John, Chapter 8, Part 2

John 8:12 – Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus just finished dealing with the woman caught in adultery.  He quickly and completely shut down the plan of the Pharisees to ensnare him in a controversy that could have potentially ended his ministry and/or his life.

At the same time, he shows the mercy of God to the woman who deserved death (according to the law).  He forgives her sin and sends her on her way with the command to sin no more. 

This shows that Jesus doesn’t just teach with words; he teaches by example.  This is one of the attributes that makes him a good leader.  Anyone can talk about forgiveness or mercy, but Jesus shows us how to shower these blessings on a confused and desperate world.    

To start with, we note that Jesus did not immediately condemn this woman, even though she was guilty of sin.  He did not embarrass her in front of the crowd, nor did he pound his fist on the ground and tell her she was going to hell. 

Why is that?  For one thing, those who are caught in the web of Satan have an immediate need for mercy/grace, not judgment. 

Mark 2:16-17 – And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with tax collectors and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?  When Jesus heard it, he said unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Many Christians, perhaps unwittingly, decide which sins they will accept in other people and which sins they will not.  For example, there are Christians who are willing to forgive people who have an addiction to alcohol, but they immediately condemn and dismiss a person who is addicted to drugs.  Some Christians are willing to support women and men involved in an adulterous relationship, but they turn their backs on people who are confused about their gender.     

In God’s eyes, sin is sin.  ALL those who are caught in Satan’s snare are in need of God’s love.  When dealing with the lost, we should follow the example of Jesus as he dealt with the woman caught in adultery – he demonstrated the love and grace of God without affirming her sin or life choices.  

This is a powerful key in relating to the lost.  Most of them are expecting judgment from you, so when you show mercy it tells them something is ‘different’ about you. This opens the door for you to share the gospel message.

Once Jesus had shown her the mercy of God, then he privately addressed the issue of her sin.  For us, it is best to establish a solid relationship with the lost before we approach the topic of their sin.    

Jesus then reaffirms that he is the light of the world.  As we discussed in John chapter 1, nothing on earth would survive without the light of the sun.  The same is true in the spiritual realm – none of us could live spiritually without the Son.  It is our privilege to give the world a glimpse of spiritual life in Christ.

Here is something interesting to consider:  Although the woman in John chapter 8 saw the light of Christ while in the temple, that is NOT true for most people, because the vast majority of sinners aren’t attending church.  For most of them the only glimpse of Jesus they will get is the one they see in you. 

Let me repeat that:  For most sinners, the only glimpse of Jesus they will get is the one they see in you.  

Therefore, it is imperative that the light of Christ is shining brightly in our own lives (Matthew 5:16).  It is essential that we offer his love and grace to the lost.  Jesus has done his part – he shed his blood so we could be set free from sin.  Now we need to do our part and show that grace to those who need it most.  

John 8:13 – So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 

When Jesus declares to the religious leaders that he is the light of the world, they immediately oppose him. 

As we have discussed in earlier studies, the Law required two witnesses for a testimony to be accepted as true.  Since Jesus is testifying about himself, the Pharisees reject his testimony as false.

However, they are spiritually blind.  All Jews believed that only God could work miracles.  Since Jesus was working miracles by the hundreds, God was surely confirming that Jesus was the Messiah. 

John 8:14 – Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.”

Jesus responds by basically saying he is an exception to this rule. 

The law demanded two witnesses because men are sinful and they often speak from a spirit of pride or falsehood.  In other words, human beings will lie or deceive to gain an advantage or to make themselves look good.  But Jesus is not a mere man.  As the divine Son of God, he never promotes himself or his own agenda.  He says and does only what the Father has commanded him.  Therefore, this law doesn’t really apply to him (John 5:30-32).

Furthermore, Jesus points out that his testimony is true because he fully knows and understands that he came from heaven at the command of God.  He also fully knows and understands that after he has been crucified and resurrected (completed his mission) he will once again return to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.

No other man on earth could possibly confirm these facts, because no one on earth had seen or witnessed Jesus as he lived in Heaven with Father God and Holy Spirit.  Consequently, none of them were qualified to pass judge the testimony of Jesus. 

John 8:15-16 – “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”

There are two ways to perform judgment – by the flesh or by the Spirit.

To judge according to the flesh is to judge according to appearances, preconceived opinions and/or prejudices.  This was exactly how the religious leaders judged Jesus. 

For example, the Jews believed that the Messiah would come as a conquering hero, who would immediately defeat their enemies and set up a kingdom that rivaled the ‘golden age’ of Israel under David and Solomon.  As such, he would obviously be rich and powerful.  Because Jesus did not fit their preconceived ideas, they rejected him as Messiah.  They judged according to the flesh.

We know that when Jesus came to earth as our redeemer, he did not come to judge/condemn the world, but to save it.  Yet even if he did (and he one day will), his judgment would be fair, true and impartial because he judges by the Spirit.  To judge with the guidance of Holy Spirit is to judge righteously (Psalms 72:2) – according to the facts and the motivations of a man’s heart: 

1 Samuel 16:7 – But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.           

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus has the right and authority to pass judgment because he is no ordinary man.  He is the divine Son of God, sent by the Father.  Since he and his Father are in complete agreement, their testimony/judgment is true (two witnesses).    

John 8:17-18 – “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.  I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

Once again Jesus shows that he has come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it.  There are indeed two persons who agree about his testimony – he and his Father.

As he mentioned earlier, Jesus’ testimony of himself is credible/true because he knows where he came from (heaven) and where he is going (into the presence of the Father and Spirit).  No man on earth could confirm this testimony, but that’s okay; it is accredited by a much higher source – Father God.

The Father had indeed testified to the divinity of Jesus in several ways including audibly at his baptism (Matthew 3:17), through fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy (Zechariah 9:9, Micah 5:2, etc) and through the performance of miracles. 

The same is true for any judgment Jesus makes – it would not be an individual judgment but the judgment of two witnesses because he and the Father are in agreement on all things.  This was discussed at length in our study of John chapter 5.

John 8:19 – They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?”  Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father.  If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

There can be no doubt that the Pharisees asked this question in a spirit of mockery and spite, because they were well aware that Jesus was referring to God when he spoke of his Father.  We can even picture them pretending to look around for Joseph as they asked it. 

By ridiculing Jesus, they have also mocked and rejected the very God they claim to serve.  If you were Jesus, how would you deal with these people?  Perhaps your reaction would be similar to mine – I would probably call fire down from heave to consume them!

But Jesus does not allow them to stir up his anger.  Instead, he ignored their contempt and gave them a righteous response – if they will listen to his instruction, and receive him as the Messiah, then they will know his Father. 

The fact is, no man can approach God unless the Messiah (Jesus) makes a way for him through his blood.  Consequently, anyone who rejects Jesus has rejected their only path/avenue to find God.  The Pharisees did not seem to grasp this concept, no matter how many times Jesus taught it to them!

Once again, we find Jesus teaching us by example.  Do we respond righteously when we are mocked or ridiculed for our faith?  We are definitely called to do so:

2 Timothy 2:24-26 – And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose them; if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

The apostle Paul admonishes us to respond righteously, as Christ did.  We are to consider the lost as captives of the devil, snared by his evil schemes.  We are to have compassion for them as a shepherd has compassion for a lost sheep. 

Paul cautions us not to strive with them, but to answer them gently and patiently so they can escape the deadly snare of the enemy.  If Jesus can ignore the taunts of his enemies, can’t we do the same?   

John 8:20 – These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

The treasury was a part of the temple where the sacred offerings were collected.  It was within the court of the women.  Scholars tell us it held 13 chests or collection boxes – one for each tribe and one that only women were permitted to use for offerings.  It was a much frequented place; we can safely infer that the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees was witnessed by a large group of Jews.  But strangely, the religious leaders did nothing to stop Jesus.

Think about what a remarkable miracle this really is.  The religious leaders held immense power and influence in the Jewish nation, especially in the temple.  They had the authority to permanently banish people from the temple with a single command (John 9:22).  Yet, we find Jesus constantly teaching in the temple and they do nothing to stop him!  Furthermore, they had already decided to kill him, but he continues to teach while they stand by and allow him to speak!   

Clearly, God protected Jesus and restrained Satan so that mankind could hear the gospel message.  Eventually, Jesus would die for us, but only at the time appointed by God.

Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:

God had an appointed time for Jesus to finish his ministry by dying on the cross and then rising again.  If you think about it, the same is true for you and me.  God numbered the days of our earthly existence before we were ever born (Psalms 139:16).   He established a plan/purpose for our lives, just as he did with Jesus. 

So let me give you some encouragement and relief – Satan may hate you, but he cannot cut your life short unless God allows it.  Stay close to God, and let your light shine for Christ.  He will make sure you are able to complete all the good works God ordained for you to do. 

Let me offer you some strength:

The religious leaders mocked and taunted Jesus, but he never allowed them to bait him into an angry response.  Instead, he answered them righteously and revealed the truth of the gospel to them. 

We need to follow the example of Christ in this area.  The first step in this process is seeking the help of Holy Spirit, who can give us the strength and wisdom to avoid these traps. 

  

 

John, Chapter 6, Part 3

John 6:30 –So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?  What work do you perform?”

The crowd who ate the loaves and fish followed Jesus across the sea/lake to Capernaum.  They caught up with him at the temple, where he was teaching. 

At that time, Jesus told them to seek food that endures to eternal life.  This spiritual food was available from the Son of Man, who has been ‘sealed’ or commissioned by Father God to be the bread of life and provide eternal life to all who believe in him. 

The people respond by asking for a sign or miracle which proves Jesus is the Messiah and that has been ordained by Father God.

How do we explain this strange request in light of the recent miracle of the loaves and fish? 

The answer lies in the fact that this new request is being made in the temple setting.  The crowd no longer consists of just those from across the sea who at the loaves and fish.   It also includes other Jews from Capernaum as well as the temple rulers.

As for the crowed that ate the loaves/fish and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, they were thinking of Jesus in terms of our present physical life.  They expected the Messiah to be a leader who would overthrow Rome, restore Israel and provide them with a happy and comfortable existence here on earth.  This was the Messiah they were willing to accept and support.

But Jesus rebuffs their attempt to make him an earthly Messiah and subsequently informs them that his kingdom is not physical, it is spiritual.    

Just as earthly life depends upon earthly food, spiritual life depends on spiritual food.  The Messiah has come to provide spiritual food by fulfilling/completing the ceremonial law and replacing it with the gospel.  Through the plan set forth in the gospel message, the Messiah will become the spiritual bread which sustains eternal life.

This plan was a serious issue for the religious leaders of the day.  So the request for a sign most likely came from the rulers of the temple.  Despite the miracle of the loaves/fish (which they were no doubt aware of), they were demanding further proof/confirmation that Jesus was the true Messiah, because only Messiah had the authority to set aside the law and establish new religious doctrine. 

The conversation that takes place in the next few verses may well have occurred between Jesus and the religious leaders, with the crowd watching.

John 6:31 – “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Not only do they ask for a sign of confirmation, they disparage the miracle of the loaves and fish by comparing it to the manna given to their forefathers.  Their basis is found in the book of Psalms:

Psalm 105:40 – The people asked, and he brought quail, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.    

In essence this is what they are saying:  The law came through Moses, and his message was confirmed by God who gave manna or ‘bread from heaven’ to millions of Jews, every day, throughout their wilderness journey of 40 years. 

This is a greater miracle than Jesus feeding a single meal to a crowd of five thousand men plus women and children.  If Jesus is the Messiah, and he wants us to believe his message, it must be confirmed with a greater sign than the miracle of the loaves and fish.

John 6:32-33 –Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Again, the Jews are focused on the physical bread of this life (manna) and again Jesus patiently redirects their focus to the spiritual realm.

The true ‘bread from heaven’ is not manna.  Manna is simply another form of physical food which God provided for Israel to sustain their physical lives as they wandered in the wilderness.  It had no spiritual power; it could never preserve the soul from death.

Furthermore, manna did not come from ‘heaven’ as in the third heaven and throne room of God (II Corinthians 12:2-4).  Manna came from ‘heaven’ as in the first heaven, meaning the air and clouds of Earth’s atmosphere.

The true ‘bread from heaven’ is spiritual food which results in eternal life; it saves the soul from eternal death.  God provided this true bread through his Son Jesus, who came down to earth from the third heaven.  God gives the bread of heaven to the entire world – not only Jews, but Gentiles as well.

The phrase ‘bread of heaven’ is full of deep meaning: 

  • Since Jesus is the ‘bread from heaven’, the Jews can be assured that he is divine, because heaven is the dwelling place of God. 
  • Since Jesus is the ‘bread from heaven’ the Jews can be assured that Jesus has been with God from the beginning (John 1:1) and that he was present and assisted in the creation of the world (John 1:3). 
  • Since Jesus is the ‘bread from heaven’, the Jews can be assured that he possess all power, because heaven is the seat of all power and authority.
  • Since Jesus is the ‘bread from heaven’ the Jews can be assured that Jesus has a divine commission from the Father to bring them the gospel message.  

These Jews are either ignorant or stubborn when they esteem Moses greater than Jesus.  Moses was simply a servant of God, while Christ is the Son (Hebrews 3:5-6).

John 6:34-35 – They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Does this request seem at all familiar to you?  The phrase ‘give us this bread’ is very similar to the words of the woman at the well, who said, ‘give me this water’ (John 4:15).  This indicates that, like the woman at the well, these Jews are beginning to receive spiritual understanding. 

They are starting to realize that manna was not the true bread of heaven as they previously believed.  They begin to consider the possibility that God has sent them a better kind of bread. 

In the remainder of this exchange Jesus proceeds to reveal himself to the crowd and show that the blessings they hoped to receive were contained within himself and therefore they could only be obtained by belief in him.  

In fact, the person who receives Christ and believes in him as the atoning sacrifice for sin will be perfectly satisfied spiritually.  He will be free from the misery, guilt and burden of sin.  His soul will be purified and reunited with God.  He will enter into true rest and joy with God.  He also finds solace, strength and victory in this life.

Sadly, this is where the similarities between this crowd and the woman at the well end.  While the woman believed in Jesus and was satisfied, this crowd rejected Christ and went away spiritually unsatisfied/dead.

John 6:36 – “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”

Jesus now goes on to chastise these Jews.  He notes that they have ‘seen me’.  Of course, Jesus is not talking about physically seeing him in the flesh, he is speaking in spiritual terms.  He is saying that the crowd saw or perceived that he was the Messiah.  They were witness to his power.  They saw that Father God had confirmed his ministry with miracles.

It is not a lack of evidence that causes them to reject Christ and his gospel.  They have chosen to be spiritually blind.  But despite their rejection, the work of Jesus will not be in vain.

John 6:37 – “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  

Although some people will reject him, Jesus has been guaranteed by the Father that his labor will not be in vain.

Isaiah 53:11 – He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Jesus promises that all who come to him will be accepted and cleansed by him.  Notice how boundless and wonderful the mercy of God is – NOTHING you have done is so bad that it cannot be forgiven! 

To ‘come to him’ simply means to believe on him.  To believe implies that we recognize our need/sin, we have confidence Jesus can help us and we are ready to trust and submit to him. 

But just as in the case of this crowd, Jesus never forces anyone to accept him.  The Spirit of God touches us offering to do a work of faith and repentance in our lives, but it is still our choice.  All who accept are saved.  Those who prefer the path leading to death are free to travel that road, although God will constantly reach out to save them.   

The phrase ‘cast out’ literally means ‘thrust out of doors’.  The reference is of a person in deep poverty and distress who, in desperation, knocks on the door of a nobleman’s house in order to get relief.  Rather than being cast out, he is welcomed into the house.

In the same way, Jesus assures us that when we knock on his door seeking relief, he will not shut the door in our face; he will kindly and lovingly welcome us into his kingdom no matter how sinful and vile we may be.  In fact, he not only forgives our sin, he welcomes us as brothers and sisters and makes us children of his Father.  

