Vacation Break

I’m thankful to be able to go on vacation this year. I will be going to Florida from August 1 to August 11. I have the privilege of going to our General Council of the Assemblies of God from August 3 to August 6. This is one Assemblies of God ministers gather nationally to deal with the business of the Church and enjoy Spirit-filled services.

I also have the opportunity to preach at my mentor’s church in Jupiter, Florida. I am greatly looking forward to preaching and also spending time with my mentor and his family. This’ll be a wonderful time to recharge my batteries and relax in between these events.

Since I’m going on vacation, my Divine Discourse blog will be taking a vacation also. I have posted my Holiness Matters post on marriage today, but I will not post until after I return. My next post will be on Friday, August 13.

Thank you for reading my blog and interacting with me on all of these issues. I enjoy writing and passing on my thoughts to you. I’m looking forward to continuing Divine Discourse when I return. Please pray that the Holy Spirit uses me in a powerful way as I preach His Word on August 8. Blessings!

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God’s First Institution

This entry is part 140 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

It’s one of the hardest relationships I have had to counsel as a pastor. Some pastors are well prepared and have great experience counseling marriages, but that’s not me. I have never been married, so I am an observer of marriage.

But when couples come to me I tell them up front I rely on what the Bible says about marriage as I counsel them. Of course, the Bible is open to interpretation on marriage and I hear every interpretation under the sun from couples.

I will start my discussion on holiness in marriage by stating what the Bible says. Many have helped me along the way to give couples the very best counsel of the Bible. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

My greatest observation when a couple comes to me is that there are two sides to the story and neither partner is perfect, each one needing to improve themselves. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about marriage and how husband and wife can be holy toward one another.

In the Beginning

Right after God created everything he placed Adam in the garden and then created Eve from his side and rib (Genesis 2:15; 21-22). God included both the man and the woman as part of His image (Genesis 1:26-30).

Let’s flush this out because it’s important to see how this applies to marriage. I will highlight the parts where husband and wife are included together.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

When God makes man (understand humanity for this word) in His image He declares, “Let them have dominion…” Husband and wife share the image of God and have dominion to gather over all the animals on the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

Once again, understand the word “man” to refer to humans instead of the male gender. God’s image is not complete until it includes both male and female. He created both of them in his image. And some scholars suggest that God’s image requires male and female to symbolize the three Person relationship in the Trinity.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:28–29, ESV)

God’s blessing came to both the man and the woman. He commanded both of them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. This is not the job of just the man or just a woman. They do it as a joint venture together.

Why is it so important to point this out? Most theologians believe the Garden of Eden was God’s desired best for His creation. This is the way God wanted things to work from the beginning. But sin entered the world and destroyed God’s perfect and ideal creation.

Moses under the direction of the Holy Spirit notes that husband and wife were naked but not ashamed before they sinned (Genesis 2:25). But after the Fall they knew they were naked and covered themselves up (Genesis 3:7).

Sin further affects the marriage relationship when the woman’s desire is for her husband but he will rule over her as part of the curse, God’s description of the reaction to sin (Genesis 3:16). The hierarchy in marriage relationships was destroyed at the Fall from God’s original ideal.

In the New Testament, Jesus sets the record straight on matters from divorce to lust to adultery. And throughout the New Testament letters we are given a clearer picture of God’s original ideal being restored in Christian marriages.

Christ and the Church

Paul presented a beautiful image of marriage when he talked about it in the context of Jesus and His Church. In Ephesians 5:22-32 Paul shows how the husband represents Christ and the wife represents the Church.

Jesus is the head of His Church and the husband is the head of the wife. The Church submits to Christ and the wife submits to the husband. Women have many issues with the word submit. But men should understand their role is just as important.

When I cover this passage either in marital counseling or premarital counseling the woman usually takes issue with this point. I do my best to explain that both husband and wife will take issue with parts of this passage.

For instance, the husband is commanded to sacrificially love his wife as he loves himself. Sacrificial means he does the same thing Jesus did for the Church. The husband is willing to die for his wife, even the most gruesome way as Christ did for His Church.

However you want to understand Christ’s role and the husband’s role you must see that Christ used his leadership to be sacrificial and unconditionally love the Church. Jesus used His leadership to present the Church to Himself in splendor without spot or blemishes. Husbands love their wives to the point of nourishing them so they flourish in their calling.

Peter also addresses the marital relationship between Christian husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:1-7). He explains submission as a witness of their relationship with the Lord, and it can even win their non-Christian husbands over to the Lord without a word.

Husbands must live understandingly with their wives, not abusing them. The wise husband seeks his wife’s counsel in every decision. Why would a husband not want to know what his wife thinks about everything they face in life together?

Paul and Peter flipped the current Greco-Roman culture between husbands and wives on its head. Roman husbands could treat their wives anyway they wished. But the restrictions of loving wives sacrificially as Christ loved the Church changes everything. Husbands are not harsh with their wives or able to take advantage of them.

Who’s in Charge?

The question of who’s in charge in any social situation, marriage included, is always in the forefront of our minds. I believe asking the question itself shows how far we have fallen from God’s original ideal.

Because of the sin in our world we want to know who’s got all the power. Feminists fought to get the power back from men. Men twist Scriptures dealing with cultural situations in churches in the New Testament letters to subjugate women. We are all to blame because we’re thinking like fallen creatures instead of new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Addressing the Scriptures that deal with women in ministry is outside of the purview of this post. Needless to say, I can point to several reasons why we’re asking the wrong question. We take our cue from the beginning of Genesis where God clearly included both men and women, husband and wife, as part of His image, His blessing, and His command to rule the animals and earth together.

Further, as new creatures in Christ both men and women are saved by God’s grace through faith. In no instance in the Bible does God invoke gender when he talks about salvation, sanctification, or giving of gifts of the Spirit. And these are just a few examples.

The same Paul who talked about the specific cultural issues in some of the churches, restricting the roles of women in these churches is the same Paul who highlighted the leadership ministry of women like Priscilla (whose name often appears before her husband Aquila), Phoebe who was a deacon, and several others throughout his letters.

Although it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around it, before Paul talked about wives submitting to their husbands, he mentioned one verse above (Ephesians 5:21) that every person, both men and women, in the Church submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Jesus is in charge as the Head of His Church first and foremost. We all submit to him. And then in different circumstances we submit to one another. For further explanation, check out my post on mutual submission in the body of Christ.

So in marriage husbands and wives share in leadership in the home. They address every issue together and take on life together. They were meant to function as one, complementing one another’s weaknesses.

Husbands who love their wives cherish them and hold them in the highest regard. Wives respect their husbands and provide wise counsel. God created the marriage relationship for husband-and-wife to work together.

Seeing Eye to Eye

So far I have been talking about a Christian marriage where both husband and wife are Christians. But what do you do if you are in a mixed relationship, where one spouse is a Christian and one is not?

First Corinthians 7 goes into detail about how to deal with an unbelieving spouse. Some of Paul’s advice tells the believing spouse to stay in the relationship as long as the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with them (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

He counsels that you should stay in the same situation that you were when you came to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:20). Peter has already said that a wife who lives for the Lord before her husband can win him over to the faith (1 Peter 3:1).

Paul counsels people to not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). But many times one of the spouses comes to Christ after they are married. This changes the dynamic in the relationship. In these situations prayer is a mighty tool. Pray for your unbelieving spouse because God can do great things through prayer.

Try to live in a peaceable and understanding way with your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15; Romans 12:18). Jesus calls all Christians to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). But if the unbelieving spouse cannot live with you because you are a Christian, you are free to separate from that spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15).

In any marriage relationship if the spouse commits adultery Jesus gives permission to divorce (Matthew 5:32). But God hates divorce. If it can be avoided, then by all means avoid it. Divorce has become too common a cultural phenomenon. Christians must refuse the urge to have divorce on the table.

When I do premarital counseling I counsel couples to not even allow divorce to be a thought. Don’t let it on the table as a way out if things don’t go your way. I can imagine the big things or even the little things that add up that will drive you nuts about your spouse. You don’t always know these things before you are in this intimate relationship.

But we must do all we can in every relationship, especially marriage, to maintain peace in the home and love between spouses. Break the cultural barrier and stay together through thick and thin. Work hard at your marriage and it will reward you over time.

A few of the most common reasons people have problems in their marriages are finances, communication, and selfishness. Many times I have sat at my desk as a pastor and wished the bickering would stop long enough for me to show both spouses how each of them were being selfish with the other.

We need to learn how to communicate in each other’s languages. There’s a reason books like, “The Five Love Languages,” and “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus” are written and very popular.

