Google is Taking Out the Trash

Recently, I read a short article from Jarrid Wilson titled, “Google’s Done With Internet Pornography,” and I’ll have to say. . . I was a bit skeptical at first. People have been accessing pornography via internet for years. Just decades ago, you had to buy movies and magazines to get exposed to pornography—today however, it’s as easy as accessing an internet search engine. Since Google is the most widely used search engine, it didn’t sound right to me for them to take a stand against internet pornography. But that was until I read their new policy about adult content. Here it is:

“The AdWords policies on adult sexual services, family status, and underage or non-consensual sex acts will be updated in late June 2014 to reflect a new policy on sexually explicit content. Under this policy, sexually explicit content will be prohibited, and guidelines will be clarified regarding promotion of other adult content. The change will affect all countries. We made this decision as an effort to continually improve users’ experiences with AdWords. After the new policy goes into effect, the adult sexual services, family status, and underage or non-consensual sex acts policy pages will reflect this change.” (1)

For those struggling with pornography, this is great news. I have dealt with it in my own life for many years, and also counseled many people who have struggled with it. While God alone grants the grace to overcome all addictions, including addictions to pornography, this is a huge step in overcoming it. One of the best ways to overcome the sin is to get away from it. Stay away from the influences.

Paul writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexual immoral, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). There is hope for those struggling with internet pornography. Paul’s readers had once been people who practiced sexual immorality of all sorts, but as he writes, they were washed and sanctified and justified.

Pray for Google. Pray for those struggling with internet pornography. Pray that this will be a major step in setting people free from the slavery of the pornographic industry.


1. Adult Content, https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/4271759, (emphasis mine).

 

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Demons . . . Can They Be Trusted?

Most people view demons through the lens of the fictional portrayal of them by Hollywood—as the scary subjects of Satan with wings and horns. Interestingly enough, they are presented by Mark in his gospel as trustworthy. That probably sounds strange at first, but an examination of the mentioning of demons in Mark’s gospel reveals that the demons were actually right about who Jesus was—they serve as reliable witnesses to who Jesus is. The demons end up saying the same thing about Jesus that Mark does.

Mark’s purpose in writing his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Son of God. He writes in the first sentence of his account (as a thesis statement), “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, emphasis mine). There are numerous places in Mark’s gospel where demons attest to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. One of these instances of things said by demons about Jesus is found in Mark 1:24, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” That’s who Jesus is—the Holy One of God. Immediately Jesus rebukes the demon (“the unclean spirit;” Mark 1:23) and it came out of the man (1:26). Another statement that is said by demons of Jesus is in Mark 3:11, “You are the Son of God.” Mark writes that when the unclean spirits had seen Jesus, they had fell down before Him and cried out that He is the Son of God. Again, here Jesus is called the Son of God by demons. Similarly, He is called “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” by demons in Mark 5:7.

These statements are important to Mark because he is showing that Jesus is truly God’s Son. In other places in Mark’s gospel, he supports Jesus’ Sonship by writing about His power. The calming of the storm (4:35-41), for example, shows Jesus’ power of nature. From healing diseases to raising the dead to life, Mark further reinforces the truth of Jesus’ Sonship by writing about the power He has over demons and what the demons had to say about Jesus—that even demons know who Jesus is and tell the truth about Him—that He is the Son of God.

While demons will never be saved, but will one day be cast into hell (Matt. 25:41), they can be trusted about who Jesus really is: the Son of God who has authority and power over all things; that “all things are in subjection under Him” (1 Cor. 15:27).

Websites Useful for Bible Study

“Visit many good books but live in the Bible”—Charles H. Spurgeon.

There are millions of books available today that help us understand the Bible and its Author: paperback books, eBooks, Kindle books, etc. But with our ever-advancing culture, it is also important to remember that there are also a great deal of helps via internet. I would like to share with you three of the websites that I have found most useful for Bible study:

1. Bible Gateway

For years, one of the most helpful Bible study websites has been www.biblegateway.com, and I know that it will continue to benefit me spiritually in the future as well. On the left hand side of the page, you will find a directory of helpful information ranging from a “passage lookup” all the way to daily devotionals. You can search for any Scripture and read it in different translations using the “passage lookup.” You can hear the Bible read aloud using their various audio Bibles. Searching for Scriptures by topic, for example click on Topical Index and search for “salvation” and all of the Scriptures pertaining to it will appear in their contexts. You can also search Bible Gateway for any particular Bible word you are looking for. There aren’t any commentary helps on this website, which is a downside, but on the Additional Resources page, there are listed helpful commentaries that you can purchase or read elsewhere.

2. Bible Hub

Bible Hub (www.biblehub.com) was the first Bible study resource website that I was introduced to. It is one of the best and most helpful Bible study websites available. Like with other Bible study websites, you can read the different translations of the Bible. What is unique about this feature, however, is the Parallel reader. With it, you can read all the English translations of a verse on one page. Below the different renderings of verses are helpful commentaries by Matthew Henry, Barnes, and many others. Sermons is also a helpful feature in that it searches for sermons on the Scripture for which you are searching. The evangelists and preachers listed are endless. Another distinctive feature of Bible Hub is the helpful Greek and Hebrew tools. You need to be well-versed in using Greek, however, to really get the best use out of the Greek and Hebrew tools available. There are also Bible book summaries available, chapter outlines, Bible pictures, and even more helps available at Bible Hub.

