"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" Principles Of Discipleship (9:38-50) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                  Principles Of Discipleship (9:38-50)


1. Previously, we saw Jesus teaching His disciples the way to true
   a. A way involving servitude - Mk 9:33-35
   b. A way involving humility - Mk 9:36-37
   c. Both important principles of discipleship

2. In response, John brings up what seems to be a totally unrelated
   a. How the disciples tried to prevent someone who would not follow
      them - Mk 9:38
   b. Which Jesus answers, relating it to principles of discipleship
      - Mk 9:39-50

[The principles taught may appear unrelated (at least to my mind), but
they all relate to the matter of following Jesus as His disciples.
Let's consider them one by one, beginning with...]


      1. Stated in response to John's question - Mk 9:38
         a. The disciples saw a man casting out demons in Jesus' name
         b. Whom the disciples tried to forbid because the man would not
            follow them
      2. Jesus' response:  do not forbid Him - Mk 9:39-40
         a. The man was clearly empowered to do works in Jesus' name
         b. So empowered, it was unlikely he would speak evil of Jesus
         c. So while he did not follow the other disciples, he was still
            on their side

      1. A common misapplication
         a. Many commentators use this passage to decry denominational
         b. Which might be appropriate if denominational distinctions
            were not wrong
         c. But denominationalism is wrong within itself 
            - cf. Jn 17:21-23; 1Co 1:10-13; 3:3-4
      2. A more proper application
         a. Do not fault individuals or churches who may choose to do
            things differently
         b. Assuming that what they do is "in His name" (by His
            authority) - cf. Col 3:17
         c. There are often different ways to do the will of the Lord;
            if someone prefers not to do something "our" way, we should
            not forbid them doing it "their" way

[Next, we learn the value of...]


      1. He who gives a servant of Christ a cup of water in His Name
         will be rewarded - Mk 9:41
      2. The principle further explained in Matthew's gospel 
         - Mt 10:40-42
      3. Even the smallest acts in helping others serve the Lord will be
         noticed by Him

      1. When we help the brethren of the Lord, He takes notice 
         - cf. Mt 25:34-40
      2. When we support their ministries, we have fellowship in their
         work - Php 1:5; 3Jn 1:5-8

[Then we are warned of...]


      1. Causing the little ones who believe to stumble is a great
         offense! - Mk 9:42
      2. Again, Matthew's gospel expands on this theme - Mt 18:6-7,10

      1. We should be very careful about our example and influence on
         the young
      2. Every one is a role model, either for good or evil
      3. The best way to show love for the children of God is by loving
         God and keeping His commandments - 1Jn 5:2

[Another principle is that sometimes it is necessary to have...]


      1. Sometimes radical actions are needed to avoid hellfire 
         - Mk 9:43-48
      2. Eternal life is worth whatever cost it takes - ibid.

      1. Not to be taken literally, because one could still sin with one
         hand, one eye
      2. But anything close to us (family, job, friends, etc.) that
         would keep us away from God must be removed if necessary - cf.
         Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26,33
      3. Note:  Jesus believed and taught the reality of hell! 
                - cf. Re 20:15; 21:8

[Finally, Jesus segues from the punishing effects of hellfire to the
positive effect of a different kind of fire...]


      1. We are seasoned with fire, like sacrifices are seasoned with
         salt - Mk 9:49
      2. The salt makes the sacrifice better, so fire can make one
         better - Mk 9:50

      1. Appreciate the purifying nature of trials and difficulties 
          - Jm 1:2-4
      2. As difficult as it may seem at the time, there can be glory in
         suffering - cf. Ro 5:3-4


1. Thus we find in our text five principles regarding discipleship...
   a. He who is not against us is on our side
   b. A cup of water in His name given
   c. Causing little ones to stumble
   d. Radical surgery to avoid hellfire
   e. Seasoning effects of fire

2. Seemingly unrelated perhaps, but important to serving Jesus with
   a. Others don't have to follow "our" ministries, plans, etc., to be
   b. Sometimes we may only help in the smallest of ways, but the Lord
   c. We cannot arrogantly overlook the needs of the little ones around
   d. Sometimes we have to deny ourselves those things that mean much to
   e. We need to humbly accept the seasoning effects of trials when they

Indeed, the way of following Jesus requires much humility on our part.
With such humility, we will find ourselves at peace with one another (Mk
9:50).  Are we willing to humbly follow Him...?

"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" The Way To Greatness (9:33-37) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                     The Way To Greatness (9:33-37)


1. Quietly passing through Galilee, Jesus and His disciples came to
   a. On the way, Jesus foretold His suffering a death a second time
      - Mk 9:30-32
   b. Also on the way, the disciples disputed who would be the greatest
      - Mk 9:33-34

2. Jesus took this opportunity to teach His disciples the way to true
   a. A way involving servitude
   b. A way involving humility

[Like many other paradoxes found in the Scripture (e.g., Mt 5:4-5), the
way to greatness in the kingdom of God is different than the way to
greatness in the kingdoms of men.  From Jesus we learn it involves...]


      1. "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and
         servant of all." - Mk 9:35
      2. Greatness in Christ's kingdom is different than kingdoms of men
         - cf. Mt 20:20-26
      3. To be first (great), we must serve, just as Jesus served - cf.
         Mt 20:27-28
      -- The way of servitude is the way to greatness!

      1. Serve others in evangelism
         a. Someone led you to Christ, can you not lead another to Him?
            - Jn 1:35-42
         b. Begin by being hospitable, offering acts of kindness and
         c. At the very least:  invite to services, offer a Bible
            correspondence course
         d. Open your home to host Bible studies
         e. Hone your skills in personal evangelism, seek to improve
            your ability to share the gospel
      2. Serve others in edification
         a. Many have contributed to your spiritual growth, can you help
            others? - Ep 4:16
         b. Begin by being present at every service, greeting every one
         c. Take special interest in those who are new, encourage them
         d. Offer to teach the children, even if only to assist another
         e. Volunteer whatever service you can render in the work and
            worship of the church
      3. Serve others in benevolence
         a. Has anyone ever showed you kindness?  "Be kind to one
            another" - Ep 4:32
         b. Visit the sick or elderly, at home and in the hospital
         c. Render service such as cleaning, transportation, errands,
         d. Minister to the poor, the hungry, or those otherwise in need
      -- These are just a few ideas of how we can serve others

[In order to offer the kind of service that really pleases God, and
thereby makes one great in the kingdom of God, the virtue of humility is
required.  And so Jesus taught His disciples...]


      1. Jesus used a little child to teach the importance of humility
         - Mk 9:36-37
      2. The humility of small children provides an example for us - cf.
         Mt 18:1-4
      3. Like servitude, humility is a cardinal virtue in the kingdom
         - cf. 1Pe 5:5
      4. When we humbly receive others in Jesus' name, we receive both
         Him and His Father in heaven - Mk 9:37
      -- The way of humility is the way to greatness!

      1. In the area of evangelism
         a. Be open to opportunities to learn how to do personal work
         b. Ask others if you can accompany them as they teach others
         c. Reach out to those who are different than you
         d. Especially those less fortunate than you - cf. Jm 2:5
      2. In the area of edification
         a. Gladly accept subservient roles in teaching, preaching,
         b. Encourage and assist those who teach our children
         c. Warmly welcome those below or above your "social status"
            - Jm 2:1-4
         d. Help with mundane tasks (e.g., cleaning the building)
      3. In the area of benevolence
         a. Help those less fortunate than you - Lk 14:12-14
         b. Perform menial tasks where needed
         c. Offer to babysit, provide meals, help with expenses, etc.
      -- These are just a few ideas of how we show humility toward


1. It may not seem like much, but the way to greatness is not possible
   a. A servant heart and servant hand
   b. A humble heart and humble hand

2. Jesus proved the greatness of service and humility by His own
   a. Coming to this earth in the form of a servant - Php 2:5-7
   b. Humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross - Php 2:8
   c. Thereby being highly exalted by God - Php 2:9-11

If we desire to be great in the kingdoms of men, we are setting
ourselves up for a fall:

   "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
   himself will be exalted." - Lk 14:11

If we desire to be great in the kingdom of God, let us humbly serve one
another and those in the world...
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

Seeing God “Face to Face” by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Seeing God “Face to Face”

