"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" A Man Under Authority (8:5-13) INTRODUCTION 1. In Mt 8:5-13, we read of the healing of the centurion's servant... a. In which Jesus highly commends the centurion's faith b. Calling his faith greater than any He had found in Israel 2. This is not the only time we read of military personnel presented in a favorable light... a. There are several Biblical examples of soldiers b. Who were outstanding in their service to God [In our text, I believe we find why soldiers were often such notable examples of faith and service. Before we consider why, let's first review the examples of...] I. SOME NOTABLE SOLDIERS IN THE BIBLE A. JOSHUA AND CALEB... 1. These two men were soldiers who stand out a. They tried to persuade Israel to trust in God, and were threatened with death - Num 14:6-10 b. In the end, they were the only ones over twenty-one who left Egypt to enter the Promised Land - Num 14:26-32 2. Caleb was highly praised by God a. At the time he stood fast for the Lord - Num 14:24 b. At the time he received the land promised to him - Josh 14:6-14 -- It is repeatedly emphasized that he "wholly followed the Lord God of Israel" 3. Joshua was similarly remarkable a. In his farewell address (at age 110), he takes his stand for the Lord - Josh 24:14-15 b. His influence over his family was great enough that he knew how they would choose B. CORNELIUS, THE FIRST GENTILE CONVERT... 1. His piety was remembered by the Lord - Ac 10:1-6 2. In responding to the vision... a. He immediately sent for Peter - Ac 10:7-8 b. He prepared an audience for Peter by gathering relatives and close friends - Ac 10:24 c. He was ready to hear whatever Peter had to say - Ac 10:33 3. Cornelius and his family were obedient as implied in Ac 10:48 C. THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER, THE FIRST EUROPEAN MALE CONVERT... 1. Like Cornelius, his conversion was immediate - Ac 16:30-34 2. His family likewise obeyed the gospel [These four Biblical examples remind me of military men I have known; men with similar dedication to the Lord, and success in influencing their families to follow them in their service to the Lord. Coincidence? I think not. What I see is a particular attitude toward authority, one found in the centurion of our text (cf. Mt 8:8-9). Consider what is involved with being...] II. A MAN UNDER AUTHORITY A. THE MILITARY TEACHES THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHORITY... 1. Without a respected line of authority, chaos would develop a. It is impossible for a large group of individuals to function efficiently without a chain of command that is respected b. Instead of united, coordinated forces, it would be every man for himself! 2. Soldiers are taught to submit to authority immediately a. Delay can be disastrous on the battlefield, where speed can mean the difference between life or death, victory or defeat b. Questioning authority, balking at keeping commands, can easily result in one's own death and that of their comrades 3. Thus the military teaches both: a. How to submit to authority b. How to exercise authority over others -- As expressed by the centurion - Mt 8:8-9 B. KNOWING HOW TO "SUBMIT" TO AUTHORITY, MILITARY MEN... 1. Often obey the will of the Lord immediately upon hearing the gospel a. They realize that delay can be disastrous b. They would not hesitate to follow orders if their lives were in danger, why hesitate when their souls are in jeopardy? 2. Often follow the Lord with a "whole heart" a. They understand the need to submit to authority totally b. If it were just a game, one might be justified to be half- hearted, not taking things seriously c. But warfare, whether carnal or spiritual, requires complete devotion and total concentration to the task at hand! - cf.Ep 6:11-13 3. Often influence their entire families for the Lord a. By such careful submission to the will of the Lord, they set a notable example for their children b. Their children see that serving the Lord is serious business for their father; there must be something to it C. KNOWING HOW TO "EXERCISE" AUTHORITY, MILITARY MEN... 1. Often raise their children in subjection a. Obedient to their parents b. Eventually following parental in obedience to the Lord 2. This is not to say they are necessarily strict martinets, but they exercise authority... a. With firmness, making it advisable for a child to obey b. With wisdom, making it natural for a child to obey c. With love, making it with willingness for a child to obey 3. Often become elders to rule over the house of God - cf. 1 Ti 3:4-5 a. Having demonstrated their ability to rule over the house of God b. By first exercising authority over their own household CONCLUSION 1. My purpose is not encourage you to enlist in the military... a. But to suggest we would do well to remember the examples of those in the military b. For we are to be a people under authority, the authority of Jesus Christ! 1) An authority over all things in heaven and on earth - Mt 28:18 2) An authority that demands that we do what He has commanded - Mt 28:19-20 2. In an aged marked by permissiveness, it behooves Christians to possess a military attitude regarding authority, for we are engaged in a spiritual warfare with Satan and his influences a. Not submitting to the authority of God with all haste... 1) Could mean the damnation of our own soul 2) And a bad example for our children b. Not exercising our authority as Christian parents... 1) May lead to our children taking the broad way that leads to destruction! 2) May result in delivering our children to Satan on a silver platter! 3. How much better... a. To be like Caleb, and "wholly serve the Lord God" b. To be like Joshua, and declare "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" -- Just as our nation says, "Uncle Sam Needs You!" so the Lord's church says, "The Lord Jesus Christ Needs You!" Is your faith like that of the centurion, who recognized the power of authority when he saw it? If you have not yet obeyed the gospel of Christ, or need to return to the Lord, follow the example of Cornelius and the Philippian jailer and act immediately! You might save not only yourself, but your children and friends as well!
Modern-Day Miracles, Tongue-Speaking, and Holy Spirit Baptism: A Refutation
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The printed version of this article in this month’s issue of Reason & Revelation is the abbreviated form of a much more comprehensive study of this topic. To view the unedited version, click here.]
Numerous religious groups commonly claim the assistance of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Famed religious television personalities boldly announce the active influence of the Holy Spirit even as they speak. Supposedly, the Holy Spirit talks to them personally, heals viewers instantaneously, and enables them to babble uncontrollably in an “unknown tongue.” All of this, then, is claimed to be “proof positive” of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Do miracles still happen? Can people speak in tongues today? Does God, in the twenty-first century, supernaturally countermand the laws of nature and heal people miraculously?
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Isaiah said (1:18). It is absolutely imperative that we examine Scripture—not our feelings, not what someone else says happened to them, and not our own experience. The only sure and certain approach is to ask: What does the Bible teach? The reader must ask: “Do I honestly believe the Bible to be the Word of God?” One must be honest, and willing to go where the evidence takes him. If you had to choose between what you genuinely think you have experienced or seen firsthand, and what the Bible actually says, which would you choose? You must ask yourself: “Will I honestly accept God’s written Word on the matter of miracles?” If you will, I invite you to join me in an examination of what the Bible teaches pertaining to miracles.