3. ESVBIBLE.ORG by Crossway

Finally, the most helpful Bible study website that I believe is available is www.esvbible.org. You can easily create a free account with them, but in order to use the best helps, you will have to get out your pocket book. There are many features you can use without purchase: first of all, the English Standard Version of the Bible. In my opinion, this is the most accurate, literal translation of the Bible into English that we have available today. This version of the Scriptures really speaks for itself. Second, searching the Bible according to specific texts, passages, and key words is as easy as 1, 2, 3. You can also take exhaustive notes on any text or passage at any time. Another free feature is the John Piper Sermons app. You can read or hear any sermon by John Piper if it is related to the text that you are studying. However, the features you can use available for purchase are much greater. You can access the ESV Study Bible by using esvbible.org. This is one of the best study Bibles available today. The book introductions, the Christian doctrine, the precise explanations of texts are all things you will find in the ESV Study Bible. Most of the features of esvbible.org are apps that you simply add to your free account. The apps are endless—they range from different study Bibles by Crossway to Greek tools and sermon helps. This website has been a great help to me for years and will continue to be my favorite Bible study website. May we continue in our love for the Word, and more importantly—our love for the Author.

Ephesians: Living Out Unity in Oneness (4:1-6)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on May 25th, 2014:

Conforming

When you join an organization or group, you pledge yourself to live an act in accordance with the standards and regulations of that group. You accept their aims, objectives, goals, and standards as your own. This can be illustrated in a number of ways really. When you are born and grow up in this country, or come over to this country from another country, you pledge yourself to abide by the laws of this country. You must drive sober and with a license, you must pay taxes if you work, you can’t commit homicide, and there are many other laws you are required to follow as part of being an American citizen. If you refuse to abide by these regulations, then they have a place for those who refuse to submit—prison. When you get a job you are obligated to work according to the rules, standards, and purposes of the company. When you join an athletic team or something at school, you pledge yourself to conform to the standards and purposes of whatever you join. I remember in high school, when I was joining FFA, I had to do a certain amount of service projects, memorize the FFA Creed, and many other requirements.

It doesn’t matter what you join—you obligate yourself to live and act in accordance with the standards and aims and goals of that group. And in the place where this truth ought to be most prevalent, most greatly expressed, is where it is nearly lost—and it’s in the church of God—this idea of conforming to the standards of being a part of the church is nearly lost. Too many times, we as believers are glad to have the secure salvation, the blessings and promises of the gospel, but we don’t have near as much gladness when it comes to living responsibly as a Christian and conforming to the standards of what it means to be “in Christ” and obey the commands of Scripture. When we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive, we became children of God, new creations, redeemed persons—but we also became a part of the body of Christ and with the great honors and privileges of being in this body come great responsibilities and duties. And that is why I believe that Paul urges the Ephesians (and us today): “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

The Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Prisoner for the Lord (Again)

First, Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul begins by saying, “I therefore,” indicating that this is a new section in Ephesians. He’s talked all about who we are in Christ throughout the first three chapters and now finishes this letter with these last three chapters talking about what we are to do as believers in Christ. And the very first thing Paul says concerning how we are to live as believers in Christ is living in unity—that’s what this passage of Scripture is about. If we are reconciled into one body (2:14-22), how shall we then live? He doesn’t leave us wondering but writes chapter 4 to answer that question.

This passage of Scripture may even rewrite your understanding of unity—because I believe that our biblical belief about unity is often blurred. We think, “Well, no one is quarreling with me. I must be living in unity,” or “I don’t cause anyone here any problems, I must be living in unity.” But it is much more than just staying out of people’s way. Unity is all about action, as this text will show. It involves all of our life as believers. Unity is a word that we need to put under the category of action words. It is a lifestyle meant to be maintained.

But as Paul begins this passage, he once again refers to himself as a “prisoner for the Lord.” He has already done that once in 3:1. Why do you suppose he refers to himself this way again? Well we know from seeing Paul’s attitude about his suffering in chapter 3, that he wasn’t focused on his difficulty but on God. Paul’s focus was never on the present difficulty but on God. By Paul saying this again, he is appealing to them as an apostle that this kind of unified living is worth it! He is referring to his own costly commitment. He was imprisoned for the sake of those whom he now addresses, and because he was committed to the unity that he now requests of them. I wonder. . . Do we see unified living that way? Do we see it as worth it? Unified living, as the text will reveal, is very costly. It means counting others greater than yourself, it means being gentle to others when they don’t deserve it, it means being patient with those who are not patient, it means loving people in the church with a God-like love, it means costly commitment. It means “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Unified living is worth it because we display to the world that we belong to Christ and the power of His marvelous grace to reconcile peoples together into one body and completely eradicate the barriers that once separated us—the racial barriers, the financial barriers, the ideological barriers, the social barriers—and unites us into one body with one purpose and that is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Do you see unity that way? Do you think it is really worth it?