When you come to an impasse Christian counselors specializing in marriage counseling are available to you. There are great books written for marriage from a biblical point of view. Avail yourself of all of these resources.

Conquering Life Together

When we look at all of the biblical evidence concerning marriage we see there is mutual love and respect, and mutual submission between marriage partners. God designed marriage as an institution that prepares husband-and-wife to conquer life together.

Through consulting with one another and carrying the load of all the responsibilities that come with marriage, husband and wife complement one another. This is the way God designed marriage.

God didn’t see Adam being alone in the garden as a good thing. He created the woman as a helper to Adam. This doesn’t mean she was subservient to him. The word “helper” is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to God Himself, and he is subservient to no human.

Instead of asking who’s in charge or seeking to control one another, husband and wife should work together. They should complement one another’s weaknesses with their strengths. Don’t allow the decay and sinful environment of this world to destroy your marriage.

Jesus must be the center of your marriage. When husband-and-wife submit to the Lord first they will find no trouble working together. God did not create marriage as a way to sabotage one another or ruin each other. He created it as a fortress for husband-and-wife to stand under as they face the storms of life and defeat them.

Conclusion

Marriage is not an easy institution. After the honeymoon wears off, up to two years, husband and wife may find themselves in squabble after squabble. But it doesn’t have to be this way and God didn’t make it that way in the beginning.

Each spouse must put the other before him or her. Husbands must love their wives sacrificially with Jesus as their example. Wives lovingly trust and respect their husbands as they live life together. They seek one another’s counsel and wisdom. What are some cultural issues that have tripped you up from seeing God’s vision for marriage?

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When In Rome

This entry is part 139 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by Kookay from Pixabay

There is a lot of unrest around our country right now. It seems every authority structure is being challenged. No one trusts the people in authority. So we ask the question of how Christians deal with the authorities of this world.

The Bible is clear on God’s expectations for Christians and worldly authority. Let’s consider biblical teaching on the authorities of this world and holiness. We are citizens of heaven but we also have citizenship on earth.

Respecting Authority

Since we are part of two different worlds, heaven and earth, we must know which authority to obey and submit to. The Bible tells us God’s expectations for how we deal with human authority in this world.

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been put in place by God.”

Romans 13:1 (My Translation)

“Be subject to every human establishment for the Lord’s sake, whether to the emperor as authority, or to governors as sent by him for punishment of evildoers or praise of the upright, because this is God’s will—by continually doing good, you silence the ignorance of senseless people.”

1 Peter 2:13-15 (My Translation)

From both Paul and Peter the direction is to be subject to authorities on this earth. This comes from Christians who are being hunted down and persecuted, some of them killed, for their faith by the Roman Empire. And yet they still say Christians must subject themselves to these governments.

Paul goes even further to say that God has given these governments and their leaders authority. And it is true that God is the ultimate authority. Nothing happens without his stamp of approval on these governments and their leaders.

Peter and Paul contend that human governments are in place to bring justice against evildoers. Christians who do good things and stay within the bounds of the law should have nothing to be concerned about. God puts these governments in place and gives them authority to deal with evildoers. But is it so cut and dry?

Nothing to Fear

So Peter and Paul tell Christians there is nothing to fear from earthly governments. They come after lawbreakers and evildoers. As long as you are following their laws they are not interested in disturbing you.

Romans 13:1-7 shows us how to interact with the governments in which we live. We are responsible to honor God by honoring and obeying these officials. Whether you like the government administration you live under or not the Bible calls you to obey their laws so you have no fear of them.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13:1–7, ESV

In America, we have a system that changes usually every four to eight years. A new administration is elected in these spans of time. Depending on your political values you will not enjoy certain administrations.

But we are still called to respect and obey our leaders. We must distinguish between a difference of opinion and a law. We can have differing opinions but still follow the laws administrations put down. To us these opinions may not be effective.

In a democratic system like ours the majority of people vote in the candidates and administrations they want to lead them. You may be in the minority. But I can assure you that Paul and Peter are writing by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their friends, and they themselves, were being persecuted by the Roman Empire and yet they penned these words

Even under regimes against Christians, we may endure persecution for the name of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). In our suffering we bring glory to Jesus. We are citizens of heaven first and our inheritance comes from Jesus (Philippians 3:20).

Christians must be guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit on how involved they get with earthly governments. Some are called to serve in an office of some kind and represent Jesus in that environment. Others want to have nothing to do with earthly governments.

The way we interact with our culture and government must be a matter that God leads us to accept. He can use Christians in every situation to be salt and light to others. As salt we preserve righteousness and season our conversations with godly counsel. As light we expose and reveal the wickedness of our world.

We must navigate the world of morality when we are involved in politics. I often find myself becoming very upset with how leaders govern. Some of them have no wisdom and it shows. Others do not have no voice because they try to abstain from being corrupted. Sometimes it’s hard to tell in the midst of situations who is godly and who is not.

But if you have the right to vote you should exercise that right. Christians have the ability to change the outcomes of their nations. But we don’t always need voting to do that. God can use us to minister to people one-on-one.

Politics is not the only way we can interact with our world for the good of the gospel. But it can be an option to make a difference for Jesus. Why would Peter and Paul say that governments are appointed by God when they faced persecution and death under the Roman Empire?

Levels of Authority

They say governments are appointed by God because he is the ultimate authority. When we resist them we are resisting God. There are levels of authority, a hierarchy, among all the authorities in our lives.

At the very top of the hierarchy is God. He reigns supreme and is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25). He is in charge of all of His creation. Everyone and everything looks to Him. He has the last word. And this is why the Bible tells us God appoints every government.

Sometimes we don’t understand why He allows a government that is hostile to Christians to exist. But we do not know His purposes and plans completely. We have an idea, but the Bible prophesies a complete breakdown of world governments and authorities in the end times.

We can make a difference for a short time but eventually governments will turn on Christians. They will persecute and barter Christians to no end. This doesn’t mean we need to have a defeatist attitude about government. While God allows us to have influence on our governments we should take advantage of that grace while we have it.

Next after God in the hierarchy are the heads of state. In some cases like in the American system, we can elect our officials. But there are other places, like the Roman Empire Paul and Peter were under, where they had no say in governmental matters.

No matter what system you find yourself involved with you must represent Jesus. These governments may be against you, persecute you, and even martyr you. But you are called to the place where you are to represent Jesus well.

After heads of state are the administrations put in place. These governments can be elaborate with many different departments. Some of them may be hostile to Christians and other departments may not be hostile. I have observed you usually get a mixed bag with each administration.

State and local officials come next. They are probably the ones you know better than national leaders. They are closer to you and more accessible. You have more sway if you are able to vote for them because you are part of a smaller pool of voters.

This hierarchy matters because it helps us define our position when we encounter laws and leaders against Christianity and God. We have said earlier that these governments are put in place for our benefit and safety because they do not penalize those who follow the law.

There are times when these governments make laws that go against God’s laws. What shall we do then? God is above all human government and the ultimate authority and Judge. So we must consider first His laws above the laws of human leaders who go against them.

Laws issued against God by these human governments must be rejected. When Peter and the apostles were commanded by the Jewish religious leaders to stop preaching Jesus they responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Paul says that to be a servant of Christ we must be willing to please the Lord, not people (Galatians 1:10). The Bible sets the precedent to not embrace laws contrary to God and His Word. This doesn’t mean we have to become warriors against such laws. But it means that we do not follow them.

This may open you up to prosecution of some kind, tribulations, suffering, and persecution. But suffering for Christ is part of being one of his disciples. All of the apostles suffered for the faith and all but one, John, were martyred for their faith. John was exiled to the island of Patmos as a political prisoner for a time. Suffering is a natural consequence of being a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus gives us the grace and ability to endure suffering and persecution. We do it with a godly attitude. Sometimes this may even impress the ungodly leaders who are persecuting us. But even if they are too hardhearted to see His light breaking through us we still glorify God as we righteously suffer for Him.

Living at Peace

We don’t need to become activists against ungodly governments or ones we don’t like. We live a godly lifestyle before them. We follow God’s commands and do what he tells us. Only God is qualified to take vengeance on His enemies (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

God may give you a defense for His gospel and His name. But even if He doesn’t, you stand for Jesus. You are His representative on earth. You show people Jesus’ love. Even if you are mistreated you turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Our goal is not to fight the systems of governments and rulers against God. We do our very best to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). We can object to an immoral law without going to war. Peaceful objection may include persecution but it certainly stands for Jesus and the principles He gives us to live by.