THE DEFINITION OF MIRACLES
First of all, what exactly is a “miracle”? How does the Bible use the word? The three central terms used in the Bible to designate a supernatural (as contrasted with a natural) manifestation are: (1) “miracle” (dunamis); (2) “sign” (semeion); and (3) “wonder” (teras). All three terms occur together in Acts 2:22, Hebrews 2:4, and 2 Corinthians 12:12. Related terms include “work” (ergon) and “mighty deed” (kratos). The occurrence of a miracle in the Bible meant that God worked outside the laws of nature. W.E. Vine, whose Greek scholarship, according to F.F. Bruce, was “wide, accurate and up-to-date” (Vine, 1952, Foreword), stated that the word “miracle” (dunamis) is used in the New Testament of “works of a supernatural origin and character, such as could not be produced by natural agents and means” (1952, p. 75, emp. added). Otfried Hofius noted that a “sign” (semeion) “contradicts the natural course of things” (1976, 2:626, emp. added) and, similarly, “wonder” (teras) was used to refer to events that “contradict the ordered unity of nature” (2:633, emp. added).
Thus, a miracle in the Bible was not just an event that was astonishing, incredible, extraordinary, or unusual (e.g., the birth of a baby or the narrow avoidance of an accident). A miracle in the Bible was a supernatural act. It was an event that was contrary to the usual course of nature (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 755). The miraculous must not to be confused with the providential, where God operates in harmony with the usual course of nature.
THE DESIGN OF MIRACLES
Second, it is absolutely imperative that one recognizes the purpose of the miraculous. Miracles in the New Testament served the singular function of confirmation. When an inspired speaker stepped forward to declare God’s Word, God validated or endorsed the speaker’s remarks by empowering the speaker to perform a miracle. Many New Testament passages articulate this fact quite plainly. For example, the apostles “went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20, emp. added). The writer of Hebrews asked:
[H]ow shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:3-4, emp. added).
Referring to the initial offering of the Gospel to the Samaritan people, Luke stated: “[A]nd the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip when they heard and saw the signs which he did” (Acts 8:6, emp. added).
These passages, and many others (e.g., Acts 4:29-30; 13:12; 14:3; 15:12; Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; cf. Exodus 4:30), show that the purpose of miracles was to authenticate the oral/spoken word as God’s Word. Miracles legitimized and verified the teachings of God’s messengers, as over against the many false teachers (like Simon in Acts 8:9, or Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 7:11) who attempted to mislead the people. Greek lexicographer Joseph Thayer noted that “sign” (semeion) was used in the New Testament “of miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God’s” (1901, p. 573). Even the miracles that Jesus performed were designed to back up His claim (i.e., spoken words) to be deity (John 3:2; 14:10-11)—a pattern that is repeated in the New Testament many times over (e.g., John 2:23; 5:36; 6:14; 7:31; 10:37-38,41-42; 20:30-31; Acts 2:22). In other words, Jesus performed signs and miracles to prove His divine identity and thereby authenticate His message. His message, in turn, generated faith in those who chose to believe His teachings (cf. Romans 10:17). Here is the consistent sequence presented in Scripture: Signs → Word → Faith. (1) Signs confirmed the Word; (2) the Word was presented to hearers; and (3) faith was created (by the Word) in those who received it.
An excellent demonstration of this process was provided by Luke in his report of the conversion of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus. Elymas the sorcerer tried to thwart Paul’s effort to teach Sergius the Gospel. So Paul performed a miracle and struck Elymas blind. Luke next recorded: “Then the proconsul, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12, emp. added). One might well expect the text to have said that Sergius was astonished at the miracle that Paul performed. But Luke was careful to report the situation with precision. The miracle that Paul performed captured Sergius’ attention, causing him to recognize the divine origin of Paul’s Gospel message. The Gospel message, in turn, generated faith in the proconsul—in harmony with Paul’s later affirmation to Christians in Rome that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Over and over again in the New Testament, a close correlation is seen between the performance of miracles and the preaching of the Word of God (cf. Mark 6:12-13; Luke 9:2,6).
But some maintain that there are other reasons for instances of divine healing and tongue-speaking. Tongue-speaking is said to be a sign that the tongue-speaker is super-spiritual. Others say that miraculous healing serves the purpose of making the believer well—a simple act of mercy to relieve his pain and suffering. They say God does not want us to suffer, and so He will heal us just to ease our pain in this life because we are His children.
Regarding the first claim, Paul insisted that the person who possessed the ability to speak in tongues was not spiritually superior to the one who had no such ability (1 Corinthians 14:6,9,12,19). Tongue-speaking was simply one miraculous capability among many bestowed by God without regard to a member’s spiritual status, let alone his spiritual superiority over another member (1 Corinthians 12:7-11,28-30).
Regarding the second claim, certainly, the compassion of God was evident when people received miraculous healing in New Testament times. And, surely, relief from suffering would have been a side effect of being healed. But the Bible teaches that relieving suffering was not the purpose of miracles. Such a purpose would contradict—even thwart—the divine intent of this created Earth as a place where hardship exists to prepare us for eternity (see Warren, 1972). Death and sin entered the world due to human choice. God allows the circumstances caused by human decisions to take their course. He does not interfere with the natural order of things to show partiality to some over others. The Christian is subject to the same diseases, tragedies, and physical death that befall non-Christians: “...for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Christians can expect all sorts of hardship and suffering (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-17). Commenting on the purpose of miracles, J.W. McGarvey wrote:
[T]o say that they were wrought for the single purpose of showing divine compassion toward the sick, and those oppressed by the devil, would be to ignore a purpose which is easily discerned, which is openly avowed by Christ himself, and which is of much greater importance (1910, p. 354).
That purpose was “to support his proclamation...a necessary proof of the claim of Jesus” (pp. 355-356).
