he would be with them “even unto the end of the world” he was not telling them that he would be with them until he came again at the destruction of the universe (2 Pet. 3). What good would a promise like that be to them? By that time they would all have been long dead. In fact, right now they have already been long dead. The promise that he was making to them was that he would be with them to the completion of their work in carrying the gospel to the world. He said, “Go ye into all the world (cosmos), and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The promise of Matthew 28:20 to be with them to the end of the “world” was a promise to be with them to the end of the “age.” The transition from Gentile-ism and Judaism to Christianity which began with the work of John the baptizer (Luke 16:16) would be completed only when the apostles finished carrying the gospel to every creature. Then that era of transition would be over. Jesus told his apostles that he would be with them until that work was completed. Notice Mark’s ending: “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen” (Mark 16:20).

Five, there is the “world” of mankind’s natural attachment to his physical environment. Consider carefully in the book of Ecclesiastes where Solomon points this profound truth out to us three times. Most of us are familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1 where Solomon writes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” but we aren’t as familiar with what follows in verse 11. “He (God, MD) hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Isn’t that something? God has so deliberately arranged our human situation so that there will always be things we cannot find out! Actually, the original word for “world” in Ecclesiastes 3:11 entails the concept of “time.” Man is by nature a finite creature who is limited by time. The reader likely remembers Deuteronomy 29:29 which tells us that “secret” things belong to God. So, God has withheld things from our knowledge by not revealing them either in the revelation of his word or in the revelation of his world. But Solomon in Ecclesiastes says that the impossibility of our knowing certain things is at least partially attributable to the fact that we are connected to the material or natural world by our creation. In it we fit. To it we are attached. And by it we are limited. God has set the world in our hearts.

Our divine limitation by time and boundaries is designed to lead us to search for God (Acts 17:26-27), but even after finding him, because of our attachment to the material world, there are things that we will never be able to comprehend about God’s activities. Later Solomon put it this way: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Eccl. 7:14). The exact “why” and the “when” of things in an individual’s life are open to interpretation. We cannot know for sure in many situations what God is exactly doing, though we can learn what our duty in regard to our experiences in those situations should be.

Solomon also wrote, “Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Eccl. 8:17). The Bible clearly teaches all Christians to trust a loving and caring Father who can only wisely operate in the affairs of men. And though we cannot tell what God is doing and intending by the detailed events that become a part of our human experience, we do have his precious promises to us regarding his will for us and what awaits us (cf. Rom. 8:28). May God be praised that it is so!

Posted in Expository, General, Old Testament

The Lord Sent a Lion

About 1100 B.C. the Philistines were enemies and subjugators of God’s people, and Israel had sadly grown accustomed to the sorry status quo (Judg. 15:11). His chosen people having charted a path to self-destruction by plunging headlong into Canaanite paganism, God had to take action to preserve Israel — in spite of themselves — and the bloodline through which would come the Messiah. So the Lord in his providence sought an opportunity for Israel to begin throwing off the yoke of Philistine oppression (Judg. 14:4). Deliverance came in the form of Samson, a colorful paradox of a judge: a Nazirite who routinely violated the vow; a man motivated by what pleased his eyes who had his eyes gouged out; a man of divinely given superhuman strength who melted like butter in the hands of scheming women; a man who prayed to God and then consorted with a prostitute; a man whose greatest victories over the enemy were private acts of murder and revenge; a national deliverer who was no national leader; a fighter fit to slaughter a thousand, but unable to resist a solitary Delilah.

Samson’s final blow to the Philistines came at the cost of his own life when, as a blind, humiliated prisoner he broke the two pillars of Dagon’s temple, bringing 3,000 pagans to a crashing, crushing death. God did, indeed, find a way to strike at his people’s enemy. How it transpired is a fascinating study of divine providence, as events are traced backwards in Judges chapters 14-16.