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). We want to live peacefully when we can. Even when we must stand for godly and biblical principles we can do it peacefully. Do everything you can to live peacefully with everyone.

Conclusion

Jesus expects us to do our best to live at peace with everyone around us, including governments and administrations we don’t feel comfortable with or have a negative opinion about. As His representatives we live a good and holy life so we are not trouble to the authorities.

We don’t have to be afraid of the authorities if we live within their laws. But when laws go against the commandments and teachings of Jesus we must peaceably object and not follow them. Even if this brings persecution Jesus gives us grace and strength to endure it. How do you handle authorities when they oppose God’s laws in your context?

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Not Your Friends

This entry is part 138 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

We have all kinds of relationships that we must balance. There are close friends who treat us well. Enemies are a whole different matter. They are not on your side.

You could have a scorched-earth policy with your enemies. Or you could try to treat them fairly. Jesus calls Christians to love their enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). But that’s not easy to do. We need the Holy Spirit’s help to follow Jesus’ teaching.

Christians tend to focus on talking about the world as their enemy or their friend. I want to pay special attention to how we deal with those who don’t like us at all. How does the Bible talk about the world and what Christians should expect?

Levels of Persecution

Not everyone you meet hates you because you are Christian. Most people, especially in America right now, will either not care or treat you the same as anyone else who is religious. Sometimes it depends on how you carry yourself as a Christian.

If you push Christianity on other people you will probably get a lot of pushback. Some people pick on you because of your religious beliefs or standards. The Bible promises things will get much worse as the end times approach.

As He teaches about the end times Jesus says Christians will have tribulation and be persecuted (Matthew 24:9). Christians experience persecution on different levels. In America, civil liberties and First Amendment rights keep us from experiencing the kind of persecution Jesus is talking about for now.

We face derision and people making fun of our religion. Opponents of Christianity demand we defend the Bible and Jesus. They point out what they believe are contradictions in the Scriptures. They call Christians names or present serious cases against Christianity and why they think it is such a bad social influence.

Go down paragraph There’s a group of people called the “New Atheists” who have begun to experience popularity in the Western world. Although they are against all religions they do tend to fixate on Christianity. These include celebrities like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others.

Their goal as enemies of Christianity is to present arguments that religion is dangerous to humanity. Not content with presenting arguments, they are almost activists against religion. They want to get rid of religion altogether.

These New Atheists are more interested in destroying you as a Christian than listening to your responses to their questions. Their main strategy is to humiliate you publicly by asking you “gotcha” questions.

The levels of persecution intensify as the end times approach. You can expect to eventually be persecuted to the point of suffering for Jesus physically. Jesus includes persecution in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:10-12). So be prepared for all types of persecution.

We enjoy liberties and freedoms in the United States. But this will not always be the case. When it comes, prepared to suffer for Jesus. Even your suffering will be a witness against those who persecute you.

No one wants to endure persecution and suffering for the faith but Jesus gives us the strength and peace to go through these trials. He will be with you every step of the way. As the intensity of our persecution increases Jesus gives us His grace.

What They Think of Us

As hostility toward Christians progresses in our world people won’t hold back on what they say about us. This is the most common persecution American Christians face. Enemies of the Christian faith fight with their words.

Opponents of the Christian faith attack Christians as hypocrites and stupid people for believing in Christianity. Perhaps the most common attack is calling us hypocrites. Part of this is a misunderstanding of how Christianity progresses in a person’s life.

We pursue Christ with all of our hearts. We genuinely share our faith with others. But they watch our lives to see if we follow Jesus’ teachings. The Holy Spirit is transforming the behaviors and character flaws in our lives that don’t measure up to Jesus’ standards.

They watch us closely and find that we occasionally fail to represent Jesus well. The Holy Spirit addresses one or two character flaws and behaviors at a time. So there will be times when people in the world will see we don’t always measure up to Jesus’ high standards.

They call us hypocrites because we profess to be Christians but fall short in one or two areas. We can try to explain that while we follow Jesus we are not perfect. We don’t automatically become Jesus’ superstars.

We hope that our authentic living Jesus’ teachings and commandments will not be undercut by our faults. But if people want to persecute us they will ignore the changes Jesus has already made in our lives.

The biggest mistake we can make is to point out that the people that accuse us of being hypocrites are hypocrites in some way themselves. Lashing out at others is not the way of Christ. But the same time, the point should be made in some way. If you can do it in a loving way and they will be honest about their own standards and how they fail in fulfilling them then you can make this point.

Whatever moral standards or goals any of us set for ourselves, Christian or non-Christian, we will not succeed every time. Christians are held to a double standard by non-Christians who wish to persecute them for their faults.

The moment we declare ourselves Christians and that we follow Jesus and his teachings we fall under attack because people remember our past. They are quick to point out our failures to follow Christ. But they refuse to acknowledge any failures in themselves. It’s disingenuous on their part.

It’s not our goal to defend ourselves. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to convince people who persecute us. There is a difference between knowing what Jesus expects and not doing it and not being perfect in every area the Holy Spirit addresses through the path to holiness. We are traveling a path to holiness that is not complete in us yet.

People in the world will see this as a copout but we will make gains in some areas and still be working with the Spirit and other areas. We should point out the things Jesus has changed in us that they would notice.

Another attack of persecutors is the Bible itself. No one is a super apologist as they begin to witness about the changes Jesus has made in their lives. We all start as novices. No Christian can know how to defend the faith and the Bible right away.

When people ask me questions about the Christian faith, God, and the Bible, if I don’t know the answer I ask them for time to research and provide them with an adequate answer. If a person is genuinely interested in finding out the answer to their question, they will give you the time to find the answer.

The people who use smoke screens and “gotcha” questions are only interested in making you look bad publicly. In these cases, they will not wait for you to research an answer and give them a proper response. They are not genuine in their question. I don’t worry about people who are just trying to catch me up in my faith.

In general, the people who are listening to your debate or conversation will see through these attempts to make you look bad or stupid. I have found other people listening to the conversation are truly interested in the answer. I reach out to them.

Some people will not listen to your testimony about Jesus. They just want to discount Jesus through attacking you. They are not interested in the Christian faith. They will not genuinely listen to you.

We want to see everyone come to Jesus. But there are people who will not be remotely interested in coming to Him. Don’t be heartbroken if you cannot reach a person with your story of faith. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw people to Jesus.

Don’t be hardhearted about people who will not listen. But don’t be heartbroken over those people not listening. Be faithful and follow the Holy Spirit. Witness about Jesus at every opportunity. Let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

One more attack of persecutors is to call us stupid for believing in Jesus. New Atheists especially take this point of attack. They want to discount Jesus by making fun of you. They are not open to the gospel.

Jesus will give you the tools as you study apologetics to defend your faith with these attacks. God does not need to be defended by you. Some people listening to your defense may be interested to hear more about Jesus.

There are epic battles between atheists and Christian apologists in video and audio formats. These can be helpful to bolster your faith in Jesus. They can also prepare you to handle people who are hostile toward the Christian witness.

Learn what you can about the faith. Don’t be afraid to dive deeper into the things that interest you or that you have questions about. Learning about your faith and grilling in it brings glory to God. Your inability to defend Him at every point an atheist or challenger brings up is not a failure.

Do your best with the tools you have to defend Christ. But don’t be concerned if you do not win the argument. Witnessing to others is not about winning an argument. It is about presenting Jesus in his beauty and grace. The Holy Spirit does the rest.

 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14–16, ESV)

In But Not Of

Throughout John 17 Jesus talks about His disciples as being in the world but not of the world. Being in the world means we live and work here for Jesus. Our efforts to witness about him are part of being an ambassador for Jesus ().

But though we live here we do not share the worldly values and worldview of this world system. The devil controls this world right now as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). We are walking in enemy territory behind enemy lines.

This world is not our home. We are bound for heaven. So we separate ourselves from this world system. We stick out like sore thumbs whether we want to or not. If we truly pursue Jesus with everything in us, we will leave a bad taste in people’s mouths who do not like Jesus.

Paul said we are the aroma of death to those who are perishing but the aroma of life to those who hear the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). The Holy Spirit wakes up the spirits of those who are open to the gospel. We are the messengers but He does the miracle.

Some people say Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. But if you are heavenly minded you are thinking of those who need to know Jesus and be in heaven with you. Truly heavenly minded Christians are a whole bunch of earthly good. We can’t take anything with us to heaven except the people who have heard the gospel and believe in Christ as we do.

We deeply care about those around us who do not know Jesus. We must show people that it’s not good works that get you into heaven. It’s not what you do. It’s who you know. People must know Jesus to join us in heaven. This is our mission.