We might as well start living in unity now, because you know when we get to heaven and the multitude of redeemed peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth are gathered around the throne (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), we are going to be singing one song to the Lord together, throughout all eternity—we better get ourselves ready for that day by living in unity right now. If you don’t like the idea of unity and unified living, then I’m not sure heaven is really the place you’re looking for!

Walk Worthy

So we’ve seen that Paul viewed unified living as worth it and now still in this first verse we see that he calls his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He tells them to walk worthy. The Greek word for “walk” here is peripateo and it means to “tread all around . . . to give proof of ability.” Now read it that way. “I urge you to show proof of your ability to live your Christian life by walking worthy of your great calling into the kingdom of God.” And the Bible itself also uses the language of “walk” to talk about the whole of our Christian lives. When Paul says “walk in a manner worthy,” it’s important to understand what he means. He doesn’t mean that you need to live in a way that is worthy so that you will be called by God. He doesn’t identify with Mormon doctrine, that you must live right and do right to be counted worthy of the death of Christ—there is nothing we have done and nothing we can do that would make us deserving of the death of Christ. Look at what Paul says here: “Walk in a manner in accordance of your calling.” He isn’t saying to live worthy to be called, but to live worthy because you are called.

There are a few passages in the New Testament where Paul uses this same language. When Paul prays for the Colossian believers that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And when Paul talks about his ministry to the Thessalonian believers, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And last in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

The Believer’s Calling

This calling Paul refers to here (“walk worthy of the calling . . .”) is talking about the divine invitation we receive from God at conversion—when God calls us to come to Himself and be saved—when God calls us to repentance and faith at conversion. The Greek word here is klesis meaning “an invitation to a banquet.” And isn’t that what God does at salvation? He invites us into His kingdom, His blessings, His kingdom, His work—He says “Welcome to My plan, welcome to My story, welcome to My grand story of redemption—you’re now involved.” And He overcomes our resistance to Him and gives us new spiritual life all in one moment. It’s not that you cannot resist His call, but if you are saved, then that is evidence that God overcame your resistance to Him. You can’t overcome it—you have no power or ability to do so. God by His grace must do so. Paul has referred to the believer’s calling already in Ephesians: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). And the apostle Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).

So it is on the basis of God’s great salvation work in us that we are exhorted from the Bible to lead lives that are in keeping with our high calling. Are you living worthy of your salvation?

How to Live Worthy

Well, you say, “How do I know if I’m living worthy of my calling to salvation? How do I know if I’m living worthy?” Thankfully for you who wonder that, Paul has not left you without a standard to follow. He tells us in the next verse how we are to live worthy of our calling: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Paul names here four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. We’re going to talk about each of them individually. It’s also important to see that these characteristics are progressive. They start with the ego, an examining of oneself and then they move on to our loving relations with the church. In order to attain true unity, we must exercise each of these graces:

Humility

Humility is essential for the Christian life, but it’s also essential for church unity. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He gives a description of true Christian character and the first thing He ever says is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Why do you suppose that humility is first? Because without it, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures even say that God will resist you if you are proud. Because in humility, you recognize your need for a Savior and you realize your spiritual poverty apart from God.

But how does it apply to living in church unity? If we are exercising humility, we will see each other as we truly are: Sinners in need of a Savior and saved by the same grace. That has great implications. We won’t think we’re better than each other, we’ll be focused on the salvation found in Christ, we will be obedient to Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A few other Scriptures are helpful at this point: Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And in Philippians 2 we have that great example of humility, but before it, Paul commands humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Are you exercising humility toward each other? Let us recognize ourselves as we truly are and pray that God would give us a humble attitude toward those in our local congregation. Not only are we to exercise humility towards each other, but also gentleness.

Gentleness

If you have a KJV, here it probably reads meekness. But that’s what the word “gentleness” means here anyway. We are to exercise gentleness towards each other. Gentleness in our actions, gentleness in our speech, and gentleness in our thoughts. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness.We need to be gentle in our correction towards one another. We don’t grab each other’s shirt collars and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” But instead we “speak the truth in love with [our] neighbor” (Eph. 4:15). We need to be gentle in all of our conduct. Check out 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Are you exercising gentleness toward each other? Are we being gentle towards one another or are we being rough and verbally violent? Do we have hardened hearts toward our people or gentle hearts? Not only are we to exercise humility and gentleness/meekness, but also patience.

Patience

I want you to know that this is not just an abstract Christian characteristic. The Greek word here is makrothumia and it means “patience in relation to people.” We are to be patient with those who are young in Christ. Children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while they are growing up. You don’t give up on a child because he pours too much milk in his cereal and spills it on the table, you help them and you are patient with them. In the same way, let’s be patient with those who are still growing in their faith—Oh wait, that’s every single one of us. We need to be patient with each other in our different sin struggles that we have. We need to be patient with each other. Having patience also means not being immediately angry when you are wronged.

Are you exercising patience towards one another or does your fuse blow real quick with those around you?

Not only are we to exercise humbleness towards each other, gentleness and patience towards each other, but also Paul says, “bearing with one another in love.”

