The end of all things (this blog)

I started this blog on May 26, 2011. By the grace of God, I have been able to post something on this blog almost every day since then. This blog makes 1,766 total posts which means I could officially rename this blog, “Through the Bible in 4 years, 304 days” or “Through the Bible in 1764 days” (not including my opening explanatory post and this finale.)

But I think I’ll keep the name as it is.

It started out as a blog to post my thoughts on the Bible, but it quickly turned into somewhat of a devotional commentary. I never imagined doing anything like this, but hopefully, it’s been a blessing to all you have been following me over the past 5 years.

So what will happen to this blog?

It won’t be going anywhere. I need it as I’m translating all this stuff into Japanese. While I’ve done this blog nearly daily, my Japanese translation is roughly three to three and a half years behind.

It’s my opinion that Japanese Christians need something like this as they go through the Bible. Unlike in the States, there are no study Bibles in Japanese, and most Japanese aren’t going to go out and buy commentaries. Hopefully, this will be a bridge for them. That’s my prayer anyway, and I’d appreciate your prayers as well.

I find it interesting that I now have as many daily readers of my Japanese blog as I’ve had readers of my English blog, although I’m no where near completing the Japanese one. I’m interested to see what will happen as I start translating more of these things into Japanese.

But as for this blog itself, aside from minor corrections of errors I find (usually Bible references) as I translate stuff into Japanese, and the occasional rewriting of things I find myself changing my mind on (I actually had to do this a couple days ago), this blog is done.

If I start writing another one, it will be closer to what I originally intended for this one: thoughts on my meditations in the Word. And each post will be much shorter. Should I start such a venture, I’ll make one last post in this blog to announce the new site.

I’ll still be posting my Sunday messages as I give them (about 6-8 times a year at my church). That can be found here –>

In the years since I started this blog, much has changed. The NIV changed (Total bummer. The last website that had the NIV 1984 changed to the 2011 a few months ago, and I found myself having to type the verses in). Although I found a great Bible in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, my main Bible has actually changed to the ESV. (You can get this one for free on Kindle).

On the personal side, my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary. My daughter has turned from a 2-year old in diapers into a 6-year old elementary school student. God has also blessed me with a much more stable job for which I am grateful. And last year marked my 20th year in Japan.

On the sad side of things, I also saw my dad pass away, although happily, he went to be with Jesus.

But overall, God has been good, and I am so grateful that he has been with me, not only through this journey of going through the Bible, but through this journey of life.

I’m going to miss doing this. It’s been fun.

For you, my dear readers, I close with this prayer:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)




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Revelation 22:7-21 — Because Jesus is coming soon

If there is one theme throughout these final verses of Revelation, and indeed of the Bible itself, it’s that Jesus is coming soon.

He says it in verses 7, 12 and 22.

What should our response be to this? We see it in verse 17.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears, say “Come.” (22:17a)

I find it interesting that even the Holy Spirit cries to the Son, “Come!” Perhaps this in connection with his intercession for us that we see in Romans 8:18-27.

But we, the Bride of Christ, are also to long for his coming. We are to set our hearts on his return. How do we do that?

First, be faithful in all that God calls you to do.

Jesus tells us,

Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (12)

Like we saw in chapter 20, there are two books. One is the book of our deeds, and the other is the Lamb’s book of life.

But just because your name is written in the latter doesn’t mean the former has been wiped out. I do believe that we will stand before God and we will be judged according to what we have done. It’s a theme we see again and again in the gospels and the epistles.

God will judge us for how faithful we’ve been with what he’s given us. If we’ve been faithful, we will be rewarded. If we haven’t, we will be saved, but only as someone escaping flames (I Corinthians 3:10-15). And so as Jesus warns, be ready. (Matthew 24:36-25:30).

Second, strive for holiness.

John tells us in his first epistle,

We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (I John 3:2)

In other words, because we have the hope of Christ’s return, and that we will be like him someday, let us work to that end even while we are waiting.

And so Jesus says,

Let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy. (22:11b)

Third, worship God.

There are so many things that can captivate us and our imaginations. Some of them are even good things. But they are not to be worshiped. Twice, John nearly fell into that trap by starting to worship something that was good: an angel. (19:10; 22:8). And twice the angel said,

Do not do it…Worship God! (Revelation 22:10)

Don’t worship the creation. Worship the Creator.

Finally, be faithful to the words of God.

We have seen many admonitions in this book. We saw them especially in chapters 2-3, but they are throughout the book. And Jesus calls us to be faithful and obey them.

He said,

Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophesy in this book. (22:7)

And we are warned sternly to neither add to these words or take away from them. (22:18-19)

This then, is how we are to live until he returns.

But if you do not yet know Jesus, these next words are for you:

Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (22:17b)

God will not force you to come to him. If you choose to stay in your sin, he will let you. (22:11a)

But his desire is that you would come to him and be saved.

He says,

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (22:14)

How do you wash your robes? By your own efforts to “clean up your act?”

No, you wash them in the blood of Christ shed on the cross. And when you put your trust in him, he purifies you from all sin. (I John 1:7)

Won’t you do so today? It starts with a prayer.

Lord Jesus, all my life, I have gone my own way, hurting you, hurting others, and hurting myself. Forgive me. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Make me clean of all my sins and failures. You are King of kings, and Lord of lords, and I give myself to you today. In your name I pray, amen.

I now close with the words of Jesus and John.

Jesus said,

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and Morning Star…Yes I am coming soon. (22:16, 20)

And John responds,

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (20)

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with God’s people.” (21)

Amen and amen.




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Revelation 21-22 — What cannot enter heaven

Yesterday, we talked about the glory of heaven and of God’s people. We saw all the wonderful things that will be in heaven.

But there is one thing that cannot be a part of heaven: sin.

And anyone who lives in defiant sin cannot be a part of God’s people or share in their inheritance. That was true in the Old Testament days (see Leviticus 18 for example). And it is certainly true in the New.

Why not? Why can’t God be more “tolerant?”

Heaven is a place with no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. (21:4). But if God allows sin into heaven, all those things will come flooding into heaven along with it. Just look at this world, and you’ll know what I mean.

I don’t know about you, but I want no part of that.

So God says,

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars, — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (21:8)

And again,

Nothing impure will ever it (the new Jerusalem), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (21:27)

And yet again,

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters,and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (22:15)

Note something here: It’s not just the murderers that are kept out of heaven.

It’s everyone who lies.

It’s the idolaters: all those who put anything ahead of God in their lives.

It’s the sexually immoral. Those who engage in any kind of sex outside of a marriage relationship between a man and woman.

It’s anyone who has ever done anything shameful and deceitful.

But most importantly, it is the unbelieving: those who refuse to put their faith in God. Who refuse to put their trust in Jesus and his work on the cross, and instead follow their own path.

None of these can ever enter heaven.

Do any of these things describe you? Then you can’t go to heaven.


Unless your name is written in the Lamb’s book of Life. Unless you have repented of your sins and given your heart to God.

Like I said before, your eternal destiny is based on what’s written in one of two books. One book is the Lamb’s book of life, and the names written there are based on Christ’s finished work on the cross.

The other is the book of all our deeds. Not just the good. But the bad. All the bad. And the problem is, it is not the good things we do that keep us out of heaven. It is the bad. Just one bad thing on your record is enough to keep you out of heaven. And no one has just one bad thing written on their record.

So if you want to get to heaven based on your deeds, you’re never going to make it. You can only make it if your name is also written in the Lamb’s book of life. And your name will only be written there if you give your heart to Christ, making him your Savior and King.

The apostle Paul wrote this:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

What will you choose? Won’t you choose Christ today?


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Revelation 21-22 — Here comes the bride!

No, we are not yet finishing up Revelation in this post. We’re going to spend forever in heaven someday. We might as well spend a few days talking about what it will all be like.🙂

It’s very ironic to me that one of the angels who poured out the bowls of wrath on the earth now comes to John and says, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” This angel who participated in the destruction of the old heaven and earth now introduces the new heaven and earth to John.

And like I said yesterday, I’m not sure if this description of the New Jerusalem is describing a literal city, God’s people, or both.

But as I read this, I think of that parable of the pearl of great price. Where a man sold everything he had to get it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

Jesus bought this precious pearl of the church, his bride, with his own blood spilled on the cross. He shed his blood,

to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:26-27)

And now we see his bride coming in all her beauty. John says,

It shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (21:11)

Throughout the description of this bride, you see “twelves” and multiples of twelves, sometimes multiplied by 1000, a symbol of perfection. The twelves themselves seem to be interpreted in 21:12 and 21:14 and reflect how all of God’s people are made up of the 12 tribes of Israel of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles in the New. In other words, we are all made up of the community of faith, starting with the believers of the Old Testament (represented by the 12 tribes of Israel), and all believers of the new (represented by the apostles).

This bride is also decked with jewels (21:19-20) as the high priest once was (Exodus 28:15-21), and with the jewels of Eden itself (Ezekiel 28:13-13).

This bride has no need of a temple to go and meet God, for God himself and the Lamb are its temple. In fact, all the glory of God and the Lamb shines on it. (21:23)

And the bride herself shines. All nations are lit up by her light and bring their splendor into her. (21:24)

This bride will also be perfectly secure. There will be no fear of invaders coming in the night, and so her gates will always be open. As Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed in the beginning because they felt absolutely safe, so will Christ’s people be absolutely safe and secure with one another.

The water of life flows through us as we are filled with the joy of God’s Spirit (John 7:37-39), and we take part of and bear the fruit of life. (22:1-2)

But the best part of heaven and this life to come for this bride? We will see God’s face. (22:4).

This city is described as a cube (21:16). There is only one other cube in the Bible: the Most Holy Place in the Temple where God dwelt. (I Kings 6:20)

As we saw yesterday, God says,

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (21:3)

And again,

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him…they will reign forever and ever. (22:3, 6)

Why is all this possible? Because 2000 years ago, Jesus hung on a cross for our sins. And because of his work, we will shine as his precious jewel, and live and reign with him forever in glory as his bride.

I can’t wait for that day!

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Revelation 21:1-7 — When all scripture is finally fulfilled

We’ve been going through the whole Bible from beginning to end over the past four years. And in this chapter, we see the culmination of all things, where all scripture is finally fulfilled.

We started in the garden of Eden where Adam and Eve walked with God before the fall. But even after the fall and everything was cursed, God never gave up on us. Instead he chose Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to  be his people. Then all of Israel became his people and he their God. After Christ’s death and resurrection, that title  of being God’s people was then extended to all who would put their faith in Christ.

And now comes the consummation of all these things. John sees a new heaven and a new earth. And there is no longer any sea.

I don’t know if that last is literal or not. The thing is, the sea has often been used in Revelation as a symbol for evil. The beast in chapter 13, for example rises from the sea. And so perhaps, John is merely saying that all evil and all the chaos that comes from it is now completely gone.

Then John says,

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (2)

Again, I wonder at the literalness of this. Is it truly a city that John sees? Or is it all the people of God, whom Paul calls the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32). Or is it both?

Whatever it means, the key point comes in the next verse.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (3)

At one time, God dwelt with Adam and Eve with the Garden of Eden. They were his people and he their God. Then they fell into sin.

When God promised to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites were told that he would be their God and they his people (Exodus 6:7) and the tabernacle was a sign of his dwelling among them. (Exodus 40:34-35)

When they moved into the promised land, the temple took the place of the tabernacle, but it too was a sign of God’s dwelling among them. (I Kings 8:10-12)

But again the people sinned and God’s Spirit departed the temple (Ezekiel 10:18). The temple was destroyed and rebuilt more than once after that before finally being destroyed for good in A.D. 70.

Now the people of God are his temple, and he dwells within us (6:19).

But on that day when all is fulfilled, we will forever be in the presence of God and we will see him face to face.

And God gives us these words of hope.

I am making everything new. (5)

Then echoing Jesus’ words on the cross, he says,

It is done. (6a)

But whereas Jesus’ words were talking about how the payment for our sins was finally paid, now God’s plan of salvation is completely fulfilled and we’re all finally home.

And he who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things, says,

To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (7)

We all go through times of hardship and suffering in our lives. And sometimes it seems interminable. Unbearable.

But it won’t last forever. God is control. He always has been and ever will be. He has already written the end of the story. And the end of the story ends with us being with him forever.

So set your eyes on him. Know that your trials will not last forever. He will bring you home. And on that day, John tells us,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (4)

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Revelation 20:11-15 — Two books

I love reading books. It became a lot more convenient to read when I got my Kindle Fire. Now, I can carry around any number of books, including a number of different Bibles without putting a strain on my back.

Here, though, we find two books. And perhaps more.

John tells us that on the day of judgment, he saw all the dead both great and small standing before God’s throne with the books were opened. What is in those books? Apparently everything we have ever done in our lives.

In addition to those books, there is another book: the book of life. And in it is the name of every person who belongs to God; all those who have put their trust in Jesus and his work on the cross for their salvation.

And John tells us,

The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (12-15)

What do we learn from this?

We have a choice. We can either put our trust in ourselves and our works to get us to heaven or we can put our trust in Jesus and his work on the cross for our salvation.

If we do the latter, then our names are written in the book of life and we will be saved.

But if we choose to do the former, all of our works will be found lacking before God. Lacking because he sees not just the good we do, but the evil. Lacking because even when we do good, many times we do so with wrong motives and attitudes. But most of all, lacking because we have rejected Jesus as King and Savior in our lives.

In short, if we insist on being judged for what we’ve done to get to heaven, none of us will ever make it. Every one of us will fall short.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be judged by what I’ve done to get me into heaven. I’d much prefer to rely on Jesus’ completed work on the cross for me.

The choice, however, is yours. Which will you choose?

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Revelation 20:1-10 — Why people do evil

Why do people do evil? Does the devil make them do it? Are they simply products of their environment? The injustice, poverty, and the evil around them has so shaped them that they simply have no choice?

Or is there something else?

I think we find the answer in this passage.

After Jesus returns and the antichrist, his prophet, and their armies are all dealt with, Jesus will reign for 1000 years. Whether this is a literal 1000 years or not I don’t know. But anyway, it’s for a considerable period of time.

All the resurrected people of God will also come to live on the earth and will reign with Christ (4). Who will they reign over? Apparently all those who survived the wrath that God poured out on the earth.

The resurrected saints will never be subject to death again (6), but unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the survivors of the wrath of God.

For while there will be heaven-like aspects to the conditions, it will not quite yet be heaven. There will be perfect justice, and a time of great peace. People’s lives will start to extend as it did before the time of the flood. And yet, people will still die.  Why? Because there will still be sin in the world. (Isaiah 11:1-9, 65:17-25)

And in this time, Isaiah seems to picture Jesus still needing to judge cases that are brought before him. Unlike now, however, there will be perfect justice. There will be no hiding of the facts from him, no loopholes to escape through, or any technicalities that people can get off on. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

But this raises a question. In a world of perfect conditions, perfect justice, and no Satan to tempt people, why do people still sin and die?

The reason is that people are innately sinful. People don’t become sinners because they sin. They sin because they are sinners. And while Satan can tempt, and our backgrounds and environments can influence, nevertheless, people sin because that is their nature. David recognized this (Psalm 51:5) as did Paul (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The millennium will prove this once for all. And it will prove once again why we need a Savior. People will never be good enough to deserve God’s salvation even in a perfect world. Many people will come to realize that and will put their trust in Jesus as Savior during that time.

Others, however, won’t. And when Satan is released one last time, millions will flock to his side to wage one final war against God. But like the war of antichrist and his prophet, it will be no war at all. With a single act of God, they will be destroyed and Satan will be tossed into the lake of fire with all his minions. (7-10)

So let us be honest with ourselves. We don’t sin because God allows Satan to run around. We don’t sin because of our environments or backgrounds. We sin because we are sinners. And that’s why we need a Savior.

If you haven’t already, won’t you turn to him today?

Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. And there’s no excuse I can give for my sin. I sin because I am a sinner. But Jesus you died so that my sin could be forgiven. Not only that, you died so that I could be transformed into your likeness. That I could become as perfect, sinless, and whole as you are someday. Thank you for that. Please save me and be my king. I want to follow you. And as I do, even now, please change me. Make me the person you created me to be. Make me like you. In your name I pray, amen.


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Revelation 19:9-10 — The spirit behind prophesy…and all we say and do

I must admit, I can finally see the finish line after all these years of blogging. And it’s very tempting to just rush ahead and finish this as quickly as possible.

But John thought it necessary to take a small break in the narrative, and so I will too. And actually, it’s a reminder to me of why I started writing this blog in the first place.

After the angel tells John about the wedding supper of the Lamb, John falls at the angel’s feet to worship him.

It would be easy to imagine why. Here is this angel, glorious and holy, much more so than John is. It’s easy to see why for a fleeting moment John might think that this angel too is worthy of worship.

But the angel said,

Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with our brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy. (10)

In other words, “John, I am not showing you all these things so that you can worship me. I am not at the center of all these things, any more than any of the prophets were the center of the prophesies they gave, or you are the center of these prophesies I am showing you now. Jesus is the center of all these things. All prophesy is given to testify to Jesus.”

That’s so important for us to remember. That Jesus is the center of everything. He’s the center of prophesy. But he’s also the center of everything we say and do. At least he should be.

When I write this blog, or give a message at church, it shouldn’t be to glorify me. It should be to glorify Christ.

When you serve in the church, or serve in the community, it shouldn’t be to bring you glory, but to testify to Jesus to those around you.

And if we lose sight of that, we get into trouble. We start worshiping fame. We start worshiping money. We start worshiping the praise and respect of others. And Jesus gets lost in the midst of it all, when he should be at the center.

So here’s the question: As you serve in the church, are you doing it with a worshiping heart that points to Jesus? As you reach out to your community, are you doing it with a heart that glorifies God?

Who or what are you falling before and worshiping?

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Revelation 19 — When justice comes

I was reading a letter from an elementary school that my friend in Hawaii posted on Facebook today. It talked about how a child going to school was accosted by a stranger who threatened to kidnap her. A high school student was nearby so the child quickly ran to the student for help, and the stranger immediately left.

It really is scary to see all that is going on in society. And often times, we wonder if justice is ever going to come. We saw the saints crying out that very question in chapter 6.

But here in this chapter, we see that justice will finally come on all those who do evil and on the society that gave them birth. Antichrist, the prophet, Babylon, and everyone who follows them all fall.

The Antichrist and his army rise up for one last war against God, and Jesus returns to take back what is rightfully his. He who is faithful and true finally comes to prove that he truly is these things. He proved it on the cross where he shed his blood for our sins (13), and he proves it now by bringing justice and salvation to the earth.

One would think that it would be a full-scale war, reminiscent of all the great battle scenes that you see in the movies. But it really is no contest. With a word, the enemy’s army is destroyed (21), and the antichrist and his prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (20). Babylon is destroyed, and the smoke of its destruction rises forever (3), while the birds of prey feast at the banquet of the damned (17-18, 21).

The end result? Worship. For justice has finally come.

All heaven roars,

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants…Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever…Amen, Hallelujah!  (2-4)

And with the banquet of the damned completed, another banquet is prepared. A voice from God’s throne cries out,

Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great! (5)

And all heaven responds,

Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (6-7)

The angel then turns to John and says,

Write: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb…These are the true words of God.” (9)

The point of this all? Justice is coming. And with justice will come great joy for all of us who are the bride of Christ.

Though we did nothing to deserve it, though we too deserved to join the banquet of the damned, he has clothed us with his righteousness, and that righteousness has become our own. We have become his own, Christ’s beloved. And we will rejoice with him for all eternity.

So as we see all the injustice and corruption in this world, let us hold on to that hope. Justice is coming. Jesus is coming. And on that day, all heaven and earth will ring out in worship of him who truly is faithful and true.

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Revelation 17-18 — When you put your hope in this world

Here in this passage, we see the fall of the great prostitute Babylon, which John later defines as “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (17:18)

As we’ve seen before in chapter 14, John and his readers thought of it as Rome, but Rome itself is a symbol for a godless society, a world system that rebels against God. It rides the beast we saw in chapter 13, a beast with 7 heads. The 7 heads, the angel says, represent the 7 hills of Rome on which the woman sits, and also 7 of Rome’s kings. Five of those kings had already died, one was currently living in John’s time, and the seventh was yet to come. (17:7). And the Beast himself, the antichrist, will come later as an eighth king (17:11).

The beast will ally himself with ten rulers (whether a literal number or not, I don’t know; it could be symbolic all the kings of the earth).

And people will follow this beast. Why do they follow after it? Part of it is his power. Part of it is because of his power to deceive. We saw all this in chapter 13.

But another major reason is this prostitute. She sits on “many waters,” which the angel tells John represents the people of the earth. People see what the prostitute has to offer: her riches and glory, and they drink it all in (4).

But the truth is, when they take in what she has to drink, they’re drinking in “abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” Things God detests. Things that cause people to commit spiritual adultery against the One who created them. And as we saw in chapter 14, people go “mad” over these things (14:8).

In short, people fall for the beast in great part because of their love for this world system and all it has to offer.

But this world system is indeed allied with the beast. It is impossible to be friends with her and friends with God. We see this in that she is drunk with the blood of the saints. (17:6; 18:24)

The thing we see here, though, is this world is coming to ruin. Probably because of their war against God, the Beast and his ten allies strip the prostitute of everything. In other words, they are so hostile against God, they are willing to destroy this world in order to fight against him. This in part probably means they are willing to ruin the world economy in order to prepare for this battle. But it probably also means they are willing to use weapons of such destructive power that it actually destroys this world (17:16)

But the angel tells John,

God has put it into their (the kings’) hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. (17:17)

I think what this means is that God is planning to allow this world to be devastated, and while some of this will probably be directly from God’s hand, a lot of it will also actually come by our own hand. We will be our own demise. But in the end, though this beast and these kings fight against God, even destroying the world to do so,

The Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings… (17:14)

What do we get from all this?

The people who belong to this world system boast in all they have. They boast in what they have accomplished. And they think that it will last forever (18:7).

But God says in a single day, it will all come crashing down, and all that this world promises will be shown for what it is: an illusion. (18:8)

God will thrust it into the sea like a millstone and it will be destroyed. All that the people rejoiced in and relied upon will be gone. (18:21-23)

And because of it, the people of this world will all mourn and be terrified. (18:9-19)

Mourn because all they relied on will be gone in an instant. Terrified because they know the judgment that fell on Babylon will soon fall on them.

What am I saying then? Don’t put your hope in this world. This world will fall, as will all who put their faith in it.

So let us heed the words of God who warns,

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. (18:4)

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Revelation 16 — Though judgment falls

We saw in chapter 14 the warning of eternal judgment that would fall on all those who rejected God, and instead took the mark of the beast. And like I said earlier, there are those who really get upset at this idea of eternal judgment.

But as we saw in Revelation 9, there is a reason that it is eternal. The reason? There comes a point in people’s hearts where they reach the point of no return. They have so hardened their hearts, that no matter what judgment falls, no matter how painful it is, they simply refuse to repent. Instead, they simply curse God more and more.

And that’s exactly what we see in this chapter. Here we see the wrath of God being poured out in full strength. And whereas there had been limits in the seal judgments (one-fourth) and in the trumpet judgments (one-third), there are no limits now. Instead, the whole world is affected.

All the people who have the mark of the beast are covered with painful sores. (2)

The sea turns to blood and every living thing in it dies. (3)

The rivers and springs of water all turn to blood because of the blood that they themselves shed in killing God’s people. (4-7)

The protections that we have to keep the sun from harming us are stripped away and people are burned by its intense heat. (8)

The people’s response?

They were seared by the intense heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues but they refused to repent and glorify him. (9)

“Surely if these judgments keep up, they will repent, though, right?”

The whole world is thrown into darkness as Egypt once was. The people are are in total agony because of their pains and sores. (10-11a)

But they refused to repent of what they had done. (11b)

“Yes, but surely, they can’t keep holding out like this, can they? They must eventually come to the point where they will repent, right? Nobody could possibly be that stubborn not to repent.”

The Euphrates River is dried up, and with that barrier out of the way, now all the kings of the East come together for one last war against God. (12)

Evil spirits come performing miraculous signs, trying to give the kings of the earth hope that they will be able to stand against God. They gather at Armageddon, and the final bowl of wrath is poured out.

Lightnings, rumblings, peals of thunder and the worst earthquake in the world’s history hits the earth.

The cities of the nations collapse and this empire that stood against God is given the full fury of His wrath. Islands sink. Mountains fall. Huge hailstones fall to the earth crushing men. (20-21)

The result? Repentance?


And they cursed God on account of the hail, because the plague was so terrible. (21)

What’s my point? There can be no escape from hell without repentance. But all that we see from this chapter is that when people harden their hearts, there comes a point of no return. And when they go to hell, they have definitely reached that point. Even if were theoretically possible for a person to repent in hell and escape, no one ever will.

So if you’ve been rejecting God to this point, soften your heart now before it’s too late. God has no desire to send you to hell.

He sent his Son to die for you so that you wouldn’t have to go to hell.

And now he says,

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked…Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live…Repent and live. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)

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Revelation 14-15 — God’s glory in judgment and salvation

I have said many times before that I believe we will have to face antichrist. What I am not so sure about is if we’ll face God’s final wrath poured upon the earth as seen in the 7 bowls.

My guess, however, is that we won’t. My eschatology has changed somewhat as I’ve studied these passages, and I’m not entirely sure I am right. I’ve always thought that the rapture would come, we would meet Jesus in the air, and then come right back down again. I’m not so sure anymore. Rather, it looks very much like after Jesus comes, we will all wait until the bowls of wrath are poured out before Jesus sets foot on the Mount of Olives.

Why do I say this? Because of what I see in these next couple of chapters.

Here we see an angel calling out to a person seated on a cloud, someone like “a son of man,” with a crown on his head and a sickle in his hand.

Who is it? I believe it is Jesus.

And the angel calls out, “It is the Father’s time. Take your sickle and reap.” Jesus does, and the earth was harvested. Who does he harvest?

My guess is he harvests all those who are his. The final warning had been given and was either heeded or ignored. Now there is no time left, and so Jesus takes his people to be with him.

All that is left on the earth now are those who have rejected him.

Another angel comes out of the temple in heaven, and he too has a sickle. And the angel in charge of the fire at the altar calls out to the other angel and tells him to swing his sickle too.

What is this fire of the altar? It probably goes back to the altar of incense in chapter 8 where the saints’ prayers for justice rise to God. (8:3-4)

Why do I say this? Because when the angel swings the sickle, the grapes are gathered and thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath.

And as grapes were trampled in those days to make wine that would flow out of the winepress, so those who have rejected God will be “trampled,” and their blood will flow rising several feet high for over 180 miles. It is truly a bloody picture.

Chapter 15 then, gives us more detail on what just happened in chapter 14.

John looks up and he sees a sea of glass mixed with fire. And next to it are all those who had been victorious over the beast, and have just been harvested by Christ.

The sea was often seen as a place of great evil and chaos. And the saints are seen to have now come out of that, through the fire of their trials. And they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.

Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are Holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. (3-4)

But then the temple opens and 7 angels come with 7 plagues. And each are given 7 bowls filled with the wrath of God. And it says in verse 8,

And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. (15:8)

That last verse really strikes me. You see, God’s glory is shown in his salvation. That is true. We see it in the worship of those who are saved.

But God’s glory is also shown in judgment. Why? Because it shows that he is not just a God of love, but of justice.

If we have a God that is love but is not also justice, is he really a good God? No. For he would leave evil unpunished forever. And no good God can do that.

But while God is patient, he will ultimately bring justice. And in doing so, he shows his glory and goodness.

So let us always remember, we cannot separate God’s love and justice when we think about who he is. For both are indispensable parts of his glory.

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Revelation 14:6-11 — A final warning

I have said more than once over the past five years I’ve been writing this blog that God is patient, but that his patience will not last forever.

And here in this passage, I think we see that patience just about to run out.

Here we see an angel flying out, proclaiming the gospel to every nation, tribe, language, and people one last time. And he shouted,

Fear God, and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water. (7)

I wonder if this is a real angel or if it’s merely symbolic of the gospel going out to the whole world. (Matthew 24:14)

Or perhaps it’s both. Either way, the gospel goes out one last time. And with it comes warning. “Now is the time to turn to God. His patience has run out and the time for judgment has come. Fear him. Give him glory. And worship him. Before it’s too late.”

The warnings are intensified by the next two angels.

Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries. (8)

This is a preview to what we will see later. Babylon had once been a great empire, but it was totally pagan, a people who had turned their backs on God and were committing adultery with the world.

John no doubt saw Babylon as a symbol of Rome. And for us today, Babylon and Rome are symbols of a godless society, a society in which antichrist will arise. But this angel cries out, not only that Babylon will fall, but that it has already fallen. It is dead while it yet lives. It’s only a matter of time before all will see it.

Then the third angel cries out a final warning.

If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. (9-11)

In short, there is no middle ground. You have to choose sides. Either you worship God or you worship the beast. And if you choose to worship the beast, all of God’s wrath will be poured upon you.

A lot of people hate the idea of hell. They can’t believe that a loving God would punish someone forever in conscious torment. But it can’t be any clearer here. There will never be rest, day or night for them. Rather, they will face torment for all eternity.

Why does this have to be so?

Number one, we were created eternal beings. The question is not whether we will live forever. The question is where.

Number two, if people will not receive God as king, they must be separated from him, if for no other reason that they don’t want to near him. But the thing is, life without God is hell.

If you don’t believe me, look at the world around you. We have tried to live in a world where God is not king. What’s the result? Murder. Rape. Terrorism. All manner of atrocities.

The experiment has failed.

And this is a world where God is still here, working in the lives of people. What will a world completely devoid of God be like?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. On the cross, Jesus drank the wine of God’s wrath for us. He experienced the full strength of God’s anger so that you don’t have to.

But if you reject him, then you’ll have to drink it yourself.

What will you choose?

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Revelation 14:1-13 — We who belong to God

We saw in chapter seven, 144,000 of God’s people being sealed in preparation for the judgment to fall on unbelievers.

Then in chapter 13, we saw the people of the beast receiving their own mark. And whoever did not receive that mark was persecuted.

So on one hand, those who were received the seal of God were protected from God’s wrath, but on the other hand, they received the wrath of the beast for refusing his mark. And the question becomes, is it worth it? Is it worth it to go through that persecution? For many people, they find it hard to say yes. No one likes to go through persecution.

But if you remain faithful and endure, what will happen? We find the answer in chapter 14.

The 144,000 reappear in this chapter. And again, I believe these people are the entirety of the redeemed of God, not just a certain select. And as we saw in chapter 7, they are sealed with the Father’s name written on their foreheads.

But whereas in chapter 7 we see them preparing for the trials to come, it seems that we see them here having come out of the fire. What are they doing?

Complaining about all the persecution they had endured? Questioning God about why they had to suffer for his sake? No.

Rather, they were singing a new song. A song that no one else could truly learn. Why not? Because while the angels, four living creatures, and the elders can probably technically learn and sing this song, they didn’t experience all that these 144,000 did. All the suffering, all the trials. And because they didn’t go through the fire of these things, they can’t truly understand the joy of deliverance. But these people of God can.

“They did not defile themselves with women for they kept themselves pure,” it says in verse 4. Does this mean then they were all men who were literally virgins? No. I believe this is symbolic of all believers who remain faithful to Christ. We are called the bride of Christ, and by not joining ourselves to the Beast and all he represents, but remaining faithful to Christ despite persecution, we remain pure before Him.

And John says that as his faithful bride, we follow him wherever he goes. For we were purchased by his blood and are now offered as an offering to God and the Lamb.

So again we are encouraged,

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus…”Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them.” (12-13)

How about you? Can you see beyond our present sufferings to the glory that awaits us? If you can’t do that, it will be difficult to stand, both now through whatever you’re going through, and later when we face the antichrist.

So as I said a couple of days ago, fix your eyes on Jesus. He knows what it means to set his eyes on the joy set before him in the face of suffering. And he can show you how to do it too.

Remember too the words of Paul who said,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:18, 26-28)



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Revelation 13:11-18 –A need for wisdom and insight

We now hit the second beast.

This one comes out from the earth. He has two horns like a lamb, but spoke like a dragon. In short, he looked innocent, like the Lamb of God, himself. But his words were that of Satan.

And while the first beast tries to use brute force to get people to follow him, the second beast uses deception. Not just in the things he says, but in performing miraculous signs. The end result, however, is the same: persecution of the saints.

And the thing is, there is no middle ground. You either have the mark of the beast or you have the mark of God. If you have the mark of the beast, you’ll be just fine in this world, able to live life, buying and selling the things you need to live.

But if you have the mark of God on you, you will be persecuted.

For this reason, I’m not so certain the mark of the beast is a literal one or not. If the mark of God is not a literal one we can see, (7:3-4), why should the beast’s mark be? Still, I suppose we won’t find out for sure until that time comes.

What do we get from this? You may be ready for persecution. But are you ready for deception?

Jesus told us that “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

And this second beast will be the final one of these false prophets.

How will we recognize him and the first beast he represents? John tells us to discern them, we will need wisdom and insight. (18)

He gives us the number 666 as the number of the first beast. There’s a lot of speculation on what it means and the truth is, it’s hard to be sure what it means. Which of course means we really will need wisdom and insight when the beast comes.🙂

Perhaps the meaning is simply this: 7 is the number of perfection, and so 777 reflects God in trinity. 6 is something less. It’s incomplete. And so 666  reflects that whatever the dragon, the first, and the second beast are, they will only be an incomplete image of the one true God.

And so to be truly wise and discerning, we need to know the true God so we can identify the counterfeit.

Some of you may say, “I understand what you’re saying, but what’s the point? I don’t believe we will face the antichrist and his prophet. We’ll be raptured away by then.”

But again, even if you believe we won’t face them, remember there are other antichrists and false prophets, even if they’re on a smaller scale.

And like the second beast, they come into our churches looking like lambs. They look like us and sound like us. But the truth is, they are savage wolves. And if we are to keep from being deceived by them, we will need God’s wisdom and discernment.

How much do you have?

How well do you know your Lord, and his Word? Are you able to discern the true from the counterfeit?

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Revelation 13:1-10 –A need for endurance and faithfulness

There’s a lot going on in this passage, and as usual, there’s a lot of debate over what it all means. There are two beasts that appear with the dragon (Satan). And to keep this short(er), I’ll take on these two beasts in two blogs.

The first beast comes out of the sea. It’s a strange beast that mixes the characteristics of the four beasts we read about in Daniel 7. It has all the power of the dragon, but receives a fatal wound to one of its seven heads. To the astonishment of the world, however, it is healed and restored. The result? The people fall down and worship the beast and the dragon it represents.

What does it all mean?

To some degree, this one beast could be symbolic of  all the empires that were represented by the four beasts in Daniel: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. They rose up, received a fatal wound, but came back in the form of a different empire. The end result, however, is the same: empires that worship the dragon and persecute God’s people. And in the same way, the people who follow this new beast and is part of its regime worship the dragon and persecute God’s people.

It’s interesting to note in chapter 17, that when the beast is further explained, he is described as one who once was, now is not, but will come again. (17:11)

So John seems to say that this beast had appeared before this time period John was writing in, but was not currently in the world as John was living. It’s possible he was referring to one of the former Roman emperors, perhaps Nero. Whoever he was, this emperor received a fatal wound, but will come back again as another ruler who will blaspheme God and persecute God’s people.

And this gives some credence to the idea that this beast represents not just one man, but many throughout history. As John says, there have been any antichrists from his time to the present age. (1 John 2:18). They keep appearing, dying off, and coming back again. But in that same verse, John also says that there is one final antichrist who will appear. And as we see in this passage, like all the antichrists of the past, he leads people to worship the dragon.

Oh it probably won’t be so blatant. He probably won’t be saying, “Let’s all worship Satan.” But like the Roman emperors of the past, he will have them worshiping him as their savior. As the one who brings peace and prosperity to the world. But what the people won’t know is that they are really following Satan’s representative.

More, in this time, he will blaspheme the true God, and there will be mass persecution of Christians. (7)

And from verses 7-8, it seems that everyone who is not a Christian will fall right in line with the beast.  It will become politically correct to persecute and kill all Christians.

What do we get from all this? When we face the first beast, he will come with brute force against God’s people. And so John warns,

If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (10)

It’s very similar to what Jesus told the church in Smyrna, and I would guess it really resonated with them as they heard it.

Here, though, all of us are told: Be ready. Persecution is coming. But endure, and be faithful. And you will receive the crown of life. For you will not be hurt at all by the second death if you do so. (2:10-11)

I know. I’m beating the same drum I’ve been beating since we started Revelation. But again, even if we don’t face the antichrist, it’s very possible we will face persecution before then. From our family, from our friends, from our neighbors, from our coworkers, and very possibly from our own nations.

People in North America are already seeing signs of this. It has become politically correct to slam Christians in the States even as I write this.

Are we really that far from out and out persecution?

So brace yourself. Be faithful. Endure. God may call you to go through persecution.

But if you do, remember, Jesus went through it first.

So as the writer of Hebrews said,

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)



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Revelation 12 — A beaten foe, a wrathful foe

“But why must we suffer? Why must we go through persecution? Why wouldn’t God just take us out from it all?”

If you’ve been reading through Revelation with me, especially if you believe we will be raptured before all the trouble with antichrist begins, you may be wondering why I hold so fast to this idea.

To be honest, I wish very much that God would just pluck us out. But I just don’t see it from anything I see in Revelation, and particularly in this passage.

Here we get a bird’s eye view of all that’s been happening since the time Mary was pregnant with Jesus. John tells us of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. And she was in labor, on the verge of giving birth.

Although I just mentioned Mary and it would seem that this is talking about her, it probably isn’t. When you see the symbolism of the sun, the moon, and the 12 stars, the very first thing that should come to mind is Joseph’s dream, which showed Joseph’s father Jacob (or Israel, as God renamed him), mother, and 11 brothers all bowing down to him. (Genesis 37:9-10)

So this pregnant woman seems to symbolize the nation of Israel. For it was Israel that gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah, the King.

But Satan, symbolized by the dragon (9), tried to destroy Jesus while he was on earth. We see this in Herod’s murder of all the babies (Matthew 2:16-18), and in Christ’s crucifixion. But of course, after Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.

John then sees a flashback in which he sees a war in heaven in which Satan is cast out along with his angels. And when he was thrust down to earth, he chased after the woman Israel to destroy her.

I’m not sure, but I tend to think this was particularly seen in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In this attack, Satan was trying to destroy Israel. But not all Jews were destroyed. The Christians, in particular, took Jesus’ warning to heart (Matthew 24:15-21), and fled Jerusalem before it was destroyed.

With Satan unable to destroy Israel completely, he then set his eyes on destroying her other “children.” Not the Jews by blood, but “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (17)

That is, the church. For we are the true children of Israel now, all we Jews and non-Jews who have put our faith in Jesus. (Galatians 3:29)

Why is he so full of wrath against us? Why is he so persistent in trying to destroy us?

John tells us,

He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. (12b)

And so John tells us that while those in heaven rejoice over his being cast out of there,

Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! (12a)

What do we get from all this? First, we are facing a beaten foe. He has already lost. And he knows it. His time is short, and he will be judged.

But second, until that time comes, he will take out his wrath against us. And as we have seen and will see in Revelation, that means some of us will be “conquered”, that is killed by him.

Yet the ultimate victory is ours. He may kill our bodies, but he can’t take our souls. When Satan was cast out of heaven, a loud voice cried out,

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. (10)

In other words, because of Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan has lost all right to accuse us. When he tries, God overrules all of Satan’s objections against us.

More, John tells us that though Satan may overcome the saints for a time, ultimately,

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (11)

So though Satan may attack us, though he may kill us, in the end, we win. Why?