Conclusion

We will face persecution and hostility in this world. Persecution will increase as the end times come upon us. We must prepare ourselves to defend our faith and present the gospel to those who are interested.

Jesus gives us the tools and His grace in the midst of our tribulations and trials. So let us do what we can to witness to others. don’t let the persecution and Tribulations scare you. Jesus gives each of us the strength we need to face whatever is before us. Leave a comment and describe some of your strategies for dealing with persecution and trials from others in this world.

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Make the World Go Round

This entry is part 137 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by Jose R. Cabello from Pixabay

Most people know the Ten Commandments, even if they don’t know them in order. We strive to follow them but for many they become rules from a Lawgiver from long ago. Others may turn to legalism in an attempt to fulfill the letter of the law.

The last six Commandments deal with our relationships with other people. Some people narrow the meaning of these laws to make them easier to follow. They’ll say things like, “I have never done these things.” There are referring to a physical act. “I’ve never physically murdered anyone or committed adultery.”

We have been talking about holiness and how the Ten Commandments apply to a holy lifestyle. We’ve covered Commandments about God (No Flirting, An Exclusive Relationship, Respect His Reputation, and Remember His Rest). And we have talked about the fifth commandment of honoring your parents. So let’s discuss the last five Commandments and how they apply to our relationships to other people.

The Big No-No’s

Just about everyone has heard of the Ten Commandments. Out of all of the laws God gives to Israel on Mount Sinai these Commandments represent the moral code. Many other cultures in the Old Testament held some of these same values and laws.

Christian holiness is more than just morality. Each of these last five Commandments we are talking about today are part of holiness. Holiness goes deeper than morality. Morality is right living, but holiness contains the things we do to have a relationship with God.

God cares about how we treat other people. That’s why He gave us these Commandments. When we follow them it pleases Him because we honor His creation. God did not intend for us to follow these Commandments is strictly. We can’t limit them to the letter of the law.

Jesus referenced many these Commandments and internalized them. He made it a matter of the spirit of the rather than just the physical law. So instead of saying I have never pulled a gun on a person and shot them, Jesus deals with the anger issues behind the desire to murder.

Jesus revolutionized God’s laws on Mount Sinai. Many cultures have the same Commandments as part of their laws and values. But it is mainly to maintain order in society. There is no connection to our relationship with God as far as they use these laws.

Obeying God’s commandments starts in our hearts and ends in our hands. We can break the Commandments without physically doing them. Consider our attitudes and the sins we commit against God and others on the inside.

Murderous Rage

The commandment to not murder another person refers to more than actions. Jesus expanded this law in His Sermon on the Mount to include anger. Murder starts with the anger and hatred we have for someone. We must look inside at our anger issues before we say we have not committed this sin.

Maybe you feel like someone wronged you and that causes your anger. The Bible speaks against our desire to avenge and defend ourselves (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). Anger and hatred drive us to the point of murder.

We would never think of murdering another person, but in our minds it’s a whole different matter. We can use our imagination, thinking of all kinds of ways someone can die at our hands without committing the physical act of murder.

Some people make a distinction between murder and killing. They suggest that murder is a moral wrong while killing is not. This is often used as an argument in favor of killing on the battlefield as part of a military operation for one’s country.

But those who have taken another life don’t tend to make such distinctions. Murdering another person weighs on a person’s soul no matter what the circumstances. Beginning with Cain and Abel, this is one of the oldest sins in the Bible.

Consider your motivations, the anger or hatred you feel for someone, as you think about whether or not you have murdered a person. Even doing it in your imagination counts against you. We must get to the root causes of our anger and hatred before we can say we haven’t committed this sin against those around us.

A Matter of the Heart

“You heard that it was said, ‘Don’t commit adultery.’ But I myself tell you that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you, for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you, for it is better that you lose then your whole body go into hell.”

Matthew 5:27-30 (My Translation)

The next commandment tells us not to commit adultery. Jesus deals with this sin against others in His sermon as well. Jesus said that adultery begins in the heart with lust. How can we guard against it? What is it? We can commit adultery without committing it physically. Jesus expands this law not only to refer to the act of adultery but the lust in our hearts.

When I was in Bible College one of my professors defined lust as, “Taking a long second look at the opposite gender.” This captures the idea of lust it concerns the desires we feel and the temptations of our heart when we look at the opposite gender.

Jesus dealt with it from a male perspective that anyone can lust after another person. Lust falls under sexual sins in the Bible because it breaks God’s high standard of sex only inside the marriage covenant. Any sexual action or thought outside of marriage is sexual immorality.

You may not have committed adultery with another person, but you have allowed your inner desires and thoughts to lust after another. According to Jesus’ expansion of this law, you have still committed adultery, even if it’s only in your heart.

Property Rights

The eighth commandment forbids stealing from others. you will find other cultures observing this commandment has part of their laws. But because it is only a matter of morality and maintaining social order there are some instances where people sympathize with a thief.

A common example is a person who steals food to feed his family. Many people are lenient on such a poor person who cannot feed his family without stealing. In his case he would state that desperate times call for desperate measures. But there are deeper issues to stealing.

Another example involves shoplifting, stealing merchandise usually for the high of trying to get away with it. This is not often connected to an economic inability to feed one’s family. Those from the poor to the rich have been found shoplifting.

Why doesn’t God want us to steal from one another? Stealing involves at least three principles in the Bible. First, people who steal are not seeking to live and honorable lifestyle, working for a living. Paul set the standard for every Christian who does not work to not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Christians work not for people but as unto the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-7).

In the case of those who shoplift, our desire for more stuff clouds our judgment and understanding of God’s expectations. We don’t need the things of this earth. Materialism, the desire for more stuff, goes against our eternal perspective. It ties us to this earth and this world system. But we have eternal values that guide us toward treasure in heaven instead of here on earth (Matthew 6:19-20).

But there is a third principle at hand here. People who steal are taking matters into their own hands. They are not trusting in the Lord for His provision. God provides everything we need. But those who steal, even to feed their families, are preempting God’s ability to provide everything they need.

Paul taught that we need to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13). Contentment is not a gift of the Spirit. Paul says that he “learned” how to live in plenty end and want. This means that being content in each situation we find ourselves is a learned ability.

It takes us time to learn how to trust God for His provision instead of seeking our own way. Paul gives us the promise, “And my God will supply all of your needs according to his riches in Christ” (Philippians 4:19). Trust in God’s provision and be content in your situation.

Character Assassination

The next commandment tells us not to bear false witness. This is a representation of another person in a court of law in the original context. But it goes deeper than that. If we talk about swearing an oath Jesus addressed how we take the character of another person in the oath.

Christians should stand on their own character instead of taking an oath by saying, “I swear on my mother’s grave,” for instance. We are taking the credit of someone else or something else to prove we’re not lying. This should never be a Christian practice. We must let our yes be yes and our no be no (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12).

We don’t have to be in a court of law to bear false witness against another person. Anytime we take the character of another and abuse it in any way, lying about another person or knowingly accusing them wrongly, we assassinate their character.

What we say about others, Christian or not, must be true. We don’t want to slander or quarrel with one another. Talking about others becomes gossip without us realizing it at first. Our words have power and they can tear down another person so easily. Let us use our words to build one another up instead.

How we speak to one another is a matter of our integrity and character. We must not speak falsely about others and take their character hostage. Only speed good things about others. You cannot go wrong with a blessing instead of a curse.

Looking over the Fence

The final commandment of the Ten Commandments tells us not to covet anyone else’s property or things. We look over the fence at the greener grass on the other side from time to time. But there’s a difference between admiring someone else or just looking at what they have and wanting it so bad you are willing to take action to get it.

In the Old Testament, King Ahab wanted the vineyard of one of his Israelite neighbors. His wife Jezebel ended up finding a way to murder the person so his property could become King Ahab’s (2 Kings 21:1-16). There coveting led to breaking Israelite law to get what they wanted. Sometimes we don’t even realize the consequences and how fast we move from wanting someone else’s stuff to taking action to get it.

Coveting shows are envy and attachment to the things of this world. We must look to God for provision, content in whatever season of life we find ourselves. This is the only commandment that cannot be observed until we violate other commandments to get what we want. It’s the only commandment that calls us to look at our desires inside.

We must trust God for all of our provision. We take away his miraculous provision when we try to get on our own. Keep from violating the possessions and personal space of others. Enjoy what God has given you. He wants to bless you beyond measure but he can’t do that if you cannot be content in his lavish blessings. Be satisfied and content in every situation.