Forbearing Love

The Greek word for bearing here is anechomai and here’s what it means: “to hold oneself up against.” Don’t you know the comfort someone brings when they just listen to you in your time of need? Don’t you know the comfort one brings when they take time out for you and listen to your concerns? We need to have bearing love for one another. We need to be obedient to Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

John MacArthur writes, “When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian” (1).

To those who are strong in the faith, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 15, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Similarly, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

I’ve heard it said before that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it. Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Are you exercising forbearing love towards each other?

The Unity of the Spirit

We have seen that unity is costly, but it is worth it because we display to the world the unifying power of the gospel. We have seen that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and we have seen how we are to do that by exercising humility and gentleness with patience and forbearing love. Now Paul tells them why they are to live exercising those characteristics: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). Paul urged his readers to live out those characteristics so to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I hope you noticed that most of those characteristics discussed earlier are fruits of the Spirit. You know what that means? You cannot produce them. You can only surrender yourself over to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in you. The same thing applies here: The unity of the body of Christ was and is created by the Spirit. The church’s unity is described here as a unity that the Spirit creates, thus it is not your own achievement. It is the Spirit’s work. You recall that it was the Spirit of God who united us into one body: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Some say that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience. But that cannot be true because the Bible says that the baptism of the Spirit is when you are united to the body. It’s not when you get special gifts—it’s when you partake of the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead that now lives in the hearts of believers everywhere. That’s what unites.

Paul is saying here that if we are living in unity, with these characteristics, then it will show that we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We cannot create the unity—the Holy Spirit does that by baptizing us into one body—but (like with faith and works) showing forth humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards one another is evidence that we are united. Can you mess things up and cause disunity? Of course you can. But you can never break this bond of peace that exists between the members of the church of God. You see, this verse is followed by a series of “oneness” truths that will always remain the same: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (vv. 4-6). So Paul is also saying here that the very unity of the church of God is as indestructible as God Himself. “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

If you’re someone who’s always stirring up disunity, then you might need a spiritual wake up call because it may be you who doesn’t really belong to the church as a believer in Christ in the first place. “I believe there are too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.”- C. S. Lewis

Oneness

So we’ve spent most of our time looking at how unified living is worth it, and also how we are to walk worthy and we’ve looked at how unity is evidenced through humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Now Paul points us to the oneness of the Christian faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4-6).

Does Paul say here, “Pursue unity even if it compromises the doctrines of Scripture!”? No he doesn’t. Paul has mentioned this seven-fold oneness passage to demonstrate that unity is not throwing doctrines away. Some people say, “Why can’t we just love Jesus and love each other and just get rid of doctrine.” After all, isn’t doctrine what theologians argue over and split hairs over? I’ve got some stark news for you. If you don’t affirm that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father,” then you haven’t been a part of the Christian body to begin with. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission or be a faithful growing Christian without doctrine. It is doctrine and theology that is meant to lead us toward maturity, growth and action. Let me give you one final reason to study doctrine and theology from the Bible: It’s not enough to have ideas about God and the church. Everyone has ideas about God—it’s unavoidable. But the problem is, you may have a lot of wrong ones.

So Paul is affirming these truths as a great motivation for living in unity. Because unity is not just between believers but it is between the truths that we draw from the Scriptures that we must agree on. If the entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on these great truths of “oneness,” then why can’t Christians get along and live in oneness with each other? It would make it look like we didn’t believe that we have oneness in the fundamentals of our faith.

One Body

Paul of course mentions the “body and the Spirit” first if you notice because he is talking primarily about unity in the body and that unity, as we have seen, is established by the Spirit.

There are many denominations today, but there is only one body of believers. Two ways to describe the body of Christ is 1) locally 2) universally—it’s the same body, just two ways of describing it. When we are saved, we are obligated to worship with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), the Word of God knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. People say, “Well I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe the Bible and let’s meet and study at my house at 7 and John’s bringing the donuts.” Hello!? That’s organized religion. And the local congregation is to be a representation of the worldwide congregation of God all throughout this earth consisting of those of different tribes and tongues.

One Spirit

I’m glad that there’s only one Holy Spirit. We don’t get different “Spirits” when we are saved, He the Holy Spirit lives in us.

One Hope

There’s only one hope—the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without affirming this as your only hope, you have no hope.

One Lord

There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have many “lords” in the church today. The Greek word for “Lord” here means the one in supreme authority. Could you imagine how hectic church life would be if we had to worry about pleasing people all the time? Often times the reason it is hectic is because we are trying to please people and ourselves. Every decision we make should be influenced by our desire to please our Savior in church life.

One Faith

This one here is an important one. This refers back to what I said earlier about doctrine and theological oneness. There are different meanings in the Greek for the same English word. So then, there are different meanings to the word “faith” in the New Testament. Here it doesn’t mean “daily trust in God,” it doesn’t mean “saving faith,” it doesn’t even mean “dead faith” (as James speaks of). But it means “the whole collection of Christian teachings—everything that Christianity stands for or against.” And there is only one faith. We believe that the Word is inspired, that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all powerful . . . we believe that Christ died for sin and rose again . . . we believe that the Holy Spirit applies our salvation. If there’s one faith only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Baptism

There’s only one baptism, both into the church and as Baptists affirm, only one correct mode of baptism—by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit upon receiving Christ as your Savior. If there’s one baptism only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Father

We serve one God. He is sovereign over all things, and His universal rule of this world is exercised in many things—especially us as believers in His body. If God Himself is one, why can’t the church be one especially if God is sovereign over us, with us through all and in all that we do?

