Category Archives: Bible Study

A HEAP OF RUBBLE?

A HEAP OF RUBBLE?,

“One day people were standing around talking about the temple, remarking how beautiful is was, the splendour of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, ‘All this you’re admiring so much — the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.’

“They asked Him, ‘Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it’s about to take place?'” Luke 21:5-7 (The Message).

Amazing, isn’t it, how things that seem so permanent and indestructible can disappear without warning in a moment! The Israelites had put such confidence in the durability of their temple that they could not believe that it would ever be destroyed.

Jeremiah warned them, centuries before, about putting false hope in their temple. “Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless and the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.'” Jeremiah 7:2b-8 (NIV).

The Babylonians came and did exactly what Jesus predicted was about to happen again — they reduced their temple to rubble and plundered all its treasures. Perhaps the people who commented to Jesus on its beauty had forgotten its history. 

There are lessons for us to learn from this incident as well. God places no value on things if they do not serve the purpose of enhancing our relationship with Him and the fruit of that relationship. How many people foolishly put their confidence in inanimate things like crucifixes, St Christopher images or even a rabbit’s foot or family photograph to keep them safe instead of trusting in the living God! Even our money is not infallible!

Of course we have to remember that we live in a world where “stuff” happens. No one is immune from the problems and tragedies that affect all human beings. Jesus warned us that these things are inevitable (John 16:33), but He also promised that in Him we have a place of refuge – peace – that will protect us from the effects of these adversities.

Sometimes bad things happen just because we are part of an imperfect world; sometimes we are the victims of other people’s choices and sometimes we bear the consequences of our own poor choices. In this case, destruction was coming on Jersusalem because God’s people had rejected their Messiah and called down His blood on their own heads.

We may not escape the troubles that inevitably happen but we can have an eternal safeguard that carries us beyond the confines of this life. God’s promise to those who love Him is infallible: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29 (NIV).

We must never be caught up in foolish superstition that trusts in things and not in God. God and His word are reliable in a world that is fragile and transient. “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  1 John 2:17 (NIV). 

THE RULE OF FAITH

THE RULE OF FAITH

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” Galatians 6:14-18.

Despite the efforts of his opponents to discredit him and to rob him of his apostolic authority, the real Paul comes out in the final words of this letter. It’s not about circumcision – it’s about the cross. To his last breath Paul would fight to defend the efficacy of the death of Jesus. While the Judaizers might boast in their conquests over the souls of men, Paul will only boast in the power of Jesus’ death to save from sin through the grace of God and to recreate men and women in His image through faith in Him.

The cross of Jesus is, in the end, the great divide between sinner and saint, between those who insist on seeking God their own way and those who humbly submit to the way He chose to bring us back to Himself.

To the Jew, it was distasteful to think that a man who claimed to be God would choose to die, and to die in such an ignominious way at the hands of the Romans, to reconcile men and women to Himself. They preferred to dodge the writings of their own prophets rather than to believe that Jesus was their Messiah.

To the Gentiles, it was equally foolish to believe in just one of many thousands of “criminals” who had been executed by crucifixion. What could that do to bring peace to their conscience and change their lives? Their own gods could not save them. What could a dead Jew do to make the difference?

To Paul, however, the cross was not an object of shame to dodge but the very cut-off point between his old life of pointless self-effort and a new life of the forgiveness, freedom, and righteousness he did not have to earn. He bore in his body the marks of his commitment – the scars of human hatred which were mute testimony to his faith in Jesus so tenacious that nothing or no one could tear him away from loyalty to Him. Were the Judaizers willing to suffer for sake of circumcision?

With all the confidence in the world, he could pray a simple benediction over those who read his letter and believed the truth, be they of the first or twenty-first century and everyone in between; “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.” The true children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are not those who rigidly try to keep rules but those who adhere to one simple rule – the rule of faith. When faith rules, the heart is at peace in the full assurance of God’s mercy.

Everything that Paul needed to say had been said. It was now up to his readers to believe the truth or leave “The Way” and do their best to undo their sinful past by doing it their way. How tragic that throughout the ages people still disregard the revealed will of God and try to bypass the cross!

We may wear it as an ornament around our necks; we may decorate our churches inside and outside with every shape and size of cross; we may even mark the place where someone lies buried with a cross. In the end, however, if the invisible cross of Jesus has not been the instrument of death to us and our selfish ways, and the beginning of a new life in Christ, the cross will be as meaningless to us as it was to the Roman soldiers who routinely drove nails through the hands and feet of their helpless victims.