Conclusion

We have now looked at all ten commandments as we consider holiness and our relationship with God. Our goal is to grow closer to him and please him because we love him and are grateful for what he has done for us.

We do not observe the Ten Commandments as some moral or legalistic framework to live our lives. We don’t try to do these things on our own. We trust in Jesus who has fulfilled the law for us. As long as we obey the Holy Spirit and follow Jesus’ teachings we have fulfilled the law.

Let us follow all of God’s commandments through the power of the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus and draw near to him. How do you obey the Holy Spirit in the matter of the Ten Commandments?

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God’s Image

This entry is part 136 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I love to make images through art. I tried my hand at drawing when I was younger. When I was in high school I had the opportunity to make pottery. And I have recently picked up painting with my mouth since my paralysis.

I’m not very good at any of these art forms. I’d like to blame it on my poor eyesight, being legally blind. That probably plays a part in it. But the truth is I never learned all the techniques involved in these disciplines.

When I write I find myself most effective at making images that can draw people in to the concepts and stories I like to tell. Image is important, a concrete, real thing we can get our heads around. Images help us to grasp the deeper concepts.

One of the first theological ideas of the Bible is the image of God, found in Genesis 1-2. This profound concept has been debated and discussed throughout history. But it’s not only a scholastic subject. It must be practical.

Who’s It For?

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fishes of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over all the creeping things crawling on the earth.’ So God created man in his image, and in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27 (My Translation)

God created everything we see and know, and things beyond us, in six days in the Bible. On the fifth and sixth days of creation God made living things. On day five He made the birds and the fish to fill the skies and the seas. On day six he created land animals and humans. But when He got to humanity we read the verses above.

Scholars and theologians often talk about humans as the “pinnacle of God’s creation” because of these verses. There is clearly something different about humans. God made the animals to reproduce after their own kinds. But when He came to creating humans He declares He will put His image in us.

Unlike any of the animals around us God made us His image bearers. We are special in all of creation. But don’t get a big head. We have ideas of the meaning of His image, but know when exactly understands it.

The creation accounts of Genesis make you a special creature in God’s sight. Of all the amazing things He did you topped the cake. Now we just have to figure out as best we can what it is and how it impacts us.

What Is It?

Now that you know you have it, you may want to know what it is. Well, that’s a lot harder for us to grasp. As you can imagine from millennia of studying the image of God and talking about it there are several approaches to what it is.

Here I will do my best to give you the lay of the land on how people talk about the image of God.  You might look at the word “image” and think that God’s image in humans is a physical attribute or our whole bodies. But most scholars discount this. Some arguments can be made but the general consensus is that this is least likely.

Some people look at Genesis 1-2 and try to describe the image of God and humans in contrast with the animals and what they lack. For instance, there are certain human faculties animals do not possess.

You may look at some of these and argue theologians are wrong. Remember I am only presenting the arguments I have heard over my years of study in the Bible. Theologians suggest that animals do not contain intelligence, language, emotions, creativity, reasoning skills, a spirit/soul, an appreciation for beauty, volition (the will to choose), and their lists go on.

I think there are some very intelligent animals, like chimpanzees. I have even seen in our family dog a level of intelligence, and he speaks his mind and we understand to a point. I think animals can show emotion. And I believe they have personality, part of the soul.

I would agree animals don’t have creativity or reasoning skills. They probably don’t appreciate beauty. They have a will to a point. They can make choices or express that they don’t like something. But they may not be able to make the complex choices we do. Many of these things I have seen animals have or do, if not to the complexity humans do.

Complexity may be part of the equation for the image of God. It’s not that animals don’t have any of these faculties. It’s that they don’t have them in the complexity and capacity that humans do. So if you go this route on explaining what the image of God is you may have at least a partial case.

One problem with this idea of complex faculties that make up God’s image and humans may be that some humans do not have full capacity of all of these faculties. For instance, I see myself as creative, but I have been blown out of the water by more creative people. I think I’m intelligent but I also know there are others more intelligent than me (by miles).

There are also people that because of some genetic mutation or mental issue don’t have as full of the capacity in these faculties as we may think. But I have found that someone without great intelligence may have an incredible ability to recognize and respond to emotions. We cannot judge anyone on these faculties. They may not be the best approach to understanding the image of God. Yet they may play a part.

Other people look at the biblical text of Genesis 1-2 and try to understand from the context the image of God. When you go to Genesis 1-2 you start to see certain things that may provide clues to understand His image in us.

When God speaks of making humanity in His image, it is immediately followed with giving us “dominion” over the animals and the earth (Genesis 1:26). God says “man” in the singular and then “them” in the plural (Genesis 1:26) and then a poetic verse follows talking about God creating man as male and female (Genesis 1:27).

All this may suggest that God’s image in this has to do with having dominion over His animals and earth and being male and female together, scholars who suggest this approach talk about the King’s image being displayed throughout the land to show he has dominion over it.

Just as the Godhead has three Persons in harmonious relationship with one another, so God’s image is best shown through the harmonious love between man and a woman in marriage.

God has dominion over all of His creation. He demonstrates it through His rest on the seventh day. Recent scholarship has uncovered the same language for inhabiting a temple as when God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-4).

This suggests that God reigns in dominion over all of his creation as he inhabits it. So also, humans demonstrate the image of God when they have dominion over the earth and subdue it.

A third possibility may be that God breathed the breath of life in man and made him a spiritual being (Genesis 2:7). This breath of life is not just for biological life and animation but also spiritual life.

Humanity’s ability to have a spiritual nature and connect with God who is Spirit is His image in people. Animals do not have this ability of a spiritual nature although they have a soul. Both the spirit and soul have an eternal quality. But the spirit of a person connects with God.

So which one is it? I imagine the answer is somewhere in between, maybe something we have not completely understood yet.

There may be parts of our more complex faculties that show part of God’s image in them. The fact that we demonstrate dominion over the earth and animals as God has dominion over his entire creation may be the image of God in us. And it may be that our ability to connect with God on a spiritual level is His image in us.

I suggest the answer is in the middle. I don’t think we can point to just one thing. It’s possible to see each of these views in the text of Genesis 1-2.

What Does It Do?

We’ve talked about approaches to define the image of God in people. More important based on our understanding is how the Bible applies God’s image to how we live. In one sense, we can leave the debates about the definition of God’s image up to the scholars and get how we live right.

First, God’s image in us makes us His representatives on this earth. How we behave and what we do impacts others for His Kingdom. We know as Christians we represent Jesus on the earth. We also represent God through the image of God in us.

Second, when God places His image in humans, making them image bearers for Him, it gives all humans an innate sense of value and dignity. We matter to God as his creation. But He took special time to place His image in us. And depending on how you understand the “us” of Genesis 1:26 He may have declared that He was putting His image in humans to the divine council.

This place is great value in every human being. It’s not that we didn’t have any value before. We have even more value because we had image of God in us. It elevates as above animals. Don’t let anyone tell you your ancient ancestor was a monkey. That degrades God’s image in each of us.

More than that, because every person we need bears God’s image we must show respect and give dignity to others. Whether they are Christians are not, they still bear the image of God. We show respect to God when we respect other people He has made. You may argue his image was tainted in the Fall, but we all still bear God’s image.

Third, six of the Ten Commandments concern I relationship with other people. The way we interact with others matters very much to God. They are His creation just as much as we are. We worship God and show we love Him by treating others the way He sees them.

Fourth, if God’s image is relational among us, we honor God by showing others the unconditional love He has shown us. In every relationship we must love other people despite their religious/spiritual views, and how they treat us. No one deserves hate or derision from us.

Even total strangers bear the image of God. We have no right to treat anyone on this planet as anything less than human. Such dignity and rights are given by God, not governments or laws. He has imprinted himself upon every person.

Fifth, we should honor marriage, not trying to break it, help people get divorced, insert ourselves into that relationship, try to abolish it, or try to change it. God instituted marriage between a man and a woman. We must not get between them, try to seduce one of them, or anything of the sort. We should defend marriage at all costs in societies and cultures that want to get rid of them.

Sixth, we have the privilege of a spiritual connection with God. We can know him and see his blessings both physical and spiritual in our lives. There is a part of us God placed in us to connect with Him. And we must share the good news that we can know God with others.

These are only a few of the ways we can apply the image of God to our world and lives. We must remember these applications for ourselves. You are valuable to God. Your relationships matter to God. You have a spiritual connection with God.

Conclusion

We may or may not completely understand the image of God He has placed in each of us. But to the measure we can understand it we need to apply it to others and our lives. You are responsible for your understanding and application you have of the image of God.