Because Jesus won the victory for us on the cross. And by our lives and death, we testify to the change that God has brought in our hearts, proving that all of Satan’s accusations no longer have any basis.

Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them. (12a)

We already have won.

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Revelation 11 — From bad to worse…to salvation

I mentioned earlier that I was in deep waters trying to explain these things. The waters just keep getting deeper.🙂

There’s a lot of disagreement among Christians about what this chapter all means. Again, all I can say is my conclusions are tentative, but here’s what I think.

John is given a measuring rod to measure the temple and the altar, and is told to count the worshipers. But he is told to exclude the outer court because it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will trample the Holy city for 42 months.

What is this all about? There seems to be some allusion to Luke 21:24, where Jesus prophesies the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Because of this, many people take it quite literally and say this will happen again in the future. And it might. This would mean, of course, that a new temple would have to be built.

But it’s also possible that this past event is used symbolically for what will happen in the future. That the temple and the Holy city is representative of the people of God (I Corinthians 3:16-17, Revelation 21:2). And that while many will be protected by God, others will be persecuted. This is a theme you see time and again throughout Revelation as we have already seen, and we’ll see it again in chapters 12-13. It’s also something you see in Daniel (7:21, 12:7).

Throughout the next few chapters, and in Daniel, it talks about 1260 days, three and a half years, and a time, times, and half a time. All refer to the same thing. Three and a half years of intense suffering on the part of God’s people. That may be a literal time period. Or it could simply be referring to the fact that the time of suffering is not perfect (7 is a symbol of perfection), but is cut off. And indeed, Jesus talks of the tribulation being cut off for the sake of God’s chosen people. (Matthew 24:22)

Then we see two witnesses testifying to the world God’s judgment and salvation. Again, there is dispute among Christians whether they are literal people or whether they represent the church. I don’t know, but considering that the church is compared to lampstands in chapters 2-3, I think there’s a good chance it refers to the church. That Zechariah refers to two olive trees as both a ruler and a priest (Zechariah 3-4), and that the church plays both roles, (Revelation 1:6, 5:10) only adds to that conviction.

Whoever they are, these two witnesses prophesy, apparently during that three and half years of intense persecution of the church. God protects them for a time, and brings judgment through them, but at the end of that time, the beast, that is, the antichrist kills them. And all the world rejoices. Why? Because of how these witnesses tormented them with their preaching, and the judgment that came because of their prayers. (5-10).

I’m not certain if this refers to all the martyrs who have died for Christ’s sake, or whether this is yet to come. If verse 6 is purely symbolic, evoking memories of Elijah and Moses, then it could represent all the martyrs. If it is to be taken literally, then I’d have to say this is future. Verse 5 would tend to make me think it’s symbolic since I highly doubt fire will literally come out of their mouths to destroy people. Even Elisha (not Elijah) didn’t do that (See 2 Kings 1:9-12)

Anyway, the witnesses lie dead for a time, and then God resurrects them and calls them to heaven in front of all their enemies.

And if these witnesses are symbolic of the church, I tend to think this is referring to the rapture when God calls all the dead in Christ back to life. For we see soon after, the 7th trumpet being blown, and voices calling out,

The kingdom of the world had become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. (15)

The elders then worship, singing,

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and  your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and your saints, and those who reverence your name, both small and great — and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (17-18)

Then John sees God’s temple in heaven opened and the true ark of the covenant that can never be destroyed. Then judgment falls in a great storm, an earthquake, and a hailstorm.

What do we get from all this? Things will go from bad to  worse for God’s people. Jesus warned of this in the gospels. He warned of this in his letters to the 7 churches. And we see it here. Persecution will come. But it will not last forever. It will be cut short. Jesus will come back and when he does, we’ll see salvation.

Justice will come. And if we endure to the end, not only will we be saved, we’ll be greatly rewarded. And every tear we’ve cried will be wiped away.

I know. I’ve already mentioned all this. But this is the theme running throughout Revelation. We’ve seen it earlier. We’ve seen it here. And we will see it again through the final half of this book.

Why does God repeat this over and over? Probably because our suffering will be intense. It will be incredibly difficult to endure. But God wants us to know that it will not be forever.

So as we continue through the rest of this book, look for this theme. For Revelation is not simply meant to give us a peek into the future or to brace us for hardships to come. But it is to give us hope. As Paul once prayed,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

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Revelation 10 –Sweet words, sour words

Yesterday, I asked the question: how does heaven see judgment? And the answer was, “not with joy, but with solemnity.”

When the 7th seal was about to be opened, all of heaven, usually a place of joyful celebration, fell silent.

Today’s question is, “How do we view God’s judgment?”

Here in chapter 10, we see a mighty angel coming from heaven, holding a little scroll. (1-2) What is on the scroll? Probably what we see in chapters 11 and following. Words describing the persecution of God’s church, the coming of Christ, and God’s final judgment.

This angel stands on the land and the sea. It’s interesting that the two beasts (antichrist and his prophet) that join with the dragon (Satan) in chapters 13, come from the land and the sea, to form an unholy trinity.

So in standing on the land and the sea, and radiating with God’s glory, perhaps this angel symbolizes the fact that there is still only one God who’s in control, no matter what Satan tries to do. And judgment is coming.

You see that in the 7 thunders that John hears, which appear to be words of judgment, though John is told not to reveal those words. (3-4)

Then the angel proclaims, “There will be no more delay.” (6)

In other words, “the 7th angel is about to blow his trumpet, final judgment is coming, and all of God’s plans will now come to fruition.”

Then John is told,

Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land. (8)

He obeys, and the angel tells him,

Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey. (9)

John does so, and the scroll indeed tastes sweet, but then becomes sour in his stomach.

Then the angel told him,

You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings. (11)

What is this all about?

We see a similar occurrence in Ezekiel 2-3. Ezekiel is given a scroll to eat and it is as sweet as honey. And he is told to prophesy what is on the scroll, words of lament, mourning and woe. He is told however, that the people will not listen to him, and Ezekiel leaves the presence of God in bitterness and in the anger of his spirit (3:14).

Why is he bitter? Why is he angry? Perhaps he is angry at how the people will respond. And he is bitter because these are people he loves who will be judged.

I think John felt the same way. When he took in the words of God, they were sweet to him, as God’s words usually are. It’s such a privilege to have the living God speak to you, to understand his plans, especially his plan of salvation, and to be part of them.

But when people reject these very words you find sweet, and you realize that these people you love are facing judgment as a result, it is a bitter thing indeed.

And that’s how we as Christians ought to see judgment. Not as a sweet thing. But a bitter thing.

It’s bitter especially when we see people we love facing judgment. But remember: to God, it’s bitter for him to see anyone facing judgment, because he loves us all.

Sometimes, we look at passages like Luke 19 and the parable of the minas, and we think God almost delights in the destruction of his enemies. (Luke 19:27)

But we forget that shortly after teaching this parable, Jesus stood outside Jerusalem weeping over the destruction that would fall over Jerusalem, saying,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace. (42)

So let us never rejoice over God’s judgment of the wicked. Rather, let us weep. And like John and Ezekiel, let us pray and reach out to these people in love that they may never have to face God’s condemnation.

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Revelation 8-9 — The gravity of judgment

How does heaven see injustice? And how does heaven see judgment when it comes?

I think we find both answers here. Normally, heaven rings with the worship of the cherubim, seraphim, the elders, and all the saints. But when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was dead silence. Why? Judgment was coming.

Oh, it had already come in part by the opening of the earlier seals. But from here on out, the judgments only grow in intensity and awfulness, as we shall see.

But it all starts with an angel coming with much incense to the altar of God. And he offers it to God along with the prayers of the saints. What prayers? Most likely the prayers we saw in chapter 6; the prayers of the martyrs crying for justice.

At that time, God said, “Wait a little while.”

But now the time for justice had come.

Seven angels are given seven trumpets. And one by one, they are blown.

Again, a lot of this language is fantastic and highly figurative, so it’s hard to know exactly what it’s talking about.

But the hail and fire coming after the first trumpet is reminiscent of the plagues God sent down on Egypt. (Exodus 9:23-25)

That could very well be literal considering that it happened to Egypt. And a third of the earth and the trees are burned, and all the grass as well. The “third” may be literal or not, but considering how they often use that number throughout these two chapters, I think it merely has the idea of a significant number.

The second trumpet is blown and a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, perhaps referring to volcanic eruptions and their after-effects. (There was an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79  which destroyed ships and killed marine life).

The third trumpet is blown and a great star fell from heaven making a third of the waters bitter, and killing many people. Whether this is some kind of meteorite, or simply a symbol of something that contaminates the water, I don’t know. Again, this and the death of the those in the sea from the second trumpet are reminiscent of the plague on Egypt when God turned the Nile to blood. (Exodus 7:20-24)

The fourth angel blows his trumpet and a third of the sun, moon, and stars are struck. This is why I says the number 1/3 is probably symbolic. How in the world do you strike a third of the sun. And even if you do, do you really reduce it’s light by exactly one-third? At any rate, like with Egypt, an unexplained darkness falls upon the earth.

And then things get worse, what the eagle calls the three woes. (8:13)

The fifth trumpet is blown, and swarms of locust from hell itself come out to devastate the earth, again a reference to one of the plagues on Egypt (Exodus 10:12-15)

But these are not literal locust. They seem to be demons. Why? Their king is an angel whose name is Abaddon or Apollyon, Hebrew and Greek for “destroyer.”

Second, their attack is not on the plant-life, but on people, to torture them. Third, the attack is specifically on those who are not sealed and protected by God (see chapter 7).

Then the sixth trumpet is blown, and the four angels from chapter 7 that were held back from wrecking destruction on the earth are released. And the picture seems to be that of full-scale war, with a third of mankind being wiped out as a result (an increase from the fourth that were killed in chapter 6 verse 8).

And yet, people do not repent. Rather, they continue in their sin for which they were being judged.

Sometimes people wonder why hell has to be eternal. After all, wouldn’t some, if not all, repent after being sent there? I think we find the answer here and later in chapter 16. And the answer is a resounding no. Despite their suffering, they continue in their sinful attitudes and even curse God.

Is it any wonder that all heaven was silent at the opening of the seven seals?

God does not delight in judgment. But he is a God of justice. And he will not put off the cries of his saints forever. He hears their prayers. And he will bring judgment.

So remember: If you’re a Christian crying out wondering where justice is in this world, God hears. And the time for justice will come.

But also remember that judgment is not something to be taken lightly. Heaven doesn’t. Neither should we.

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Revelation 6:15-7:17 — Those who will stand on the day of wrath

At the end of chapter 6, in looking at the events coming with the sixth seal, the great and small of the earth cry out to the mountains and the rocks,

Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (6:16-17)

Who can stand? The answer is found in chapter 7. Here John sees four angels, ready to release the winds of judgment upon the earth. But another angel comes, and says,

Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the forehead of the servant of our God. (7:3)

This is very reminiscent of another time when God sealed his own people to protect them from the judgment that was coming in the book of Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 9:3-7)

And here we see God sealing 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel.

This is one of those things that people argue endlessly about. Who are the 144,000? I think the number is symbolic of all the redeemed. You see 12 (tribes of Israel) times 12 (apostles) times 1000 (a number signifying completeness). These compose the new Israel that is in Jesus Christ.

Why wouldn’t they be literal Jews? First, it’s not the original 12 sons of Jacob (Dan is omitted and Manasseh, Joseph’ son is included), nor is it the 12 tribes that inherited the promised land (Dan is omitted, Levi is included, and Joseph is listed instead of Ephraim). Add to to the fact that all the tribal lines are completely mixed, and it seems unlikely they are talking about literal Jews.

And just as you see a mixing of metaphors concerning Jesus where he is the Lion and the Lamb in chapter 5, it seems likely to me that there’s another mixing of metaphors where the 144,000 are the great multitude seen in 7:9; a people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb.

And they cry out,

Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. (7:7)

The elder then explains to John,

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe every tear from their eye.” (7:14-17)

What is he saying?

Times of trouble are to come. When antichrist comes, there will be persecution, and many will die for the sake of Christ. But as Jesus told the church of Smyrna (2:8-10), it is only for a time.

Though we may face the wrath of the Satan and his antichrist, we will be sealed and protected from the wrath of God and his Christ.

And in the end, we will stand before God, and serve and worship him forever. Never again will we have to suffer as we do on earth. And on that day, we will see Jesus face to face. He will give us life eternal. And every tear we’ve cried while here on earth will be wiped away. That is the hope for all who put their faith in Christ.

So we have a choice. Do we take the seal of God and face the wrath of Satan? Or do we take Satan’s mark and face the wrath of God. There is no other option.

What will you choose?


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Revelation 6:9-11 — How long until justice comes?

We jumped the fifth seal yesterday because it takes a slightly different perspective from the other five we looked at. Seals 1-4 and seal 6 all have to do with the judgments going on upon the earth.

Here in seal 5, we see something that happens in heaven.

Jesus opens the seal and John sees under the altar the souls of those who died for Jesus’ sake. And they cry out in a loud voice,

How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? (10)

Who are these martyrs? I think these are all those who have died from the time of Stephen (Acts 7) on.

Throughout history, many have died for the sake of Christ. And it’s easy to wonder, where is the justice?

When we are persecuted and for Christ’s sake, why don’t we see God’s justice?

Jesus’ answer to these martyrs is very interesting. He told them to “wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (6:11)

In short, there will be persecution all the way until Christ’s return. Until that time, God is patient. Why? Because he’s still waiting for as many people to enter the kingdom before he returns. But when he comes, justice will come.

And in the meantime, he will give those who have died for his sake peace and rest.

This world often seems unfair. We often suffer and we can’t understand why.

Jesus never promises we won’t face trouble. He guarantees it. (John 16:33)

It’s one of the reasons why I’m skeptical that Jesus will pull the church out before antichrist comes.

But though we may suffer, know justice will eventually come. And remember the words of Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)


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Revelation 6 — The beginning of the end

I am now officially in deep waters. For that matter, so is everyone else who starts trying to comment on these passages. The number of interpretations for these passages are legion. All I can I say is that many of my interpretations are at best tentative.

In Revelation, you see three categories of judgment, the 7 seals, the 7 trumpets, and the 7 bowls. Some people think they are all concurrent judgments. Some think they are chronological. One thing is certain: things will go from bad to worse before our Lord comes.

My guess, is that these judgments are chronological with a possibility of overlap between them. These seal judgments in particular seem to be what Jesus refers to as not the end itself, but rather the “beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:8)

And I think there’s a good chance that a lot of what’s written here is happening even as I write this.

Jesus opens the first seal, and out comes a white horse with a rider who has a bow and a crown and who is bent on conquest. (2)

To me, this symbolizes what Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:6-7. Wars. Rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Sound familiar at all?

Jesus opens the second seal and a fiery red horse comes out, and its rider is given power to take peace from the earth and make men slay each other. (4)

In other words, not only will people will die because of war, but people will start murdering each other. Not to say that this had never happened before in history, but it will become almost epidemic. Again, does this sound familiar? Just read the news everyday with all the terrorism, murders and mass murders.

He opens a third seal and a black horse comes out with scales saying,

A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine. (6)

This seems to indicate famine, where a small amount of food costs an inordinate amount of money. This famine is not as bad as it could be, however, as the oil and wine are not touched. Again this seems to refer to Matthew 24:7 where Jesus tells us there will be famines as part of the birth pains.

Jesus opens the fourth seal, and a black horse comes out representing death. And this seems to to sum up the previous three seals with two additional things: plague and even the wild beasts of the earth turning against people.

I’ll come back to the fifth seal tomorrow, but for now will go to the sixth seal. Here we see a great earthquake, the sun turns black and the moon turns to blood with stars falling from the sky. The sky recedes like a scroll and every mountain and island is removed from its place.

Is all this literal? I don’t know. Perhaps the main point of all this is that there is a great earthquake; everything else is figurative of how things feel to the people of the earth after experiencing the earthquake. That is, because of the the earthquake’s awesomeness, the whole world seems to be falling apart.

Here in Japan, we have suffered two great earthquakes in 1995 and 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those who went through it would look at these passages and say, “Yes, that’s what it felt like.”

So what do we get from all this?

A theologian named D.A. Carson once said something like this: We can look at all the problems the earth has. War. Murder. Famine. Earthquakes. Plagues. And when asked about the cause, we can point to a lot of of sociological and natural explanations.

Or we can say God has allowed all these things.

Both are true, but what is more fundamental?

The truth is, because of sin in this world, judgment is coming. And all these things we see on earth now are a mere prelude to the final judgment. God has allowed them all. Why? Is it just to judge us?

No. It is also in part to drive people to him.

If there were never any trouble in this world, I guarantee you that a majority of people would never turn to Christ because they would never see their need for him. But because of the judgments of God, they see their sinfulness and their need for his salvation, and repent.

The question is, when you see these judgments, how will you respond? Will you merely cringe in fear? (15-16)

Will you scream in defiance? (Revelation 16:9)

Or will you repent?

Judgment is coming. Are you ready?

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Revelation 5 — The one on whom all God’s plans rest

I have to admit, until recently, I had never really thought about Revelation as being centered around the gospel. But we saw very early on in chapter one, that Revelation starts with the gospel, and here now we see that it is centered on the gospel. And in the final chapters, we see the gospel consummated.

In chapter 4, we saw God the Father sitting on his throne receiving all the worship and adoration he deserves. And now in chapter 5, John notices something new. There is a scroll in the Father’s right hand, with writing on both the front and back, and sealed with 7 seals. It seems very reminiscent of a Roman will in which the outside writing summarizes the details within. And the only only way for the will to be executed is for someone to break the seals and to see what is in it.

In this scroll contains all God’s purposes for history. But the seals prevent them from being carried out. And so a mighty angel cries out,

Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? (2)

The response? A deafening silence.

Think about this. The 24 elders sitting on their thrones were there. The 4 living creatures were there. Thousands upon thousands of angels were there. There were wonderful Christians living on the earth. People like John. There were wonderful Christians who had died and were now with God in heaven. People like Peter and Paul. Not one was worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. (3)

And so John wept. All God’s plans were for naught. They would remain sealed in the scroll, forever dormant. (4)

But then one of the elders said,

Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. (5)

John looks up expecting to see Jesus. Or perhaps a great lion symbolizing Jesus. And he sees…a lamb. And not just a lamb, but a lamb looking as if it had been slain.

Indeed, John probably made the mistake that many Jews had made. When they thought of their triumphant Messiah, they thought of a conquering Lion. And Jesus is a Lion. But he conquered by dying like a Lamb. He is the Lion and the Lamb.

He had 7 horns, symbolizing great power, and 7 eyes which symbolize not only his omniscience, but the Holy Spirit of God within him. The same power and Spirit that raised him from the dead in victory. (Ephesians 1:19-20, Romans 8:11)

Jesus took the scroll from the Father’s hand, and when he did, the four living creatures and the 12 elders took a break from their usual refrain (4:8, 11), and sang a new song.

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals. (9a)


…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (9b)

In these words we see the fullness of the gospel, and God’s plans for eternity. That through the blood of Jesus, we were redeemed from our sin and made his people, his kingdom, and his priests. And we will serve God forever, reigning in the new heavens and earth when he makes all things new.

And because of this, all creation in heaven and on earth cry out,

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise…To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever…Amen. (12-14)

This is what Revelation is all about. It’s about the gospel, and the Lion and the Lamb who made it all possible.

And through this gospel, we can know that we have hope, for all God’s plans will come to fruition.

So let us sing with all God’s angels and all creation, “Worthy is the Lamb!”



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Revelation 4 — Honoring our King who sits on the throne

“I am a friend of God,” says one contemporary worship song.

“We are children of God,” proclaims the apostle John in one of his epistles. (I John 3:1)

And yet while both are true, one thing that we should never forget is that he is also our king. And he is worthy of our honor and our praise.

Here in Revelation 4, we step into the very throne room of God, and we see God in all his glory as king.

As is often the case when people try to describe God, John finds it impossible to describe Him in detail. All he can do is give us glimpses of His glory, comparing Him to precious stones such as jasper and carnelian, and emerald. (3) Not to say that God is a gem, of course, but that His glory radiates with great beauty.

John then tells us that from his throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder which recall the awesomeness of God’s power which the Israelites witnessed on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:16)

And before the throne were 7 blazing lamps or torches. (5) Back in those days, torches were set before rulers to show their authority. But John tells us these lamps also symbolize the “seven spirits of God,” which we saw in chapter 1 probably refers to the Holy Spirit.

Leading up to the throne was a sea of glass, like crystal. It’s not clear whether this is an actual sea that John sees or it’s a pavement of glass that sparkled like crystal (NLT). Either way, imagine approaching God on that.

Before you even get to God, you have to go past some beings which are glorious in their own rights.

First are the 24 elders on their thrones. People dispute who they are, but my guess is that they are a high order of angels, who also perhaps represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles joining as one people before God. They are dressed in white, showing their holiness, and have crowns on their head, perhaps showing the authority they have.

Second are four living creatures which seem to merge the characteristics of the angels called cherubim (Ezekiel 1:5-14; Ezekiel 10), and seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-3). These creatures are also angels of high order who would later help execute God’s judgment on the earth. John says one was like a lion, another like an ox, the third like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle. And perhaps they represent all of creation serving and praising God, the wild (lion), the domesticated (ox), humanity, and the birds (eagle).

It’s also possible they represent God’s majesty (lion), strength (ox), intelligence (man), and loving care (eagle — see Exodus 19:4).

But the thing that stands out to me, is that as awesome as these beings are, they all bow in worship to God.

The four creatures cry out day and night,

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (8)

And as they do so, these mighty elders, rulers in their own right, throw their crowns before the God who gave them their authority singing,

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (11)

What can we get from all this?

First and foremost, that though God is our father and our friend, he is also the king upon the throne. He is the almighty God. And he is worthy of our worship.

Sin comes when we refuse to recognize this one all-important fact.

Second, he is the king, and he is in control. Although this world sometimes seems out of control, and things will go from bad to worse as we will see later in Revelation, God is on his throne, and nothing happens apart from his will. And ultimately, he will triumph, to his praise and glory.

Amen. Come soon Lord Jesus.


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Revelation 3:14-22 — Self-sufficent, indifferent, and useless

When my daughter was really young, I would often come home and when I did, she would come running to greet me with a happy, “Daddy!”

But nowadays, I’ll come home, and if I’m lucky, I’ll hear her say, “Okaeri” (which means “welcome home” in Japanese).

But many times, she’ll be so involved in what she’s doing, she won’t even notice me.

It’s pretty sad how excited love can turn into utter indifference.

In a lot of ways, the church in Laodicea was that way. It is the one church among the seven that Jesus talks to that he says nothing good about. At least with the church in Sardis, he mentioned a few people that were excluded from his rebuke. He makes no exceptions here.

What was their problem? Jesus tells them,

I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (15)

What is Jesus saying here?

Near Laodicea, there were two cities famous for their water. Hierapolis was known for its hot springs that were good for healing. Colosse was known for its cold and refreshing drinking water. Laodicea, on the other hand, had to get its water from some hot springs from the south through a six-mile aqueduct. And by the time the water got to Laodicea, it was tepid, and near undrinkable.

In short, their water was totally useless. It was neither hot enough to relax in as a hot spring, nor was it cold and tasty enough to drink.

The church, when it is functioning right, can be very useful to its Lord. When it touches people, it brings spiritual healing to them, just as the hot springs of Hierapolis brought physical healing to the people that went there. Through the love of Christ, the church can also bring refreshment to those who are weary and tired from being beaten down in this world.

But Laodicea did neither. They were totally useless to the Lord, and because of that, he told them, “You are just like your water. And I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Why had they become this way? They thought they were self-sufficient, and as a result became totally indifferent to their Lord.

Jesus told them,

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But  you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. (16)

This church was filled with people who were totally reliant on themselves. They were part of a city, in fact, that when it had been leveled by an earthquake, refused help from the Roman government, saying, “We’ve got this. We’ll rebuild our city ourselves.”

This church was the same. They were so wealthy, and so self-sufficient, they no longer saw their need for Christ. Church had simply became a social club to them. The result? They became totally useless to Christ when it came to touching this world for him. Worse, they had become so indifferent to him, they had literally pushed him out the door, saying, “We’re good. We don’t need you.”

But the reality was, they were in desperate spiritual straits. And so Jesus told them,

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (18)

All these were strikes against the Laodicean’s self-sufficiency. They were rich, mostly because of the black wool and eye salve they sold. But Jesus said, “All this is not enough. You are dying without me.”

I know many non-Christians here in Japan that are that way. One of the biggest problems we face is that so many people are “self-sufficient.” They think their lives are good enough, and they are blind to their own spiritual need. They see no need for Christ.

What’s even worse is when Christians become that way. They totally forget their need for Christ.

Oh, maybe in the past they needed him, but now they say, “I’m good,” and push him out the door. They may still go to church. But in every other aspect of their lives, their time, their finances, their work, their relationships, they push him out the door. He is no longer a part of any of these things.

When Christians become this way, they become useless to their Lord. And when the church is filled with people like this like Laodicea was, it’s in real trouble.

And so Jesus told them,

Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (19)

I like how the NLT translates “repent” in this passage. It says, “Turn from your indifference!”

Then Jesus said,

Here I am! I stand at  the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me. (20)

The Laodiceans had pushed Jesus out the door. Now he was knocking, and he was saying, “I still love you. I’m offering you a chance to renew our relationship. Won’t you open the door?”

How about you? Have you become indifferent to Jesus? Have you pushed him out the door, basically telling him, “I’m good. I don’t need you anymore.”

Jesus still loves you and he wants to make you a useful part of his kingdom. And if you will turn from your indifference, one day you will reign with him in glory. (21)

But if you don’t, discipline is coming.

How about your church? Has it simply become a social club for the self-satisfied?

If it doesn’t repent, it will be removed from its place as a light to this world.

What is Jesus saying to you and your church today?





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Revelation 3:7-13 — Never shut out

All of us know what it is to be shut out. To be left out by others and snubbed.

I remember walking up to a bunch of guys in high school, and one guy turned to me and said, “What are you doing here? Get lost!”

That’s what the church in Philadelphia was facing. Like the church in Smyrna, they were being snubbed by the Jews living there, and couldn’t even enter the synagogue to worship.

But Jesus tells them, “I am the one who holds the key of David.” (7)

In other words, “I am the one that holds the key to the everlasting kingdom God promised to David and his descendants. For I am the one who is the fulfillment of all those promises.

“And I have opened the door to you. No one, not even these Jews can shut you out. In fact, they are not true Jews at all. They are a synagogue of Satan. Now you are the true Jews, along with all those who have put their faith in me. And the day will come when these false Jews will admit this.” (7-9)

Then he tells them,

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (10)

I’ve mentioned before that I think we will have to face the antichrist someday. There are those, however, who look at this verse and think this means we will be taken before he comes. I think there are two problems with this view.

First, there are many other scriptures that seem to say we will have to face him and endure the great tribulation. Second, Jesus was talking to the church that existed in John’s day. And I don’t think anyone believes the Christians in Philadelphia were raptured away before their trials came. What I think Jesus was saying is that in the midst of the trouble that was coming upon the world, he would protect them.

When I think of open and closed doors, I think of Noah, and I think it’s a fitting symbol here. The door to the ark was open for Noah and his family to enter, but after they did, God himself shut it. (Genesis 7:16)

And during the flood, God didn’t “rapture” Noah and his family to heaven, or whisk them away to another land untouched by the flood. Rather, in the midst of the flood, he protected them.

As we look at the rest of Revelation, I think we see that this is exactly what will happen during the time of antichrist and the great tribulation.

The thing to remember in tribulation is what Jesus says next.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (11)

I think one thing that people fear is that in the face of tribulation they will be to weak to stand. That they won’t be able to hold on and that they will lose their crown.

But look at what Jesus told this church.

I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name. (8)

This church too saw itself as weak. Jesus himself said, “You are weak.” And yet, in the midst of trial, they stood strong.

I think that what it shows is that our own personal strength or will is not important in whether we stand or not. Rather, what’s important is the grace of God in our lives. And by his grace, we will stand.

And Jesus says,

Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (12)

In short, you will never be shut out. I have established you as a pillar in my house and I have written my name on you. You are mine and ever will be.

As I read that, I can’t help but think of that old song.

Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong.
They are weak but he is strong.

Yes Jesus loves me.
Yes Jesus loves me.
Yes Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.


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Revelation 3:1-6 — If we are caught unprepared

The city of Sardis was supposed to be a near impenetrable city. But twice it fell. Why? Because their watchmen were asleep on the job.

And here Jesus uses their own history to try to wake up the church that dwelt there.

He said,

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (1-3)

What is Jesus saying here?

Like the city it dwelt in, the church seemed strong, healthy, and alive. But it was dead as it stood. Why? Because Jesus was coming in judgment, and the church  wasn’t ready for it.

In what ways was the church not ready? Jesus tells them, “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”

What does that mean? I’m not entirely sure, but I think there were probably two things. Number one, they had let holiness slip in their lives. They had started to compromise and do things they knew were wrong.

That’s why Jesus draws a sharp contrast between those who were “sleeping” and those few in the church who had, “not soiled their clothes.” (4)

But there is probably another thing he meant. This church in the past had probably done a lot of good, touching the lives of the world around them. But perhaps, they had now become self-centered. They were no longer focusing on touching the world. Instead, they were resting on their laurels, looking with pride at what they had done, but doing little else.

As a result, they were dying spiritually. Their works were incomplete in holiness and in mission.

And Jesus said, “Get back to basics. Remember the things that are truly important. Repent from your inward way of thinking. Repent of your sins. For if you don’t, I will come back, and you will be judged.”

It is in fact, very similar to all the parables Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25.

Often times, we look at these parables and this letter to Sardis, and think of them in individualistic terms. Are we as individual Christians ready for our Lord’s return?

And there is definitely an element of that here, particularly in verses 4-5 when Jesus addresses the individual faithful in the church.

But remember that this letter for the most part is addressed to the church at large.

And like the church in Sardis, many churches have the reputation of being alive, but are dead. They seem so vibrant because of their dynamic pastors, emotional worship, and bright atmosphere. But inside they are rotting from the undealt with sin in their lives. From the compromise that belies their professions of faith.

Other churches are resting on the laurels of what they did years ago. Before they were reaching out and touching their community for Christ. But now, they look around at each other and what they accomplished, and they spend all their time congratulating themselves. They have essentially become a social club, simply enjoying the fellowship they have with each other. But they forget that their work is not yet finished, and will not be until Jesus returns.

And that’s the key thing to remember. Jesus is coming back. When he comes back, how will he find our churches? Will he find us alive, touching the world for him? Or will he find a self-centered church? Or just as bad, a soiled church?

What does he see when he sees your church?


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Revelation 2:12-29 — Tolerating evil in our midst


It used to have such a good meaning.

It used to mean that even if we disagreed with someone, we could still love them and at the very least have a civil relationship with them.

Now it means that you can’t ever say that they’re wrong. Particularly when it comes to sin.

And the problem with many churches today is that this is exactly what they do. When sin comes into the church, they tolerate it. Not in the sense of welcoming non-Christians and working to bring them to Christ that they may be saved.

But in the sense of looking at their sin, worse, looking at other Christians’ sins and saying that it is not sin at all.

And that’s what was happening in the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira.

These churches had their good points. Pergamum had remained faithful to Christ even in the face of persecution, and the death of one of their own, a man named Antipas. (2:13)

And Thyatira, unlike Ephesus, continued to show their passion for Christ, doing more than they had at first. (19)

But both had fallen into the trap of “tolerance.”

The church at Pergamum tolerated people who held false beliefs. Beliefs that led them into idolatry and sexual sin.

These were the very sins that Balaam had led the Israelites into back when they were traveling in the desert. Because God forbade Balaam from cursing Israel directly, Balaam took the back door by getting the Israelite men to marry Moabite women, knowing it would lead them into idolatry and the curse of God.

Now these people at Pergamum were falling into the same kind of sin, and the leaders were doing nothing about it.

The church at Thyatira did much the same, tolerating a prophetess that Jesus derisively named “Jezebel.” In Israel’s history, a woman named Jezebel had once led her husband King Ahab, and as a result all of Israel into idolatry.

And now this woman, in teaching the “deeper secrets of God,” was leading the Thyatirans into idolatry and sexual sin as well.

And Jesus warns, “Judgment is coming.”

In revealing himself to the Pergamum church, he emphasizes the double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. But this sword is not to heal, but to cut and judge. (12, 16)

To the church at Thyatira, he reveals himself as the one whose eyes are like fire, seeing the evil going on in the darkness and burning away all the veils that would hide their evil, and with feet like bronze to trample on all the evil that was going on. (18)

He in fact warns that because Jezebel refused to repent despite multiple warnings, he would make her and those who followed her suffer until they repented. And if they would not repent, they would die. (22-23)

Did Jesus mean this literally? I think he did. We see this in Acts 5:1-10, I Corinthians 5:5, and I Corinthians 11:27-30.

For while we may be “tolerant” of evil, Jesus is not when it is infecting his church.

But if we will fight and overcome this evil in the church, Jesus says that he will give us some of the hidden manna and a white stone. (2:17)

The Jews believed that when the Messiah came, the Ark of the Covenant would reappear and all would eat manna at his banquet. In that context, the white stone could refer to the stone given to victors at games for entrance at a celebration banquet.

More, Jesus told the Thyatirans that he would give them authority over the nations when he comes back to rule as king. And he would also give them the morning star. Jesus himself, is called the morning star (see Revelation 22:16), and so perhaps this is a reference to a close relationship with Jesus himself.

But for those who refuse to repent, only judgment remains.

As bad as “tolerance” is right now in the church, it will only get worse when antichrist and his false prophet appears. When that happens, the only thing that won’t be tolerated is the true faith that we preach.

And if we are tolerating evil now, what will happen when antichrist comes?

How about you and your church? Are you tolerating evil in your midst?

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Revelation 2:8-11 — Though we may go through trial and tribulation

I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that these letters to the churches were meant to prepare us for the antichrists and tribulations to come .

And again, I know many of you who read this believe that we won’t see the final antichrist when he comes or have to endure the great tribulation.

But as I read through Revelation and the other books of the New Testament, I don’t see that at all. What comes through time and again is that we will go through trial and trouble in this world, and particularly when antichrist comes. I don’t see anything in scripture that makes me believe we’ll escape these things entirely.

What I do see is that though we may not escape these things, that God will never abandon us. That these things are only for a time. And that God calls us to keep holding onto him no matter what happens.

And we see all these things in this passage.

Jesus is talking to a church called Smyrna. And as Jesus addresses them, he refers to himself as the first and the last, the one who died and came to life again. (8)

That latter is particularly interesting because Smyrna itself died and came to life again. It was destroyed in 600 BC and remarkably restored in 290 BC.

Now, the Christians in Smyrna were facing death because of their faith in Christ. And so Jesus encourages them by reminding them that no matter what happens, he is in control for he is the first and the last. He had the first word when this world was created, and he will have the last when all is said and done.

More, he was the one who conquered death. And though these Christians were facing death, like Jesus, they too would rise again to eternal life.

He told them,

I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (9)

Apparently, these people were being persecuted by the Jews. By this time in history, the Jews were starting to tell the Roman Empire, “These Christians are not a sect of Judaism. Many are not Jews at all. They’re Gentiles. So when they refuse to worship the emperor like your law requires, they are not under the same religious protections we are under. Go after them.”

As a result, persecution was starting to come to the Christians.

But Jesus tells them, “Don’t let them tell you that you are not true Jews. You are. You are the true descendants of Abraham because you have come to me by faith just as Abraham did. They are the false Jews. And their synagogue is not a synagogue of God, but of Satan.”

Then he tells them, “Don’t worry, persecution won’t come your way. I’ll rescue from all trouble that may come your way.”

Is that what he said? Hardly. He said,

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (10a)

In short, “You will suffer. But don’t be afraid. Satan will have his way with you, but it won’t be forever. It will only be for a little while.”

The same is true today and the same will be true when we face antichrist. We will face suffering. But Jesus reminds us, “It’s only for a moment.”

And so he admonishes us,

Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (10b-11)

Jesus said pretty much the same thing to his disciples when he was still on earth. He said,

He said,

Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

If you fear God, you need not fear anything else, not even death. For though people can destroy your body, they can’t touch your soul. And Jesus says the second death, that is hell, won’t touch you. Instead you will have life with him forever in heaven.

How about you? Are you facing persecution because of your faith? Remember that it is but for a short time. And no matter what people may say or do to you, they can’t touch what’s really important.

So be faithful. For even if you should die for his sake, yet shall you live. (John 11:25)


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Revelation 2:1-7 — If the church has not love…

We now come to the first admonition to the church in Ephesus. Jesus actually has a lot to praise them for. They were working hard for him. In the face of hardships, they persevered and didn’t grow weary. (2a)

More, they were quite vigilant against false teachers, testing those who claimed to be apostles but weren’t. And when they were found to be false, the church kicked them out. (2b) They simply wouldn’t tolerate any kind of false teaching. (6)

But still there was a problem. Jesus told them,

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first. (4-5)

Too many churches are like this today. They work hard in their ministries. When persecution comes, they endure.

More, they are very vigilant in their doctrine. They are quick to warn against false teachers. And they refuse to tolerate sin in their midst.

But they’ve lost what is most important: their love for God and their love for others. And without that love they become a shell of what God wants them to be.

And God tells them, “Repent. I don’t want you to simply be hardworking servants. I don’t want you to simply be patient martyrs. I don’t want you to simply be vigilant soldiers. I want you to be a people who actually love me. And I want you share the love I’ve given you with those I’ve put around you.”

If we don’t?

I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (5b)

Remember here that the lampstand represents the church, not salvation. So when he says this, he’s saying, “If you, my church, don’t return to its first love, I will remove you from its place. Oh you may still have your church services, but I will no longer use you as a light in this world.”

I think of I Corinthians 13 as I read this. Let me paraphrase.

If our churches are sound in their doctrine, calling out false teachers and kicking them out, preaching holiness and denouncing sin, but they have not love, they are only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.

If our churches are hardworking, giving to the poor and doing all sorts of ministry within the church and without, but have not love, they are nothing.

If our churches endure persecution and stand fast in the midst of it, but have not love, they gain nothing.

Antichrists are here. The antichrist is coming. And many troubles will come along with him. But if we have not love, we are not ready to deal with any of these things.

How is your church? Is it ready to deal with these things? Or is it about to be removed from its lampstand?

And how about you? Have you lost your first love?

Jesus says,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (7)

This word is for you and your church.

If you can overcome antichrists, troubles, and persecution, all without losing your love for him and others, Jesus says he will give you the right to eat from the tree of life, which in the paradise of God. (7b).

What will Jesus say to us when we stand before him on judgment day?

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Revelation 1:10-20 — In order that we might be prepared

I was intending to dive straight into chapter 2 today, but I felt there was something that I needed to say before we started.

By far, the parts of Revelation that are preached most often in churches are chapters 2 and 3. Why? Because they’re probably the “easiest” to understand. They sound very much like the other epistles that Paul and the other apostles wrote to the churches.

But I think there’s something we all need to keep in mind. There was a reason that Jesus spoke these messages to the church. The reason? The end is near.

I’ve mentioned before that we are in the last days, and we’ve been in the last days since the days of the apostles. (Acts 2:16-17, Hebrews 1:2, I John 2:18).

And as John mentioned in his letter, while an ultimate antichrist will someday come, there will be many antichrists in the meantime. In fact, many antichrists had already come in John’s time. (I John 2:18)

And we are warned that with these antichrists will come false prophets and teachers. People will go about deceiving and being deceived. If that weren’t enough, God’s people will be persecuted for their faith.