We Must Live in Oneness

We have seen today that striving to attain unity is very costly, but it is worth it. We have seen that we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are walking worthy of our calling. We have seen how we are to walk worthy and attain unity of the Spirit: living in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards each other. We have seen that unity is also about the oneness of our beliefs—and that they are the only valid beliefs. If you are convinced that you aren’t living in unity, allow God to have full control of you so that you can live in unity and display to the world the wondrous reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be living out unity in oneness.


1. John MacArthur, Bearing One Another’s Burdens (From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine).

 

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the beginning section is what is known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) and they are a description of true Christian characteristics. In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a strong desire, a passionate force inside the soul. It’s not something that just comes and goes—it means a hungering that keeps on until it is satisfied. Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification.

For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make.

Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you.

For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ?

 

For further reading, please consult: Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst 

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst (Matt. 5:6)

You’ve seen the late night commercials. Footage of children in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia who are malnourished and suffering due to severe hunger. According to World Food Programme, when it comes to the world population as a whole, “The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.” And for children, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.” (1) Hunger is a major problem today, and there are hundreds of organizations that exist to feed those who are hungry throughout our world. Hunger is a result of our broken and depraved world, and we need to support relief for those who are hungry by donating our time and resources, and we should always pray for them. But would you ever think of hunger as being commanded by Jesus? That’s right. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Of course, this is a different kind of hunger than the starving state of so many countries in our world. But I wouldn’t dismiss those images of the starving just yet. Because if you’ve ever seen someone who was truly starving, they have a single, all-consuming passion for food and water. Nothing else has the slightest attraction or appeal; nothing else can even get their attention. This is the spiritual hunger and thirst about which Jesus is talking about. Let’s look at this further:

The Text: Matt. 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The Meaning of Spiritual Hunger

So far in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount there have been three Beatitudes that have lead up to this point. The first is the recognition of spiritual poverty apart from God (Matt. 5:3), the second is the necessary result of that recognition of lowliness: godly mourning (Matt. 5:4). And then is humility in the way we interact with others (Matt. 5:5). What then, is the meaning of hungering and thirsting for righteousness? What is Jesus telling us about spiritual hunger? Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). John MacArthur writes, “This Beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul.” (2) Similarly, “This hungering and thirsting after righteousness is not a passing feeling or desire—it means something that keeps on until it is satisfied.” (3) Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

The Object of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification. For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make. Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you. For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ? 

The Result of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness. . . shall be satisfied.” God will satisfy our hunger for Him. It is that very satisfaction from God that makes us want more. Think about your favorite food. Why is it your favorite food? Most likely you enjoy that food because of the satisfaction that it brings. You continue eating it because you delight in the satisfaction that it brings. Similarly, what Jesus is saying here is that the more you are satisfied by God the more you will want to be satisfied by God. John Piper has labored more than all to bring this truth out, and he is worth quoting at length:

“The more you know him, the more you want to know him. The more you feast on his fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion. Satisfaction at the deepest levels breeds a holy longing for the time when we will have the very power of God to love God. . . Yes, the more you know him and love him and trust him, the more you long to know him. . . The great old catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Enjoying God is the way to glorify God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” (4)

Are we hungering and thirsting for God? Are we being satisfied by Him or by the temporary things of this “world [which] is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17)? Let us cry out with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Let us continue to be satisfied by God and the things of God and let us cease from dining at the table of the world where there are only worthless scraps.

The Testing of Spiritual Hunger

1. Dissatisfaction with Self

If you are satisfied with yourself, you will not be spiritually hungry. Again, this can be worked out in two ways: with regards to salvation, and with regards to sanctification. In salvation, the man who is satisfied with himself, and his own righteousness will not see the need for God’s. The great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “He has most need of righteousness that least wants it.” But the hungering sinner will be dissatisfied with himself and will seek after God.

But in regards to our sanctification, and our lives as Christians—if you are hungering for God, you will always want more. No matter how many Bible studies you go through—no matter how many fine sermons you hear—no matter how many chapters of the Bible you read daily—no matter how many times you serve in the local church—no matter how often you pray . . . You will always want more and more of God and continue to cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24). It’s not that God wont’ satisfy your longing for Him, but you will always be dissatisfied with yourself in the sense that God is the only One you recognize to satisfy you—and you will always want more of Him.

Are you dissatisfied with yourself? Are you wanting more of God? Sounds like to me you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

2. Freedom from Dependence on External Things for Satisfaction

Think about this: A hungry man cannot be satisfied by an arrangement of lovely flowers, by great riches, beautiful music, or pleasant conversation. Anyone hungry must have what they truly need to be satisfied. We understand that—but we are fooled by sin’s deception to think that we need more and more of it to be satisfied, when it is not sin that we need—but God and His righteousness. If you’re not free from depending on other things for satisfaction, you might want to let a little of His grace in and change a few things in your heart.