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

In the Kyle Butt/Dan Barker debate, Dan Barker alleged that He “knows” the God of the Bible cannot exist because “there are mutually incompatible properties/characteristics of the God that’s in this book [the Bible—EL] that rule out the possibility of His existence” (2009). One of the supposed contradictions that Barker mentioned was that God claims invisibility, yet has been seen. (His assertion is found 10 minutes and 55 seconds into his first speech.) Since biblical passages such as Exodus 33:20-23, John 1:18, and 1 John 4:12 teach that God cannot be seen, while other scriptures indicate that man has seen God and spoken to him “face to face” (Exodus 33:11; Genesis 32:30), allegedly “the God of the Bible does not exist.”
Although in modern times words are regularly used in many different senses (e.g., hot and cold, good and bad), Barker, like so many Bible critics, has dismissed the possibility that the terms in the aforementioned passages were used in different senses. Throughout Scripture, however, words are often used in various ways. In James 2:5, the term “poor” refers to material wealth, whereas the term “rich” has to do with a person’s spiritual well-being. In Philippians 3:12,15, Paul used the term “perfect” (NASB) in different senses. Although Paul had attained spiritual maturity (“perfection”) in Christ (vs. 15), he had not yet attained the perfect “final thing, the victor’s prize of the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus” (Schippers, 1971, 2:62; cf. Philippians 3:9-11). Similarly, in one sense man has seen God, but in another sense he has not.
Consider the first chapter of John where we learn that in the beginning Jesus was with God and “was God” (1:1; cf. 14,17). Though John wrote that Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14), he indicated only four sentences later that “no one has seen God at any time” (1:18; 1 John 4:12). Was Jesus God? Yes. Did man see Jesus? Yes. So in what sense has man not seen God? No human has ever seen Jesus in His true image (i.e., as a spirit Being—John 4:24—in all of His fullness, glory, and splendor). When God, the Word, appeared on Earth 2,000 years ago, He came in a veiled form. In his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul mentioned that Christ—Who had existed in heaven “in the form of God”—“made Himself of no reputation,” and took on the “likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). Mankind saw an embodiment of deity as Jesus dwelt on Earth in the form of a man. Men saw “the Word” that “became flesh.” Likewise, when Jacob “struggled with God” (Genesis 32:28), He saw only a form of God, not the spiritual, invisible, omnipresent God Who fills heaven and Earth (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
But what about those statements which indicate that man saw or spoke to God “face to face”? Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). Gideon proclaimed: “I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face” (Judges 6:22). Exodus 33:11 affirms that “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” First, although these men witnessed great and awesome things, they still only saw manifestations of God and a part of His glory (cf. Exodus 33:18-23). Second, the words “face” and “face to face” are used in different senses in Scripture. Though Exodus 33:11 reveals that God spoke to Moses “face to face,” only nine verses later God told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (33:20). Are we to believe (as Barker and other critics assert) that the author of Exodus was so misguided that he wrote contradictory statements within only nine verses of each other? Certainly not! What then does the Bible mean when it says that God “knew” (Deuteronomy 34:10) or “spoke to Moses face to face” (Exodus 33:11)? The answer is found in Numbers 12. Aaron and Miriam had spoken against Moses and arrogantly asked: “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12:2). God then appeared to Aaron and Miriam, saying: “If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6-8, emp. added). Notice the contrast: God spoke to the prophets of Israel through visions and dreams, but to Moses He spoke, “not in dark sayings,” but “plainly.” In other words, God, Who never showed His face to Moses (Exodus 33:20), nevertheless allowed Moses to see “some unmistakable evidence of His glorious presence” (Jamieson, 1997), and spoke to him “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (33:11), i.e., He spoke to Moses plainly, directly, etc.
The Bible does not reveal “mutually incompatible characteristics of God” as Barker has alleged. His assertions in no way prove that the God of the Bible does not exist or that the Bible is unreliable. In truth, Barker’s comments merely reveal that he is a dishonest interpreter of Scripture. If Barker can work “side by side” with a colleague without literally working inches from him (Barker, 2008, p. 335), or if he can see “eye to eye” with a fellow atheist without ever literally looking into the atheist’s eyes, then Barker can understand that God could speak “face to face” with Moses without literally revealing to him His full, glorious “face.”


Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Schippers, R. (1971), “Telos,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Missing the Obvious Implication by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Missing the Obvious Implication

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

The November 2004 National Geographic article titled “Was Darwin Wrong?” was a rather feeble attempt to bolster a decaying belief in the theory of evolution. A major refutation of the various pieces of “evidence” presented in the article was posted on our Web site soon after the article was published (see Thompson and Harrub, 2004). Yet, just one page before the article defending Darwin, National Geographic dealt an unintentional blow to the theory of evolution, although it seems the editors completely missed the logical implication of the research presented.
In an article titled “Who’s Driving?,” Joel Achenbach, a Washington Post staff writer, reported on a race that took place in March of 2004. The winner of this unusual race was to receive one million dollars in prize money. The race course consisted of a 142-mile trek through the Mojave Desert that had to be completed in ten hours.
Reporting the results of the vehicles’ performances would at first appear catastrophic. “One had its brake lock up in the starting area. Another began by slamming into a wall.... One flipped.... One went a little more than a mile and plunged through a fence” (Achen­bach, 2004, p. 1). Yet, when it is understood that there were no drivers in these robotic vehicles, the race results appear almost humorous. In fact, the vehicle that successfully maneuvered the farthest went a whopping 7.4 miles “before it ran into a berm, and the front wheels caught on fire.” Obviously, the ability to send an unmanned device across the desert proved much more difficult than at first anticipated.
One of the men who helped build two of the vehicles commented: “You get a lot of respect for natural biological systems.... Even ants do all these functions effortlessly. It’s very hard for us to imitate that and put it into our machines.” The author of the article then contrasted the vehicles to a two-year-old toddler, explaining that the “autonomous vehicles, despite being loaded with lasers, radar, stereoscopic cameras, gyroscopes, advanced computers, and GPS guidance, had trouble figuring out fast enough the significance of obstacles that a two-year-old human recognizes immediately.” Achenbauch then concluded that the toddler “is more advanced, even in diapers, than any machine humans have devised.”
Let’s put this into perspective. Several extremely intelligent individuals put their heads together to design thirteen vehicles equipped with state-of-the-art gadgets and gismos that cost thousands of dollars, and which are feats of intellectual genius in and of themselves. These intelligently designed vehicles were given the challenge of traversing the Mojave Desert, and the best-performing vehicle made it a mere 7.4 miles. The author of the article then concluded that a two-year-old toddler is more advanced than any “machine humans have devised.” And yet the article on the next page purports to explain that this toddler arose via no intelligence, by a series of random mutations and chance processes over millions of years.
Is not the implication of Achenbach’s statement about the toddler obvious? If intelligent humans cannot design a machine that even begins to approach the abilities of a toddler, what does that imply? It implies that whoever designed the toddler maintains an intellect that is far superior to the combined total of all human intellect.
The psalmist wrote, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth” (139:14-15). In a poetic description of God’s creation of the psalmist in the womb, the phrase “skillfully wrought” brings to light the ingenuity and design of God’s creative process in the formation of every individual human ever born. It is no wonder that humans outstrip every humanly designed machine that will ever be produced. What else would one expect from the Master Builder whose thoughts are higher than human thought as the heavens are higher than the Earth (Isaiah 55:9)? Yes, Darwin was woefully wrong, as was the article attempting to defend his position. And, ironically, one of the major pieces of evidence disproving Darwin’s theory was presented just one page before the lengthy article that attempted to prove it.


Achenbach, Joel (2004), “Who’s Driving?” National Geographic, 206[5]:1, November.
Thompson, Bert and Brad Harrub (2004), “National Geographic Shoots Itself in the Foot—Again!”, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2644.

How Were Mary and Elizabeth Related? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


How Were Mary and Elizabeth Related?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.


The New Testament contains two genealogies of Christ. Matthew recorded the genealogy of Christ from Abraham to Jesus (1:1-16), while Luke recorded Christ’s genealogy from Jesus all the way back to Adam (3:23-38). The differences in the genealogies result from the fact that Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, while Luke presents the genealogy of Jesus through Mary (see Miller, 2003; cf. Luke 1:30-32). [NOTE: Luke followed the strict Hebrew tradition of mentioning only the names of males. Therefore, in Luke 3, Mary is designated by her husband’s name (see Lyons, 2003, pp. 157-159).] Still, some wonder how Mary could be a descendant of David. Skeptic Dennis McKinsey, for example, asked in his journal, Biblical Errancy, “If, using the genealogy in Luke, Jesus’s claim to descent [sic] from David, of the tribe of Judah, is through Mary rather than Joseph, then how can it be that Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, was descended from the house of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi?” (1998, emp. added). Does Luke 1:5,36 imply that Mary could not have been a blood descendant of King David?