We honor and glorify God by the way we treat others. The image of God in each of us was marred at the Fall and is restored through the image of Christ. But let’s not just discuss it. Let’s take what we learn and use it in our relationships and treat one another with respect that honors God. How do you see the image of God and apply it to your life?

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Honor Your Parents

This entry is part 135 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters

In my pastoral ministry it’s one of the toughest subjects I address. How do families get along with one another? When I was pastoring my church in Shillington, PA I was a youth pastor as part of my portfolio there.

The youth in my group mostly had godly parents that took great care of them. But every once in a while there would be a small dispute between the youth and their parents. If I would address the issue, the youth would tell me how bad their parents were in the parents would tell me how bad their youth were.

I have seen this as a common theme throughout my ministry and in every church I have observed. But it’s an age-old problem between parents and their children. Paul addresses it in Ephesians and Colossians. And the fifth commandment addresses it.

We have talked about holiness from the perspective of our relationship with God and the first four of the Ten Commandments (No Flirting, An Exclusive Relationship, Respect His Reputation, and Remember His Rest). But as we continue to talk about our human relationships we will refer to the last six Commandments. Let’s start with honoring our parents.

The Fifth Commandment

It’s not that there was a problem in Israel between parents and their children that got issued this fifth commandment on Mount Sinai. It might’ve been more a preemptive commandment.

The first four Commandments point to our relationship with God while the last six talk about our relationship with other people. God cares about how we treat other people because they bear his image just like we do (Genesis 1:26-27).

Because they are his creation whom he made and bear his image we must treat them with love that he does. The Ten Commandments are not just a community standard for Israel. They are full of moral obligations for all people.

So why would God include parents and children as part of his commandments? Other than our relationship with God, our relationship with our parents comes as the next intimate relationship we have.

Our mothers bring us into the world and our fathers help guide our lives. Our parents work together to mold us into the people we will become. That’s a lot of hard work, especially for the more rowdy of us (You know who you are).

God places them in our lives as authorities and disciplinaries. They get to tell us what to do, even if we chafe against their leadership. They must discipline us so we will become adults who can function in our society. That’s a lot of responsibility for them, but we don’t see it until we become parents.

So this is what God told Israel: ““Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV) he doesn’t talk to parents about their children. But he does address children and how they treat their parents.

God gives the reason for honoring our parents, that we will have long life and experience God’s promises fulfilled. When I went over this at my church when I was pastoring one of the ladies asked me, “What if I don’t want my days to be long?”

I suddenly thought, “Gosh. What if she’s right?” But the implication in God’s blessing here is that our days will be long and good, not bad. Not everyone gets that opportunity at least for some of their life, but this is the promise God gives. When we walk with him our days are full of his goodness.

And that is the promise, that God will walk with us and we will have good days as he is with us. The long days refers to a long life, not that your days will feel like they drag on and on. It’s a promise and blessing from God, not a curse.

But to experience such a blessing we must obey the first part of the command, to honor our parents, both our father and our mother. Some people lean one way or the other. Often, sons look up to their fathers and daughters to their mothers. But we are instructed to honor both.

The Ideal Situation

Although God gave this fifth commandment to Israel at Mount Sinai Paul repeats it in the New Testament to both Jewish and Greek Christians, to the whole Church. We see him repeat the commandment and comment on it as he talks to children and their fathers.

“Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise, with the result that it will be well with you and you will have long life on the earth. And fathers don’t provoke your children but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Ephesians 6:1-4

Why does the commandment, and Paul, focus on the children instead of the parents? Don’t worry. He talks to father specifically. And we will get to all of that. Needless to say Paul points out that this is the first commandment God gives with a promise.

The four before it command the Israelites to do what God says no matter what. But this fifth commandment promises God’s blessed long life to those who follow it. Surely his blessing follows those who obey all the Commandments. And this is true.

The promise isn’t meant to coerce us into following the commandment. God makes several comments on his commandments. He explains why the Israelites must not make idols. He elaborates on the importance of the Sabbath rest. And here he gives a blessing and promise to those who honor their parents.

I think God elaborates on the Commandments when he wants to give more revelation. The rest of the Scriptures elaborate on Commandments he does not. God still blesses us when we obey his commandments.

Paul comments that it is right or righteous for children to obey their parents. He cites the fifth commandment for the reason it is right, because God has commanded it. But Paul goes further in his explanation then the commandment did on its own.

He addresses fathers, telling them to not provoke your children to anger. This could be because fathers have expectations of their children and sometimes drive them to fulfill their wishes. No one said parenting is easy, and no child comes with a manual.

Although I’m not a parent, my parents brought me up to serve the Lord. Each child is different. They have different temperaments, personalities, likes, dislikes, and goals. If parents could find ways to encourage and channel their children’s desires and abilities, they would give them a gift that keeps on giving.

The Bible doesn’t tell parents if they should follow in their parents’ footsteps or not. It doesn’t say that there are only certain vocations a child should pursue. The only job he gives every parent to do is to bring up their child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

The discipline and instruction of the Lord means children understand why their parents believe in God. They learn about the Bible and about God. They are given opportunities to commit themselves to the Lord and to know him personally.

In my Christian tradition we don’t baptize infants. Instead, the parents and the congregation commit to being good examples of Jesus to their children and training them up in the ways of the Lord.

We all have a rebellious streak in us. Most children exhibit this streak in their teenage years. Parents can’t save their children. Only the Lord can do that. But they can provide the best example possible so their children can decide for themselves.

Not So Ideal

In Ephesians and Colossians Paul is speaking to Christian parents in a Christian family setting. He is describing how Christian families operate differently than those in the Roman Empire. But there are not so ideal family situations all across America and the world.

How do you honor your parents when you are not raised in a Christian home? How do parents deal with ungodly children who have not chosen to follow Christ? It’s a little easier to talk about growing up in a Christian environment.

Because I have little experience with these situations I will do my best to give some counsel. If you are a Christian child growing up in a home where your parents aren’t Christian, you are at a disadvantage. Parents are still the authorities of the household.

The Bible calls you to honor your parents but that is difficult if they tell you to do things that are not biblical. How can you honor your parents if you have to disobey them because they are not giving you godly counsel or godly rules to follow?

We must always obey God rather than people. The Bible sets the precedent in Romans 13 when it talks about how to deal with ungodly laws and governments. But this can apply to ungodly parents as well. “But Peter and the apostles answered, saying, “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29, My Translation).

Paul said we must seek to please God rather than people (Galatians 1:10). This may bring your parents’ wrath upon you. But God has your back and will take care of you. I know it’s not an easy position to be in. Inasmuch as you can honor your parents, do so. But disobeying ungodly commands is not dishonoring your parents.

For many parents I have known throughout my ministry and life, the shoe was on the other foot. The parents are believing parents and have raised their children in a godly home. But the children have chosen not to worship the Lord or become Christians.

I have spent many hours on my knees as a pastor praying for the parents and children of homes like these. The parents consent godly standards but their authority is questioned and ignored. Their children are rebellious and don’t care about the Christian faith. It breaks the hearts of their parents because they realize the eternal consequences of such a heart condition against God.

But that is all the counsel I have for anybody, and it is great counsel. There is no power greater on this earth than prayer. Prayer still moves the hand of God. You would be amazed how much God hounds those we pray for him to grab a hold of. We will never know this side of heaven the power of our prayers.

So pray and continue to pray. The same goes for Christian children with non-Christian parents. Pray for your parents. You don’t know what God can do with those prayers. Continue to live the Christian lifestyle in front of unbelieving parents and children. God can touch hearts through our actions. At the very least, they will know what a genuine walk before God looks like.

The Fatherly Role

Paul is hard on fathers especially because they represent and provide the image of the heavenly Father to their children. Through their example they show their children what God is like. That’s a tall order, and no one is up to the challenge. But fathers must do the best they can to present an image of the Father.

With all of the fatherless families in our culture, the fathers who are there not there, and the fathers who are bad influences or even dangers to their children, we must have men who stand up and fulfill this requirement by God.

It makes it so much harder for a child to come to faith even as an adult when such a terrible father image is given to them. This may be the hardest thing God asks you to do, but you must represent him well before your children. The Holy Spirit will help you be a godly example to your children.

Conclusion

God calls us to honor our parents because they are his authority and guidance in our lives. They train us up in God’s ways. But not all parents are Christians. And not all children are Christians. In those times when we do not have a godly influence at home, Christian parents and Christian children must live a Christian lifestyle in front of their unbelieving parents or children.

God can use a Christian lifestyle and witness in ways we can’t imagine to win those who do not know him living under our roof. We must also pray continually for our unbelieving parents and children. God does great things through our prayers. They are powerful to break down the hostility toward him and us.