  • Samson demolished the Philistines’ temple because they brought him there as a prisoner (16:25).
  • Samson was taken prisoner because Delilah had his head shaved (16:19).
  • Delilah coaxed Samson into telling his secret because the Philistine leaders bribed her (16:5).
  • The Philistine leaders bribed Delilah because they hated Samson.
  • The Philistines hated Samson because he slaughtered 1,000 of them with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15).
  • Samson killed the 1,000 when the Philistines were coming to take him prisoner (15:14).
  • The Philistines were going to arrest Samson because he attacked them (15:8).
  • Samson attacked them because they burned his wife to death (15:6).
  • They burned his wife because Samson had burned their crops (15:5).
  • Samson burned the crops because his wife had been given to a Philistine (15:2).
  • Samson’s wife had been given away because Samson had left her at the wedding feast (14:20).
  • Samson left the wedding feast to slay 30 Philistines and take their garments (14:19).
  • Samson needed their garments because his 30 companions had solved his riddle (14:18).
  • The companions solved the riddle because Samson’s wife told them the answer (14:17).
  • Samson’s wife knew the riddle’s answer because she pressed him continually after she had been threatened with death by the companions (14:15).
  • The death threat came after Samson gave the companions an impossible riddle (14:14).
  • The riddle was impossible because it seems to have involved the supernatural: bees and honey found in a semi-fresh animal carcass that no one knew about but Samson (14:8).
  • The honey was in the lion’s carcass because Samson had recently killed it with his bare hands (14:6).
  • How did this chain of violent events begin? The Lord sent a lion (14:5).

True, scripture does not explicitly say that God caused the lion to attack Samson. But, in light of the facts, can there be any doubt that the unseen hand of Providence was pulling strings, bringing to pass events that, when coupled with the freely made choices of men, would culminate in the will of “the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (14:4)? God had to get the ball rolling, because Israel was not going to do it on her own.

Even today the Lord needs to spur his children on from time to time, perhaps in a direction they otherwise would never have taken. As we age, we may be able to look in retrospect at our lives and see watershed events which we afforded no special significance at the time. What things is God placing in our lives so that we can help bring about his will? Over that answer is drawn a veil which will remain until we get to heaven. In Samson’s case, the Lord sent a lion.

Posted in Expository, Old Testament

My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

It is so very easy to repeat what we have heard without ever looking into what we have heard for ourselves. And a lot of the time, it really doesn’t matter all that much. But sometimes it might.

How many times have passages been quoted and then given a meaning that was readily accepted and never challenged. Of course, at the time the passage is quoted in our hearing, if we don’t look it up ourselves and read the context in which it appears, we likely tend to accept whatever meaning was assigned to it by the one we heard quote it.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah long ago wrote, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’m quite sure that most of us recognize that passage and likely grew up hearing it quoted over and over again. And those of us who became preachers have quoted it often as suggestive of the idea that we can’t always know what the Lord wants or wills, and some things are beyond our comprehension because the Lord thinks on a higher plane than do we. In fact, it is a comforting thought to think that the Lord knows what is right and best even if in difficult circumstances wherein we find it impossible to know why something has occurred.

To be sure, there are passages that inform us of the truth that we do not always and cannot always know certain things because God has not revealed everything that is reveal-able (Deut. 29:29). He has only chosen to reveal certain things in His word and to make certain knowledge possible by means of his creation or world. God, in His word has revealed His expressed will. In providence, according to Scripture, is where God’s unexpressed will is located. We pray constantly for God’s unexpressed will in our lives to be done.

Romans 11:33-36 is a fascinating passage that, in its context, shows that in the historical development of the scheme of redemption, and His marvelous use of both Jew and Gentile, God demonstrated “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” Furthermore, He evidenced “how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!” Indeed, we do have passages that teach us the extraordinary elevation of the thoughts and ways of God in His providence.

But, what is being discussed in Isaiah 55 is that the lofty thoughts and ways of God were the very thoughts and ways that God’s people were supposed to have themselves! Isaiah in this passage is not discussing the fact of God’s thoughts and ways being so far above mankind that mankind just cannot understand the thoughts and ways of God. In this passage that is NOT what is being affirmed.

Look at the verse just before: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v. 7). God’s people had become wicked and unrighteous. They had refused to make God’s thoughts their own thoughts, and they had replaced God’s ways with their own ways! They had a revealed law from God, but they had neglected it. They had prophets sent from God, but these they rejected. Instead of allowing God’s ways and thoughts to continue to be their own, they had substituted their own thoughts and ways for His, and now they were bound for captivity.