First, the King James translation of the term syngenis as “cousin” (Luke 1:36) is unwarranted and somewhat misleading to those who normally interpret the word to mean “first cousin.” The Greek term syngenis simply means “relative” (NKJV, NASB, NIV) or “kinswoman” (ASV, RSV). It is “a general term, meaning ‘of the same family’” (Vincent, 1997). Thus, Mary and Elizabeth may have been first cousins, or they may have been fourth cousins. All we know for sure is that they were kin.
Second, Mary and Elizabeth could have been from different tribes and still have been first cousins. It may be that their mothers were sisters. Their mothers could have been from the tribe of Judah or Levi. As commentator Matthew Henry noted: “Though Elisabeth was, on the father’s side, of the daughters of Aaron (v. 5), yet on the mother’s side she might be of the house of David, for those two families often intermarried, as an earnest of the uniting of the royalty and the priesthood of the Messiah” (1997).
However Mary and Elizabeth were related, tribal heritage among the descendants of Jacob was passed down through fathers, not mothers (cf. Ruth 4:18-22); children were always of their father’s tribe, not their mother’s. Thus, Elizabeth and Mary were descendants of Aaron and David, respectively, by way of their fathers’ ancestry, and not necessarily of their mothers’.


Henry, Matthew (1997), Commentary on the Whole Bible (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Lyons, Eric (2003), The Anvil Rings (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
McKinsey, Dennis (1998), “Tough Questions for the Christian Church,” Biblical Errancy, October, [On-line], URL: http://home.comcast.net/~errancy/issues/iss190.htm.
Miller, Dave (2003), “The Genealogies of Matthew and Luke,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1834.
Vincent, Marvin R. (1997), Word Studies in the New Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Dinosaurs: They're Everywhere! They're Everywhere! by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Dinosaurs: They're Everywhere! They're Everywhere!

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Those mysterious reptiles known as dinosaurs have captivated not just our nation, but the entire world. In 1956, Godzilla made the big screen come alive with his city-crushing tirades. Since that time, dinosaurs have made an appearance on untold millions of soda cans, cereal boxes, posters, and other such items. For the past ten years, absorbent little minds have flocked to PBS to watch their favorite purple dinosaur, Barney, bounce around the stage, teaching them to pick up their toys, and say please and thank you.
As I write this article, I have before me a veritable plethora of dinosaur-saturated material. First on the list is a Wendy’s™ children’s meal bag that has a 2001 copyright date. From this beautifully colored, slick-papered bag, hungry young readers can learn about dinosaurs like Stegosaurus, Oviraptor, and the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex. Next on the list of dinosaur products is a Large Aqua Dinosaur Big Belly™ Bank. This exciting collector’s bank features a free-standing dinosaur with a large, clear belly that holds coins. In order for the coins to get into the belly, children “feed” the coins through the mouth of the money-hungry dinosaur, and then watch the coins roll down the meandering throat canal into the belly below. And if that does not satisfy your child’s dinosaur cravings, you can order an inflatable, enclosed trampoline shaped like a dinosaur. Also available is the ever-popular board game, “The Dinosaur Game,” that boasts of having won eleven awards, and was featured on “Good Morning America.” Other dinosaur products on the market include countless books, one of which is named Dinosaurs Divorce, which purports to help divorcing parents teach their children about their situation by using a family of dinosaurs.
Last on the list is the ever-growing number of movies starring these captivating creatures. The landmark movie, Jurassic Park, drew children and adults to the box office by the millions, and its two successors, The Lost World, and Jurassic Park 3, raked in tens-of-millions of dollars. Not least on the list of critically acclaimed dinosaur movies was the Walt Disney classic titled, appropriately, Dinosaur. One reviewer of Dinosaur stated that “kids will love the film,” and noted that the film, which was “geared primarily towards a younger audience,” was “aimed squarely at the under-10 crowd.”
Kid’s meal bags, children’s PBS shows, toy banks, games, and a children’s animated movie all have one thing in common: they target children. Kids are fascinated with dinosaurs, and the various companies and agencies that want to turn a quick dollar are smart enough to seize upon that fascination. Unfortunately, however, dinosaurs are not used just to make money. These marvelous creatures also have been laden with a backbreaking load of evolutionary baggage. For decades, dinosaurs have been exploited by evolutionists, and have been used to force-feed children false evolutionary propaganda. As evidence of this fact, consider that on that same Wendy’s™ kids’ meal bag discussed earlier, an unsuspecting child can see, via the timeline on the side panel of the bag, that dinosaurs first appeared “245 million years ago.” The child also can read how dinosaurs became extinct “64 million years ago.” And, the same movie reviewer who mentioned that Dinosaur was aimed at the “under-10 crowd,” also noted that the movie was set “65 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period.”
What is wrong with this information? Notice that no humans are depicted in the Dinosaur animation. Such is the case because, according to evolutionary theory, humans did not evolve until about 3 million years ago, separating them from the dinosaurs by an alleged 62 million years or so. This concept, however, stands in direct contradiction to biblical teaching, which states that God made dinosaurs on day six of the Creation (since dinosaurs, by definition, are land-living animals)—the exact same day that He made humans. Furthermore, Jesus Himself stated that Adam and Eve, the first humans, had been on Earth “from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6), not millions of years removed from it.
Currently, the sad state of affairs finds the amazing creatures we know as dinosaurs being hijacked by those who use them to teach children evolution-based concepts. In contradistinction, when God was in the midst of His discussion with Job (Job 40-41), He mentioned two creatures—behemoth and leviathan—that resemble either dinosaurs or dinosaur-like animals. God, however, referred to these creatures to impress upon Job His unfathomable power—the exact opposite of what dinosaurs are being used to teach today.
The topic of dinosaurs is something that children are going to learn—from someone! Whether it is from us, or from the evolutionists, children will learn about these creatures. The time has come for us to “take back” the use of dinosaurs as an educational tool. Let us arm children with the correct information about dinosaurs, so that when the time comes that they find themselves bombarded with evolutionary propaganda, they will be able to defend themselves with the truth.

Legalism by Dave Miller, Ph.D.