John 6:38 – “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

This is a confirmation of the preceding statement, that we do not seek Christ in vain.

Jesus assures us that he came to earth to do his Father’s business.  He came as an agent of God or what we might call an ambassador.  He came from the kingdom of heaven to settle the affairs between the great Creator and all of creation.  The scope and purpose of his whole earthly life was to glorify God and to do good to men.

Therefore he never considered his own ease, safety or comfort.  When the time came for him to lay down his life, he did so willingly.

John 10:17-18 – Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.  No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Of course, we know that the Godhead is in perfect unity at all times.  The will of Jesus was identical to that of the Father; he too desired for men to be redeemed. 

John 6:39 – “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

In other words, Jesus is not there to just introduce us to salvation, he is with us every minute of every day until we finish our earthly course.  He guards our salvation until the final day – the Day of Judgment.

This is the will/desire/intention of God and as such, we can be sure that it will be done because Jesus is faithful and he has been given all power in heaven and on earth to accomplish his Father’s will.

The last day is also known as the Day of Judgment.  On this day, all of the dead will be raised.  Their bodies will be changed and reunited with their spirits.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

This is the comfort and hope of every Christian – someday Jesus will defeat the final enemy – Death (I Corinthians 15:54).  Our sinful flesh will be transformed and we will live with the Lord forever!

John 6:40 – “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Salvation consists of two parts.  There is the gift of God, which was Jesus the Son, our redeemer.  This is a free gift which God offers to every single person, because it is his will that none perish, but all come to a saving knowledge of the Lord.  However, he will not force his will on us.

This brings us to the second part of salvation, acceptance of this free gift by each individual.  In order to accept salvation, we must recognize our sin, and place our faith in his atoning work.  This assures us of eternal life.  At that point, Holy Spirit will come to dwell in our hearts and begin the life long process of sanctification.    

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:

We see over and over again in the New Testament that the Jewish leaders chose spiritual blindness.  They were unable to accept the fact that God was doing something new in their midst.  As a result, they missed out on the amazing things God wanted to do in them, through them and for them.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on any of the blessings of God. 

So I encourage you today to look at your own life, or ‘wine skin’ (Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-38).  God has promised an epic, world-wide, end time harvest of souls.  But we can be sure it won’t occur as it has in the past, because God never repeats himself.  He is always doing something new.

Isaiah 43:18-19 – Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  

Let’s be honest – the lost of this generation are different from generations past.  Basic beliefs in Christian values no longer exist.  If we want the fires of revival to ignite and burn, we must be willing to follow where Holy Spirit leads us, how he leads us and when he leads us. 

The good news is that if we are willing (if we do NOT choose spiritual blindness), Holy Spirit will lead us into victories that we can’t even conceive of right now.  As long as we follow his leading, we don’t need to worry about failing because he will make sure we are victorious.  We don’t need to worry about having enough strength/endurance for the task, because he will be our strength.  With him, we cannot fail.

Here are some things to consider this week: Are you ready and willing to accept a new and different move of God in your life and ministry?  Are you ready to leave your current spiritual comfort zone?  Are you in a position to hear Holy Spirit speaking to you and to act on his instructions?  Are you willing to seek Holy Spirit involvement/gifts in your life?

John, Chapter 4, Part 1

John 4:1-3 – Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

In chapter one, we saw that the religious leaders (particularly the Pharisees) sent representatives to question John the Baptist about his religious activities.  We noted that the Pharisees were very zealous for the Jewish religious rites.  They would never allow any changes to Jewish worship except by authority of the Messiah or a prophet. 

After interviewing John the Baptist, they determined that he was not Elijah, a prophet or the Messiah.  Therefore, his ministry of baptism was unlawful.  I am sure they did everything in their power to stop him from baptizing, particularly after he confronted them about their own need for repentance (Matthew 3:1-12). 

In chapter three John testified that Jesus was the Messiah, and he encouraged all people (even his own disciples) to follow Jesus.  Soon, Jesus had even more followers than John.   This would have been a substantial number, because ‘all Jerusalem, Judea and the region around the Jordan’ turned out to hear John (Matthew 3:4-6).  Jesus taught them about the kingdom of heaven and his disciples baptized them in water. 

Can you imagine how irritated the Pharisees would be when they discovered the growing ministry of Jesus?  In their minds, Jesus would be the second unlawful teacher and baptizer in their midst.  Just as in the case of John the Baptist, his ministry drew their own followers away, diminishing their influence and authority among the Jews.

Don’t forget that about this same time, Herod had John the Baptist arrested and put in prison (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:14).  This would actually have increased the followers of Jesus even more, as those who formerly followed John now followed Christ.       

Worse yet (according to the religious leaders), many Jews believed this man Jesus was the Messiah.  But according to their way of thinking, Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah they were expecting.  Therefore, he was an enemy of Israel who was leading people away from their true teachers (themselves). There can be no doubt that the Pharisees would confront Jesus and seek to take his life in order to protect their own religious authority.

So, when it comes to the attention of Jesus that the Pharisees are aware of the extent of his ministry, he simply leaves Judea and heads for Galilee.  By doing so, he avoids a premature confrontation with them. 

This is one example of how Jesus was in control of his destiny on earth.  He was not going to allow himself to be imprisoned or hindered from spreading the gospel; he needed to be free to complete his mission.  At this point, no purpose would be served by provoking the Pharisees, so simply leaving/avoiding confrontation was the right thing to do.

Mary and Joseph followed the same strategy when Jesus was a baby (Matthew 2:13).  Jesus advises us to do the same, if we need to (Matthew 10:23). 

There is a difference of opinion among scholars about exactly how Jesus became aware of the knowledge of the Pharisees.  Some maintain that Holy Spirit revealed it to him.  Others believe that a person (possibly one of John’s former disciples) found out and simply relayed the information to him. 

Either way, the point is that Jesus exercised wisdom in how he dealt with those opposed to the gospel message.  There were times for confrontation and times to simply withdraw.

John 4:4 – And he had to pass through Samaria.

What do you recall about Samaria?

Originally, Samaria was the name of a city in ancient Israel.  It was founded by the wicked king Omri around 925 BC.  Omri made it the capital city of Israel, and he built a temple of Baal there (I Kings 16). 

The city was not a particularly peaceful place.  It was besieged (several times), destroyed, rebuilt and even renamed.  It is important to note that by the time Samaria is mentioned in the New Testament, it no longer refers to a specific city, but to the region or district where the city had been located.

Who did the Samaritans descend from? 

Well, Samaria was originally part of the nation of Israel.  As we would expect, the people who lived there were Jews.  However, in 722 BC when the Assyrians conquered Israel, they really mixed things up.  They resettled the best of the Israelites in Assyria.  Only the poorest and least desirable people were left in Israel (including Samaria).  Then, to avoid the land becoming uninhabitable, the Assyrians brought in foreigners from other conquered lands and forced them to settle in Israel/Samaria.  Over the course of time, the Jews who were left intermarried with these foreigners.  The people born from the union of the Jews and these foreigners were called Samaritans.

What did the Samaritans believe?

During New Testament times, the Samaritans considered themselves believers in the God of Israel, however, their religion had become corrupted: 

The Samaritans only believed in the Pentateuch, rejecting the Psalms, the law and the prophets accepted by the Jews.  Also, their version of the Pentateuch was slightly different than the one used by the Jews. 

The Samaritans were looking for a ‘Taheh’ or ‘restorer’ who was more of a teacher than a Messiah.  The Jews, however, were expecting a deliverer/Messiah who was a warrior/king. 

The Samaritans believed that Abraham had offered Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Gerizim.  But Genesis 22 says that event occurred on Mount Moriah which is in Jerusalem.

The Samaritans taught that Melchizedek appeared to Abraham on (you guessed it) Mount Gerizim and they also taught that that when the Jews came to the Promised Land, they were to set up an altar of worship at Gerizim.  This was false; the altar was to be set up on Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:4-5).  As you may recall, mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were the mountains of cursing and blessing as mentioned in Joshua 8:30-35. 

Basically, the Samaritans considered Mount Gerizim to be the most sacred place on earth.  However, the Jews considered Jerusalem to be the most sacred place on earth, because that was where the temple or dwelling place of God was located and it was the place where God had chosen to manifest his glory. 

In fact, when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity and began to build the temple, the Samaritans asked to help.  The Jews refused, and the hatred between the two groups never ceased (Ezra 41-5, Nehemiah 4:1-3).  For example, the Samaritans ended up building a temple on Mount Gerizim, which the Jews destroyed in 130 BC.

The worst insult a Jew could give someone was to call them a Samaritan.  For their part, the Samaritans were just as hostile; even after seeing the power of Jesus they refused him entrance to their district once they found out he was bound for Jerusalem (Luke 9:35).

So we see that these two groups despised one another because each felt the other had polluted/corrupted the Jewish religion.  By the time Jesus walked the earth, tensions had existed between the two groups for hundreds of years.  (Kind of sheds a new light on the parable of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t it?).

Their hatred of each other was so intense, that the Jewish leaders refused to even pass through the district of Samaria.  Consequently, a trip from Jerusalem to Judea (which took 3 days if you went through Samaria) would take these men 7 days, because they would skirt Samaria and travel through Peraea. 

Now… notice that this verse says Jesus HAD to pass through Samaria.  This cannot mean that there was no way around Samaria, because we already know there was – the route through Peraea. 

John is referring to something else here –The Father had work for Jesus to do in that region.  That is why Jesus had to pass through Samaria, and this is correct explanation of this verse.

Thus we find that the purposes of God over rule the wickedness of man.  The Pharisees had driven Jesus to Galilee with their malice, but God used that occasion to bring the first fruits of the Gentiles into the kingdom of heaven!

In the same way, you and I find ourselves in this world but not of it.  Some Christians go to great lengths to avoid rubbing shoulders with the world (much like the Pharisees).  But let me ask you this – if you never associate with the lost, how can you show them the love of Christ?  If you never go to a movie, or a concert, or pass out candy on Halloween, how do you expect to minister to the lost?  Let’s be honest – they are not flocking to church to hear the message.

Jesus did not hesitate to interact with the women of Samaria.  He met her where she was.  He treated her with respect and had honest communication with her, yet at the same time he did not approve or condone her false religious beliefs.  He spoke the truth to her in love and won her into the kingdom. 

This is an excellent example to us.  We need to interact with the sinners around us, meeting them at their spiritual level.  We need to treat them with respect, but without approving their sin or their false religious beliefs.  We need to be with them, to reveal the truth of the gospel when the time is right.

Being clothed with the whole armor of God and being in close fellowship with Holy Spirit will allow us to successfully minister to the lost without falling into the same sins they are practicing.

John 4:5 – So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

Passing into the district of Samaria, Jesus comes to the town of Sychar.  This town was formerly known as Sichem, or as you may recognize it, Shechem (Genesis 33:18, 12:6).  It is located approximately 40 miles north of Jerusalem.  It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament.

Shechem was located in the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 21:21).  This was the place where Joshua gathered all Israel together before his death, to renew the covenant with God (Joshua 24).  After the death of Gideon, Shechem became a seat of Baal worship (Judges 9:46).  It was eventually destroyed by Abimelech (Judges 9:45) and rebuilt becoming the residence of King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:25).  It was eventually destroyed and rebuilt again, being named Neapolis or Nablous. 

But let’s back up a bit, because we want to focus on the history of Shechem during the times of the patriarchs. 

Back in the day, Jacob purchased a parcel of land from Hamor, the father of Shechem.  It was the place where he erected his first altar to the Lord.  Eventually, Jacob gave this parcel of land and an adjoining tract (Genesis 48:22) to his son Joseph:

Genesis 33:18-20 – And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.  And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money.And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-israel.

Interestingly, this was the place where the children of Israel buried Joseph’s bones after they left Egypt (Joshua 24:32).  It was a very historical place for the Jews.  As you probably already surmised, it is very near to Mount Gerizim.

John 4:6 – Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well.  It was about the sixth hour.

There is no well in the Old Testament identified as Jacob’s well.  The name probably came as a result of an oral tradition which stated that Jacob had dug it, or because it was near to the land which he gave to Joseph. 

As we have already discussed in earlier lessons, the Jews marked time beginning at 6 am.  This makes the ‘sixth hour’ noon, a very hot time of the day.  Jesus was probably thirsty, hungry and tired from his extensive walking.  He waited at the well as his disciples went into the town to buy some food.

John 4:7-8 – A woman from Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)

Jesus was certainly in need of a drink of water after his exhausting travels.  Although the divinity of Jesus is a frequent point in John’s writings, he also provides proof that Jesus was dwelling in a body of flesh, and was bound to its weaknesses; he exhibits hunger, thirst and tiredness.

“Give me a drink” is a perfectly normal request for a traveler to make to a native beside a well.  This type of request is practically never refused.  But in this case, because Jesus is a man and a Jew, while she is a woman/Samaritan, it is an unusual request.

However, it was not unusual to find women at wells.  As we learn from historical records and other portions of scripture, it was often the job of females to draw water for both their families and their flocks (Genesis 24:11, Exodus 2:16).

The Jews used to say that those who wished to find a wife should go to the wells where the young women were to be found in abundance.  I guess that could be considered an ancient version of a dating site!

John 4:9 – The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

How would the woman have known that Jesus was a Jew?  Although it might have been a particular mode of dress, the more likely reason is that Jesus spoke with a Galilean dialect; his speech identified him as Jewish.

This helps to explain the reply of the Samaritan woman.  Her response to Jesus is not so much a question as it is a reproach or a jeer, which had its source in the bitter enmity between Jews and Samaritans. 

The woman indicates that there were no ‘dealings’ between the two groups.  History indicates that the Jews had no qualms about buying and selling with the Samaritans, but the Sanhedrin forbid them from any familiarity or social interaction with them.  In other words, a Jew could not accept a gift from a Samaritan, or borrow anything from them, or marry them or even eat with them.

Thus the woman is surprised when Jesus asked her for a favor; any/every other Jewish man would have endured the worst type of hardship rather than be indebted to a Samaritan for help.  Their pride simply wouldn’t allow it, even if it was only a drink of water.   Besides, a Jew wouldn’t help a Samaritan, why should she show kindness to Jesus?

John 4:10 –Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

For his part, Jesus does not argue or debate with the woman, though he certainly could have.  Instead, he uses the situation at hand as a starting point to share the good news of the gospel. 

He builds up some anticipation in her mind by saying, ‘If you knew’.  The implication, of course, is that there is something extremely important and valuable at hand, but she is ignorant of what it is. 

That extremely important and valuable thing is Jesus himself, the Messiah, the gift of God, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world!  She, a heathen sinner, has no idea that she is conversing with the God of the universe who is both willing and able to bestow a priceless blessing upon her – Holy Spirit! 

Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation in the lives of mankind.  He is often metaphorically referred to as water or living water.  Jesus himself refers to him as such later on in the gospel of John:

John 7:38-39 – He that believes on me [Jesus], as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.  (But this spoke he of the Spirit, whom they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Our souls are like dry, barren fields that have no hope of producing life.  In fact, they are dead.  But when the gentle rain of Holy Spirit falls down upon us, we are revived and brought to life and fruitfulness.

At other times the scriptures speak of Holy Spirit as a cleansing water, which washes us from sin/spiritual defilement (Hebrews 10:22). 

Holy Spirit is living water because he comes from a living source – Father God (Revelation 22:1).

For her part, the woman views Jesus as a weary traveler, burning with exhaustion and thirsting for rest and refreshment.  But in reality, she is the one who is spiritually dry/exhausted and needs to be revived!

John 4:11 – The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?”

