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Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention.  It was entitled, “Jury convicted maid for stealing.  Then they paid her fine.” The story went something like this: a young, 19 year old maid stole a lady’s rings while cleaning her house.  The value of the rings was about $5,000.  She later, after initially denying it to the police, felt bad and admitted to the crime and returned the rings. She was charged with felony grand larceny.  At the trial the jury felt that justice had to be done but also felt compassion for the young women who was also pregnant with her second child.  Their solution was to put forth a guilty decision on her case, but to also take up a collection among themselves to pay for her fine.  This was quite amazing and unprecedented.

The amazement here centers on the fact that they were able to maintain justice in the case and to still be merciful.  In other words, although the jury sympathized with her situation, they couldn’t rightfully say that she was not guilty; they couldn’t because they knew that she was in fact guilty by her own admittance.  Since she was guilty, then she had to be convicted and a price had to be paid for the crime.  The mercy was shown by the jurors by paying the price for her penalty, to redeem her.  The price was paid and justice was upheld.

To Christians this should sound familiar.  In fact, this is the first time in my life that I have seen a real world example of the mercy and justice that has been conveyed to us through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His death paid the penalty for our sins, much like these jurors paid the penalty for this woman’s crime.  Similarly, our conviction could not have been removed, because we are in fact guilty.

Our guilt is twofold.  In part we have inherited guilt from the sin of Adam and Eve which brought death to the entire human race, as well as a curse to our world.  We entered into an evil, corrupt and selfish world system at birth.  The second part of our guilt is our own choices of disobeying and dishonoring the God who created us and who is the source of our very life and breath and all that sustains us.  Yes, our sins are a serious crime against God, in fact, they are deserving of death.  We all, at some point in our lives, have disobeyed His commandments and regulations, and we have not honored Him as our creator and God, thus we all have been guilty.  Yet because we have been born into this sinful situation, inheriting our condition from the fall of our original parents, and because much of our crimes of our past have been done in ignorance of God’s laws and requirements, God has been compassionate towards us, sending His Messiah to pay the penalty for us.  Thus God is able to retain justice and yet be merciful to us.

We can see also that God, like the jurors, couldn’t just remove the penalty.  No, the conviction had to stand firm and be applied or justice would have been perverted.  In our case though, the penalty was much, much higher than in the case of the young woman thief.

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins  in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-7

Another lesson here to be absorbed is the fact that justice can coexist with mercy, and mercy doesn’t need to cause justice to be overturned.  We can mistakenly use the need for justice to override the feelings of compassion and to halt the application of mercy, but this need not be, and rather should not be.

The mercy that we show towards others will affect the mercy that will be shown to us as well as the judgment that will be applied to us in the future.  God is very clear about this:

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 12: 13

And this from the teachings of Jesus:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5

Somehow we get the idea that it is our job to fix people, to correct them and straighten them out.  Many times the motive is really selfish, not wanting to have to encounter their issues because it bothers us, or may cause us some discomfort or pain.  Unfortunately, most times our execution of judgment towards others either verbally or physically, does little to actually change them.  Love and mercy, on the other hand, can do much to bring about a change in the inner heart of a person, where the change is really needed.  It also opens the door to allow God’s Spirit to work in their hearts, softening them and their guilt.  It’s much like when we love our enemies, and it is like “heaping burning coals upon their head.”

In the story about the maid, noted above, it was also mentioned that the owner of the rings was very upset and “appalled” when she learned of the actions of the jurors.  It seems that although she had her rings returned and the maid was legally found guilty, she wanted more of a penalty enforced upon the woman (showing no compassion for the maid’s poverty and situation).  I wonder what was motivating this wealthy woman to feel this way.  Was it out of love for the maid, and a desire to really help her (maybe a tough love)?  Did she think that justice was not really upheld?  Or was it that she wanted revenge for being compromised?  I would think it most likely that the need for revenge motivated her to feel this way, but God knows her heart and will deal with her appropriately.  For us, we should be certain that revenge doesn’t motivate our actions.

Love is our ultimate goal, but the ability to love can only come when we are transformed in our inner man by the power of God.  It can only come when we become spiritual with our mind and heart set on spiritual things above, rather than on the things of this world.  When we love this world it equates to loving ourselves and we are then unable to love God and love others as we must.

“Make love your aim….” 1 Corinthians 14: 1

The final question that arises about the story of the maid and the compassionate jury is how the maid will react when she is offended in the future, perhaps by a crime committed against her.  Will she also show compassion as was shown to her?  It is obvious to us that the compassion shown to her should then cause her to also show compassion to others.

Remember that this applies to us also.  As God has shown mercy to us, we also need to show mercy towards other, besides being immensely grateful to God for what He has done for us.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ “ 1 Peter 2: 9-10

Amen

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God’s Chosen Fast

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen….” Isaiah 58: 6

Why is it that religious people often think that they are righteous, and doing things that are pleasing to God but in reality they are not?  We see this often in the Bible.  What is the root cause of this?  What are the underlying issues that create these conditions?

We must be careful today that we don’t fall into the same trap.  We are just as vulnerable to this self deception, and we have a very clever and deceptive enemy of our soul, the devil, who works toward accomplishing this same delusion in our lives.

In the book of Isaiah, chapter 58, there is a prime example of this issue.  We see in this situation that the people of God were seeking Him daily and were delighting in knowing His ways, and they were fasting and afflicting themselves as a means of pleasing God.  After doing all of this, they then wondered why God didn’t answer their prayers or why He seemed to have forsaken them.