by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

One pervasive cultural phenomenon in American society is the predilection to be averse to law, restriction, and limitation. “Freedom” gradually has come to be conceptualized as freedom from restraint. Those who do not embrace a lax, casual, and open attitude toward moral value and ethical behavior are labeled “intolerant” and “mean-spirited.” Even within Christian circles, stressing the need to conform strictly to the will of God in all matters of faith and practice can cause one to be labeled as a “fundamentalist.” He is set aside as an immature and pharisaical misfit who simply has never “grown” to the point of grasping the true spirit of Jesus. He is “negative” and lacks “compassion.” And, yes, he is a “legalist.”
Listening carefully to the majority of those who fling about the term “legalistic,” it is soon apparent that they understand the term to refer to too much attention to legal detail. In the 1960s, Joseph Fletcher, the “Father of Situation Ethics,” pinpointed the popular notion of “legalism”:
In this ethical strategy the “situational variables” are taken into consideration, but the circumstances are always subordinated to predetermined general “laws” of morality. Legalistic ethics treats many of it rules idolatrously by making them into absolutes. In this kind of morality, properly labeled as legalism or law ethics, obedience to prefabricated “rules of conduct” is more important than freedom to make responsible decisions (1967, p. 31).
It would be difficult to underestimate the cataclysmic consequences of this depiction on the moral fiber of human civilization. Typical of the widespread misconception that “legalism” has to do with giving too much attention to complete obedience, is the illustration given by a preacher, college professor, and prominent marriage and family therapist in a university lecture titled “Getting Ahead: Taking Your Family With You:”
I found out when you’re dialing numbers...you have to dial about eighteen numbers to get started, and then you have to dial eighteen more—you know what I’m talking about? And if you miss, what? If you miss ONE—just ONE—you say ugly things to yourself, don’t you? Because you know you blew it again. It is amazing how legalistic the telephone company is (Faulkner, 1992, emp. added).
The very idea that obedience to God’s laws would one day be viewed as negative by those who profess adherence to Christianity, and then for this obedience to be denounced as “legalism,” is utterly incomprehensible. Such a posture should be expected to shake the very foundations of a nation’s standards of morality, stimulating a corresponding widespread relaxation of moral behavior. Yet is this not precisely what has happened to American civilization in the last forty years?
What exactly is “legalism” according to the Bible? Is “legalism” to be equated with too much concern for obedience? Is “legalism” equivalent to ardent determination to keep God’s commandments? One who possesses such a view would naturally tend to gloss over “details” of New Testament teaching, relegating to the realm of minimal importance various matters that he or she deems are not “weightier matters of the law.” In the words of one rather permissive preacher, “We don’t sweat the small stuff.”
It may be surprising to some to learn that the term “legalism” does not actually occur in the Bible. However, numerous extrabiblical words have been coined to describe biblical concepts (e.g., “providence”). In its classical, negative usage, “legalism” entails trusting one’s own goodness. Legalism pertains to one’s attitude about his own person (i.e., having an inflated sense of self-importance—Luke 18:11-12; Proverbs 25:27; Romans 12:3) and practice (i.e., thinking he or she can earn or merit salvation on the basis of performance—Luke 17:10; Romans 3:9-18,23; 11:35; 1 Corinthians 9:16). Legalism does not pertain to the propriety of the practices themselves. God always has condemned the person who is proud of his obedient actions, who trusts in his own goodness, and who expects to receive God’s grace on the basis of those actions (cf. Luke 18:9ff.; Romans 9:31ff.). But He always has commended the person who maintains absolute fidelity to the specifics of His commands (e.g., John 14:15; Romans 2:6-7,13; 6:16; Hebrews 5:9). The difference between the former and the latter is the attitude of the individual—a factor that only God is in a position to perceive (Luke 6:8). How presumptuous it is for one Christian to denounce another Christian simply on the basis that the latter exhibits meticulous loyalty to God’s Word—as if the former is able automatically to know his brother’s motive, and thus somehow read his mind. Purveyors of religious error often redefine otherwise good terms, placing their own spin on the word, and thereby subjecting unsuspecting listeners to their false doctrine. Those of a liberal persuasion have redefined “legalism” in such a fashion, shifting the meaning from the attitude of being self-righteous to the action of conscientious obedience to all of God’s Word.
As proof of this, consider the classic example of “legalism” in the New Testament: the Pharisees. Why may the Pharisees be classified as legalists? To answer that question, one must examine wherein Jesus found fault with the Pharisees. He reprimanded them for three central failings. First, they were guilty of hypocrisy. They pretended to be devoted, and went to great lengths to appear righteous, but they did not actually follow through with genuine, loving obedience to God (Matthew 23:4-7,25-28). Second, they gave attention to some biblical matters, but neglected others of greater importance (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). Jesus referred to this tendency as straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). (Of course, He was not, thereby, advocating nor endorsing gnat-swallowing). Third, they misinterpreted Mosaic law (Matthew 5:17-48), and even went about binding and enforcing their fallacious interpretations, elevating these human traditions, laws, and doctrines to the level of scripture (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13). Jesus repeatedly upbraided the Pharisees for these three spiritual maladies. But with these three shortcomings in mind, notice that the “legalism” of the Pharisees did not have to do with fervent attention to fulfilling the “letter of the law.” The Pharisees were not condemned because they were too zealous about strict obedience to God’s will. They were condemned because “they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:2).
As a matter of fact, God always has been vitally concerned that those who wish to be pleasing to Him give great care to obeying the details and particulars of His instructions (e.g., Leviticus 10:1-3; 2 Samuel 6:1-7; 1 Chronicles 15:12-13). Jesus even equated this crucial sensitivity to obedience with love for Him (John 14:15; 15:14). Many who possess a flippant, blasé attitude toward rigid obedience, think that they are avoiding a “legalistic” syndrome, when they actually are demonstrating lax, weak spirituality and unfaithfulness.
“Faithfulness” is, by definition, obedient trust or loyal compliance with the stipulations of God’s will (James 2:17-26). “Righteousness” is, by definition, right doing (Acts 10:34-35; 1 John 3:7). Abraham understood this (Genesis 26:5; Hebrews 11:8). Moses understood this (Deuteronomy 4:2; 6:17; 10:12; 11:8,13,22,27-28). Joshua understood this (Joshua 23:6,11; 24:14-15). John understood this (1 John 5:3). So did Paul (Romans 6:16).
In reality, outcries of “legalism” can serve as a convenient smoke screen to justify departure from the faith, and to cloak an agenda that seeks to introduce unbiblical worship innovations into the body of Christ. Make no mistake: there are hypocrites in the church, as well as those with critical hearts whose demands for conformity arise out of self-righteous arrogance. But the major threat confronting the people of God today is the perennial problem of humanity: a stubborn, rebellious propensity for deviation/apostasy—i.e., an unwillingness to submit humbly to God’s directives (e.g., Genesis 4:7; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Micah 6:8; Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 3:10-12; 6:16; 10:21; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). That is precisely why, after rebuking the Pharisees for neglecting the “weightier matters of the law” (i.e., justice, mercy, faith, and the love of God; cf. John 5:42), Jesus reiterated: “These (i.e., the weightier matters—DM) you ought to have done, without leaving the others (i.e., the less weightier matters—DM) undone” (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42, emp. added). This also is why Jesus declared: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20). He meant that careful attention to all of God’s commandments—including those deemed “least”—demonstrates a conscientious regard for pleasing God. Whether under Judaism or in the kingdom of Christ, seeking to obey God with an humble attitude is paramount. Those who relegate some doctrinal matters to a status of “less importance” (e.g., worshipping God without human additions—like instrumental music, praise teams, choirs, and baby dedications), and who teach others to participate in these unscriptural innovations, thinking that God will not be “nit-picky” over such “minor” things, will find themselves facing eternal tragedy.
Yes, we must avoid “legalism.” A smug sense of superiority and spiritual self-sufficiency will cause a person to be lost eternally (e.g., Luke 18:9-14). But who would have imagined—who could have anticipated—that the day could come when God’s demand for obedience would be circumvented, derided, and set aside as “legalism”? Those who advance this viewpoint are, in actuality, advocating “illegalism”! We dare not mistake “legalism” for loving obedience to the will of God in every facet of our lives. Instead, we must carefully “do all those things which are commanded” (Luke 17:10), recalling Jesus’ words: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We must stake our lives upon the grace of God, but then we must love and obey Him, remembering that “this is love for God: that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).


Faulkner, Paul (1992), “Getting Ahead: Taking Your Family With You” (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship).
Fletcher, Joseph (1967), Moral Responsibility (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press.).

God Cannot be Tempted...But Jesus Was? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


God Cannot be Tempted...But Jesus Was?

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

According to Scripture, Jesus was Deity in the flesh (John 1:1-5,14; 20:28). He was not sired by man; He was not conceived naturally by woman (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). Rather, Jesus came from heaven (John 3:13; 6:38), proved His “mighty God” Messiahship (Isaiah 9:6) through a variety of verified miracles (John 20:30-31; cf. Lyons and Butt, 2006), accepted worship (Matthew 14:33; John 9:38), and claimed a unity with God the Father that even His enemies understood was a profession of Deity (John 10:30,33). Some, however, question the Bible’s consistency of Jesus being God. The argument goes something like this (cf. Wells, 2010): The Bible declares that Satan tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:1), and that Jesus was “in all points tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). Yet, the Bible also declares that “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1:13). Therefore, the Bible (allegedly) contradicts itself regarding the nature of Jesus. How could He be God, if God cannot be tempted?

First, Christians freely admit that contemplation of the nature of God is by no means a simple mental exercise. We were created; He has always been (Psalm 90:2). We have flesh and bones; God is Spirit (John 4:24). We are limited in power; He is omnipotent (Genesis 17:1). We can become knowledgeable about some things; God’s knowledge has always been infinite—“too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). The apostle Paul expressed his amazement of God to the Christians in Rome, saying, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (11:33). It is always a humbling mental struggle for mere man to contemplate the wondrous attributes of God.

Still, however, the legitimate question remains: How could Jesus be God, if He was tempted while on Earth? The answer to this question is basically the same for a variety of questions that one may ask about the nature of Jesus. How could Jesus not know something if He was God (e.g., the time of His Second Coming; Mark 13:32)? How could God the Father be greater than Jesus if Jesus was “equal with God” (John 14:28; John 5:18; Philippians 2:6)? The answer to these and similar questions must be understood in light of what the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi concerning Jesus’ self-limitation during His time on Earth. According to Paul, Christ

being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation [He “emptied Himself”NASB], taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-8, emp. added).
While on Earth in the flesh, Jesus was voluntarily in a subordinate position to the Father. Christ “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7; He “made Himself nothing”—NIV). Unlike Adam and Eve, who made an attempt to seize equality with God (Genesis 3:5), Jesus, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47), humbled Himself, and obediently accepted the role of a servant. But, as Wayne Jackson observed, Jesus’ earthly limitations “were not the consequence of a less-than-God nature; rather, they were the result of a self-imposed submission reflecting the exercise of His sovereign will” (1995, emp. added). In the form of man, Jesus assumed a position of complete subjection to the Father, and exercised His divine attributes only at the Father’s bidding (cf. John 8:26,28-29) [Wycliffe, 1985]. As A.H. Strong similarly commented, Jesus “resigned not the possession, nor yet entirely the use, but rather the independent exercise, of the divine attributes” (1907, p. 703).