Obviously, not a lot of harm is done in misconstruing the meaning of Isaiah 55:8-9 because the usual but errant interpretation of it is a truth found elsewhere. But the text would, in its context, be of greater value in making the point divinely intended if we would allow the context to speak for itself. And as people who now are under the last will and testament of Jesus Christ, we had best be those people who make God’s thoughts our thoughts and God’s ways our ways.

Posted in Expository, New Testament

“Clouds Without Water”

[Note: This piece by Glenn Jobe is especially apropos in light of the recently concluded Deaver-Simons Debate, wherein Simons constantly equated clouds and water in his effort to undermine there being two elements in the Israelites’ baptism in 1 Cor. 10:1-2 (“in the cloud and in the sea”). Simons was driven to affirm “cloud” and “sea” are identical, since he refused to admit two elements in baptism in John 3:5. –Weylan Deaver]

 

By Glenn A. Jobe

Jude writes of certain men whom he terms “clouds without water” (verse 12). We usually associate clouds with water vapor. What did inspired Jude have in mind when he wrote of clouds without water? Let’s see if we may gain understanding by considering this strange expression within the context of Jude.

Jude states the reason for writing his short epistle: …I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (verse 3). He next explains why his readers must contend earnestly for the faith: For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 4).

Note that Jude tags these false teachers “ungodly men.” “Ungodly” (asebēs, ἀσεβεῖς) means “godless, impious.” Thayer adds, “destitute of reverential awe towards God, contemning God, impious.” W.E. Vine comments, “…without reverence for God, not merely irreligious, but acting in contravention of God’s demands, Rom. 4:5; 5:6; I Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 4:18; 2 Pet. 2:5 (v. 6 in some mss.); 3:7; Jude 4, 15 (twice).”

In the illustrations that follow, Jude takes the reader through the wilderness wanderings, the rebellion of angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, the contention over the body of Moses, the way of Cain and Balaam, and the rebellion of Korah (verses 5-11). Each of these events produces images that are pregnant with meaning in Jewish minds.

In verses 12-18 Jude pictures these ungodly men both by their conduct and by names he assigns to them. Since the title of this article is “Clouds Without Water,” let us list the names that Jude offers. According to Jude these ungodly or godless men are: (1) like brute beasts, (2) spots in your love feasts, (3) clouds without water, (4) late autumn trees without fruit, (5) raging waves of the sea, (6) wandering stars, (7) grumblers, (8) complainers, (9) mockers, and (10) sensual (i.e., fleshly, ψυχικοί; e.g. Jas. 3:15) persons. Jude then concludes the list in verse 19 before he begins his final exhortation in verse 20 with the indictment, “not having the Spirit.” Each of these offenses is the result of the Spirit being absent in these men.

So, what are “clouds without water? Again the language triggers multiple Old Testament images. God appeared to His people in a cloud on several occasions, including throughout the wilderness wanderings (Exod. 13:21; 14:19-20). This is the first illustration Jude offers (verse 5). God was not a cloud but He was in the cloud (Num. 11:25; 12:5). The cloud was the means by which God spoke to Moses face to face (Exod. 33:11; Num. 14:14). Without the actual presence of God on these occasions, the cloud was meaningless to Israelites.

Jude calls these godless men “clouds.” But why is their condition tagged “clouds without water”? God’s presence (Spirit) is not in them. They are clouds without God, or as Jude expresses their situation, “having not the Spirit” (verse 19). No living water flows forth from these waterless clouds unto eternal life (John 4:10-14; 7:37-39; cf. Isa. 44:3, 4).

Posted in Expository, New Testament

Who is the one who is sick and is healed in James 5:14-16?

By Glenn A. Jobe

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:14-16, NKJV).

Introduction:

The question before us is how do we go about identifying the one who James says is sick and is healed after prayer is offered on his behalf. Two prominent views are offered. James has in mind either a person who is sick physically or is sick spiritually. In order to answer this question we will look at three lines of evidence: (1) the words that James chooses to use, (2) the immediate context, and (3) what other New Testament scriptures may shed light on the subject.

WHAT DID JAMES MEAN BY “SICK”?

Two different Greek words are translated “sick” in James 5:14-15. The first word employed by James is the most common word for “sick” (astheneō) in the New Testament which, as a verb, occurs 36 times and another 24 times as a noun (asthenia). Most often astheneō and asthenia refer to physical illnesses, but not always. Sometimes they refer to spiritual weaknesses.