Because of all these things, God will pour out his judgment on the earth. Some of it will come through people, as in wars and violence. Some of it will come through natural means, such as natural disasters and plagues.

These are things that are mentioned time and time again in the book of Revelation.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should. We’ve seen it throughout the history of the church. And it’s happening even now.

And God’s word to the church in John’s time is the same as it is now. Because the problems plaguing the church then in the face of their antichrists are basically the same problems that plague us now as we face ours.

So these letters to the churches are not just meant to be ordinary “peacetime” admonitions. These are admonitions to prepare us for the antichrists we face now, and the ultimate antichrist we will face in the future. They are to prepare us for the tribulations we face now, and the tribulations we’ll face when the ultimate antichrist comes.

As we look at these letters in the next several days then, keep this in mind. I know many of you who read this don’t think we’ll face the antichrist or the great tribulation. I hope we don’t.

But even if you believe that, remember that the church has always faced antichrists and tribulations. So even if God in his grace pulls us out before the antichrist shows up and the great tribulation starts, we will face other antichrists and tribulations before then. And these letters are meant to prepare us for them.

Are you prepared? To be prepared, we need to listen to what Jesus has said.

So as Jesus says time and again in these letters,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (2:7)



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Revelation 1:9-20 — The one to whom we must give account

Judgment day.

It is coming for all of us. And it comes first and foremost for us who believe. This is something that we see from this passage to the end of chapter 3.

In his vision, John hears a voice call out to him, and when he turns, he sees Jesus walking among 7 lampstands with 7 stars in his hands.

But this is not the Jesus he remembers, at least not entirely. He sees Jesus in his glory.

One thing that I’m not sure of is if John literally saw Jesus as how he describes or if he is simply using figurative language to get across his meaning.

Either way, I think what he is saying is that we as the church are accountable to Jesus, and he will judge us.

There are a lot of symbols in Revelation. Some are explained clearly and some are not. In this passage, the symbols of the lampstands and the stars are explained. Jesus is walking among the lampstands, which Jesus says are the 7 churches John was to write to, while the seven stars are their angels. (20)

What he means by angels have been disputed since angels can simply mean “messengers.” But considering that angels do seem to play some part in the churches (I Corinthians 11:10), I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that there are angels assigned to each church.

But again, the picture is of Jesus walking among the churches, and as we shall see in chapters 2-3 he is inspecting them. And though he has given charge to his angels to watch over these churches, these angels themselves are in his hands.

As we look at the description John gives of Jesus, we see certain things about our Judge.

First, he is wise. That’s what his white hair symbolizes. Not that he is some decrepit old man, but that he is infinitely wise in his judgments.

Second, his eyes like burning fire symbolize the fact that he sees through everything. (See 2:23). His eyes burn away all the veils that would cover the truth and lay bare the things that are hidden.

Third, his feet are like bronze, crushing everything that is beneath them. In other words, he brings judgment, and it can be hard judgment for those who refuse to repent of their sins. (See 2:21-23)

His voice like rushing waters speaks with the power and authority of the Almighty. (See Ezekiel 1:24).

From his mouth came a two-edged sword. Two-edged because Jesus’s words of judgment to us both cut and heal. They cut those who are in sin, but bring healing to those who are hurting. And we see both in chapters 2 and 3.

And in his face, we see the utter glory and holiness of God.

When John saw Jesus like this, he fell on his face in fear. Most people would when facing a holy judge who is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

But Jesus comforted John as he does us, saying,

Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys to death and Hades. (17-18)

Why did John not need to fear? Because through the cross of Christ, Jesus paid for our sin, and by his resurrection, God the Father showed that he accepted Jesus’ payment. And now he has set us free from death and we have eternal life in him.

So no matter what judgment we may face, we can know that nothing will separate us from his love.

But we will be judged. Jesus is walking among the lampstands. And even among the lampstands, as we shall see in his letters to the churches, Jesus sees each individual in them.

So as we look at these letters over the next several days, let us take them in. Let Jesus’ words cut you and heal you. If you need to repent, it’s better to let those words cut you now than later. And if you are hurting, let his words comfort you. But whatever your situation, remember the words of John in his first letter.

We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment., because in this world we are like him.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:16-19)


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Revelation 1:4-8 — The gospel behind Revelation

This being Easter Sunday in the States, I suppose it’s only fitting that we see the gospel here in this passage.

Most people don’t think of Revelation being a book about the gospel. But it is. And we see it laid out beautifully here by John. He says,

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth shall mourn because of him. So shall it be. Amen. (4-7)

Some things to note about the gospel.

First it comes from God in Trinity.

It comes from God the Father, who is, and who was, and who is to come. This title reflects the name God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, the great I AM. The Eternal One.

It comes from the seven spirits before his throne, which seems to be a figurative way to speak of the Holy Spirit. Many scholars think this alludes to Isaiah 11:2, where the Holy Spirit is called 7 things: the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge,  and the fear of the LORD. Seven is also the number of completeness or perfection in the Bible, which shows the Spirit’s perfection and completeness as God.

The gospel also comes from Jesus. And it’s interesting what John calls him, for in these titles we see the gospel itself. John calls him the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

The word “witness” comes from the Greek word where we get our English word “martyr.”  Initially, the Greek word simply meant “witness,” but even in John’s time, we start to see a change in meaning to “someone who bears his testimony to the point that he’s willing to die for it.” (See Revelation 2:13).

So John seems to show Jesus as the one who died as a martyr for us.

But Jesus is also the firstborn of the dead. This does not mean, however, that he was the first one ever to rise from the dead. Jesus himself raised several people from the dead. The word “firstborn” has the idea of preeminence. In other words, Jesus is the preeminent one of all who have ever risen from the dead. Why?

He tells us in verse 18.

I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

While all those Jesus raised from the dead would later die a second time, Jesus never did die again and he never will.

But not only is he preeminent over all who ever rose from the dead. He is preeminent over all who will rise in the future. Why? Because he alone has the keys of death and Hades. He alone gives eternal life to whoever he pleases.

And now, he is king forever, the ruler of all other kings of the earth.

So from God in Trinity, we have this gospel of grace and peace.

What exactly is this gospel?

That God loves us.

That Jesus died for our sins and set us free from them. We are no longer slaves to sin, nor are we condemned for them.

More, we have been made part of God’s kingdom. We are now God’s priests, with direct access to God, and charged with serving him and ministering to the world on his behalf.

And one day, Jesus will return and judge this world.

How can we know these things for sure? Because of what God says in verse 8.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

In short, God is in control. He is the beginning of all things and the end of all things. And all things are in his hands.

And because of that we have hope.

That’s the message of the gospel. That’s the message of Easter. And that’s the message of Revelation.

To Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (6)



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Revelation 1:1-3 — That we may know God’s blessing

Happy Easter from Japan! And welcome to the book of Revelation!

I think for a lot of people that try to read this book, they think, “Why Revelation? Why do we need it? It’s so obscure and difficult to understand. Is it really that important?”

In a word, yes.

If there’s one thing in this chapter that strikes me, it’s that despite the fact that many churches (even, admittedly, the one I go to) tend to avoid it like the plague, it was meant to be read to the church. And to be understood.

We see this in the first two verses.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John who testifies to everything he saw — that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (1-2)

We see something of a chain here. God the Father gives this revelation to Jesus Christ,  who passes it along to his angel, who passes it on to John. And now John passes it on to the church. Why? To show us what must soon take place.

I think one reason people tend to skip Revelation is because they think it has no relevance for the here and now. That it has to do with future events that are far beyond us.

But as we shall see, even for John’s readers and all their succeeding generations, Revelation had much relevance to their lives. When it says, “what soon must take place,” it means what it says. These events John talks about would soon take place.

This is not to say that everything that is written in Revelation would soon take place. There is much that is yet to happen. But I believe the events John wrote about started within his readers’ lifetimes. We can see them through the lens of history even to the present day.

And like I said, these things are meant to be read and understood. You still don’t believe me? Read John’s words in verse 3.

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (3)

These are not the words of someone who thinks these words are obscure and impossible to understand. These are the words of someone who expects us to read these words and be blessed. And he expects this because the time for these events he writes about are near. They were near in John’s day, and in part were fulfilled. And in our lifetime, they are still being fulfilled. Perhaps, they will even be consummated.

In short, Revelation is meant to be fiercely practical. And as we will see, it is meant to admonish us and to encourage us as we live each day in this world.

So as Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

And if we do, we will find blessing.



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Jude 22-25 — When others fall

As much as it is important to contend with those who would attack the faith, we must care for those who have been affected by these attacks.

So Jude tells us first of all to be merciful to those who doubt. (22)

It would be easy to put down or insult people that are starting to have doubts, but we are to reach out to them, speaking the truth in love, and praying that God would open their eyes. (Ephesians 4:15)

We are also to snatch others from the fire and to save them. Some people are headed right into the fire by falling in with false teachers, and they don’t even know it. They think that these are legitimate teachers.

So Jude tells us, “Don’t let them just fall into the fire. Pull them out of there. Warn them of the danger they’re heading into.” (23)

And to those who have fallen captive to these false teachings, we are to show mercy and compassion for them. Even for the false teachers themselves. We are to lovingly plead that they repent and return to the God who bought them with his own blood.

But at the same time, we are to be careful that we don’t fall into the pit of sin they have fallen into. Instead, we are to hate “even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

Sin corrupts everything that it touches. Don’t let it corrupt you.

And through all your reaching out, remember that it is by the grace of God alone that you yourself stand. That apart from him, you could be where the doubting, the deceived, and the fallen are.

So don’t look down on them. Rather, give thanks to God as Jude did.

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore. Amen. (24-25)

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Jude — Recognizing those we contend with

The problem with deception is that it is by its nature difficult to detect. That’s why it can be so easy for false teachers to slip into the church. They don’t come out blaring to the church, “I am a deceiver.”

Rather they look like us. They talk like us. To some degree, they even act like us.

But when you take a closer look, they are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. How do we detect them?

Mostly by what they teach. As we saw yesterday, the false teachers in John’s day were turning God’s grace into a license for immorality. Though they claimed Jesus as Lord, their lives showed that they were in no way submitted to him as Lord. (4)

And that leads into the second way we can detect them: through their attitudes and actions.

For one thing, they reject all authority, including their Lord’s. (8)

For another, they don’t understand spiritual things and as a result, they speak abusively against them. This was true even of their attitude toward Satan. They mocked him despite the fact that he was more powerful than they. Even Michael the archangel refused to do that, even when he was in the right. (8-10).

Meanwhile, the things they do understand, their base instincts, lead them to destruction.

Because of this, Jude condemns them in language vaguely reminiscent of Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. He calls them murderers (having taken the way of Cain), greedy (following the way of Balaam), and rebellious (as Korah was when he tried to lead an insurrection against Moses). (11).

Perhaps referring back to Korah, he also calls them grumblers and faultfinders, people who follow their own evil desires, boasting about themselves and using flattering words to gain followers. (16)

He then gets picturesque, calling them blemishes at the Lord’s table, shepherds who fed only themselves rather than the sheep, and clouds without rain, promising much but delivering nothing, while being blown about by every wind of teaching they encountered.

He also called them fruitless trees headed for destruction, waves that are uncontrolled and unresting, whipping up only their shame, and as wandering stars that lead anyone who tries to find direction through them astray. (12-13)

Their end? Judgment. (14-15).

And even at that thought, they scoff and continue in their ways, dividing the church and following their own instincts instead of the Spirit of God. (18-19)

The ironic thing of all this? They had once seemed like sheep, looking and sounding like us.

But this is nothing new.

The Israelites who came out of Egypt under Moses were like this. Though they were all “saved” from Egypt, nevertheless, they died in the desert because of their lack of faith. (5)

In the same way, Jude talks about angels who left the place God had assigned to them. (6)

Some believe this has to do with some of the angels following Satan after he rebelled, while others think it has to do with them marrying the daughters of men in the time of Noah. (I find the latter a bit hard to believe).

Either way, the point is the same. They seemed to have a spot secure among God’s chosen, but because of their sin found themselves under judgment.

In the end, these false teachers in Jude’s time simply abandoned themselves to sin as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah did. As a result, Jude warns that these teachers will be judged with eternal fire as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were. (7)

And if we follow them, we’ll end up where they’re going.

So Jude exhorts us,

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life. (20-21)

In short, if we are to recognize these teachers for what they are and avoid their fate, we need to stay rooted in Christ. To grow in the grace and knowledge of him and stay connected to his Spirit. To stay in his love, knowing that the judgment that awaits them is our hope because Jesus has paid the price for our sins on the cross.

How about you? Are you so rooted in Christ, that you can recognize false teachers when you see them and contend for the faith against them?


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Jude — Contending for the faith

I love how Jude, the brother of Jesus opens this letter.

To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ. (1)

This phrase bookends with the last two verses.

To him who able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forever more. Amen. (24-25)

All very encouraging words. That we are loved by God and kept, not by our own power and strength, but by Jesus Christ himself. And these things are essential for us to understand in the light of Jude’s reason for writing.

Why did he write? Jude tells us,

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (3)

A couple of things that are important to note here.

First, the gospel has been entrusted to us and it is complete. As we saw in John’s second letter, there is no need to go “beyond” it. (II John 1:9)

Anyone who claims to have deeper truths than the gospel the apostles preached is lying. The faith we have was entrusted to us once for all time.

Second, we need to contend for it. We need to fight for it. Why? Because Satan is always trying to tear it down. And if he can’t destroy it from without through persecution, he will try to destroy it from within through deception.

This was happening all the way back in the time of the apostles. Paul warned against this (Acts 20:30-31), as did Peter (2 Peter 2:1), John (I John 2:18-19), and now Jude.

He said,

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (4)

Things have not changed in 2000 years. People still claim to be Christians, justifying their sinful ways by saying, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll just sin and repent later, and God will forgive me.”

In doing so, though they claim Jesus as Lord, they deny him by their actions.

What’s worse is when they teach others to think and live this way as well.

And so Jude tells us we need to contend for the faith. To contend with these false teachers and false teachings.

But as we contend for the faith, remember that the victory has already been won. We’ve been called by God, loved by him, and kept by Jesus Christ. And because of Jesus, we will stand before God one day, without fault and with great joy.

So let us never be discouraged in our fight, but let us contend strongly for the faith until Jesus comes again.

Maranatha. Come soon, Lord Jesus.


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III John — Walking in truth and love (part 2)

As we look at III John, we see many of the same themes that we see in II John, and for that matter in I John: those of truth and love.

Here, though, we have a very practical application of these things: the support of missionaries and other ministers of the gospel.

As we saw in John’s last letter, there were many traveling teachers who went from church to church, missionaries if you will. They seemed to be not only going to the churches, but preaching to unbelievers as well, as John makes specific note that they received no support from the “pagans.” (7)

Because these missionaries were doing this service for the sake of Christ, John encouraged Gaius, the recipient of this letter, and apparently a leader in the church, to support such people in giving them a place to stay, and providing food, drink, and other needs that they might have. (This is in sharp contrast to what John told the church in II John 1:10 concerning false teachers).

Many Christians don’t think of this, but by supporting missionaries, we are walking in truth and love. We walk in truth in that we support the spread of it to those around us. And we walk in love by helping those who preach it. And not only are we showing love to those missionaries, but love for those they take the gospel to.

Unfortunately, a man named Diotrephes refused to do this. He was another leader in the church, but instead of living a life of truth and love, he lived only for himself. John said that he loved to be first (9) and would have nothing to do with the leaders of the church and those missionaries who spread the gospel. Instead, he spread gossip about them. More, he threw people out of the church who tried to support the missionaries that had come to them. (10)

In short, out of his pride, Diotrephes told his congregation, “I don’t recognize these people, and neither should you.”

Unfortunately, there are pastors like this. Because they are so concerned about their own position, they refuse to work with anyone else outside their own organization. What’s even worse is when they refuse to accept any authority besides themselves because of their pride.

But John tells Gaius,

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. (11)

In other words, “Don’t be like Diotrephes, Gaius. Walk in truth and love as we do and as you have been doing until now.”

How about you? Do you support the truth and those who preach it with your finances? Do you support your pastor? Do you support the missionaries you know?

Do you seek to bless such people who are working for the name of Christ?

Or do you instead snipe at them from behind?

This world needs Jesus. But they will never find him if we are not walking in truth and love. And one big way to do that is to support those spreading the gospel.

Are you?

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II John – Walking in truth and love

Here we have a very short letter, written to a church that the apostle John lovingly calls, “the chosen lady,” probably in reference to the church being the bride of Christ.

And I don’t think you have to look very hard to see the two main themes in this very short letter.

He writes,

The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth — and not I only, but also all who know the truth — because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. (1-3)

In this passage, we see the word truth no less than 4 times.

And you see it in the very next verse as well.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded. (4)

As much joy as it gave John to see believers walking in truth, it gives God the Father even more. But what does that mean, “to walk in truth?”

I think first of all it means to believe all that God has said, especially concerning Jesus. That he is the Christ, the one God has sent to save us from our sins. That Jesus actually came down to this earth as a man, died on a cross to pay the price for our sin, and that he rose again.

To deny this is to call God a liar as we saw in John’s first letter (I John 5:10).

And yet many people did deny it, and John called them deceivers and antichrists (7). And he warns,

Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (8-9)

To walk in truth then, is to stay in the teaching we have received from Christ and which he gave to his apostles. If you run ahead of that teaching to embrace another, John says that you do not have God.

That’s especially important in the world today where many people are claiming to speak for God and yet run way beyond anything that Jesus and his apostles taught. As a result, they stray from the truth. So John says, “Don’t do that. Stay with the truth that you have received.”

To walk in truth also means to have nothing to do with those who teach things contrary to what Christ and his apostles have said. John says,

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (10-11)

This is not to say that we are not to welcome unbelievers into our houses. Rather, in those days, traveling preachers often came and taught in home churches. To welcome false teachers into your house in that situation would be to promote false teaching.

Unfortunately, we see numerous false teachers coming into legitimate churches, spreading their false teachings. And that has to stop. Pastors need to be very discerning as to who they let take the pulpit. If they don’t, they will be held responsible by God for supporting those false teachings.

The other main theme in this letter is to walk in love. John says,

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (5-6)

Many churches hold on to truth, but unfortunately don’t hold on to love. Instead, within the church there is gossip, back-biting, infighting, and worse.

It is not enough to know the truth. We need to live it too. And the one thing we really need to live is a life of love.

How about you? Are you walking in truth and love?

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I John 5:16-21 — A sin that leads to death

John has a somewhat curious thing to say in verses 16-17. He says,

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is a sin that leads to death. (16-17)

It seems to me that John is referring to something that James also talked about. James said,

Is any of you sick…The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)

Most times, illness is not the result of a person’s sin, but is merely the result of living in a fallen world. But James leaves room for the judgment of God as being a reason for a person getting sick. And he says that if you pray for such a person, God will not only heal them, but forgive their sin.

But in this passage, John adds a caveat to James’ words. He says don’t bother praying for people whose sin leads to death. What does he mean by that?

I think we find the answer in verses 18-19.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (18-19)

One thing that John warns us of again and again is willful, deliberate sin. Again and again he tells us that a true child of God does not make a practice of sin. In verses 18-19, he says the reason for this is that Jesus himself works in us, and that though the whole world is under the control of Satan, we are not. The world may not be able to resist the temptations Satan throws at them, but through the power of God, we can.

For the brother, then, that makes a constant practice of sin, with no sign or remorse or repentance, they are headed for death.

That can mean one of two things. First, that God will bring physical death upon them for their sin. We see this in more than a few places in scripture (Acts 5:1-10, I Corinthians 5:5, 11:27-30)

The other thing it could mean is that such people were not truly ever saved, and that they are headed for eternal death. They knew the truth, they claimed to believe it, and yet by their lives proved they never belonged to God. And he holds them especially accountable because they know the truth. There is no excuse for their behavior. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

In short, not all sins are alike. All of us sin. And as John said, all wrongdoing is sin. But there is a difference between falling into sin and deliberately plunging ourselves into it.

If you fall into sin and repent, God will forgive you. But if you refuse to repent and turn from your ways, there can be no forgiveness for that, only judgment, either in this life or the next, and possibly both.

But John has better hopes for us. He says,

And we know that Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (20)

In other words, Jesus has come, and has opened our hearts and minds to his truth. Now we know God and are in Jesus Christ. He abides in us and we in him, and because of that, we have life.

And so John concludes,

Little children, keep yourself from idols. (21)

John’s telling us, “You belong to the truth now. You belong to the true God. So don’t deliberately offer yourselves to sin and the things of this world. They are mere counterfeits of all that God wants to offer you. Run from sin. And run to Jesus, offering yourself to the one who truly is Life.”

Who are you offering yourself to?

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I John 5:13-15 — When we have confidence in God’s love

I have to admit, it seems at times that John jumps around a lot in his thoughts. And the jump between verses 13 and 14 seems a bit startling as well. How do we go from talking about the confidence we have in our salvation and God hearing our prayers and answering them.

But in this case, perhaps the jump isn’t as big as we might first think. The apostle Paul wrote,

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

In other words, if God loved us so much that he would give what was most precious to him, his Son, won’t he give us all things we need?

And I think John is making the same point here. He says,

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him. (13-15)

Sometimes we are reluctant to come to God with our requests. Perhaps we feel we are being too selfish or self-centered.

But as children of God, we should come before God with confidence no matter our request. Why?

Because if we loved us enough to save us when we cried out to him, he will love us enough to listen to us whenever we come before him with any request we may have, large or small.

And because he saved us, we can be confident that he is looking out for our best. That means he will never give us anything that would harm us, but only the things that would benefit us.

That’s where the caveat comes in. If we ask anything according to his will, he will hear us. If what we ask for is something he knows is for our good, he will hear us, and grant our request. If it is not, he will not.

So let us not hesitate to come before God with our requests. But let us come before him as trusting children. And as his trusting children, let us always believe that he desires our best through his yeses and nos.

After all, through the cross, he has certainly proved himself worthy of that trust.

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I John 5:6-13- The testimony of God

It is very interesting to me that God in trinity testifies to the way of salvation. I’d never really thought about that before. John tell us,

This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (6-8)

I think for most people reading this, John’s words can be confusing because they don’t know the background. But there were people in John’s day that said that Jesus wasn’t always the Christ. Instead, they had this weird teaching that “the Christ” descended as a spirit on Jesus at his baptism, but departed at his death.

So according to them, Jesus wasn’t the “Christ” when he died and thus he didn’t truly pay for our sins.

But the truth is Jesus proved himself to be the Christ at his baptism and death. At his baptism, the Father expressed his approval of him and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. Then at the cross, he paid the price for our sins, just as the scriptures predicted that he would.

So we have Father, Son, and Spirit all testifying to the way of salvation, and that is through Jesus the Messiah.

Why is this important? Because if God says something, there’s no room for argument. And that’s what John tells us in verses 9-10.

We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (9-10)

In short, we often believe people’s testimony. How can we not believe God when he speaks?

And now because God has spoken, we cannot reject God’s testimony and still claim to be following God.

What is God’s testimony? John tells us in verses 11-12.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (11-12)

Many people, however, don’t like this testimony. They want to believe there are many ways to God besides Jesus. But John tells us that for us to say that is to call God a liar.

But if we will only believe it, we can peace and confidence concerning our salvation. Why? Because our salvation is not based on anything that we do. It’s based solely on the grace of God and the work Jesus did on the cross for us. All we have to do is to accept it.

In John’s words,

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (13)

Note that John wrote not that you might think you have eternal life, but that you would know it in your heart.

How about you? Have you accepted the testimony of God? Do you know that you have eternal life?


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I John 4:9-10 — The love God has for us

I said yesterday that I wanted to get back to some verses from chapter 4 that I skipped a couple of days ago. And they are absolutely vital because it goes back to something I said yesterday.

I said yesterday that as we come to drink more deeply of the love, our whole perspective on ourselves and others change.

Let’s take a deeper drink of that love today.

John writes,

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (9-10)

Think about these verses for a minute.

God could have let us all go to hell. He would have been perfectly within his rights to do so. He didn’t have to save anyone.

He certainly didn’t send Jesus to save any of the angels that sinned against him.

And when he sent his Son into the world, he could have sent him in judgment. To destroy all of us who had rebelled against him. But that’s not why he sent Jesus. He sent him that we might have life.

The amazing thing is, it’s not like we were looking to be saved. It’s not that we said, “God I really messed up. But I truly do love you. Please save me.”

Rather, we were perfectly content living in our sin. We had no intention whatsoever of turning our eyes toward him.

But God’s eyes were already turned on us. Not to judge us. But to save us.

And so he sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

I’ve mentioned before that atoning sacrifices were usually made by people to appease an angry God. But God didn’t even wait for us to do that. The truth is, we didn’t care enough to make one, nor could we make any sacrifice that could appease him even if we wanted to.

But God made that sacrifice for us. John’s words here echo Paul’s when the latter said,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

As I write this, Good Friday and Easter are coming up soon. And it would be so easy to just take for granted all that God has done for us.

Don’t do that. Memorize these verses in I John and Romans. Meditate on them. Drink them in.

And they will transform you forever.

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I John 5:1-5:5 — If we truly know and love God (part 2)

Just a quick note. There were some verses in chapter 4 that I skipped last time and I really want to get back to. But before I go there, I want to complete my thoughts from yesterday.

As I said yesterday, if we truly know and love God, love for others should be the natural outgrowth that comes from that. For as John says,

Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (5:1)

And as John said at the end of chapter 4, how can we claim to love our heavenly Father who we cannot see and not love his children who we can see. (4:20)

Still, this is not to say that if come to know Christ, we will automatically love everyone God puts in our path. The fruit of love is like all other fruits of the Spirit. It takes time to grow. And yet…it should grow.

Verse 2 here is very interesting. John tells us,

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. (5:2)

From what we saw in chapter 4, we would have expected John to say the opposite. That is, “This is how we know that we love God: by loving the children of God.”

But instead, John says, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.”

It’s almost the same, but there is a subtle difference between the two. The difference is the focus.

In the first, we put our focus on trying to love others as proof that we love God. And that can be a burden, because not all of his children are so lovable.

But in the second, the focus is not on loving the children of God, but on loving God. He, not others, is the focus. But in focusing on God, his love for us, and our love for him, we naturally start wanting to do the things that please him. And so we keep his commands. What are the two greatest commands? To love him first and foremost. And then to love others. So again, by focusing on loving God first, love for others becomes the natural outcome.

It also becomes less of a burden to love others when we put our primary focus on God. Why?

By focusing on God, we come to know his love for us more deeply. And as we drink in of his love more deeply, as I said yesterday, our whole perspective changes. Our perspective on ourselves changes. And our perspective on others changes.

We no longer judge ourselves or others by our or their loveliness. Rather we see ourselves and others through the eyes of God. And he sees through all the ugliness that mars us to the true image of himself that he instilled in us from the very beginning. And when we see that image, it makes it easier to love ourselves and others.

That’s why John can say of keeping God’s commands, and especially of keeping the command to love,

His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (5:3-4)

Everyone born of God grows in their knowledge of his love for them, and it is only natural that they respond with love back for him and for others. The result? We overcome sin in our lives. We overcome hatred. We overcome everything that the world throws at us because it hates us.

But remember the key.

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (5:5)

How about you? Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son? That God loved you enough to send him to die for you? That is the truth you need to soak yourself in. For if you do, it will change your life.

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I John 4:7-5:1 — If we truly know and love God

Jesus once said of false prophets,

By their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:16)

And while Jesus was specifically talking about false prophets, we can say the same of all those who claim to be Christians. Many people claim to be followers of Christ. They claim to know and love God. But what does the fruit that comes out of their lives show?

The number one fruit that should come out of their lives is love.

And so John tells us,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (4:7-8)

A few verses down, he says again,

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (11-12)

According to John then, what is the proof God lives in us and his love is complete in us? It’s that we love one another.

He then expands on this idea. After proclaiming that God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world, he shows us the natural outcome of coming to know this truth in our hearts. He says,

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (15-16)

That second part of verse 16 almost sounds as if our relationship with God depends on our ability to learn to love. But actually, it is the exact opposite. Because we live in God and God in us, we start to live in love. Why is that?

The reason is that if we truly understand what God has done for us, our whole way of thinking changes. We no longer live wondering about our self-worth. We no longer base our value on what others think of us. Rather, we have full confidence in the love God has for us, and that confidence transforms our lives.

And that will also show on the day of judgment when we stand before God.

John tells us,

In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (17-18)

John then sums this all up by saying,

We love because he first loved us. (4:19)

For this reason, John tells us,

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (4:20-21, 5:1)

“His child” seems to be referring not only to Jesus, God’s Son, but all of God’s children as well. In short, if we truly know and love God,we will also love his other children.

Is this saying then that if we struggle to love others in our lives that we are not Christians?


Love is a fruit of our relationship with God. And like all fruit, it starts small and then grows. But as we grow deeper in our relationship with God and understand his love more fully, our love for others should grow as well.

More on this tomorrow.

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I John 3:24-4:6 — Testing the spirits

There are many today who claim to follow Christ, to have the Holy Spirit, and to preach the gospel. The question we always need to be asking, however, is if they follow the true Christ, have the true Holy Spirit, and preach the true gospel.

Paul once wrote with great concern to the Corinthian church, saying,

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (II Corinthians 11:3-4)

It was with this same kind of concern that John wrote to his readers. After telling them that we can know God dwells in us by the Spirit he gave (3:24), he immediately warns them,

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (4:1)

I don’t think there’s a disconnect in thought between 3:24 and 4:1. I believe they’re strongly connected. John’s saying on one hand that we as Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But then he swiftly warns us to watch out because the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit around. There are a lot of evil ones out there too, and most times, they come portraying themselves as “angels of light.”

And just as there were many false prophets in the Old Testament days, there were false prophets in John’s day and there are false prophets even in our day, all powered by these spirits. So John says, when someone claims to speak for God, test them. Don’t be fooled by sweet sounding words or by spiritual experiences.

How can we discern the false spirits from the Holy Spirit?

One thing is to test what they say about Christ. In John’s day, the big thing was whether Jesus had actually come in the flesh or not. Many people claimed that he hadn’t. That he had just appeared to have flesh, but was not truly human.

Not many deny Jesus’ humanity nowadays, but many do deny his deity, that he truly was God come in human form. But John says that anyone who fails to confess Jesus as he truly is, both God and man, is not from God. (4:2-3)

The other test is if they contradict the things that the apostles have already taught about Jesus and the gospel. He says,

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (4:6)

Those are strong words, and they show the authority that God had given the apostles. As a result, you cannot claim to follow God and yet deny or contradict what the apostles taught. So if you hear anyone who does that, you know he cannot from God.

The sad thing is that many people do not test what they hear. They believe everyone who says they follow Christ, and because of that, they fall into darkness. They are in fact following antichrists, not the true Christ.

But if we test the spirits, we don’t need to fear about falling into confusion or darkness. For John tells us,

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (4:4)

Are you testing what you hear?


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I John 3:16-22 — But am I really saved?

“But am I really saved?”

I’ve mentioned before that I really struggled with this question when I was a child.

And to be honest, it’s a hard question to answer. It’s hard because only God truly knows the human heart. And it’s hard because though we’ve looked at all the marks of a Christian in the past three blogs, we can all see our failures. Our failures in righteousness. Our failures in love.

About the only thing we can say with any conviction (I would hope), is “Yes, I truly do believe in Jesus. I have trusted in him for my salvation.”

One word of comfort I can give to you is this: the fact that you can see your faults and are concerned about them makes me think that you are probably saved. It is the people who don’t care and yet claim to be Christians that worry me.

As I’ve mentioned before, true Christians long to be like their Lord. They long to be like him because they love him so much. And so when they fall short, it bothers them.

False Christians have no such desires to be like Jesus, so when they fall short, it doesn’t bother them at all.

It is the false Christians that repeatedly make excuses for their sin and lack of love. It is the true Christians that mourn over these things and repent.

That said, as you look over your time as a Christian, you should be able to see some change. You should see some change in your attitudes toward those around you, namely an increased compassion and love for them. And you should start seeing a sheer discomfort with sin that you never had before. Sin that never bothered you before, should start bothering you now.

It’s striking to me that John does not even entertain the thought that a Christian would not see these changes.

But there’s one more thing, and it is reflected in some of the newer translations, particularly the new NIV. It translates verses 19-20 this way:

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

In other words, if you are really feeling under a load of guilt because you feel you haven’t changed enough, or you constantly feel guilty despite seeing the changes in your life, understand that your feelings aren’t the final judge of whether you’re saved or not. God is. And he knows everything. He knows if you truly love him or not. He sees the changes he has worked in you. And that’s all that counts.

The encouragement I would give to you if you are laboring under guilt is to simply keep pursuing him. Seek to become more like him each day. Share the love he’s given you with those around you. If you fall, confess and repent. Then get up, and keep on going. Know that he is on your side. He’s not constantly condemning you. If you truly love him, he sees that, and will never give up on you.

And as you come to understand his grace more deeply in your life, that feeling condemnation will fade. And at that point, John says,

Dear friends, if your hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. (21-22)

In other words, your fears will fade, your confidence in his love for you will increase, and you will see change in your life, leading to an even deeper relationship with  God. Why? Because your thoughts will start aligning with the Father’s to the point that you start praying things according to his will. And as you do, he will answer, bringing you joy and even more confidence that you are truly his.

But until that day, pursue him, remembering the words of James.

Come near to God, and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)

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I John 3:16-18 — The mark of a child of God (part 3)

Actions speak louder than words.

That is true of anyone who is truly a child of God. We saw that in James, and we see that here as well.

Jesus’ actions spoke volumes.

John said,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (16)

In other words, true love is fiercely practical. Jesus showed his love by dying on a cross for us. In the same way, we are to show love for others by laying down our lives for them.

In case we missed the point, John goes on, saying,

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (17-18)

In short, true love does not stand still. When it sees others in need, it has compassion and reaches out.

And that should be the mark of any child of God. Not just words of love. But deeds of love.

If we can see those who are hurting around us and have no compassion at all, if instead we think solely of ourselves, how can we say that we are God’s children? Especially in the light of the love we have received from him.

How about you? Does love mark your life? Do you have compassion for those who are hurting around you? Or do you not even care?

Remember the words of Jesus,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me….whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:40, 45)

What does the love you have for others say about you?

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I John 2:28-3:24 — The mark of a child of God (part 2)

We saw yesterday that the mark of a child of God is righteousness. That true children of God seek to be pure as the One they love is pure.

And that when they sin, they can’t do so without feeling remorse for it and repenting.

I remember the one and only time I ever swore in my life. I was just a kid at the time, and I remember making a very deliberate decision to do it. I felt so awful about it afterward that I never did it again. I think that was a sign that I truly was a child of God. No Christian can make a practice of deliberate sin and not eventually repent of it.

It is possible for them to sin, however. So John encourages us,

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (2:28)

How do we “continue in him?” He tells us at the end of chapter 3.

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (3:23-24)

The words “continue” and “live” are actually the same word in Greek. And John is saying, “If you want to be confident and unashamed when Jesus comes back, obey God. Do what he says.”

What has God told us to do? First and foremost, to believe in Jesus. To put our trust in him for salvation.

That actually is the first mark of a Christian. The whole problem with the human race is that we have turned our backs on God and said, “I’m living for myself. I’m doing things my way.”

The first thing a Christian does is to turn their back on that way of thinking. To say, “Not my way, any longer, Lord. But Your way.” And the first step to doing that is to embrace the gift of salvation that God offers in Jesus Christ. To stop trying to earn your salvation through your own efforts or through other religions. But to put your faith in Jesus and his work on the cross alone.

But the second part of his command is to love one another. John makes it crystal clear:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (10)

Why is John so strong on this point of loving our brother?

For one thing, it is part of the very core of the Christian message. He says,

This is the message that you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (3:10)

This is not advanced Christianity. This is Christianity 101.

For another, if we truly know the love of Christ in our lives, it should naturally flow out from us.

John says,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (3:16)

So a sure mark of a Christian is the love they have for others.

John tells us,

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (3:15)

How about you? Do you have the marks of a child of God?


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I John 2:28-3:10 –The mark of a child of God

How can we know we are truly children of God? That we are truly saved? I remember having that question when I was a kid. I had received Jesus when I was about 7 years old, but for a long time, I was never quite sure if I was truly saved.

Here in this passage, we find the answer.

John says,

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. (2:29)

The ESV puts it,

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

In other words, if you are truly saved, righteousness will mark your life. This is not to say that you will ever be perfect, but when people look at you, they will see someone who makes a practice of doing what is right.

This is in sharp contrast to how the rest of the world lives. And so John says,

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (3:1)

When we live as children of God, practicing righteousness, the world has a hard time figuring us out. They can’t understand why we don’t live like they do. Why? Because they don’t know God. And if they don’t know him, they won’t understand us.

John then tells us,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as [Jesus] is pure. (3:2)

What is our motivation for righteousness as children of God? Is it that we are trying to earn our way into heaven? Is it that we’re trying to impress other people?

Not at all. Rather John tells us that our motivation is our love for God. He has lavished his great love upon us and called us his children.

Not only that, we have the hope that we will one day be like the One we love. When Jesus returns, we will receive new bodies that will reflect the glory of Jesus himself and we will be like him, perfectly righteous in every way.

Some people think, “Why bother fighting sin? I will never overcome it.”

But if you are a Christian, that’s not true. The day will come when we will be made perfect. There is hope. And John tells us that because true believers have that hope, they desire even now to be pure as Jesus is pure.

So all true Christians long to be pure as the Lord they love.

If you don’t have that longing, can you truly call yourself a Christian?

John tells us that Jesus came to take away our sins. That in Jesus himself there is no sin (3:5)

More, Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work. (3:8)

How then can anyone who claims to be a Christian just sin without conscience, promoting the very work that Jesus came to destroy? They can’t. If anyone does, you have to seriously question if they are saved or not.

Do you think I’m being judgmental? Look at what John says.

No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (3:6-8)

And again,

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (9)

Again, this is not to say that true Christians will never sin. This is saying a true Christian cannot just sin and feel no remorse over it. They will repent and seek to turn from that sin.

So John concludes,

This is how we know who the children of God are, and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (10)

Whose child are you?



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I John 2:18-27 — The anointing we have

One of the things the false teachers were apparently telling the people was, “What you have learned from the apostles is not enough. We have a special anointing from God that neither they nor you have.”

But John tells his readers,

 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (20)

And again,

 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him. (27)

What is this anointing John is speaking of? He’s speaking of the Holy Spirit whom God gives to all believers.

And what John says here echoes strongly the words of Jesus himself. Jesus said,

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you…When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (14:26; 16:13-14)

Two things here: First, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is ultimately our teacher. What will he teach us? Things clearly contrary to the things Jesus has said? Of course not. Instead he reminds us of what Jesus has said. And if he does not speak on his own, but speaks only what he hears, he will never contradict anything Jesus said. So if you hear anyone saying, “I have a special anointing from God,” and yet they contradict what Jesus has said, you can safely ignore them.

Second, in bringing us the words of Christ and making them known to us, he always brings glory to Christ. He will never, as some of the false teachers did in John’s day and do even now, deny that Jesus is God or degrade him in any way.

John is not saying then that we don’t need teachers in the church. (He himself was teaching the people in this very letter.) What he is saying is you don’t need these teachers with special “anointings” who try to teach you something contrary to what you have already heard. Instead, just as the Holy Spirit taught you from the very beginning, remain in Jesus. Acknowledge him as Lord and God, and surrender your life daily to him.

Are you listening to the Words of the Spirit today?



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I John 2:18-25 — What Satan tries to sell us

I think it is easy sometimes to think of Satan merely as that roaring lion. The one who out and out seeks to destroy us.