Admittedly, as with Deity’s very nature, understanding Jesus as being fully human in addition to His divine nature is not a simple concept to grasp. When Jesus came to Earth, He added humanity to His divinity—He was made “in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). He moved from the spiritual realm to put on flesh (John 1:14) and became subject to such things as hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain. Our holy God chose to come into this world as a helpless babe, Who, for the first time in His eternal existence, “increased in wisdom” as a child (Luke 2:52). In order to become the perfect sacrifice and Great High Priest, Jesus willingly submitted Himself to temptation and death. As the writer of Hebrews noted: “[I]n all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (2:17-18).

In short, the Bible’s depiction of Jesus as God incarnated is not contradictory. As the immortal, invisible, pre-incarnate Word (1 Timothy 1:17), He was God (John 1:1). When the Word put on flesh, He was still by nature God (John 10:30,33; 20:28), though He willingly “humbled Himself” and “made Himself of no reputation” (2:6-8) in order to become the tempted, but perfect Man. Indeed, He “who knew no sin” became “sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).


Jackson, Wayne (1995), “Did Jesus Exist in the Form of God While on Earth?” Reason & Revelation, 15[3]:21-22, March,  http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=10&article=354.

Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2006), “The Very Works that I Do Bear Witness of Me,” Reason & Revelation, 26[3]:17-23, March, http://www.apolo geticspress.org/articles/2857.

Strong, A.H. (1907), Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell).

Wells, Steve (2010), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/tempt_god.html.

Wycliffe Bible Commentary (1985), Electronic Database: Biblesoft.

Forgive as the Lord forgave by Eugene C. Perry


Forgive as the Lord forgave
(Col.3:13; Eph.4:30-32)