God called upon His prophet Isaiah to speak to His people concerning this:

“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.  Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.  They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they delight in approaching God.  ‘Why have we fasted.’ They say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take not notice?’” Isaiah 58: 1-3

We see that although the people were in sin and were in need of correction from God, they had deceived themselves and were acting like a people who were righteous and following God’s ordinances.

A similar condition occurs with Christian’s today who enjoy going to church and enjoy hearing about God, as if they are righteous people.  They may even fast regularly and give their time and money to the church as a sacrificial offering, but in reality they are not focused on what is really pleasing to God and they are not truly being obedient to His requirements.

Isaiah’s prophecy continues with criticism of the people’s fast:

“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness.” Isaiah 58: 3-4

The real problem here was not the fasting, but it was their sin, and what compounded the problem was that they had deceived themselves into thinking that they were pleasing God with their fasting, and yet they were blocking out of their mind the presence of their sins in their lives.  The Lord was pointing out to them through His prophet Isaiah that their wickedness and sin, in this case the exploitation of their laborers and their strife between one another, was negating any merit from their fasting from food and other debasement of themselves (like wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes). In other words, their fasting was meaningless as long as they continued in their sinful activities.

The warning for us from this account is that we are susceptible to the same self-deception.  We have a tendency to excuse ourselves from the sinful things that are difficult to change or deal with in our lives, but that are sinful and displeasing to God, and we convince ourselves that our other acts of “righteousness” like giving money to charities or participating in religious activity, giving our time, is pleasing to God and therefore God should be blessing our lives.  We think that somehow the “good” acts that we do will overshadow the sinful acts still present in our lives, but God does not follow along with our self deception.

Looking deeper at this issue, I also see a problem with misplaced priorities, or a loss of focus on the real goals of our life as Christians.  We must often remind ourselves that our main goal is to walk in love.  This love is aligned with God’s commandments, so if we are walking in love we will be following all of His commandments.  In fact, Jesus said this:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Remember also that to walk in love means that we must be spiritual, and the desires of our flesh are contrary to the spirit, and therefore for us to make the necessary changes in our life is a great challenge because our flesh does not die easy!

I remind you also of the correction that the prophet Samuel gave to King Saul when he disobeyed the Lord:

“And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

And there is Paul’s warning in Colossians regarding self abasement:

“Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” Colossians 2: 21-23

We see from Paul’s comments that self abasement has “no value in checking self-indulgence”, meaning that our self restrictions, like fasting, most likely will have no affect on our other indulgences that are sinful and against love.  In fact, our self abasement can even be a means of feeding the flesh, when we do it to impress others or to gain a name as a “holy and righteous” person from doing it.

Looking back to the prophecy in Isaiah 58, we see that the Lord resets the focus of the people to what is truly important.  Notice that His directives are aligned with walking in love:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed to go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”  Isaiah 58: 6-7

We see a similar reset of focus in the book of James in the New Testament:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1: 27

One final warning is to be aware that there are varying degrees of this condition.  We should allow the Holy Spirit, working with our conscience, to expose to us any area of our life that needs to be dealt with, where we have deceived ourselves into thinking that our religious activities have made it okay for us to hold on to other areas of our life that are sinful and displeasing to God.  Now is the time to deal with this before our life comes to an end and we have to stand before the Lord and answer to Him.

I remind you also that God has made a way for us to gain victory over our flesh so that we can overcome the sin in our life.  We are well aware that exposing and admitting to our sin is just the start, but the power to gain victory comes from us changing internally and becoming truly spiritual.  We become spiritual by exercising true faith in the promises of God that He has offered to us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  If we die to the hope offered by this world and shift our hope to the promises of God, that is, of eternal life in heaven with a resurrected body, then we will learn to walk in the spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

As we walk in the spirit, we will be able to also walk in love, and will be able to fulfill the law, for the law is spiritual.  As we are transformed in our inner man, we will do by nature the things required by the law, as the law of God will become written on our hearts with our conscience bearing witness.

Let us stay focused on the truth and stay focused on the things of the spirit.  Let us learn to walk in the spirit and to walk in love.  God will then bless us and we will have our blessed hope of heaven as the final reward.

Here is what God promised to His people if they would adhere to His chosen fast, as He defined it in Isaiah 58:

“Then your light shall break forth like the morning. Your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isaiah 58: 8-9

This is what I desire, and it is my prayer for you also.  Amen.

As Christians, How Should We Now Live?

“Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you should do so more and more.” 1 Thess. 4: 1

This message is for Christians, and more specifically, for the subset of Bible believing Christians who adhere to the directives of the Holy Scriptures and see them as the source of truth and as an authoritative revelation from God to all Christians throughout the ages.  I personally believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God and that all true Christians must hold to it as the sole authority and standard to measure all other proposed truths against. If you don’t agree with this or if you have some other source of truth that takes precedence over the authority of the Bible, then this message will most likely not be a benefit to you.

The Bible is more than a historical record, and its relevance is as applicable today as it was centuries ago.  Its verses were written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the divine Holy Spirit of God was able to cause what was written to have relevance from the time it was written until the end of this age, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at His second coming.

I am stressing these points about the authority and relevance of the Scriptures because I want to look closely at the instructions that were written in the 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians and were established by the author, the apostle Paul, as instructions for how the Thessalonians should live as converted Christian.  Again I say it – these instructions are applicable to us today also.