“In the cross of Christ I glory

Towering o’er the wrecks of time;

All the light of sacred story

Gathers round its head sublime…

“Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure

By the cross are sanctified;

Peace is there that knows no measure,

Joys that through all time abide…”

(John Bowring – 1825)

http://cyberhymnal.org/i/n/intcross.htm

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

THE REWARD OF FAITH

THE REWARD OF FAITH

“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they boast about your circumcision in the flesh.” Galatians 6:11-13.

This issue was so urgent for Paul that he even wrote this letter himself instead of using a scribe as he usually did. Apparently he was short-sighted, or he had some other eye problem that affected his eyesight. Some commentators believe that he had an eye disease which made him look unsightly, hence his comment in chapter 4:13-15.

As he struggled to pen his thoughts, he turned again to the men who were undermining the faith of the Galatians, and persuading them to take on the burden of a yoke God’s own people were unable to bear. Paul had walked that road himself and he knew how burdensome it was, and how glorious it was to walk in the freedom of knowing Christ Jesus and His forgiveness and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

These Judaizers, of course, had a hidden agenda. They knew the truth but they were dodging the offence of the cross. In Paul’s day, persecution came from two fronts. The Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah and turned their hatred on the believers. As an ambassador for Christ and in the forefront of the battle, Paul was prime target for their anger. They hounded him from city to city as he moved across the Roman Empire, using every excuse to take him out.

The Roman government and their representatives had it in for the believers because they refused to bow to Caesar as Lord. Nero, the crazy emperor during Paul’s time, used Christians as the scapegoat for his madness and invented more and more cruel ways to dispose of them, even killing them for entertainment in the great amphitheatre in Rome.

Whereas, in the beginning, the new “cult” of Jesus-followers was identified with Judaism and tolerated by Rome, later on the Jews dissociated themselves from the people of “The Way”. Rome tolerated the Jews and allowed them to practise their monotheistic religion but they rejected the Christians’ insistence that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord and the Prince of Peace and Saviour. Christians were outlawed and killed for treason against Rome.

Hence these Judaizers who were supposedly followers of Jesus, remained under the umbrella of Judaism to protect themselves from persecution. To come out boldly and openly on the side of Jesus was suicidal. To proselytise and get a following of Gentiles for themselves was a protection against the anger of the Jewish religious leaders.

To follow the teaching of the Judaizers was to renounce Jesus and escape the offence of the cross in this life but, at the same it meant forfeiting God’s grace and the hope of eternal life. They could not have it both ways.

Having explained the implications of their actions, Paul was now calling on them to make a choice. If they chose Jesus, they would put themselves in the firing line for persecution and possible execution, but that was par for the course in this life. The reward of faith far outweighed the price they would pay for following Jesus.

These antagonists, according to Paul, were no advert for the religion they professed to follow. No one, not even they, were able to obey the law perfectly, yet they were insisting that their way was the way to God. Why believe them when their way did not work and never had worked, as the history of God’s people revealed? In the end, it was not their zeal for the law that drove them to seek a following but their cowardly desire to dodge persecution. Not only did they follow a false way themselves, but they also tried to drag others with them.

The way of the cross is the way of suffering, but the promise of God stands above it all as a beacon of hope.

“Now if we are children of God, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:17, 18.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

“Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good for, at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those belonging to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:6-10.

Have you ever heard this saying? “A fool is a person who keeps on doing the same thing but expects a different outcome.” It’s the same as saying that a fool is someone who sows weeds and expects to reap wheat. Just as God has laws in the natural world that never alter, so the laws of the spiritual dimension are equally stable.

What was Paul talking about here? The law of the harvest applies at every level, but Paul had something particular in mind when he penned these words. In the Mosaic Covenant, God taught His people how to apportion their crops, not by fixed amounts but by percentage. Everything belongs to God. He had the right to tell His people how to use their resources. 

At the end of each harvest, wheat, barley and whatever else they grew, and the increase of their flocks and herds, they were to give away approximately 20% and keep 80% for their own use. They had a responsibility to care for others as well as themselves and their families; their high priest; the priests and Levites; their own future, and the poor, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, out of the 20% they set aside for this purpose.

Although the New Testament does not repeat these instructions, the principles are still the same and still found in the new covenant. Our responsibilities to other people have not changed. Many believers argue that we are now under grace, not under the law. That may be so, but everyone, including those for whom we are responsible, still has to live. God has never improved on His economic policy because it’s not about law; it’s about wisdom.