How are we doing?
Perhaps it is because of recent efforts to reconcile my understanding of forgiveness with its practice as observed among brethren that I have been so impressed by articles in the October and November issues of this paper (The Gospel Herald). In the October issue, under the title "Not an Option," Randy Morritt defines forgiveness as, "to pardon, remit, absolve, acquit, excuse, cancel, release, overlook, clear, free" and stresses that doing so is not an option and, for the Christian, knows no limit to its frequency. Most of us already know these teachings even though we may not have done well in their application.
In the November issue, under the title, "To Forgive or Not to Forgive, The Heart Choice," Aziz Sarah describes his struggle in an effort to apply the teaching and example of Jesus to his real life bitterness towards those responsible for his brother's death. He tells us how he, for a time, deceived himself, "I thought I had forgiven, but only deceived myself and justified my sin." Yes, failure to forgive is a sin just as surely as we are convinced that whatever might have been done against us was a sin.
Being seriously concerned to correctly understand, accept and practise God's will on this subject, I have, besides searching the scriptures and meditating on my findings, reread these articles and found them to be quite helpful. I recommend them to all who are concerned about practising God's will on this matter.
Not long ago, in a confrontation involving strained relationships, Christians were shamed by being unfavourably compared to sports participants and their coaches, who, we were told, although often guilty of offences, quickly forgave and got on with the game in goodwill. (Some recent sports happenings aired on TV might cause us to question this.) Surely, this gives us cause for reflection and self-examination.
We are "God's chosen" and as such instructed to "clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" and to "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col.3:12, 13). Surely, with the example of the Lord and these instructions, we, as Christians, should be putting all others to shame in the matter of forgiveness. Our failure to forgive each other "just as in Christ God forgave you" grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph.4:30-32).
The Gospel of Luke tells us that the disciples asked Jesus to "teach us to pray". This resulted in what is frequently called the Lord's Prayer, perhaps more appropriately called the Model Prayer (Lk.11:2, 3; Mt.6:9-13). Forgiveness and prayer are frequently linked in the scriptures. Each time that we, as frail human beings, approach our Holy God there is a consciousness of our need for forgiveness.
It being apparently assumed that we will be humbly requesting God's forgiveness when we "stand praying", Jesus instructed, "if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins" (Mk.11:25). Again and again we are reminded that God's forgiveness is not available to those who do not practise forgiveness. Considering our human hang-ups, this is serious indeed.
It might come as a surprise that in the Model Prayer (Mt.6:9-13), 28 words deal with other matters and the remaining 26 relate to forgiveness. In verse 12, God's forgiveness is requested with the qualification, "as also we have forgiven". What can we hope to receive from God if His forgiveness is like ours? Verse 13, in this context, seems to be recognizing that the "evil one" will tempt us to be unforgiving. The next two verses, with their conditional clauses, emphasize both positively and negatively that forgiving AS God forgave is a MUST and should precede our even requesting God's forgiveness which is urgently needed.
Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking we have forgiven, as God forgives, when we have fallen far short of doing so.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you!
Our previous study noted the absolute necessity of forgiving others if we are to have any hope for God's forgiveness and warned of the very real danger of deceiving ourselves into thinking that we have forgiven when, in reality, we have not done so. In this study we purpose to consider the 'AS' in "as the Lord forgave you" (Col.3:13). We are to forgive "in the same manner" as God forgives. Just what is the way that God forgives and has forgiven?
First, God obviously wanted to forgive those who offended against Him. The entire Bible, the history of God's dealings with man and the revelation of His desire for a relationship with man, is about the ways in which He has forgiven and has shown His desire to forgive. Just as the father of the prodigal son longed for the opportunity to forgive and have restored relationship, so God wants to forgive and welcome those who will return to Him. His provision of Jesus as a sacrificial lamb provides both an encouragement to seek forgiveness and a means of obtaining it. The great price that God paid in sending His only begotten son to suffer so cruelly is the ultimate proof of the greatness of His desire to forgive.
Please note that God took steps toward our forgiveness while we were yet sinners, "while we were enemies" (Rom.5:8-10). By contrast, we humans, like the older brother of the prodigal, all too often, seem reluctant to forgive and behave as if we really do not wish it to occur. Are there those whom I would rather not even be asked to forgive; whom I hope will not even ask forgiveness; whom I would accuse of insincerity if they did ask? If true, this shows that I do not really want to forgive.
Second, God did not wait for man to come begging but rather took the initiative. Forgiveness was in His overall plan as it should be in ours. Both observation and personal experience tell us that offences are sure to occur. Have we planned ahead how we will deal with such? This is what God did. Have we determined that, whatever the circumstances, we will be forgiving?
This is being written just before the annual "giving day" and I cannot help but be reminded that to forgive is to give by the very nature of the word. God "gave" (Jno.3:16) in order to "forgive". There is no better, more meaningful and satisfying gift that we can give than forgiveness. Let's give it!
When strained situations develop and estrangement occurs, those who do not have the desire to forgive show this by arguing that the offended must make the first move. They say, "If he comes to me, I might forgive him. It is up to him to come to me." Is this "AS" God functioned in forgiveness?
Jesus instructs us to "go and show him his fault just between the two of you" (Mt.18:15). Who takes the initiative here? This does not, however, take the offender off of the proverbial "hook". If we remember that a brother has something against us, we are to "First go and be reconciled to your brother" before coming to worship God (Mt.5:23,24). Who takes the initiative here? The resolution of such offences is so desirable and so important that, ideally, all parties involved will be so concerned that, without delay, they meet each other halfway. Neither can justify waiting for the other. The offended who wishes to forgive, "AS God forgives", will not delay, but will, rather than waiting for the offender to move, go all the way. So also with the offender who wishes forgiveness.
Third, God wanted and initiated the forgiveness process at great cost to himself. He willingly gave "His only begotten Son" to suffer and die on the cross that offenders might be forgiven.
How much inconvenience, embarrassment, sacrifice are you willing to make towards the forgiveness of a brother who has offended you? Is your pride in the way? Are you unwilling to endure any humiliation that might be involved? There are usually faults on both sides. Think of the humiliation Jesus voluntarily submitted to.
Fourth, in reading the Bible, we frequently note God's great joy when forgiveness has been accomplished. The forgiver and the forgiven rejoice together. Both are happy. Picture the celebration when the prodigal came and was forgiven by his father who was more than ready to forgive him.
If we forgive AS God forgives, we will happily celebrate the accomplishment together with the forgiven. Sometimes forgiveness seems to be given grudgingly and reluctantly, perhaps because God commands it rather than because we wanted to give it. In such a case, what is there to celebrate? This is not AS God forgives.
Fifth, as implied above, God welcomes the offender back into the former relationship. Sometimes the experience results in an even closer and more dedicated relationship with stronger bonds. This is often the case when estranged spouses forgive each other. This should certainly be the case when one falls away and is restored to God's fellowship. The very experience has a positive effect. Is this the way we practise forgiveness?
The scriptures on forgiveness seem to focus on "winning our brother" (Mt.18:15; I Cor.5:1-5; II Cor.2:5-8; Col. 3:12,13; Gal.6:1). Does this not imply that a renewed "brotherly relationship" is the desired and intended result?
Have I forgiven AS God forgives? Scripture is clear: the unforgiving will remain unforgiven!
What? No limit?
When I seriously consider my relationships with others and with God I must face the fact that my sins, offences and estrangements are usually the result of my own characteristics, attitudes and weaknesses. With this knowledge, both myself and those whom I have offended necessarily anticipate the real possibility of repetitions. What if such occur? Again? Such being true, why bother trying to reconcile?
The offender, humbly aware of the weakness and truly penitent, will take measures to avoid a repeat performance. Although these certainly involve personal resolve and determined effort, such is not usually enough for success. These can be supplemented by guidance and encouragement from fellow Christians, help from professionals, the influence of the Word and the Spirit and prayer to the Father that our hearts night be moulded in the likeness of the heart of Jesus.
The offended, perhaps because of personal experience, realizes that the offence could very well be repeated. Why forgive? Why leave myself open to further pain? How many times should I be expected to forgive? Surely there should be a limit!
The startling truth is that there can be no limit.
Matthew chapter 18 begins with a question about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus' response calls on each disciple to become the greatest by humbling himself. He then deals with our responsibilities towards others. It is a serious thing to cause others spiritual harm. We must by all means avoid being the cause of such. The self renunciation involved to avoid offending others is likened to the amputation of a hand or foot or the gouging out of an eye. Pretty serious business! This whole section is about relationships among brethren and especially warns us to avoid causing others to sin, to wander away or to be lost. It ends with, "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost (v.14).
Obviously, Jesus understood that the way we treat each other could have very adverse, long-term results. God is very much concerned and seeks after "those that wander off". Am I concerned? Do I seek after them? What about you?
Offences have, do and will happen even (sometimes it appears more so) among brethren. Jesus next addresses the procedures for correcting such. Although it is likely that most of us can list the steps and procedures involved, I fear that very few manage to do them. Therefore we will examine them once more.
The first step is a private one, evidently to avoid magnifying the problem by making it public. Such can be embarrassing to the parties involved, a blot on the church and cause resolution to be even more difficult. Although Jesus' instruction is to go to the offender we tend to go in another direction. We go to others and share our hurt with one, or two or several. The matter becomes public and thus more complicated and difficult. Much harm is done. We thus, perhaps inadvertently, commit a serious offence against the offender. Jesus says to "go" to him and "show" him not someone else. It may be difficult but it is so much better to do it Jesus' way.
The onus here is on the offended, the person who has been hurt. In hindsight most of us can look back on situations where failure to quickly take this first step has seriously worsened a situation.
If step one is successful "you have won your brother over" (v.15). In the context I believe that this means more than that you have regained your relationship with him. But, disappointingly, this first step is not always successful. He may not be convinced by your effort to "show" him his fault. Jesus teaches that one or two others now be involved. The story is now to be shared but only in a limited way. It is still contained.
Perhaps the one or two will help you to see the offence differently, perhaps less seriously. These should be people who are respected, especially by the offender, and who have shown wisdom. Hopefully, together you will be able to convince him and he will be "won".
If, however, this also fails, Jesus instructs us to "tell it to the congregation" (v.17). It sounds simple. Just make a public statement. As in Paul's instruction for the treatment of the immoral brother at Corinth, the brethren are to be "assembled in the name of Jesus" (I Cor.5:7) to take the necessary action. Hopefully, the whole congregation being in agreement, this will suffice to bring about repentance and reconciliation. If not, OUT! (V.17).
The disciples, having heard all this teaching about our responsibilities and the actions to be taken when relationship problems occur, evidently wonder about reoccurrences. Peter, their spokesman, asks how patient we should be in such cases. Surely there must be a limit. Three times was evidently considered generous. Three times and out does not just apply to baseball. Trying to be magnanimous, Peter suggests seven times. The response must have been a startling surprise. Not seven but "unto seventy times seven". Phew! What does this mean? Should Evelyn and I have kept records (We have been married 58 years) so that when we had checked off the 491st time we would be justified in separating?