3. Craving for the Word of God

The Word of God is the most basic spiritual food God provides His children. The more you hunger for God, the more you will want to devour Scripture. Do you have a craving for the Word of God? If you’re hungering and thirsting for righteousness—you will for the Word.

4. Pleasantness of the Things of God

Do you find pleasantness in the things of God—or do they turn you away? What about when He disciplines you? Does that bring satisfaction—well it should; it’s assurance that you belong to Him.

5. Making No Conditions

When our spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness is genuine and sincere—we will make no conditions on finding it—in whatever ways God chooses to dispose it to us. If His righteousness is in the Word of God—we will go to find it there, without making excuses. We will make no excuses or conditions for fulfilling our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Conclusion

In 1908-09, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three of his friends attempted to travel to the South Pole. They set off with four houses to help carry the load. Within weeks, the horses died, their food had ran out, so they tried to get back to base. Altogether, miraculously, they traveled for 127 days total. Sir Ernest recorded this story in a book called The Heart of the Antarctic, and in it he talks about how much time was spent talking about food—elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, plentiful menus. As they staggered along, suffering from hunger, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating.

Well, Sir Shackleton made it back—and as you could imagine, ate like never before. We can understand his obsession with food, when he didn’t have any. Are you like that with spiritual hunger? Is God all you can think about because you are so hungry for Him? Jesus tells us here about a hunger more important than hungering for food—let’s feast on God and His righteousness like we’ve never had it before—and God will keep satisfying us.

Are you hungering for God?


1. World Food Programme, Hunger: Hunger Statistics (www.wfp.org/hunger/stats).
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 177.
3. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 1119-1128.
4. John Piper, Five Points (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 7-8.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” Mean (Matt. 5:3)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” Mean (Matt. 5:3)?

Jesus says in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward.

Similarly, Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit (Matt. 5:3)

What’s your idea of happiness? What things make you the most happy? For you it might be time with family, being successful at work, watching Captain America with your girlfriend, or playing football with your buddies. Because we’re all different, there are different things that make us happy. For me, I am happy when I get new books, have good theological discussions, or write college papers on systematic theology (I know, I am a nerd).

But let me just say from the beginning: Jesus’ idea of happiness is a lot farther from ours than we’d like to think. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is a section known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:2-12). In them, Jesus describes true happiness on His terms. He presents the possibility of people being genuinely happy, but the conditions and their corresponding blessings do not seem to match. He says that the humble will be saved, the sad will be comforted, the gentle will inherit the earth, and the like. By normal human standards, things such as these are not the stuff of which happiness is made. “The world says, “Happy are the rich, the noble, the successful, the macho, the glamorous, the popular, the famous, the aggressive”—John MacArthur (1). But the message from Jesus is just the opposite because His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And so the first description of true happiness in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about humility.

The Text: Matt. 5:1-3

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Meaning of Poor in Spirit

The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

What is Our Spiritual Poverty Apart From God?

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward.

Proud or Poor?

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

Why is Poor in Spirit First?

Why do you suppose that humility is first in the Beatitudes? The Beatitudes are not haphazardly presented. Jesus didn’t just say what Christian characteristics He could remember like “Oh yes, and being pure in heart is also important.” They are in obvious order. Each one suggests the next, and leads to the next. That is why poor in spirit/humility is first. It is the basic element in becoming a Christian. Until a soul is humbled, until we truly realize who we are without Christ, we will not recognize our need for Christ. “The door into His kingdom is low, and no one who stands tall will ever go through it”—John MacArthur (2). Being poor in spirit is the first Beatitude because humility must precede everything else. No one can receive the kingdom until he recognizes that he is unworthy of the kingdom. James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Where self is exalted, Christ cannot be. Where self is king, Christ cannot be. Until the proud in spirit become the “poor in spirit,” they cannot receive the King or the kingdom.

How to Achieve Being Poor in Spirit

How then, do we become poor in spirit? First of all (with respect to salvation), it cannot start with us. It isn’t something we can accomplish in our own power. We are already down; humility simply recognizes this truth. The fulfillment of that recognition depends on God’s saving work at conversion. We are so corrupted by sin that we will never recognize our lowliness and depravity apart from the grace of God. That is why salvation “depends not on human will or exertion (physical or mental effort), but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Humility (being poor in spirit) is not a necessary human work to make us worthy, but a necessary divine work to make us see that we are unworthy and cannot change our condition without God.

But with respect to our Christian lives, we need to strive to attain humility (again, this too is not apart from the grace of God):

The first step in experiencing humility is to turn our eyes off ourselves and look to God. When we study God’s Word, seek His face in prayer, and sincerely desire to be near Him and please Him, we move toward being “poor in spirit.” It is the vision of a holy God in all His greatness, splendor, majesty, and perfection that allows us to see ourselves as sinners by contrast. 

Second, we must starve the flesh by removing the things on which it feeds. You’ve probably heard it said before, “What you feed will live; what you starve will die.” And that is what we must do with our flesh. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Third, we must continually ask God for it. With David we should pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Also, as with every good thing, God is more than willing to give than we are to ask for it, and He stands ready to give it.