Paul lays out 3 areas or categories of instruction as follows: 1) holiness, 2) love of the brethren, 3) hope.  I would like to drill down into each of these areas, looking more closely at the verses and discussing their relevance for us today.  I see in these exhortations a practical direction for us to follow that will help us to live out the remainder of our Christian lives in a way that is pleasing to God, as Paul suggests.

“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” 1 Thess. 4: 2

Notice first that Paul had previously instructed them on these topics, possibly even multiple times. Notice also that Paul states that these instructions were given “through the Lord Jesus” meaning that they have been revealed to him by God, and have divine authority, therefore they should not be taken lightly.  Also, note that under each of these 3 categories, Paul mentions specific topics of instruction that encompass the guidelines for Christians to live their lives.   We must recognize that there are more topics that could be included than these that are mentioned, but these were the ones that Paul thought were important and relevant to the Thessalonians, and also that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write and include, so we must also see them as relevant for guidance to us today.

Holiness

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or being made holy)….” 1 Thess. 4: 3

The dictionary.com definition of the word sanctify is “to make holy; to set apart as sacred; to consecrate” and “to purify or free from sin”.  The original Greek word used here is hagiasmos meaning “purification, i.e. the state of purity” and also refers to the effect of this purification, that is, “the sanctification of heart and life.”  The word is translated as holiness, sanctification or consecration in today’s English versions of the Bible.

There are two ways of looking at sanctification, the first being that it requires a setting apart or separation.  For Christians, we need to be separated from the world.   Looking deeper, we must realize that the world is focused on the things of the flesh, or more specifically, focused on satisfying the strong desires and longings of our physical bodies.  As Christians we need to shift our focus from physical things offered by this world to spiritual things that have been promised to us from God through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to approach life with an attitude that our physical life here on earth is temporary, but our future life in the kingdom of God is permanent.  We need to store up our treasures for the future life in heaven.  We are to be like pilgrims, aliens, and strangers here on earth, just passing through on our journey to our true future home.

This shift of focus is internal and changes the way that we think, resulting in a definitive, distinct difference between us and the world.  This is the separation that Paul is speaking of.  Christians are not instructed to remove themselves physically from this world but rather to recognize that they are not “of this world” and that they must not love the things of this world.

Prayer of Jesus to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17: 13-17

“Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

People who are in the world have their minds and hearts set on the things that this world has to offer them and this is what consumes them, demanding all of their attention and energy.   Sadly, many Christians allow their physical desires to take over their attention and focus, maybe not in their words, but in their deeds and thoughts.  A good test for this is the amount of anxiety that is in our lives – high anxiety and stress would indicate that our hearts are set on the things of this world rather than on heaven.  Examine yourself to see if you are walking in the faith with your heart set on heaven.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6

The second way of looking at sanctification is from the idea of purity and holiness.  We need to recognize that the Lord has instructed us to be pure in our thoughts and actions.  This requires that we put to death the deeds of the flesh that we once practiced before our conversion, when we were in the world with our hearts set on pleasing ourselves and advancing our position in this world, looking for the praises of men and the pleasures and riches that this world has to offer.

Paul mentions a specific topic in his reminder to the Thessalonians:

“…that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God;”  1 Thess. 4:3-5

Paul specifically addresses here the issue of having sex outside of marriage (i.e. unchastity).  The strong physical desires that are associated with sexual activity have made sexual immorality an issue throughout the ages, and it is especially relevant today.

Consider our western culture here in America and the sexual attitude that prevails.  Almost every TV program and movie has a message that promotes sexual promiscuity or a segment that exposes sexual immorality either explicitly shown or implied.  Even some commercials are sexually explicit and promote immoral sexual activity.  Pornography is easily accessible for even the young pre-teens of our society.  Our children are being raised to think that fulfilling our sexual passions (and even in some cases sexual perversions) is normal and acceptable, and certainly not restricted to marriage.

The sexual standard set forth by our western culture is that as long as you are having sexual relations (i.e. intercourse) with one person that you “love”, your actions are acceptable; only when people have casual sex with multiple partners are they looked down.  In fact, I would say that for men the standard is even lower than for women, where multiple partners is okay as long as they are not in a “committed” relationship or married, and as long as the partners they choose are not prostitutes.

Currently there is much in the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities who are being accused of sexual abuse.  We wonder why there are so many situations that result in rape and/or unwanted/non-consenting sexual encounters, especially where drugs and alcohol are involved – these are symptoms of the deeper problem of promoting sexual activity outside of God’s instructions. Rather than treating the symptoms, we should deal with the root of the problem by going back to God’s instructions regarding chastity, training our children in this truth.  Unfortunately, it may be too late for our society to change in this area, but we as individuals can make the necessary changes in our life and set an example for others and pass on these truths to our children (or train them in this if they are young).

As Christians we need to have a different attitude towards sexual activity.  We need to follow God’s direction and view sexual relations as something that should be limited to a married couple.  Also, as was instructed by the Lord Jesus, we must not only change our external, physical actions, but also our internal thoughts; Jesus said that lusting after a man’s wife is the same as committing adultery with her.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5: 27-28

Paul continues in Thessalonians 4 with more instructions:

“…that no man transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, for the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we have solemnly forewarned you.”   1 Thess. 4: 6

Some versions include the following translation:

“…that no man defraud his brother in business,”  1 Thess. 4:6 (alternative translation)

In the first, original translation, the key is to consider what is meant by “this matter”.  It could either mean the matter of holiness and sanctification in general, or more specifically, the matter of sexual unchastity.  In the alternate translation, we can assume that Paul intended to specifically warn against defrauding other Christians in business transactions, adding a new topic to his discussion.