No! Even the most legalistic of us know that Jesus was not teaching us to keep records (count) of offences. It seems obvious that Jesus was teachings us that rather than keeping records we should be prepared to forgive without limit.
If, perchance, this seems to be too much to ask, think. How many times have you needed God's forgiveness? Is it possible that you might need God to forgive you several times more? What if He is counting and has a limit?
These studies are about the requirement that we forgive AS God has forgiven us.
The chapter closes with a very easily understood parable about a king who forgave his servant an impossible debt and then discovered that the servant, afterwards, refused to forgive his brother servant a very small debt. The result illustrates the attitude and action we can expect from God if we refuse to forgive anyone anything. The king delivered the unforgiving servant "to the jailor to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed" (v.34). This, of course was impossible as it is for us.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart" (v.35).
Forgive, comfort and love him
In our last study we found that when an offence occurs there are prescribed procedures that the offended is to initiate for the stated purpose of winning the offending brother. It was noted that, because of human weakness, this process might well need to be repeated an unlimited number of times. If the offender repeats, the offended is to be prepared to forgive again and again "as God has forgiven us".
The instructions given in Mathew chapter 18 are in accord with Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted."
The stated purpose is to "restore him". This is to be done by those who are "spiritual". Could it be that frequent failures in such situations are the result of the shortage of such persons? The brother is to be approached "gently" rather than in an arrogant, demanding, self righteous, judgemental attitude. In fact the attitude is to be that of understanding brought about by practising the "Golden Rule" (Mt.7:12). The "spiritual" brother realizes that he also could be tempted, "caught in a sin". He therefore approaches the offender as he would wish to be approached.
The word "restore" as used here by Paul was used of the mending of torn nets or the setting of broken bones. Thus we are to work towards the restoration of full usefulness.
This is not always successful. If the offender refuses to "listen" he is to be excluded from the fellowship, treated as a "pagan or a tax collector". Since the people of Christ are to imitate Him in love and forgiveness, this "goes against the grain". It is a drastic action done with sadness and regret. As Christians, our desire is to include rather than exclude. Even then, there should be positive encouragement towards repentance and full restoration.
Unfortunately, the type of action, now commonly called "church discipline" or "disfellowshipping" is sometimes abused. Wrongly motivated, it represents a, sometimes not so subtle, tactic to "get rid of" some brother who seems not to "fit in". In the extreme, it may be carried out even when the offender has requested to be forgiven. Thus motivated, such an action smacks of the tactics of the Pharisees and chief priests in their efforts to get rid of Jesus. Such is diametrically opposite to the loving fellowship and sacrificial helpfulness pictured as characteristic of the Lord's spiritual family.
Is it possible that church leadership in our enlightened time, concerned about a member whose attitude does not please them, might be waiting and watching for a "legitimate" way of excluding rather than prayerfully seeking a loving effective way of including?
As a point of interest we note a rather interesting method of excluding practiced by a religious group almost 200 years ago. Joseph Ash records, "When the bad cases for discipline accumulated, they would disband the church, form a new church and then receive into the new church the good ones, leaving the bad out." (Reminiscences, Joseph Ash, p. 19).
It is recognized that there are a number of possible reasons for the exclusion of an offending person. It might be to protect other Christians from harmful influences (the leaven of immorality or false doctrine), to enable the church to glorify God in the eyes of the world or to cause others to "shape up" (I Tim.5:20). However, a careful study of the New Testament teachings on the subject clearly shows that a main purpose is the salvation of the individual offender. The immoral brother at Corinth was to be handed "over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (I Cor.5:4,5). Hymenaeus and Alexander were "handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme" (I Tim.1:19,20). The disorderly among the Thessalonians were to be disfellowshipped that they "may feel ashamed" (II Thess.3:14). These cases all seem to point toward changes resulting in restoration.
We quote, "If this purpose is not kept in view, it is only too likely that discipline will descend to the level of revenge or a 'putting down' of offenders. The purpose of discipline in the life of the offender is restoration." (Life in His Body, Gary Inrig, p.145).
On this subject, Albert Barnes, in his commentary on I Corinthians, page 93, wrote, "It is not revenge, hatred, malice or mere exercise of power that is to lead to it: it is the good of the individual that is to be pursued and sought: while the church endeavours to remain pure, its aim and object should be mainly to correct and reform the offender, that his spirit may be saved. When discipline is undertaken from any other motive than this; when it is pursued from private pique, or rivalship, or ambition, or the love of power; when it seeks to overthrow the influence or standing of another, it is wrong. The salvation of the offender and the glory of God should prompt to all the measures which should be taken in the case."
W. E. Vine on page 91 in The Church and the Churches, wrote, "Godly discipline ever has restoration in view ... that complete restoration may be established."
It is unfortunate that the word discipline, which in today's usage is usually understood to mean punishment, has been applied to this action. In its original meaning and in the way it is usually used in the Bible the word often denoted the concept of nurturing or teaching. Its exercise was not to cause hurt but to bring growth and benefit to the object of the action. The motive must not be to inflict deserved punishment but to lovingly encourage correction and restoration.
The discipline described in II Corinthians chapter 2, inflicted "by the majority" was described as "sufficient". The Corinthians are here instructed to "forgive him and comfort him" "so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow" and to "reaffirm your love for him" (vs.7,8). The sorrow would indicate that he regrets and has repented of his offences.
It seems that failure to forgive, comfort and reaffirm love towards the offender would enable Satan to "outwit us". An unforgiving, uncomforting, unloving, unrestoring church is succumbing to the "schemes" of Satan (v.11).
Thus, as might well be expected, the church as the body of Christ, is to be ready to be inconvenienced, to make the sacrifices and perform the services needful for the salvation of the offender. To fail to forgive, comfort and reaffirm love for the sorrowing offender is to be "outwitted" by the "schemes" of Satan.
The more excellent way
To love means to care for, to want to comfort, heal, help and protect even when suffering and sacrifice might be involved. In the process of restoring an offending brother, the Corinthian Christians (church) were instructed to forgive and comfort him and "to re-affirm your love for him" (II Cor.2:7,8). A closer look at the place of love in our relationships as Christians should help us to forgive more successfully and restore more completely.
The instruction to re-affirm our love for the offending brother assumes the reality of a previous love and that the disciplinary treatment he received was done in love and not motivated by selfishness, malice or to "get even". This re-affirming of love towards the sorrowing brother provides the encouragement that will ease him back into a supportive situation where he can again feel accepted as a part of the "team" and join in meaningful service.
There is sometimes a tendency to criticize preachers and their messages. I remember hearing a complaint that "All he preaches about is love". Surprising, since love is the sum of the law and the prophets (Mt.22:40); love is the greatest commandment (Mt.22:36); love is the old/new commandment (I Jno.2:7-10); love is the ID of the Christian (Jno.13:34,35); and the practice of love of our enemies means that we "may be sons of your Father in heaven" and that we are thus "perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect". Love enables God to claim us as sons (We are in the same business with God. It is a family project.). Love makes us "perfect" (useful to God as he intended us to be) (Mt.5:48,49).
Just as we are to forgive as God has forgiven and continues to forgive, we are to imitate God's love. To love as God loves will result in forgiving as God forgives. He so loved that he gave His precious son to suffer and die as a provision for our forgiveness, while we were enemies. Surely, even a small effort to love as God loves will enable, yes even compel us, to forgive our brothers who offend.
Acknowledging that there is often much talk about love, we at the same time, must admit that there seems to be a poor understanding of what it is like in practice in people relationships. Those who preach and teach it may not show it as well as they tell it. There is, perhaps, not too much preaching on the subject but rather too little demonstration. Where this is the case, we must look to Jesus himself as the ideal model and mentor.
Love is the first in the list of items that make up the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22) and it climaxes the list of items to be diligently added in order to be fruitful and to be richly supplied an entrance into the eternal kingdom (II Pet.1:5-11).
As with forgiveness, we can very easily convince ourselves that we love a brother who has offended when in fact we are deceiving ourselves. Yet, these are not options. We must, as God's people, love as He loves and forgive as He forgives. We need to be aware of how easy it is to tell ourselves that we are complying even though, in fact, we are not really practicing the kind of love and forgiveness that God has so bountifully demonstrated.
Members of the Corinthian church were, apparently, seeking prestige, competing with one another (a rather strange behaviour for followers of Jesus, don't you think) about who was able to exercise the greatest gift. Tongue speaking (a very public and dramatic happening) was thought to exalt the speaker a tad or more above the comparatively low-key presenter of prophecy. After pointing out that both these and other gifts were provided and exercised for the benefit of others rather than the exaltation of the person being gifted by God, Paul climaxed this teaching by naming and describing in detail the greatest of all gifts - the one that would replace the others and be much more effective (I Cor.13).
Supernatural gifts of tongues, prophecy and knowledge exercised by a chosen few would, in the absence of the "written testimony", contribute to faith, but love, practiced by all believers was intended to be a much more powerful, convincing and attracting evidence for the faith (Jon.13:35). What did this love look like? Are we exercising this "most excellent way"?
As desirable as these gifts appeared to be, Paul tells us that the great gift of love is greater, more enduring and necessary. Without it, neither the excitement of tongues, the mystery of prophecy, the depths of knowledge, the power of faith, the benefits of generosity nor the greatest of physical suffering and sacrifice is of any significance. All of these useful, beneficial and commendable activities are meaningless before God if not motivated by LOVE. Such involves going through the motions for the wrong reasons. This is serious. We could be serving, giving, suffering and sacrificing and deceiving ourselves into thinking of these as proof of our love. We must examine our hearts.
A study of Paul's description of this "greatest gift" will help to determine whether we really love as God loves. The passage (I Cor.13:4-7) lists the characteristics of Christian love and they demand of us a careful self-examination. Readers are urged to study these verses in several different translations.
This love does not retaliate when wronged but reacts with the kind of patience that God has exercised towards us. It strives not to hurt even when correction is necessary. Rather than begrudging the good things received by others it is genuinely happy for them. Conscious of weakness and unworthiness, it behaves in a humble and lowly manner. It is gracious, always striving to be kind and polite even when responding to bluntness, mistreatment and negativity. Not selfish, it is more concerned with duties than with rights, with what it owes than with what is owed.
It is "not easily angered" - does not become exasperated with people. To do so is a sign of weakness and an admission of defeat. It is not a bookkeeper of wrongs - "does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received" (Wm Barclay translation). We can decide to forget or to nurse and nurture wrongs. Love does not enjoy or delight in talking about the mistakes of others or spreading bad news but rather is saddened by such and enjoys discussing the truth, the good news.