If God’s intention was to exempt individual Christians from sickness and disease, He certainly has fallen down on the job, since the vast majority of Christians throughout the last 2,000 years have experienced the exact same afflictions suffered by unbelievers. If miracles in the first century had as their object the improvement of the health of the recipient, then Jesus and the apostles were dismal failures, because they left untouched a lot of sick folk! Jesus healed a minority of the sick people of Palestine, and healed none outside of that tiny geographical region (an exception being the Canaanite woman’s daughter). In fact, one would be forced to conclude that God’s compassion did not extend to everybody. But the Bible affirms that God loves the entire world of humanity (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Hence, miracles did not have as their central purpose to show God’s compassion, nor to ease pain and suffering. McGarvey noted:
[U]nlike these modern advocates of “divine healing,” the apostles were never known to go about exhorting people to come forward for the healing of the body. They effected miraculous cures in a few instances, “as a sign to the unbelievers,” but they never proclaimed, either to saints or sinners, that the healing of all diseases was a part of the gospel which they were sent to preach. These so-called faith-cure churches, therefore, and the preachers who officiate in them as “divine healers,” or what not, are not modeled after the apostolic type, but are misleading the people by humbuggery (p. 351).
The usual rebuttal to these observations is that the reason some people do not receive a miracle is because “they do not have sufficient faith.” But this objection is likewise unscriptural. It is true that some individuals in the New Testament were commended for the faith that they possessed prior to being the recipient of a miracle (e.g., Mark 5:34). It does not automatically follow, however, that faith was a necessary prerequisite to miraculous reception. Many people were not required to have faith. For example, all individuals who were raised from the dead obviously were not in a position to “have faith” (e.g., John 11:44). Nor did those possessed by demons, since they were not in their right mind (e.g., Luke 9:42; 11:14). The man who was blind from birth actually showed uncertainty regarding the identity of Jesus (John 9:11-12,17,25,35-36). The man who was healed by Jesus as he laid beside a pool of water, in fact, did not even know who healed him (John 5:13). On one occasion, Jesus healed a paralytic after observing, not his faith, but the faith of his companions (Mark 2:5). Additional texts indicate that many who received the benefits of miracles were not required to have faith (Luke 13:12; 14:4; Acts 3:1-10).
The opposite was true as well. There were individuals who possessed faith, and yet were not healed of their ailments. Timothy was a faithful and effective servant of the Lord. He had “frequent illnesses” and stomach trouble of such severity as to warrant Paul referring to it by inspiration. But rather than simply healing him, or telling him to “pray for healing,” Paul told him to use “a little wine” as a tonic (1 Timothy 5:23).
Actually, John settled this question for the unbiased inquirer when he wrote that “many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31, emp. added). John said that belief occurs after the miracle—not before, in order to receive a miracle! The New Testament teaches the very opposite of those who claim that miracles occur today. They say a person must have faith before he or she can receive a miracle. The New Testament teaches that miracles were performed to authenticate the divine origin of the speaker’s message and/or identity. The message, in turn, generated faith in the hearer (cf. Romans 10:17). Hence, miracles preceded faith.
THE DURATION OF MIRACLES
These observations bring us to a third extremely critical realization: once God revealed the entirety of the information that He wished to make available to mankind (later contained in what we call the New Testament), the need for miraculous confirmation of the oral Word came to an end. Now, people can sit down with a New Testament and, with honest and diligent study, conclude that it is God’s Word. Since the purpose of miracles has once and forever been achieved, the miracles, themselves, have ceased. I repeat: the Bible teaches that miracles are no longer necessary. Spiritual maturity is now within the grasp of every single individual who chooses to access the means to maturity—the written Word of God.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul argued that love is a more excellent attribute than miraculous gifts. After all, miraculous gifts (i.e., prophecy, tongue-speaking, supernatural knowledge, etc.) were going to fail, vanish, cease, and be done away (13:8). These gifts are identified in the text with the expression “in part” (13:9-10). The “in part,” or miraculous, would cease when the “perfect” had come. But to what does the “perfect” refer?
The Greek word translated “perfect” is teleios. The term does not refer to “perfect” in the sense typically understood by the modern English reader, i.e., to be sinless. Following this faulty notion, some have concluded that the “perfect” refers to Jesus—since He has been the only perfect person. Other interpretations apply “perfect” to heaven (the only perfect place), or Christian maturity and perfect love (the perfect condition or quality). But, in context, Paul was not contrasting qualities or places. He was contrasting quantities, i.e., those things that were incomplete and partial (miraculous gifts) with that which would be total and complete (the fully revealed Word of God). The inaccuracy of these interpretations is seen further in the Greek definition of teleios. The word refers to totality, that which is whole, brought to its end, finished, and lacking nothing necessary to completeness (Delling, 1972, 8:73; Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 816; Thayer, 1901, p. 618). Used in its neuter form, Paul was referring to a thing—not a person—something that, when completed or finished, would replace the incomplete or partial, i.e., the miraculous gifts—which had only temporary significance. Commenting on the abolition of the miraculous gifts of prophecy and supernatural knowledge (mentioned in vss. 8 and 9), W.R. Nicoll correctly observed that “these charisms are partial in scope, and therefore temporary: the fragmentary gives place to the complete” (1900, 2:900, emp. added). Kenneth Wuest agreed: “In I Corinthians 13:10, the word means ‘complete,’ and is contrasted to that which is incomplete” (1943, pp. 117-118). The exegete is forced to conclude that Paul’s use of “perfect” referred to the completed revelation or totally revealed New Testament Scriptures. The revelation of God’s will was completed in its entirety when the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, was written by John prior to A.D. 100.
Paul offered a useful illustration to clarify his point. When the church possessed only small bits and pieces of God’s will, as revealed through scattered miraculous gifts and the gradual production, between approximately A.D. 57 and A.D. 95, of the written documents from the inspired writers of the New Testament, it could not achieve full spiritual maturity. It therefore was like a child (13:11). It lacked the necessary elements to reach spiritual adulthood. However, when the totality of God’s will, which became the New Testament, had been revealed, the church then had the means available to become “a man” (13:11). Once the church had access to all of God’s written Word, the means by which the Word was given (i.e., miraculous gifts) would be obsolete, useless, and therefore “put away” (13:11). Notice that Paul likened miracles to “childish things” (13:11). In other words, miracles were the spiritual equivalents of pacifiers that were necessary while the church was in a state of infancy. Since we now have access to “all truth” (John 16:13), the use of tongue-speaking and other miraculous enhancements in the church today would be comparable to an adult man or woman who continued to use a pacifier!