Included in both translations is the idea that defrauding people is ungodly and should never be found among Christians.  We must be aware that it is very easy to clean up our external, visible actions but to leave the internal or hidden things of the heart and through-life unchecked.

The type of defraud that Paul was warning against would apply to people nowadays who attend gatherings with other Christians, but continue in sexually immoral activity (like viewing pornography, lusting in their thought life, or even worse, having secretive sexual activity like adultery or fornication).

Being dishonest in our business dealings would apply today to the many types of businesses that knowingly defraud their customers by promising things that are not delivered, or similar deceptions.  Christians should never be involved in questionable business ventures, even if they are “legal” according to the government laws, but underhanded in reality.

Notice also, that in these verses Paul exhorts his Christian brothers in the area of finding a Christian mate for marriage:

“… each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God;” 1 Thess. 4: 4-5

On this topic I must admit that I have much to learn and have been seeking the Lord to show me how this selection of a wife should occur.  I believe that our society and culture in America has moved so far from the proper view of dating, courtship, and marriage that we must get God’s redirection on this completely, removing all of our previous understanding.

Taking a wife in “holiness and honor” I believe means that we should look for a Godly character, humility, and a heart that loves the Lord as the guiding factor in our selection of our mate, and not be completely focused on sexual attraction.  Please, if you are single looking for a mate, seek God for direction and instruction in this most important decision that will impact greatly the remainder of your days.

Paul’s final warning on this topic of holiness:

“For God has not called us for uncleanness but in holiness.  Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” 1 Thess. 4: 7-8

Love

Our purpose for reading and studying the Scriptures is not so that we can claim to be Biblical scholars or to be able to quote verses from any part of the Bible, but rather, we read and study so that the Word of God will transform us; we read so that we can become lovers – lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors.

Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian and all things that we endeavor to accomplish should be related to love.  God is not interested in quantity but He wants quality.  Christian quality is measures by our ability to walk in true love as God defines it in His Word.

Paul encouragement in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 includes growing and continuing in love for the brethren (fellow Christian believers).  Again I would remind you that loving our fellow Christians is not the only area of love that is important.  The Bible instructs us that we need to love God, our neighbors, and even to love our enemies.  Paul is encouraging and supporting their existing good attributes of loving their brothers and sisters in the Lord and he exhorts them to do so even more.

“But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by Got to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia.  But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more,….” 1 Thess. 4: 9-10

It is interesting that Paul follows this encouragement to continue loving one another with practical instructions about their conduct.  This may at first seem unrelated to loving one another but in fact it is directly related since our actions and conduct can greatly impact other people.  Paul makes it clear in other verses of Scriptures (e.g. Romans 12) that adhering to the commandments of God’s law is equivalent to walking in love.  Therefore, our actions are an important part of walking in love.  Here’s is what follows verse 10:

“….to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.”  1 Thess. 4: 11-12

Clearly, Paul is showing that loving others is more than just feeling emotional warmth towards them.  It’s even more than helping them when in need, or more than forgiving them or feeling compassion for them.  Love also involves being fair towards others and not taking advantage of their kindness towards us.  It involves carrying our own weight and doing our part to provide for our own needs, never presuming upon the generosity of others.  True love means that we are maturing and growing as Christians, becoming strong and independent. It means that we are able to not only take care of ourselves but also to be used by the Lord to help others in need.  This too should be our goal; it should be our understanding about how to truly walk in love.

Hope

The last part to be included in Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians is his encouragement regarding our future hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and how we don’t need to view death like people in the world do (those without hope).

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.   For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4: 13-18

Christians need to live their lives with the understanding that death is not the end for us, and that those who die are not lost and gone forever.  Rather, there is a day that will surely come when Jesus will return and we will be transformed with new resurrected bodies, and meet with Him up in the air.  Halleluiah!

May the Lord continue to make clear to us how we should walk and to live our lives until He returns.  May He show us how to be sanctified, how to walk in love. May He make the reality of His future return even more real to us.  This is my prayer for all who read this.  Amen.

She did what she could…..and so should we.

“She has done a beautiful thing to me…   She has done what she could….” Mark 14: 6, 8

I was reading through the Gospel of Mark recently and came across an interesting account in chapter 14 that I had read many times in the past, but this time it had caught my attention.  I want to look more closely at the details and discuss what they could mean for us today.

Here’s the account:

“And while He (Jesus) was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over His head.   But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment thus wasted? For the ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii (about a year’s salary for an average laborer), and given to the poor.’  And they reproached her.  But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have Me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’” Mark 14: 3-9

First some background.  People at this time period did not have the same financial institutions that we have today.  There were not stock markets, large banks with safe deposit boxes and sophisticated financial instruments to place and preserve one’s wealth.  There were not life insurance policies; no IRA’s or 401K’s.  People therefore had to attempt to preserve their wealth by buying expensive items that would last for a long time.  I presume that the jar of costly perfume was one of these means of preserving one’s wealth.  We can also presume that the jar was worth somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 in today’s money, at least.