But the truth is that as often as he takes that tactic, he also takes the tactic of the harmless sheep. That’s clearly seen in the Antichrist.

We hear the word Antichrist, and we immediately think of him as this terrible figure who will wreak havoc on the world. And he will. But before he does so, he will appear to be like Christ. As someone who is looking to bring peace and salvation to this world.

He has yet to come (so far as we know), but throughout history, even in the time of John, there were many antichrists, people who appeared to be harmless, who in fact seemed be a blessing to the church, but who instead spread deadly poison in the church and who had to be cast out. John says of them,

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (19)

What kind of poison were they spreading? The same kind of poison that’s spreading even now: a denial of Christ.

There are many people who have no problem saying, “I believe in God” or “I believe in a higher power.” That concept is not offensive to them at all. But bring up Jesus Christ and their whole tone changes. He is an utter offense to them.

But John tells us,

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist — he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (22-23)

In other words, you cannot truly claim to believe in God if you reject Jesus. To deny Jesus is to deny God himself. Why? Because Jesus is God.

That was one of the things that the Jews failed to understand in Jesus’ day. That the Christ is divine.

And so when Jesus asked them, “Why, if the Christ is David’s son, does David call him Lord? If David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son,” they were stumped. (Matthew 22:42, 45)

The answer is that not only is Christ the son of David, but he is God himself. Jesus said as much. (John 8:58, John 10:30-33).

But people will go out of their way to deny that. They will call him a prophet, a good man, even the Son of God. All of them are true. But he is also God, and has been from all eternity. And to deny that is to swallow the poison that Satan is selling.

So John tells us,

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us — even eternal life. (24-25)

The ultimate question that everyone has to answer is this: “What do you think of Christ? Whose Son is he?”

Your eternal destiny rests on your answer.

Who do you say that he is?

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I John 2:15-17 — In love with the Father? In love with the world?

As I read this, I can’t help but think that John was reflecting back to Jesus’ own words when He said,

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money…What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. (Luke 16:13, 15)

Remarkably close to what John says in this passage.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. (15-16)

Imagine telling your wife, “Yes I love you. But I love this other woman just as much. So I will give of myself to both you and her.”

How would your wife respond? How would you respond if you were the wife? Not well, I would suspect.

But that’s just what so many Christians try to do. All week, they are pursuing and clinging to the things of this world. They chase after money, possessions, power, and pleasure, trying to grasp all the things this world offers. Temporary things. Fleeting things.

And then on Sunday they go to church and sing with tears in their eyes, “I love you Lord.”

But John says that’s not love. You cannot love the things in this world and still truly love God. Your spouse would never accept that kind of love. And neither will God.

He desires our whole heart, not half of it, not three quarters, not even 99 percent. Anything less is unacceptable to him. He needs to be first in our lives, and everything else a distant second.

John says,

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (17)

In short, we can pursue what is fleeting or what is eternal. Why pursue a world that is fleeting and will ultimately leave you empty? You might as well pursue a long-term, loving relationship with a prostitute. Both will eventually cast you aside, having taken everything from you and ultimately leaving you with nothing.

But when we pursue God, that’s when we find true life, true love, and true joy. Life, love, and joy that are lasting.

Which will you choose?

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I John 2:12-14 — As we mature

As I read John’s words here to his different readers, it strikes me that there are different stages that we go through in our Christian lives.

First, as children.

John writes,

I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (12)

And again,

I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (13c)

I think that when we first become Christians, two things strike us above all things.

First, that God has forgiven us.

So many of us come to God weighted down by our sins. We see what a mess we have made of our lives because of our choices, and in our desperation we turn to God. And John tells us, “Your sins are forgiven.”

I think of the woman who came to Jesus, a woman who had been burdened by her sins, weeping and wetting his feet with her tears. And Jesus said to her gently, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50)

That’s the joy that all new Christians know.

Second, we come to know God as Father. It’s a theme that John will come back to later in this letter. (3:1-3)

The thing is, we don’t come to know God first as the awesome other-worldly being that transcends the universe. As the great King of all kings. As someone so far removed from us that we couldn’t possibly draw near to him.

Rather, we come to know him as Father. As someone who is approachable because he truly loves and cares for us. As someone who is never too busy for us, but will stop whatever he is doing when we come to him because he delights in us as his children.

But as we grow as Christians, we don’t remain mere children. We become mature and strong.

So John says,

I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (14b)

In other words, as the word of God lives in us, as we get beyond the milk of the gospel and take in the solid meat of the word, and by our constant use of it train ourselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:12-14), we overcome the evil one and all his attempts to destroy us.

We learn to recognize the false teaching he throws at us to lead us astray from God. And we learn to overcome the temptations to sin that would destroy us. We will see more of these themes throughout the rest of this letter.

Finally, as we become mature in our faith, we start to see God as he truly is. John writes,

I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. (2:13a, 2:14a)

As C.S. Lewis put it, the more we grow, the bigger God becomes to us. Not because he actually grows bigger. But because we see him more clearly as he truly is. We see that he is not just our loving Father, but the creator of all things and ruler of the universe. That he is the eternal one, with no beginning or end. And we bow down at awe of him.

But we will bow, not just because of his greatness. But because of the fact that as awesome as he is, he still loves us and calls us his children.

Because at the end of the day, no matter how much we may grow and mature as Christians, we will never outgrow our Father or our need to see him as such.

So each day, let us grow in the grace and knowledge of him who loves us and calls us his children.

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I John 2:1-2 — When we fall

We saw yesterday that though we are children of light and are called to live that way, we do fall at times. And when we do, if we confess our sins and repent, God will forgive us. (1:9)

Here in these two short verses, we see the basis of that forgiveness.

John tells us,

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1-2)

Again, John emphasizes here that as children of light, we are not to live in darkness. But he then comforts us by saying that if we do fall into darkness, we have someone who defends us. That Jesus himself stands before the Father as our defense attorney.

What is the basis for his defense of us? His atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. What does that mean exactly?

For a lot of pagan cultures, they made sacrifices to appease the wrath of the gods and regain their favor.

John uses the same picture here…with one huge difference. It is not us who makes the sacrifice that appeases the wrath of God and makes him see us with favor once again. Rather, it is God the Father himself who sent his Son as a sacrifice. As Abraham once put it in a story that foreshadowed his heavenly Father’s work,

God himself will provide the lamb for the [sacrifice.] (Genesis 22:8)

And so God did on the cross. He provided the lamb, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. Jesus who never sinned or did anything wrong, took the punishment for our sins. And as Jesus was on that cross, God poured all his wrath on him.

The result? Jesus now stands with us before the Father and says, “Father, I have paid the price for their sins and failings.”

And the Father answers, “That’s right.” And not only does he dismiss our case, he pours out his love upon us once again.

That’s mercy. That’s grace. It belongs to all who are truly his children. And it comes to us through Jesus Christ.

How then can we not live lives of gratitude for the one who saved us? How can we not want to be like him?

Lord Jesus, thank you for what you did on that cross 2000 years ago. That through your sacrifice, my sins are forgiven and God’s love and grace are poured down on me. Now Lord, make me like you. I want to be like you, reflecting that love and grace to those around me that they may know you too. Work in me, changing me into your likeness. And work through me that others may know that love and grace too. In Jesus name, amen.


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I John 1:8-10 — Our struggle with sin

It would be easy, having seen the last two blogs I have posted, to get the impression that I’m saying a true Christian should be perfect. That there should be no sin in our lives at all.

And John does seem to have this tendency to put these things in black and white. But one thing that is also crystal clear from his writing is that though we are children of light, and that true children of light walk in that light, we still sin. We still fail.

In fact, John tells us,

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (8)

And again,

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (9)

How does this all fit into what we have said before?

Several things, some of which we have already touched on.

  1. A true child of God does not make excuses for their sin. They do not try to explain away scripture to justify their sin. They do not try to say their case is an “exception” to the rule.
  2. A true child of God does not blatantly ignore scripture. When they read it, they do their best to follow it.
  3. A true child of God struggles with their sin. They don’t simply say, “This is the way I am. I’m never going to change.” Rather they mourn over their sin. And they long to be different.

This is not to say that true Christians never do any of the above. Sometimes they do make excuses. Sometimes they do blatantly ignore scripture. Sometimes they do say, “This is the way I am. I’m never going to change.”

And sometimes, Christians simply have blind spots. They simply can’t see their sin for what it is. They haven’t reached the point of maturity where they can discern all that’s good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

But a true Christian will not simply continue living this way. The Holy Spirit will not allow it. And if the Christian will not listen, he will bring discipline into their lives.

The good news, however, is that when we repent, God will forgive. John tells us,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (9)

Are you a child of God? A child of the Light? Then stop making excuses for your sin. Stop ignoring God’s Word. When God chastises you, repent. And God is gracious. He will forgive you.

We will never be perfect while in this world, but that should always be our goal. If we truly love Jesus, we should long to be like him.

Do you?

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I John 1:5-2:11 — To have fellowship with God (part 2)

We saw yesterday that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. So if we are going to claim to have fellowship with him, then we need to be walking in that light with him. If we try to explain away his commands or blatantly ignore them and still claim fellowship with him, we are liars.

John then gives one specific example which he will get back to again and again in this letter. He says,

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you had since the beginning. This old  command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; it’s truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (2:7-8)

What is this old/new command? I think John is specifically referring to loving your neighbor, although as we will see in later passages, loving your neighbor goes a long way to proving your love for God too. In Moses’ law, God said to love your neighbor as yourself. That was the old command.

But the new command as seen in Jesus is this: to love one another, not merely as we love ourselves, but as Jesus himself loved us. (John 13:34-35)

In short, it is to know the love of God so much in our lives, that his love can’t help but flow out of our lives to others. And so John says that this truth is not just seen in Jesus, but in us who truly believe in him. For his true light of love is already shining in our hearts, while the darkness which formerly marked our hearts is departing.

Therefore, John says,

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in darkness; he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him. (2:9-11)

All this links right back to chapter 1 verses 5-7. There is no way we can claim to have fellowship with God if we hate our brother. A person who hates is still walking in darkness, not light.

This hatred can manifest itself in bigotry or racism of course. It can also manifest itself in jealousy or envy. But one place it most often manifests itself is in unforgiveness. And many people stumble around in darkness, bound in bitterness and hatred because they can’t forgive.

And like I said before, for such people, it can be very easy to either try to explain away scripture or blatantly ignore it, all the while holding on to their hatred toward the person that hurt them.

But if we truly understand the love God has for us and the forgiveness he has extended toward us, can we truly hold on to that hatred?

A true child of God can’t.

Now I’m not saying that Christians should never struggle with unforgiveness. They do. And it’s not easy to forgive, especially when the pain is deep. But if you are truly born of God, you cannot simply stay in the darkness. You cannot make excuses for your hatred, saying things like, “What he did was unforgiveable. I can’t forgive. I won’t forgive!”

To say such things is to step out of light into utter darkness. And to claim to still have fellowship with God in that state is to make yourself a liar.

A true child of light will step out into the light and receive the healing touch of Jesus. And by his grace and power, they will forgive.

How about you? Is there someone you hate? That you can’t forgive? You can’t hold on to those things and have fellowship with God.

Healing will require time. It will require prayer. It will require emotional support from your brothers and sisters in Christ. It may require counseling. And it will definitely require the love and power of God’s Spirit working in your life. But stop making excuses, and step out into the light.

Until you do, you will find your relationship with God stunted, if not impossible.

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I John 1:5-2:11 — To have fellowship with God

In a lot of ways, the word “Christian,” is applied to far too many people. Many people claim to be Christians, but by their lives show themselves to be anything but.

At this point, many people may scream at me for being judgmental. But Jesus himself said,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21-22)

In a modern context, people might say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t I go to church? Didn’t I put money in the offering basket? Didn’t I do this good thing and that good thing?”

But Jesus will say to them,

I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! (Matthew 7:23)

In short, your life cannot be divorced from your actions. And your actions prove who you are.

That’s what John is saying in this passage.

He says,

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (1:5-6)

Too many people live in their sin, explaining away scripture in some cases, blatantly ignoring it in others.

But John tells us that God is light. There is no sin in him at all. And so if we live in utter rebellion to what he has taught in his Word, explaining it away or blatantly ignoring it, and we still claim to have fellowship with him, we’re liars.

John is very straight here. He says, “You are a liar. Truth is not  in you.”

But then he says,

If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1:7)

If God is in light, then if want to have fellowship with him, we need to walk in light too. Because God certainly isn’t going to join us in the darkness of our sin. But if we will step out of our rebellion to him and submit to him as Lord, then Jesus’ blood will purify us from all our sin. But we need to step out of that rebellion. To stay in rebellion against God and to claim fellowship with him is pure impossibility.

In case there is any doubt as to what John is saying, he goes on.

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (2:3-6)

In short, we can tell if a person has a relationship with God by their attitude toward Him. Is God’s love so complete in them that they respond with loving obedience? That they desire to be more like their Lord and to walk as he did? That they mourn over their sin when they fail and repent? If not, then there should be serious doubt as if they are truly saved or not.

How about you? What does your attitude toward God show about your relationship with him?


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I John 1:1-4 — Proclaiming He who is life

And so we come to the last “long” letter of the New Testament. Or at least the last letter with multiple chapters, anyway.

And from the very beginning, you can almost hear the emotion coming from the apostle John who wrote this book. From this man who was called the beloved disciple.

He says,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1-2)

It never really struck me until very recently that everything in here is pointing to Jesus himself. He is the Word of life. He is the very expression of life itself. All that life is supposed to be is found in him: whole and complete in every way, with no defects.

And he is the expression of Life himself. The Author of Life expresses himself to us in Jesus. And Jesus himself is Life.

So when John says in verse 2, that the “life” appeared,” he’s referring to Jesus in his incarnation. He came to earth as a man, and John and the other apostles were able to hear his voice, see him with their own eyes, and touch his nail-scarred hands after the resurrection.

And John calls Jesus, the “eternal life.” He was with the Father before time began, having no beginning or end. And now he gives life to those who are dead. He gives life to those who are spiritually dead, living apart from God. And the day will come when he will give life to those who are physically dead, giving them new bodies that are like his own.

With that in mind, John says,

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (3-4)

In short, John and the other apostles weren’t content to revel in the joy they had because of their fellowship with God. Rather, they didn’t consider their joy complete until others could join them in that fellowship. And so they were bold to proclaim all that they had seen and heard.

In that, as well as many other things, we are to follow in their footsteps.

Too many Christians are just happy to be saved. To revel in the love that God has for them and the forgiveness he has imparted to them. To rejoice in the healing God has brought in their lives.

But we can’t simply be satisfied with that. To be satisfied with that and that alone is pure selfishness when many other people are dying apart from Christ. They don’t know his love. They don’t know his forgiveness. They don’t know his healing in their lives. How can we not weep for them?

And so like John and the other apostles, we need to go out and proclaim this Life that has been given to us that they may share in that fellowship with Him too.

How about you? Are you so focused on rejoicing at your own salvation that you can’t see those around you that need that salvation just as badly?

Let us go out. Let us proclaim the gospel to our loved ones. To those in our neighborhood, workplace, and schools. And when we do and see people come into God’s kingdom, that’s when our joy will be made complete.


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II Peter 3:10-18 — Because this world isn’t forever

If there’s one thing that’s crystal clear in this passage, it’s that this world will not last forever.

Peter says,

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…That day will bring the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (10, 12)

Most of the time, we don’t even consider this. Instead we waste our lives on things that don’t matter. We waste our lives on temporary pleasures, on work, on money. But in the end, all these things will burn. And not only will the earth be laid bare, so will our hearts. And God will judge us for how we lived our lives here.

And so Peter says,

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (11-12)

In short, keep your priorities straight. Since these things will be destroyed, don’t set your hearts on them. Instead set your heart on God and his kingdom. Live lives pleasing to him. And each day, seek to expand his kingdom. Touch the lives around you, sharing the love of Christ with them.

It’s hard to imaging that we can “speed” the day of Christ’s coming. But in a sense, we can. For when the final person God has called receives Jesus as Savior and Lord, the church’s work is done, and there is no reason left for God to delay Christ’s coming.

Before we worry about bringing peace between God and mankind, however, we need to make sure that we ourselves are at peace with him. As Peter puts it,

Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him. (14)

But we cannot be at peace with God if we are living merely to please ourselves. Nor can we be at peace with God if we distort his teachings.

That’s apparently what some people were doing with Paul’s writings as well as the other scriptures, “to their own destruction.” (16)

Too many people pick and choose what they like from the Bible. And if something God teaches makes them uncomfortable, they ignore it or try to explain it away. In some cases, they outright change it. But we can’t do that and be at peace at God. We need to accept him as he is, not as we would like him to be.

So Peter tells us to be on our guard against people who would distort God’s word in that way.

And then he closes the same way he started, saying,

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (18)

Put aside any teachings that would diminish Jesus or his Word. Rather draw near to him and learn from him, and as each day passes, he will seem bigger to you than he ever was before.

And grace and peace will abound to you.

To him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen. (18b)

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II Peter 3:1-15 — The patience of God

We talked a couple days ago about the complaint people have that God seems to be doing nothing about all the evil and injustice in this world.

And we saw that justice will come, and that it is certain. It is the hope of those who believe and the fear of those who have rejected Christ.

But there are some for whom thoughts of judgment hold neither fear nor hope. And Peter addresses them here. He says,

First of all, you must understand that in the last days, scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

Two thousand years later, things have not changed. And perhaps, the reason for scoffing has only increased for unbelievers. But Peter tells us,

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word, the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction on ungodly men. (5-7)

In other words, though the people of Peter’s day said that God never seems to intervene and that nothing seems to change, they were wrong. For in creation, God intervened and brought all of the continents out of water, and created an atmosphere that was conducive to life.

And then when evil permeated throughout the earth, God once again intervened, destroying all the people of the earth through the great flood, saving only Noah and his family.

And now Peter warns us that God will intervene yet again. But this time the judgment will come through fire.

He says,

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (10)

And again,

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (12)

How literal this is, I don’t know. What is clear is that all that we know will be done away with. Either completely transformed, or destroyed and recreated. For Peter goes on to say,

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (13)

Why then the long wait? Why hasn’t God long since done away with this world and made all things new?

Peter tells us,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (8-9)

And again,

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (15)

Basically, Peter is telling us God is giving more time because of his patience. But that patience is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it gives more time for people to believe, and many more will believe and be saved before the day of judgment.

But by waiting, God is also giving people more rope to hang themselves with. By giving them more time, they truly have no excuse when he comes and passes judgment on them for their unbelief.

The question is, what will you do with the time has given you?

The choice is yours.

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II Peter 2:10-12 — Underestimating Satan

C.S. Lewis once said about demons, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

I would add to that one more. To underestimate them.

As we’ve seen in chapter 2, Peter is writing against the false teachers. And in this passage, we see that one of their problems was that they refused to recognize authority, those who were greater and in higher positions than they were.

First and foremost that would refer to God. Secondly that would refer to the apostles and true leaders of the church. But there is a third category. Peter says,

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters do they not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. (10-12)

In talking about “celestial beings,” Peter seems to be referring to Satan and his demons. For even the good angels, who are stronger and more powerful than we are, refuse to slander or blaspheme them in front of God, though Satan and his demons will be judged by God someday.

Yet these false teachers apparently took Satan and his demons lightly. How? It’s not clear. But perhaps when they were accused of being used by Satan by their teaching, they replied, “Satan? He has no control over me. I’m free. I’m my own master. I spit on him.”

It’s a dangerous thing to take a being more powerful than you lightly. Peter and the apostles never did so. Peter told these Christians in his earlier letter to be alert, because Satan is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)

You don’t take roaring lions lightly. If you do, you will find yourselves consumed. And Peter warns them of this.

That’s why you shouldn’t play around with fortune tellers. Or horoscopes. Or Ouija boards. Or anything occultic.

That’s why you don’t get involved with anything to do with idols. The idols in themselves are nothing, But Paul tells us there are demons behind those idols. (I Corinthians 10:20)

On the flip side, remember that you don’t have to be afraid of Satan and his demons either. For John tells us,

The one who is in you (the Holy Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world (Satan). (I John 4:4)

And as we saw in that passage in I Peter, we are told to resist Satan. (I Peter 5:9)

But don’t ever underestimate him or take him lightly. He is a powerful foe. More powerful than you.

So as Paul said,

Be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

In short, take Satan seriously. Don’t fool around with him. Instead stand close to Jesus. Stand in his power and strength. Only by uniting yourself fully with Christ can you stand victorious over Satan.



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II Peter 2:3-9 — A destruction that is not sleeping

Sometimes we wonder why God allows so much evil in the world. We wonder why God doesn’t do something now about the people who are doing evil.

And in addressing the false teachers and their fate, Peter gives us an answer to this.

He says,

In their greed, these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction is not sleeping. (3)

In short, though it seems like God isn’t doing anything and that justice will never come, it will come. Condemnation is hanging over the wicked, ready to drop. And their destruction is sure.

Peter then gives three illustrations of this from the Old Testament.

First there were the angels that sinned whom God sent straight to hell. This is actually kind of unusual, because for the most part, demons are not bound. They are free to roam the earth and wreck havoc. But apparently some demons were so bad that they were bound up and are now being held for final judgment. (We’ll talk more about this when we come to Jude).

Second, there were all the people on the earth in the time of Noah. People who were so bad that, “every inclination of the thoughts of [their] hearts was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5)

And for all the years that Noah built the ark, warning these people to repent, they continued on in their sin, seemingly unpunished. But when the flood came, judgment fell and they all perished. Noah and his family, however, were saved.

Third was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For years they lived in utter depravity, such that Lot was afraid that two visitors to the city (who turned out to be angels) would be raped if they stayed out in the open. Ultimately, his neighbors’ actions proved him correct. And so God judged that city, destroying it. But again he spared Lot from that destruction.

And so Peter concludes,

If this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. (9)

Some points here.

First, though it says that the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials, it does not mean we will never go through them. That bad things will never happen to us. But through them all, God will be with us and see us through. And ultimately, we will find rest with him in heaven.

But as for the evil, they will be judged. Peter tells us that they are being held for the day of judgment, and in the meantime, their punishment has already started.

Nobody likes the idea of hell and eternal punishment. I certainly don’t. But it is reality. Now, the final judgment won’t come until after the millennium  in which Christ reigns. But until that time, those who have died apart from God are undergoing punishment for their sins.

And on the day of final judgment, John tells us that they will be thrown into a lake of burning fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

Sadly, if the judgment of Satan is any indication, they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

It’s not a pretty picture. But it’s the truth. And it’s justice.

Justice will be done someday. That’s the hope of judgment. And that’s the fear of judgment.

It’s the fear of those who have rejected Christ.

But for those who have put their faith in him, Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

How do you see judgment day? With hope? Or fear?


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II Peter 2 — Our need to know God’s word

We saw yesterday that our faith is based not only on our experiences with God, valuable as they are, but also on God’s word. And now in chapter 2, Peter tells us why it is so vital to know God’s word well.

The reason? False teachers that slip into the church.

Peter wrote,

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. (1)

What were these teachers teaching? Basically, they were saying that as Christians, you can live however you want. That you can live for your sinful lusts and God won’t care.

These teachers themselves lived that way, doing sinful things in broad daylight, perhaps even getting drunk at the Lord’s table, and sleeping around with as many women in the church as they could. (13-14).

More, they were in love with money, and when they taught, that was their aim: to rob the people of God. (14)

And they justified all this by saying that when you live that way, you find true “freedom.” (18-19)

But as Peter said,

They themselves are slaves of depravity — for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (19)

And Peter tells us that these false teachers are now worse off than before they had heard the truth about Jesus. Why?

Because when they heard the truth, they temporarily ran away from the things that had enslaved them, but now they were right back where they started.

At least when they didn’t know the truth, there was hope that when they heard it, they could be saved.

But now they’ve come to know the truth. They’ve tasted the goodness of it. Yet despite all this, they have now rejected it.

What hope is there for them now? Precious little. None if they do not repent. And God will judge them even more harshly because they didn’t sin in ignorance, but in full knowledge of the truth. (20-21)

And Peter says,

Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (22)

The problem is, of course, that if we fall in line with their teaching, we’ll fall into the same pit they do.

So the question is, “How well do you know your Bible?”

Do you know it well enough that if someone teaches something that is false, you can detect it?

How do you detect false teaching? The same way bankers detect false money. Not by studying the counterfeit, but by becoming so familiar with the real, that when a counterfeit touches their hand, they recognize it immediately.

Are you that familiar with the Word of God? You should be.

And if you are, you never have to fear being deceived by false teaching.

How well do you know your Bible?

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II Peter 1:16-21–What our faith is built on

What is our faith built on? Why do we believe what we believe?

At the very base, it’s built on God himself and who he is. And it’s built on our experience of him. We’ve experienced God; we’ve tasted the Lord and seen that he is good.

The problem, of course, is that God is invisible. We can’t literally touch him or have conversations where we actually hear his voice. So how do we know that we are actually experiencing God in our lives? That it’s not just our imagination?

And people from all over the world claim to have  had spiritual experiences as well, all the while denying the things we believe as Christians. How can we know that our experiences are superior to theirs? That it is our experiences, not theirs, that are based on reality and not on mere emotion or myth?

That is what Peter addresses here.

He says,

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (16)

Many people today try to deny that Jesus ever even existed. Or that if he did actually exist, we can’t possibly know the truth of what he actually said and did. They claim that the whole Jesus story was built on pagan sources and jump through hoops to try to prove that claim.

But Peter says, “No. That’s not what we did. We were there. We saw Jesus. When he was on the mountain of transfiguration, we saw his glory and heard the voice of God himself. (16-18).”

More Peter tells us,

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain. (19)

This verse is apparently a bit vague in the Greek. It’s possible that Peter’s saying that their experience had increased their confidence on the Old Testament writings. But the new NIV translates the verse this way:

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable. (19)

In which case, Peter is saying, “Not only do we have our experience, but we also have God’s word to back up our experience and show that there is reality behind it.”

But either way, we base our faith not only on our experience but on God’s word.

Through God’s word, we see how he has worked in the lives of people in the past, and we see there is consistency when we compare their experiences with our experiences of him today. We also see the words of the prophets and how the things they prophesied actually came true. We see this especially in their prophesies of Jesus.

How can we know that the things in the Bible were actually true? Well archaeology has gone a long way to proving a lot of the historical facts of the Bible. But how can we know that the things written about God are true? That they actually God’s words right?

Peter tells,

Above all, you must understand that no prophesy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (20-21)

In other words, when people wrote the scriptures we had, they weren’t just writing what they thought was true about God. Rather, the Holy Spirit guided their thoughts and words. This is not to say that he dictated everything they said (although there are some examples of dictation). But God used each person according to their personality, education, and writing styles.

He used shepherds, fishermen, kings, priests, tax collectors, and doctors, among others. There were 40 different authors, from three different continents, using three different languages, and who lived over a period that spanned 2000 years. And yet their testimony all agree as to who God is and what he has done.

How can we not have confidence that our faith is true?

And so Peter says,

You will do well to pay attention to [God’s Word], as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our heart. (19)

The day dawning refers to Christ’s return, and the morning star is Christ himself. And so what Peter is saying is, until Christ, the true light of the world appears, pay attention to the light he has left us. His word is a lamp to our feet in this dark world. It shows us who God is and it shows us the path we are to walk in order to please him. So that’s what we are to build our faith on.

How about you? Is your faith based merely on your experience? Or on God’s word?

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II Peter 1:2-15 — If we truly know him and love him

I’ve been reading Luke 19:11-27 in preparation for a message I’ll be giving in a few weeks at church. And as I read this passage in II Peter, it caused me to reflect on that passage in Luke.

In Luke 19, Jesus tells the parable of the minas. And in it, Jesus talks about three servants who were given money by their master to invest. Two did, and were richly rewarded. The third merely hid the money. And in giving his excuse, he showed just how little he knew his master.

He portrayed his master as a hard man, a man who exacted much from his servants, and who profited off of others’ labors while doing nothing himself. And for these reasons, he refused to do anything with the money his master had entrusted him with.

Many people today are the same way. They may go to church and call themselves Christians, and yet they carry grave doubts about the very character of God. They think him harsh and unfair. And they find it hard to believe that God actually knows what is best and is looking out for their best.

In short, they doubt in their hearts that God is good. And because of that, they refuse to live for him and his purposes. Instead, they live only for themselves.

But for the person who truly knows and loves God, can they live that way?


Certainly, as a young believer, you don’t know God very well, and your love for him is far from developed. But as you grow in your faith, these things should change.

And as Peter says in this passage, as you come to know God more, grace and peace will be multiplied to you. Why? Because you will see that God is good. And you’ll see all the gifts that he has given you. The gift of forgiveness. The gift of eternal life. The gift of his Spirit. And as you see these things, you can’t help but to love him all the more and to long to be like him.

  • You see the utter goodness of God and long for that goodness in your life.
  • You see the wisdom of God and long to learn from him.
  • You see the self-control that Jesus displayed when facing temptation, and long for that in your life.
  • You see how he persevered even to the cross, encouraging you to persevere under trial too.
  • You see how Jesus related to his Father, listening to and following his voice, and you long to do the same.
  • You see the kindness of God, and his love for you, and it causes you to want that kindness and love to be reflected in your life as well.

And Peter says,

If you possess these these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Jesus Christ. (8)

And like the faithful servants in Jesus’ parable, Peter says,

You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (11)

But Peter also tells us,

If anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed of his past sins. (9)

That’s what the third servant was like. He had forgotten all about the goodness of his master. And because of that he was nearsighted and blind, totally oblivious to the cliff he was about to fall off of when his master returned.

How about you? How do you see God? Do you see him as he truly is? Or do you have a warped view of him?

How you see him will shape your life. And it will show in your attitude toward him on judgment day.

What will God see in you on that day?


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II Peter 1:2-4 — That grace and peace may abound

One of my favorite passages in C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian is when Lucy meets up with Aslan, and she says, “Aslan! You’re bigger!”

And Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one.”

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

How true is that in our relationship with God. He is already as big as he ever will be. But as we grow in our knowledge of him, he becomes bigger in our eyes. Not because he actually grows bigger, but because we see him more as he truly is.

I believe that is why Peter says,

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2)

He expands on this in verses 3-4.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by sin. (3-4)

How can we know grace and peace in abundance in our lives? Through knowing God more. Through coming to know his glory and goodness more deeply.

That same glory and goodness by which he called us to be his own children. That same glory and goodness through which he has given us his very great and precious promises.

Promises of eternal life. Promises that the Holy Spirit will indwell us, counsel us, lead us, intercede for us, and day by day transform us into Christ’s likeness.

And because of these promises, we can actually participate in his divine nature, such that when people see us, they see our Father in heaven.

Through his grace we have already escaped the corruption in this world that destroys people. (The new NIV translates verse 4 more accurately: “having escaped the corruption in the world.”)

But now his power gives us everything we need to to live life to the fullest and to become the godly children he created us to be.

And as we live this way each day, God’s grace abounds to us and so does his peace.

Do you know that grace and peace today? If not, draw near to God. The word “godliness” has that very connotation in it. It was used of people who kept in close touch with the “gods.”

But here, Peter applies it to Christians and says that we should keep in constant touch with the one true and living God. That moment to moment, day to day, we should be aware of his presence in our lives, and to let that awareness shape our thoughts, our actions, our very lives.

And as you do, you will know his grace and his peace in your life, multiplied many times over.

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II Peter 1:1 — A faith that puts us on equal standing

It’s rare that I ever get stopped by a verse such that I just have to write about it and it alone. Particularly when it comes in a greeting. But this one stopped me.

Peter writes,

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.

I’ve read that verse many times in the NIV, and I’ve always liked it, but as I read the ESV today, that last part struck me. The ESV puts it this way:

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.

Think about that a minute. Here is Simon Peter, one of the 12 original apostles of Christ, and one of the inner circle to boot. And he tells a bunch of people who had never even seen Jesus before, “Your faith is of equal standing with ours.”

Perhaps as he said that, he recalled Jesus’ words to Thomas,

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29)

“Yes,” Peter is saying, “I have actually seen him. I saw his glory on the mountain when he was tranfigured before my very eyes, and I heard the very voice of God. I saw Christ’s resurrection. But your faith is just as precious and of equal standing as mine in the eyes of God. For though you have not seen, yet you have believed.”

So often, we think of ourselves as second-class citizens as Christians. We put ourselves on a lower scale than others. Than the pastors in our churches. Than our Christian friends in the church. But if our faith is of equal standing with Peter in the eyes of God, then isn’t our faith of equal standing with the other believers around us as well?

That’s also a humbling message for those who have been Christians for a long time. It can be tempting to look down on others for their lack of Biblical knowledge or maturity.

And certainly God calls us all to grow. It is in fact one of the key themes of this book, that we would all grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, becoming more and more like him each day.

But remember, you are no better than anyone else.

Nor are you inferior to anyone else.

We are all saved by grace alone. We weren’t saved because we were any better than the others around us. Rather we were saved by the righteousness of Christ, who lived a perfect life on this earth and then paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. And now, through him, we are all declared righteous in God’s sight if we will only put our trust in him.

How do you see yourself? As better than other believers? As inferior?

Remember how God sees you. As people who are on equal standing. As people with a faith that is truly precious in the eyes of God.

So let us stop comparing ourselves to others. Rather, let us rest in his love and grace each day.

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I Peter 5 — Facing suffering as a church

Throughout this letter, Peter addresses Christians as they face persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ. He addressed them first as a collective body of Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. As the living stones who were all part of that one spiritual house that God was building.

Then he addressed individual Christians, the slaves, the wives, and the husbands.

Then he addressed them once again as that collective body of believers.

But now in this final chapter, I think he addresses them as individual churches. When the whole church is going through suffering, how should it respond?

It starts from the top and the example the leaders set. Peter tells them to be shepherds who really care for the flock, especially in this time of trial.

It’s easy in times of trial to look out for number one. But leaders especially are not to do that. Nor are they to lord it over their sheep. Rather, they are to put their sheep and their sheeps’ needs above their own.

I’m not sure, but I think perhaps Peter was recalling God’s condemnation of the bad shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, the ones whom God had charged to lead his people, but who instead only lived for themselves.

And it’s possible Peter was saying, “Don’t be like those shepherds. Care for your flock. God will hold you accountable for what you do. But if you are faithful, then,”

When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (4)

Peter then addresses the young men, telling them to be submissive to those in leadership. (5)

It’s easy, especially for those who are younger, to think they know all the answers and to criticize those in leadership. But Peter says, “Submit. Your leaders may not always be right, but submit. Don’t divide the church through your pride.”

Then he said,

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. (5-6)

Like I have said before, in times of trial, it can be easy for people to turn against each other, particularly because of pride. But Peter says, “Be humble in your dealings with each other. And more importantly be humble before God. And if you do so, he will lift you up out of those sufferings.”

Verse 6 is actually part of one longer idea found in verse 5. Humble yourself before God. Don’t think you can solve all your problems on your own. You can’t. Instead, cast your anxiety on him because he does care for you.

So many times, we can’t find peace in our lives because we fail to do just that. In our pride, we take all these burdens upon ourselves because we can “handle it.”

But God tells us, “Trust me. Humble yourself before me and lay these things in my hand. And I will handle it.”

Peter then tells the church to be on the alert. Satan would destroy them through these trials if he could. But Peter says, stand firm in faith. Remember you’re not alone in your sufferings. Other brothers and sisters are struggling too. So encourage one another.

He then concludes,

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (10-11)

And so we have come full circle. God has called you. He’s sanctifying you each day that you might become more like his Son. Part of that sanctifying process is the sufferings you endure. And God’s purpose in all things is that we might live for Jesus Christ.

But the thing to remember is we don’t have to do this in our own strength. Humble yourself before him. Trust him. And in the end you will come out strong, firm, and steadfast, to his glory.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (14)

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I Peter 4:12-19 — Living for the will of God (Part 3)

If there’s one thing that most people don’t think about when it comes to knowing the will of God in their lives, it’s that sometimes it’s God’s will that we go through suffering.

The more I read the New Testament, the more I feel that conclusion is unavoidable. But the other thing that I get is that through those sufferings, God is glorified and so are we.

And so Peter tells us,

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (12)

Translation: it’s something that is actually normal in the Christian life. It’s normal when people reject you for Christ’s sake.


Because Christ was rejected too.

Peter says,

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (13)

In short, rejoice when you suffer unjustly, for Christ suffered unjustly too. But the day will come when he will return and his glory will be revealed. And on that day, all your struggles and suffering will be forgotten.

But even before then, Peter tells us,

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (14)

I can’t help but think of Stephen, facing his accusers just before he was stoned, his face glowing like an angel. (Acts 6:15).

Or of the apostles coming back from their beating at the hands of the Sanhedrin, praying, and then being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

When we suffer for Christ’s sake, the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit rest upon us. And Peter says we are blessed because of it.

So Peter tells us,

If you suffer for as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (16)

He then says something a bit enigmatic.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God. And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (17-18)

What does he mean by this? I think it means that as Christians, God puts all of us through times of testing. But as we’ve seen in James, this testing is not for the purpose of destroying us, but of refining us like gold, making us more like Christ. Nevertheless, the process is not pleasant. In fact, it can be quite painful.

But how much better is that than to stand in judgment before God when all your life you have rejected him?

And so though we may suffer for the will of God, know that it always is for our good. More than that, it will be to God’s glory, for when we come out of the fire, we will come forth as gold.

So Peter concludes,

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (19)

Are you going through a time of peace right now? Rejoice. Be thankful. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last, for we live in a broken world.

Are you going through suffering? Rejoice. Know that it is only temporary and it will not ultimately be for your destruction, but for your good.

But whatever the case may be, whether you are in times of peace or suffering, commit yourselves to your Creator, and continue to do good. And God will be glorified through you.


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I Peter 4:8-11 — Living for the will of God (Part 2)

A lot of people want to know what God’s will is for their lives. And they tend to think of it in terms of “What job should I have?” “What ministry should I join?” Or “Who should I marry?”

But when Peter talks about living for the will of God, he really doesn’t address these things. Rather, if there’s one thing that he says which describes living for the will of God, it’s this: it’s living for his glory.

A lot of people say they want to know God’s will, but in their everyday lives, they live for themselves and their own glory, not for God and his glory.

How do we live for God and his glory?

For one thing, love one another. It says in verse 8 to love one another earnestly. The word “earnestly” has the idea of being stretched to the limit, as a runner will stretch his muscles to the limit when he’s in a race. In short, live all out in your love for each other.

Peter says that as we do so, love covers a multitude of sins. In our relationships with those around us, especially with our brothers and sisters of Christ, love helps us overlook their faults and to forgive them when they sin against us.

But as we show Christ’s love for those who don’t know him, it also opens the door for Christ to work in their lives and to wash their sins in his blood as they turn to him. So in that sense too, love can cover a multitude of sins.

Either way, we bring God glory through the love that we show for others.

Peter also says to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (9)

When we are going through suffering ourselves, it’s hard to be generous and give of ourselves to others. But as we follow the example of Christ, giving of ourselves even as we suffer, we again bring glory to God.

Finally, Peter reminds us to be faithful with the gifts God has given us and to serve one another. (10)

And once again, this not to our glory but to God’s. Peter says,

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (11)

In other words, remember that all our gifts are from God. They will only be truly effective if they are empowered by him. And the end result should not be that people praise us, but him.

How about you? Do you desire to know God’s will in your life? God’s will doesn’t have so much to do with what your job is, what your marriage is, or the different minutia of your life. Rather it comes down to this:

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31)

Who are you living for?


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I Peter 4:1-7 — Living for the will of God

From the very beginning of the letter, Peter made something very clear that he gets back to here. In chapter 1, verse 2, he let us know that we were chosen by God for obedience to Jesus Christ. And this is a theme that we see throughout this letter. We don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to God. We don’t live for ourselves. We live for God. At least we should be.