Paul then explained his point by comparing the initial necessity of miracles to reveal and confirm God’s Word, with the idea of looking through a clouded mirror (see Workman, 1983, p. 8). Once the entire contents of the New Testament had been revealed, the miraculous gifts no longer would be necessary. Having all of God’s revealed Word would enable one to be face to face with that Word, rather than “looking through a clouded mirror,” i.e., having partial access. Paul wrote (13:11):
Now I know in part [i.e., my knowledge of God’s revelation is incomplete and partial due to limited access via the miraculous element—DM], but then [i.e., when all of God’s Word is finally revealed—DM] shall I know fully, even as also I was fully known [i.e., I shall be made to know or taught thoroughly (which is the figure of speech known as heterosis of the verb in which the intransitive is put for the transitive—see Bullinger, 1898, p. 512)—DM].
Paul made the same point to the Ephesians. Miracles—the “gifts” given by Christ (Ephesians 4:8)—were to last “till the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13, emp. added). Two significant observations emerge from this latter verse. First, the word translated “till” (Middle English for “until”) is mechri, and was used as a conjunction to indicate the terminus ad quem [finishing point] of the miraculous offices (mentioned in vs. 11) bestowed as gifts by Christ. [For treatments of the use of mechri in this verse, see Thayer, 1977, p. 408; Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 517; Moulton and Milligan, 1982, p. 407; Blass, et al., 1961, pp. 193-194; Robertson, 1934, pp. 974-975; Dana and Mantey, 1927, p. 281; see also the use of the term in Mark 13:30 and Galatians 4:19]. Nicoll observed:
The statement of the great object of Christ’s gifts and the provision made by Him for its fulfillment is now followed by a statement of the time this provision and the consequent service are to last (1900, 3:332, emp. in orig.).
Paul was “[s]pecifying the time up to which this ministry and impartation of gifts are to last” (Vincent, 1890, p. 390, emp. added).
Second, the phrase “the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” often is misunderstood to refer to the eventual unifying of all believers in Christ. But this conclusion cannot be correct. Both Scripture and common sense dispel such a notion. Complete unity within Christendom will never occur. Those who profess affiliation with Christianity are in a hopeless state of disunity. Catholicism and Protestant denominationalism are fractured into a plethora of factions and splinter groups—literally thousands of divisions and disagreements. Nor will unity ever be achieved even within churches of Christ. Even first-century congregations did not attain complete internal unity.
In contrast with this interpretation, notice the use of the articles in the phrases: “the faith” and “the knowledge.” Contextually, Paul was referring to the system of faith alluded to so often in the New Testament. Jude urged his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). Paul referred to himself when he quoted others as saying, “He that once persecuted us now preacheth the faith of which he once made havoc” (Galatians 1:23). Luke reported that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Elymas the sorcerer sought to “turn aside the proconsul from the faith” (Acts 13:8). The early disciples were exhorted to “continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22). As a result of Paul’s repeat visits to Lycaonia, “the churches were strengthened in the faith” (Acts 16:5).
So “the faith” and “the knowledge” refer to the completed body of information that constitutes the Christian religion. Indeed, eight verses earlier (Ephesians 4:5), Paul already had referred to “the faith” as the summation and totality of Christian doctrine—now situated in the repository of the New Testament. An honest exegete is driven to conclude that once the precepts of New Testament Christianity had been revealed on Earth, the miraculous element no longer was necessary. Miracles lasted until “the faith” was completely revealed. They had served their purpose, in the same way that scaffolding is useful while a building is under construction. However, once construction is complete, the scaffolding is removed and discarded as unnecessary and superfluous paraphernalia.
THE DISPLAY AND DISPOSITION OF MIRACLES
Fourth, the actual exercise of miraculous gifts by Christians is addressed in 1 Corinthians 14. In this context, Paul used the term “gifts” (charismata, from charisma) in a technical sense (like pneumatika) to refer to miraculous abilities, designated by Thayer “extraordinary powers...by the Holy Spirit” (1901, p. 667, emp. added; cf. Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 887). Hans Conzelmann stated that the term indicated that “[t]he operations are supernatural” and of “supernatural potency” (1974, 9:405, emp. added). [The word is so used in the Pauline corpus in ten of its sixteen occurrences (Romans 1:11; 12:6; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 12:4,9,28,30-31; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). The only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament was Peter’s comparable use, i.e., to refer to supernatural ability (1 Peter 4:10)—see Moulton, et al., 1978, p. 1005]. Several relevant points occur in regard to the gift of tongue-speaking that help one to understand both the temporary nature of miracles, as well as their irrelevance to a contemporary pursuit and practice of New Testament Christianity.
First, the term “unknown” (in regard to tongues) is italicized in the KJV because it does not appear in the original Greek text (14:2,4,13-14,19,27). By inserting this word into their translation, the translators were attempting to aid the English reader. They undoubtedly were hoping to convey the idea that the languages to which Paul referred were unknown to the speaker, i.e., the speaker had no prior training by which to learn or know the language. He spoke the language strictly by God’s miraculous empowerment. “Unknown” certainly was not intended to convey the thought that the tongues were unknown to all humans and, as such, were non-earthly languages.
Second, the events reported at the very beginning of the Christian religion (Acts 2) set the precedent for understanding that tongue-speaking entailed no more than the ability to speak a foreign human language (which the speaker had not studied) to people from a variety of geographical locales (e.g., Parthians, Medes, Arabians—Acts 2:9-11). The unbiased Bible student must conclude that what is described in some detail in Acts 2 is the same phenomenon alluded to in 1 Corinthians 14. All tongue-speaking in the Bible consisted of known human languages (ideally, known to the very audience being addressed) that were unknown (i.e., unstudied, unlearned) by the one who was speaking the language.
Third, there is simply no such thing as an “ecstatic utterance” in the New Testament. The tongue-speaking of 1 Corinthians 14 entailed human language—not incoherent gibberish. A simple reading of the chapter demonstrates that known human languages are under consideration. For example, Paul paralleled tongue-speaking with the use of the trumpet in warfare. If a bugler sounded meaningless noise, the military would be thrown into confusion. It was imperative for the bugler to blow the proper notes and tones, i.e., meaningful musical “language,” so that the army would understand clearly what was being communicated (whether to charge, engage, or retreat). “Sound without sense” fails to achieve the very purpose of tongue-speaking. Paul stated:
So likewise ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without signification. If then I know not the meaning of the language, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me (1 Corinthians 14:9-11, emp. added).