It should also be noted that Jesus had been warning His followers that He was soon to be captured and put to death by His enemies, though it was clear that they didn’t grasp this fully or seemed to block it out of their minds.  We are not certain from this account if the people there, or the woman herself, were aware that Jesus was on His way to His death and burial.

The first thing that jumped out at me about this account was the fact that the other people that witnessed this act were quick to reproach this woman, or discredit her and find fault with what she had done.  They immediately looked at her act from a physical, worldly viewpoint, counting up the value of the perfume, and thinking that it could be put to a better use.  Isn’t this what we do?  We seem to have difficulty suspending our physical, carnal view of situations, to look rather with spiritual eyes, and attempt to consider what God’s perspective might be in the situation.  We don’t seem to want to consider a person’s motivations either.  We don’t want to consider their heart and underlying motive, but rather allow the physical dynamics to take precedence.

Looking at the woman’s perspective, we must realize that we are likely to be misunderstood when we are being obedient to our heart, or when we are following the prompting of the Spirit in our circumstances.  We can’t allow other people’s potential reaction or their opinion to influence our actions towards God, or we will miss out on doing something that God sees as beautiful!

I was curious about the phrase that Jesus used about this woman’s actions when He said, “She has done what she could” and wondered what that really meant.  Of course, we must remember that this was originally written in Greek about 2000 years ago, so the meaning in our present day English may be somewhat different.  As I looked at the original Greek words (and I’m no Greek scholar) I felt that the phrase could be translated more accurately today as “she put to good use her valuable possession.”

Let’s consider what may have been going through this women’s mind at the time.  She had an expensive flask of perfume that most likely represented her life’s savings or possibly an inheritance that was given to her.  She most likely had been prompted by the Holy Spirit to use it on Jesus, so she was being obedient to the Spirit.  She could have possibly remembered that Jesus had said that He was on His way to His death and burial so she wanted to prepare Him for it (I think this is unlikely, although it could be so).  One thing for sure is that she wanted to use this valuable possession of hers to express her love for the Lord Jesus.  She must have believed that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to save mankind.  She must have wanted to honor Him and express physically her recognition of His Lordship.  This was the beautiful thing that Jesus affirmed:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  Mark 14: 6

And amazingly, whether she was aware of it or not, her actions had a higher purpose in that they prepared Jesus for His burial, as He also affirmed:

“She has anointed my body beforehand for burying.” Mark 14: 8

For me personally, I must consider now what I have that I can offer to Him so that He would say, “that was a beautiful thing that you have done to me.”   I don’t believe that it has to be an expensive possession.  It can be anything of value.  It can be anything that we can use to honor Him.  I believe what is key is that we allow the Holy Spirit and our hearts to prompt and motivate us to “do what we can” when the time comes.

At this point I could come up with many examples of what we could possibly offer the Lord, but I don’t believe that it is my place to take this any further.  I think that we must open our minds and hearts to Him and be moved to respond in love towards Him at the proper time.  I think we will know when the time is right and what the offering should be.   This woman’s account is a reminder for us to be open and ready, not impacted by the potential reproach of others, but driven by our love for the Lord to put to good use the valuable possessions (or talents, influence, time, effort, etc.) that we have available to us, in order to honor and glorify Him.

“……….whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10: 31

Amen.

Humble Yourself like a Child to become Great in God’s Kingdom

“Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18: 4

The life and actions of a true Christian should stand in stark contrast to the life and actions of the rest of the world.  The differences between humility and pride should be one of the more noticeable areas of distinction.  The Scriptures are clear that pride is a major evil that is present in this world.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” 1 John 2:15 – 16

The root of pride in a person is the elevated view of their own self value and self worth, beyond their true value.    Pride manifests itself when a person attempts to assert themselves based on this inflated self-view.  The Scriptures warn us against such actions or attitudes:

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12: 3

Pride is often the root cause of jealousy and envy.  For example, when someone is honored or rewarded but we think it should be us on the receiving end rather than them because we are more deserving, so we become envious or jealous, not recognizing that it is God who is in control of these circumstances.  So we see then that pride is in contention with love:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; “ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5

We must be aware that this pride can enter into the body of Christ, as people carry over their prideful attitudes from the world without humbling themselves.  Religious pride can be subtle and can take many forms.  It is an age old problem though, and even the Lord Jesus rebuked the religious people of His time for their pride.  In the 23rd chapter of Matthew, while harshly criticizing and rebuking the religious scribes and Pharisees, He says this about humility and pride:

“They do their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.  But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.  He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23: 5-12

Pride can potentially be manifested in any or all Christians, but it seems that those who enter into any type of leadership position are especially vulnerable.  Perhaps the various positions and the associated titles that we have adopted in our current church structure are not what God has intended. My personal conviction is that there should not be titles for positions in the church.  In the Scripture quoted above from Matthew 23, the Lord explicitly mentions the use of “rabbi” and “father” and “master”, but my opinion is that we should not just limit the restriction to those three, but rather they are just example of what should not be done, not an exhaustive list. The root of the problem is that it feeds a person’s pride!  I am convinced that this is so, and therefore I do not use titles when addressing other Christians, because I don’t want to contribute to their pride.  I have found that many are visibly upset when I don’t use their title when addressing them.  It’s pride – shame on them.