This woman exhibits the same spiritual blindness we saw in Nicodemus in the last chapter.  It should look familiar to us, because ALL of us were spiritually blind at one time, before Holy Spirit quickened us.  The scripture tells us that the natural or earthly man (like the woman or Nicodemus) cannot perceive or understand spiritual things because they are spiritually blind/dead. 

1 Corinthians 2:14 –But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

To us, it seems obvious that Jesus uses earthly water as a starting point to teach this woman about spiritual things.  But to her, it was confusing.  In her earthly understanding, she cannot imagine how Jesus will give her living water since the well is very deep and he has no bucket to draw with.

But we will see that Jesus patiently works with her until her spiritual eyes/understanding are enlightened and she begins to understand that he is not speaking about earthly water from her ancestor’s well. 

John 4:12 – “Are you greater than our father Jacob?  He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

Apparently, this woman thinks that Jesus has access to another physical well of ‘living’ or fresh spring water.  In her mind, Jesus is saying his water is far superior to hers.  At that point, she defends the well of Jacob claiming that Jacob, his family and his live stock all drank from this well; whatever Jesus has can’t possibly be as good as this.  Clearly, her understanding is still in the natural realm.

John 4:13-14 – Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

But Jesus is about to change all that. 

He begins by explaining to her that Jacob’s well could produce nothing more than ordinary water.  As good as it might be, it is no different than other water.  It will quench your thirst for a moment, but in a few hours your thirst will return.  You will soon have as much need and desire for water as you ever had.

Just as a drink of fresh cold water could satisfy her earthly desire (temporarily), so the gospel of Christ could satisfy all the deep spiritual longings of her heart by introducing her to the living water of Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit, however, never provides temporary satisfaction.    

Because the Spirit of God indwells the heart of the believer, he has a constant unfailing spring of grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, etc available to him.  This fountain of grace wells up and overflows in the life of a believer at all times – in times of comfort or hardship, hunger or plenty, prosperity or adversity, life or even the valley of the shadow of death.  Outside circumstances have no effect upon the grace that supplies and sustains his soul in all situations. 

The end result of this grace is that it wells up into eternal life, which we will enjoy forever, in the presence of our Savior.  This is the unspeakably wonderful gift that Jesus wants to bestow not only on this woman, but on all mankind!         

Let me offer you some encouragement and some relief and strength:

The world can be a really ugly and repulsive place – just ask the Jews.  They felt that nothing could be worse than a Samaritan.  But Jesus wasn’t afraid to interact with the Samaritan woman.  Unless he stopped where she was and interacted with her, he could never have given her eternal life.    

You and I should definitely have Christian friends, who can support us in a time of need, advise us, sharpen us and journey with us through this life. 

But we also need to have friends and associates that are sinners.  If you know nothing of the struggles of the world, how can you relate to them?  If you never associate with the unsaved or unchurched, how do you expect to win them to Christ?  

I encourage you to take a look at your relationships.  Make sure some of them are with unbelievers.  As we will see in our next post, it is not our job to condone their sin, but it is our job to explain the truth to them in love.   

Galatians, Chapter 5, Part 1

Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Welcome back, readers! 

In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul continues to exhort the Galatians to be firm and unwavering in their resolve to reject the yoke or bondage of the law.  Since they are under grace, there is no need to continue observing the rites and ceremonies of the law.

The law was a burden!

Just take a moment to consider the burden of the law:  There were daily and weekly sacrifices.  There were numerous (and frequent) washings and purifications.  There were dietary laws.  There were restrictions on what was ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’.  There were rites and ceremonies for births, marriages and burials.  There were even laws for sowing and harvesting.  There were laws that defined when you could work and when you must rest. 

William Burkitt’s Expository Notes sums it up this way: “… so numerous were these observances, that they took up half their time, and were as burdensome as they were numerous.”

In fact, the scriptures describe the law as being impossible to fully obey:

Acts 15:10 – Now therefore why test God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?   

The good news is that as Christians, we are free from bearing (or trying to bear) this heavy load. 

As Paul points out to the Galatians, Christ has made us free.  By his obedience to death, he has purchased freedom from not only the law, but from our slavery to sin, and the curse of death. 

Since Christ has sacrificed himself to buy this freedom, the Galatians should consider it their duty and privilege to firmly defend their liberty in Christ.

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

It is true that Paul had a relationship with the Galatians, and they might well listen to him because of that bond, but there was a much higher authority at work here.

Paul spent the entire first part of this letter establishing the fact that he was an apostle expressly chosen by Jesus to carry the gospel message (see our discussion of chapter 1).  Therefore, Paul has the authority of Christ backing up his teaching.  So when he makes the point in verse 2 that “I, Paul” say something, Christians need to pay attention; his comments carry the authority of Jesus.   

In regards to his comments in chapter 5, we must tread carefully.  We must take Paul’s remarks in the context of his whole letter, or we will fall into a serious misinterpretation.  Paul says “if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you” 

Paul is NOT saying that anyone who is circumcised is excluded from salvation/Christianity.  All Jewish males, including the 12 apostles were circumcised according to the law.  In fact, Jesus himself, as a Jewish male, was circumcised on the eighth day of his life:

Luke 2:21 – And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, who was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The issue here is that the false teachers in Galatia claimed that circumcision was essential to salvation.  In other words, they taught that faith in the blood of Jesus was not enough to save you.  If you wanted to be justified and accepted by God, you had to add your own works to the blood of Christ.  This is tantamount to blasphemy, because as soon as you accept that doctrine, you are declaring that the sacrifice of Jesus was insufficient to save you.  By default, you are saying that you had a hand in saving yourself, which we know is utterly false!

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.        

To claim that circumcision was required for salvation was a denial of Christ.  If you deny Christ, then you can’t be saved by grace.  You are left to try and justify yourself by keeping the law.   

So again, the act of circumcision does not exclude people from salvation.  However, it doesn’t save them either.  Salvation is through faith, regardless of your circumcision status.    

Galatians 5:3-4 – I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.   

You can be justified by faith, or you can try to earn salvation through keeping the law, but it’s one or the other… the two will never, ever mix.

The person who chooses to try justification by the law binds himself to obey the entire Law of Moses.  He must perfectly and completely fulfill all the requirements of the law for his entire life.  If he fails in even one instance, he is guilty of breaking the whole law. 

Keep this in mind too – anyone who is bound by the law and breaks it, is subject to the penalties outlined in it.  The penalty for breaking the law is condemnation and death – for eternity.    

The Galatians must make a choice: the law or Christ.  If they choose the law, then they forfeit the favor and mercy of God.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of that!  As I read and study Paul’s words, joy and thanksgiving well up within my soul for the freedom I have in Christ.  What about you?  Are you even more thankful now for his mercy and grace?  I certainly hope so!

Galatians 5:5 – For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

What is the hope of righteousness?  It refers to the state of being justified before God or to be counted as righteous in his (God’s) sight.  Those who are justified/righteous in God’s sight can expect to spend eternity in his presence and experience all of the untold blessings that await them in the next life.  This is often called the ‘hope’ of Christians. 

This hope is not founded on any works of our own, but solely on the redemption provided for us by Jesus.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. 

And how do we obtain this hope?  We receive it by faith through Holy Spirit.  It is the work of the Spirit to convict men of sin and draw them towards salvation in Christ. 

Any person living in the gospel dispensation who attempts to be justified in any other way will be disappointed.  If the Galatians misplace their hope in their own observance of the law, they can expect nothing but condemnation.  But if they will rely on the mercy of Jesus, they will have a ‘living hope’ for salvation (I Peter 1:3).     

Galatians 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The era of the law put a separation between people.  You were either one of God’s people (a Jew) or you were not (a Gentile).  Because of the nature of the law, it kept a constant separation between the two groups.  And as we know, the signature sign of being Jewish was being circumcised in the flesh.    

But God never intended for that state of affairs to be permanent.  He always intended to make it possible for EVERYONE to be justified in his sight, whether Jew or Gentile:

Isaiah 49:6 – And he [God] said, It is too small a thing that you [Messiah] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.

When Jesus ushered in the gospel dispensation with his death and resurrection, God’s plan was fulfilled.  The law, along with all of its rites and ceremonies (including circumcision) passed away; it was no longer in effect.  Therefore, at the time Paul is speaking to the Galatians, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision of the flesh mattered anymore; neither state could make a person justified in the sight of God.

If circumcision did not justify a person in the sight of God, what would?       

Salvation by grace through faith!

How is our faith displayed to the world? 

Through our love of God and our fellow man. 

Our love of God will always result in obedience to his commands (John 14:23).  This same love will prompt you to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). 

Galatians 5:7-8 – You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion is not from him who calls you.

Paul describes the Galatians as ‘running well’.  What does he mean by that?  The Christian life is often represented as a race in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Hebrews 12:1).

Paul says they began their race or Christian life with zeal.  They had readily and joyfully embraced the doctrine of grace through faith.  They rejoiced that their sins were forgiven and their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  They were no doubt baptized and considered themselves disciples of Christ.  They had a very ardent love for God and his ways.  

But someone came along and hindered their obedience to the gospel.  The word ‘hinder’ is an Olympic expression which literally means ‘to beat or drive back’.  It has the connotation of someone cutting across the race track to push the runner off the course or throw him out of the way. 

Who is attempting to overthrow or thwart the Galatians with the doctrine that they must obligate themselves to the Law?   

Paul asserts most strongly that it is not the Lord (him who calls you).  The false doctrine could not be traced back to God, even though the false teachers claimed to be commissioned by him.  That leaves only one source for the despicable, foul lies that had ensnared the Galatians – Satan himself.    

Galatians 5:9 – A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

What do you think of when you hear this proverbial expression?  My mind immediately goes to bread!  For many people, bread is off limits.  They don’t want to eat it because of gluten or because of the carbohydrates it contains.  I am happy to announce that I am not one of those people!  I love bread of all kinds – white, wheat, cinnamon raisin, sour dough, pumpernickel, baguettes, bagels, ciabatta and even corn bread!

What do these breads have in common?  They all contain some kind of leaven.     

Leaven is any substance that is designed to produce fermentation in dough or liquids by producing a general change in the mass.  The most common application is when yeast is added to bread dough in order to make the bread rise.  The amount of leaven required to make this change is relatively small because the leaven penetrates and diffuses throughout the entire batch of dough.

In the scriptures, leaven or yeast often represents sin (I Corinthians 5:6-8, Mark 8:15).  That is why the children of Israel could only eat unleavened bread during the Passover, and why the use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire (Leviticus 2:11 and 7:12, Numbers 6:15).    

Paul’s point is that a relatively small amount of false doctrine which is introduced into a pure, healthy Christian will eventually spread and damage/destroy his entire spiritual life.  Likewise, it only takes a couple of misguided Christians to influence a whole congregation into accepting a false doctrine.   

So while the Galatians may think that their adherence to circumcision was only a minor issue, it was actually a very serious situation.  It had the capacity to destroy their faith and their church.

Galatians 5:10 – I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.

But Paul has confidence that destruction will not be the final outcome for the Galatians. 

Paul knows that when he speaks the words that Holy Spirit gives him, those words are anointed with power – power to convict, save and heal.  If the Galatians will listen to Paul’s message, the Lord will bring them to repentance and they will be restored to a right relationship with God.

Can we pause a minute and acknowledge that the same is true for us?  We too sometimes fall into sin or error in our lives.  This is one reason why it is so important for each one of us to read the scriptures every day.  The scriptures are the word of God and they are anointed with the power of Holy Spirit to convict, save and heal us.  But if we never open the book, the power will have no effect upon us. 

Paul then turns his attention from the Galatians to the teachers who have introduced the ‘leaven of the law’ into the church.  Punishment awaits those who have thrown the Galatians off course.  God himself will surely deal with these false teachers.  As for the Galatians, their duty is to identify the false teacher and cut off or separate him from their fellowship.

The hope is not that these men would be cut off from salvation, but in being cut off from Christian fellowship they might see the error of their ways and repent.

Galatians 5:11 – But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.

It is evident that the false teachers who insisted on circumcision had somehow included Paul in their teachings.  We know that Paul himself was circumcised.  We also know that in order to reach some of the Jews he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).  But there was never a time when Paul preached or taught that circumcision was a necessary component of salvation. 

Paul defends himself by asking this question:  If I preach the necessity of circumcision to salvation, then why do the Jews continuously persecute me?  If I really taught that men must keep the law in order to make grace effective, then the Jews would love and embrace my message.  They would not take offence at the message of the cross.  But take a look at the facts – everywhere I go, the Jews fight against me.  This is proof enough that I do not preach a mix of grace and law.

Galatians 5:12 – I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Our version of the scripture has an interesting translation of this verse!  Let’s take a look at the King James Version:

Galatians 5:12 – I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

The apostle’s use of the expression ‘cut off’ is probably an allusion to the practice of circumcision where the foreskin of the flesh is literally cut off and thrown away from the rest of the body.

In the same way, Paul desires for the false teachers to be cut off and cast out of the church fellowship.  This shows the seriousness of their offence.    

Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Paul wants the false teachers to be cut off from church fellowship because the church has been called into liberty through Christ (freedom from the law), but the false teachers were destroying that liberty.  This example brings up a teaching point for Paul.

It is true that all Christians have been set free from the bondage of the law and have liberty in Christ.  But the liberty we have is not an excuse to sin.  Our liberty is not a license to throw off all righteous restraint.

Let’s face it – even though we are born again and are new creatures in Christ, we still live in a fallen world.  We still reside in bodies of flesh that are subject to corruption.  We are still tempted by evil.  Therefore, we all need to be vigilant to monitor our own lives.  We must still fight against temptations.  We must still diligently work to add Christian graces to our lives.  We must still allow Holy Spirit to continuously transform us into the image of Christ; this process will never stop until we arrive in eternity.

This leads us to the next important aspect of freedom:  how we treat each other.     

Galatians 5:14-15 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

At this point, Paul has rather skillfully changed from a doctrinal argument (which he has thoroughly covered) to a series of practical teachings for all Christians.

Do the Galatians want to obey the law?  Then let them fulfill the heart and substance of the law without being in bondage to legalism.  This is accomplished when we serve others in love. 

Romans 13:8, 10 – Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.  Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

If we act according to this command, we fulfill the law (Matthew 7:12) without being enslaved by it.  The Christian who loves God with all his heart, soul and mind and who seeks to love his neighbor as himself needs no other law.

This is a good chance to remind ourselves that there are two aspects of love, inward affection and outward action. 

It is also a good chance to define the word ‘neighbor’.  It includes all people, rich/poor, friend/foe, those that are near/far.  In some ways, it describes all of humanity. 

Our love of God is demonstrated in the way we love those around us.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus said that all men would realize we are his disciples by our displays of love towards one another (John 13:35).  But quite frankly, recent world events have left many people separated from other believers.     

When was the last time you displayed love towards another believer?  What was your act of love?  If you can’t remember the last time you touched someone’s life with a display of love, I encourage you to reconnect with other believers.  Get plugged back into your local church!     

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

All Christians have a ‘hope of righteousness’; we trust and believe that we will be justified in God’s sight because of the sacrifice of Jesus and we will spend eternity with God. 

Sometimes, when we make mistakes or we fail in our Christian walk, we may feel unworthy of this hope.  But let me offer you some relief – we were never worthy of it in the first place! 

Our hope of righteousness and our expectation of the benefits of heaven are the result of the mercy and free gift of God.  While we need to strive to live holy lives before God, there will be times when we fail.  Satan would love to convince us that we should walk away from God because we are unworthy, but the truth is we are unworthy no matter what. 

So repent, pick yourself up, and keep running your Christian race!  

Galatians, Chapter 4, Part 1

Galatians 4:1-3 – I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

Hello, again readers!  We are midway through the letter of Paul to the Galatians and we find that he is still making a case for justification by faith apart from the law.

Jewish false teachers have convinced the Galatian believers that they need to keep the law in order to have salvation.  Paul tears down that false doctrine with example after example from the Old Testament.