It "protects" (NIV) others by not making public their faults or "beareth all things" (ASV), bears any insult injury or disappointment. It provides encouragement by showing confidence in, believing the best about others. People often live up to our expectations or, conversely, down to our doubts. Love is positive and hopeful. It does not give up.
Love is a powerful means of accomplishing God's purposes and one which we, all too often, fail to recognize and utilize. The old fable about the contest between the sun and the wind to get a man to remove his coat illustrates this power.
Katie Kirkpatrick Godwin, a Rochester University student who succumbed to cancer on January 20, 2005 included a very significant statement in her valedictory address at Lapeer East High School in 2001. "If there could be only one thing in life to learn, it would be to learn love. There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer, no door that enough love will not open, no gulf that enough love will not bridge and no sin that enough love will not redeem. It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble, how hopeless the outlook or how great the mistake, a sufficient realization of love will redeem. If only you can love enough, you will be the happiest and most powerful person in the world. . ." (from the "North Star", Spring 2005, page 16).
It is for us to choose whether to "serve one another in love" or to "keep on biting and devouring each other" (Gal.5:13,15).
It is easy to greet and love those who agree with us and support us and consequently this tends to be the area in which we socialize. But, to really be "sons" of God we must also turn our efforts and attention towards those who are or seem to be less kindly disposed towards us. Do we find ourselves neglecting and avoiding this area of relationships? Jesus asks, "... what are you doing more than others?" Disciples of Jesus are expected to DO MORE THAN OTHERS in the matter of LOVE.
Forgive and reconcile
As noted throughout this series of studies, there is the very real possibility and danger that we might deceive ourselves - convince ourselves that we have forgiven an offending brother when, in reality, we have not done so. When I say to my brother who has offended me, "You are forgiven," what does this mean? Does it involve any change in our relationship?
These questions lead us to consider the meanings of the two words, "forgive" and "reconcile". Does forgiveness occur without reconciliation? Does the first require the second? If I make it known that I have forgiven my wife, my neighbour, my brother, does this signify a relationship improvement or is no change expected?
Some of the bitterest estrangements occur in families between those with close ties. Sadly this also seems to be the case among brethren in the family of God, the Church. Sometimes through prayer, mediation and/or humble discussion an estranged couple, who have hurled very hurtful words at each other, are led to apologize and forgive. The experience, although extremely painful, has led to a new openness and humility that results in a closer, more intimate, open, trusting relationship than existed before. They now know each other better and realize that in sharing their weaknesses they become closer and stronger.
In the Church, having been forgiven by God, we, as individuals, sometimes succumb to pressures and temptations resulting in a loss of meaningful fellowship with Him - we "fall away". Again, humble acknowledgement of the wrongs in repentance should and often does lead to closer, more intimate and stronger relationships than previously existed. It becomes a building and growing experience.
These observations lead us to ask whether there are generally similar results when estranged brethren announce that forgiveness has occurred. Does the experience result in a warmer, more understanding and trusting fellowship or in a continuance of suspicion, distrust and avoidance?
According to Webster, to forgive means: "1) to give up all resentment against or desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon. 2) to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offence); overlook. 3) to cancel or remit (a debt)." It would thus seem that forgiveness means deciding to treat the situation as if the offence never happened. It may not be easy for us, as humans, but we are to forgive AS God has forgiven and God assures us, "I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (Isa. 43:25). We must not hold forgiven behaviour against a brother.
The dictionary defines "reconcile": "to restore to friendship or harmony, to settle or resolve." Basically, this is about estranged parties, individuals, husband/wife, father/son, sinner/God getting back together, a restoration of a former relationship.
In the matter of the relationship between man and God, the entire Bible, indeed, the ultimate sacrifice of God's Son, is all about reconciliation. God obviously wanted reconciliation - a restored relationship (fellowship) with man. God made this possible by arranging for the removal of the cause of estrangement. (See Eph. 2:12,13, Rom. 5:8-10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20, Col. 1:20-22.) The sacrifice of Christ on the cross accomplishes this when we, in penitent faith submit to baptism wherein our sins are "washed away" (Acts 22:16). The preaching of the gospel (the "word of reconciliation") is spoken of as the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Thus the message of the good news of forgiveness through the death of Christ is called the "word of reconciliation." The above scriptures tell us that when God forgives our sins, the barrier that separated us from Him is removed resulting in a restoration of fellowship. The reconciliation cannot occur without or before the forgiveness. Conversely, it would seem, real forgiveness can hardly be considered to have occurred if it does not result in reconciliation. These two words, although not synonymous, are very closely related. It is difficult to conceive of one occurring without the other.
The ministry of reconciliation is about persuading men to accept God's offer of forgiveness resulting in the restoration of fellowship with God. Prior to the preaching of the "word of reconciliation," not only were both Jew and Gentile alienated from God; they were also very much alienated from each other. However, both were reconciled to God in one body, the Church (Eph, 1:22,23; Col. 1:18) and at the same time the enmity between them was destroyed. It is sad that men who seek and claim reconciliation with God through Christ are so prone to being estranged from one another. Can one be in fellowship with God and not with his brethren who are in the same body?
Since we are to be involved in the ministry of reconciliation how can it be that we sometimes seem to do better as ministers of estrangement?
Reconciliation, although it might be difficult, can be very beautiful and rewarding. Considering all of the "one another" scriptures in the New Testament, the tendency to go separate ways, to avoid, to not fellowship at the least provocation is surprising indeed. Christianity is supposed to be about forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, love, grace and fellowship.
Peacemakers - Sons of God
Canadians have a worldwide reputation as "peacekeepers". This is something in which we tend to take some justifiable pride. In a world full of tensions, hatred and wars, peacekeepers are much needed and provide a valuable service to their fellow men.
Christians, by contrast, are not only to function as peacekeepers but, more so, as peacemakers. Jesus, in his classic Sermon on the Mount, early in his ministry, pronounced a blessing on "peacemakers" stating that such "will be called sons of God" (Mt.5:9) and in the same lesson and chapter instructed the hearers to love and pray for their enemies "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (vs. 44,45). In both cases being considered as sons of God is tied to aspects of human relationships. How well do I relate to others? Do peace and love prevail in my relationships (Rom.12:18)?
There is a common saying, "Like father, like son." Again, "A chip off of the old block." Family resemblances are not just physical but usually include character traits. Thus, if we are truly children of God the likeness will show. Originally, God made man "in His own image, in the image of God he created him" (Ge.1:27). The loss of that likeness was a great disappointment to God and He has taken exceptional measures over the centuries to restore it.
His son, the "Prince of Peace" (Isa.9:6), was sent to the earth to be "Emmanuel", which means "God with us" (Mt.1:23). At His arrival the angels sang "on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests." (Lk.2:14). His sacrifice provides for the forgiveness of our sins (peace with God); His example leads us to be loving, forgiving, peacemakers (peace with our fellow man) and our reconciliation with God and man provides us peace within - the peace that "transcends all understanding" (Phil.4:7) and secures for us an eternal relationship with our Father.
God in his love for us and willingness to forgive us has made it possible for us "to become children of God" (Jno.1:12), "and that is what we are" (I Jno.3:1). The sons of God are identified as being "led by the Spirit of God" (Rom.8:14) resulting in their becoming "blameless and pure children of God without fault ... shining like stars in the universe" (Phil.2:14,15).
As sons grow up they often follow in their father's footsteps vocationally or professionally. This often results in them working together and advertising their services as --- and sons. In this very same way we, as children of God, are in the 'God and sons peacemaking business' working together to reconcile people with one another and with God.
Unfortunately, history and current experience, all too often, fail to show "peacemaking" or "love of enemies," let alone of one another, as dominant characteristics of those presenting themselves as children of God. We seem not to be as involved in God's business as our relationship to Him should cause us to be. We continue to have relationship problems. Quarrels, selfishness, strife, jealousy, envy, divisions, estrangements and hurts are all too common.
A Buddhist college student, who lived in a "Christian home" for four years, wrote a letter to a Christian friend who was trying to convert him. In it he explained why he could never consider such. He described the Buddhist home as peaceful and happy: "no fussing, quarrelling, fighting or shouting" in contrast to the "confusion", quarrelling, yelling, nastiness and hypocrisy he experienced in the "Christian home". Where's the PEACE?
Christian wars (an oxymoron), religious divisions, personal estrangements, the whole spectrum of dysfunctional relationships, continue to characterize "Christianity" and may well be more dominant in the eyes of the beholder than any evidence of "peacemaking" or peaceful relationships (peacekeeping). The children of God are identified in His word as peacemakers, who love all men (even their enemies) and who forgive AS they have been forgiven.
There is a story going around of a woman who, having been overheard by a police officer shouting impatient obscenities at fellow motorists, was taken to the police station. The officer later apologized to her, explaining that he had concluded that she had stolen the car since her language and attitude were so inconsistent with the Christian slogan on the bumper sticker.
Then there is the challenge: If it were a crime to be a Christian (It is a crime to convert to Christ in a number of countries) would there be sufficient evidence to prove me guilty or would my life style enable the court to acquit me?
Some months ago, after reading a newspaper column, I scribbled the thoughts quoted below. Unfortunately, I did not take note of the author, name of the paper or its date. I quote it here with my apology for failing to credit the author or publication.
We sometimes hear people speak of nominal Christians in contrast to the real thing. There may be a variety of ways of detecting which group an individual or even a congregation belong in but this is a test which should properly be applied by God and by each of us to ourselves personally. This is true because the determination factors, although they should be observed in actions and attitudes, are found deep in the heart. It would seem that a forgiving heart might be the ultimate determinator as to whether a disciple of Jesus is for real or not. Have we mastered this aspect of following the One who forgave us? Would we pass this test?
The problem is identified as a heart problem. Why do we not relate to one another in peace? Are we tender-hearted towards God and man? When we cause problems are we sorry? Do we care?
Loving, peacemaking, forgiving can only be effective if they result from a genuine, tender, caring heart.
Here is another anonymous thought-provoking quotation: "Forgiveness is a door. It's the way to peace and joy. But it's a small door and can't be entered without stooping or kneeling. And sometimes it is very hard to find."
I conclude this series, fully aware of the fact that much more could be written in a much better way. It has been my humble effort to address a widespread problem and a very vital aspect of our lives as disciples of Jesus. It is an area in which each of us needs to do intensive, deep-hearted self-examination. As mentioned in the beginning, it is all too easy to deceive ourselves in this matter and thus fail others, ourselves and God.
He who forgives another accomplishes much:
  • The restoration of a loving relationship with another.
  • The relief and happiness that comes with the removal of very self-destructive vengeful feelings of resentment and ill-will towards another.
  • The possibility of being forgiven by God. Without it God will not forgive us (Mt. 6:15; 18:35).
We should not delay our forgiveness. There is an urgency - the same day. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent' forgive him" (Lk.17:3,4).
Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col.3:13).
Eugene C. Perry

Published in The Old Paths Archive