The Result of Being Poor in Spirit

What does Jesus say is the result of those who are poor in spirit? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who come to the King in this humility inherit His kingdom. Those who come to the Lord with broken hearts do not leave with broken hearts: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). In giving up their own kingdom, the poor in spirit inherit God’s. Are you poor in spirit? If not, why not?


1. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 145.
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 148.

Theological Reflections: Why Studying Theology is Absolutely Necessary

“Many Christians expect the world to respect the book they neglect.”— E. C. McKenzie

Theology matters. It’s the study of God. It’s been said before that, “What you believe about God is the most important thing about you.” Every Christian in the world is a theologian. That sounds overboard, I know—but think about it for a moment: every believer has an idea of what God is like. Every believer has an idea of the nature of God and what He requires of us. And that is the essence of theology: it is the study of God.

It seems today, however, that if you mention the words theology or doctrine that you get quite a few negative reactions. Few, it seems, want to be seen as “theologians.” Aren’t theologians, after all, just impractical people given over to fussing over Bible trivia, and engaging in doctrinal hair-splitting? If you have harbored such thoughts like that, then what I am saying may be a surprise to you. But as children of God, it only makes sense that we should strive to know all we can about our heavenly Father, His ways and His will for our lives. Taking a casual approach to our beliefs nearly guarantees frustration and misunderstanding in our relationship with God. That’s why theology is important. “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.”—C. S. Lewis (1)

With that being said, why is studying theology absolutely necessary? (2)

1. The Basic Reason

Theology cannot “improve” on the Bible by doing a better job of organizing its teachings or explaining them more clearly than the Bible itself has done. We get our theology from the sufficient Word of God. Still, Jesus commanded His disciples and now commands us also to teach believers to observe all that He commanded. He said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

In order to teach all that Jesus commanded, is simply to teach the content of the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the gospels (Matthew-John). But in a broader sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes the interpretation and application of His life and teachings, because in the book of Acts it is implied that it contains a narrative of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles after His resurrection: “I [Luke] have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). “All that Jesus commanded” also includes the Epistles of the New Testament, since they were written under the inspiration and supervision of the Holy Spirit and were also considered to be a “command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thess. 4:15; 2 Peter 3:2; Rev. 1:1-3). So in a larger sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes all of the New Testament.

Additionally, when we consider that the New Testament writings entirely endorse the absolute confidence Jesus had in the authority and reliability of the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s words, and when we realize that the New Testament epistles also endorse this view of the Old Testament, then it becomes evident that we cannot teach “all that Jesus commanded” without including all of the Old Testament (rightly understood, that is) as well.

The task of fulfilling the Great Commission includes not only evangelism, but also teaching. And the task of teaching all that Jesus commanded us is, in a broad sense, the task of teaching what the whole Bible says to us today. Therefore, for us to learn what the Bible says, it is necessary to employ theology (the study of God). The basic reason for studying theology, then, is that it enables us to teach ourselves and others what the whole Bible says and teaches, thus fulfilling the second part of the Great Commission (which cannot be divorced from the first part).

2. The Benefits to Our Lives

Of course, the basic reason for studying theology is that it is a means of obedience to our Lord’s command. But there are some additional specific benefits that come from such study:

1. First, studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas. If there were no sin in our hearts, we could read the Bible from cover to cover and, although we would not immediately learn everything in the Bible, we would most likely learn only true things about God and His creation. But with sin in our hearts we retain some rebelliousness against God. At various points there are, for all of us, biblical teachings which for one reason or another we do not want to accept. The study of theology helps us overcome those rebellious ideas. It is helpful for us to be confronted with the total weight of the teaching of Scripture on a particular subject, so that we will more readily be persuaded even against our initial wrongful inclinations. So studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas.

2. Second, studying theology helps us to be able to make better decisions later on new questions of doctrine that may arise. We will not know what new doctrinal controversies will arise in the churches in which we will live and minister ten or twenty years from now. But they will arise, and when they do, Christians will be asking, “What does the whole Bible say about this?” Whatever the new doctrinal controversies are in future years, those who have learned theology well will be much better able to answer the new questions that arise. For example, if you read the older books on systematic theology, there is no addressing of the sinfulness of same-sex marriage. There would be a defining of what the Bible teaches about right marriage, but for the days of older theologians writing these books, same-sex marriage was just not an issue. Today however, you cannot avoid the obvious problem of same-sex marriage. There are denominations even today who have shaky, wrong theologies, and thus approve of same-sex marriage. Who knows what doctrinal controversies will arise in the coming decades/years? Because the Bible is related to every area of life, those who have studied theology well will know what the whole Bible teaches on these controversies.

3. Thirdly, studying theology will help us grow as Christians. The more we know about God, about His Word, about His relationships to the world and mankind, the better we will trust Him, the more fully we will praise Him, and the more readily we will obey Him. Studying theology rightly will make us more mature Christians. If it doesn’t, then we aren’t studying theology rightly. In fact, the Bible often connects sound doctrine with maturity in Christian living: Paul speaks of “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3), and says that his work as an apostle was “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1).