It is interesting to note that the false Judaizing teachers held onto the Old Testament with a death grip, but that is the very thing that Paul uses to make his case for justification!

In this case, Paul likens the Old Testament believers to an under-age child.

Perhaps you yourself have young children under the age of 18.  Obviously, they are heirs to all that you will have in this life.  This gives them advantages that other children don’t have, but at the same time they still don’t have full rights. 

When your child is young (say 5-8 years old) you are the one who determines when they go to bed, and when they get up.  You decide what to feed them and what they will wear.  You make sure they attend school and become educated, whether they want to or not!  They don’t determine the household budget – you do! In a way, they would be no different than a servant.  You make the decisions and they do as they are told. 

According to Paul, this is a picture of the people who lived under the law.  They were children of God, but they lived under a very tightly structured system. They had to do as they were told by the law; they had to bear the burden of all the rites and observances of the law (and there were LOTS of them!). 

Just as a young child does not understand everything their parents tell them to do (why do I have to go to bed?), those under the law did not understand the full meaning of the rites/ceremonies they had to obey. 

So, at the time of the law, God’s people were more like children/servants than heirs. 

Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

But God had an appointed time for the end of the legal dispensation.  All along, according to his master plan, he had a definite, set time to put the covenant of grace in place. 

Let’s take a pause here, to consider God’s timing.  God decreed a definite period of time for the legal age.  At the end of that time, he gave his people something MUCH better – the age of grace.  Likewise, God has also established a definite period of time for the age of grace.  When that is over, he will reward us with something even better – heaven!  I wonder what incredible things are waiting for us there!  Aren’t you glad to be a child of God?

Here is something else to consider:  You have a definite lifespan here on earth, predetermined by our heavenly Father.  Be sure that you redeem your time, making every day count for the kingdom of heaven!

Back to our lesson…the only person who was qualified to fulfill/end the law and institute the age of grace was Jesus Christ, the Son of God (as prophesied in the Old Testament). 

Jesus agreed/submitted to taking on a body of flesh, even though he was God.  Jesus agreed/submitted to earthly parents, even though he was Lord of all. 

He did these things in order to fulfill the law, thus removing that terrible yoke and burden from his people.   He suffered and died for us, to pay the awful price of God’s wrath against us.  Because of his sacrifice, we are no longer slaves to sin; we are children of God grown up and mature.

As mature children, he gives us greater freedom and more privileges than ever.

Galatians 4:6-7 – And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba!  Father!”So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Son-ship is no longer limited to the Jews.  It is now available to ‘whosoever will’ (John 3:16).  It was available to the Galatians back in the day of Paul, and it is still available now.

Because we are sons and daughters of God, Holy Spirit lives inside of us and leads us to call out to God as our Father.  Clearly, we are no longer servants/slaves but we are adopted children.  It therefore follows that if we are children of God, then we are an heir of God through Jesus Christ.  As heirs, we are entitled to a heavenly inheritance.

Romans 8:16-17 – The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Who in their right mind would choose to be a servant/slave rather than a son/daughter with an inheritance?  Yet, that is what the Galatians chose, when they agreed to bind themselves to the law!

Galatians 4:8 –Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

Paul now reminds the Galatians what life was like before their conversion.  During that time, they did not know the true God Yahweh and they certainly had no idea how to worship him. 

Instead, they were in slavery to false gods.  In fact, Gentiles were in the lowest, most grievous form of slavery possible.  They served multiple idols/false gods.  They were under constant pressure to give gifts, pay homage and do nothing that might be offensive to their idols.  Sometimes, they even sacrificed their own children in a vain attempt to get one of these gods to help them. 

Their religious duties had no power to cleanse them from sin or give them peace of mind or bring them relief from sickness and trouble.  The only thing they reaped by their efforts was more bondage and death. 

Can you imagine the hopelessness they experienced?  They were in the worst kind of bondage imaginable.  What a horrible life!

Galatians 4:9-10 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days and months and seasons and years!

What a remarkable change!  Formerly, the Galatians were slaves, not entitled to anything.  But now that Jesus has touched their lives with his grace, they are totally transformed.  Through the power of the gospel, their sins have been washed away and they have been made children of God, and heirs with Christ! 

Again, Paul is mystified about how anyone who has obtained such freedom and privilege could want to return to their former ways of spiritual bondage (represented in this verse by observing ‘days and months’, etc).   To make this choice is pure madness!

Galatians 4:11 – I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

The actions of the Galatians have crushed Paul.  He spent a lot of time, labor and expense in bringing them the true gospel of Christ.  He preached the true word, he trained them in righteousness and he surely introduced them to Holy Spirit.  As a laborer in the kingdom, Paul had the right to expect a spiritual harvest from the Galatians.

Instead, they have changed course, leaving him to wonder if his efforts had been in vain.

This lesson gives us a reason to examine ourselves.  Is it possible that we too began by living spiritual lives, but later traded an exciting life in the Spirit for a set of mere rules and regulations? 

Christianity is so much more than that!  It is a true relationship with the God of the universe!  It should never be dull or stifling.  It should never be dead or dry.  If your Christian walk is not constantly evolving and presenting you with new and exciting opportunities, then I encourage you to take a second look at it.  Perhaps you need to return to your first love/first works.

Galatians 4:12 – Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.  You did me no wrong.

Paul now reaches out to them on a personal level, addressing them as brothers, even though they had been alienated from him by the false teachers.  Paul wants to lay aside any and all resentment and he desires that the relationship between himself and the Galatians be restored.  This was a very noble gesture by Paul, considering he had done absolutely nothing wrong!

Though he must point out their sin, Paul still loves the Galatians tenderly as members of his own family; he expresses concern for their happiness and well-being.  Paul attempts to call them back into relationship with him, so they might more easily respond to the reproof he was forced to give them. 

Thus, we see that Paul’s motives were pure.  He does not want to show them their error simply to prove that he is correct.  He is motivated by a desire for them to know Christ. 

Before we chastise someone else for their choices or behavior, it would be a good idea for us to examine our motives for doing so.

Galatians 4:13-14 – You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

Paul does not hesitate to put the Galatians in mind of their past relationship with him.  Clearly, he had some type of sickness or infirmity that affected his body.  We have no way to know what this infirmity was, though many opinions have been given.

Some scholars believe Paul’s eyesight was affected when Jesus appeared to him as a bright light on his way to Damascus, and this might be the ailment referred to.  Others point out that Paul suffered horrific public beatings which must have affected his health and scarred him terribly.  There are other possibilities as well, however, since the Galatians were already familiar with the situation, Paul does not specifically identify his ailment. 

But the point is this – the infirmity (which might have caused people to reject him and his message), made no difference to the Galatians.  They did not despise or reject Paul because of it.  On the contrary, they received him, assisted him and revered him as one would an angel or even Christ himself!

Galatians 4:15 – What then has become of your blessedness?  For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

As we said in our introduction, the Galatians as a whole were very fickle people. 

At first, they so loved and respected Paul, that they would even have given him their very own eyes, if it would have helped him. 

At first, they were so pleased and enraptured with the gospel message, that they embraced it whole-heartedly.  They were satisfied and at peace being justified by grace and communing with God. 

What happened?? What caused such a reversal in their thinking?  Paul implores them to search their hearts and examine the reason for their sudden change in belief.

Galatians 4:16 – Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

The person who tells you the truth is the one you should love and respect.  Only a true friend or brother would tell you the truth in love, especially when it hurts!  Beware of those who are ‘yes men’, tickling your ears with what you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear. 

This is the trap the Galatians have fallen into – they now treat Paul as an enemy, despite the fact that he has dealt truthfully and faithfully with them in matters relating to their eternal salvation.

As we will see in our next post, Paul does not just give up on them, despite this awful treatment.  He continues to exhort and encourage them, hoping to restore them to their place in God’s kingdom.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Relationships sure can be difficult (just ask Paul!). Having a good one requires a lot of time and energy.  This is true in friendships, marriages and even employer/employee relationships.

One way we can help keep our relationships on track is by doing what Jesus told us to do – love our neighbors as ourselves.  Part of that includes telling one another the truth in love.  That can sometimes be a daunting task which we would rather avoid, but I encourage you to do so, when it’s necessary.  I believe that eventually, this will strengthen your relationship, not hurt it.

Let me offer you some relief:

Here is a sad truth:  Some relationships are toxic.  There are people who would love to consume all of your joy, resources and strength.  They constantly try to drag you down into the pit that has them trapped. But let me offer you some relief:  You don’t have to allow that.  Set some boundaries for the relationship, and stick to them!

If that too fails or does not solve the problem, and the relationship is damaging to you and those you love, you need to end it.  Don’t feel bad about doing so!

Let me offer you some strength:

In general, relationships are worth the effort needed to maintain them.  All that hard work pays off when you find yourself in need of some support, encouragement, strength or advice. 

Does God give us strength?  Absolutely!  But many times he works through others to give it to us.  So pay attention to your relationships; set proper boundaries and enjoy those that God had placed in your life.

II Peter, Chapter 2, Part 2

II Peter 2:10 – and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,

Here in chapter 2, Peter is warning true believers against false teachers. 

As we noted in our last post, it is likely that Peter is referring to a heretical sect known as the Nicolaitans:

  • These people claimed to be Christians, but they abused the laws of grace, even to the point of denying that Jesus was the Messiah who died on the cross. 
  • They also claimed to have ‘secret’ spiritual wisdom which they received through mystic revelation.  This was supposedly given to them, and no one else.  Their actions caused divisions within the church body.
  • They introduced false doctrines into the church.  This was not done blatantly; instead they introduced their own opinions here and there until they succeeded in twisting the truth.
  • Peter describes them as greedy.  They gave smooth convincing sermons designed to take money from honest believers who wanted to support the gospel.
  • Peter describes them as licentious.  Their behavior was unrestrained by law or morality and characterized by abuse of freedom.  Their sin had no boundaries and basically taught that ‘anything goes’.  (I can see where that would be a popular doctrine!)

In short, they intentionally perverted religious truth in order to open doors of licentiousness and sin for themselves and anyone they could convince to join them.  Sadly, there are still false teachers in the world today!

Our last post ended with Peter assuring us that God has punishment in store for these wicked people.

Peter now builds upon that topic.  Not only does God punish the wicked in general, he especially punishes heretics and seducers, who add the ‘lust of defiling passion’ to their corrupt doctrines and false teachings.  Not only are they teaching evil, they are living it for all the world to see, while still identifying themselves Christians.

They live for the indulgence of their carnal appetites, following the desires and inclinations of their own minds.  Since their minds are filled with thoughts of sin and worldly pleasure, they will relentlessly pursue those things without restraint. 

This is the opposite of the true believer, who renews his mind in righteousness (Romans 12:2) and keeps a diligent guard on the thoughts that enter his mind. 

2 Corinthians 10:5 – Casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;  

You are the gate keeper of your own mind – God allows each one of us to choose what we will allow our minds to dwell on.  As you are deciding what to think about, keep this in mind – the seeds you plant in your mind will come to fruition in your actions (James 1:13-15).  So be careful what you think about!

As if that were not enough, false teachers also hate authority.  In our study of I Peter chapter 2, Peter admonished believers to submit to those that God has placed in authority over us, such as kings, magistrates, governors, etc.  God has placed them there for our good – to punish evil and maintain order.  As we respect and obey them, it brings glory to God and removes any reason that the heathen have for slandering Christianity.    

However, these vain false teachers do not respect authority of any kind.  Because they desire unbridled freedom of all kinds, they rebel against authority in the government, the church, the family and ultimately against God himself.  Their ultimate goal is anarchy.

I can’t help but compare this passage of scripture to some of the events taking place in our nation today.  We seem to have areas where people have thrown off the restraints of government, society and police, resulting in pockets of anarchy.  One thing we can do is to pray, asking God to send revival into these areas.  If these rebellious people will accept Christ as Lord, he will change their hearts and minds.  

II Peter 2:11 – whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.

This verse is actually the second half of the thought expressed in verse 10, which describes the false teachers as people who rebel against all authority, especially that of the civil government.  In their bold and scornful rebellion, they curse, imprecate and judge the government officials in authority over them.

Peter now contrasts their actions with those of the angels:

There is evidence in scripture to show that angels do not mock, blaspheme, reproach, judge or otherwise rail against others, even when they are zealously engaged in the work of God. 

An example of this is referenced in Jude 9-10 as well as in Jewish tradition, where the archangel Michael contended with Satan for the body of Moses.  During their encounter, the only words spoken by the angel were simple, truthful and straightforward – ‘The Lord rebuke you’.   There was no use of harsh or violent language.  The angels did not presume to judge or condemn their adversaries.

Here is the point Peter is making: Angels are higher in knowledge, dignity and power than human beings.  Therefore, it would be more appropriate for angels to speak judgmentally against the magistrates/rulers of this world than it would be for men to do so.  Yet, angels don’t do that.  They always show respect and dignity toward those God has placed in positions of civil authority.  Angels recognize that God has sanctioned that authority and they, as servants of God, respect it.

But these false teachers are senseless brutes – they speak blasphemy and judgment against those who have their authority from God.  We might say they rush in where angels fear to tread, and they rail against things they don’t understand (the purposes of God in granting authority to certain people). 

Scripture does not give us a full account of what was said by these foolish men.  We only know that they spoke presumptuously and wickedly against authority.  Our assumption is that the people of Peter’s day knew the specifics of the situation.  We can also assume that Holy Spirit wanted to call our attention to the bigger picture here – that false teachers exhibit a lack of respect for authority, always leaning towards anarchy. 

II Peter 2:12-13a – But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. 

Let’s stop and talk about wild boars for a minute.  Except for older males, wild boars travel in groups.  They are swift, nocturnal, unpredictable and aggressive.  They are omnivorous (they’ll eat anything – plants, meat, garbage, etc).  The males average around 200 pounds, although many larger animals have been documented. 

These animals are extremely destructive.  They love to root, trample and wallow.  In the process of doing so, they destroy crops, forests and property.  They prey on or compete with native species such as rodents, deer, birds, snakes, frogs and lizards. 

They also spread disease to both animals and humans.  There are more than 24 diseases that people can get form wild boars including hepatitis E and tuberculosis. 

Now, suppose that a large wild boar was loose in your neighborhood.  What would that be like?  Remember, that animal is wild and aggressive.  You can’t tame it.  You can’t train it.  You can’t reason with it.  It’s unpredictable and aggressive.  It’s only goal in life is to fulfill its desires – eat, destroy and reproduce. 

It will attack and destroy wildlife and pets.  It will ruin your lawn/garden, your landscaping, your fruit trees and any crops the farmers are growing.  Not only would it be dangerous because it is aggressive, it carries disease.  If an animal like that was wreaking havoc in your town, it wouldn’t be long before animal control was called in to capture and kill it. 

Peter is saying that licentious false teachers/prophets are like wild boar.  They ignore their God given ability to restrain their behavior and desires.  They want to be wild, throwing off all restraint or authority in pursuit of their base fleshly desires (money, sex, power, drunkenness, entertainment, etc).  They don’t care who they hurt or destroy in the process.  They infect unsuspecting believers with their diseased doctrine and practices.  In the end, they will be destroyed – their behavior will eventually lead to both moral and spiritual death.   

The ironic thing is this – these people are all about casting off authority because they don’t want to be restrained or bound by law and society.  But by rebelling against the authority sanctioned by God, they place themselves under the bondage of their own evil passions.  So either way, they wind up being ‘captured’ – they will serve a master of some kind. 

Those who serve a master earn wages. 

We are all familiar with ‘wages’ – money earned by performing work.  In a sense, all people are earning eternal wages.  Those who serve God are laying up treasures in heaven, while those who serve Satan (or themselves) are laying up torment/punishment in hell. Recompense may or may not come in this life, but it is guaranteed in the next.  The justice of God guarantees it. 