Now here in chapter 4, Peter reminds us yet again, we do not live for ourselves, but for the will of God. And it is for that reason reason that we endure suffering and put away sin in our lives. (1-3)

But living for the will of God is not merely avoiding sin and being willing to suffer for his sake. It’s living every moment of every day for him.

Peter says,

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (7)

In short, remember that this life is temporal. Jesus is coming back. And so all that we do should be done with that in mind. Don’t let the pleasures of this world, the worries of this world, or anything else cloud your mind. And don’t let sin reign in your lives either. All these things take our focus off of what’s truly important: God and his kingdom. Each day, we should be drawing near to God and doing all we can to bring people into his kingdom. And that’s where most of our prayers should be directed.

But how often do our prayers remain purely self-focused? I’m not saying that we should never pray for ourselves. Jesus, in the model prayer he gave us, encouraged us to do so. (Matthew 6:11). But remember again, we don’t live for ourselves. And so when we pray, it should start with, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

When we are too focused on ourselves, when our minds our clouded by the things of this world and the worries of this world, we lose sight of that. And when we fall into sin, letting ourselves become slaves to it once more, we definitely lose sight of God and his kingdom in our lives.

That is why Peter writes, “Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

I don’t think Peter is saying, “so that you may have the ability to pray.” Rather, I think he’s saying, “so that you can pray effectively.”

“So that you can pray according to the will of God.”

“So that you can pray in such a way that God will honor your prayers.”

The NASB puts it, “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”

In short, we cannot pray effectively according to the will of God if our hearts are not right.

How we pray shows where our priorities are. It also shows how much we are truly living for the will of God.

What do your prayers show about you? Do they show a person living according to the will of God?

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I Peter 3:18-22 — The hope that we have

When people mock us for our faith, it can be disheartening. And when we are persecuted for our faith, it can be easy to ask why.

“Why does God allow this? Why does he let us suffer? And how long will we have to endure it?”

I think we can find at least some of the answers to that here as Peter compares our experience of suffering and persecution to that of Christ’s and Noah’s. He says,

For Christ died for sins once for all, the unrighteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him. (18-22)

Noah was undoubtedly mocked and possibly persecuted for warning the people about the coming judgment, and the salvation that God was providing through the ark. He suffered for many years like this before the flood came. Why? Because God was showing patience, giving people the chance to repent. Ultimately, they did not and died in the waters of judgment.

In the same way, many Christians suffer for Jesus sake, and that suffering may seem long. But the reason for this is that God even now is waiting for people to repent.

But just as judgment eventually fell on the unbelievers in Noah’s day, it will fall once again when Jesus returns to judge all people. And their judgment is certain. That, I think, is the point of Peter talking about the “spirits in prison.”

It’s a little unclear who these “spirits in prison” were. Some think they were demons who had had sexual relations with human women. Others think they were the humans living at the time of Noah who rejected God. I tend to think it’s the latter, but whoever they were, they are now in some kind of prison, apart from God, and awaiting judgment.

Some people think that when Christ went to preach to them, he was preaching one last chance at salvation. But as I said yesterday, the scriptures are clear that there is no second chance after death.

The word “preach” can also be translated “proclaim.” (The new NIV translates it “made proclamation.”) And I think what Christ did was proclaim his final victory to those who had rejected God in the past, and to let them know that their fate is now sealed.

But just as Noah was saved through the waters of judgment, so all who put their trust in Christ will be saved through judgment as well. Peter points out that this is one of the things that water baptism symbolizes, our salvation through judgment.

And that’s the hope that we have. That ultimately justice will come to those who persecute us and don’t repent. But more importantly, mercy and grace will be shown to us and all those who have put their faith in Christ.

But until that time, God is patiently waiting in order that he might show the mercy and grace he gave to us to as many people as possible.

Our suffering is but for a little while. So let us not lose heart. When we suffer for the sake of the gospel and of Christ, it will not be in vain. For Jesus is the king, with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.

We may not see that now. But we will some day.

So remember the words of the writer of Hebrews.

In just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:37-39)


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I Peter 3:13-4:6 — Living for Christ that others may live

Throughout this letter, Peter has been encouraging his readers to follow the example of Christ in suffering. To not be afraid of people, but to instead set apart Christ as Lord in their lives.

One thing that struck me as I read this is that one of our goals in living for Christ, even to the point of suffering for him, is that others may live. That others may find the life we ourselves have found in Jesus.

That’s why Peter tells us to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have. Because when people see us being willing to even suffer for the sake of Christ, they will ask why, and that opens up a door for God to work in their lives. (3:15)

So Peter encourages us, “If it’s God’s will, then be willing to suffer for doing good, because by doing so, others may find their way into God’s kingdom too.”

He then shows how Jesus was the ultimate example of this in verse 18. He says,

For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (3:18)

Peter’s saying here, “Don’t you see? It was through Christ’s suffering that the door was opened for you to come into God’s kingdom. So be willing to do the same for others.”

Then after reminding us of our ultimate victory through suffering (we’ll get into this tomorrow), he tells us,

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in the body is done with sin. (4:1)

In short, since Christ was willing to suffer in order that you may be saved, take on that same attitude.  Be done with sin in your lives. Stop living for yourselves and your own comfort and start living for God. (4:2)

Peter presses on, saying, “You’ve wasted enough of your life living for yourself, indulging in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and idolatry. And all your non-Christian friends think you’re strange because your priorities have changed so much and you don’t want to join in with them any longer.” (4:3)

Not only that, but again, we may face mocking and persecution because we refuse to do so. But Peter reminds us,

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (4:5)

Judgment day is coming. People will be judged for rejecting Christ. And so Peter again reminds us of our mission while we are here.

For this reason, the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (4:6)

This is a little difficult to interpret, but I strongly doubt it’s saying that people get another chance after they die. Other scriptures argue against it (Hebrews 9:27, Luke 16:26). What it seems to be saying is that there are people who now dead who had the gospel preached to them. And the reason the gospel was preached to them is that though they might die physically as all do because of Adam’s sin, nevertheless, they will find life with God forever.

And that’s what we need to keep in mind. A day of judgment is coming. We may be saved, but others aren’t. What are we doing about them? Are we reaching out to them with the love of Christ? Can they even see a difference in us which makes them question why?

Or are we simply living for ourselves, not caring that many are going to hell each day.

God cared. He cared enough to send his Son for us.

The question is, do we?

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I Peter 3:8-17 — Living as servants of God (Part 4)

After addressing specific examples of how people should live as servants of God (slaves, wives, and husbands), Peter now addresses us all.

First he addresses how we are to relate to one another.

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (8)

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words at this point when he told his disciples,

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

In I Peter 3:8, I think Peter is merely expanding on the words of Jesus. Again, the context of this comes in part from chapter 2 verse 12, that we live such lives among the pagans that they can see our good deeds and glorify God. But this is difficult to do when we can’t even get along with one another.

He then returns to the topic of how we, as Christ’s servants, are to deal with suffering and persecution. And we are not to respond as the world often does, with bitterness and retaliation. Rather, we are to respond with blessing. (9)

Again, this echoes the words of Christ who told us,

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)

And Peter says that if we bless others, we ourselves will receive blessing from God.

Peter also tells us that in the face of evil, we are not to respond with evil. (9)

Rather, he quotes Psalm 34 and admonishes us to watch our tongues, to turn from evil, and to seek peace and pursue it.  (10-12)

That’s hard to do. It certainly was in Peter’s time. Nero literally lit up Christians as torches at his garden parties. Peter himself was crucified under Nero’s order.

But Peter says,

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”  (14)

And then he comes to the key verse of this passage.

But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. (15)

Why should slaves put up with unjust treatment from their owners? Why should wives submit to their husbands? Why should husbands respect their wives? Why should we love one another in the church? Why should we turn from evil when persecuted and bless those who abuse us?

Because Jesus is Lord of our lives. At least, he should be. And Peter charges us here to set him apart as Lord in our hearts. To remember that ultimately we are his servants. And that as his servants, we are to shine his light to the world. But we can’t do that if we’re living for ourselves, putting our own personal desires and goals above his kingdom.

With that in mind, then, in the face of suffering and persecution, Peter tells us,

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (15b-16)

Eventually, if we keep living as Christ’s servants, people will start to wonder why, even our persecutors, and then they will ask. And when they do, it opens up the opportunity for us to bring them into God’s kingdom too. But that will never happen if we are living for ourselves.

That’s why Peter concludes by saying,

It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (17)

Certainly none of us wants to suffer. But if we suffer not because we did evil, but because we have been living as servants of Christ, we will see God’s kingdom increase and God will reward us for it.

How about you? Who and what are you living for?

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I Peter 3:1-7 — Living as servants of God (Part 3)

From the very beginning of this letter, we’ve seen that we were chosen by the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ. In short, we were chosen not to live for ourselves, but for Jesus Christ.

And in this passage we see how this extends to the family and how we relate to each other in marriage.

Peter tells the wives,

In the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1-2)

That’s not a popular message among many women today. Some try to completely tie this message to the culture of the day and say its not relevant for marriages today. And certainly, husbands in Peter’s day had far more authority in the home than we see today. But throughout Paul’s letters as well in Ephesians and Colossians, you see this same message given to wives. There’s no getting around it.

But the main question again is why? Why submit to your husband? Because you are first and foremost a servant of Christ. And he has told you to do so.

More, by doing so, you become a light to your husband. He sees not a woman that lives merely for herself, but one that lives for her Lord. One whose beauty is not simply in her jewelry, clothing, or hairstyle, but whose beauty is rooted in a transformed heart. A heart that reflects the Lord who saved her. And when he sees that, not only will he become more attracted to you, he will often times become more attracted to your Lord as well. And isn’t that our job as servants and ambassadors of Christ?

Sometimes women fear they will be taken advantage of if they submit to their husbands. Unfortunately, some will be. But Peter encourages you to be like Sarah, and do what is right, submitting to your husband and not give way to fear. (6)

And God will honor you for that.

As I mentioned yesterday, this does not mean submitting to physical abuse. If that’s happening, get out of there. Protect yourself. But through it all, maintain the attitude of Christ who, “when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (2:23)

Husbands, on the other hand, you too are servants of Christ. Your wife, however, is not your servant. She is Christ’s. And in Christ, she is a sister and fellow heir. So Peter says,

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (7)

Your wife may be physically weaker than you; she may, by your estimation, be more emotionally fragile. But that does not give you any right to impose your will on her as a common bully would. You are to treat her with respect because Christ treats her with respect. And as much as you have received the gracious gift of life, so has she. If you ever forget that, God will hold you accountable for it.

Peter even says God will not even hear your prayers if you treat your wife wrongly.

In short, remember that in marriage, you and your spouse are both servants of Christ. And that should show in how you treat each other.

How do you treat your spouse?


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I Peter 2:18-25 — Living as servants of God (Part 2)

I suppose one of the groups of people that had the hardest time submitting to authority were the slaves in Peter’s time.

One of the things that had to attract them to the teaching of Christ was the idea that “there is neither…slave nor free…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

And yet, they were still stuck in a situation where that didn’t seem true. They were slaves of another. Some had masters that were good and kind. But others had masters that were far from either. And sometimes these slaves were beaten for no good reason. It would be easy in that situation for the slaves to feel like running away or rebelling.

But Peter told them,

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God. (18-20)

In short, continue to treat your masters with respect, even if you feel that they don’t deserve it. In doing this, you prove yourself to be a true servant of God and he will commend you for it.

None of us, I’m sure, have to endure this kind of thing. Even people who have “slave-drivers” for bosses have the option to leave. Slaves in Peter’s day didn’t.

But there are those of us who are ill-treated by others for no reason. Even worse, someone who has authority over you may be treating you this way, and it may not be easy for you to get out of the situation. It may be a parent. It may be a teacher. Or it may indeed be a boss in a job that you absolutely have to have. But whatever the case, you’re feeling beat down and can see no way out.

And it would be easy in those situations to show disrespect back to those who disrespect you. To abuse those who abuse you. But to be a servant of Christ means to follow his example in the face of suffering. Or as Peter puts it, to “follow in Christ’s steps.” (21)

Christ, of course, was spat upon, slandered, beaten, and ultimately crucified. But in the midst of it all,

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (22-23)

Why did he do all this? For us.

And he did this not so that we would continue to walking in sin, living for ourselves. But rather that we might, “die to sin and live for righteousness,” living as his servants and ambassadors. (24)

Once we had been going our own way, far from God, and making a wreck of our lives. But through Christ, he has healed our wounds, and we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. (24-25)

So let us not go back to our old ways, inflicting wounds on those around us, even when they seem intent on inflicting wounds upon us.

Rather let us live as God’s servants, following the example Christ gave us, and being his representatives of light, even to those who abuse us.

Am I saying then that if your health or life is in danger to stay in that situation? Not at all. Get out of there. Protect yourself.

But in all your dealings with those who abuse you, treat them as Christ treated those who abused him.

And God will ultimately reward and bless you for it.

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I Peter 2:12-17 — Living as servants of God

I mentioned in an earlier blog that sometimes Christians live as if God were an upgrade to their lives.

The result of this is that they pretty much continue to live as they did before but they add on a few things. They add on church. They add on Bible reading and prayer. And perhaps they get rid of a few “bad habits.” But other than that, they live the rest of their lives pretty much as they want to live it.

But God is not interested in being an upgrade in our lives. He’s interested in being our Lord. And he’s not interested in making us “better.” He’s interested in making us new creations, people who are the very likeness of his Son, and who represent him to the world.  And so Peter says,

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (12)

Those words are very reminiscent of Jesus’ own words when he said,

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

As Christ’s servants, we are his representatives to the world around us. We don’t merely represent ourselves anymore. We represent him. As a result, God cares very much about how we act, because what we do reflects on him.

One of the chief ways we represent him is how we relate to authority in our lives. Do we have proper respect for the authorities that God has put in place, particularly government officials? According to Peter, we must (2:13-14). Why?

For it is God’s will that by doing good that you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. (15)

When we disrespect our government, thus showing a lack of respect for authority, it reflects poorly on us and the God we say we represent. Even worse, we do so in a very public manner. Paul was mindful of this even when he was on trial and unlawfully struck at the order of the high priest. (Acts 23:2-5)

But Peter’s key point is found in verse 16.

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. (16)

In short, yes, you have been set free from the rules and regulations of religion. But your freedom should never be an excuse for sin and for living however you want to. Why not?

Because we are not our own. We were bought with a price. (I Corinthians 6:19-20). And now we are servants of God himself. So let us live that way.

How does that look? Peter tells us.

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (17)

How about you? What kind of representative of God are you? When others see you, do they see him? Or do they see only you?


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I Peter 1:13-2:12 — Because we don’t belong here

Having lived in Japan for 20 years, I sometimes feel like a man without a country. Of course I am American, but having been out of country so long, I am totally out of touch with the culture there and how things have changed over the years.

On the other hand, even having been in Japan so long, I am in many ways still an outsider. Or as we say in Japanese, a “gaijin.”

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because I don’t belong to this world. Not really. And neither do you if you’re a Christian. Christ has purchased us at a great price, not with silver or gold, but with his own blood. (1:18-19)

And he bought us to be his own people.

Like I said before, one of the key words in I Peter is “exiles” or “strangers.” We don’t belong here. And Peter goes into great detail as to the implications of this.

He says,

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1:13-16)

In short, because we are exiles and strangers, prepare yourself for the things that are to come. There will be hardships and even persecution for following Christ. But don’t falter because of that. Don’t look back longingly on your old life. Rather, set your hope on the grace you will receive when Christ comes back. What grace? The grace of eternal life. Of things that will never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for you. (1:4)

And because of that hope we have, don’t conform yourself to the evil desires that would destroy you; conform yourself to God. Make it your goal to become more like him. To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Our lives are so often broken because of sin. And by clinging to sin, our lives become even more broken. But when we let go of our sin and of doing things our way, and when we turn to God, doing things his way, our lives are made whole and complete.

And on the day of judgment, we will be rewarded.

So as Peter writes,

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1:17)

What does that mean to live as strangers here?

It means to live each day in faith, hope, and love. Faith and hope that God will do all that he has promised (1:21). And loving each other as he commanded us. (1:22)

It means to remember that the life that we have is something eternal. Life here on earth is short, but it is only preparation for what is to come after death. (1:23-25)

It means to get rid of the poisons that we drink in each day, poisons that the people of this world drink in daily, the poisons of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (2:1). These poisons and other sinful desires wage war against our souls and will destroy us if we continue to drink them in. (2:11)

Instead, we are to drink in the milk of God’s Word so that we can grow as his children. (2:2)

Most of all, it means to come to the One that this world has rejected. To come to Jesus as people who belong to his house. To be a part of that spiritual house he is building. To be his priests, offering spiritual sacrifices to God in our speech, in our actions, in our lives. (2:4-8)

And as we do, we will shine his light to a world trapped in darkness. (2:9, 12)

So remember who you are.

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (2:9-10)

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I Peter 1:3-12 — The reason for our hope

Peter was writing to a people that were suffering persecution, most likely under Nero. We don’t know the exact circumstances under which Peter wrote this letter, but it was probably either just before Nero started his full bore persecution of the church or just after. Either way, it would have been easy for the Christians to get discouraged. And so Peter reminds them the reason for their hope.

And it goes back to the first two verses of this chapter. That God in in his foreknowledge chose them and purified them by the blood of Jesus, and sanctified them by the Spirit for obedience to Christ.

Now Peter goes into much further detail.

He says,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (3-5)

Here we see the exact basis of our hope: the resurrection of Christ. By Christ’s resurrection, God confirmed that Jesus’ payment for our sin on the cross was enough. And through that same resurrection, we now have hope beyond the grave. As Jesus told his disciples,

Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19)

Now through his mercy, he has given us new life, our salvation is secure. Though Satan seeks to destroy us, God’s power shields us as we stand in faith, and his power will continue to shield us until the day Jesus returns. And on that day, we will receive an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil, or fade.”

Because of this, Peter can say,

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (6-7)

Why can we we rejoice in the midst of trial? Because these trials are just for “a little while.”

And God doesn’t allow us to go through these trials in order to destroy us, but to purify us and make us more like his Son. Jesus himself suffered greatly, and as we share in his sufferings, we become more like him.

How do our sufferings make us more like Christ? They cause us to remember that we are mere strangers in this world. As we saw yesterday, we don’t truly belong to this world. And as we see that, we start to focus not on the temporal, but the eternal. We lay aside the sins which promise temporary joy, for things that bring eternal joy.  And as we do that, all the junk that clings to us slides off and we become as pure as gold.

As Job said,

[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

And Peter says that all this is to God’s praise, glory, and honor first and foremost, for he is the one who chose us. But I also have to believe that we also will receive praise, glory and honor from God as well.

So with all this in mind, Peter concludes,

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul. (8-9)

Does that describe you, even as you go through trials? If not, then it’s time to get back to basics. Remember that God loves you and has chosen you as his own. Remember the cross by which Christ purchased you. Remember Christ’s resurrection by which we have hope of our own resurrection. Remember the inheritance that we have in heaven.

And if you do, you will come forth as gold.

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I Peter 1:1-2 — Who we are. Who we are called to be.

I don’t always take so much time looking at the greeting section of these letters in the New Testament. But as much as any letter in the New Testament, and perhaps more, this greeting connects to everything else that is written in this letter.

Peter starts by identifying himself and who he is writing to, saying

Peter, and apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. (1)

Asia-MinorHere we see two things about who we are and who we are called to be in this one verse. Peter calls us, “God’s elect.” Not that we are somehow in ourselves more “elect” or special than others. But that God in his grace chose to save us and make us his own. Not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

He also calls us “strangers in the world.” That can also be translated, “exiles of the Dispersion.” The “Dispersion” usually referred to the Jews who were scattered throughout the world, far away from their homeland. But here Peter uses the word figuratively of all Christians. We are all citizens of a heavenly country, and yet we are scattered all over this world, like strangers in a foreign land. And this is a theme that comes up more than once in this letter.

Peter then says of us that we have been

…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood. (2)

Here again, we see how God in love chose us and through Christ’s blood purified us from all sin. But not only has he chosen us and purified us, he is constantly working in us. Day by day he is sanctifying us, and making us more like his Son.

And we were chosen not to live for ourselves, but for obedience to Jesus Christ. He is to be the Lord and King of our hearts, and we his servants.

That’s who we are and who we are called to be. And if you want to understand the rest of this letter, you need to understand these things.

But so often we don’t. Even many Christians fail to grasp this. They think of their Christianity as an upgrade to their lives in this world.

What they don’t understand is that God is not interested in upgrading our lives. He is interested in making us entirely new people. People who reflect his Son. People who no longer live as if this world is their home, but who remember that their true citizenship is in heaven.

And for this  purpose, he sent his Son into the world to suffer and die to take the punishment for our sins. And for this purpose, Jesus sent his Spirit into the hearts of all who believe in him to transform us into his likeness.

How about you? Do you understand who you are and who you are called to be?

Or do you still live as a citizen of this world, acting as if you truly belong here?

If you’re a Christian, you don’t belong to this world.

You were created by God and for him. You were chosen by him and sanctified by the Holy Spirit for obedience to Christ. And until you understand that and live that way, you will never truly understand who you are and who you are called to be.

Do you understand this?

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James 5:15-20 — A faith that pursues

The letter of James ends rather abruptly compared to a lot of the letters that you see in the New Testament. But it ends with one of its main themes: a faith that expresses itself in love.

And here we see a love that pursues a fallen brother or sister. In verses 15-16, it talks about dealing with a brother or sister who is not just physically sick, but spiritually sick. And he encourages us to pray that their whole body, mind, and spirit be healed.

But in the last two verses, he goes further.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and over over a multitude of sins. (19-20)

Sometimes we see a brother or sister walk away from God. And too often, we just let them go without pursuing them. We may pity them, sometimes we even judge them. But we don’t pursue them.

But love doesn’t just let someone slip away without a fight. It pursues. Part of that pursuit is confronting them in their sin. Part of that pursuit is entreating them to come back. And part of that pursuit is praying for them. How do we pray for them?

I find it very interesting that just before he talks about bringing a brother or sister back, James talks about the kind of prayer that Elijah prayed. Elijah lived in a time when much of Israel had walked away from God. And so he prayed. What did he pray? He prayed that it would not rain. And it didn’t, for three and a half years.

And because of his prayer, it got people’s attention. It certainly got king Ahab’s attention. Eventually through his prayer, it brought people back to the worship of the Lord.

Sometimes we need to pray the same way. Like I said at the very beginning of this book, God brings trials into our lives to make us mature and complete. And sometimes God uses trials to bring us back to himself when we are wandering off. So sometimes we need to pray that way.

“Lord, bring a drought in so-and-so’s life. Help them see the futility of a life apart from you and bring them back to you.”

And I think God will honor that prayer.

It almost seems cruel to pray that kind of thing. But like God, we are to have a heart for people, not one that delights in the fact that they are struggling, but one that longs for their repentance and rejoices when they do.

How about you? When someone walks away from God, do you have a faith and love that pursues them?

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James 5:13-18 — A faith that prays

As I said before, a lot of James at first glance seems disjointed, but the more that I’ve read this book, the more I’ve come to see the overall flow of it. And here James comes back to an idea that he started in chapter 1, prayer in the midst of trouble.

In chapter 1, he said that if you are going through trial to ask God for wisdom, but to ask in faith. Faith that God is good. Faith that God’s way is best.

Now he comes returns to this thought, saying,

Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. (13)

Pray for what? Pray for wisdom and pray for help. But again, we need to pray believing in the essential goodness of God. Because if you doubt that, your prayers will be totally ineffective. (1:5-6)

But we shouldn’t just pray when we’re in trouble. James tells us,

Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

It’s easy to remember God in our times of trouble. But do we remember him in the good times as well? Do we thank him for his goodness? That’s part of faith too. Believing that every good and perfect gift comes from him. (1:17)

James then returns to the idea of praying through trials, saying,

Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (14-15a)

This is no guarantee of healing, no matter what some people may say. Paul himself prayed for people who didn’t get well. (II Timothy 4:20, for example).

But nevertheless, if we are sick, James says to pray and to have the leaders of the church pray for you as well. The oil was either a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s work in healing, or it was used as an ointment for healing. Again, though, the idea is that through prayer, we express our faith in God. By praying, we put ourselves in the hands of God to heal…or not, trusting that whatever he chooses to do is best.

There are times, however, when sickness is the result of sin. And so James says,

If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (15-16)

It calls to mind the time Jesus healed the paralytic in Mark 2. Before dealing with his physical ailment, Jesus dealt with his sin.

I’m not saying that all sickness is the result of sin. But there are many people, for example, who have suffered physical aliments because of bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts. And by dealing with their sin first, their physical ailments were also healed. That’s another reason James says to pray when you are sick or troubled. Prayer can reveal these kinds of spiritual issues and bring healing to them.

He concludes by saying,

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (16-17)

In short, never think prayer is a waste of time. That it is ineffective. Even for the “ordinary” person, if we come to God in faith, prayer can accomplish great things. Not because we’re speaking some magic formula or incantation. But because the God we pray to is great. And when we trust him, he can accomplish great things in us and through us.

How about you? Do you sometimes think prayer is a waste of time? Or do you have the faith to pray in the good times and bad?


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James 5:1-12 — How faith responds to suffering

James started this letter by talking about how God uses trials to make us mature and complete. And for the last several chapters, he talked about how true faith should look as it matures. That true faith causes people to grow in love, speech, and in purity. And that is the endgame for God. That we would become more like Christ as we draw near to him.

Now having drawn that picture, he comes back to how we should deal with our trials.

On first glance, the first six verses of chapter 5 look like a continuation of his condemnation of the wealthy Christians that we saw in the last few verses of chapter 4.

But taking a closer look, it seems much more likely that James is echoing the Old Testament prophets who condemned those who persecuted or oppressed God’s people. That there were rich people who hoarded their wealth and failed to pay their workers their wages. Who condemned and murdered innocent men by their greed and self-indulgence. And James warns, “Your time of judgment is coming.”

But then he turns to the suffering Christian. And he says,

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains? You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (7-8)

In short, part of perseverance is faith. Faith that God will judge the unjust and that justice will ultimately come. Just as the farmer trusts God to provide the rains he needs so that his crop will grow, so we should trust God to provide the justice that we all long for. And as we wait in faith, we will bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives.

That’s hard, though. And sometimes in our frustration, we not only get angry with God, but we turn on each other. So James says,

Don’t grumble against each other brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (9)

If in our impatience and anger at our situation, we turn on each other, God will hold us accountable for that. So James tells us,

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (11)

When you look at the lives of the prophets, many, if not all, suffered greatly. Yet in the midst of their struggle, they continued to to be faithful, preaching the Word of the Lord, no matter how much they were reviled. Job too suffered, and though he struggled with understanding the whys, he never gave up on his faith on God either. And in the end, God vindicated them all.

And so James tells us, “Learn from them. In the midst of your trials, be patient.”

It’s easy to say God is good when all is going well. It’s much harder when we’re going through trial.

Finally James says,

Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No”,” no, or you will be condemned. (12)

Here I think James is saying, “No matter how bad things get, hold on to your integrity. Don’t let your trials take that away with you. Always stay unflinchingly honest lest your dishonesty detract from your testimony.”

How do you face your trials? Do you turn against God? Do you turn against those around you? Do you let your trials take away from your integrity? Or do you stand unflinchingly in the face of it all, believing that God is good and will bring you through?

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James 4:13-17 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 8)

I think with this passage, James pretty much concludes his speech on how true faith expresses itself. And again, throughout his whole letter, he has focused on love, speech, and purity.

In these last few verses, I think he’s going back to the theme of purity and not becoming polluted by this world.

Part of that pollution is the love that people have for the things of this world. But part of that pollution is the arrogance that comes from having the things of this world. Here we see Christians who were pretty successful in the world, successful business people and merchants. And because they were so successful, they were starting to forget their need for God. They had forgotten that all that they had ultimately came from him.

And so James says,

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (13-16)

In a lot of ways, this is connected to verses 10-12.

In those verses, James asked, “Who are you that you think you have the right to judge your neighbor, to despise him by slandering him and treating him like dirt?”

Now he again asks, “Who do you think you are that you boast as you do? You’re nothing. You’re mere mist, here today and gone tomorrow. You don’t even control how much breath you have left in your life.”

So what do we get from all this? Put away your arrogance. Draw near to God and humble yourself before him.

And stop despising others. Rather, get back to what Jesus commanded and start loving your neighbor as yourself.”

James then concludes,

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins. (17)

And so we come full circle to what James said earlier in chapter 2, that faith without works is dead. For if you are walking in arrogance, judging others with your mouth, neglecting the needs of those around you, and living in adultery with the world, do you really have faith? Or is your faith mere words, an empty shell.

What kind of faith do you have?

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James 4:11-12 — How true faith expresses itself (part 7)

Having addressed hearts that had been polluted by their love for the world, James now gets back to the tongue and how polluted hearts can affect it.

James talked earlier about how they were always fighting and quarreling among themselves and how that caused them to hate each other. Literally he says, “kill,” but I highly doubt they were actually killing each other. Rather, I think they were killing each other in their hearts.

Why do people murder? Because they despise others in their hearts. They treat them as something less than someone created in the image of God. That’s why Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Here you see Jesus equating harboring anger in your hearts toward others, and as a result despising them, with murder.

I think James was doing the same. The people were so in love with the world, they started to envy and despise those who had more than they did. And that led them to say things they shouldn’t. To slander others and call them fools or worse.

So James says,

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (11)

So often when we talk about not judging others, we think of not judging their sins. But here, I’m not so sure James is talking about judging people’s sins. I think he’s talking about judging them in terms of calling people “fools,” or “no-good,” or the like.

We saw another case of this in chapter two, when people in the church were sitting in judgment on the poor, despising them and giving more honor to others simply because they were rich.

So what James is saying is, “Don’t you dare judge people and see then as anything less than people created in God’s image. God’s law says you are to love them as yourself. God law says that you are not to despise or slander them in any way. And when you have the gall to judge them and see them as anything less than people created in his image, you speak against the law and judge it. You’re not keeping the law; you’re judging God’s law as not worth keeping.”

James then warns,

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor? (12)

In short, there is only one lawgiver and judge, and that’s not you. So get off your high horse, and as James said in verse 10, humble yourself before the Lord. Stop acting and speaking as if you’re so much better than others. You’re not.

How about you? How does your faith express itself when it comes to dealing with people? Do you sit on judgment on others, calling them no good? Calling them stupid? Wishing they were dead?

Or does it express itself with the love, mercy, and grace that God gave you?




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James 3:13-4:10 — How true faith expresses itself (part 6)

James here briefly gets away from talking about controlling the tongue (he’ll return to it later), and starts talking about the third way that faith expresses itself: purity.

He said back in James 1:26 that an essential part of true religion or faith is, “…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Here he goes into more detail as to what he means.

There were more than a few among those James was writing to that had ambitions of becoming a teacher in the church. And as we saw before, James cautioned them, saying not everyone should become teachers because they will be judged more strictly. (3:1)

He then says, “Do you really think you’re wise and understanding enough to be a teacher? Look at your hearts! Many of you are harboring envy and selfish ambition in your heart. That kind of “wisdom” comes from the devil, not God. And all that kind of wisdom will lead to is evil. (13-16)

Having said that, he gets to the true root of the problem. These people were being polluted by the world. And it was affecting how they thought and acted.

He says,

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on our pleasures. (4:1-3)

In short, he’s saying, “Look at you! You’re so in love with this world that you actually hate and envy those who have more than you. And because of that, you’re constantly fighting and quarreling with them. But not only is your love for the world affecting your relationship with others, it’s affecting your relationship with God. The only reason you talk to God at all is that you hope to get the things of this world. And God won’t honor that.”

James then gets really harsh.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (4)

James echoes here the words of the Old Testament prophets, who compared the people of Israel to whores and adulteresses (Ezekiel 16 and the entire book of Hosea for example).

When we love the world, it incites envy in the heart of God (5). We often think of envy as a bad thing, but there is a righteous kind of envy. A husband or wife has righteous envy when their spouse cheats on them. And when we turn our backs on God to whom we rightfully belong in order to pursue this world, he envies intensely.

And yet, if we will return to him, he always shows us grace (6). So James tells us,

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify our hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (7-9)

What kind of faith do you have? Is it a double-minded faith? One that claims to believe in God, and yet prostitutes itself by seeking the things of this world?

We are called to be priests of God, holy and pure. And as priests washed their hands and purified themselves before approaching God, so we need to wash our spiritual hands which are stained with sin and purify our hearts before God. We are not to indulge in the “joy” of worldliness. Rather we are to repent of it.

How about you? Are you being polluted by this world? Or does your heart belong to God alone?

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James 3:2-12 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 5)

I suppose I could have just titled this blog, “The tongue,” or some other such title. But I wanted to remind myself that this is really part of a longer argument that James is making. That faith expresses itself in love, in purity, and in our speech.

This passage is kind of a revisitation of chapter 1 verse 26 where James wrote,

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

We pointed out when we first looked at this that the reason for this is that our tongue shows the true state of our heart.

So many times people will say apologize for something they said by saying, “Sorry about that. It just kind of popped out.”

But the question is why? Why did it pop out? It popped out because it was there in your heart. It didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It resided in your heart, and when the time was ripe, it burst out.

And the thing is, because we all have sin in our hearts, there are any number of things there ready to pop out when we least expect it.

That’s why James tells us,

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. (2)

Words are much quicker to come out of our mouths then our body is to act on any thought we may have. And so if our heart ever comes to the point of maturity and completion that nothing bad ever pops out, it would be safe to say that we most likely would never do anything wrong.

But of course, as long as we are on this earth, there will always be sin in our hearts. And that’s why James says,

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. (7)

And the thing is, what we say can shape our lives as well as the shape of others. Just as a bit can turn a horse completely around, and a rudder can do the same to a ship, so the tongue can completely turn the life of a person for good or bad.

Unfortunately, too often it turns a person’s life for the worse. James compares it to a spark that can bring down an entire forest. What you say can destroy your whole life, or the life of another. And because of that, James says that such a tongue is set on fire by hell itself.

Jobs are lost because of our words. Marriages die because of our words. Children are crushed because of our words. Friendships are broken by our words.  And yet so often we speak them so carelessly. Is it no wonder that James calls them a deadly poison? (8)

James says,

With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (9-10)

Put another way, how can we say we love God when we curse people who are made in his image?

He concludes,

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (11-12)

The truth is, while these things should not be, they do happen when it comes to our words because of what’s in our hearts. We have both fresh water and salt water there.

So if you wonder why you struggle so much with your tongue, consider the source of your words? What is in your heart? What bitterness, anger, or other ugliness is there? Because until you let Jesus deal with what’s there, you will never be able to control your tongue.

So let us pray as David did.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

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James 3 — If you would be a teacher

As I look back on my life, I kind of marvel at how I have gotten to this point in my ministry. I just ask myself, “How did I get here?”

It all started simply enough, I suppose. My brother started working with an organization called Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) as a summer missionary when he was in high school and college. Then a friend of mine also decided join CEF, and one day said words that changed my life. “Are you going to join CEF this summer too?”

He seemed greatly disappointed when I said no. But that started the wheels in motion in my heart, and the next summer I started ministering to children teaching them God’s word. And from there it snowballed.

I went from teaching children to teaching my peers. Then I moved to Japan, and started teaching the Bible to my students. And then out of the blue, my pastor asked if I would speak at a home church. From there, that opened up opportunities to speak in larger church services. And here I am.

I almost want to say, “I didn’t ask for this.” But perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “I didn’t expect all this.”

But here I am, in the position I’m in, and I face this passage. And it’s a heavy one for me and all who would be teachers in the church.

James said,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (1)

Why? Two reasons.

First, if we are not careful in our teaching, we can lead people astray from the truth that is in Christ.

Second, when we stand in front of people preaching God’s word, they then pay particular attention to whether we live those words or not. We are to be examples to God’s flock. And when we fail, we can cause great damage to that flock.

It is the second that I think James is more concerned about here. We’ll talk more about the tongue as it concerns Christians in general tomorrow, but I think it would be good to focus on it from the standpoint of those who preach God’s word first.

Paul talks about the damage that we can cause to people with our tongues. He calls it a fire that can consume and destroy. (6) He calls it a restless evil filled with deadly poison. (8)

And for teachers that is the ultimate irony. With our speech we can exhort, rebuke, and edify. But with our speech, we can also destroy. And James asks,

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (11)

Quite frankly, it shouldn’t. As teachers, our mouths should be instruments of God, but when we tear people down, using biting sarcasm and cutting words, they instead become instruments of Satan. And this shouldn’t be.

James then gets to the root of all this: our hearts.

He asks,

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (13)

In other words, a truly wise and understanding teacher proves himself not by his words preached on the pulpit, but by his life off of it. And a truly wise teacher walks in humility, concerned with nothing but loving God and the people God has given him.

But some teachers are not this way. They are always comparing themselves with others. They compare themselves with other teachers with more successful ministries. Or they compare themselves with their flock, always looking down on them. And James warns,

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (14-16)

What is the wisdom that should characterize the teacher? James tells us.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (17-18)

Teachers, what kind of harvest are you raising in your church? One of chaos and evil? Or one of peace and righteousness? If you see a lot of the former, before you judge anyone else, look at your own life. Which characterizes your life more? Verses 14-16? Or verses 17-18?

What standard are you living up to?

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James 2:17-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 4)

There was something that I wanted to add in the last blog, but it was getting long as it was, so I decided to put it here.

One thing that I have been trying very carefully to do is to make clear that maturity and completion as a Christian takes time. One does not become a perfect Christian the day he or she is saved.

Abraham certainly wasn’t. I talked yesterday about how his faith was made complete with his putting of Isaac on the altar. But he did struggle with this faith a lot up until that point. We saw that with his sleeping with his wife’s slave Hagar. We also see it in Genesis 20 where he lied to a king named Abimelech, saying Sarah was his sister (technically true, she was his half-sister, but not the whole truth) because he was afraid Abimelech would kill him in order to take Sarah.

I say all this to make two points.

First, I have challenged you to think about your faith. And it would be easy for you to focus on your failures, and say, “Maybe I’m not really saved at all. After all, I still don’t see all the fruit of love in my life I should have, and I still fail in so many ways.”

But that’s not my intention nor was it James’. The people we are challenging are those who claim it is possible to be a Christian, and simply live the way that they want to. The people who say, “I have faith, you have deeds,” as if there were no connection whatsoever between the two.

But as we have seen, there is a connection. True faith in God always leads to a change in life. Because if you truly have seen his love for you in the cross of Christ, and you truly do love him for that, then you will naturally want to do the things that please him.

The question I would ask you if you’re questioning your faith is this: “Do you really love God. Do you have a burning desire to please him?”

If you can say yes, then I wouldn’t worry too much about you, because change will happen. Like I said, it may be hard and it may be painful. But it will happen.

Second, I think we need to be very careful about judging those who we feel are not changing “fast enough.”

People grow at different paces. And while actions often show the state of the heart, you know as well I do that it’s not a perfect measure. Some people look really good, but in their hearts are not right before God. On the other hand, other people may seem hypocritical, but when they are at home in their room before God, they are crying out, “God why am I this way? Forgive me. Help me.”

The only people whose faith we should be questioning are those people who blatantly don’t seem to care about becoming godly. Who always make excuses when they hear the Word of God and reject any rebuke for their actions on the basis that they are “saved by faith alone.”

These are the people that I’m challenging, and I believe James is too.