All true Christians should be working towards being humble servants towards one another.  This is where true greatness in the kingdom of heaven lies, so it should be our goal.  Don’t make it your goal to be elevated to some position with a title in the church, but rather, determine your gift  to be used in the body and allow God to open the door for you to use this gift to serve others.  The gift that you have will be something that you will be compelled or constrained to use, and God will open up a means for you to use it.  Just make sure that your pride is not a part of the motivation.  Be aware also that you can use this gift, and possibly even more effectively, without having a title associated with it.

There is a subtle point here that you may miss that I want to emphasize.  The world may see humility as something nice to have and may even recognize it as a good quality in a person, but the Lord is not just saying that this is a nice thing to have, He is saying that this is the path to greatness in His kingdom.  In other words, this is what we should set our sights upon and labor towards accomplishing.

Imagine a secular organization, and its leader speaking at a meeting with all members present, and using the humility of a small child as an illustration of how to be great within the organization.  It would never happen, but this is what Jesus did!  He is saying that humility is how you become great in His “organization”.  Here’s the full context of the Scripture from Matthew 18 quoted at the start:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ and calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18: 1-4

I am certain that once we have passed on from this life to the next, we will be extremely happy if we have worked towards this greatness, but if we fail to do so, we will greatly regret it.

Yes, we must “humble ourselves”; it takes an effort on our part.  We must identify and put to death any and every prideful thought.  Ask the Holy Spirit for help and use your conscience to expose the flesh.

Humbling ourselves is intertwined with our walking in the spirit and our becoming more spiritual.  As I stated above, humility is a part of love, and love is spiritual, therefore, all the things that aid in our becoming more spiritual will help with us becoming more humble.  Set your mind on the things of the spirit, store up your treasures in heaven, place your total trust and confidence in God’s power, and be anxious for nothing.

One important point is that we recognize that when God uses us, we are merely a tool in His hands.  All that is accomplished is done by Him, even more than we realize.  We should recognize that it is God who will reward us; we should not be looking for recognition or rewards from other men.  Knowing the reality that it is all of God and very little or us, will put us in our proper place. As we walk in the spirit, with our eyes seeing the role of God and His Spirit in the workings of our lives, and recognize His power and amazing abilities, then we can easily find our proper, humble place.  Lord, please help us to do so.

Amen.

 

There is Only One Gospel – It Produces Love

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1: 6-9

The apostle Paul wrote this warning to the churches of Galatia close to 2,000 years ago.  I firmly believe that this same warning also applies to Christians today, and was not just a one time warning unique to the situation that Paul was addressing at that time.  I believe that there are Christian teachers and church leaders today who “pervert the gospel of Christ” in a similar manner, to varying degrees, as was being done at that time.  Historically, there has been a tendency for Christian organizations to digress from the core elements of the gospel, focusing on “religiosity” rather than producing true Christian character and love.  Even today there are many Christian churches that would be considered spiritually dead.  This letter to the Galatians addresses the cause of this problem that leads to death.

If you read the entire letter that Paul wrote, you will see that he is essentially saying that there is no other means of restoring our relationship with God, no other way to remove the curse from Adam and Eve’s sin, no other way of salvation from this present evil age, no other way to become spiritual, no other way to be transformed to walk in love, and no other Messiah sent from God for this purpose, but only the Gospel message that Paul had previously preached to them about the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, and what He had accomplished on our behalf through His death and resurrection, and which is only attained by us through faith as a free gift from God.

I thought that it would be valuable for us to look at the main underlying components that support the Gospel so that we can protect ourselves from unknowingly turning to any other proposed “different” gospel.  Paul touches on these components throughout his letter to the Galatians.  Let’s consider some of these:

The Truth

“You were running so well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”  Gal. 5:7

The Gospel is based upon the truths that have been revealed in the Bible.  We must be very clear about how we establish truth in our minds or the Gospel can potentially become compromised or even abandoned.  Truth should be established through recognizing the authority of God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures.  The writings of the Bible are not mere writings of men, but are revelations inspired by the Holy Spirit.

“And we also have the more sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (or origin), for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1: 19-21

We must remember that there are very few things in this life that we can rely on as being absolute truth.  We cannot trust the teachings of men as being absolute truth, although they may perhaps contain some portion of truth that may apply to some circumstances.  At best, any truths coming from men are limited in their scope to this physical realm, as well as limited to our recent time frame; anything beyond that is guess work and unreliable.

Many of us are able to hear from God by listening to the still, small voice that speaks to us for guidance and encouragement.  Although I encourage this type of communication with God, I also must caution you that this is not the same type of anchor for our soul as the absolute, authoritative truth that comes from the Scriptures.  Our natural minds often interfere with our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s communication and therefore we must always check our understanding of what God is speaking to our hearts against the Biblical truths which are absolute.

As a side note, I recently read a beautiful story about a Christian woman who saw a homeless man outside of her grocery store and wanted to buy some food for him.  The Holy Spirit spoke to her and said she should buy him bananas and some protein bars.  She wanted to buy him some fried chicken instead, thinking it would warm him up, but she listened to the inner spiritual voice and didn’t get the chicken.  When she gave the man the bananas and protein bars, he was very grateful.  Immediately after giving them to him, there came another woman with some fried chicken for the man, much to the original woman’s surprise and joy, bringing her to tears.  She though how great it was that God had a concern for this homeless man in this way.

It is beautiful thing to be able to hear from God directly, but we must not use it for determining the absolute truths that establish our understanding of life and that anchors our soul.  Only God’s Word, the Bible, can be the authoritative source for our truth, and the source for the Gospel message.  Be warned that following your heart or the teachings of men without the guidance of Scriptures can lead you astray into the error of false gospels.