II Peter 2:13b –They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime.  They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.

Most sinners wait for the cover of secrecy or night to indulge in sinful pleasures.  But these false teachers are so bad, they have cast off even that light fetter.  They defy all decency by openly and shamefully practicing wickedness in a place and manner that all can see.   

These vile sinners are like blots or blemishes.  Picture it this way:  You are wearing a brand new, pure white, silk shirt to a party.  Turns out, the host of the party is serving BBQ wings.  You pick up a really saucy wing and – oops – your shirt isn’t white anymore!  What a shame; the spot ruins the shirt.

In the same way, the actions and beliefs of false teachers are a scandal and a disgrace to the true spiritual church of Christ, which should be (and one day will be) without spot or wrinkle.

Furthermore, our translation says they revel in their deceptions, while the King James Version says they ‘sport themselves with their own deceivings’.  Not surprisingly, the Greek word means to live delicately or luxuriously.  In other words, they take advantage of their views/doctrines to live in rebellion and luxury.  They indulge in their most corrupt passions under the guise of Christianity.  In fact, they even look forward to the Christian feasts as an occasion to indulge (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

What could be worse?  They clearly blaspheme God and slander salvation by their words and deeds.

II Peter 2:14 – They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.  They entice unsteady souls.  They have hearts trained in greed.  Accursed children!

‘Eyes’ is a figurative expression often used in scripture.  In this case, it refers to the mind/disposition of man.  For example: 

  • Bountiful eye refers to a person of kindly disposition (Proverbs 22:9). 
  • Haughty or lofty eyes refer to a spirit of pride (Psalms 131:1). 
  • Lowly eyes refers to a person who is humble (Luke 18:13). 
  • Sharpening of the eyes refers to anger (Job 16:9). 

In this case, eyes full of adultery refers to idolatrous inclinations.  Peter tells us their desires are insatiable.  Your translation may say ‘cannot cease from sin’.  This does not mean that they do not have the natural mental ability to stop sinning.  Neither does it mean that they are physically incapable of ceasing to sin.  Rather, it means that they are so corrupt that they will certainly always sin. 

And they don’t like to sin alone.  They try to involve as many people as possible in their false doctrines which promise carnal pleasures and liberties.  Christians who are not deeply rooted in their commitment to Christ are in danger of being beguiled (baited or entrapped) by these deceivers.

Peter refers to these wicked people as accursed children.  This either means they brought a curse with them wherever they went, or that they deserved to be cursed.

I Peter 2:15-16 – Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.  They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

The right way refers to the narrow path of righteousness that Christians tread in this life (Matthew 7:13-14).  This path leads to peace, blessing and eternal life.  False teachers and prophets have left the narrow path and proceeded to follow Balaam down the wide road.  This road leads to sin, torment and eternal death.

Remember Balaam son of Beor (or Bozor)?  He is most famous for having a conversation with his own donkey, but there is a whole lot more to his story.  You can read the whole account of Balaam in Numbers 22-25. 

Without explaining the entire story of Balaam (we don’t have time), let’s look at how he compares to the false teachers/prophets that Peter is warning his flock about.

One – Balaam professed to be a religious leader or servant of God, but that is very questionable.  He was planning to do great harm to the nation of Israel by accepting a lot of money to curse them.  So too, false teachers were professing to be Christians, but causing great harm in the church.

Two – Balaam was greedy and covetous.  He knew full well that God did not want him to go with the Moabites to curse Israel, but he went anyway because he wanted the honor and fortune that King Balak was going to give him.  (Balaam’s tendency to avarice is clearly evident throughout the entire narrative.  You will see it if you go back and read the account in Numbers).  He preferred rewards of this life over the blessing of God.  The false teachers of Peter’s day were also willing to disobey God in order to receive earthly rewards.

Three – Inciting others to licentiousness.  The culmination of Balaam’s story is this:  Although he desperately wanted to curse Israel so he could get paid, God would literally not allow him to do it.  (In fact, he verbally blesses them instead.)  So he does the next best thing –he reveals to the King of Moab how to get Israel to curse itself.  And – you guessed it- he did it through licentiousness. 

Balaam instructed the Moabites to throw a great feast and invite Israel.  There was plenty of alcohol, food and false idols.  The beautiful young women of Moab came to the feast ready to party and soon the whole affair turned into a great orgy in which the false gods of Moab were worshipped by the Israelites.  As a result of their actions, God severely punished them. 

This brings up an interesting question:  Have we avoided the snares of false teachers only to curse ourselves?  Are we doing things contrary to the word of God?  Are these things blocking the Lord’s blessing from our lives? 

For instance, are you harboring unforgiveness towards someone?  Are you with holding tithe and offerings from the Lord?  Has Holy Spirit clearly spoken to you to do something for him, but you refuse like an obstinate child?  All of these things can block God’s blessings from you.  

II Peter 2:17 – These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm.  For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the midst of a desert.  You are out of water.  It is extremely hot.  There is no relief from the relentless sun.  You are sweaty and exhausted.  Your mouth is like sandpaper and your lips taste like salt.  As time passes by, you are getting closer and closer to death.

But suddenly, you crest a sand dune and way off in the distance you see a well!  Relief and joy flood your spirit because that well promises relief and life to you.  You struggle to get through that last mile and reach the well.

Now suppose you uncap the well, only to find that it is dry.  Imagine what that would feel like.  You would despair and give up hope.  You are closer to death than you have ever been because the well did not deliver what it promised – water.

In the same way, sinners are seeking relief from sin.  They are in a desert of death and despair.  They are looking for life, and they turn to the church to find it.  But what if they are not met with a true Christian teacher or pastor?  A false teacher is like that dry desert well – they promise relief from spiritual death, but they can’t deliver (Jude 12-13).  Those seeking the refreshing truth of the gospel are disappointed.  Their spiritual journey has just gotten more difficult, instead of easier.

Here is Peter’s point: False teachers offer doctrines that seem wonderful.  According to them, you can have your cake and eat it too.  You can be a Christian but live as sinful a life as you like.  But that is not true.  Their vain, empty promises are like wells without water or rain clouds without rain.

Peter also assures his readers once again that God is going to punish these wicked people.  Utter darkness denotes a place of future punishment (Matthew 8:12) which God has prepared for those who choose this path. 

So here’s the really important question:  If a sinner came to you as a well of spiritual life, would you be able to give them the water of salvation?

John 7:38 – He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.

In the gospel of John chapter 4, Jesus speaks to the woman at the well about the living waters of salvation.  In John chapter 7, Jesus says that if we are believers, the precious Holy Spirit lives within us and is like a mighty river of water that brings healing and salvation to those who need it. 

If you are a Christian, you have this water.  What you need to do is learn how to use your bucket to draw out that water and present it to others by sharing the gospel message.

II Peter 2:18-19 – For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.  For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

‘Those who are barely escaping from error’ refers to new Christians.  Having turned to Christ, they have just recently escaped from sin and death.  This puts them in a very dangerous place – they have probably only recently broken off many of their old habits and there may be a strong desire to relapse into old ways. 

At this point, if they receive sound doctrine to help them grow in grace, they will become rooted and grounded in Christ and go on to bring forth a spiritual harvest for the kingdom of heaven.

But if they come across a false teacher speaking words of folly and boasting, they could be in real trouble.  These teachers deliberately present their erroneous doctrines with fancy words in a pompous manner, hoping to allure or ensnare unsuspecting believers into their false beliefs.  Specifically, they promise Christianity with unlimited indulgence in carnal appetites and unrestrained freedom/liberty.  

Let’s talk about freedom for a moment.  Sin makes you a slave to darkness and evil.  You have no way of breaking out of the cycle of servitude to it.  Every person under the bondage of sin will reap the same reward – death. 

However, true Christianity promises and delivers freedom from sin.  Hallelujah!  By breaking the yoke of darkness from your life, it gives you the freedom to choose Christ; you can choose to live a holy life as a son or daughter of God.  You can choose to become a steward in the kingdom of heaven, reaping rewards of life.  This is true freedom:

John 8:35-36 – The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The freedom of the false teachers is different.   They define freedom as the absence of needless restraint and/or the strict/narrow limits of religion.  But this is not freedom – it is licentiousness which in reality, is slavery. 

Here’s why:  Whatever a person submits to (greed, lust, desire for power, etc) is truly his master – he is enslaved to it.  So in casting off restraints, they place themselves back under the chains of their passions and desires.  Thus, the promise of freedom from false teachers results in bondage again to sin; all sin results in servitude and slavery.

Here is some good news:  Christians can prevent falling prey to their tactics by seriously attending to their own personal holiness and working to add Christian graces to their lives.

II Peter 2:20 – For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

The unstable souls (verse 14) who come under the destructive influence of false doctrines will find themselves in a worse position than before they were saved. 

By coming to Christ, they gained additional wisdom and knowledge of God that sinners do not have; they have first hand experience of the true saving grace of Christ. 

Knowledge always carries the burden of responsibility.  Each person is responsible for the level of knowledge of God that they have.   By again becoming entangled in the things of the world, they will now be judged on an increased level of knowledge, which will result in a more severe judgment that what the ignorant will receive (Luke 12:47).

II Peter 2:21 – For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

When the apostle uses the word ‘better’ here, he is making a comparison.

On the one hand, we have sinners who have always been heathens, being in ignorance of the gospel message, and being ignorant of the law of sin. 

But on the other hand we have sinners who were once heathens, but then came to a knowledge of the grace of Christ Jesus.  They knew what it was like to have the freedom to choose Christ.  They heard the gospel message, understood sin, and knew they were saved by grace. 

To have a knowledge of the truth and then turn away from it is considered the greater evil.  Those who were always ignorant of the truth have less culpability than those who knew the truth and yet sinned against it.

II Peter 2:22 – What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

Here Peter calls upon the wisdom found in Proverbs (26:11) and Jewish tradition.

This is a proverb we recognize and easily understand.  Pigs don’t change their natures.  They have a desire to wallow in the mud.  Even if they clean themselves, it is only a temporary measure.  They will soon return to wallowing in the mud because their nature has not changed. 

So far, so good.  This makes perfect sense in the case of the pig.  But when we seek to apply this proverb to the spiritual realm, we get major difference of opinion amongst scholars. 

The debate centers around this: 

Did the person in question ever really have a true change of heart/conversion experience? 

Those who believe the person really DID have a change of heart/conversion (became a Christian) must, by default, believe that people can fall away from the faith.  They can ‘back slide’ or lose their salvation if they willfully choose the ways of sin.

Those who believe the person DID NOT really have a true change of heart/conversion must, by default, believe that the person was never saved (became a Christian) to begin with.  Therefore, like the pig, they will return to sin.  The logical conclusion to this belief is that those who do truly accept Christ will never ‘back slide’.  Therefore, you can never lose your salvation, once you truly accept it. 

This issue is a divisive one, which scholars in our generation continue to hotly debate.  You can decide for yourself which opinion you think is correct. 

But the real bottom line is this:  No church is completely pure.  No church is without people and thus no church is without sin or faulty doctrine of some kind.  It is the duty of each individual Christian to guard against false beliefs that lead to unrestrained behavior (licentiousness).  As we work towards personal holiness (I Peter 1:15-16), and purposefully add Christian graces to our lives, we can rest assured that Holy Spirit will keep us safe from falling away from grace.  There is no need to fear. 

But woe to those who lead others astray for their own gratification! 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

As we mentioned earlier, God gives each one of us the ability to control our minds.  You can’t stop random thoughts of sin from popping into your mind.  But you can control what you allow to stay there! 

What should the minds of holy people be dwelling on?  The apostle Paul gives us the answer here:

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I encourage you to dwell on these things, because if you do, you will avoid a lot of sin and temptation!

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

As we mentioned earlier, all Christians have the ‘living water’ of God in our lives.  In other words, you have the same gospel message that Billy Graham, Charles Finney and others had. You have access to the same Holy Spirit power they had.  

All you need to do is get comfortable sharing that water with thirsty souls.  It’s not a matter of having a PhD in divinity.  It’s not a matter of getting a bullhorn and standing on the corner condemning random people to hell.  It doesn’t have to include every book of the bible and take an entire day.  It does not have to be confrontational.

It’s simply a matter of being ready to share what God has done for you with people who are hurting.  Is one of your coworkers going through an illness or a marriage problem?  Offer them support and prayer.  Just a little kindness can open the door for you to share what a difference Christ has made in your life. 

Sharing the gospel can be a gentle, peaceful, well received experience.  You don’t have to fear it!  Just look for ways to mention Jesus in your daily conversations.  You might be surprised how easy it is to share your faith!

I Peter, Chapter 4, Part 2

I Peter 4:9 – Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

In the first portion of chapter 4, Peter calls upon believers to crucify their sinful natures.  We noted that crucifying the flesh has two parts – the removal of what is sinful and the addition of what is holy. 

Peter also reminds us that our earthly lives pass very quickly, and we have already used some of our time in rebellion against God.  Now that we are Christians, we need to live lives that glorify God.

One of the ways we do that is by being sober-minded and practicing self control.  Another way is to exemplify brotherly love towards other Christians.  We looked at both of these mandates in our last post.  

Peter now urges his readers to show hospitality without complaint.  What is hospitality?  Why did Peter need to mention it to his readers?    

On the surface, the concept seems pretty simple:  Hospitality is the reception of travelers as honored guests.  But in practice, things get complicated in a hurry!

The first thing we need to understand is that during ancient times, people generally did not travel for pleasure or education, as we do today.  Because they traveled only when truly necessary, there were no hotels or inns in existence as there are now.  Along the busiest roads (trading routes) there were a few inns, but they had scandalous reputations.  Moral, upright, honest citizens did not want to stay there. 

Instead, those who traveled stayed with friends or family.  If this was not an option, the traveler may hang around the city gates where the rulers and influential men of the city met, and wait for an invitation to stay the night.  Alternatively, they would simply come to town, knock on the door of a house and request a place to stay. 

Granted, this seems very weird to us.  If a stranger knocked on our door and requested hospitality, we would be inclined to slam the door shut and call the police, rather than let them inside!  But many earlier cultures including the Greeks, the Romans, and the Orientals all practiced hospitality.  

In fact, hospitality was considered the duty every citizen.  It was scandalous to be a poor host; one’s personal reputation and honor demanded that the duties of hospitality be fulfilled completely.  You and your family were disgraced, openly shamed and even shunned for failing to provide adequate hospitality.       

What were the basic duties of the host?  As soon as the traveler arrived, he was furnished with water to wash his feet and otherwise refresh himself.  He was provided with food for himself and his beast.  But the host would not just give him a bologna sandwich and a glass of water – he would put on the equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast for his guest.   The meal was considered a reflection of the host’s wealth and reputation in the community, so nothing was held back.  He would make the meal as lavish as possible.

In addition, the host would act as the servant, waiting on his guests.  Often, he would inconvenience himself by giving the traveler his own bed.  He would do anything and everything to ensure his guest(s) were treated like kings.

The Jews were among the Oriental/Eastern people who practiced hospitality.  For instance, in Genesis 18:3-5, we find Abraham showing hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be of heavenly origin.  In Genesis 24:1-33, we find that Laban showed hospitality to a stranger, who eventually took Rebekah to Canaan as a wife for Isaac.  Even Job practiced hospitality (Job 31:32).  There are many more examples that you will find during your reading of the Old Testament.    

We also find the practice of hospitality in the New Testament. 

When Jesus sent the 12 disciples out to preach the word, they relied on the hospitality of other Jews:

Matthew 10:11 – And into whatsoever city or town you shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till you go from there.

In fact, New Testament Christians were expected to continue the practice of hospitality:  Romans 12:13, I Timothy 3:2 and 5:10, Titus 1:8, Hebrews 13:2, and Peter 4:9.

Now that we understand some of the facts of hospitality, let’s picture a few scenarios.