Obviously, Paul was referring to human languages—those that exist “in the world.” He envisioned a scenario where two individuals, who spoke different languages, are attempting to communicate with each other. If one speaks in Spanish and the other in German, as they attempt to speak to one another, each would be a “foreigner” to the other. Neither would be able to understand what the other was attempting to say. Hence the need for tongue-speaking, i.e., the ability to speak human language unknown to the speaker but known to the recipient. Again, an examination of 1 Corinthians 14 yields the result that no contextual justification exists for drawing the conclusion that the Bible refers to, let alone endorses, the notion of “ecstatic” speech.
Fourth, Paul clearly stated that tongue-speaking was a sign to unbelievers—not to believers (14:22). Tongue-speaking was to be done in their presence, to convince them of the truth being spoken, i.e., to confirm the Word. The tongue-speaking being practiced today is done in the presence of those who already believe that tongue-speaking is occurring and, when an unbeliever, who is skeptical of the genuineness of the activity, makes an appearance in such an assembly, the claim often is made that tongue-speaking cannot occur because of the presence of unbelief. Once again, the New Testament teaches the very opposite of those who claim the ability to speak in tongues today.
Fifth, the recipient of a miraculous gift in the New Testament could control himself (14:32). He was not overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit so that he began to babble or flail about. Tongue-speaking today is frequently practiced in a setting where the individuals who claim to be exercising the gift are speaking uncontrollably at the very time that others are either doing the same thing or engaging in some other activity. This overlapping activity is in direct violation of three of Paul’s commands: (1) that each individual take their turn one at a time; (2) that no more than three tongue-speakers speak per service; and (3) that tongue-speakers remain silent if no interpreter is present (14:27-28).
The claim by many today to be able to speak in tongues is simply out of harmony with New Testament teaching. Anyone can babble, make up sounds, and claim that he or she is speaking in tongues. But such conduct is no sign today. It is precisely the same phenomenon that various pagan religions have practiced throughout the centuries. During New Testament times, however, no one questioned the authenticity of tongue-speaking. Why? The speaker was speaking a known human language that could be understood by those present who knew that language and knew that the speaker did not know that language beforehand. As McGarvey observed about Acts 2:
Not only did the apostles speak in foreign languages that were understood by the hearers, some understanding one and some another, but the fact that this was done by Galileans, who knew only their mother tongue, was the one significant fact that gave to Peter’s speech which followed all of its power over the multitude (1910, p. 318).
If and when self-proclaimed tongue-speakers today demonstrate that genuine New Testament gift, their message could be accepted as being from God. But no one today has demonstrated that genuine New Testament gift.
Holy Spirit Baptism
Where, then, does the baptism of the Holy Spirit fit into this discussion? Today’s alleged practitioners typically associate the expression “Holy Spirit baptism” with the phenomenon that enables the believer to speak in tongues, heal someone, or work other miracles. In other words, Holy Spirit baptism is simply a generic reference to miraculous empowerment. Anyone who can speak in a tongue or perform any other miraculous action is said to have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. He is said to be “Spirit filled.” However, it might surprise the reader to learn that the Bible alludes to Holy Spirit baptism in a very narrow, specialized, even technical sense. Just because a person could speak in tongues or work miracles did not necessarily mean he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The very first allusion to Holy Spirit baptism in the New Testament is John’s statement: “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me...will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11, emp. added). From this statement alone, one might assume that Christians in general would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. But this assumption would be a premature conclusion. John was not addressing a Christian audience. He was speaking to Jews. Nothing in the context allows the reader to distinguish John’s intended recipients of the promise of Holy Spirit baptism—whether all humans, all Jews, all Christians, or merely some of those in one or more of these categories. The specific recipients of this promise are clarified in later passages.
Just before His ascension, Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In John chapters 14-16, He made several specific promises to the apostles concerning the coming of the Spirit—the “Comforter/Helper” (parakletos)—upon them, to empower them to do the peculiar work of an apostle (i.e., to recall the words Jesus had spoken to them, to speak and write by inspiration, and to launch the Christian religion). If these verses apply to all Christians, then all Christians ought to have been personally guided “into all truth” (John 16:13), and thus would have absolutely no need of written Scripture (John 14:26). However, in context, these verses clearly refer to the apostolic office.
Jesus further clarified the application of Holy Spirit baptism when He told the apostles that the earlier statement made in Luke 24:49 applied to them, and, in fact, would come to pass “not many days hence” (Acts 1:4-5). Jesus also stated that the “power” that they would receive would be from the Holy Spirit, which would enable them to witness to the world what they had experienced by being with Christ (Acts 1:8). Notice carefully that on this occasion, Jesus made an explicit reference to the very statement that John had uttered previously in Matthew 3: “For John indeed baptized with water; but ye [apostles—DM] shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:5, emp. added). Jesus explicitly stated that the Holy Spirit baptism He would administer (in keeping with John’s prediction) would occur within a few days, and would be confined to the apostles.
All one need do is turn the page to see the promise of Holy Spirit baptism achieve climactic fulfillment in Acts 2 as the Spirit was poured out only upon the apostles. The antecedent of “they” in Acts 2:4 is “the apostles” in Acts 1:26. The apostles were the ones who spoke in tongues and taught the people. They were the recipients of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as is evident from the following contextual indicators: (1) “are not all these that speak Galileans?” (2:7); (2) “Peter, standing up with the eleven” (2:14); (3) “they...said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles” (2:37); (4) Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32, and applied it to that occasion as proof that the apostles were not intoxicated; and (5) the text even states explicitly that the signs and wonders were “done through the apostles” (2:43). This pattern continues in the book of Acts: “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people” (5:12); “the Lord, who bare witness unto the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (14:3); “what signs and wonders God had wrought...through them” (15:12).
The next direct reference to Holy Spirit baptism consisted of Peter describing the experience of the Gentiles in Acts 10. Referring to their empowerment to speak in tongues, Peter explicitly identified it as being comparable to the experience of the apostles in Acts 2. Note his explanation:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us [apostles—DM] at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us [apostles—DM]... (Acts 11:15-17, emp. added).
Peter unmistakably linked the baptism of the Holy Spirit predicted by John in Matthew 3:11, and applied by Jesus to the apostles in Acts 1:5, with the unique and exclusive bestowal of the same on the first Gentile candidates of salvation. If the baptism of the Holy Spirit had occurred between Acts 2 and Acts 10, why did Peter compare the Gentiles’ experience with the experience of the apostles—rather than comparing it with many other Christians who allegedly would have received it at some point during the intervening years? The answer lies in the fact that the baptism of the Holy Spirit did not occur during those intervening years. Baptism of the Holy Spirit was a unique and infrequent occurrence that came directly from Deity.