The Spirit helps saints in prayer with their weakness or infirmity (asthenia) (Rom. 8:26), for they know not how to pray as they ought and the Spirit makes intercessions.

In 1 Corinthians 2:3 Paul said that he was with the Corinthians in weakness (asthenia):  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” Yet he received his strength and power from God (2:5). A popular view of 1 Corinthians 2:3 is that “weakness” refers to physical sickness which resulted in Paul’s being “in fear, and in much trembling.” If so, we might have the same situation here as in James 5:14-15 where the first “sick” (asthenia) refers to physical illness (5:14) and the second “sick” (kamnō) refers to a spiritual condition. However, I rather think that the three words in 1 Corinthians 3:2 form a triad, each expressing a condition of its own: weakness, fear, trembling. Jesus taught that we are to support the weak (asthenia) (Acts 20:35) which is followed by the axiom, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Saints may be weak in their spiritual constitution for they may be weak in faith (Rom. 14:1,2), may be caused to stumble, or “be made weak” (Rom. 14:21). See also 1 Corinthians 8:9-12. On the other hand, Abraham was not weak (astheneō) in faith (Rom. 4:19).

Weakness or infirmity (asthenia) was also associated with the Old Testament High Priest (Heb. 4:15) who nevertheless could “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness” (asthenia) (Heb. 5:2).

Noteworthy is that James makes no mention of physical sickness elsewhere in the book. Prior to James 5, there is no allusion to the issue of physical sickness. Thus there are many New Testament references to “sickness,” “infirmity”, or “weakness” that refer to a spiritual condition and not to a physical one. The subject and the immediate context must determine what is intended.

The second word employed by James for “sick” is kamnō which appears only in James 5:15, Hebrews 12:3, and Revelation 2:3. In Hebrews 12:3 kamnō is rendered “weary”: “ For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” The NASB, MLB (Berkeley Version) and ASV also read “weary.” The NEB has “faint”, SEB “get tired.” I found no translation that translates this word “sick” in Hebrews 12:3, though sick is considered a secondary meaning according to Arndt and Gingrich (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature). Revelation 2:3 is rendered “fainted” in the KJV, but “weary” in the NKJV, ASV and NASB: “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” This is in perfect harmony with James 5! So, the primary meaning of kamnō is weary or faint. This is the meaning in Hebrews 12:3 and most certainly it has the same meaning in James 5.

James writes to saints who had become weary and discouraged while their faith was being tried. This theme begins in the second verse of the book and continues through to the end of James: 2  My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3  knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (Jas. 1:2-4). Verse 3 is the key verse in the book: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James’ message is that saints will be tried but they are not to lose heart.

The testing of faith is the theme of the book as is evident when one considers a simple outline of the book (prepared by Jackie M. Stearsman [June 1977]).

  1. Faith is Tempered and Tested by Trials and Temptations (1:2-18).
  2. Faith Is Tested by the Word of God (1:19-27).
  3. Faith Is Tested by Social Classifications in Society (2:1-13).
  4. Faith Is Tested by Works (2:14-26).
  5. Faith Is Tested by the Use of the Tongue (3:1-18).
  6. Faith Is Tested by the World (4:1—5:12).
  7. Faith Is Tested by Suffering, Joy, “Sickness” (i.e., weariness; GAJ), Sin, and Compassion for an Erring Brother (5:13-20).

The other word that is at times rendered “sick” in the New Testament (but not in James) is sunechō which describes a situation more in the sense of being held by something (12 times it appears).

WHAT DID JAMES MEAN BY “HEALED”?

The second word for our consideration is “healed” (iaomai) which also can be understood from either a physical or spiritual context. Passages that reflect a physical understanding are obvious and numerous.

Among many scriptures that have a spiritual or emotional meaning to the word include the following: (1) Matthew 13:15 – “‘For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’” This quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 is repeated in Acts 28:27. (2) Jesus was sent to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18). (3) Peter summarized Jesus ministry by noting that Jesus healed those who were oppressed (Acts 10:38). (4) Hebrews 12:12-13 expresses the need to restore spiritual vitality. (5) We are healed (from sin) by Jesus’ stripes (1 Pet. 2:24).