Suppose there is a major event taking place in the city.  The very limited number of rooms available at the inns would be full, and travelers would be relying on the hospitality of local families.  But even these accommodations would fill up if enough people flooded into town.  This helps to explain why Mary and Joseph had no place to go during the census; they were sheltered in a barn/stable, because that was literally all that was left in Bethlehem.    

Enormous, overflowing crowds also filled Jerusalem during the Passover each year.  The Jews who resided there were always called upon to provide hospitality for the Passover visitors, many of whom had come from far away.   

Consider another situation – Jews who have come to accept Jesus Christ as savior.  These Jews were disowned by their families and friends and they often lost their employment.  It was not uncommon for them to leave Jerusalem for some other area, and depend upon the hospitality of other Christian Jews as they built a new life from scratch.  

Can you imagine what it would be like for you to be minding your own business, when all of a sudden there is a knock on your door and it is a family of strangers – Christian Jews from Jerusalem, carrying all their possessions with them, seeking your hospitality? 

You would be expected to open the door to them, give them your best, provide for them, and protect them, because that was your duty.  We can see that hospitality comes with a cost – the host must expend time, energy, money and resources in order to fulfill his obligation. 

Plus, as my father always says, ‘Fish and house guests both begin to stink after 3 days’!   A more polite way of phrasing that idea might be this:  putting two families together in the same house for even a short period of time, could cause conflict or intense irritation.   

When Peter penned his letter to the Christians in Asia Minor, he probably had this scenario in mind – Christian Jews who fled Jerusalem due to persecution, and sought refuge or hospitality with other Jews.

He instructs Christians to offer hospitality without complaining or literally ‘without murmurs’.  They were not to complain of the hardship of doing it; of the time, expense or trouble required to provide good hospitality.  They should perform this duty willingly and with a cheerful mind. 

Hospitality is an aspect of showing love to your Christian brothers and sisters.  Again, this was especially needful during the age of persecution when Christians were often driven from their homes.

While hospitality is not practiced this way in our culture, we should still be willing to expend time, energy and resources to help those in need.  

I Peter 4:10-11 – As each has received a gift, use it to serve on another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

What gift does Peter refer to here?  The actual word means ‘endowment of any kind, spiritual or temporal’.    

If you read the verse closely, you can’t help but notice that everyone (this means you) has received a gift from God.  Notice also that we are not proprietors, but stewards of our gifts.

A proprietor is one who has a legal right or exclusive title to something.  As owner, he can withhold his gift from others or he can charge any price for it. 

A steward is one who manages something for the true owner.  God is the ultimate owner of any gifts we possess and he wants us to use them for the benefit/good of others.  God always intends to do good to people, and he accomplishes that good through us; that is why he has entrusted you with your gift(s).  

Consider what God, in his great providence, has done.  He has not given each person everything they need.  Instead, he has given each one of us gifts which places us in a position of needing what others have.  Thus, we are to work as a united family.  We assist others with our gift of encouragement, while another uses material wealth to meet needs, while another teaches/preaches the word, while someone else provides much needed wisdom, etc (Romans 12:5-8).  Individually, we would be lacking in many things, but collectively, we should have all we need.     

As we use these gifts to the best of our abilities, people will acknowledge God as their benefactor, and he will be glorified through us. 

Withholding this assistance from our bothers is essentially the same as burying our talent (Matthew 25:24-25).  This is a form of robbing God; he is denied the glory due to him, and the gift he has given us is wasted.  

We can no more refuse to share our gifts than the Christians of Peter’s day could refuse hospitality.  How are you stewarding the gifts God has entrusted to you?

I Peter 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Peter now goes on to speak about fiery trials of affliction and persecution.  Christian suffering should not come as a surprise to us, nor should it catch us off guard; Jesus has forewarned his followers that it would come. 

John 15:20 – Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord.  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

God allows these trials into our lives.  He is not trying to destroy us, but rather to test our faith, patience and maturity in him.  These trials can, in fact, be very beneficial to the Christian.  They can actually strengthen and expand our faith as we lean on and obey Jesus during the suffering.  In addition, trials prepare us for heaven, by keeping our focus on eternal matters.

We must also bear in mind that the Christian who has been diligent to crucify the flesh (as mentioned earlier), has no doubt set his mind resolutely on Christ and righteousness, and thus he will be much better prepared to handle fiery trials.   

I Peter 4:13 – But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

To be identified with Christ is the ultimate consolation of every believer; for the world to view you as they viewed Jesus our Lord is the highest compliment that can be paid.

To the extent that we share in his suffering on earth, we will partake of his glory in the next life.  Or, we might consider it this way – in the same proportion that we suffer like him, we shall also be glorified with him. 

This refers back to Peter’s earlier statement, that Christians should not be surprised at suffering.  If we are caught off guard by suffering, we will be distraught and anguished.  However, if we understand that suffering may very well occur and that it is for our benefit and God’s glory, we can rejoice when the time of suffering comes, knowing that we will also be glorified with him.   

I Peter 4:14 – If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Jesus himself was insulted many times by the religious leaders and the masses of people.  They accused him of being possessed by a demon (John 7:20), of being mad (John 10:20) and of being a Samaritan (John 8:48).  They even mocked him multiple times before and during the crucifixion (Mark 15:20, Luke 22:63, Luke 23:36, etc). 

If we are insulted for the testimony of Jesus we should consider our situation blessed.  This does not mean that we find personal joy or fulfillment in being reproached.  It means the world recognizes that we are like Christ and we will receive spiritual influence in this world, as well as rewards in heaven.  

It is of further comfort that those who suffer do not suffer alone, or merely in their own strength.  Holy Spirit rests upon them and abides with them.  They will receive an extra measure of grace and strength in proportion to their trial, bringing them peace and strength for their situation. 

Many scholars believe this extra grace from Holy Spirit also rests upon people under other types of suffering as well, such as sickness, bereavement, loss and even death itself.  Thus, God leads and guides them into victory.   

I Peter 4:15-16 – But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Again, as discussed earlier in this epistle, Christians should be careful not to suffer for doing evil.  The only blessed suffering comes when one suffers for righteousness.  As Matthew Henry has said, “it is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes the martyr”.

II Timothy 2:12 – If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…

Those persecuted for living a godly Christian example should not be ashamed of being rejected and mocked.  Rather, they have a reason to glorify God – their testimony for Christ has been recognized by the world and it carries heavenly rewards.    

I Peter 4:17-18 – For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?

What does Peter mean by the term ‘judgment’?  In this case it seems to refer to severe trial(s).  These trials would test the depth and value of a believer’s faith. 

They also reveal any areas in which the believer has wandered away from the narrow path of righteousness.  God will then use the trial as a form of discipline to bring his child back into holiness, to prepare them for heaven, to humble them, and to mortify their fleshly desires.

I Corinthians 11:31-32 – For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

So there is reason for hope and comfort for the Christian: God’s judgment/testing is corrective in nature, not destructive.  Like any good Father, God corrects his children in love so they will properly mature.  He often uses the furnace of affliction to burn away impurities and make us pure and holy.  Therefore, these trials are ultimately for our good.

But what of the judgment of the wicked, who live in open transgression and rebellion against God?  

The truth is that suffering comes to both Christians and Sinners. 

  • The Christian has comfort knowing his suffering is for good, the wicked have no such comfort or peace.
  • The Christian has hope for a better life in eternity; the wicked has only eternal death and damnation in his/her future.    
  • The Christian suffers a judgment of grace resulting in mercy; the wicked suffers under a judgment of wrath which results in punishment. 
  • The Christian suffers temporarily, in earthly life.  The wicked suffer eternally in the next life.

The details of the end for the wicked are, for the most part, shrouded from our understanding.  We do not know the true horror their existence will entail.  What we do know is that the scriptures give warning to those who rebel against God – their creator, Father and King.  Rebellion is not tolerated by mortal men, why would God tolerate it?

Furthermore, Christians can expect to inherit what their Father has to offer:  life, peace and eternal reward. Sinners can also expect to inherit what their father has to offer:  death, turmoil and eternal suffering.

I Peter 4:19 – Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Here is Peter’s conclusion:

Righteous suffering should be patiently endured because it is for our eternal good.  If God has allowed it, there is a purpose behind it.

God is our Father and we can trust him with the safe keeping of our eternal soul; we must commit ourselves to him in well doing and obedience to his commands.

God is faithful to preserve and defend whatever is under his protection and power.

2 Timothy 1:12 – For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

However, those who refuse to commit their lives to God in obedience to the gospel have no such assurance or hope.  Rather than hoping in God, they fear him.

When considering the outcome of the wicked, we should not envy their present prosperity, but we should consider their final outcome, and be even more diligent to introduce them to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Every generation of Christians seems to struggle with the prosperity of the wicked.  And every generation must search the scriptures to find that the end of the wicked is only death/destruction. 

Even though the righteous suffer, it is not punitive.  Our loving Heavenly Father is more concerned with our eternal good than our earthly comfort and he is not adverse to placing us in the furnace of affliction to burn off impurities.  This is a normal part of being a child of God.

Let me offer you some relief:

You can trust God.  In your private, personal relationship with him, you can commit your ways, hopes, dreams, desires, faults and strengths to him.  He will use these for his glory and your good.  No matter what life holds on earth, God preserves the lives of his children for all of eternity.

Let me offer you some strength:

The promises given in this portion of scripture are for those who have committed their lives to Christ.  If you are reading this now, there is still time for you to commit or recommit your life to Him. 

If you desire to have your sins forgiven and entrust your eternal soul to a loving Heavenly Father, then pray this prayer to him, from your heart:

Dear Jesus,  I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ! 

  

I Peter, Chapter 4, Part 1

I Peter 4:1 – Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,

In the prior chapter, Peter addresses the issue of Christians who are suffering.  He made a distinction between suffering because of doing wrong, and suffering for the sake of righteousness.  

When believers suffer righteously, they are to follow the example set by Jesus.  This was discussed at length in our prior posts from chapters 2 and 3. 

Up until now, the suffering that Peter was referring to was physical and/or mental suffering.  In chapter 4, Peter changes direction.  Still using Jesus as the ultimate example, he now begins to discuss a different type of suffering.

Before and during his crucifixion, Jesus allowed his physical body to suffer.  If you followed our study on the gospel of Matthew, you recall that Jesus was slapped, spit upon, whipped, humiliated, punched, had a crown of thorns smashed into his head, and was nailed to a tree.  This extraordinary suffering had a purpose – our redemption.

Peter now teaches that in light of the suffering Jesus submitted to in his physical body (due to our sin), we also should submit ourselves to suffering – that is, we should crucify our fleshly desires and abstain from sin.  This is a different kind of suffering than what was discussed in chapters 2 and 3, but it is suffering nevertheless. 

Just as Jesus did not shrink back from the literal crucifixion of his flesh, so we should not shrink back from crucifying the lusts and sinful desires of our flesh.  

In chapter 4, Peter will go on to teach that this involves a two-fold process.  Not only must we abstain from sin, but we must also embrace righteousness.  We will discuss this more at the appropriate point in our study.  For now, I just want us to note that ‘crucifying our flesh’ has both a negative side (abstention) and a positive side (embracing righteousness).             

So here in verse 1, believers are to arm themselves with the same mind, or ‘way of thinking’ that Jesus displayed. 

What mindset did Jesus display? He was committed to submitting to the Father’s will, no matter what kind of suffering this caused.  He was willing to pay the price for our sin, no matter how painful.  His mind was resolutely set against sin and toward holiness. 

Likewise, we should be committed to allowing Holy Spirit to make us over into the image of Christ.  As we already mentioned, part of this entails abstaining from evil desires, which will be painful for us at first.  Nevertheless, we should be fully committed to this because it is our heavenly Father’s will.  We too, must gain control of our minds and set them fully against sin and fully toward holiness. 

Here is why that is important:

As humans, we all have a mind, a will and a set of emotions.  If we allow our mind to be in charge, it will determine the best course of action based on the word of God.  Once we make a decision to follow biblical principles, our will ‘gets on board’ or gets in agreement with our mind.  In this scenario, our emotions will then be forced to come into agreement with the mind and will.

Alternatively, if we allow our emotions to rule us, they will make a decision based on how our flesh feels, regardless of what the word of God tells us is true.  Once our emotions are in control, our will ‘gets on board’ with the emotions, and the mind is then forced to come into agreement. 

Let’s consider an example – fasting.

The Christian discipline of fasting is biblical.  It entails denying your flesh something it wants to have for the purposes of seeking or hearing from God.  Although fasting from food is the most common observance, you can fast anything that your flesh craves such as television, shopping or even Facebook! 

Let’s suppose that you are reading the Bible and you feel a nudge from Holy Spirit to fast about an issue.  For the first few hours, everything is fine.  But soon you start to get hunger pains.  Your stomach is calling for nourishment – now! 

If your mind is committed to the fast, it will receive support from your will.  They become like partners.  When your emotions begin to whine and complain and scream for food, they will be silenced by the mind/will.  They will be forced to comply with the decision that the mind has made.  You should be able to resist the temptation to give up on the fast by eating a piece of pie.  

However, if your mind is not in control, then your emotions will be in charge.  As the stomach begins to demand food, the emotions grab a hold of the will, and together they decide what will happen – and the mind will be forced to comply by rationalizing the behavior the emotions demand.  To make a long story short, you will find yourself in the drive thru at Taco Bell, telling yourself that you didn’t really hear from Holy Spirit!   

The beginning of all true self denial and mortification of the flesh begins in the mind, not the body.

We are going to want to ‘arm’ ourselves with the same mind or way of thinking as Christ – allowing our minds to be in control, rather than our emotions. 

In this passage ‘arm’ refers to armor which men used to wear in battle.  Armor is normally considered a defensive weapon that protects a soldier from the strikes of his enemy.  In the same way, if believers are mentally prepared to suffer (crucify the flesh), then that mental preparedness is like armor, which will help protect us from the pressures of temptation.   

We should probably take a minute to note that this defense is only part of the equation.  The process of crucifying the flesh will require more than just a mindset – it requires help and strength from Holy Spirit too.

Peter then concludes that those who have suffered in the flesh, have ceased from sin.  In other words, the believer who has been inwardly and truly conformed to the image/sufferings of Christ has ceased, or been delivered, from sin.

I Peter 4:2 – so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

Because of the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us on the cross, we should live the rest of our earthly lives turning away from (crucifying) our corrupt and sinful desires.  Pride, envy, lust, hate, greed, etc are all part of our sinful nature and we must put an end to them in our lives. 

But what happens then?  Should we be walking around like robots without any feelings, emotions, goals or desires?  Of course not!

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’?  This saying expresses the idea that unfilled or empty spaces go against the laws of nature, and that every space needs to be filled with something.

Peter seems to have understood this concept, because immediately after instructing Christians to get rid of corrupt and sinful desires, he tells us to fully embrace the will of God in our lives.   

As old sinful desires are pruned away, good and holy desires must be grafted in.  Hate is replaced by godly love, pride is banished by a humble spirit, greed gives way to generosity and so on.  

For example, if you want to remove gossip from your life, you can’t just stop talking.  That may work for a short time, but not for long.  Instead, you need to embrace the will of God by changing what you say – speak encouragement and life into people instead of death/gossip.  In fact, prayer is a great way to fill the vacuum that will occur when you stop gossiping!     

So crucifying the flesh has two parts – the removal of what is sinful and the addition of what is holy.

It’s a good thing we have the rest of our lives to make these changes, because there is a lot to work on!

I Peter 4:3 – For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

In this case, the term Gentile is a generic term that stands for heathen or sinner.  All of us were sinners before we served Christ.  During that time we lived in the indulgence of corrupt passions, including (but not limited to) drunkenness, sexual sins and idolatry.

As sinners we did this because we were ignorant of God’s ways.  But once we accepted Christ and were forgiven, we became a new creation; it would be unreasonable for us to continue in the ways of sin. 