This understanding harmonizes with additional facts. The great prophecy of the Old Testament, which made special reference to the coming New Testament era as the dispensation of the Spirit, incorporated a most noteworthy expression. God had declared: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28, emp. added). Peter repeated it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17). “All flesh” was a technical expression used by the Jewish writers of the Bible, who frequently divided humanity into only two racial groupings, i.e., Jew and non-Jew (Gentile). The reader is urged to study carefully Isaiah 40:5 (cf. Luke 3:6) and Isaiah 66:23 as well as Paul’s use of “we” vs. “they” and “both,” “all,” “none,” and “no flesh” (Romans 3:9-20). “No flesh” and “all flesh” were technical allusions to the two categories of human flesh, i.e., Jew and non-Jew.
Observe, then, that the very first recipients of Holy Spirit baptism were the Jewish apostles on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The second recipients of Holy Spirit baptism were Gentiles who were members of the household of Cornelius (Acts 10). The occurrence of that event convinced Jewish Christians that Gentiles were fit prospects for the reception of the Gospel, and thus were valid candidates for entrance into the kingdom (Acts 10:34-35,45; 11:18). Thus, Joel’s remark, that God would pour out His Spirit on “all flesh,” applied to the outpouring on Jews in Acts 2 and Gentiles in Acts 10. The only other conceivable occurrence of Holy Spirit baptism would have been Paul, who would have received direct miraculous ability from God as well. His reception obviously was unique because (1) he was not an apostle when the Twelve received the Spirit, and (2) he was “one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Holy Spirit baptism, then, filled two unique and exclusive purposes: (1) to prepare the apostles for their apostolic (not Christian) roles, and (2) to provide divine demonstration that Gentiles could become Christians.
Laying on of Hands
If Acts 2 and 10 are the only instances of Holy Spirit baptism in the New Testament, how, then, do we account for the fact that numerous others in the New Testament performed miracles or were able to speak in tongues? If they, too, were not recipients of Holy Spirit baptism, how did they receive the ability to do what they did? The New Testament dictates only one other way that one could obtain a miraculous capability: through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. Only the apostles possessed the ability to transfer miraculous capabilities to others—a phenomenon that was described succinctly by Luke:
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said unto him, “Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter” (Acts 8:17-21, emp. added).
This description establishes two important facts: (1) only the apostles were able to impart to others the ability to perform miracles; and (2) those other than the apostles who could perform miracles received their ability indirectly through the apostles—not directly from God via Holy Spirit baptism.
This fascinating feature of the miraculous in the first century makes it possible to understand how other individuals received their supernatural powers. For example, Philip possessed the ability to perform miracles (Acts 8:6,13). Since he was not an apostle, and since he did not receive direct ability from God via baptism of the Holy Spirit, where, then, did he derive his ability? Philip previously had received the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 6:5-6). Likewise, the first Christians in Ephesus were enabled to speak in tongues—when the apostle Paul laid his hands on them (Acts 19:6). Even Timothy received his gift from the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Timothy 1:6).
Some have challenged the exclusivity of the role of the apostles in their unique ability to impart the miraculous element by drawing attention to the admonition given by Paul to Timothy: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Timothy 4:14, emp. added). How does one explain the fact that Paul stated that Timothy’s gift had come through the presbytery (i.e., the eldership) as well? Once again, the grammar of the text provides the definitive answer. In 2 Timothy 1:6, where Paul claimed sole credit for imparting the gift to Timothy, he employed the Greek preposition dia with the genitive, which means “through” or “by means of ” (Machen, 1923, p. 41; Dana and Mantey, 1927, p. 101). However, in 1 Timothy 4:14, where Paul included the eldership in the action of impartation, he employed a completely different Greek preposition—meta. The root meaning of meta is “in the midst of ” (Dana and Mantey, p. 107). It refers to the attendant circumstances of an event that takes place—the accompanying phenomena (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, pp. 510-511). It means “in association with” or “accompanied by” (Moule, 1959, p. 61; Thayer, 1901, p. 404; cf. Robertson, 1934, p. 611). In other words, Paul—as an apostle—imparted the miraculous gift to Timothy. It came from God through Paul. However, on that occasion, the local eldership of the church was present and participated with Paul in the event, lending their simultaneous support and accompanying commendation. After examining the grammatical data on the matter, Nicoll concluded: “[I]t was the imposition of hands by St. Paul that was the instrument used by God in the communication of the charisma to Timothy” (1900, 4:127; cf. Jamieson, et al., n.d., 2:414; Williams 1960, p. 956). Consequently, 1 Timothy 4:14 offers no proof that miraculous capability could be received through other means in addition to apostolic imposition of hands and/or the two clear instances of Holy Spirit baptism.
In light of the biblical data set forth in this study, certain conclusions become quite evident. Since there are no apostles living today, and since Holy Spirit baptism was unique to the apostles (Acts 2) and the first Gentile converts (Acts 10), there is no Holy Spirit baptism today, there is no miraculous healing today, and there can be no tongue-speaking. The miraculous element in the Christian religion was terminated by God near the close of the first century. Once the last apostle died, the means by which miraculous capabilities were made available was dissolved. With the completion of God’s revelation to humanity (now available in the Bible), people living today have all that is needed to be complete and to enjoy the fullness of Christian existence (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3).
The alleged miracles and tongue-speaking of today simply do not measure up to the Bible’s description of the miraculous. They are unverifiable, ambiguous, and counterfeit. Today’s “divine healing” consists of vague, unseen, non-quantifiable aches and pains like arthritis, headaches, and the like. In the New Testament, however, people were raised from the dead—even days after death (e.g., John 11:17). Severed body parts were restored instantaneously (e.g., Luke 22:50-51). People who had been born blind had their sight restored (e.g., John 9:1). Those lame from birth were empowered to walk (Acts 3:2). First-century miracles were not limited only to certain ailments and psychosomatic illnesses that could be cured through natural means, or by “mental adjustments” on the part of the infirm. Jesus healed “all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease” (Matthew 4:23, emp. added). No disease or sickness was exempt in the New Testament (cf. Acts 28:8-9). Where are these types of occurrences today? When has anyone restored a severed limb lost in an accident? When has a self-proclaimed “faith-healer” raised anyone from the dead? Where are the miracle workers who are healing the blind, the crippled, and those whose infirmities have been documented as having existed for many years (John 5:3,5)? Where are the televangelists who will go into children’s hospitals and rectify birth defects, cancer, and childhood diseases? Where are the modern-day miracle workers who have ingested poison or been bitten by a venomous snake—yet remained unharmed (Mark 16:18; Acts 28:3-5)? An honest searcher for the truth is inevitably forced to conclude that the miraculous age has passed.