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James 2:17-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 3)

We said yesterday that it’s not simply enough to say, “I believe in God,” in order to be saved. Nor, for that matter, is it enough to say “I believe that Jesus died for my sin and rose again” in order to be saved. True faith always leads to a changed life, and that first and foremost expresses itself in love: love for God and love for others.

A “faith” that never grows to express itself in that way is not true faith at all. It’s merely empty words. As empty as saying to a needy person, “I hurt for you. God bless you,” and then walking away without doing anything to help them.

James then says,

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. (18)

It’s difficult to know how to take this verse, especially since we don’t know where the quotation marks should be. (There are no quotation marks in Greek.)

One way this could be read is that the “someone” mentioned is an outsider, a non-Christian, who looks at the so-called Christian who claims he believes in God but shows no love or compassion to those around. And this someone is saying, “Why should I follow your God? You have your faith, but I’m a much better person than you.”

The other way it could be read is that James is that “someone” and that all those words should be in quotes.

Either way, James is saying, “Do you really have faith? Prove it. Talk’s cheap. You say that you really believe in God, but how do I know? I can’t see your heart. All I can see is your deeds. And your deeds, particularly your lack of love for God and others, make me seriously doubt that you really have faith in God at all. Because if you really knew God’s love, it would eventually start to flow out from your life.”

And this, I think, is how we deal with the seeming contradiction between James and Paul. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works (Romans 3:28). James says we are justified by faith and works. (2:24)

We are justified by God by faith alone, but we are justified (or “proven”) as true believers before people by what we do. Why? Because God can see the heart. People can’t.

The interesting thing is that James and Paul use the same person and passage to prove their points. James says,

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (21-22)

The question is, who was he considered righteous by? By God? To an extent, yes. But more importantly, his outward actions proved to the people around him that he truly believed in God. They couldn’t see his heart. For all they knew, he was a total hypocrite. In fact, his previous actions may have made them think just that. After all, he had had so little faith earlier that he slept with his wife’s slave (with his wife’s permission) in order to have an heir. Why? Because he had started having serious doubts that God would give him an heir through Sarah like He had promised.

But when Abraham later was willing to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, even though Isaac was the one through whom God had promised Abraham’s family line would continue, it showed everyone around that Abraham really did have true faith. He had grown from the man who wavered and sometimes acted hypocritically into a man who truly lived out his faith.

That’s what James meant when he said,

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

When did Abraham believe God and have it credited him as righteousness. Before the sacrifice of Isaac? Or after? Well before. In fact it was before Isaac was even born. (Genesis 15:6)

God knew his heart right then and there. He knew Abraham believed him, and so he justified him on the basis of that faith. But that faith came to maturity and completion when Abraham put Isaac on that altar.

Like I said yesterday, maturity and completion of faith may take time. It may be a struggle, and it may be painful at times. But where there is true faith, there will always be progress, and eventually people will be able to see it.

What kind of faith do you have?

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James 2:14-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 2)

I think it’s easy at times to parse the Bible into neat little sections, especially as we do our daily Bible reading. What I’ve been noticing more and more over the past year, though, is that when we do that, we often miss the flow of what is being said.

So often people kind of detach these verses from all that was said before, but really, it is all part of one long argument. And this specific argument goes back to chapter 1 verses 26-27, where James talks about how true religion, true faith, leads to love, a tongue under control, and a pure life.

More specifically, this passage is continuing James’s thought of faith expressing itself in love. Paul himself talked about this, saying,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

James has been specifically talking about this in terms of how we treat the poor and lowly, and said that when we mistreat them, we are acting as sinners. We may not be committing murder or adultery, but we are nevertheless lawbreakers in God’s sight. And so James tells us, don’t judge the poor and lowly as lesser people. Rather show mercy to them. (2:8-12)

He then uses this line of thought to reinforce his general point, that true religion and faith should lead to a changed life.

He says,

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? (2:14)

Again, in the context, he’s talking about deeds of love. Can you claim to have faith if you have no love?

He then illustrates his point.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead. (2:15-17)

Here, James shows the emptiness of words if it is not backed up by action. If someone tells a person in need, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” it sounds good. It sounds loving. But if it never leads to action, that lack of action proves that all those words had no real meaning behind them. They’re just empty words, and not love at all.

In the same way, if someone says, “I believe in God,” it sounds pious. It sounds Christian. But if over the course of time, that person’s life never changes, their life proves those words of faith have no meaning behind them. They’re just empty words, and not faith at all.

James emphasizes the point, saying,

You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (2:19)

In short, mere mental assent to the truth is not enough to save you. Merely saying, “I believe in God,” is not enough. True faith always leads to a transformed life. In particular, it leads to a life in which you truly love those around you. Change may take time. It may be a struggle. But if there is true faith, there should always be progress.

If then you look back on your life and you can’t see any changes that God has brought about in your life, making you more mature and complete in him, then it’s time to question, “What kind of faith do I have?”

More on this tomorrow.

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James 1:26-2:13 — How true faith expresses itself

One of the things that James really is strong on is that true faith expresses itself in more than just saying, “I believe in God.”

Many people today say, “I believe in God.” But as we will see in later passages, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a saving faith.

A saving faith leads to a transformed life. We saw that one reason God allows trials into our lives is so that we might be transformed, that we might be made whole and complete as we learn to trust in him through those trials.

And as we look at the next few chapters, we see three ways we should see our lives changing if we are truly saved. One is in speech. The second is in love. The last is in purity. (It strikes me that Paul also talks about all these things in I Timothy 4:12)

James says first,

If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (1:26)

James will get much more into this later, but I will say this. Many people today who struggle with their tongue often take it lightly. They swear, they lie, they slander, they verbally abuse. And it never occurs to them that their words show what is in their hearts. If there is garbage in your heart, garbage is going to come out. If you think you’re a good Christian and garbage is spewing out of your mouth, James says you’re deceiving yourself and your Christianity is worthless. It’s worthless because your “faith” has yet to transform your heart. There’s garbage there and you don’t even notice it’s there.

James then says,

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)

James will explain later what it means to keep from being polluted by the world. But at this point, he goes into great detail on the third way in which our lives should change if we have true faith: the love we have for others.

If we have true faith, we should have a heart that has mercy on those around us. On the widows and orphans. (1:27) We should have a heart that does not discriminate showing more honor to those who are rich, while despising the poor. A heart that judges not by appearance but through the eyes of God who has chosen many that the world despise to be his children and to inherit his kingdom. (2:1-2:7)

And James tells us,

If you are keeping the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (2:8-9)

So many people say, “Yes, I’m a good Christian. I don’t murder, I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery.”

And yet they fail to love those around them with the love of Christ. Instead they despise them. James says of such people, “You’re not as good as you think. In God’s eyes, you are a law-breaker because you don’t love the people around you.”

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much the same. They didn’t love. They kept a lot of other rules, some of which God didn’t even require. But they discriminated, they judged, and they despised many of the people around them. And Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy. How many people that call themselves Christians would Jesus rebuke today?

So James concludes,

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:12-13)

When we live by the law of love and mercy, we set people free and show ourselves to be God’s children. When we judge and despise people, we show ours faith is not as strong as it should be.

What do your words and actions show about your faith?

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James 1:19-25 — Open hearts

At times, I must admit this letter James wrote seems a bit disjointed. He just seems to jump from topic to topic. But the more I’ve been reading this letter as a whole, the more united it has become.

In this passage, at first glance, seemingly out of nowhere, James brings up something very similar to what we see in Proverbs. He says,

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (19-20)

There is, of course, much truth to this in our relationships. If we would be quicker to listen to people, slower to speak, and slower to get angry, our relationships would be much better.

But I’m not so sure that James is talking here about our relationships with others. I think he’s talking about our relationship with God. Earlier he talked about how God uses our trials to make us mature and complete. That during these times, he teaches us to trust him and to do things his way.

The problem is that during times in of trials, too many times, we’re not willing to listen. Instead we rage at God, saying, “Why are you letting this happen to me!”

But James told us in verse 18 that through his word of truth, he gave birth to us. Through the word of the gospel we heard and accepted, he saved us from our sin and made us his children. And it is that same word that transforms us day by day into Christ’s likeness, making us whole and complete.

So James is saying here, “Be quick to listen to that word. In your times of trial be quick to listen to what God is trying to tell you. Be slow to speak. Be slow to complain. Be slow to rage against God because of your trials. For that kind of anger will not bring about the righteous life that God desires to develop in you.”

He then says,

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (21)

In short, God is trying to purify you through these trials and his word. So when he speaks, open your heart to what he’s trying to teach you. His word can save you not only from your trials, but save you from the multiple problems that come when you sin.

So don’t just mentally assent to what God is saying to you. Do it.

James puts it this way,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (22-25)

A lot of people think of God’s law as taking away our freedom. They think his law takes away from the enjoyment of life. But God’s law actually brings us freedom. It frees us from bitterness and resentment. It frees us from the chains that destroy our marriages, our relationships, and our lives. It frees us to have the full life that God intended for us from the very beginning. And as a result, we find blessing.

How about you? As you go through struggles in your life, are you getting resentful and bitter toward God? Or do you open your heart to him? God wants to use your trials to make you whole.

When he whispers, do you listen?


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James 1:13-18 — For our good

“Why is God doing this to me? Does he want me to fall?”

Sometimes, as we go through trials, that’s how we feel. That God actually wants us to fail so that he can punish us.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, God allows trials in our lives, but it is not to punish us or break us. Rather, he allows these trials that we might become “mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (1:3)

And so James tells us,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (13-15)

The word “tempt” in Greek is actually the verb form of the word “trial.” Because of that, perhaps James’ readers got confused when hearing that God “tests” us. Many people have the same confusion today.

Yes, God tests us. He wants to see what is inside of us, and he wants to use these tests to strengthen our faith in him.

But God never tempts us to do evil. He never says, “Hey why don’t you lust after this girl,” or, “Why don’t you start berating your spouse,” or, “Why don’t you curse me?”

All these temptations, James tells us, come not from God, but from our own sinful selves. Our own sinful desires lure us, and if we take the bait, it gives birth to sin, and eventually leads to death.

But that’s not what God desires for us.

Rather James tells us,

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (16-18)

In other words, every act of giving from God is good. And every gift that he gives us is perfect. There is no malicious giving on his part. And there is no gift that he gives that is defective. And that shows in the gift of salvation. God could have left us to die in our sins. But rather, he chose to give us life through his Son.

And God is not like shifting shadows, who one day will seek to bless us, and the other to destroy us. Rather, again, his goal is that we might become whole and complete. That we would, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10).

So remember that whatever you’re going through, God is not trying to destroy you. He’s not trying to wreck your life. We do enough of that on our own.

Rather, through our trials, he’s trying to teach us to trust him. And as we learn this, we see God’s goodness and faithfulness, and come out through the fire as pure gold, whole, complete, lacking nothing.


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James 1:9-12 — Where we put our trust

Who or what do you put your trust in? Trials tend to reveal this clearly.

For many, it’s in worldly wealth. They think that money is the solution to all their problems. And so for those who have wealth, they pour all their money into their problems. And for those without, they waste all their time pining after it.

But in doing so, they become double-minded. While they may be asking God for wisdom to deal with their trials, they’re really looking toward money to solve their problems.

So James says,

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position—because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (9-11) 

In times of trial, it’s easy for those without worldly wealth and status to moan after them as if these things would be the solution to all their problems.

But James says, “It’s not wealth or worldly status that counts, but the heavenly wealth and status that you have in Christ. So though you may be struggling through these trials, keep your eyes on the things that are eternal, not the things of this world. And be content with what you have, knowing that God is with you and will help you through your trials, whether you have money or not.”

It’s in fact very similar to what the writer of Hebrew said to his readers.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6) 

On the other hand, it’s easy for those who are rich and who think they should have it all together to be humbled by their trials and to wonder what’s going on. To wonder if God has abandoned them.

But James tells the rich, “Take a lesson from the low position you are now in. All your wealth is not saving you from your trials. All your riches, all your possessions will pass away. You will pass away. So let your trials refocus you on the things that really matter. And stop relying on the things of this world to save you. Put your faith in God.

Then he says to both rich and poor,

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (12)

In short, don’t waver under trial. Don’t waver by seeking the things of this earth and putting your trust in them. This earth with all its wealth and all its trouble will pass away. But you are looking toward something that will never fade away, everlasting life in heaven, and rewards that will never perish.

What trials are you going through now? Where is your focus in the midst of them? Where are you putting your faith? In money? Or in God?

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James 1:1-8 — That we may be mature and complete

What is God’s intention and desire for us?

In a word, “wholeness.”

That we would be whole in our relationship with him. That we would be whole in our relationships with each other. That we would be whole in every aspect of our lives.

That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? We all want to be made whole.

The next thought might not be so comforting: It is for the purpose of being made whole that we go through many of the trials and struggles we do.

That’s why it’s hard for us to accept James’ word to us when he says,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (2-3)

Pure joy? When we face suffering?

Yes. Pure joy. Why? Because these trials produce perseverance in our lives. Why is perseverance so important?

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (4)

In short, the path to wholeness is one of persevering through trial. For through those trials, we learn to cast aside trusting ourselves and our own wisdom.

The reason our lives are so broken is that we have spent our entire lives trusting ourselves and our own wisdom. But through our trials, we learn just how vain life is living that way.

But when we turn to God, learning to trust him and his ways, and we persevere in living that way even through trial, then we find wholeness. In our relationship with him, with each other, and in every aspect of our lives.

That’s why James tells us in the next verse,

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (5-8)

As I read this, I can’t help but think of Hebrews 11:6, where it says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Wholeness comes down to trusting God. If we doubt God’s goodness in our lives, we will never do the things he asks. And if we don’t do the things he asks, our lives will remain the broken shells they are.

How about you? Do you want to be whole, when all the while you’re holding on to your wisdom and your ways? You can never be made that whole that way. That way leads only to brokenness and despair.

But if you will trust in God, he will bring you out of the trials you are going through. And he will bring you out mature, whole, and complete.

What will you do?

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Hebrews 13:20-25 — Equipped

I love how the writer of Hebrews closes his letter.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (20-21)

So often in our Christian lives, we forget the grace of God and think we have to live this life in our own strength. That when trials come, we must endure in our own strength. That we must hold on to faith through our own mental toughness and willpower. That we must achieve holiness through our own efforts and those efforts alone.

But here, the writer of Hebrews brings us back to basics: that it is God who gives us the grace to do all these things. That Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins and make us right before God. And now, that same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is at work in us.

It is God himself who equips us with everything good in order to do his will. And day by day, he works in us what is pleasing to him.

We’re not on our own. We were saved by God’s grace. And we live each day by his grace.

How are you living your life? Are you living each day tired because you are relying on your own strength and wisdom to achieve the things you think God wants you to do? Are you discouraged because you just don’t seem to have the willpower to change yourself with all your sins and faults?

Remember that you were saved by God’s grace. And that grace is not simply for your salvation, but to transform you into the person God has created you to be. You are not on your own. So don’t try to live that way. Instead live each and every day resting in his grace.

Grace be with you all. (25)


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Hebrews 13:17-18 — Following and praying for your leaders

I have great respect for the pastors who have been over me.

I’ve been teaching God’s word for a long time, but have never sensed the call to be a pastor. If all being a pastor meant was teaching God’s word, I could probably do that. But a pastor is called to do much more in shepherding the flock God has given them.

We forget that sometimes. And not only do they have the responsibility of shepherding the church, they have the everyday responsibility of shepherding their families as well.

These are heavy responsibilities. And most take them seriously. For they know that one day they will answer to God for what they have done. And because of the specific responsibilities they have over God’s flock, they are held to higher account than most people.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage of you. (17)

Like I said, being a pastor is tough as it is. It becomes even tougher when his own flock starts sniping at him. Criticizing him. Tearing him apart for every mistake that he makes. Questioning every decision he makes in leading the church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Don’t do that. Follow them. Submit to their authority.”

Why? Because God is the one that gave them that authority. And ultimately, he is the one they are accountable to. He is the one who will judge them if they go off the right path, not you.

When we are constantly criticizing and tearing down our pastors, their job becomes a burden instead of the joy God intends it to be. And that is not only bad for them. But it’s also bad for us. Instead of being able to focus on all the things God has called them to do, they are forced to put out all the fires in the church.

And all the while Satan laughs.

So don’t be a part of that.

Is there no room, then, for criticism of a pastor? Certainly there is.

If they’re getting into false teaching, they must be confronted. If they’re neck deep in sin and immorality and will not repent, they must be confronted. And Paul deals with such situations in I Timothy 5.

But if you’re simply dealing with differences of opinion, in the direction of the church, in how things are run, etc., follow the leader God has given you. It’s entirely possible that they see things that you cannot.

And if your pastor does make a mistake in these things (and they inevitably will)? Don’t snipe. Don’t criticize. Build them up. Encourage them. And above all, pray.

The writer of Hebrews said,

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. (18)

Most pastors are the same. Even though they feel like they have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way, they still fall. They still make mistakes. So pray for them.

What is your attitude toward your pastor?

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Hebrews 13:7-16 — Serving the one who never changes

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (8)

This is a famous verse, and one of my favorites. It reminds me that my Lord is unchanging. And that is comforting in a world where people change all the time, and not always for the better. In Jesus, we have someone we can always rely on, someone whose word we can trust, and someone who will always be faithful to us.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (7)

For the Jesus that transformed them, and who worked in them and through them is the same Jesus that transforms us, working in us and through us. So as we look at our leaders faith and all that God did in their lives, we can be encouraged that if we walk in faith, we too will see God’s work and faithfulness in our lives.

And it’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us also,

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. (9)

In other words, Jesus brought us the message of grace. And because he is unchanging, his message will not change. He will not all of a sudden say, “Hey, you need to eat and avoid certain kinds of food to be right with my Father.”

So we should run from anyone that would bring us teaching that would take us away from the grace of God. We no longer live by law, but by the grace of God. Our goal is no longer to please God to earn our salvation. Rather, because we have already received our salvation through Christ, we seek to please him out of gratitude and our love for him.

The writer of Hebrews then tells us the great privilege we have in Christ. He says,

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (10)

What is he talking about? He’s talking about the priests and the sacrifices of atonement they offered for sin. The priests were allowed to eat from some of the sacrifices, but they could not eat from the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement. Instead the sacrificed animals were completely burned outside of the camp where the Israelites pitched their tents (11).

But at the altar of the cross, we “eat” of the one who is the Bread of Life. That is, in coming to Jesus and putting our trust in his work on the cross, we now have eternal life. So the writer of Hebrews tells us, “We have a right that even the priests of the Old Testament didn’t have. They could not take part of the sacrifices of atonement. In Christ, we can.”

And then the writer of Hebrews goes back to the theme of the unchanging Christ.

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (12)

That is, this Jesus in the past offered his life completely to atone for our sins outside of Jerusalem.

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (13)

In other words, let us now go to that same Jesus who is waiting for us outside the camp, that is this world. Put another way, let us leave behind all the sin and pleasures of this world, being willing to suffer for doing so, just as Jesus suffered for us.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (14)

This world is not our true home. Our true home is in heaven, where this same Jesus reigns forever and ever.

And so the writer of Hebrews concludes,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (16-17)

Each day then, through our words and our deeds, let us glorify this Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

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Hebrews 13:5-6 — What we love, what we put our trust in

I’ve gotta admit, having money makes life easier. It makes it easier to deal with serious health problems, as we can afford more expensive types of treatments. It allows us to have better cars or homes when our old ones are breaking down. And of course, it not only makes life easier, it can make life more comfortable and enjoyable as well.

But I suppose the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do we love?”

And just as importantly, “What do we put our trust in?”

Those are the questions, the writer of Hebrews poses to us. He says,

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (5-6)

What do we love? Money, and the things that money can buy? These things pass away. They can buy happiness for a short time, but eventually we tire of them, or they grow old and break, and discontent stirs in our hearts again. And there are many people in this world who go through this endless cycle of discontent, never finding true happiness.

On the contrary, many people actually wreck their lives out of their love for money and things. They go bankrupt, they destroy their marriages and families, they wreck their health, all for the love of money and pleasure.

And so God says, “Keep your life from the love of money and be content with what you have. Stop pursuing these things. You will never find contentment from these things. You can only find contentment in a relationship with me. I will never leave you nor forsake you. All that you need to make you happy and content you can find in me.”

Who or what do we trust to solve our problems? Again, it is so easy to put our trust in money. Money can solve a lot of our problems. But it can’t solve all of them. And in some cases, it can actually make things worse. But when we turn to God, we find the one who can uphold us in all circumstances. More, he will not abandon us in the hard times.

And because of that, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”

How about you? Who or what do you love? And who or what do you put your trust in?

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Hebrews 13:4 — Honoring our marriages

When you look at the spiritual and moral landscape of the United States, Japan, and many other countries, it’s amazing to see how the concept of marriage has deteriorated.

You don’t even need to dip into the idea of gay marriage to see this; just look at heterosexual ones. How far have we departed from God’s intention for marriage?

Marriages where two people truly become one, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Marriages where they remain one for life. Marriages where they are so united, that it would be unthinkable to cheat on their partner.

What do we have instead? Cold marriages. Abusive marriages, both physically and verbally. Affairs. Selfishness, divisiveness, and ultimately divorce.

Why? We don’t honor marriage. We definitely don’t honor the marriage bed anymore. Is it no wonder that our marriages are in the state they are in?

And so the writer of Hebrews admonishes us,

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (4)

Think about this. When you don’t honor marriage, and when you don’t keep the marriage bed pure, God doesn’t just turn a blind eye to it. He judges it. If you stray from your marriage and go the arms of another man or woman, he will judge you for it. When you despise the marriage bed and you sleep with someone before you are married, God judges you for it.

Why? Because you are meant for one person. You are meant to join yourself as one to only one person, not two or three or more.

So when you sleep with people before you get married or you cheat on your spouse, you despise the marriage bed and what it represents, the joining of two people as one in a permanent bond.

But you also despise the marriage bed if you are cold to your partner. If you withdraw physically and/or emotionally from them. If you’re selfish, only looking out for your own needs, and not caring a whit for your partner’s needs. If you’re abusive toward your partner. Because when you act this way, it again is totally contrary to what the marriage bed represents.

Do you honor marriage?

Do you honor your own marriage, seeking to bring true oneness to it?

Do you honor others’ marriages, refusing to engage in adulterous activity that would break that marriage up? Do you instead do everything you can to encourage that couple draw closer to each other as one?

If you’re single, do you honor your future marriage, keeping yourself sexually pure for the one you will marry?

If you don’t, God will judge you. It is no light matter to him. He will judge you.

What does God see when he sees your attitude toward marriage?

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Hebrews 13:3 — Remembering the imprisoned

I considered just finishing up Hebrews today, but I did want to look at some tidbits in this final chapter a little more closely.

Here in verse 3, as a part of showing brotherly kindness, the writer of Hebrews says,

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (3)

I think it’s pretty clear from the context that he’s saying to his readers not to forget their fellow Christians who were imprisoned or suffering for their faith.

Paul certainly suffered that kind of abandonment as we saw in II Timothy.

Perhaps there was fear of being associated with those in prison for their faith. Perhaps there was a feeling of helplessness at the situation and wanting to distance themselves emotionally as a result.

But the writer of Hebrews tells them, keep showing love. Don’t abandon them, in your heart or your actions.

That’s the context.

But as I read this passage, God spoke to me in another way. There are many people around us who are imprisoned in other ways. They’re in an emotional prison. Or they’re imprisoned by illness or circumstances. And it can be so easy to distance ourselves from such people, in part because we feel helpless, in part because it’s emotionally hard on us to deal with them.

But God says, “Remember them too. Don’t distance yourself from them emotionally. Visit them in the prison they are in, and do what you can to help. At the very least, be there for them and show them you care, even if you don’t know what to say.”

And then there are others in spiritual prison. Satan has locked them up, captives to their own sin. And God tells us, you were there once too. You remember what that was like. Satan once made your life miserable too. So remember them. Reach out to them with my love that they may be set free.

How about you? Do you remember those who are imprisoned around you? Do you show them the compassion of Christ?

Or do you just kind of distance yourself from them?

Remember the words of Jesus.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)




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Hebrews 12-13 — Because we have this inheritance

We’ve talked the last couple of days about the inheritance God offers us in Christ and the dangers of refusing this inheritance.

But if as Christians we have now received this inheritance, how then shall we live? The writer of Hebrews tells us,

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. (12:28)

What does that mean practically? Basically chapter 13 tells us what true worship is. And it’s not just singing songs.

It’s loving those around you, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ. (13:1)

It’s showing hospitality, even to those you don’t know. (13:2)

It’s showing mercy to those around you. (13:3)

It’s honoring your wife and husband and keeping your marriage bed pure. (13:4)

It’s loving and trusting God more than money. (13:5-6)

It’s following the example of the spiritual leaders God has put in your lives. (13:7)

It’s living a life based on the grace of God, not on legalistic rituals and rules. (13:9-10)

It’s being willing to suffer for Christ, and holding to the eternal, not the temporal. (13:11-14)

It’s worshiping God with a sacrifice of praise. (13:15)

It’s  doing good and being generous with those around you. (13:16)

It’s being subject to the leaders in your church, building them up and not tearing them down, bringing strife and division into the church. (13:17)

It’s praying for those around you, especially those involved with ministry. (13:18)

How about you? Have you received the inheritance of the children of God? And out of the thankfulness of your heart, are you offering daily sacrifices of worship to God?

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Hebrews 12:15-29 — If we turn our backs on God

There are two sides to every coin.

And we see that in this passage. On one hand, there is the inheritance that God offers to us if we will become his children and heirs.

On the other hand, there’s judgment if we refuse.

Considering the awesomeness of the inheritance that could be ours, and the great love Christ showed by paying the price for it on the cross, how can we refuse?

Yet many do. They trade the temporal for the eternal. And instead of living for God, they live for themselves. This despite the fact that in doing so, they end up hurting God, others, and even themselves. And because of this, when they die, they will be judged.

As long as we have breath, we have the chance to turn and repent. But once we die, there is no turning back, no repentance, and no chance of blessing. As with Esau, many will seek God’s blessing with tears, but will not be able to gain it.

As the writer of Hebrews said earlier,

Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (9:27)

And so now he warns,

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven…for our “God is a consuming fire.” (25, 29)

Often times, the picture of God as a consuming fire is a picture of his holiness and judgment. You see it on Mount Sinai when he gave his law to Moses. You see it when he judged Aaron’s sons and the enemies of Israel. And you see it here.

If you refuse him and his offer of life, only judgment remains.

Nobody likes to hear that. They like to hear only of God’s love. But God must judge rebellion and sin. Either you let Jesus pay the price for you, or you pay it yourself. There are no other options.

What will you choose?


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Hebrews 12:16-29 — The inheritance we have

We saw yesterday that the writer of Hebrews warned us not to be like Esau who tossed aside his inheritance because of his ungodliness, and was unable to regain it though he begged for his father’s blessing with tears.

And we said that many people are like that today. God has offered them the right to become his children and heirs, but because of their love for sin and the things of this world, they reject the inheritance that could be theirs.

Why is that so bad? Because of just how awesome and precious that inheritance is, and the price that was paid so that we might take hold of it.

It’s hard to see the connection between verses 17-18 in the NIV, but there is one. Just add the word “for” at the start of verse 18. (It’s there in the Greek. For some reason, the NIV omits it).

The writer of Hebrews says,

[For] You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” (18-21)

When God revealed himself to the Israelites on Sinai and gave them the first covenant that included the promise of an earthly inheritance, it was an awesome thing. There was a fire, darkness, gloom and storm, and a fearful voice. And the people were commanded, “Don’t approach the mountain. If even an animal touches it, it must be killed.” Even Moses was frightened to approach God on this holy mountain.

But all that said, it was a physical mountain. It was of this world. And the inheritance they received based on this covenant was only a temporal one.

Now though, we approach a completely different mountain, with a new covenant, and an eternal inheritance. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (22-24)

Note the differences here. We’re not going to an earthly mountain to approach God, but a heavenly one. And we don’t come before God cowering with fear, but with rejoicing. Why?

Because while we come to a God who will judge all people, Jesus is our mediator, and he put the new covenant into effect with his own blood. And while the blood of Abel cried out for justice and vengeance, the blood of Jesus rings out with a cry of forgiveness and mercy. So we won’t be standing before God trembling in fear. Rather we will stand in wonder at his grace.

More, although this earth will one day be shaken and all old things removed, we will receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken and will stand forever. (28)

All this awaits us.

How then, can we be like Esau, and reject such an awesome inheritance paid for at such a great cost?

How about you? God offers you life. Will you accept it? It’s as easy as a prayer.

Father, for too long I have been seeking joy and and happiness from the things of this earth. But I realize now that the things of this earth can never bring me satisfaction. That joy and peace can only be found in you. Forgive me for turning my back on you for so long. For hurting you, and those around me out of my pursuit to please myself. Thank you that Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for my sin. Now be my Father and my King. Show me the path of life each day. In Jesus name, amen.

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Hebrews 12:14-17 — Holiness

“Sure, I’m a Christian. I believe the Bible. I believe in Jesus.”

Many people in the church say this, and yet their lives don’t show it. They’re still living the way they always have, and there is no change or growth in their lives.

When pressed on this point, many say, “This is just the way I am. I’ll never change.”

Or, “You’re being too judgmental.”

Or, “Yes, but there are reasons for my actions. Surely God understands.”

Or, “I don’t believe that this part of the Bible is for today. It doesn’t apply to me.”

Or worse, “It doesn’t matter how I live. God’ll forgive me. So I’ll just sin, and ask for forgiveness later.”

But if there is no real change or growth in your life, and these are your attitudes, then it may be time to seriously question your Christianity.

Throughout church history, there have always been tares among the wheat. People who proclaim to be Christians, who even make confessions of faith and are baptized, but were never truly saved.

And that’s why I think the writer of Hebrews says what he does in this passage. He said,

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (14-15)

“Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”

Do you believe that? You cannot live a willfully unholy life and still claim to be a Christian. There is a vast difference between a person who truly mourns for their sin, yearns for holiness, and grows in holiness as time goes on, and the person who simply doesn’t care. The grace of God is for the former. There is no grace left for the latter. How can you claim the grace of God when all the while you’re spitting on the work Jesus did on the cross by indulging in sin? And how can you claim to love God when you don’t care that you’re doing things that hurt him?

There were people like that in the time of Moses. Moses, in fact, warned about people like that, calling them “bitter roots,” and the writer of Hebrews alludes to this.

Moses said,

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.”

This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. The LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. (Deuteronomy 29:18-21)

In short, there were people among the Israelites who thought that because God had made a covenant with the nation, that Israel would be his people and he their God, that they were now safe. That because they were part of the Israelite community, God would bless them, even if they went their own way.

And Moses said, “No. Though they are part of this community, they are not safe. And God will judge them.”

More, he warned, “Expel such a person. His attitude will spread like bitter poison to those around.”

In the same way, many people go to church thinking, “Hey, I’m part of this church community. So God will bless me even if I go my own way the rest of the week.”

And the writer of Hebrews warns them, “That’s not how it works. God will judge you.” And he warns, “Don’t be like Esau who threw away his inheritance by seeking temporal pleasures. Though he later sought the blessing with tears, he was unable to get it.” (16-17)

So it is with us. Many people will stand before God someday and seek the inheritance of the saints, but be unable to get it, though they shed many tears, because while they were here on earth, they spit on Jesus and his work on the cross by living selfish, ungodly, and unholy lives.

So take a good look at yourself. Do your attitudes show a love for God and a desire to be holy as he is holy? Or do you really not care? If it’s the latter, you’re deceiving yourself if you think God will accept you, and you will end up missing the grace of God on the day of judgment.

Where is your heart?

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Hebrews 12:1-13 — When we face trials

No one likes to face trials in life. But God does allow them. Why? The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 10.

God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

We are broken people in a broken world. But God’s goal is to heal us and make us into the whole people he created us to be. He desires to purge all the filth from our lives and make us holy as he is holy. To make us perfect reflections of him.

And he does so by fire. Our character is revealed by fire. What we really are is revealed, not during the good times, but during the bad. If our character is good, trials will reveal it, just as they did with Job. If our character is not, that will be revealed too as it was with King Saul.

But in facing ourselves for who we really are, we are then confronted us with a choice. To stay the way we are, unholy and sinful. Or to turn to God and cry out, “God I’m a wretch. Save me. Change me.”

And when we do, we will see not only God’s amazing grace, but God’s amazing transforming power.

As we listen to him and by faith obey him, doing the things he tells us to do, we’ll see him shape our character into his likeness.

Is it a pleasant process? Generally not. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (11)

The question is again, though, what will we do when we are in the fire?

What should we do?

First look to Jesus.

Look to him in faith knowing that he started the process of salvation in your life, and he will finish it. He hasn’t merely said, “Well, I’ve given you all the tools to change. You’re on your own now.”

Rather he says, “Let me show you how to use those tools.”

And step by step he works with us. And he will not leave our side until the job is complete.

Look to Jesus knowing that he endured hardship too. He endured the cross itself. He knows how hard life can be. But his trust in the Father was rewarded, and he is now sitting at the Father’s side. And our trust too will be rewarded and we will be seated with him in glory someday if we persevere.

Second, remember that all that you’re suffering through is not because God hates you or is because he is sadistic, wanting you to suffer. Rather, he disciplines you because he loves you. He wants the very best for you.

Our earthly fathers may or may not have shown the loving discipline they should have. Their motives or methods may have been wrong at times. But God’s motives and methods are always pure and loving.


Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (12)

Or, as my sister likes to say, “Buck up, baby.”


Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (verse 13 from the ESV)

In other words, do what is right. Follow the path God has shown you. You’re already lame. You’re already hurting. And if you keep following the path you’re on, your bones will go out of joint. But if you follow the path God is showing you, you will find healing. It may be hard. It may be unpleasant. But you will find healing.

What will you do?

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Hebrews 12:1-2 — We also

Running has never been my thing. I recently have picked it up again though my runs tend to be very short, no where near a 10k, no less a marathon.

But as Christians, we are called to join the great race, the race of God’s kingdom. To some degree, we are already in God’s kingdom. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). And each day we are to live as subjects of that kingdom. We are to live for the purposes of that kingdom, and the King who reigns it.

But the day will come when we will see the kingdom in all its fullness. And as Christians, that is what we all long for.

It is what the great men and women of faith lived for. And it is what the writer of Hebrews charged his listeners to live for. His listeners were going through a tough time, and were suffering because of their faith. Others were struggling with sin in their lives. And still others were weighed down by their love for the world, by doubts, or other things.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells them,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (1)

For some reason, the NIV and some other translations omit a word in their translation here. It’s a simple word: “also.”

The ESV reads this way,

“let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Maybe the translators for the NIV just felt it wasn’t so important to translate. I don’t know. But when I read that “also,” it makes me think that these men and women of faith that the writer mentions in chapter 11 were just like me. They also had to lay aside sin in their life, sin in which they struggled to get untangled from. They also had to lay aside the weights of doubt and the things of this world. And because they did so, God commended them for it.

And now, we too are called to follow their example and lay aside the sin and other things that would weigh us down as we run this race we’re in.

At the same time we lay these things behind, however, we are to look ahead. To what?

To Jesus. He was the author or pioneer of our faith. He blazed a trail for us to reach the Father. Through the cross, our sins can now be forgiven and we can have peace with God. And he is also the perfecter of our faith. Though we are now imperfect, though we struggle with sin and doubt in our lives, he will not stop working in us until we are complete.

And so through every trial, through every struggle, we are to keep our eyes on him. When we look at what’s around us, it is easy to get discouraged by what we see. By the evil we see. By our sin.

But take your eyes off of these things. Fix them on Jesus. Then run, shedding the things that are keeping you from doing so, and especially the sin that would cause you to fall. And Jesus will lead you home.



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Hebrews 11:36-40 — What a life of faith does not mean

There are a number of people who seem to think that if you have enough faith, your life should be all smooth sailing. No health problems, no financial problems, just a happy-go-lucky life.

They apparently have never read this chapter.

Certainly, many of these men and women of faith had their shares of victory. But others were tortured, mocked, flogged, put in chains and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, went about clothed in sheepskin and goatskin, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, wandering about in deserts, mountains, dens, and caves.

And none of them…I repeat…none of them received their full reward while here on earth.

Were these excoriated for their lack of faith? They would be by a lot of these “faith-teachers” today.

“Why were you destitute? Why were you living out in the desert? God intends for you to be wealthy and prosperous. Clearly you didn’t have enough faith.”

“You were imprisoned and put to death for your faith? Surely if you had had enough faith God would have delivered you.”

“You didn’t receive all the promises of God here on earth? Clearly you didn’t have enough faith or God would have HAD to give it to you.”

But is this what the writer of Hebrews says of them? No.

He says,

These were all commended for their faith. (39)

And rather than saying they were not worthy of the good things of life because of their lack of faith, he says,

the world was not worthy of them. (38)

In short, God never promises that if we have enough faith, we’ll just sail through life. All of chapter 12 as we’ll see says just the opposite.

Life can be hard. We may suffer despite our faith.

But what a life of faith means is that though this life may be hard, we see beyond those hardships to the reward that awaits us. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (40)

Through Christ, all the saints of old along with us will be made perfect, free from sin forever. And at that time, when all things are made new, all sorrow and suffering will be a thing of the past. And that’s what faith ultimately looks to. Not to the joys we experience on this earth (although God in his grace does give us that too). But to the joys of life with him in eternity.

How about you? Are you expecting that your faith will lead to an easy life here on earth? God never promises that. But what he does promise is that if you keep your eyes on the promise of eternity, you will ultimately not be disappointed.

To what are you looking to?


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Hebrews 11:32-35 — Faith and grace

I have to admit that I have trouble understanding why people like Gideon and Samson are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” despite their failures.

It’s amazing to me that their failures are not even mentioned in this chapter.

But perhaps we see in this list the grace of God. That though we are flawed, though we sometimes stumble in our faith, through Christ, God does not see our flaws. Rather he only sees us as people clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

And that should be a comfort to us.

So often, we beat ourselves up for our failures, for the times that we failed to trust God and made a mess of things.

But while it is important to repent in those times, we should not let these failures discourage us or make us think we’re now worthless in God’s sight.

Remember instead that when God sees you, he sees his Son who died for you. And though you may have failed time and again, he holds no record against you. Your record has been wiped clean. He will not accuse you on the day of judgment. Rather, he will welcome you with arms open wide. Not because you are perfect. But because you have put our faith in the One who is, and who died for us and rose again.

So as much as you may fall, you too may someday find yourself in that “Hall of Faith.” And as with all the Baraks, Jephthahs, Gideons, and Samsons, God is not going to be pointing out all your failures, but all your successes.

So as Paul said,

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

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Hebrews 11:32-35 — When we trust God

Have you ever noticed the people that the writer of Hebrews mentions as “paragons” of faith in verse 32? Most of them were hardly paragons.

Samuel, though he was a great judge and prophet, failed greatly when it came to raising his sons.

And while David was the greatest king in Israel’s history, he stumbled badly twice, once in his sin with Bathsheba, and once in counting his fighting men out of his pride.

Yet at least for the most part, these were good and faithful men.

The rest?

Most people when they think about Gideon only think about his triumph over the Midianites. But after that, his actions were hardly stellar. He took vengeance on two cities that refused to help him in his fight against the Midianites. Then, although he refused kingship, he nevertheless started to act like one taking multiple wives, and even naming his son Abimelech which means, “My father is king.”

More, he made a golden ephod which was usually a garment that priests used for consulting God. So it almost looks like he was trying to take on that duty as well. Worse, the people started to worship that ephod and it became a snare to him and his family.

Barak? He refused to go to war against Israel’s oppressors unless Deborah the prophetess went with him.