True Faith

“Now it is evident that no person is justified (declared righteous and brought into right standing with God) through the Law, for the Scripture says, The man in right standing with God [the just, the righteous] shall live by and out of faith and he who through and by faith is declared righteous and in right standing with God shall live.  But the Law does not rest on faith [does not require faith, has nothing to do with faith], for it itself says, He who does them [the things prescribed by the Law] shall live by them [not by faith].” Gal. 3: 11 – 12 (Amplified Bible)

The situation that Paul was confronting at Galatia was about religious Jews who were attempting to recruit the Galatian Christians to Judaism and to follow the Jewish religious rituals and practices, focusing on the Mosaic laws.  The problem with this, as Paul pointed out, is that being “religious”, that is, focusing on keeping a set of regulations and adhering to ritual practices, does not require faith.  In other words, a purely “religious” person’s “life” comes from following religious regulations and practices; this is what gives them satisfaction and comfort, relieves their guilt, and makes them feel like they are accepted by God.  Unfortunately, when we focus our lives on keeping religious rules, rituals and regulations, it puts us into bondage because there is no resulting spiritual growth produced from this activity.  The bondage is a result of remaining focused on our “flesh”; only true faith can take us out of our fleshly focus.

In contrast, when we put our faith and trust in Jesus, and the promises of God, we have spiritual growth and are free from the bondage of the flesh.  Our “life” comes from the reality of being true children of God and heirs of His kingdom.  This is where our satisfaction and comfort comes from: knowing that our relationship with God has been repaired, our sins forgiven, and our future home in heaven is secured for us and waiting.  We look forward for the final return of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who will establish the final Kingdom here, including us with our resurrected, immortal bodies.  This is the true faith that causes us to be born of the spirit and sets us free from the bondage of the flesh.

Be advised that any proposed gospel message that does not require faith and that keeps our focus on this physical world, and the material things within it, is an erroneous, false gospel.  We will need discernment to recognize this because the proponents of these false messages will surely make the claim that the focus is spiritual and that faith is involved, but we must look deeper into the reality of true faith and true spirituality as defined by the Scriptures.

I believe that there are many “Christian” churches that have shifted the focus of their message to regulations and practices and have de-emphasized the need for true faith.  It may not be explicitly stated in their doctrines and preaching from the pulpit, but it is communicated by other means, requiring the congregation to focus on church attendance, donations, volunteer work, participation in church functions, etc, rather than having the main emphasis and focus on true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to be careful not to fall back into flesh based activity, but rather remain in a place that focuses our affections on spiritual things, requiring our faith to be strong.

Hope

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Gal. 3: 25-29

The truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ  has as its main focus the hope that we have in the future promise of eternal life in heaven with a resurrected body, living in the glory of the kingdom of God as His children with an inheritance waiting for us.  This hope allows us to shift our affections from this physical world, which feeds our flesh, to the spiritual world that causes our spirit to come to life.  Being in Christ means that we have removed ourselves from this physical world in our minds and hearts, having put our flesh to death by dying with Christ.  This is the true power of the Gospel message; no other message is needed since this blessed hope with its transforming power is fully available through Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Bible.

“Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.” Galatians 4: 28

Love

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Galatians 5: 5-6

In the above two verses in chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul reaches the climax of his letter, culminating his warnings and arguments with the fact that what really matters is “faith working through love”.  So we see that if we embrace the truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and place our faith in what has been promised to us as children of the living God, our hope is then established, our flesh no longer rules our lives but rather we shift to becoming spiritual beings, new creations, with the realistic power to walk in love.  Love is the goal; if we are not able to love then something is wrong – something is missing.  In that case perhaps we need to re-examine the gospel that we have accepted to make sure that it aligns with the true Gospel as revealed in the Bible.

A few verses later, Paul again reinforces the concept of love. He shows them that the essence of the law is really about love:

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. Galatians 5: 14

In the amplified Bible, the word “fulfilled” is replaced with the phrase “complied with”, which I think better explains that we can’t just ignore the law completely, but rather, if we are truly walking in love we will be complying with all the precepts of the law.  Again I say that the problem with the law is that if we focus on the law by itself and pursue abiding by its precepts without true faith, then we will not, and in fact cannot, become spiritual, and therefore cannot walk in love.  Without true faith we cannot adhere to the law.

“For if a Law had been given which could confer [spiritual] life, then righteousness and right standing with God would certainly have come by Law.” Galatians 3: 21b (Amplified)

For Christians the key is to become spiritual; if we are spiritual we will be able to walk in love with the law written on our heart.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explicitly states this need for spirituality in our battle against the desires of the flesh that hinder our ability to love.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” Galatians 5: 16-17

When he says “doing what you would” I believe that equates to walking in love.

Be warned though that you must make sure that you have the correct biblical definition of love (not the world’s definition), and likewise, the correct biblical definition of being spiritual.  Many religions use the term spiritual and love to describe their activities, but these do not align with God’s meaning as revealed in His Scriptures.  Seek Him to help you gain the true understanding of these!

I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire book of Galatians for there are many other truths brought out in this letter that can help us in our walk with the Lord.  I hope you have found these insights helpful.  God bless!

Don’t throw away your Confidence!