What are some other ways you would counsel Christian children to be able to honor their parents?

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A Tale of Two Realms

This entry is part 134 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

The naturalist view now touted in universities and many scientific communities ignores, downplays, or rejects the idea of a spiritual realm. They hold that only what I can experience with my senses exists.

Naturalism demands empirical evidence. I don’t want to get too philosophical, but there are things we know to be reality that empirical evidence cannot explain. Naturalism seriously limits our understanding of the universe.

It can be useful but it tends to distract from everything we know to be reality. Many times in opposition to naturalism the Bible teaches that there is a spiritual realm. More than that, the spiritual realm is essential to understanding our reality.

So what does the physical and spiritual realm have the do with holiness? Understanding the spiritual realm is part of understanding the Bible and its worldview. Without this understanding we cannot believe in God or accept the Bible’s teachings. Let’s take a closer look at these two realms and what they mean for holiness.

The Physical Realm

We are most familiar with the physical realm. This is why naturalists and scientists are so gung ho about our natural world. It is what we know to be the closest reality to us. We use our five senses to determine what is “real.”

It makes sense to us that the physical reality is first in importance. When things happen in the physical reality they have effects in any other reality that may exist. After all, as far as we understand the physical reality is where everyone lives.

There’s a certain concrete nature to the physical reality around us. Nobody I know can pass through walls unless there’s some scientific ability to do this. The concrete nature of our world comforts us. I am afraid of heights and if I were skydiving I would be freaking out.

I like the fact that there is a ground to set my feet on, gravity to hold me there, and anytime the ground is taken away there is always the possibility of falling and injuring myself, or even worse. There are too many dangers in this physical realm without those comforts.

We can’t limit our world to the physical realm. As I mentioned before, there are things naturalism and empiricism cannot account for. For instance, they cannot explain the fact that we have mines, imaginations, are creative, and intelligent. They don’t explain how we make choices.

They especially cannot explain why humans tend to have a spiritual band. Almost every culture, even the most primitive by our standards, have a concept of God in some way. That doesn’t make any sense if you just leave this physical realm is all there is to the world.

The idea of God would only exist in our minds if we could comprehend that we are not the most supreme beings in creation. Even the scientist must admit that our world is much older than the common human lifespan. Someone else created it.

If we’re wrong about that, we’re probably wrong about a lot of things concerning the physical realm. Scientism cannot explain morality. It can’t give us the reason for our reasoning skills. It can’t explain our emotions and relational reactions.

We push off the idea that we are only on this earth for a certain amount of time. There’s no such thing as immortality as far as naturalism is concerned. And yet we have these ideas floating around in our heads. Why is that?

So we must consider that we are wrong about there only being a physical realm. Even within science there are ideas of multiple realities and other dimensions. Naturalism can’t explain how we get those ideas either. So let us turn to thinking about why we have these ideas if this earth and creation is all there is to us.

The Spiritual Realm

The reasons for not believing the physical world is all there is to our reality are only part of the issue. I have not yet mentioned the spirit and the soul which give us the greatest reason to not believe the physical world is all there is.

We believe we are immortal until we are hit with the reality of our time growing short. Physical accidents and debilitating diseases make us realize we are not in control or immortal. A number of circumstances wake us up to the reality that we cannot control our destiny on earth.

But this idea that we could be immortal or live forever comes directly from the fact that we have a spirit and a soul. There are parts of us that do not die when this physical body gives way to the decay of our world. The universal concepts of God, the soul, and the spirit within us challenge the possibility that the physical world is all there is to existence.

People overwhelmingly believe in some kind of afterlife. Different cultures and religions suggest different ideas for an afterlife but almost all religions have this concept. In some form or fashion the soul or spirit, or both, gives us the reason to believe there’s more to life than just this physical existence.

Christians believe in Heaven and Hell. God is in heaven and those who do not know Jesus are in Hell. Believing in existence of heaven, hell, the soul, and the spirit are the basis for understanding the consequences of living a holy life that pleases God.

This is the foundation for Christian doctrine and action. Morality is based on the understanding that the spiritual realm exists. God has spoken to people throughout the ages concerning his expectations for each of us.

But holiness goes beyond morality to wanting to know God. We want to follow his commandments and principles, but our goal is not to be moral. It is to know him and be found in him when we physically die.

The spiritual and physical realms interact with one another. Like amphibious creatures, we have eternal and temporal parts. Our soul and spirit live on beyond the stopping of our hearts and brain waves. This physical body will give way to decay. But God will transform our bodies in the resurrection to be eternal.

Ground Rules

The spiritual realm opens us up to much more than just our physical existence. There are other spirit beings besides us, from angels to demons to the “gods” of the Bible. The divine counsel mentioned in a few of the Psalms and in some other places suggest God made more than just humans and angels.

God himself is a spirit being. So we are not alone in the universe. I’m not talking about aliens. We don’t really know what these other celestial beings are like. We only know that they bow to God and the angels serve him. Satan and his demons rebelled against God and find themselves on the path to eternal destiny in hell.

The spiritual realm makes us aware that there is a spiritual battle going on all around us. We cannot see what is happening in the spiritual realm unless God allows us to. But rest assured as much as the spiritual realm exists there are spiritual battles around us. Satan and his demons want to destroy you and keep you from dwelling with God for eternity.

Paul lays out the principle that we do not fight against other people but against the spiritual forces of evil around us (Ephesians 6:12). So we must be prepared with spiritual weapons of warfare, not physical ones.

We must ask God to see other people as he does. They are lost souls who need to know Jesus. We all start out our lives with good spirits. The Bible teaches we are dead to God until the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts and spirits. Then we can hear the gospel and receive it and understand the truth about our world.

The Bible also teaches that we were wrong about the physical realm being the main realm. Everything that happens in the spiritual realm has an effect on the physical realm. When the Holy Spirit moves the physical realm responds.

The Psalms are full of images of God moving and creation responded to his presence. God spoke the world into existence. He was here before creation existed. The Holy Spirit works miracles and healing in us, and then the body responds to his work.

The spirit is more important than the body. The body is important to God that he works in our spirits first. When the Bible talks about death it often references spiritual death first. When Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden God told them that if they eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would die.

But he did not mean physical death first. That was a law that was enacted the moment and Eve ate the fruit. But he said that they would die the day they ate the fruit. They didn’t physically die but they did spiritually.

They were separated from God, the very definition of spiritual death. Everything changed for them in an instant. They fled from God’s presence for the first time and saw something wrong with being naked.

If we physically die before we are spiritually awake to God we remain spiritually dead for eternity, separated from God and unable to have relationship with him. So the spiritual realm is first in importance before the physical realm.

We must reach out to those who don’t know Jesus and are spiritually dead. There’s only so much time before their condition becomes permanent. You may wonder why I am treating spiritual death like some kind of sickness but it is very serious to God. He wants his creation to dwell with him forever. And he has sent those of us who are alive in Christ to show the way to others who need to know him.

Conclusion

As we read the Bible we come to realize that there is more than this physical realm we are so comfortable dwelling in. The spiritual realm draws us to understand God and how this world really works.

The spirits and souls inside of these fleshly tents of our bodies call us to understand the spiritual realm and become part of God’s Kingdom. Let us do everything we can to fulfill the Great Commission and tell others about Jesus. The time is short. Spiritual battles await us. How do you explain the spiritual realm to people around you?

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Love Your Neighbor

This entry is part 133 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters

How do you see yourself in this world? For some Christians it is a hostile place filled with persecution and people who cause trials for them. Other Christians say it is a mission field where they reach out to others and show the love of Jesus.

This world is not our home, but it is a place where family and friends, those we love, live. What we do here matters for eternity. And how we treat one another matters to God. God watches the way we live for him here, and so does those who don’t know God.

We’ve been discussing how to live a holy life for God and how to treat other Christians. But I want to switch gears and talk about how we treat unbelievers. What does God expect of us? Is this a hostile world or a place to love others? What do you do when other people mistreat you?

The Hostile World

The Bible presents this world we live in several different ways. In one sense, Christians live behind enemy lines. The devil is in charge of our world (Ephesians 2:1-2). We work for Jesus in a hostile environment.

Jesus told us we would be persecuted and have tribulations in this world (John 16:33). Though God created the world good, beautiful and habitable for us, Satan has corrupted it and tried to destroy it. Everyone begins in this world as hostile toward God.

So as his representatives it makes sense that we will be treated wrongfully. But is that all there is to this world? Should we treat everyone around us as out to get us? That would create quite a paranoid Christian. And there are other passages that teach us to love everyone around us.