Now we must live in faith as soldiers for Christ, redeeming or making good use of the time we have left on planet earth.

Ephesians 5:15-16 – Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Although our past is behind us and cannot be changed, it can still be a useful reminder to spur us on to greater holiness.  

I Peter 4:4 – With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;

When we become new creatures in Christ it makes perfect sense to us to put off wickedness and sin.  However, our friends and family, who are still living as sinners, may not understand this. 

In their eyes, it seems strange that you would give up the pleasures of this world for a life that seems to promise anything but happiness and ease.  Because they are not in touch with the eternal world, they cannot understand or appreciate the conduct of those who live with regard to the next life.

They find nothing wrong with the sinful pleasures of this world, and they may find it strange that we reject practices that seem innocent, harmless and pleasurable to them.  It may seem especially strange because we used to enjoy these things too.

The world often reacts to this situation by condemning Christians.  We are often labeled as hypocrites, fanatics or fools.  These terms are meant to injure/condemn the character and reputation of Christians who no longer align themselves with the world. 

I Peter 4:5 – but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

The ‘living and the dead’ is a metaphor which speaks to the inclusion of all people, regardless of whether or not they still walk the earth.  Peter’s aim in this verse is to comfort and encourage believers.  We should patiently and righteously bear the opposition we face from unbelievers because our heavenly Father sees and hears it.  There is no need for us to attempt to avenge ourselves; at the proper time God will vindicate his children and judge the wicked. 

Although we don’t know the exact time when this will take place, we are reminded that Jesus already sits at the right hand of God, and he is ‘ready’ to judge even now.

Romans 14:12 – So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Peter was encouraging his spiritual children to live as though the return of Christ was imminent.  We should still be living with that same attitude.  Even if Jesus tarries another thousand years, we are always living ‘in the last days’ in a sense, because we never know when our last day on earth will be!  

I Peter 4:6 – For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The interpretation of this verse varies widely, depending on how you define ‘dead’.

Some feel that ‘dead’ refers to people who are spiritually dead in trespasses – ordinary sinners, who are physically alive right now (Ephesians 2:1).  In this case, the interpretation would be that the gospel was preached to sinners when they were spiritually dead, so that each person might strive against, mortify and subdue their own carnal appetites and lusts.   As they do, God makes them spiritually alive. 

Another interpretation is that ‘dead’ refers to people whose physical bodies are literally dead.  In this case, the interpretation would be that the gospel was made known to them when they walked the earth, so that they might have a chance to crucify their sinful desires and live for God.  These people were made spiritually alive by the gospel, while their flesh was put to death by men (martyrs).

There are also some who interpret ‘dead’ to mean those who had died long ago (the antediluvians), and had their spirits imprisoned down in Hades/Sheol/the grave.  Those who accept this interpretation also believe that Jesus went down to Hades after his physical death and preached to the lost (see one of the explanations of I Peter 3:19-20).

In any case, the apostle is again offering hope and comfort to the believer.  By the world’s standards, physical death means total destruction.  But for the Christian, physical death simply means life in the Spirit with God. 

I Peter 4:7 – The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

What does the phrase ‘the end of all things’ refer to?  It may be a reference to the end of the world/the conclusion of human affairs.  In this case, Peter’s meaning would be that the end of the world (the return of Jesus) was near.

Alternatively, we know from history that the city of Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 71 AD, effectively bringing an end to the Jewish way of life and worship.  This occurred less than a decade after Peter penned his epistle, and thus may have been the event he was referring to.      

However, the phrase may also refer to the physical death of each individual.  In this case, his meaning was that so far as his readers were concerned, the end was near.  As we mentioned earlier, even if Jesus tarries another thousand years, the end of all things is still at hand for each individual because they do not know the time of their death.  

In any case (personal demise, destruction of Jerusalem or the return of Christ), the point is that our time on earth will quickly draw to a close.  In light of this, Peter goes on to give a series of exhortations to believers. 

The first exhortation is that we ought to be sober minded and have self control.  In other words, we should be actively involved in crucifying our fleshly desires, as mentioned back in verse 3 and giving up the wicked practices we engaged in before we came to Christ. 

Instead of indulging in the vain cares and pleasures of earth, we should be good stewards of all we posses, including resources, time and talents.  We should be constantly in a state of prayer, making sure that we are ready for eternity.   

I Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

And, more than anything, we need to have a warm affection and brotherly love towards other Christians.  We must practice this love earnestly, and with fervor.  What does this mean?

It means that our love for each other should be active and tangible.  It should not only manifest in our words, but in our deeds.  For example, if our Christian brother or sister has experienced the death of a spouse, we should not only tell them how sorry we are; we should show them.  We can do this by giving them a hug, coming to the funeral, bringing a gift of food or flowers, etc.  Our tangible actions can really ease the burden they are experiencing. 

Why, exactly, are we to practice such fervent love?  Because it covers a multitude of sins.

This is true with respect to ourselves.  If we are busy ministering to our brothers/sisters, we are much more likely to have compassion towards them, as opposed to judging them.  We are much more likely to overlook or pass by their faults and failings which tend to irritate and anger us. 

It also covers or hides their sins from the eyes of the world.  If we expose every single fault within the church, nonbelievers will be happy to discredit the church as well as the cross of Christ.  It is better to suffer wrongs than stir up strife. 

Proverbs 10:12 – Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.   

However, we must exercise caution – if we cover up sins using flattery or falsehood, that is not only a disgrace but a sin in and of itself.  And there are some sins which, if covered up, will fester into bigger problems or cause destruction in the church.  These sins cannot be covered over, but they can be dealt with in love.  These are the duties of the Christian life.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Remember, the war against your sinful nature/flesh begins with your mind.  You will need to renew or reprogram your thinking with the word of God.  Meditating on scriptures and making daily declarations are a good way to begin the process.  However, you don’t need to try and figure this out all by yourself.  Many excellent Christian books have been written on this topic, and are readily available.  I encourage you to check some out.     

Let me offer you some relief:

Crucifying your flesh is not an instantaneous transformation.  It is a process over time.  You may fail a time or two before you gain the victory, but victory will come if you don’t give up.  You might want to consider finding a prayer/victory partner for yourself as you work through the process.  They can be there to offer encouragement and prayer when needed.  

Let me offer you some strength:

The Bible says that nothing is impossible with God and that includes gaining control over your sinful nature.  Confess your sin and repent before the Lord.  Ask Holy Spirit to be involved in the change you are committed to making.  He probably prompted you to make the change in the first place, because he is interested in making you over into the image of Christ.  He will give you the strength to overcome!   

 

Matthew, Chapter 25, Part 1

Matthew 25:1 – Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

Here we find a couple of key words.  The first is ‘then’.  Remember, chapter 25 is a continuation of the discussion of chapter 24.  The disciples have asked Jesus three questions: 

When shall these things be? (Referring to the actual timing of events).  What will be the sign of your coming? (Referring to the signs that will indicate to the Jews that the end of the temple/Old Covenant are near).  And finally, what are the signs of the end of the world? (Literally, the end of time).

Jesus has addressed the first two questions in chapter 24.  So the phrase ‘then’ at the start of chapter 25 is significant.  It means that what Jesus is about to say specifically pertains to the final question regarding the end of time. 

This brings us to the next significant word in this verse, which is ‘will’.  In other instances, Jesus said ‘the kingdom of heaven is like’.  This indicated present tense; Jesus was referring to the current time. 

Now he transitions to using the future tense:  ‘the kingdom of heaven will be like’.  Again, this points to a future phase of the kingdom of heaven, the one that will be in place at the end of time.

Jesus uses this parable to impart wisdom to us about the end of time.  This parable made perfect sense to the Jews, because they were well acquainted with the marriage customs of that day.  For our understanding, a quick review of these customs is helpful.

In that day, couples were betrothed long before the marriage.  The betrothal was actually the true marriage contract, even though the marriage was not consummated at that time, and the woman continued to live in her father’s house until the time she was claimed by the groom. 

This explains why Joseph was going to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant.  Notice in the following verses she is ‘betrothed’ to him, but they are not living together and he must go through a legal process (divorce) to break off his ties with her.   

Matthew 1:18-19 –  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  

Now, according to Jewish custom, when the time for the marriage celebration finally arrived, the bridegroom and his friends came, late at night, to the house of the bride.  She was expecting/watching for his arrival with her bridesmaids.  When the groom was spotted, the maidens would go out with their lamps in their hands to light up the way to the house with great ceremony and formality.  They would accompany the bride to the wedding feast prepared by the groom.  This feast was always held at the groom’s house.

The two main characters in this parable are both introduced in verse one.  Who are they? 

First, we have the bridegroom.  This represents our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Many times in the New Testament he is referred to as the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20, John 3:28-9).  This simile reflects the great and passionate love that Jesus has for his spouse, the church (Ephesians 5:32). 

We are currently betrothed to him (Hosea 2:19-20), but he has not yet come to earth to claim us for eternity.  But when the perfect time has come, He will gather us to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).

The second character in this parable is the group of 10 virgins.  These symbolize people who profess to have a relationship to God. 

Just as the virgins or bridesmaids were supposed to be watching expectantly for the groom, so we are to be expectantly looking for the second coming of Christ. We are not just to believe in it, but rejoice at the thought of it.  We should long for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).  The fact of his future coming should affect our entire life – it should be a guide in all that we do, think, say and feel.        

The chief duty of the bridesmaids was to have their lights shining brightly as they honor and do service to the bridegroom.  Likewise, we are to let our gospel lights shine before the world in honor and service to Jesus our King (Philippians 2:15-16).  

Matthew 25:2 – Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

 Jesus tells us that some of the bridesmaids in this group are wise.  Some are not.  When they all stand in a group together, it is impossible for us to tell which are which. 

If they represent people who profess to know God, then it is clear that the wise virgins are those that have a true and sincere relationship with God.  The foolish virgins are hypocrites.  They profess to know God, but they are not truly his children. 

They may know the Christian lingo, they may attend church services and sing worship songs, but they have not surrendered their hearts to Jesus Christ.  They are foolish.   

Matthew 25:3-4 – For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

Their folly is in their lack of oil.  They had just enough oil to make their lamps burn for a short time, but they were not prepared if the bridegroom should delay his coming. 

Does this sound vaguely familiar?  It should.  Jesus expressed the same situation in the parable of the seeds:

Matthew 13:5-6 – Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and immediately they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:   And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 

The foolish bridesmaids have no ‘reserves’.  They have a lamp of profession in their hands, but they lack a true change in their hearts.  They do not know the word.  They are not rooted in their faith.  Love does not rule their lives.  They cannot endure even a small trial or tribulation.  Despite what comes out of their mouths, they are void of true spiritual life.  Isaiah describes them this way:

Isaiah 48:1 – Hear this, O house of Jacob… who swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

Essentially, they are hypocrites.  They have taken pains to convince their fellow bridesmaids that they have burning lights, but they cannot fool the one who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

This is opposed to the wise, who did have reserves of oil.  Think of it this way – your heart is a vessel.  Holy Spirit, the fuel/oil for your Christian walk, resides there; He fills your heart with power to serve Christ.  He is the one who gives us strength to withstand trials and tribulations.  He is the one who guides us into all truth.  He points out good works for us to accomplish.  He is the ‘down payment’ that guarantees our salvation.  Without him, our Christian lights would quickly be extinguished.   

Zechariah gives us a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit being the oil in our lamps in his vision in Zechariah chapter 4. 

Zechariah 4:6 – Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.    

How well are you acquainted with Holy Spirit? Do you work with him each day to accomplish the will of God?  If not, I suggest you get to know him better.  He is your power for righteous living; with his assistance, your light will shine before men, causing them to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

Matthew 25:5 – As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

Notice that all of the virgins sleep – the wise as well as the foolish.  How are we to interpret this ‘sleep’?

One interpretation says that ‘sleeping’ is used in a shameful sense.  This theory says that Christians have become spiritually apathetic.  They have chosen to be happy and content sitting in church and hearing the word of God, but not really going out to work in the kingdom.  They have stopped fighting against the devil; they have grown spiritually lazy.  Instead of harvesting souls, they are slumbering.

Another interpretation says that ‘sleep’ actually denotes earthly occupations and cares.  This theory says that as long as we dwell on earth, we must devote a certain part of our lives to working, eating, learning, family duties, etc.  These things can distract us from our relationship with Christ.  In this interpretation, that distraction is the same as falling asleep.

The third and most common interpretation is that ‘sleep’ refers to physical death.  This analogy is frequently used in scripture.  We are all going to die at some point, saints and sinners alike.  We are also all going to be resurrected at some point.  The saints of God (wise virgins) rise to eternal life while the sinners who reject Christ (foolish virgins) will rise to eternal death.

Regardless of which interpretation you think is correct, one thing is certain – the bridegroom tarried or was delayed.  The ‘delay’ refers to the period of time that began when Jesus went up into heaven, and it ends with the rapture – the time when he comes to claim the church (his bride) as his own. 

No man knows when this will take place.  The believers back in Jesus’ day thought it would happen in their lifetime, but it didn’t.  Many of our own Christian ancestors felt it would happen in their lifetimes, but it didn’t.  

However, this doesn’t negate the promise of his coming.  God has many plans and purposes that he wants to accomplish before he returns.  The harvest of the earth must have time to ripen and we must have time to harvest it.  The church must be purified, becoming without spot or wrinkle.  God is always faithful to carry out what he has promised.  Therefore we know that when the perfect time has arrived, Jesus will come again!   

How much do you dwell on the return of Christ?  Is it only a vague thought in the back of your mind?  Does it somehow make you uneasy?  Or is it a truth that drives you forward in your zeal for the Lord?

The writer of Hebrews says this:

Hebrews 10:23 – Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

In other words, while Jesus tarries, we need to have a firm grip on the hope we have in Christ.  We need to constantly remind ourselves that although the world is a mess, Jesus will bring all things under his authority.  He has an appointed time to come and claim his bride, the church.  He has an appointed time in which he will rise up, break the seals of the scroll (Revelation 5), and usher in the eternal age. 

The promises he has given us regarding his return and our home with him in heaven are rock solid.  We need to find scriptures that speak of these things, and keep them in our minds and hearts, even committing them to memory.  

Way back in the book of Genesis, God promised Eve that he would send a deliverer to free mankind from sin.  She thought it would happen in her lifetime, but it didn’t.  Yet, the promise was still valid.  At the appointed time, Jesus came to earth and sacrificed his life for us all, proving that God was faithful to his promise.

Habakkuk 2:3 – For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

So it will be with the rapture.  We may or may not see it in our lifetime, but the promise is sure.  The appointed time will come.  God is faithful to all that he has promised.

Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…

Our time on earth should always be lived with the realization that Christ is returning.  We should speak of this often to one another, reminding each other that lost opportunities can never be regained.  We need to work for the kingdom today; there is no promise of tomorrow. 

In light of his future coming, we should support each other in our endeavors for Christ.  We should pray without ceasing. We should rejoice at all times.  We should love the lost, even if they don’t agree with our point of view and be ready to share the gospel on all occasions. 

Above all, we need to be filled with the mighty Holy Spirit, who will lead and guide us during our time on earth.

Hebrews 10:25 – …not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

If at all possible, I encourage you to be in fellowship with each other.  If you can go to church, by all means, do so!  The church needs you!  There are people there who need your wisdom and experiences.  They need to hear your testimony.  They need you to lay hands on them, and pray for them or share a prophetic word. 

If It isn’t possible for you to come to church for some reason, I encourage you to find a very small group of family or friends that you are comfortable with, and fellowship with them.  Listen to sermons together.  Worship together.  Pray for each other.  Serve communion to each other.  Be a strength to others when they are weak, and they will do the same for you.