Human beings always are looking for something new, exciting, and flashy. They want something that makes them feel religious and secure—without having to face up to personal responsibilities. Hence, there will always be those who will simply disengage their minds, their spiritual sense, and their intention to assess “the words of truth and reason” (Acts 26:25).
Genuine Christianity today consists of simply taking the written Word of God, and studying it carefully in order to learn what God expects of us—no brass band, no circus theatrics, no flash of light, no dream or vision, no sudden rush attributable to the Holy Spirit. There simply are no short cuts to spirituality. The miraculous is no answer.
[NOTE: To listen to an audio sermon on this topic, click here.]
Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Blass, F., A. Debrunner, and Robert Funk (1961), A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Conzelmann, Hans (1974), “charismata,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Dana, H.E. and Julius Mantey (1927), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto, Canada: Macmillan).
Delling, Gerhard (1972), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Hofius, Otfried (1976), “Miracle,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Jamieson, R., A.R. Fausset, and D. Brown (no date), A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Machen, J. Gresham (1923), New Testament Greek for Beginners (Toronto, Canada: Macmillan).
McGarvey, J.W. (1910), Biblical Criticism (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
Moule, C.F.D. (1959), An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977 reprint).
Moulton, W.F., A.S. Geden, and H.K. Moulton (1978), A Concordance to the Greek Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark), fifth edition.
Moulton, James and George Milligan (1982 reprint), Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-literary Sources (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Nicoll, W. Robertson, ed. (1900), The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdms).
Robertson, A.T. (1934), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press).
Thayer, J.H. (1901), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint).
Vincent, M.R. (1890), Word Studies in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946 reprint).
Vine, W.E. (1952), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
Warren, Thomas B. (1972), Have Atheists Proved There Is No God (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).
Williams, George (1960), The Student’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel), sixth edition.
Workman, Gary (1983), “That Which Is Perfect,” The Restorer, 3:6-9, September.
Wuest, Kenneth (1943), Treasures from the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The printed version of this article in this month’s issue of Reason & Revelation is the abbreviated form of a much more comprehensive study of this topic. To view the unedited version, click here.]
Mistaking Cowardliness for Humility
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
In 2006, Baylor University published the results of a survey indicating more Americans claim affiliation with Christianity than with any other religion. In fact, the report claimed that “82 percent of Americans are Christians” (see Tooley, 2006). Sadly, the vast majority claiming Christianity as their religion, have no respect for what their law (the New Testament) or their lawgiver (the Christ) teach.
One year after Baylor University published their findings, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed 35,000 Americans. Seventy percent of those surveyed answered in the affirmative that “many religions can lead to eternal life” (Van Biema, 2008). “Nearly across the board, the majority of religious Americans” believe that Christianity is not the only way to everlasting life, including 83 percent of mainline Protestants, 79 percent of Roman Catholics, and 57 percent of Evangelicals (“Americans...”). C. Welton Gaddy, the president of Interfaith Alliance, was encouraged by the outcome of the survey, saying, “It indicates a level of humility about religion that would be of great benefit to everyone” (“Americans...”).
Sadly, millions of Americans have bought into Gaddy’s “humble religion.” The truth is, however, “Christians” claiming that Christ is not the only way to eternal life are actually conceited, cowardly conmen (or disturbingly uninformed of the teaching of Christ and the New Testament apostles and prophets). The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, emp. added). Later, Peter appeared before the Jewish Council and proclaimed that salvation is only through Jesus: “[T]here is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NASB, emp. added). Jesus and Peter made it very clear. If someone wants to know the truth about the way to eternal life, he will only learn that truth through Christ, “Who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1). Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” As if that were not clear enough, Jesus declared: “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, emp. added). “No one else” is able to give a person salvation; “there is no other name under heaven...by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, emp. added).
How can a rational person profess to be a Christian, while at the same time maintaining that “many religions can lead to eternal life”? The New Testament unmistakably teaches that the way to salvation is not through Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, or Krishna; it is only through Christ, Whose words will judge the world in the last day (John 12:48). Thus, Jesus instructed man to “[e]nter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus has drawn a line in the sand. He stands on one side ready to lead followers to eternal life. On the other is any and all others who “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
To call oneself a Christian, and then proclaim that there are many ways to eternal life, does not indicate “a level of humility about religion that would be of great benefit to everyone.” On the contrary, it exposes the “Christian” as a coward, who arrogantly dismisses the words of the Son of God. This so-called “Christian” has no respect for the rigidness of the Truth that Jesus embodied and taught. Sadly, this most recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life simply shows that America is a country full of professed “Christians” who have lost their spiritual bearings.
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
“God...commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
“Americans: My Faith Isn’t the Only Way to Heaven” (2008), Associated Press, [On-line], URL: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,370588,00.html.
Tooley, Mark D. (2006), “God is Back,” CBS News, [On-line], URL:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/09/29/ opinion/main2053026.shtml.
Van Biema, David (2008), “Christians: No One Path to Salvation,” TIME, [On-line], URL: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1817217,00.html?imw=Y.
Miraculous Knowledge and Inspired, Written Instruction
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
It is somewhat difficult for 21st-century Christians to imagine being disciples of Christ and not having the complete New Testament at our fingertips to guide us in all areas of life and godliness. And yet, for the first few decades of the Lord’s Church, early Christians did not have the completed law of liberty.1 Even the earliest of New Testament books were not penned until 15-20 years following the establishment of the Lord’s Church in Acts 2.2 God, through His infinite wisdom, however, knew the early Church would be in need of trusted, divine, oral instruction, and so, until the New Testament was completed near the end of the first century, various Christians in various churches had “the word of wisdom through the Spirit” and “the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,” as well as the gifts of “prophecy” and “discerning spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:8,10).3 In the first century, the Spirit of God was “distributing to each one individually as He wills” (12:11). “Through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given” to Christians in Samaria (Acts 8:18), Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), Corinth (1 Corinthians 12), and no doubt many other places (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6).