So how do we reconcile these two worlds? We are not wrong to think of the world in both ways. We are in enemy territory. John talks about the world in three different ways throughout his writings. When we read John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to save those who are lost.

In other places John talks about the world in very hostile ways. So how do we understand the world? In John 3:16 he talks about the world as the people who inhabit this planet we live on. But another places he is talking about the world system Satan controls.

The world system is evil and hostile to Christians. This is the system where people are against Christian values and the Christian worldview. This is the part of the world that persecutes us and puts us on trial.

But the people in the world are not generally hostile toward Christians. They view us like any other person. They are not out to get us. So we do live in a world that operates against us in one sense. But we also have people who love and care about us.

We must be aware that we are behind enemy lines. We will come across people who want to persecute us and do not like Christians. But even when we meet these people we approach them differently than we would if we didn’t know Jesus.

How do we operate in a world where some people like us and others don’t? Treat it on a case-by-case basis. Don’t think everyone hates you. Don’t cringe every time someone comes up to you. After all, Jesus taught us to love everyone.

This world is your mission field. But you are not out to save people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. If we are going to love everyone, we must understand what Jesus means by love. So we will turn to how to love everyone we meet the way Jesus does.

The Love of Jesus

Before we met Jesus we loved people with strings attached. I loved my family in a different way than I love my friends. And I didn’t love strangers unless they give me a reason to. Love was more like comradery. I acted differently toward different groups in my life.

But now that I know Jesus, he calls me to love everyone. How do I do that when there are people who don’t love me at all? Jesus taught us to love like he does (1 John 4:19). This love is a different love. There are no strings attached. No matter how others treat me I treat them with the love of Jesus.

Jesus went to the cross, suffering physical and emotional stress and beatings just for me. Though I was his enemy he died for me as my friend. It’s a love that surpasses understanding. He didn’t have to come and die for me to save me from my sins. And yet he did.

When the Holy Spirit grips the heart of unbelievers they begin to see what I saw. They see a God who loves them even though they hated him. It doesn’t make any sense why a God who would be justified in leaving us in our sin and shame still came and brought us into his Kingdom of light.

So we come to him a hating enemy and his love transforms us into his children. We respond to that kind of love with confusion. But when we open our hearts to Jesus’ love it’s contagious. We begin to want to share that love with everyone around us.

Because Jesus loved us first we learn to love others the way he does. No matter how they treat us we treat them as Jesus did with his unconditional love. Our hearts are full of gratitude for his sacrificial love. And we pass it on to everyone around us.

Jesus’ unconditional love first given to us, and now shown through us to others, doesn’t make any logical sense. But it’s not about logic. We care for God’s creation bearing God’s image. We see them the way Jesus saw us before we knew him.

We live in a hostile world but we are the lights of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus commanded us to show his love to everyone who lives in this world. Whether they treat us with kindness or not we love our enemies ().

We’re not here to treat people as friends just so we can tell them about Jesus. They are not our targets or marks. We don’t “love” them just so they will become Christians and go to heaven with us. We must truly love them whether they listen to the message of the gospel or not.

Jesus died for everyone even if they don’t choose to love him and serve him. He has no ulterior motive when he makes friends. But the love of Jesus changes a person. Even if they don’t accept the gospel they won’t be able to forget Jesus.

Loving others is not part of our “job” as we serve Jesus here on earth. We give our love freely. We see people for who they are and who they can become if they meet Jesus as we did. Loving others like Jesus is not an ulterior motive. It’s who we are.

Who Is My Neighbor?

“You must not take vengeance, and you must not hold a grudge against the sons of your people, and you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18, My Translation)

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39, ESV)

We reach out to our neighbors. Most of us think of neighbors as the people in our neighborhood, those next door. But the Bible defines neighbor in a different way. In the Old Testament Leviticus declares that we must love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).

It defines how we treat our neighbors by telling us not to take vengeance or hold a grudge against our neighbor. These lights would take quite literally, “the sons of your people” to mean that “neighbor” was a fellow Israelite.

Jesus took this idea to task when he was asked pointedly by a lawyer, “And who is my neighbor?” This lawyer would’ve been an expert in the law, a scribe. You know as well as I that you never catch a lawyer with word games.

But Jesus took the question head-on. Instead of answering it point blank he taught through a parable (Luke 10:25-37). The famous Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a Jewish man who was beaten while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Jesus specifically speaks of a priest and a Levite who saw the man in pain but passed by on the other side of the road. Both of these men are fellow Jews. More than that, priests were ministers to the people for God. Levites took care of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Because of the laws about the impurities of touching people who had certain conditions both refused to turn aside and help the man. Jesus made these two men fellow countrymen on purpose. He wanted to address the issue of “neighbor” being one of your nationality only.

In a scandalous move the third person to see the man lying in pain on the road was a Samaritans, a halfbreed Jews were taught to disdain. He acts with compassion and turns aside to help the man. He goes the extra mile, taking him into town and paying for his stay and treatment.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer a question. He asks who the lawyer thinks was a neighbor in this parable. Can you imagine the look on the lawyers face when he has to be marginally say, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37)? He couldn’t even say the man was a Samaritan.

Our neighbor has only one qualification. A neighbor is a person in need of help. And anyone we meet that we can help we are required by our Lord to do so. If nothing else, those around us who don’t know Jesus need to meet him. Their eternity depends on it.

Doing God’s Work

We often master the techniques involved in compassion ministries but some forget that along with compassion we must speak the name of Jesus. People will wonder why we’re helping them. If we do not tell them it is because Jesus loves them through us they will only think we are kind person.

Along with compassion ministry must come the proclamation of the gospel. This is the only way people will know the reason we show them compassionate and unconditional love. We work for Jesus in this world. It is our mission field. But these are also our family, friends, and neighbors.

Even a stranger is a neighbor. All too often we pass people by who are crying out for help. We can’t help everyone. If you try to help everyone you will end up a person in need yourself. You cannot give what you don’t have. You will only find yourself relying on others when you stretch yourself too thin.

This is not a rude policy and we cannot hide behind it when we are not generous with the resources God gives us. But that’s precisely the point. God gives us resources, makes us a blessing to others because he blesses us. We cannot bless others if we do not have the ability to pour out blessing upon them.

Those you can help the Lord expects you to reach out and help. Sometimes the Spirit calls us to sacrificially give of our resources to help others. These are special circumstances and we must be obedient to the Holy Spirit. But most of the time you must operate out of your own resources.

Every time you help a neighbor in need you are glorifying Jesus (). He put each of us on this earth and enabled us to do his ministry. We are his ambassadors (). We minister for him and when people see us they say Jesus through us.

Do not hesitate to bless others out of the blessings God has blessed you with. You may be the only Jesus people ever meet. Represent Jesus well. Honor him as you help others. Be his salt and light in the world.

Conclusion

You can be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Love your neighbor as yourself and help them every opportunity you receive. Step out in faith and minister to those around you. Meet the needs of others and share the gospel.

You will find people who don’t want a Christian’s help. You will be persecuted and rejected from time to time. But we must not treat the people in this world as automatically against us. We love them even if they reject us. How do you love your neighbor as yourself today?

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ANNOUNCING THE RELEASE OF HOLINESS MATTERS!

Holiness Matters: A Call to Obey the Holy Spirit is a book formed out of my four year study of holiness in the Bible and how it applies to us today. It discusses sanctification and God’s command to be holy as He is holy. But how do we do that? With the help of the Holy Spirit.

I present a five-step path to principled holiness, the ability to take the commands of the Bible in context with the principles of the Bible as the Holy Spirit guides you into holiness.

You can find your copy on Amazon today! The Kindle version is in preorder until Tuesday, July 13. But the paperback book is available today. If you have the opportunity to purchase the book, could you please leave a review! Reviews on Amazon help the book to be seen by other leaders who may be interested. Thank you for your support!

Buy on Amazon

From the back of the book:

“Do you try to live a holy life before God but struggle to stay faithful?

Pastor Jonathan provides a path to follow to glorify God through obedience to the Holy Spirit. Holiness Matters explores how God transforms us from the inside out when He makes us new creatures. Salvation is the beginning of a long and fruitful walk with God.

While Jesus declares us holy the moment we follow Him, the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. He begins with our character, choosing one character trait at a time and calling us to obedience. But we must submit and surrender to His leading. After a lifetime of walking the path of godliness with Christ, He makes us into the people that glorify Him, and in His time, He leads us into His presence in heaven forever.

Join me on a journey of discovering what the Holy Spirit has in store for you as He conforms you to the image of Christ.”

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