At the conclusion of this study we will see that the context of James 5:14-16 demands a spiritual healing of the sick.

WHAT DOES THE REMOTE CONTEXT TEACH?

As one considers the immediate context of James 5, he notices that some obvious difficulties arise if sickness and healing are physical in nature. The usual explanation among us is that during the early days of the church, when miracles were still operative, that if one called upon the elders of the church, prayer and the anointing of oil healed the physically ill. Yet, note carefully the text: 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

The words that are underlined in the above text should expose the obvious problem if “sick” assumes the physically sick. James does not say that the sick might be healed or even improve; he says the sick will be healed, be saved and be forgiven. At times during the Lord’s public ministry Jesus’ own apostles could not perform miracles due to their own lack of faith (e.g. the epileptic boy of Matt. 17:14-21).

In 2 Timothy 4:20 we learn that Paul found it necessary to leave one of his traveling companions, Trophimus, in Miletus sick (Acts 20:4). Yet Paul had called for the Ephesian elders to meet him there (Acts 20:17). If for some reason Paul could not heal Trophimus, surely these elders could and would have if they had the ability to do so. But they did not. Apparently those who had the gift of healing (as per Paul) could not utilize the gift as they desired. Yet, the sick who are healed in James 5 are done so unequivocally.

Conclusion:

So what is James telling us about the sick who are healed in relation to elders and prayer?

First, we saw that James explained why trials and temptations have come to the recipients of his epistle. They are for the testing of their faith in order that they develop patience (Jas. 1:2-4).

Second, we saw that faith is tested in at least seven ways (see the outline).

Third, we saw that some saints may be weak and grow weary but the prayer of faith will save the sick (the spiritually despondent) and raise him up.

Fourth, in addition to this (and is often overlooked), IF he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. We need to recognize that a person may be weak in faith and not sin; but then again, if he does, he will be forgiven (guaranteed!).

Fifth, everything in the immediate context (Jas 5:14-16) suggests to us a spiritual malady, not a physical one: (1) suffering, (2) cheerful, (3) sin, (4) forgiveness.

Sixth, the closing verses reinforce this theme: 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20). This is not the introduction of a new subject—it is the conclusion of the present one.

ADDENDUM: WHAT ABOUT THE OIL IN JAMES 5:14?

I thought about mentioning the oil in the article but was trying to focus more on the context to get to the proper hermeneutical approach. One thing that I did not develop was the word “suffering” in verse 13. The word for “suffering” is kakopatheō, and besides here, it is only found in 2 Timothy 2:3, 9 and 4:5 in the New Testament. It is enlightening to read the immediate context of these three verses for it is very similar to that of James 5. The word “suffering”, too, must be considered within the theme of the Book of James.

When it comes to reproaches to the name of Christ, not all suffering is to be considered negative. Saints will view suffering differently, according to the strength of their faith. Obviously one sees the need to pray during suffering. But can suffering be taken cheerfully? Yes, it can for those with strong faith. Paul and Silas were both praying and singing in the jail at Philippi (Acts 16:25). Peter and the other apostles left the Jewish council “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name” (Acts 5:41).

So, what role does oil play in James 5:14? The “healing” and “saving” of the “sick” is not attributed to oil—it is attributed to the prayer of faith, which suggests once again that this is not physical sickness. When has the anointing of oil been the treatment for the physically sick? Cuts, scrapes and burns may be treated with oil (e.g. Luke 10:34) but not sickness.

Elders administered oil to comfort the sufferer. This is the same thought expressed by David in Psalm 23:5, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” God did not anoint David’s head literally with oil. David said the Lord comforted his soul as oil soothes the body. David also suffered wrongfully at the hands of his “enemies.”

So, the practice of elders anointing the sufferer with oil was an expression of well-being and comfort. It is an expression of joy, even as experienced by the apostles in Acts 5:41. Elders in the first century church likely anointed the head of the sufferer with oil literally as they sought to comfort and reassure his troubled soul. Perhaps in our culture the same concern could be expressed in other ways.