And all of us need to encourage each other.  Don’t assume that just because someone is smiling or saying they are fine, that they don’t need an encouraging word.  Jesus tells us that in the final era of time, the world will be wicked, violent and haters of God.  In that environment, we had better be in the practice of encouraging each other.

Matthew 25:6 – But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

In the parable, the bridegroom arrives suddenly and unexpectedly.  A loud cry goes forth, waking the virgins from their slumber.  The time of the celebration has finally arrived and they must arise immediately to meet the long awaited groom. 

What does this mean to us? 

THE KING IS COMING! 

There used to be an old saying that the only two sure things in life were death and taxes.  That saying is only half right; the two sure things in life are death and the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

John 14:3 – And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

How will you use your time on earth until Christ returns or calls you home through death?  Will you invest all your time and resources on the things of this life, or will you store up treasures in heaven?

Matthew 25:7 – Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

When the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, they were preparing for the imminent coming of the bridegroom.  They were making themselves ready to receive him. 

Spiritually speaking, men and women will often scramble to prepare themselves to meet God when they feel death is imminent.  But alas!  It is often too late.  The best time to prepare for eternity is right now. 

The question has been asked, ‘How can we live a life that is pleasing to God?’

The answer, of course, is ‘one day at a time.’

Each and every day we need to live for Christ.  Each day, read the word.  Each day, spend time with God in prayer and worship.  Each day, look for opportunities to plant the seed of the word of God, or water that seed in someone’s life or harvest a soul for Christ.  Each day, encourage and disciple others.  Each day, find a way to strike a blow at our enemy.  Then, when the call comes for us to meet Christ, whether through death or his return, we will be ready to meet him.  Our vessels will be full of oil.    

Matthew 25:8-9 – And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’   But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

Now the foolish virgins become aware of their need for fuel.  It suddenly occurs to them that they have been foolish in preparing for the wedding celebration.  They are not ready for the events that have come upon them.  How terrifying that feeling would be!   

At the same time, it occurs to them that others are well prepared.  Those they despised or mocked for their deep commitment to preparing for the bridegroom, are now revealed as wise.  How the foolish wish they were like them now!

In their desperation, they appeal to the wise for help, but the wise cannot share what they have laid up for themselves; the foolish must procure their own oil.

Spiritually speaking, there will be people who come face to face with death (or the return of Christ) and suddenly realize that they are unprepared.  Their excuses are no good, nor can they rely on the merits of someone else.  We shall all be judged individually.  Those who want to be welcomed by the bridegroom must have personal preparation, personal faith and personal holiness.  We have no authority to accept grace and salvation for someone else.  Each person has the right to decide for themselves what their relationship to God will be.

So the wise give the foolish a wise answer – go to the dealers (the ministers of the gospel) and get what you need.

In fact, the advice to “go and buy for yourselves” is exactly what the wise have done.    Right up until the time the cry/signal came announcing the appearance of the bridegroom, grace and mercy had been available without limit:

Isaiah 55:1, 3 – Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live… 

The wise took full advantage of this offer, listening to the words of God and accepting salvation through the shed blood of Christ. 

All of a sudden, the foolish virgins want to buy grace and mercy, but it is too late.  The situation has changed.  The salvation they are now desperately seeking was only available until they drew their last breath.  Once they died, they no longer had access to it.    

Matthew 25:10 – And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

The implication here is clear.  Those who are prepared to meet the bridegroom (Jesus) are admitted into the kingdom of God.  Once they were all inside, the way was shut.

Here is something interesting to consider.  The scriptures say that when the flood came, Noah and his family entered the ark and God shut the door:

Genesis 7:16 – And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.

This was not a mistake or an afterthought.  It is a reflection of the wisdom of God.  I am sure that once the flood came, many of the wicked who failed to take the message of repentance seriously came to Noah’s back yard and pounded on the door of the ark, begging to be let in.  But Noah was relieved of any burden in that respect – God had shut the door; only he could open it.

The same is true in this parable.  When the bridegroom shut the door, no one else was admitted. 

Likewise, when the door to heaven is shut, no one will be able to cross that threshold either.

Revelation 3:8 – I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it…

No one can shut a door that God opens; no one can open a door he has shut.

What does this mean for the foolish?

The door of opportunity was closed – those who had many opportunities to repent but always put it off until ‘tomorrow’ have now lost their chance.

The door of mercy was closed – God is longsuffering to all men, but there is a time limit.  When we die or Christ returns, the age of grace will end for us.

The door of hope was closed – Jesus is the only hope of eternal life; there is no other name under heaven whereby you can be saved.  If you have rejected him, all hope is lost for you.  

The door of heaven was closed – Those who reject heaven will still find an open door – the door to the bottomless pit of hell. 

What does this mean for the righteous?

The door is closed to all effects of sin – No death, disease, mental illness, broken relationships or heartache will be allowed through heaven’s door.

The door is closed to the worries of earthly life – No longer will we concern ourselves over food, clothes, money, education or work. 

The door is closed to death – We will never again experience death ourselves, nor will we be affected by the death of anyone we love.    

The door is closed to all wickedness – No murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters or liars will be allowed to enter heaven’s door (Revelation 21:8).

Which side of the door are you on?

Matthew 25:11-12 – Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us,’ but he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Though the foolish cry out to the bridegroom, they are too late. It will be too late to ask for mercy when the day of judgment arrives.

Matthew 7:21 – Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus, who knows the thoughts and intents of every heart, says emphatically that he does not know these foolish people.  They have made a vain profession of religion with their mouths, but they hearts and lives were unchanged. 

Matthew 25:13 – Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 And now we come to the ultimate message of the parable.  Jesus warns all of us to be watchful every day, for we do not know the time or date of his return (or our own deaths).  We must live every day in close communion with our Lord, believing and rejoicing in the knowledge that he will one day come and usher us into heaven to be with him forever!   

Let me give you some encouragement:

As long as I can remember, I have heard people say that Christ could come any day.  The fact that he hasn’t yet, does not mean that he won’t.  It just means that he has an appointed time set aside to come and claim his bride.  So take heart!  One day all our struggles will be over.  One day we will be ushered into the wonderful marriage supper of the lamb and we will dwell with Christ forever.

In the meantime, I suggest that you find several scriptures that speak of the return of Christ and his great love for the church, and memorize them.  They will be a wonderful encouragement to you.  

Let me give you some relief:

People talk a lot about the end of time, referring to it as the apocalypse or Armageddon.    They frequently describe it as a time of upheaval and distress; a time of economic chaos and violence; a time of lawlessness when every man must look out for himself.

 But to the true child of God, the end of time is not a time to be afraid or worried.  It is a time of rejoicing, because Christ will return for us, his bride.  On that day we will find relief from sin and death.  

Let me give you some strength:

As Christians, we all want to be more like Christ.  Usually, that does not happen all at once.  It happens little by little, day by day.  So forget the mistakes of your past.  Move ahead and achieve the things that are before you, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 

Matthew, Chapter 7, Part 2

Matthew 7:15-16–Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?

Sometimes we assume the word ‘prophet’ to mean a person who foretells future events, but that is not the only definition.  People who were accepted as public religious instructors were also considered prophets. 

At the time of Jesus, the word basically meant all religious leaders (especially teachers), and that is the sense it is used in this passage.

What made a person a false prophet?   A prophet/teacher was considered false for any one of these reasons:

  • Assuming the role of religious leader/teacher without a call from God
  • Putting forward his/her own thoughts and ideas as being from God
  • Teaching any false doctrine

What effect did false prophets/teachers have on the church?  Through false teaching, Christians were fooled into turning aside from the true faith and believing something false.  These false doctrines caused believers to become spiritually confused or bound by lies, and consequently rendered them ineffective in the Kingdom of God.  Worse yet, some of these doctrines could cause Christians to fall away from their faith in Christ.

Second, the teachings and leadership of the false prophets often brought them undue honor and prestige. They acted like they were the only ones who could hear from God and know what to do.  At best, they were limiting the true relationship between the believer and God.  At worst, they were a wedge that cut believers off from God and caused them to lose their faith.

Let’s look at an example.  In the old covenant, all men who were part of God’s chosen people had to be circumcised.  However, when Jesus came to fulfill the law, he declared that circumcision was no longer something to be done in the flesh.  Instead, circumcision was a spiritual act; all the people in His kingdom would be circumcised in their hearts by cutting sin out of their lives.

Romans 2:28-29 – For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.

But we find that many false prophets and false teachers were still insisting that any man who became a Christian had to be circumcised in the flesh.

This false doctrine caused a rift between the Jews and the Gentiles, which threatened to split the church in half.  It created an atmosphere of distrust among the believers. It was a rejection of the new covenant that Jesus paid for with his blood. 

If Satan could coax Christians into holding onto physical circumcision, he had a substantial chance of sinking the whole church before it was fully established!  This is only a glimpse of the destruction that false teaching can set in motion.

False teachers were also big into self denial and mortification of the flesh.  They tended to be very rule oriented; they felt that every single law must be stringently observed through their own willpower. How tiresome!  Have you ever determined not to do something “ever again” only to find yourself doing it a day later?  That’s what happens when you try to rule your flesh by willpower alone.

Sadly, they missed the blessing that Jesus gave us through the new covenant – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who changes our hearts.  Once our hearts and minds have been renewed, our outward actions naturally change too.  We don’t have to focus all of our energy on obeying every law through sheer willpower because our new nature will prompt us to do the right thing on its own.

Jesus says that false teachers are like wolves disguised as sheep.  That is, they appear to be innocent, helpful, loving and knowledgeable about spiritual things, but in reality, they are full of deadly evil.  They are hypocrites who mislead and destroy sincere believers.

So, how can a Christian keep from being fooled by these false prophets and teachers?

Matthew 7:17-18 – So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

Comparing spiritual leaders/teachers to fruit trees may seem a bit strange, but it makes more sense if you have some background information:  In scripture and in Jewish phraseology, fruits are symbolic of works.  Jesus is telling us that the way to determine which teachers are false and which are true is by examining their fruits, or works.

So if a person comes along claiming to have spiritual authority, take a look at their life.  Do they have joy, peace, holiness, patience, gentleness and love for mankind?  Do they give God the glory for what they are accomplishing? Do they care for the poor and the lost?  

If so, they are a healthy tree which is bringing forth good fruit.  They can be trusted to lead you in the right paths.

However, if you look at the person’s life and find anger, pride, envy, slander, greed, unforgiveness, bitterness or other evils you can safely conclude they are a bad/diseased tree.  Therefore, both the teacher and the teaching should be rejected as false.  Have no part with them!

Matthew 7:19-20 – Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Hmmm… some of these words seem familiar…where did we heard them before?  That’s right – they were already spoken to the Pharisees and other religious leaders by John the Baptist:

Matthew 3:10 – And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

People who bring forth diseased fruit (anger, envy, pride, etc) will someday be cast into the fires of hell, because they are not true children of God.  That is why John the Baptist warned the Scribes and Pharisees to repent and seek the kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 7:21-23 – Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

You see, it is not enough to just claim God as your father or Jesus as your savior.  It is not enough to just have knowledge of God in your head.  You could study the scriptures for years on end (like the Pharisees did), but if it is just a series of facts floating around in your brain, it is of no value.  [Even Satan acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God, but he is still going to be cast into the fires of hell].  Why?  Because it takes more than just factual knowledge to save your soul.

True knowledge of God must be like a seed planted in your heart by the Holy Spirit.  It must germinate and take root. 

As the Holy Spirit waters it, it will grow and transform your life.  It will change both your thoughts and your actions.  It will result in good works such as joy, peace, forgiveness and love, which are good fruits.  Your life will conform to God’s will.  These are the marks of true children of God who will be welcomed into heaven.

In the same way, anyone who has the ability to speak can verbally profess Jesus as Lord, and even teach (prophesy) his word, but that does not mean they are true children of God.  The true child of God doesn’t just teach or profess his name, they sincerely strive to do the will of God.  True Christians have actions that align with their words.

At the end of time, Jesus will assume his rightful role as judge of mankind.  At that time, there will be people who will claim to be servants of Christ because they taught his word (prophesying), cast out demons and performed miracles.  However, Jesus will refute their claims, saying that these people were never his true children.  Jesus then reinforces his point by giving the parable of the wise and foolish builders (see below).

Jesus has given the analogy of the tree and fruit to identify false teachers and show what their judgment will be.  He now gives us the parable of the wise and foolish builders to show that the ‘doers’ of the word are different from just ‘hearers’ of the word, and all of us will be held accountable for our own spiritual condition.

Matthew 7:24-25 –Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Matthew 7:26-27 – And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Jesus has packed a lot of teaching into this short parable.  Here are some lessons we can take away from his teaching:

Each one of us is responsible for building our own house.  We cannot rely on others to do it for us.  You cannot rely on the faith and salvation of your parents, grandparents or anyone else.  You must be a disciple of Christ yourself.

Jesus is the rock.  He is the only one who can pardon sin through his shed blood and thus he is the only true foundation that you can build your spiritual house upon.

1 Corinthians 3:11 – For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Hearing the word is NOT building upon it.  Building is acting in faith based upon the words you heard.

When you hear that Jesus forgives sin, you must act in faith to receive that forgiveness for yourself.  Subsequent to your salvation, the Holy Spirit will enlighten you to the way God wants you to live.  He will then assist you as you bring your mind, will, emotions and actions into conformity with God’s principles for your life.  This is how you build upon the foundation of Christ.  Building a house in the natural world does not happen overnight, especially if there is only a single builder.  So it is with your spiritual house – you build it day by day; it is established slowly over time as you constantly work at it.

The storms of life will eventually come to all men regardless of which foundation they build upon.  Those who build on the foundation of Christ will stand.  They will be victorious through disease, political instability, financial ruin, persecution, etc.  They are even victorious in death, knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ.

However, those who did not build upon Jesus will have no hope in the storms of life.  They will have no comfort, no peace, no joy and no satisfaction when trouble comes.  They have no eternal assurance to lean upon when death comes to claim them.

As you consider these teachings of Jesus, examine yourself and make sure that you are indeed building by faith upon that sure foundation!

Matthew 7:28-29 – And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

The Scribes and Pharisees were the teachers of the Jewish nation.  However, they spent their time teaching mostly the traditions of their forefathers, not the word of God.  They also allowed useless and trivial disputes to occupy much of their time and attention.  As such, they were of little use to the spiritual growth of their fellow Jews.

Jesus, however, came speaking the true words of God.  He came in authority, confirming his doctrine with miracles.  Jesus showed that he had the authority to explain, enforce and change the ceremonial laws of the Jews.  He cut right through the foolishness of the Pharisees, revealing the truth like a breath of fresh air.  This authority was astounding to the Jews.

So let me offer you some encouragement:

It is true that there are many false teachers in the world, but you don’t have to be fooled by them!  Jesus has given you the tools to pick out the bad ‘apples’.

First, take a look at their fruits.  If they are good, that is a positive sign.  Next, listen to what they are teaching.  Does it line up with the rest of scripture?  That is another good indicator.  Finally, remember that Jesus says his sheep know his voice and they will not listen to the voice of another (see John 10).  So pray about it and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about a particular teacher.  If God approves him, that is the best recommendation of all!

Let me offer you some relief: 

Even a very fruitful grape vine will produce some sour grapes once in a while.  In the same way, you and I are not perfect.  Once in a while we are going to ‘blow it’, or act according to our flesh instead of our spirit.  When that happens, ask God to forgive you and move on.  Don’t let Satan stop you in your tracks because you made a mistake.  If your life is showing a definite progression towards fruitfulness and good works, you are on the right track.

Let me offer you some strength: 

We are going to experience storms in this life.  They come in many different forms, including sickness, tough financial breaks, relationship problems, and many other things.  When those storms come, the person who has built their life on the solid rock of Christ Jesus WILL prevail!  We will go through those trials comforted, supported and protected by our Heavenly Father.  Hallelujah – His strength is made perfect in our weakness!