Left to ourselves because we argue that we are no longer under the law, we usually give less and less because of our innate reluctance to part with our money. We argue that we are being led by the Spirit. But what spirit? The old greedy nature still lurks deep inside us. We think that what we earn and what we own is ours. No, it is not. We are stewards of God’s property which we have on loan. We are accountable to Him for how we use it. When we use it for ourselves instead of obeying Him, we must not be surprised if our resources run out. Why should God give us more when we are unfaithful to Him with what we have?

In this passage, Paul talked about money and possessions – as simple as that! The law of the harvest applies to our money as much as it does to anything else. He urged the Galatians to take care of those who taught them the word. They have as much right to financial remuneration as those who work to earn a living. Whatever they sowed, they would reap. Paul talked about “sowing to the flesh” in the context of money.

According the Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”, we cannot make a fool of God. He established the law of the harvest and it has never been changed. When we are selfish and greedy with the resources God has entrusted to us, we will reap destruction because that is the pre-determined harvest of the “flesh”. Conversely, if we sow generosity, we will reap eternal life which is the outcome of righteousness.

“Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” 12 Corinthians 9:10, 11.

There will always be a harvest of more of what you have sown because the law of the harvest never changes, Just as selfishness will multiply in your life if you are selfish, so generosity will break the cycle of greed in you and set you on the road to real prosperity – not just in financial sufficiency but in the growth of your character to become more like Jesus.

Like everything else in life, generosity is a partnership with God. He will ensure that we are never in need when we obey Him by taking care of the needs of others.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:31-33.  

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

BEWARE OF THE TRAP!

BEWARE OF THE TRAP!

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can have pride in himself alone without comparing himself to someone else, for each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6:1-5

Now here’s a delicate situation. A fellow believer falls into temptation and you know about it. What to do you do? You have two options; leave it alone and don’t interfere or go to the person and point out that his or her behaviour is wrong. Paul said that you have an obligation to do the latter if you are being led by the Spirit.

However, there’s a danger in doing that; the temptation to have a superior attitude because you have not done what he has done is very real. Instead of helping your brother to come clean and turn away from sin, you have now added your sin to his. The problem is that your sin is hidden in your heart and is far more subtle than his, whatever he has done.

Helping a brother or sister get back on the path is an act of love, not interference. That’s how Jesus wants us to treat one another because He knows that sin is destructive and alienates the person who sins from Him and from His body. But a superior attitude is equally sinful and destructive. We must be constantly on guard against pride – the attitude that we are better than the person we are trying to help, or the false notion that we will never do what they have done. 

Paul counselled: “Watch your heart. You can easily deceive yourself. You have the same sinful nature as his. You may not do what he did, but you have the same potential to give in to temptation as he has.” Test your motive. Paul said, “Restore him gently.” When we remember that we stand on level ground before the cross, we have no reason to think we are better than anyone else. Don’t talk down to him. Get under the load with him and lift him up.

That leads to another thought. Paul seemed to be contradicting himself when he said, “Carry each other’s burdens,” and then, “Each one should carry his own burden.” What did he mean? When we come alongside another who has fallen, lift him up, dust him off and help him to continue his way, we have shouldered the “burden” of his weakness with him. We have helped him acknowledge his sin, and turn away from it, and we continue to walk with him until he is strong enough to continue.

However, we carry a “burden” of responsibility which is ours alone; the responsibility of supporting a weaker brother but, even more than that, the responsibility of being honest with ourselves and honest about ourselves. If we live in self-deception, we will be as weak and vulnerable to sin as the brother we have tried to help. No one can carry that burden for us. It is ours alone.

Jesus was aware of the human tendency to independence. Before He went to the cross, He spent His last precious hours with His disciples coaching them to receive and rely on the Holy Spirit who would take His place as their Helper and Counsellor. He would reside in them and continue what Jesus began – teaching them and leading them into the truth.

They were to learn, through the Holy Spirit, to “remain in Him,” an important lesson because, He said, “…apart from me, you can do nothing.” Keeping our connection with the vine requires honesty. We have an obligation to help a fellow believer who is living in denial and self-deception, but we also have an obligation to keep ourselves free of the very same self-deception that tripped our brother up. We can only do this by keeping short accounts with God.

Our walk together with others in the body of Christ can be messy at times; we clash; we expose; we weep; we bleed, but in the end, there is one purpose in it all – to clear away the dirt that clings to us and the obstacles that hinder us from what Jesus prayed for – that we may be one as He and the Father are one. 

Our motive, then, for helping a fallen brother is not to lord it over him but to restore him so that the Body of Christ remain intact and not fractured by the sins that destroy unity and leaves us vulnerable to the devil’s wiles.  

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.