Sadly, in our present existence as non-sufferers for the cause of Christ, both the expression and experience of this joy escapes us. I believe James 5:14-15 reveals to us a major function of elders in the church which we have failed to comprehend: elders are to encourage the weak and faint-hearted (cf. 1 Thess. 5:14). When we erroneously ascribe the word “sick” in James 5 to physical ailments, explain that the healing was miraculous, and thus dismiss these verses by declaring that they are non-applicable today, we rob members of the church of a beautiful blessing from their leaders.

Posted in Expository, New Testament

They Asked Him a Question (Matt. 22:23-33)

By Weylan Deaver

One day Sadducees brought Jesus what they considered an unanswerable dilemma. They might have sprung their trap had they not been in error, and had they been dealing with someone other than Jesus. As it happened, they failed spectacularly and were, themselves, put to silence. It is recorded in Matthew 22:23-33 (also Mark 12, Luke 20).

One hallmark heresy of the Sadducees was denial of the resurrection. They asked Jesus a question stemming from their custom of a dead man’s brother marrying the widow of the deceased in order to raise children to carry on the name of the deceased. They describe a married couple without children. The husband dies and his brother marries the widow, but they have no children. That husband dies and a third brother marries the woman twice widowed. The scenario grows more far-fetched with the telling, with all seven brothers marrying the same woman, all seven dying, followed by the widow’s death. The question for Jesus is: “Whose wife is she in the resurrection?” It would seem the Sadducees have put Jesus in the position either of affirming an absurd marriage of seven husbands to one wife simultaneously on the other side of death, or that some marriage ties survive death while others do not. The other option is to deny the reality of resurrection, which is what the Sadducees did.

Interestingly, their hypothetical could have accomplished the same thing with only two dead husbands instead of seven. But, opposing the Lord, they knew neither where to start nor when to stop. Jesus stopped them in their tracks with his rebuke. He said the Sadducees were wrong. He said they did not know their Bible, and they did not know God’s power. He said marriage does not apply in the resurrection since people will be like angels (i.e. not married).

Then, Jesus took it further by falsifying the Sadducee’s denial of resurrection. When they read in Exodus 3:6 about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they should have understood God as God of the living—not the dead. And, since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died long before God spoke those words to Moses, the Sadducees should have inferred that the spirits of the patriarchs were still alive, and, thus, had no trouble accepting the concept of resurrection from the dead. Consider several observations from this account.

First, Jesus was never silenced by intimidation. He boldly told the Sadducees, “you are wrong” (v. 29). Are we willing to say what needs saying, even in the face of spiritual enemies?

Second, we must know God’s pen and God’s power (v. 29). Ignorance of the Scriptures always puts one in error. People who claim to believe the Bible, but who don’t even understand the Bible, are modern day Sadducees.

Third, marriage is an earth-bound institution (v. 30). Like our mortal bodies, marriage does not survive the grave. The Sadducees mistakenly assumed that, if resurrection were real, things after it must be the same as things before it. They did not anticipate Jesus’ answer: In the resurrection, things are very different. And, that answer destroyed the Sadducees attempted dilemma.

Fourth, Jesus did not compromise God’s truth to fit human error (v. 30). He compared resurrected people to angels, knowing that Sadducees denied angels. Are we ever tempted to tread lightly with certain subjects because we know they are controversial, or might bring us criticism (for example, the Genesis creation account, biblical miracles, marriage-divorce, etc.)? Never let Satan’s fiction make you avoid God’s fact.

Fifth, Jesus had the highest view of Scripture (v. 31). He understood it was the means by which God spoke to the Sadducees, even though they were not born when the Old Testament was being written.

Sixth, the Sadducees ignorance was not for lack of information (v. 31), since God had spoken to them in the Scriptures. They had not reasoned rightly about what God wrote, which allowed them to get in serious error. Their ignorance was inexcusable.

Seventh, Jesus is the master logician (v. 32). The passage he quoted to the Sadducees was Exodus 3:6, where God is described as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Those three patriarchs had been dead for centuries when God spoke those words to Moses from the burning bush. Implied is that those three patriarchs were not dead, but living. If the Sadducees had seen the implication taught in Exodus 3:6, they should have had no trouble with the concept of resurrection.

Eighth, it is possible to be amazed at something heard, without believing it (v. 33). Astonishment at the Lord’s teaching is a good first step, but no substitute for acceptance. God help us avoid the mistakes of the Sadducees.