Samson? Sure he brought a measure of deliverance to the Israelites from the Philistines. But he broke all his Nazirite vows in the process, drinking wine, touching dead carcasses, and allowing his hair to be cut. More, he was sexually immoral and vindictive. The fact that he delivered the Israelites seemed more incidental than intentional on his part.

Jephthah? By a foolish vow he made, he either unintentionally was forced to put his daughter into the service of the Lord, never to marry or have children, or he actually sacrificed his daughter on an altar, completely contrary to the commands of God.

Why in the world, are these latter 4 mentioned as paragons of faith?

Maybe for the simple reason that they are not paragons.

They were ordinary sinners just like us. They did many awful things. But when they actually did put their trust in God, they did awesome things.

What can we learn from them? God can use you to do great things if you’ll just trust in him day to day.

But when you fail to do so, you are also capable of doing horrific things.

How people will look at you at the end of your life will greatly depend on how you live. Will you consistently, day in and day out, put your trust in God? Then people will look at you as they do with Daniel and his friends. As men that shut the mouths of lions and quenched the fury of the flames.

But if you are one day trusting him, and one day living for yourself, you’ll find yourself with the legacy of a Samson or Gideon. People who accomplished great things when trusting God, but making an utter of mess of things when they didn’t.

Which will you choose?


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Hebrews 11:23-31 — A faith that knows who to fear

It has often been said, “If you fear God, you need not fear anyone else.”

Jesus himself warned us,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

And that’s what you see in these people. People who knew who to fear. Not kings or rulers or anyone else, but God.

More they knew that if they did not put their trust in God, nothing and no one would be able to protect them from his wrath.

Moses’ parents feared God, and so even though the Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew babies be killed, they hid their son. And when they could do so no longer, they left him in God’s hands, and God honored them for it.

Moses could have led a comfortable life as a prince of Egypt, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But out of his fear for God, he left it all behind, and was willing to suffer reproach and abuse for the sake of Christ. All the pleasures of this life, he knew, would mean nothing if his relationship was not right with God. More, he knew that by following God, he would find true reward, a reward that is eternal.

And so he left Egypt with the people of God, not fearing Pharaoh’s wrath. He also showed fear for God by keeping the Passover, and because he and the Jews did so, they were spared the death of their firstborn. The Egyptians, secure in their own faith on the other hand, found that they had feared the wrong gods. Even Pharaoh himself lost his son.

Because the Israelites feared God, they could pass through the Red Sea unharmed. The Egyptians, however, feared the sea and their Pharaoh even more than that, and drowned as a result.

Because the Israelites feared God, they took Jericho by following what others would have called a futile plan, marching around a city for 7 days, blowing their horns.

And while the rest of the residents of Jericho put their trust in their walls, Rahab refused to do so. She feared God and protected the spies that had come into the city. So while the rest of the people in Jericho were killed, Rahab and her family were spared.

The long and short of all this is, “Who do you fear?” And “Who will you put your trust in?”

If we trust in our money to protect us, our government, or our own abilities and skills, and we fail to trust God above all, when judgment day comes, all those things will prove to be futile to save us.

If we fear people and what they can do to us instead of God, we may preserve our lives but lose our souls for all eternity.

But if we fear and trust God, we will find favor with him, and he will reward us.

Who do you trust? Who do you fear?




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Hebrews 11:17-22 — A faith that believes that God is good

“God is good.”

“All the time.”

“All the time…”

“God is good.”

I’ve been to a couple of churches for which this was kind of a mantra.

But how many of us really believe it? Oh sure, in good times it’s easy to believe and say with enthusiasm.

But in hard times?

Or how about in times when we don’t understand what God is doing?

Or in times when we can’t see what the future holds?

Do we still believe that God is good?

This is a fundamental question of faith. For as the writer of Hebrews says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (6)

“He rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Put another way, “He rewards those who believe he is good. That he will keep his promises. That he will not let our labors go in vain. That our struggles are not for nothing.”

But do we believe this enough to keep seeking him no matter our circumstances? Unless we do, we cannot please God.”

Abraham believed this. God promised that he would have many descendants through Isaac. But then one day, God turns around and says, “Abraham, give your son to me as a sacrifice.”

Not a simple dedicating of Isaac’s life to God’s service. But a literal sacrifice.

How Abraham’s mind must have spun. For the three days it took to reach the mountain where he would sacrifice his son, what thoughts went through his mind?

“How can God ask this of me? He promised I would have descendants through Isaac. But how can that be if Isaac is dead?”

But in the end, Abraham concluded, “God is good. He will keep his promises. And if he asks me to sacrifice my son, then it must be that he will raise him up again. He is the God of life and death. And he is good.”

He lifted up his knife to kill Isaac, and as we know, an angel stopped him and said, “No, you don’t have to do that. Now I know that you fear God.”  (Genesis 22:10-12)

God was good.

Isaac saw this and because of that, he could bless his sons Jacob and Esau although the future was still cloudy. In his time, he still hadn’t truly inherited the land God had promised. He only had the plot of land that his father Abraham had purchased. But Isaac believed God was good, and blessed his sons in that belief.

Jacob went through a lot of trials in his life, most through his own doing, some not. But through it all, he saw God’s goodness and faithfulness to him, and so when he was ready to die, he also was able to bless his sons with that knowledge.

Joseph too went through a lot, being taken to Egypt as a slave, but seeing God’s goodness and how God used that situation not only to save himself but his entire family. And though he had a good life in Egypt, he knew that God was good and would return his family back to the land God had promised. And so he gave instructions that when that time came, they would bury his bones there.

How about you? What are you going through in life? Can you say from your heart God is good? That God is faithful? That God will keep his promises to you?

Unless you truly believe that, you will never be able to please God.

What kind of faith do you have?


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Hebrews 11:11-12 – – Faith to see beyond (part 2)

“It’s impossible. I can’t do it.”

How often do we see situations in life and say that, if not with our mouths, then in our hearts?

That’s how Abraham and Sarah must have felt. God first gave them the promise of a child when they were 75 and 65 respectively. Twenty-four years passed and still no baby had come. In the meantime, they had made their own plans to have an heir, as Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham in order to have an heir through her. But God said, “No, this is not what I meant when I said I’d give you a son. You will have a son through Sarah.”

At this, Abraham laughed. And now with them 99 and 89 years old, God again promised that Sarah would have a baby, and this time Sarah laughed. It seemed utterly impossible. But eventually, they both saw past their own limitations and saw that with God, all things are possible. And so they kept on trying to have a child.

And the writer of Hebrews tells us,

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren–was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (11-12)

How about you? What situations are you going through that seem utterly impossible? Many things seem utterly impossible because of our own weaknesses and limitations. But God has no weaknesses or limits.

So do you have the faith to see beyond your own weaknesses and limits and put your trust in him who has no limits?

Lord, so many times, I look at my situation, and can only see the impossibility of it. It’s impossible because I look at myself and see that I don’t have the power to change things. But Lord, you do. So help me to see beyond my weaknesses. Help me to see beyond my limitations. And help me to trust in you and do whatever you ask of me. Because I know you’re God of the impossible. And with you, all things are possible. In Jesus name, amen.

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Hebrews 11:8-16 — A faith that sees beyond

This earth is not our home.

Most Christians know this. But how many actually live this way?

Abraham did. The writer of Hebrews said of him,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (8-10)

For Abraham, the land he would receive as his inheritance was Canaan. For us, it is a new heavens and new earth.

Abraham made his home in Canaan, even though it really wasn’t his yet. And until its “transformation” into the land God promised him, he lived there as a stranger in a foreign country. In a land that was filled with paganism and sin, he lived a life that was pleasing to God.

In the same way, this world we live in now will someday be transformed and we will inherit it as God’s children. But until that day, it is filled with sin and the worship of things that are truly not gods. So here we live, not as citizens of this present world, but as strangers in a foreign country, looking forward to the day when all things will be made new.

So how should we live? We should live doing all that God asks us to do even if we don’t see all the results in our lifetime.

For Abraham, God promised to make him a great nation and to give him many descendants that would inherit the land of Canaan. And so Abraham left his father’s household and his very country to go where God directed him. But when he died, he only had one son and the small plot of land he had purchased in order to bury his wife Sarah.

The same could be said of Isaac, except he had two sons.

And the same could be said of Isaac’s son Jacob, except he had twelve sons, and he died in Egypt where God through his provision kept him and his family alive in a time of famine.

Each of them followed God’s will. But none of them saw the promises completely fulfilled. And the writer of Hebrews says of them,

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (13-16)

God always keeps his promises. He did make Abraham into a great nation. And though nations have come and gone over the millenia, Israel still stands. And the day will come when all Christians, both Jews and Gentile will stand as one great nation, pointing to Abraham as our father.

But until that day, do the things God has asked of you. You like Abraham may not receive everything God has promised in your lifetime. But you will see his promises realized in the end. And even on earth, your children and your children’s children will reap the benefits of your faithfulness.

Moreover, remember that this world is not your home. If you’re always looking back at your old life, you will have opportunity to return. But in doing so, you’ll lose all the good things God had planned for you. So keep longing for your heavenly home and be faithful, knowing that God has prepared a city for you, and that one day he will come back for you and make all things new.

Remember what Jesus told his disciples,

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)

Amen. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

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Hebrews 11:7 — A faith that prepares for judgment

Judgment day.

It’s not a subject that people like to talk about. Particularly non-Christians. Oh, they don’t mind the thought of criminals and other “evil” people being judged by God.

But somehow, when they think of “evil” people, they never seem to include themselves in that number. They somehow fail to see just how evil their sin is in God’s sight, or they brush it off as trivial.

But judgment day is coming.

And for us as Christians, true faith recognizes that and prepares for it.

We see that in the life of Noah. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (7)

God told Noah that a day of judgment was coming. That a flood would come that would wipe out the entire population of the earth. And because of that, he was to prepare.

So Noah did. Despite the jeers of his neighbors for building an ark in the desert, despite the mocking he took for warning them that the day of judgment was coming, he prepared. And by doing so he was saved. More, through his actions, the world’s lack of faith was highlighted, and so when judgment came for them, there was no excuse.

The question for us then is, do we have that same faith that Noah had. Do we really believe a day of judgment is coming. Are we doing what we can to save our family, preaching the gospel to them? And are we warning those around us of the judgment to come no matter what abuse we may take for doing so?

Will God be able to say of us on judgment day that our faith stood out in a world that was lacking in it?

What will God say of you when judgment day comes?

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Hebrews 11:1-6 — The need for faith

Why is faith so important?

Because for whatever reason, it is the one thing that God desires from all of us as his creatures.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is for their faith that God commended all that came before us. (2)

More, it is our faith and that faith alone that will commend us before God even now. For from that faith, everything else springs: the love we have for him, the worship we offer him, and the obedience and loyalty that we have for him.

Think about it. If we do not believe that he exists, that he loves us, and that he is looking out for our best, will we love him? Will we worship him. Will we be loyal to him and obey him? Fear may take care of the latter three, but God does not want us to worship him, be loyal to him, and obey him out of fear. Rather, he wants us to do these things out of our love for him.

And for this reason, the writer of Hebrews tells us,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (6)

Think about Cain for a moment. Why was his sacrifice rejected? We don’t know all the details, but from what the writer of Hebrews tells us, it ultimately came down to the fact that his offering did not come from his faith in God.

Perhaps he gave his offering grudgingly, muttering in his heart, “Why do I have to give this to God?”

Perhaps God had required an animal sacrifice, and Cain thought, “Why aren’t the things I grow as a farmer enough? I’ll just give what I want to give.”

But whatever the reason, Cain failed to show faith in God. And because of that, God rejected his offering.

Abel, on the other hand, offered his sacrifice by faith. And because of his faith, he loved God, was loyal to him, and obeyed him. So when God saw his sacrifice, he gladly accepted it.

Think about Enoch. He was one of two people that never tasted death. (Elijah was another). God simply took him to be with him.

Why? Because “he walked with God.” When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, they translated “walked with God,” as “pleased God.”

In short, to please God, you need to walk in close relationship with God. But you cannot walk  in close relationship with God if you don’t believe he exists, believe that he loves you, and believe that he’s looking out for your best. It is simply impossible.

How about you? Do you want to live a life pleasing to God? Do you want to have his commendation in your life?

Then ask yourself: Do I truly believe he exists? Do I really believe he loves me? Do I truly believe he is looking out for my best?

Until you can answer yes to all three questions, you’ll never be able to truly please him.

Where is your heart today?


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Hebrews 11:1-6 — The foundation of our faith

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (1-2)

A lot of people see these verses, and think of them as the definition of faith.

But how often do we think about what exactly we are putting our faith in? How can we be sure of what we hope for, if the object of our faith is not reliable?

How can we be certain of what we do not see, if the one who makes the promises we rely on is powerless to fulfill them?

And so our faith starts and ends with God. Who is he? Does he even exist? If he exists, does he really care for us? Is he trustworthy? Will he keep his promises to us? Is he even capable of keeping his promises?

This whole first section addresses these questions. The writer of Hebrews says in verse 6,

Anyone who comes to him must believe that [God] exists.

This is the one basic truth that lies at the foundation of our faith. That there is a God. That he truly exists.

Granted that, does he really care about us? Or did he just create us on a whim, and hasn’t given us a second thought since?

The writer answers that too.

He rewards those who earnestly seek him. (6b)

In other words, God does pay attention. He does care about us and what we do. And when we seek him, he does reward us.

But even granted that he wants to reward us for seeking him, does he have the power to do so?

The writer tells us in verse 3,

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

If everything was created at God’s command by things that were not even visible, does he not have the power to do anything he desires? Of course he does.

So in these verses we see the foundation of our faith. God exists. He cares. And he has the power to do what he has promised.

The only question is: do we truly believe these things in our heart? And will we put our trust in him?

A chair can be made of the strongest wood and put together by the finest craftsman. It is totally reliable, and it’s reliability is totally independent of what people may think about it. But a person will not sit in it unless he or she first trusts it.

In the same way, God exists, he cares, and he has the power to do all that he has promised. All these things are real, and their reality is totally independent of whether we believe them or not.

But unless we truly believe these things, we will not put our trust in God.

How about you? Do you truly believe these things? How you answer that question will not only affect your relationship with God, but how you live the rest of your life.

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

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Hebrews 10:32-39 — In a little while

God never promised us an easy life. In fact, Jesus promised us just the opposite. That there would be times of trouble. That people would even hate us for following Christ.

And while that may or not be real to you right now, it was very real for the people reading this letter.

They had been publicly humiliated and persecuted. They had been tossed in prison and had even had their possessions taken from them. Through it all, they had stood. For a while.

But now, they seemed to be teetering, and so the writer of Hebrews encourages them, “Don’t fall now. Don’t let all that you’ve endured until now be for nothing. Hang in there. You will be richly rewarded if you don’t give up.” (32-35)

Then he says,

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. (36-37)

“In just a little while.” Those words resonate with me.

In just a little while, all these hardships will pass away. In just a little while, Jesus will come back for you. And when he does, all these things you’re going through will become as shadows. All your hardships will become as distant memories in the light of Him.

Until then, what do we do?

But my righteous one will live by faith. (38)

In short, keep trusting God. Keep believing that he will do all that he has promised. For it is that faith that will give us the hope to keep going when everything is falling down around us.

But if we shrink back, if we lose our faith and constantly walk about in fear and doubt, we cannot and will not know the approval of God in our lives. For there is no way to please him if we live that way. (38)

But as the writer of Hebrews asserts,

We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (39)

What hardships are you going through? What doubts are you struggling with?

Take your eyes off of these things. These things will only cause you to shrink back in fear. But these things are only for a little while.

So put your eyes back on Jesus. Remember his faithfulness. Remember his love.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

— Helen H. Lemmel,


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Hebrews 10:26-31 — If we choose to reject Christ

What will you do with Christ?

When all is said and done, that is the ultimate question that everyone has to answer. For those who decide to put their trust in him, they find life, both here in this world and in the world to come.

But for those who hear the message of Christ and reject it, there is no hope for them in this life or in the life to come. And that’s what the writer of Hebrews warns in this passage. He says,

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  (26-29)

What is the writer saying here? If we deliberately sin by rejecting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, there is no other way of salvation. There is no other sacrifice God will accept, whether it be animal sacrifice, the sacrifice of “good” deeds, of money, or anything else.

The writer tells us that even with the Mosaic law, a law brought by angels (2:2), people would perish for their rebellion against God on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

How much more then will people be punished for continuing to rebel against God when Christ himself offers us this salvation bought with his own blood? It’s as if we are treating the precious blood he shed on the cross as if it were nothing. As if it were just ordinary blood as common as a bull’s or a goat’s.

And in rejecting Christ, we trample him under foot and insult the Holy Spirit himself.

The consequences of such behavior?

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (30-31)

In short, we will be judged. If we will not let Christ pay the penalty for our sin, we will have to pay it ourselves for all eternity. And there will be no escape.

How about you? What will you do with Christ? Will you accept the gift of grace he offers that he paid for with his own blood?

Or will you spit on his gift, and continue to rebelliously walk your own way?

You can receive his grace or you can receive his wrath. Which will you choose?


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Hebrews 10:19-25 — Opened up

This is one of my favorite passages in scripture, and one I committed to memory a long time ago.

Every year on the Day of Atonement, the people would wait outside the tabernacle as the High Priest went through the Holy Place and entered into the Most Holy Place with the blood of the sacrifices to sprinkle the ark of the covenant and make atonement for the sins of the people. (Leviticus 16:15-17)

But when Jesus went through the true holy places in heaven, he did something that no priest before him was ever able to do. He tore down the curtain that stood between God and us. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain that hung between the Holy Place and Most Holy Place was torn in two. (Matthew 27:51-52)

And by that one action, God was telling the people, “The way into my presence has now been opened up.”

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (19-22)

After Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with his blood, he didn’t merely exit again with the barrier still standing between God and us. Rather, he came out to us and said, “The way is now open for you to come into the Father’s presence. Come, let us enter together.”

And so the writer of Hebrews says, “Don’t just stand outside the tabernacle, away from God’s presence. Draw near. Jesus has opened up the way through his death on the cross. And just as the atonement cover was sprinkled with the blood to purify it from the sins of the people, so now your hearts are sprinkled by the blood of Jesus and made pure before God. You no longer have to fear standing in front of God because of your unholiness. Through Jesus, you have been made holy.”

He then charges us,

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (23)

When trials in life hit, it can become easy to fall away from Christ and the faith that we have in him. We wonder if God really does care, if he truly is faithful and will keep his promises.

But Jesus proved his love and faithfulness to us by going to the cross. How then can we doubt him? So when times get hard, hold on to him, knowing that he is faithful.

And when you see others faltering in your faith, the writer tells us,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (24-25)

Sometimes people say, “I don’t see why I need to go to church. I’m fine by myself.”

But that is a very selfish way of thinking. Even if it were true (and it isn’t), others need you. They need your encouragement. And you need theirs. We are to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and not let ourselves get discouraged or complacent.

So consider, think, plot, and plan just how we can get our brothers and sisters to reach out in love and touch this world around us. Especially in light of the fact that Jesus is coming again soon.

The way has been opened up for us to come to God. Are you taking advantage of it and drawing near? And are you encouraging others to draw near to him as well?

The Father is waiting for you. What will you do?

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Hebrews 9:11-10:18 — Why all this blood?

One of the key points for this passage that we’ve been talking about is shadows and copies. And in the midst of all this, we’ve been talking about all the sacrifices of bulls and goats that were made as a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross.

But that begs the question: why do we need a sacrifice at all?

Why couldn’t God simply just forgive our sins without the need for blood? Couldn’t there have been another way?

Really the only way I can answer that is to look at what Jesus went through. To look at Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane when he cried out, “If there’s any other way, please take the cross from me.” (Matthew 26:39)

If there truly was another way, wouldn’t have God found it? But for reasons that are truly known only to him, a sacrifice was needed. The writer of Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (9:22)

We see the seeds of this from God’s commands in Leviticus 17:11. There, God said,

For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

The idea is that blood represents life. And so for one person’s life to be spared, another life had to be taken. In the Old Testament, it was the life of a bull, sheep, goat, etc. But as we’ve seen, they were imperfect sacrifices.

For one thing, an animal’s life does not have the worth of a human’s life. For another thing, the animal’s death was not voluntary on its part.

But when Jesus came, he was not just fully human, he was fully God, and thus his life was sufficient to pay for our sins. And as we saw yesterday, it was a truly voluntary act on Jesus’ part. He told the Father,

“Here I am — I have come to do your will, O God.” (10:9)

There are two other things, however, that the writer of Hebrews points out that may help us to understand the need for blood in our atonement.

First, he calls Christ the ransom that set us free from sins we committed by breaking God’s law (9:15). In other words by dying on the cross he paid the price necessary to set us free from the domain of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:13)

Second, he compares the new covenant with a will (the words for covenant and will are actually the same in Greek, so there seems to be a wordplay here). And just as a will does not come into effect until the one who makes it dies, so the new covenant could not come into effect until God the Son died.

However you look at it, God deemed it necessary that Christ die in order for us to live. And now that Christ has done so, the Holy Spirit comes into those who put their trust in Christ and he transforms their hearts. He writes the law of God in their hearts so that it become only natural that they start to do the things that please him. And as for their sins committed in the past, he says,

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. (10:17)

And so the writer of Hebrews concludes,

And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (10:18)

As Jesus himself said, “It (the work of salvation) is finished.” (John 19:30)

I don’t know about you, but I marvel at it all.

Did Jesus have to die? In a sense, no. He could have let us perish and saved himself. But he loved us so much that he sacrificed everything you and me.

So let us always look upon the cross and the blood Jesus shed with awe. Jesus paid a terrible price, but he did it out of his love for us.

As one song puts it,

Amazing love!
How can it be?
That you my king should die for me?

Amazing love!
I know it’s true.
And it’s my joy to honor you.

In all I do, I honor you.

— Chris Tomlin

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Hebrews 9:9-10:18 — What shadows and copies can and cannot do

For the last couple of days, we’ve been talking about shadows and copies.

And essentially what we’ve been saying is that shadows and copies can show us pictures of reality. A shadow can give us a general idea of what a person looks like. A toy train which is modeled after the real thing can show us what a train can do.

But ultimately, they can’t do all that the real thing does. A shadow of a person cannot talk, listen, or touch anything. A toy train cannot transport live people from one place to another.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us that while the tabernacle, gifts, and offerings were pictures of our relationship with God and what needed to happen in order for us to draw near to him, ultimately, they could not actually bring us into his presence.

In particular, the sacrifices and gifts offered to God could not clear our consciences before him. They were just temporary regulations that were put in place until the reality came (9:9-10).

What is the reality? Christ.

Christ came to this earth, and after dying on the cross for our sins, he entered the true tabernacle in heaven. But unlike the earthly priests, he didn’t offer the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood. And while the blood of goats and bulls could make things ceremonially clean, Christ’s blood can actually cleanse our consciences themselves and set us free from the penalty of sin. (9:11-15)

And because his blood shed on the cross was sufficient to do this, he only had to do it once, and after that he sat down at the right hand of God, his work of salvation complete.

The earthly priests, on the other hand, never really  could rest from their work. Rather, they had to bring sacrifices endlessly year after year because the sacrifices of bulls and goats they brought were not sufficient to clear our consciences. All the sacrifices did was remind us of our sin and our need for forgiveness, the need for an ultimate sacrifice that would truly take away our sins (10:1-4)

But of Jesus’ sacrifice, the writer of Hebrews says,

He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (10:14)

And so though all the Old Testament sacrifices were at one time required as a picture of Jesus and his work on the cross to come, once Jesus came, saying, “Here I am…I have come to do your will, O God” (10:7), the old, imperfect sacrifices were set aside to make room for the one perfect sacrifice that could truly make us holy.

Now because of what Jesus has done, we have hope. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (9:15)

And again,

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (9:27-28)

Shadows and copies cannot give us the hope of eternal life. But in Jesus we have that hope. More, we have the hope that he will indeed return someday and bring our salvation to completion.

No, our hope is not in shadows and copies. Our hope is grounded in the reality that is Christ. So whenever we feel discouraged or without hope, let us always return our eyes to him, knowing that those who do will never be put to shame. (I Peter 2:6)

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Hebrews 9:1-8 — Shadows and copies (part 2)

Yesterday we read in chapter 8 that the tabernacle was a shadow and copy of the true tabernacle. Here in chapter 9, we see in what way it was a mere shadow and copy of the real thing.

The ark of the covenant was a symbol of the presence of God. He was said to be enthroned on the cherubim that sat on the cover of the ark. The ark itself was placed in the Most Holy Place, and therefore the Most Holy Place was considered to be the place where God dwelt in the tabernacle.

Because of this not just anyone could enter the holy places. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place, the section just outside the Most Holy Place. And only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement in which sacrifices were offered for the sins of the people.

And the writer of Hebrews tells us,

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (8)

In other words, the first tabernacle was in a sense a barrier to a relationship with God. People were actually physically blocked off from his presence by the curtain that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. For that matter, most people couldn’t even get as far as the Holy Place.

The same was true of Solomon’s temple, Ezra’s temple, and Herod’s temple which replaced the tabernacle. The physical barrier was a picture of the spiritual barrier that hung between us and God in heaven. Our sins separated us from him.

But as we will see in the next part, Jesus tore that barrier down. All I’ll point out at this point are two things the writer of Hebrews brings up. That in order to enter the Most Holy Place, the priests had to pass two things: a lampstand whose light never went out, and the bread consecrated to God. Is it any coincidence that Jesus called himself the light of the world and the bread of life? In order to go into the presence of God, you must go through Jesus.

And just as the high priest needed to bring blood when entering the Most Holy Place as an atonement for the Israelite’s sins, so Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with his own blood to atone for our sins.

Now because of what Jesus has done, we have free access to the Father.

It’s hard to fathom as a Christian not having that access. But for many years, people simply didn’t have it. So as Paul wrote, and as I recall as Christmas season draws to a close:

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

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Hebrews 8 — Shadows and copies

A lot of people wonder at the Old Testament and why we even have it. Especially the parts about the making of the tabernacle and all the laws, many of which are no longer applicable to us today.

The reason is found in these next three chapters, and is summed up in verse 8 of this chapter. They were all shadows and copies of spiritual realities.

The writer of Hebrews says specifically that the tabernacle was a shadow and copy of heaven itself. Even though the tabernacle was obviously not even close to being as glorious as heaven, nevertheless, because it was a copy, Moses was warned to make everything exactly as he had been told.

But the tabernacle wasn’t the only thing that was a shadow and copy. Many of the laws that we don’t understand today were too. The ideas of unclean and clean, for example, and the laws concerning food, leprosy, and even mildew were all pictures of sin and the need to stay pure as God’s people.

The sacrifices were shadows and copies as well. As we said yesterday, they were not sufficient to deal with our sins, but they looked forward to the perfect sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

And finally, the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai was a mere shadow and copy of the the true relationship he wanted with us. The laws he gave them were all external to themselves, and it was up to them to try to keep them all. And if they did, God said he would be their God and they would be his people. That they would be his priests and a holy nation for him.

But because these laws were not truly part of the Israelites, they were unable to keep them. And so God said,

“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (8-12)

In the old covenant, God gave the Israelites law. But in the new covenant, God promises to put the law into our hearts, changing us from the inside out.

Under the old covenant, the Israelites had priests and prophets to teach people to know God. And even then, there was a distance between God and the people. They didn’t really have a personal relationship with him.

But now, Jesus is our priest, and he brings us directly before his Father and we will know him personally.

So let us rejoice that we no longer need to deal with shadows and copies which were imperfect, but that through Jesus, we now have what is real. A real relationship with God with hearts purified through his sacrifice on the cross.

And let us draw near to him, not just now at Christmas time, but every day.



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Hebrews 7 — King of righteousness, King of peace, our Priest forever

Merry Christmas from Japan, everyone.

As we remember Christ today, I suppose it’s only appropriate to read this passage and remember just who he is. And he is far more than a baby in a manger.

The writer of Hebrews calls him a king and priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek was a character who “mysteriously” appears and disappears in Genesis 14. I say this not in a supernatural way, but unlike most characters we see in the Bible, we see nothing of his genealogy. We don’t know who his parents or children were. We see nothing recorded of his birth or death. He just appears in the story of Abraham, and then we never see him again. As far as we know, he could still be living (although he most certainly isn’t).

And in Melchizedek, the writer of Hebrews sees a picture of Christ. Melchizedek’s name meant, “King of Righteousness.” And he was also the king of Salem, a city whose name means “peace.” (It would later become Jerusalem). And of course, in Jesus we see him who is the true king of righteousness and peace.

More, just as Melchizedek’s genealogy  and very death is unknown, Jesus himself, though he had an earthly genealogy, lived much further back in eternity before the world even began. And having been raised from the dead, he will live forever, never to die again.

Why is this important? Because he has also become our priest forever. Back in the Old Testament under Mosaic law, there were many priests that came from the tribe of Levi. They served under a covenant that God made with the people, that if they would keep his commandments, he would be their God and they would be his people.

Why then do we need another priest if God’s law had already provided one, and not just one, but many throughout the years?

Because the law was imperfect. In what way was it imperfect? It was imperfect in that nobody could keep it perfectly, and could thus only bring judgment on those who were under it.

The priests themselves were imperfect. Day after day, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could offer sins for the people.

And even the sacrifices they offered were imperfect. As the writer will point out later, if they had been perfect, we would have had no more need for sacrifices. One would have been enough. But the priests needed to offer the sacrifices day by day because they were insufficient to cover our sins.

So the writer of Hebrews tells us that we needed a better way to have a relationship with God and a better priest.

And both are found in Jesus. He was greater than all the other priests in several ways.

First, his “lineage.” He was of the spiritual line of Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham himself. The writer of Hebrews points out that the greater is always the one that blesses the lesser, and so the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than that which comes through Abraham’s descendant Levi. (4-10)

But more, God made an oath to Jesus that he made to no other priest. He said,

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ (21)

And in that promise we see a third reason. Jesus was made a priest, not simply based on some law that said he had to be a descendant of Levi, but he was made a priest based on “indestructible life.” (16)

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us that now,

a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (19)

In what way?

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. The writer of Hebrews explains.

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (22-26)

Jesus offered one sacrifice for all time by dying on the cross for our sins. And because it was a perfect sacrifice, our salvation is complete. All we need to do now is put our trust in Him. (27)

That’s the hope we have. So this Christmas, let us praise the King who makes us righteous before God because of his sacrifice, who brings us peace with God, and who remains our priest forever.

Merry Christmas!

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Hebrews 6:9-20 — Impossible (or “The reason for our hope”)

I said yesterday that if you hold that Hebrews 6 says it is possible to lose your salvation, then once that person falls away it is impossible to get it back (6:4-6). There is no out.

One reason is this passage here where the writer of Hebrews says something else is impossible. It is impossible for God to lie (18). So the possibility of a person coming to repentance once they have fallen away is the same as the possibility of God lying: Zero.

But while one of these impossibilities should cause us to fear, the other gives us great hope. And that, more than anything, was what the author of Hebrews was trying to give us.

He says,

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case–things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (9-12)

In short, “I know all this about the impossibility of repentance after falling away and being cursed and judged sounds scary, but I’m sure it doesn’t apply to you. Your life does seem to show the fruit of salvation. So I want to encourage you to hang in there, even though things are tough right now. For if you do, your hope in Christ will not be in vain.

He then points to the promise made to Abraham, that God would bless Abraham and give him many descendants. Why? Because we are heirs to that promise. (Galatians 3:7-9)

And when God made that promise he also made an oath, swearing by himself since there is none greater than God. And because Abraham believed that promise, though he had to wait 25 years, God gave him a son in Isaac, and Isaac eventually became a great nation in Israel, just as God promised. And through Jesus, we who believe in Him are all children of Abraham.

Why did God feel it necessary to give an oath? Because he is unreliable? No. The writer of Hebrews says,

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (18)

Because God’s promise and oath are unchangeable, we can be doubly sure of our hope. And now the writer of Hebrews tells us,

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (19-20)

When it says that Jesus went before us, it literally says in the Greek that he was our forerunner. What’s a forerunner?

When weather was bad and a ship couldn’t enter a harbor, a small boat, a “forerunner” would carry the ship’s anchor into the harbor and put the anchor down there. And because the ship was already anchored in the harbor, the sailors could have hope they would eventually arrive there safely.

In the same way, Jesus enters into God’s very presence ahead of us. And because of that, we have hope that one day we will follow him into God’s presence, accepted and beloved as his children.

So when the storms of life hit, and our ship is tossed by the waves, let us not give up hope or think that God has abandoned us. Jesus has gone on before us. He has anchored us, and we will come safely home someday.



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Hebrews 6:4-8 — Impossible

This is one of the more controversial passages in scripture. Many Christians use it to try to prove that it is possible for a person to lose their salvation. The writer of Hebrews says,

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.(6:4-6)

At first glance, it sure looks like it’s possible to lose your salvation. But I want to bring into focus a single word in there: “impossible.”

If you are going to say that it is possible for a person to fall away and thus lose their salvation, you also have to say it is impossible for them to get it back. There is no out.

The word impossible there in Greek has exactly the same meaning in English: impossible.

The question, though, is if that is true in our experience? How many people do we know that “fell away” and yet later came back to God?

According to this passage, they must have never really “fallen away” because they came back.

So if you are going to say that a person can lose their salvation, you have to have a very narrow definition of “fall away.” It has to mean someone who has completely hardened their heart to God such that they will never come back again. But we can never say with any certainty that this is true of anyone until they actually die.

And even if they do die, the question becomes, “Did they really fall away? Maybe if they had had a little more time, they would have eventually come back.”

I personally believe that once a God saves a person, they are always saved. I don’t think it’s possible for God to choose someone to be saved before time began (Ephesians 1:4-5), and then be caught by surprise when they “fall away,” thus causing God to reject them.

What do I then make of this being “enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit,” and all the rest?

I think the best thing to do is point to Judas Iscariot. All these things perfectly describe Judas. He had all the teaching of Jesus, perhaps was even convinced by it initially. He tasted of the heavenly gift, sharing in the power of the Holy Spirit, performing miracles and casting out demons like the rest of the disciples (Matthew 10:8). And yet, Jesus knew from the beginning that he never had true faith and was going to betray him (John 6:64).

In short, he was the perfect tare in the wheat field. He looked like a believer, he acted like a believer, but he never truly believed.

And that’s what you see in the latter part of this passage.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (7-8)

The other 11 disciples, though they had their share of weeds, ultimately produced the crop that comes from salvation. Judas, on the other hand, when all was said and done, only produced thorns and thistles in his life, and he perished because of it.

Add to this that the writer of Hebrews had also talked about the Jews who had come out of Egypt. They experienced the giving of the law, experienced all the miracles, and yet because they never really believed, never entered the promised land. From all this, I think the warning is clear: genuine faith is necessary for salvation.

What kind of “faith” do you have? Are you truly a believer? Then it should show in your life. You should be maturing, becoming more and more like Christ each day.

A “faith” that bears no fruit will ultimately shown for the counterfeit faith it is on the day of judgment, if not before, when those who claim to be Christians “fall away,” proving themselves to have been tares all along.

What kind of faith do you have?

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Hebrews 5:11-6:3 — What true maturity is

There are some Christians that long to grow deeper in the faith. To learn the deep things of scripture that go beyond the simple gospel message. The question is, “Are they ready for it?”

The audience that was reading this letter to the Hebrews apparently wasn’t.

The writer tells them,

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (5:11-12)

What does he mean by milk? He tells us in chapter 6. It’s things like repentance from sin, the importance of faith, Christian baptism in contrast perhaps to Jewish washing rituals, the laying on of hands, perhaps in reference to receiving the Holy Spirit, and to resurrection and judgment.

All these things our basic to our Christian faith. We need to know them. But they are just a starting point. A starting point to what? A starting point to being made complete and whole.

And that means going beyond hearing the message, but having it become practical in your life. To truly trusting that God loves you and that his way is best. To believing we are really dead to sin now, and are called to live a new life in Jesus as new creations. To loving God so much for what he has done, that our actions, our thoughts, and our very lives are colored by that love.

In short, we put away sin by the power of the Spirit who works in us, and put on righteousness becoming more and more like Christ each day.

That’s what maturity is. It isn’t simply knowing the Bible. It’s not simply knowing about the deep things of God. Maturity is becoming Christlike in every aspect of our lives. Put another way, maturity is becoming whole as people. It’s becoming the people that God intended us to be from the very beginning.

But immature people are still very much incomplete in their character. They still don’t even know what it means to be whole as people. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way,

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (5:13)

In contrast, he says about the mature,

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (5:14)

A truly mature person hears the Word of God and puts it into practice. And through that experience of putting the Word of God into practice, they learn what it means to be whole. They learn what things are truly good and what things are evil.

But many Christians are still slow to learn. The ESV puts it,

You have become dull of hearing. (5:11)

How does that happen? We hear God’s word, he pricks our heart to action, but we choose to do nothing. And in so doing we harden our hearts to him. And the more we do that, the less effect God’s Word has on our heart. The result? We remain broken, incomplete, and immature.

How about you? Are you a doer of the Word? Or do you merely a hearer of it?

God wants us to be whole and complete. But that will never happen as long as we continue to harden our hearts to him.

How mature are you?

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Hebrews 4:11-5:10 — Why we can dare to draw near

How would you like to have your whole life exposed for all to see? Nothing hidden. Your life an open book for the world to see?

Now think of standing before God on judgment day with that book open before him and him asking, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

The writer of Hebrews tells us,

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (4:11-13)

That is a scary thought. Not only will every action will be exposed, but every thought, every attitude will be laid bare before God. There will be no hiding of anything on the day of judgment. If you’re totally honest with yourself, that ought to scare you to death.

And yet, we can dare to draw near to God. Why? Because of Jesus.

The writer continues,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (4:14-15)

We saw before that Jesus blazed the path to salvation before us as our pioneer. And now he goes before us into heaven before the Father to intercede for us.

And when the Father sees him, he delights in him. He’s not like some judges who have an adversarial relationship with criminal defenders. Rather, he himself appointed Jesus as our priest. (5:4-6)

More, when Jesus stands before the Father, he intercedes for us with compassion because he understand all we go through. He understands temptation. He understands how difficult it is to follow the Father’s will in a world as broken as we live in.

While he was on earth, daily he offered up prayers with loud cries and tears before the Father. And at the garden of Gethsemane, he sweated blood in his anguish to obey the Father’s will. He knows how hard it is. And yet, he obeyed his Father in everything, to the point of going to the cross. And now, he has become our source of salvation if we will just follow in the path of faith that he has blazed for us (5:7-10)

And when we falter, when we act ignorantly and waywardly, he deals with us gently, picking us up and setting us back on the right path. (5:2-3)

For all these reasons, the writer of Hebrews now tells us,

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (4:16)

Do you have that confidence standing before God? Or do you feel like God is always looking down on you, ready to blast you for your sins?

Cast those fears aside. Jesus stands with you. He took your punishment for you. Punishment is no longer waiting for us. Rather, mercy and grace await you. So let us draw near to the Father, knowing he loves you and will welcome you as his precious child.

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Hebrews 3-4 — The need for faith

Many people want to know God’s blessings in life. Many people want to find true life and joy. But far too few are willing to put their trust in God in order to obtain these things.

And that’s the problem that the writer of Hebrews addresses in this chapter. He talks about a day of “rest” that comes from God. And there’s a three-fold meaning to that. One is the rest of no longer trying to work to gain our salvation, and simply putting our faith in Christ.

The writer says in chapter 4,

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (9-10)

Here we see the true meaning of the Sabbath day as pictured in the Old Testament. God gave the Jews a picture of the true joy and contentment that comes from trusting in him. Once a week, they would not work or labor, trusting God to provide for their needs. And in doing so, they found rest and peace from all their labor.