Conclusion

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He did not give options, as if we could love God with heart or soul or mind; the command requires all of the above. Loving Him with our minds will naturally entail finding out as much as possible about Him. Just as in any relationship, love compels us to know and understand what He is like, how He works in the world and in us, what He loves, what He desires, what offends Him, and what delights Him. Doing so requires our full attention and our diligent study of theology.


1. Cited in David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006), 18.
2. This is adapted from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 27-30.

 

You’ve Got Questions: Were the Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible Transmitted Accurately?

You’ve Got Questions: Were the Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible Transmitted Accurately?

When discussing the Bible with non-Christians, one might hear the objection: “Yes, the Bible reads that way now, but everyone knows that it has been changed.” Does this objection have any substance to it? How do we know that the Bible in our hands is a faithful transmission of the words that the inspired authors originally wrote?

The Old Testament originally was written in Hebrew, with a few Aramaic portions, between 1400 and 430 B.C. The New Testament was written in Greek between A.D. 45 and 90. The original copies of the ancient biblical texts are called autographs. All autographs of biblical books have been lost or destroyed, though we have thousands of ancient copies. The process of studying and comparing these copies to reconstruct the wording of the original is called textual criticism. This area of study flourished in the 16th Century with the introduction of the printing press, the revival of learning in Europe, and the Reformation. Since then, this science has continued to develop, reaching new heights with the discovery of many ancient manuscripts in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Most scholars agree that text criticism has served to confirm the reliable transmission of the Old and New Testament manuscripts. Furthermore, no text in question even affects Christian doctrine. Most unsolved textual issues have little or no doctrinal significance.

Our culture today is very accustomed to technology and advanced methods of communication, so sometimes we have suspicion towards more ancient methods of literature production. However, it should be noted that ancient Jewish rabbis and early Christian scribes usually exercised great precision in the copying of biblical texts. Jewish scribes followed detailed systems for counting letters in manuscripts and checking for accidental variations. Likewise, Christian scribes showed great caution, often having multiple correctors read through their copies to check for errors. Inevitably, all hand-copied manuscripts have some variations, but striking accuracy is seen in most ancient copies of our Old and New Testaments.

Old Testament

Have you ever heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In 1947, the first part of a cache of ancient Jewish documents was discovered in caves near the Dead Sea. A young Arab goat herder investigated a cave after throwing a rock in and hearing a piece of pottery (a scroll jar) break. The documents discovered in these caves apparently belonged to a Jewish sect, the Essenes, who lived in a separatists community in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea. In addition to the various sectarian documents and other extra-biblical literature found in the caves, scholars have found portions of all Old Testament books except Esther and Nehemiah. These manuscripts, which date from roughly 250 B.C. to A.D. 50, have come to be called the Dead Sea Scrolls. We have had significant Old Testament manuscripts before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, like the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 1008) and the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 900), but the Dead Sea Scrolls (which are nearly identical to the later manuscripts of the Old Testament) pushed the Hebrew manuscript evidence back a millennium earlier. The Dead Sea Scrolls have confirmed that the Hebrew books of the Bible were meticulously and faithfully copied.

In addition to ancient Hebrew texts, we also have ancient copies of the Old Testament translated into several other languages: Greek, Latin, Syriac, etc. Ancient translations of the Old Testament sometimes help in the deciphering of a difficult Hebrew word or phrase. More importantly, these texts sometimes can serve as helpful witnesses to variant readings in the ancient Hebrew.

New Testament

Even within the Bible itself, we find evidence of New Testament documents being hand-copied and circulated (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Peter 3:15-16). As of right now, we have nearly six thousand ancient manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest extant fragment of the New Testament, which is John 18:31-33, 37-38, comes from about A.D. 130. Here’s why is it important to note that we have this many ancient manuscripts: No other ancient text comes even close to having this amount of early textual evidence. F. F. Bruce brings out this truth and is worth quoting at length:

“Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant MSS (manuscripts), but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day. Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Live (59 B.C.-A.D. 17) only thirty-five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty manuscripts of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. A.D. 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of his two great historical works depends entirely on two manuscripts, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant manuscripts of his minor works (Dialogus de Oratoribus, Agricola, Germania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century. The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 B.C. ) is known to us from eight manuscript, the earliest belonging to c. A.D. 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 488-438 B.C.). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of any use are over 1,300 years later than the originals.” (1)

About 95 percent of textual variants in the numerous manuscripts are accidental; the unintentional variations introduced by tired or incompetent scribes. There were errors of sight, errors of hearing, writing, and poor judgment. But the remaining 5 percent of textual variants resulted from intentional activity on the part of scribes. Such changes like revising grammar or spelling, harmonizing similar passages, or conflating the text. (2)

Of course, with so many ancient texts at our disposal, we can dismiss most of the variants listed above, and therefore there is no need to cite the majority of variants in modern English translations. The Bible has proved over the centuries to be reliable and trustworthy, and is indeed “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16b-17). Let us say with the psalmist David, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6).


 

1. F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable6th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 11.
2. Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 52-54.

Biblical Resources From Nine Years of Ministry