Since most first-century churches that the apostles had established or visited were likely recipients of the much-needed miraculous gifts of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, discernment, etc. (cf. Acts 8:5-17), some question why such churches needed written instruction (i.e., the inspired letters and documents that make up the New Testament). Why would the early churches have lacked any important information if they had miraculous knowledge (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:10)?
The simple answer is that God designed the miraculous spiritual gifts given to the first-century church to be partial and temporary. Paul informed the church at Corinth that their miraculous prophecies and knowledge, etc. would “fail” and “vanish away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). “For,” he said, “we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (13:9-10). Spiritual gifts were like “a child,” as compared to the coming, completed written revelation of God, which Paul compared to a “man” (13:11), a “perfect man” (Ephesians 4:13). Thus, while the Lord’s Church was in its infancy, God gave them miraculous gifts to help them along. But these gifts were neither permanent nor “in whole.” The spiritual gifts were a gracious, partial, temporary help. Thus, first-century Christians still needed Spirit-inspired instruction (e.g., Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, etc.), which by the end of the first century was “perfect” (i.e., “complete”).
Perhaps for reasons known only to God, His communication to man from Adam until the close of the first century A.D. was “in part” (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12; see also Hebrews 1:1). We can trust, however, that just as the omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God of the Universe “sent forth His Son” into the world “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:6),4 the perfect law of liberty was completed at just the right time and in just the right way as God had planned all along (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11). Thankfully, for more than 1,900 years mankind has had the blessed benefit of the complete will of God. Unfortunately, to the detriment of mankind, most people continue to choose to reject the all-sufficient Word of God which leads to eternal life.
1 For a discussion on why God waited a few decades for the New Testament to be penned, see Eric Lyons (2012), “Why Did God Postpone the Writing of the New Testament?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?article=4198.
2 Conservative scholars generally agree that the earliest written New Testament documents, including Galatians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, were likely written between A.D. 48-52.
3 Dr. Earl Edwards notes that “our definitions of these various gifts are admittedly somewhat subjective. The ‘word of wisdom’ was probably the more advanced gift of preaching,” while “the ‘word of knowledge’ was probably similar to number 1 [the ‘word of wisdom’] but more elementary.” In addition to prophesying future events (cf. Acts 11:28), the gift of “prophecy may also be an inspired explanation of things previously revealed” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:2; 14:3). “The ‘distinguishing of spirits’ would enable a person to distinguish between a true prophet and a counterfeit one or between true and false tongue speakers.” Earl D. Edwards (2000), Commentary on I and II Corinthians (Henderson, TN: FHU), p. 60.
4 At just the right time for God’s purposes and for man’s benefit, though thousands of years after Creation and the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
“I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, for I am God, and not man.” Hosea xi. 9.
How close to unbelievable is that? More than seven chapters (4—10) in which God scathes Israel for its life of crass betrayal in their running after other gods and then what do we get? We get Hosea 11:9! We would have expected the opposite! “Enough! Who do they think I am? I understand they’re sinners but this nation has gone too far and for too long! I’ll obliterate it! Instead of that, we have the dumbfounding conclusion. The wind has risen to a deafening roar and all of a sudden: silence. That’s Hosea 11:9 (I can’t source right now who offered that great image, jmcg.)
That God will not pour out His finally destructive wrath is confounding enough but look how God vindicates His decision not to destroy such a willful people: “I’m God! Not a man!” What has He said here? “If I were a man I would utterly obliterate them!” But I’m not a man—I’m God! This is not any old God. This is the Holy One of Israel. This is the God who said, “You be holy for I am holy!” Since that’s true how did Hosea 11.9 get to be in the Bible? Did God cease to be the Holy One at this point Did He become soft on Sin? Or have we missed the richness of Godlike “holiness”?
Had I been a man I would have ended Israel for their addiction to treachery, said God who knows all things. My own life has proven, at least to me, that there are those who are very like God and who forgave great wrongs and in that respect were not like “a man”. The prophet who spoke from God and about God knew better than I had ever reason to know, how to forgive a very great wrong (didn’t he marry Gomer who lost her way and became adulterous and didn’t he go looking for her, found her and brought her home (Hosea 1)? I also know that there are many who are very like a “man” while professing to be Godlike and to be a friend of God.
There was an older brother who wouldn’t forgive a wayward brother for this sinful behavior and attitude. Nor woulde he forgive his father for forgiving the selfish brother and rejoicing when the earlier selfish brat, ‘dead in his sin’ and ‘lost,’ away from a loving father who always wanted him back. All this father wanted from the older son was the right to be happy that the younger son was home—he wanted the right of a loving father to love his son.
And this is the point of the three parables in Luke 15. The parables entail a lot of related truths but the truth focused on is this: the worst kind of Pharisee had they been friends of God they would have been able to rejoice at what Jesus in the name of God was doing. The woman fully expected her friends to rejoice with her finding her lost treasure. The shepherd fully expected his friends to rejoice that he had found his unhappy lost sheep and the prodigal’s father fully expected his older son to rejoice with him. “He’s your brother, for pity’s sake! He’s my son; how can you not understand that? Rejoice with him and with me. God throws a party in heaven; it’s right that we should throw a party on earth.”
I do understand that there are complexities I’m not dealing with here. I know that the speech of Jesus to the worst kind of Pharisee seems to go against His teaching in Luke 15. But it doesn’t. We need to remember that the most scathingly sustained piece of Scripture perhaps in the entire Bible is spoken by Jesus in Matthew 23; it doesn’t end scathingly but profound sadness. “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” But it was ceaselessly the policy of Jesus to throw his weight in on the side of the vulnerable against hard-hearted people with power for God is a great lover of the oppressed and downtrodden and He has appointed a day when that will be made clear to the world! Acts 17.31
Wasn’t it Coffin who said something like, “Not to choose sides is in effect to take the side of the predatory powerful.”
(I don’t know how to frame the prayer Holy Father.I know I need Christ-likeness that combines wisdom and tenderness. I know I’m asking for that in the Savior’s name.)
DID JESUS PRAY TO THE VIRGIN MARY? steve finnell
JESUS PRAYED TO THE FATHER
John 17:1-26 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven and said: Father, the hour....
JESUS INSTRUCTED MEN HOW TO PRAY
Matthew 6:9 "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven....
There is no Scripture where men are commanded to pray to the Virgin Mary or any other dead saint. Only God answers prayers. Men are instructed to pray to the God of the Bible.
Forgive as the Lord forgave
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