In the same way, when we put our trust in God and Christ’s work on the cross, we find rest from all our efforts to save ourselves and we find peace with God.

Secondly, we find peace and rest in our daily lives. Though we may have troubles, because we trust in God, we don’t panic or live in anxiety. Rather, we rest in the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension. (Philippians 4:7)

And finally, the day will come when we will truly rest. All the struggles and trials of life will be over and we will see Jesus face to face.

This was a rest that another “Jesus” couldn’t provide. It may surprise you to know that Jesus and Joshua are the same name in Greek. And while most modern Bibles translate Hebrews 4:8 “Joshua”, the name is exactly the same one used for “Jesus.” The translators used “Joshua” to avoid confusion.

What did Joshua do? He provided rest in the sense that he brought the people into the land God promised them. But their rest was never complete there. Why? Because they failed to trust God. When things got tough in their battles against the inhabitants there, they gave up and settled for what they had conquered.

And so for the Jews and for all people today, there remains a day of rest that will come only when we fully put our trust in God.

But as I mentioned before, the problem is too few do. We see this all the way back in Egypt where the Israelite slaves labored for years. They longed for rest. They longed for salvation. They longed for true joy and life.

Moses promised that God would give it to them, and they followed him. But from the very beginning, you could see that they were lacking in faith. You see it when Pharaoh made them work harder because of his confrontation with Moses. You see it at the Red Sea when they were trapped by Pharaoh’s army. You see it in the desert when they longed for food and water. And you see it when they refused to enter the land God had promised because they feared the inhabitants.

They said they wanted life and joy. They said they wanted rest and the blessings of God. But ultimately, they never believed. As a result, they never did enter the land. They all died in the desert. It was their children that entered, and again, even their children never entered into true rest because of their unbelief.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against. There were many Jews among his readers that heard the message of the gospel, and like the Israelites coming out of Egypt, were drawn by it. But they never really believed and fell away. (4:2) And the writer warns them time and again, “Don’t be like them. If you do, will never enter God’s rest. You’ll never find true life.” (4:11)

How about you? Do you want to find life and joy. Do you want to know God’s blessing in your life? Then you need to trust God and his Word. It is God’s word that will test where your heart really is, and if you truly trust God. And it is by his word that God will judge you. (4:12-13)

What will he find when he does?

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Hebrews 2-3 –Why we dare not ignore the gospel

One of the key themes you see throughout Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. In chapters 1-2, you see his supremacy over the prophets and the angels. In chapter 3, we see his supremacy over Moses. And in chapter 4, we will see his supremacy over Joshua.

But there is a key point we need to remember as we consider Christ’s supremacy. If he is indeed supreme over all the angels and the other messengers of God, and all of them proclaimed the message of God and people were held to account for what they heard, then we dare not ignore the message that Christ brings.

We see this in the first few verses of chapter 2, where the writer of Hebrews says,

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (2:1-4)

Here, the writer of Hebrews seems to be referring to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19). And the writer says the people were judged when they failed to keep this law, even though it was brought by “mere” angels of God.

But now Jesus himself has come and given us the gospel through his own mouth and the mouths of the apostles, and God testified to their veracity by performing signs, miracles, and wonders, not to mention all the gifts of the Spirit that were poured out. And if the Father, Son, and Spirit themselves testify to these things, not simply angels, will we not be held more accountable? Of course we will. And there will be no escape from hell if we ignore this gospel that God in Trinity has testified to.

The writer then compares Moses to Jesus. Moses had been a great leader. God used him to deliver the people from slavery in Egypt and through him taught the people His law.

And yet, the writer says,

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (3:3-6)

Moses, the writer says, was a mere servant. A faithful servant, but a servant. And as much as the Jews were held to accountable to a servant like Moses in keeping the law he taught, we are held far more accountable to Jesus because he is God’s Son and the builder of God’s house, the church.

Because of this, we dare not ignore the gospel of salvation he brings. There is no higher court of appeal to go to. He is our final judge.

So the writer tells us,

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (3:1)

How about you? Are you taking the gospel lightly? As a message that you can simply ignore?

Whether you like it or not, you will be held to account for it. So believe it and embrace it while you still can. And if you do, you will find life. To reject it means judgment and death. More on that next time.

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Hebrews 2 — What Christmas is all about (part 3)

For the past couple of days, we’ve been looking at Christmas through the lens of Hebrews. First, we talked about how it was because of Christmas that we can truly see what God is like. That through Jesus, the invisible God became visible.

Then yesterday, we talked about the second reason Jesus came. That because of our sin, this world became messed up. We were meant to rule over this earth as God’s representatives and children, but our sin made a mess of this world and our lives.

But when Jesus came, he paid the price for our sin, taking God’s wrath upon himself. Now he has blazed the way to salvation for us. All we have to do is trust in and follow him, and God’s original plan for us will come to fruition. The day will come when we will reign with Christ for all eternity, crowned with glory and honor.

There is, however, a third reason Jesus came, and we see this also in chapter 2. He came to identify with us. To truly understand us.

So often, we think of God in heaven, and he seems too transcendent. How could such a God truly understand all that we go through.

But God came down to earth in Jesus Christ, and he experienced all that we do. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus, our “pioneer”, was made perfect through suffering (10).

What does that mean? Wasn’t Jesus already perfect? Certainly in terms of sinlessness he was. But he became more “complete” as a Savior by identifying with us in every way. By taking on human flesh and learning what it means to suffer in an imperfect world, to go through the strongest of temptations and overcome, and ultimately to die and overcome death itself.

Because Jesus did all of that, the writer of Hebrews says,

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (11)

In other words, because Jesus became a man, he truly became one of us. And he can call us brothers and sisters and really mean it.

Throughout the Psalms that are quoted in verses 12-13, you see the joy of Jesus as he calls us his own brothers, sisters, and children. He makes no distinction between us and him.

Again in verse 14-15, it says,

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Like us, Jesus took on flesh and blood. But unlike us, he never sinned. And now by offering the perfect sacrifice for sin, he destroyed Satan’s hold over us and has set us free from the fear of death and hell.

But there’s one last thing. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (17-18)

Put another way, he understands our weakness as he never had before because now he himself has experienced it. And because of that, he has become a merciful high priest for us. So when we now cry out because of our struggles with sin or the pains of life, he understands.

That’s the wonder of Christmas. Of “God with us.” The wonder is that he now truly understands us.

I love the song that says,

He knows all the struggles you are going through.
He knows the pain you’re feeling.

He hears the silent cries you hold within your heart.
And he wants so much to show you
That he knows.

–Brian Becker

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Hebrews 2 — What Christmas is all about (part 2)

What’s wrong with the world today? Until we answer that question, we can’t really answer what Christmas is about. And that’s what the author of Hebrews addresses here.

He says in verse 5 that in the world to come, when all things are made new, the earth will not be made subject to angels, but to the human race. And like the psalmist, he marvels, saying,

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” (6-8)

Here it seems the psalmist and the writer of Hebrews is speaking not of Jesus, but of people. And they marvel at the grace of God that though we are but dust, lower at this time than the angels, that the day will come when we will be crowned with glory and honor, and rule over all things, even the angels.

Paul told us in I Corinthians 6:3 that the day will come when we will even judge the angels.

That’s what God meant for us from the very beginning. When he created Adam and Eve, he said,

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28)

And the writer of Hebrews says,

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. (8b)

And yet. Is that how things really are? The writer continues,

Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. (8c)

Why not? Because of sin.

Sin is what’s wrong with the world. Sin corrupted everything. It broke our relationship with God. It broke this world. And it broke us. Because of that, we see natural disasters, disease, and death.

And that’s why Jesus had to come.

The writer continues,

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (9)

Jesus left heaven, and became one of us. He lived among us, taking our form that was lower than the angels. A form that was mortal. A form that could get sick and die. But through his death on the cross, he paid for our sin so that we would not have to pay for it ourselves.

And now, Jesus is crowned with glory and honor. He has become the “author of our salvation.” That word “author” is now translated in the new NIV, “pioneer.” Jesus went ahead of us, living a perfect life, and then suffering and dying for us. And now we follow the path of salvation he blazed for us.

We don’t have to find the path to salvation. The path has already been made. He’s done all the hard work. All we have to do is trust in and follow after him.

Why did Jesus come to this earth as a baby 2000 years ago?

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (14-15)

But not only we have been set free from the power of sin and death, now the way has been paved for us to be crowned with glory and honor and to rule this world as coheirs with Christ as God intended from the very beginning.

That’s what Christmas is all about. So this Christmas, let us praise God not just for what he did 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, but praise him for what he is doing now, and what he will do in the world to come.

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Hebrews 1 — What Christmas is all about

As I write this, Christmas season is well in swing and is in fact just around the corner.

And in Hebrews, we find out just what Christmas is all about. Who is this Christ that came? And why is he so important?

The writer of Hebrews starts by telling us,

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (1-2)

In other words, while there were many prophets throughout the centuries, now in these last days, we find one that was greater than them all. Greater than Isaiah and Jeremiah, and Daniel. And while these men spoke many things clouded in mystery, these mysteries were all revealed in Jesus Christ. He is, as John put it, the very Word of God made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and all the scriptures find their fulfillment in him.

But who is he, really?

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim he is the archangel Michael. But the writer of Hebrews flatly denies this.

Instead, he said,

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (3a)

The picture here is of a signet ring thatsignet ring was put into wax and then pressed onto paper. And Jesus is the exact representation of the very nature of God. All that God is can be seen in Jesus. Jesus himself is the radiance of God’s glory.

The writer then says,

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (3b)

Here we see the why of Jesus’ coming. To die on a cross that our sins may be forgiven. But after he died, he rose again, and now is sitting at the right hand of God the Father in glory. And on the day, Jesus rose from the dead, the Father said,

“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Verse 5, but also see Acts 13:32-34 where Paul uses this passage in reference to the resurrection.)

In ancient times, a king who was over another had a “father-son” relationship with the king who was subject to him. God himself said that of his relationship with Solomon (II Samuel 7:14)

And the writer of Hebrews makes very clear, “No angel ever had this said to them. Only Jesus.” (4-5)

More, when God brought Jesus into the world, he said,

Let all God’s angels worship him. (6)

We see that during the angel’s worship in front of the shepherds. And on the day Jesus returns to earth, God will again command, “Let all the angels worship him.”

That’s significant, because only God is worthy of worship. The Father could not say that if Jesus were not one with Him. (Luke 4:8)

And while angels are compared to things created things like wind and fire (7), Jesus is called the eternal God himself, and the creator of all things. (2, 8-12)

Finally, no angel had the position of authority that Jesus has. Rather their job is to serve those who will be saved because of the work Jesus did. (13-14)

In short, as glorious as angels are, Jesus is so much more. He is God himself in human flesh. And when he came, he revealed to us who God really is.

Not only that, but through him and him alone we find salvation from our sins and the gift of eternal life.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

More on this tomorrow.

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Philemon — If our faith is genuine

In II Corinthians 5:16-17, Paul wrote,

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (16-17)

Here we see the results of a genuine faith. We no longer see Christ the same way and neither do we see the people around us in the same way.

And there is no story that better illustrates that than this letter to a man named Philemon.

Philemon was apparently a leader in the Colossian church, and the church itself met in his house. Nevertheless, he lived in a time when slavery abounded. Slaves made up approximately a third of the Roman population.

Sometimes people wonder why early Christian leaders like Paul didn’t speak directly against the practice. My guess is he knew change wouldn’t come through politics but through changed hearts. And the only way hearts would be changed is through the gospel.

Many Christians trying to bring change to their nations would do well to remember that. This is not to say that people should not be politically involved. What it does mean is that any long-lasting change must come through the transformation of the human heart. And politics and new laws cannot effect that.

At any rate, while Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he met a man named Onesimus. We don’t know the exact circumstances under which they met, but whatever they were, it seems that Onesimus became a Christian through Paul (10).

And as Onesimus grew in the faith, he actually started serving with Paul, becoming a beloved and trusted friend.

But there was a problem, Onesimus seems to have been a runaway slave. Apparently, he had stolen from his master and run away to gain his freedom. But now as a Christian, his conscience probably smote him. He knew he was in the wrong, and he felt like he had to return to his old master. But to do so could very well mean death under Roman law. Onesimus’ fate was purely in the hands of his master should he return.

And perhaps under this burden, he shared his heart with Paul. When Paul asked him, “Who is your master?” to Paul’s surprise, Onesimus’ master was Philemon, a close friend of Paul. Philemon himself, it seems, had also become a Christian through Paul (19)

With that, Paul wrote this letter on Onesimus’ behalf. But Paul, though he had the authority as an apostle to tell Philemon what to do, refused to do so. Instead, you see him appealing to Philemon as a friend and as one he greatly loved.

What did he tell Philemon? He told Philemon that God’s hand was in all that had happened (15-16). Oh certainly God didn’t tell Onesimus to run away. Onesimus did that all on his own, sinning not only against Philemon, but against God.

But God reached out to him and directed him right into the path of Paul. And now this “useless slave” had become someone truly valuable, useful to Paul in the ministry. (11-13)

(Onesimus’ name itself meant “useful.”)

Now Paul told Philemon, “Onesimus is no longer the same man he was when he left you. He is not just merely your slave anymore. He is now a new creation in Christ. And your brother.” (16)

More Paul said,

If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me….I will pay it back–not to mention that you owe me your very self. (18-19)

Paul here does two things. He offers to pay for what Onesimus has stolen. But in doing so, he gives a subtle reminder that Philemon himself had his debt of sin paid by Jesus. And as much as he might have owed Paul for bringing the gospel message that saved him, he owed Jesus much more, because Jesus was the one who actually paid the price.

How did Philemon respond? We don’t know. But Paul was confident that Philemon would do what was right. (21)

Why? Because Philemon was a new creation too. And Paul was confident that he would see Onesimus in the same light that Paul saw him.

The real question, though, is, “What about you? Is your faith genuine? If it is genuine, it should transform not only how you see Christ, but others. It should lead you to forgive because you have been forgiven. It should lead you to love and accept those around you, because Jesus loved and accepted you.”

What kind of faith do you have?

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Titus 3 — No room for license, no room for pride

We covered the first part of Titus 3 in the last blog, but because it connects with what we’re talking about today, I might as well put it all together.

Again in verse 1, he talks about how we are to obey those in authority, and then he says in verse 2 that we are to,

slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

It’s easy sometimes for Christians to become uncharitable or judgmental towards unbelievers because of their sinful actions. But Paul says we are not to slander them, but are rather to be peaceable and considerate, showing them true humility. The last, I think is especially important. As Christians, we are to be humble and gentle with them in their failings. Why?

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (3-7)

In short, we were no different from unbelievers before we became Christians. We too did stupid things, we sinned, and were in fact slaves to sin. God didn’t save us because we were better than the rest of the people around us. Rather, he saved us because of his mercy. And he showed kindness and love to us when we didn’t deserve it by sending his Son to die for us.

Now God has made us new creations through his Holy Spirit who he has poured into our hearts. And now because of all he has done for us, we are made righteous in his sight and we have the hope of eternal life as his adopted children.

So there’s no room for pride as Christians. And we are not to look down on those who are “unholy.” Rather we are to reach out to them with the same love that God showed us.

At the same time, as I mentioned in the last blog, there’s no room for license when it comes to sin if we are Christians.

We are no longer the same. We’ve been washed by the blood of Jesus. We’ve been made new creatures in him. How then can we go back to a life of sin and the things that were destroying us?

And so Paul says,

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (8)

And again,

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (14)

So while there’s no room for pride in our own righteousness, there is no room for license either.

Even in Paul’s day, he faced both problems. He faced those who proud of how “righteous” they were by keeping the law and those who were proud of their Jewish pedigree. And he faced those who argued that they could live however they wanted to. (9)

But concerning both, Paul said,

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (10-11)

How about you? Do you live in pride, thinking you’re so much better than others? Remember you were not saved because of who you are or what you did. You were saved because of who God is and what he did.

Are you living a life of license? You were saved that you might be free from that. That you might become completely new and find true life and joy, not the counterfeit this world offers.

How are you living?

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Titus 2:2-3:2 — A call to godliness

This is a passage that is nothing short of a call to godliness among God’s people.

There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians. But as Paul said in chapter 1,

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (1:16)

You cannot claim to be a Christian and simply live the way you want to. God has called us to be be holy. What does that mean practically? Paul tells them.

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. (2:2-6)

All fiercely practical.

Later he gives instructions to the slaves, which are practical for employees today.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (2:9-10)

Then in chapter 3, he gives instructions concerning our attitude toward authority, that we are to be subject to them (3:1).

Finally he gives us instructions on how we are to treat each other, that we are to do good to one another,

to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (3:2)

And to Titus himself, Paul says,

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (7-8)

In other words, Titus was not simply to teach these things, but to live them that he might be an example to all the church of the kind of life they were to live. Just as importantly, by living that way, no legitimate reproach could come upon Christ and his teaching.

“But we are saved by grace! These instructions sound so legalistic,” some may say.

Yes we are saved by grace and by grace alone. But what is true grace? Does true grace teach us to live however we want because we are saved by the cross of Christ?

No. This grace,

teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (2:12-14)

Grace wasn’t given us as a license to live unholy lives. Rather grace was given us that we might become holy. Jesus bought us out of slavery to sin and purified our hearts by his blood that we would become his own people. A people who want to please him and are eager to do what is right.

And this is so important to Paul, that he tells Titus,

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (2:15)

How about you? Are you using the grace of God to give you an excuse to live how you want to? Or are you so grateful for what he has done for you, that it’s your greatest desire to please him?

As a Christian, you have been called to godliness. Are you living that way?

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Titus 1:1-2:1 — Standing for truth

This is the last of the pastoral letters, in which Paul instructs a man named Titus on what he needed to do with the churches in Crete. Apparently, there was a lot of false teaching there, similar to what Timothy was facing in Ephesus. There were those getting into myths and genealogies on one hand, and legalism on the other. All this despite the fact that these churches were still relatively young.

Also, because of their immaturity in Christ, the people had little idea of what it meant to live holy lives.

So from the very beginning, Paul talks about how God called him for the sake of the believers that they may know the truth, a truth cannot be separated from godliness. And it’s a truth, Paul says, that leads to eternal life which God has promised to all who believe. (1:2-3)

But because of a lack of leadership in these young churches, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders/overseers in the churches. They were in effect to be the pastors of these churches. And as with Timothy, Paul tells them there are two important things a pastor or elder must have.

The first is character, that they must be above approach as people. (1:6-8)

The second is that they hold to the truth and that they relay it to those God has put in their charge. The reason?

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach–and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (1:10-12)

Even in the church today, we see much of the same thing. People who don’t like what God has taught in his Word and corrupt it. People who lead entire families away from Christ by teaching things that are false. Some, as in the case of Cretan teachers, do so for the sake of money. Others corrupt it because they have bought the lie that we have to earn our salvation and that God’s grace is not enough. Others corrupt it because it teaches against the kind of life they want to live.

But in each case, Paul tells Titus,

Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith. (1:13)

In short, stand for the truth. Don’t just let lies slip by unchallenged. God is a God who never lies, and we are to imitate him. (1:2)

There are many, Paul says, who profess to know God, but by their works and by their teaching deny him. Why? Because their minds and consciences are corrupt. They simply do not want to accept the truth. But Paul charges Titus,

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. (2:1)

Though others may stray from the truth, we are to stand for it. And we are not to compromise.

How about you? Do you stand for truth? Or do you let lies slip by, letting people go to their own destruction. Even worse, do you twist the truth to suit your own sinful desires?

We will stand before God someday based on what we did with his truth. What will he say to you on that day?

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II Timothy 4:16-22 — Though we may stand alone

I can’t help but think that Paul felt the same thing Jesus did during his trial.

Like Jesus, Paul stood alone when he stood on trial for his life. All the people he could have reasonably expected to support him were nowhere to be seen.

And perhaps in remembering Jesus’ response to those who had failed him and his prayer at the cross, Paul now prayed,

May it not be held against them. (16)

But how was Paul able to stand facing the hostile “lions” in court?

Paul tells us.

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. (17)

Though Paul was abandoned by all his friends, he still sensed the Lord’s presence by his side. More, he sensed the Spirit working in him as he gave his defense, just as Jesus had promised his disciples. (Mark 13:11)

And so even in the midst of a trial to condemn him, Paul boldly preached the gospel.

But on top of that was the hope that Paul had. He said,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (18)

Paul wasn’t saying that he believed God would spare his life. He fully believed his time had come and that he would die. (6)

But he knew that though the Romans could kill his body, they could not touch his soul. He was fully confident that God would take his soul to be with Christ forever. And because of that, he had peace.

How about you? Do you have the confidence, hope, and assurance that Paul had?

As I said before, Jesus never promised an easy life. On the contrary, he promised that we would face trouble. (John 16:33)

But in the midst of the fire, remember that Jesus is with you. Though everyone else may abandon you, he never will. And though your very life may be taken from you, he will guide you safely home.

So whatever you’re going through, hang in there. Don’t give up. Instead,

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

And as Paul prayed, so I pray for you now.

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (22)


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II Timothy 4:9-15 — The unfaithful, the faithful, the restored, and the condemned

As we near the end of this letter, Paul mentions several different types of people, the unfaithful, the faithful, the restored, and the condemned.

Demas, unfortunately, was one of the unfaithful. He had worked with Paul previously (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:24), but Paul now says of him,

Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (10)

What exactly pulled Demas away, we are not sure. Perhaps it was the lure of money and wealth. Perhaps it was falling in love with a non-Christian woman. Or perhaps it simply was that he was tired of suffering for the sake of Christ. He had seen Paul go through much suffering, and after suffering along with him for many years, decided he had had enough.

Others, however, were faithful not only to Paul, but to Christ. We see this in Crescens and Titus who apparently were sent by Paul to do the Lord’s work elsewhere, and Luke, Paul’s constant companion and perhaps personal physician.

Then there’s Mark. This is the same man that Paul once argued with Barnabas about in Acts 15. Paul had considered Mark unreliable because he had deserted them on an earlier missionary journey, but Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. As a result, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways.

But now, Paul says of Mark,

Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (11)

Mark had proven Paul wrong, and learning from his past failures, now had shown himself to be a faithful servant of the Lord, and Paul acknowledged him as such.

Finally, we see Alexander. What harm exactly he caused Paul, we don’t know. If he was the same Alexander from I Timothy 1:20, perhaps his excommunication from the church had caused him to turn Paul into the Romans who were now persecuting Christians openly under Nero.

Whatever the case, Paul said of him,

The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (14-15)

Here we see two principals concerning those who oppose us and the gospel. First, place them in God’s hands. Don’t let bitterness consume you or cause you to try to take revenge.

But second, forgiveness doesn’t mean you just let someone hurt you again and again. We need to keep our guard up against such people until they repent

But the main question is, what kind of person are you?

Are you like Demas? You came to faith in Jesus, and at first things were great. But now, other things are pulling you away from Christ. Are the things of this world causing you to be unfaithful to him? Are hardships causing you to think about giving up? Don’t give in to those temptations. This world, with its pleasures and trials are only temporary. So be faithful. Shoot for the eternal, not what will last only a short time.

Are you like Mark? Have you failed in the past and feel like you can’t be used anymore for the Lord’s work. Remember that God is the God who restores. He restored Peter and the rest of the disciples when they failed Jesus before the cross. He restored Mark. And he can restore you. All you need to do is repent.

Are you like Alexander, hardened against God and the gospel? Be warned. God is patient, but as things are you stand condemned. Repent before it’s too late.

And for all of us who are in Christ Jesus, through everything we go through in life, let us as Paul said in Romans,

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

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II Timothy 4:1-8 — Finishing the race

I don’t know if Paul could have given a stronger charge to Timothy than he does here.

Paul foresaw a time when people would no longer put up with sound doctrine. Rather, they would simply gather to themselves teachers who would say whatever they want to hear. He foresaw a time when people would stop listening to truth, and turn aside to myths. (3-4)

Sound familiar? We’re here.

And it would be so easy for us as teachers and as laypeople to simply go with the flow. To compromise Christ’s teaching.

But Paul tells us what he told Timothy.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. (1-2)

As I said, a strong charge. He gives us this charge, reminding us that even now we stand in the presence of God and of Christ who will judge us. He charges us in view of the fact that Jesus will come back someday and set up his kingdom. What is this charge?

Preach the Word. Not just the parts people like to hear. All of it, giving the full counsel of God, even if it’s unpleasant to hear.

He says, “be prepared in season and out of season.” Essentially what he’s saying is, “Preach the Word whether it is convenient or inconvenient.

It’s not always convenient to preach the Word. Sometimes we’re in a hurry to do other things. We have our schedules; we have our plans. But God brings someone into our path that needs to hear what He has to say.

Sometimes it’s not “convenient” because we know what we say will agitate the other person and upset them. But Paul says, “You stand before God and before Christ. He will come back, he will set up his kingdom, and when he does, he will judge you and them. So whether it’s convenient or not, preach the Word.

Correct them. When they have a false view of the truth or of what’s right and wrong, correct their way of thinking.

Rebuke them. If they fall into sin or are teetering on the brink, warn them of the consequences that they might repent.

Encourage them. When they feel like giving up because of hardship, encourage them to keep their eyes on Jesus and not give up.

And in the face of a world that rejects truth and persecutes those who preach it, Paul tells us,

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (5)

Though false teachers abound, though we may face trials, don’t panic. Endure what hardship you go through, boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ, and fulfill the ministry God has given you, namely to touch the lives God has put in your life.

Finally Paul tells us, “It’s up to you now. My life’s work is finished. I have fought the good fight for God. I have finished the race he has given me. And I have not compromised the faith I preach through everything I’ve been through. Now I await my reward, the crown of righteousness that Christ will award to me on the day of judgment.” (5-8)

But then he adds, “That crown is not only for me. But it is for all who have longed for his appearing.” (8b)

How about you? Are you longing for his appearing? Are you truly praying, “Your kingdom come?”

How you finish this race depends on how you answer that question.

Where is your heart?

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II Timothy 3:10-17- Though this world goes from bad to worse

If anyone thinks that this world will get any better, they’re not reading the same Bible I am. Until the day Christ comes back, things will get progressively worse. And that shows most starkly in the ungodliness of the people in this world, even those claiming to be Christians.

And Paul’s words seem more real to me now than they did even ten or twenty years ago. Paul says,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (12-13)

Paul doesn’t say that people who want to live a godly life may be persecuted, or could possibly be persecuted. He said they will be persecuted.

Why? Because evil men and false Christians will go from bad to worse. Those who are teachers deceive, teaching things contrary to the Word of God, and those who listen are falling for everything they say.

The result is a more and more corrupt morality and a more and more corrupt world. And with that corruption comes a hatred for anyone that will dare shine the light of God’s word into that darkness. Jesus himself said,

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20-21)

We see this clearly in the world today. Everything is tolerated…except the Word of God.

Paul in his day experienced that hatred. He reminds Timothy of all that he went through for the sake of the light, and he warns him, “This is not an aberration. It will not only continue, but get worse as people fall further and further into darkness.”

How are we to respond in the face of this darkness? Paul tells us.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (14-16)

In short, hold on to the truth. Though people may turn from the truth, though people may try to extinguish it by persecuting you, hold on to the truth and keep proclaiming it. Why is it so important to hold on to God’s word?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (17)

God’s word is our life. And it equips us for every good work that we do in the face of this darkness. It’s the sword that can pierce the heart and banish the darkness in the souls of people.

More, it teaches us what is right, rebukes us when we are wrong, picks us up when we fall, and trains us to be godly. And finally, it gives us the strength to endure anything we go through in this dark world as God himself through his Spirit whispers his words of life into our souls.

Jesus never promised an easy life if we follow him. He said,

In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33)

If you stand up for the truth, if you shine the light into this dark world, you will find trouble. But continue to hold to the light. Don’t let the darkness extinguish it from your soul. And as Jesus said,

Take heart! I have overcome the world. (John  6:33b)

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II Timothy 3:1-9 — A mere form of godliness

There are many people in this world who are religious. Who go to church, a mosque, a synagogue, a shrine, or a temple. They perform religious rituals, praying, reading their sacred scriptures, and perhaps even giving up some of their money. And yet, though they may look pious, they are rejected by God.

Why? Because though they may have the form of godliness, that’s all it is. The outward appearance of godliness, empowered by their own efforts or even hypocrisy. And all the while these people deny the power of God himself in their lives.

Some deny it by denying God himself. They turn away from the truth that is found in Jesus Christ. They follow instead the teachings of Buddha, Muhammad, or other religious leaders. But while these people may have some truth or some good interspersed with these teachings, they deny Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father. All the righteousness they may have are mere filthy rags to God because they have denied his Son and reject the cross upon which he died. More, they deny the resurrection power that could transform them and bring true righteousness into their lives.

Others claim to be Christians. They claim to follow Christ. But it is a mere charade. For they are actually, “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of God.” (2-4)

They too have the form of godliness. They go to church. They smile and sing and pray and tithe. But their lives are an empty shell, devoid of the power of God in their lives.

Some of these people are teachers. But Paul compares them to Jannes and Jambres, the two magicians that opposed Moses in Egypt. They boasted great power from their gods, but their claims proved empty when confronted with the living God.

Others are are “learners.” But because they never come to the truth because they have already rejected it. They hear only what they want to hear, and filter everything else out.

You cannot claim true godliness when you have rejected Jesus Christ himself. And you cannot claim true godliness when all you have is a religious show that has no effect on your heart.

Paul said the time was coming, terrible times, when more and more people will be like this. We are here. We are in those times. All you have to do is to look at the world around us and you’ll know it’s true.

And when Jesus comes, he will separate the wheat from the tares. He will separate those who have the mere form of godliness from those who are truly his own, who are day by day being transformed by the power of God into his likeness.

When he comes, what will he find in you?


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II Timothy 2 — To be a good teacher

As I look at this passage, I am challenged as to the kind of teacher I should be.

What does it take to be a good teacher of the Word of God?

1. Pass on what you know. Especially pass it on to the next generation of teachers after you. You won’t be here forever. So make sure that the wisdom and knowledge God has given you doesn’t die with you. (2)

2. Be faithful in your life and your teaching. Don’t compromise either in the face of persecution or suffering. Remember who your commanding officer is. Remember who you are trying to please. You cannot please God if you are trying to please people. Too often, when we try to please people, we end up compromising our lives and our message. (3-4)

3. Work hard at your preaching. Know the rules of interpreting scripture. Know how to rightly interpret God’s word and then present it in a way that people can understand. And know that if you do so, you will reap the fruit of that in the changed lives of the people you teach. (5-6, 15)

4. Ponder over the words of God. Don’t just gloss over them, thinking you already know what they mean. Meditate on them. And God will give you insight that you didn’t expect. (7)

5. Remember Jesus Christ in your messages. Remember to make him the center of all that you teach. Keep the gospel that changes lives central to all that you say. (8-9)

6. Seek the salvation of those you teach. Don’t just seek to win arguments. Seek to win souls. Show people that you genuinely care about them, and don’t simply want to win an argument. Correct people when they’re wrong, but with gentleness, praying that God may grant them repentance. They are not the enemy. They themselves have been captured by the Enemy and God wants to set them free. (10, 24-26)

7. Don’t get involved in pointless arguments. There are some arguments that generate a great deal of heat and very little light. Avoid them. (14, 23)

8. Flee from the false teaching that infects many churches today, teaching that would deny the Word of God and all it stands for. That kind of teaching will spread quickly and infect all who hear it, destroying them. And you will be held responsible. (16-17)

9. Finally, be sure that you yourself are a clean vessel that God can use. Flee impurity. More, pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. (20-22)

How about you? What kind of teacher are you?

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II Timothy 1:15-2:13 — The grace to endure

One of the reasons Paul asked Timothy to come visit him was that many people had abandoned him, and except for a precious few, he was all alone. For every Onesiphorus who went out of his way to find out where Paul was imprisoned to encourage him, there were many more such as Phygelus and Hermogenes who had abandoned him. (1:15-18).

Why did these two abandon Paul? Possibly because of the persecution that had landed him in prison, and the fear that they might end up like him. Perhaps they had tried to hang in there for a while, but in the end, they had been pushed past their ability to endure and left.

Many people are like that today. They become Christians, and when all is well, they are filled with joy. But when trials come, though they may try to endure for a time, eventually they fall away. How does that happen? It happens because they forget the grace by which they were called to live, and instead try to live on their own strength. And when their own strength fails, they have nothing left to lean on.

It’s very easy to look at verses like those in chapter 2 verses 3-6 and think, “I have to do this on my own strength. I have to be the good soldier. I have to train hard and keep all the rules. I have to pour all my strength into this work God has given me.”

But in putting all your focus on what you have to do, you forget where your strength comes from.

We in short forget what Paul said before all his words about being a soldier, athlete, and farmer. He said,

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2:1)

What does that mean? Most people tend to skip over it because it’s not as easily understood as being a good soldier, athlete, or farmer.

But it’s absolutely vital.

You see, it was by grace you were saved. Not by your own efforts. And it is by grace that we are to live each day. Just as you depend on God for your salvation, you need to depend on God as you live your daily life. And especially as you face hardships and persecution.

Yes, we are to seek to please God, and not get caught up in the things of this world. Yes, we are to do the things he has asked us if we are to receive a heavenly reward. Yes, we are to work hard, knowing that our labor will not be in vain.

But if our focus is on “I have to do this in my own strength,” we are destined to fail.

We were saved by grace. And we are to live each day by grace. That is, we are to live by the Spirit that God has given us to dwell in our hearts, the Spirit who gives us power, fills us with love, and gives us the self-discipline we need to do his will. (II Timothy 1:7)

That’s why Paul tells Timothy,

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. (8-9)

In other words, in all your struggles to endure, remember Jesus Christ. Remember he is your starting point and your ending point. He is the one God promised to redeem us from our sin. He is the one who was raised from the dead and gives us life. And ultimately, he is the one who will bring us through our trials, and take us with him into glory. Remember that. Don’t try to make it through these trials on your own.

And then Paul reminded Timothy. Yes I am chained. I am weak. I can be bound. But God’s word is not chained (9). His work will be accomplished. And it is with that hope that I continue my work in the face of death. Because I know that through me, people will come to faith in Christ and find the grace that you and I have both found.

He then closes with a hymn of encouragement. Encouragement to endure. Encouragement at the faithfulness of Christ. Paul sang,

If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (12-13)

It’s fitting that he finishes that hymn with a word of grace. For our ability to endure starts with grace and ends with it.

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II Timothy 1 — Because we have hope

Although there are two more letters from Paul to go through after this one, this was the last letter Paul ever wrote. And it’s a very poignant one, because it came at a time when Paul knew he was going to die. Unlike other times when he was in prison, and he was reasonably sure he would be set free (Philippians 1:23-26), he had no such hopes this time. Nero had started his persecution of the church, and it looked like Paul himself was going to be executed. And in fact, he was.

And so he wrote this letter to a young man he had mentored for many years. One purpose was to ask Timothy to visit him before he died. But it was also to encourage him not to be discouraged by all the persecution and trials that were going on, and to continue to be faithful in his love and service toward God.

From the very beginning of this letter you see this. Here was a man on death row for preaching the gospel. And in the very first line, he says,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. (1)

The promise of life. In the face of death, Paul had the promise of life. Why? He tells us in verse 9-10 as he talks about how God displayed his own purpose and his grace toward us through Jesus Christ. And now through Jesus, he has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel.”

So many people fear death because they don’t know what lies beyond it. But Paul knew. He had seen heaven itself (II Corinthians 12:1-4). And he knew that there was life beyond the grave. That just as Christ was raised from the dead, so will we, and we will be clothed with immortality. And on that day, we will sing, “”Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)

It was because of this hope that he preached this gospel he had been entrusted with. And it was why, though he suffered for the gospel, he could say,

Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (12)

Paul knew his work and his suffering were not in vain. But he laid all these things in God’s hands, knowing that he would be rewarded someday.

Because of this assurance, and because he was certain that Timothy had the same faith, and the same Spirit dwelling within him, he told Timothy,

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (6-7)

Perhaps Timothy was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by everything, by the problems he was facing in the Ephesian church, by his mentor facing his death. Perhaps he was tempted to just give up.

But Paul encouraged him, “Hey, God gave you the Holy Spirit in your life. And he is not a spirit of weakness or timidity. Rather, he is the Spirit that gives power, fills you with love, and the ability to be faithful to Christ in your work and your life.

Because of this, Paul charged Timothy,

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (8)

And again.

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (13-14)

In other words, keep on keeping on. And know that you don’t have to do it alone. I may soon leave you. But the Holy Spirit is living in you and he will help you.

How about you? Are you discouraged by the way this world is going? By how ungodly it is becoming? By the troubles that are coming into your life because of your faith in God?

Don’t lose heart. God has his purposes and they will not be thwarted. Satan tried to thwart them and thought he had done so at the cross, only to find out that it was his ultimate defeat.

Now we have the hope of life. More, we have God’s promise of life. So let us hold on to what we have been taught, and continue walking in faith, filled with the love of Christ, and sharing that love with all we meet.

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I Timothy 6:5-19 — What we pursue. What we put our hope in.

I suppose I could have finished up I Timothy yesterday. But there were a lot of things that Paul talked about in that passage that I couldn’t get into yesterday, and so that’s what I want to finish with today.

The people in this world pursue many things. They pursue fame, pleasure, power, and security. But perhaps the thing they pursue most is money. Fame often leads to riches. And money seems to be the easiest way to obtain pleasure, power, and security.

And for some preachers of the gospel, then in Paul’s time, and even now, their main pursuit in life is worldly prosperity.

But Paul tells us this is not what we are to pursue. He says true prosperity is found in godliness alongside a heart of contentment.

And in a lot of ways, the two are intertwined. Truly godly people don’t find contentment in the things of this world. They find contentment in knowing that they’re at peace with God. In God, they find that they truly have all that they really need.

Ungodly people can never be content, at least not in the long run. They are never satisfied. They always want more. And the more they have, the emptier they become. And even if they somehow manage to find contentment in their life apart from God, they will eventually find that it is not lasting. For as Paul said,

We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. (7)

And when the day of judgment comes, people will stand before God with all their power and possessions stripped from them. And on that day, God will ask not, “How much money do you have? What possessions do you have to offer me?” Instead, he will ask, “What did you do with my Son?”

So Paul warns Timothy, “Don’t pursue riches. Loving money only leads to evil and ultimately will plunge people into eternal destruction.” (6:9-10)

Even in this life, many people see their lives destroyed by their love for money. How many lives and families have been destroyed because of people’s love for money through gambling? How many lives and families have been damaged or destroyed because people become workaholics in their pursuit of money? So many people have been pierced with grief because of their love for money.

That’s why Paul tells us,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  (8)

What are we to pursue then, if not money? Righteousness. Godliness. Faith. Love. Endurance. Gentleness.

If we were to pursue these things in our lives, how much better would our lives be? How much better would our marriages and relationships with others be? More importantly, how much better would our relationship with God be?

It is the pursuit of these things that truly lead to great gain in our lives.

Paul then become very practical for those who have riches. It’s so easy for those who are rich, and even those who are not, to put their hope and faith in money. But Paul told Timothy,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (17)

He then tells them,

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (18-19)

Used properly, money is not a bad thing. It can do a lot of good. It can touch a lot of lives. And in using your money in this way, we lay up treasures that will never fade, and find what true life is all about.

Our pastor challenged us this past Sunday to sacrifice some of our money that we would normally spend on Christmas presents to give to the needy. My wife and I plan to join others in the church in doing that.

How about you? What are you pursuing? Where is your hope in life?

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