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10: 35, 36

This message is really about our Christian faith, or more specifically, an important aspect of our faith, that is, the trust and confidence we place in the things that have been promised to us by God.

The concept of faith as presented in the Bible is rather complex, much more than just believing that there is a God, or believing and accepting a list of doctrines.  Additionally, there are some erroneous or misleading teachings about faith, the most notorious being the idea that our faith should be focused on ourselves and our ability to believe in something in order to make it happen.  This false teaching states that our positive thoughts and positive confession, what they would call faith, will bring about a positive result.  It promotes the idea that if we believe something hard enough and long enough we can make it happen; that somehow our belief in something will trigger a physical mechanism that causes the thing we believe in to come into existence or come about. And that if we imagine or visualize something and then confess it, or say the words to support our visualization, then the thing that we have visualized will come about.  This same technique is taught by the new age philosophy and even is used in witchcraft and sorcery.

True faith should be focused on making the unseen spiritual things that have been revealed to us in the Scriptures a reality in our minds and hearts, especially what has been promised to us regarding a future new heaven and new earth upon the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith should be combined with our trust in God and His ability to keep us and give direction to our life.  But faith should not be an attempt to use our imaginations to envision some future state or situation or desired outcome.  In order to engage in a true Biblical faith, we need to be immersed in the Scriptures, paying attention to the advice and admonitions there with regards to the workings of our faith.

True faith, as displayed and explained in the Bible, is a way of life.  It is a view of reality that is based on the revelation of God as presented in the Bible.  It is a replacement for the view of reality that we had previously been living and acting by that was an accumulation of the experiences and teaching based on the temporary physical world, minus the reality of a living, creator God and the truths surrounding His interaction with His creation.   Our faith should penetrate deep into our souls, impacting our daily thought patterns, our responses to situations, our choices and decisions in life, and, most importantly, our actions.  Our Christian faith should be a strong contributor to our transformed nature, resulting in a true spiritual love and our ability to walk in love.

Along these lines, the writers of the Bible, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, present often the idea of having confidence, which is a means of defining the type of faith that we should be practicing.  Let’s look closer at this.

First let’s look at the word “confidence” and make sure that we understand its meaning.  It is interesting that the English word confidence has as its root the word “confide” which means to entrust or to impart secrets to a friend with trust.  The English word confidence in dictionary.com is defined as: “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.”

In the original Greek of the New Testament, there are two words that are translated to the English as confidence.  The first, “hypostasis”, is defined as “a setting under for support (like a foundation or substructure).  In a figurative context it is translated as “concretely” and in an abstract context as “assurance or confidence”.

The writer of Hebrews used this word twice, the first as follows:

“For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,” Hebrews 3:14

And here also, where faith is explicitly defined:

“Now faith is the assurance (or confidence) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

The idea conveyed is for us to have a mental state that is like being on a sure and solid foundation that we have confidence in, much like the confidence we would have in crossing a bridge that is constructed of large structural steel beams placed on immense concrete abutments, as opposed to the lack of confidence we would have in crossing a rickety bridge made of rotten wood suspended from fraying cords.

(Note: This word is also used in Hebrews 1:3 but in a different context than the others. It is used to explain how Jesus was the “expressed image of (God the Father’s) person”, making His invisible attributes “concrete” or to have substance.)

The second Greek word translated as confidence is similar: “parresia”, and is often used to convey a boldness and openness in speaking.  Also, it is defined as “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance”.

The writer of Hebrews uses this word three times as follows:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,” Hebrews 10: 19

And the verse quoted above at the start of the message:

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10: 35, 36

I see these two Greek words that are translated as confidence as being closely connected with the first expressing the internal mental condition we should have regarding our hope in what was promised, like standing on a firm foundation, standing on a rock as opposed to standing on sinking sand or miry clay.  The second defines the output of having such a mentality, that is, our boldness of speech, or boldness to see ourselves in the presence of God directly with Him hearing our prayers and requests, or our confidence about a future reward that gives us the strength to endure our current hardships.

Let’s look closer at the broader context of the verse from Hebrews 10:

“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.”  Hebrews 10: 32 – 36

Here we see that our internal confidence manifests itself in our ability to endure through difficult times, giving us the strength needed.  The exhortation is to “not throw away our confidence” meaning that we should not discard it as having no use, like throwing away an old garment or useless item.  Rather we need to recognize its great value, and make sure that we have established our confidence internally so that it will be displayed when difficulties arise and we face the need for endurance.

The “great reward” that is mentioned in the above verse is referring to the promised reward that Jesus will bring to those who are faithful and endure to the end.  It has to do with eternal life, a resurrected, immortal body, a mansion in heaven, and entering into the literal kingdom of God as His child.  These are things that are priceless.

I remind you that this is a very clear directive from the Scriptures, that we should not discard, or throw away, our confidence.  This confidence is based on the full assurance of hope that we have received and believed when we have heard the message of salvation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I encourage you to even more deeply establish this confidence in your mind and heart, and to allow it to flow out in your daily activity, regardless of the degree of hardship.  Recognize also that this confidence will be a weapon against future conflict that may arise, possible hardships or persecutions that we all may face later as Christians.  This is part of the “shield of faith” that will “extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy” when in spiritual battle.

“’For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him’ (from the prophet Habakkuk chapter 2), but we are not of those who draw back to perdition (or destruction), but of those who believe to the saving of our soul.” Hebrews 10: 37-39 (follows our main quoted verse above)

Amen.