You have HOW MANY Gods?

Please read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 in your Bible.

You have how many Gods (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

According to fifteen year old data I found cited from, 54.22% of the world believes there is just one God.  (This figure is found by adding Christianity, Judaism, and Islam together.)  The rest of the world believes in no gods at all (22% if you combine atheists and Buddhists), or have several gods (23.78% combining everyone else).  The record-holder is said to be Hinduism, where there are millions of gods.

Of course, this pie chart is an over-simplification of the variety of religious beliefs and practices around the world.  For example, in our own faith, we believe there is just one God, but He is manifest in three distinct persons.  We believe the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all God, but are distinct persons at the same time.

One of the implications of this teaching is that God is “in community.”  God’s existence is three persons in perfect communion.  This knowledge gives us a principle around which we organize each local church: we desire to become so close to one another that our relationships follow the example of communion we find in the Trinity.

CONTEXT: For the first time in this letter, Paul addresses a subject that will come up repeatedly in these two letters to the Corinthians; FOOD SACRIFICED TO IDOLS.

We believe in one God, existing as a unity of three persons: the Trinity.

  1. An observation of human nature: love is better than knowledge. (1-3)

Paul starts his treatment of the issue by revealing one of its root causes: pride.  Paul’s phrase WE KNOW THAT WE ALL POSSESS KNOWLEDGE (1) has two meanings. One, it is a true statement of human nature: we do all of us, know something.  Two, it is a bit of irony: because we all deal with pride, we all THINK we know something.  Pride causes problems when we get stubborn about what we think we know and don’t want to be confused by facts and when we inflict our opinions on others.

KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP (1) exposes the sin of pride.  To be “puffed up” is to act like a blow fish; inflate one’s self to look more impressive.  There is no direct correlation between one’s age and one’s maturity.  Neither is there a direct correlation between the amount of knowledge one has and one’s maturity.  Knowledge can contribute to pride as readily as it can to humility.  A person must choose to be humble rather than give in to the temptation to be a know-it-all.

Verse two lets the air out of the “puffed up person.”  The prideful person thinks they really are something when they really aren’t anything special.  The prideful person goes on and on about what they know.  They’re easily angered or hurt when others don’t agree with them.

The humble person recognizes limits to their knowledge and additional limits to the sharing of their knowledge.  They aren’t easily hurt or angered because they’ve reached a point of maturity through humility that allows them to disagree without being disagreeable.  Love is preferable to knowledge because true love is never based on pride or any other form of self-centeredness.

Opposing pride, LOVE BUILDS UP (1).  Because true love is others-centered, not self-centered, it BUILDS UP others, not self. To “build up” sounds a lot more permanent, more reliable, and more mature that to “puff up” doesn’t it?  Verse three offers the best reward for exercising true love: being KNOWN BY GOD.

  1. An observation of divine nature: there are many idols but only one God. (4-6)

You couldn’t ask for a more plain declaration of the truth than what we find in verse four: WE KNOW THAT AN IDOL IS NOTHING AT ALL IN THE WORLD.  And, THERE IS NO GOD BUT ONE.

In verses five and six Paul concedes there are evil supernatural forces at work in the world. While most idols are based on very natural things like superstition, conceit and deceit, some idols have supernatural power behind them.  Paul referred to them as SO-CALLED GODS, GODS, and LORDS.

The supernatural power behind some idols does NOT mean they are of God.  Just the opposite; supernatural idols are the trickery of demons, the minions of Satan.  In contrast to the falsehood of all idols, God alone is true.  God alone is the source of life.  There is only ONE GOD, THE FATHER, FROM WHOM ALL THINGS CAME AND FOR WHOM WE LIVE.  Likewise, there is only ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS CAME AND THROUGH WHOM WE LIVE.

  1. An observation on idolatry: don’t worry a weaker spiritual sibling over it. (7-13)

It is true that EVERYONE HAS KNOWLEDGE of something, but NOT EVERYONE KNOWS what Paul revealed in verse seven, certainly NOT EVERYONE in the world.  Worldly-minded people (whether they profess to believe in Jesus or not) are reluctant to let go of their idols or the mind-set that perpetuates them.  Pride and ignorance are Paul’s two-pronged explanation of why the subject of meat offered to idols is a source of division in the Corinthian church.

SOME PEOPLE ARE STILL SO ACCUSTOMED TO IDOLS (7) they’re unwilling to let go the notion they can bring moral or spiritual “uncleanness” to a person or thing.  Part of spiritual maturity is unlearning the things that are worldly and untrue but stick with us anyway.  Another part of spiritual maturity is taking our affections off material things and putting them on heavenly things.

Humility is a willingness to really listen to others and heed them and occasionally admit we’re wrong!  It’s a terrible responsibility to be a know-it-all, so take it easy on yourself and give it up!

Paul identified a conscience afflicted over the matter of food offered to idols as WEAK.  Their guilt is false, based on the false assumption that an idol actually amounts to something.  Because an idol is NOTHING (4), food offered to idols is no different from any other food.  Paul’s answer is both practical and theological.

Paul clarified the moral role of FOOD in v. 8: FOOD DOES NOT BRING US NEAR TO GOD.  Some of the people in the Corinthian church were getting all bent out of shape over something that amounts to nothing!  (Aren’t you glad that kind of thing never happens in our church?!!)

Food has no moral status.  It’s what we do to get food or what we do with food that becomes a moral issue, but the food itself is not a matter of morality.  (Good news for those with eating disorders.)

There are occasions, however, when food becomes involved in a moral issue.  The example Paul gives in vs. 9-13 is when one believer’s FREEDOM to eat what they want offends a spiritual sibling’s WEAK CONSCIENCE.

What makes one believer stronger than the other?  The stronger one has matured in the way we’ve already set forth.  They know that IDOLS are not gods at all; they have no authority to condemn, no strength to do any real harm.  They also know the difference between “Law,” “Principle,” and “Freedom” types of truth.  Their conscience is eased in cases where the issue at hand is a “Freedom” type issue.  They are cleansed false and worldly thinking from their minds; they are not influenced by the culture nor are they stuck on false assumptions.  They have learned humility, being willing to re-think their positions as new data comes available. Strong believers never force their opinions on others.

What makes one believer weaker than the other?  They continue to thinks there’s something to IDOLS; that some kind of moral or spiritual “contamination” happens because IDOLS have some spiritual potency.  They know only “Law.”  They mistakenly see “Principle” and “Freedom” issues as “Law.”  Immature, false, and worldly thinking continues to keep them in slavery to their own point of view.  They are egotistical, having little or no practice of humility.  For this reason they are perpetually angry, holding a grudge, addicted to drama.

As Paul wrote in Romans 14:1, the STRONG have a responsibility to the WEAK, to bear with them.  The greater maturity, knowledge, and humility of the STRONG is not a license to treat the WEAK unlovingly.  Just the opposite: the STRONG have a greater responsibility.

Here are the specifics of that responsibility, acc. to this passage.

– Do not allow your FREEDOM to BECOME A STUMBLING BLOCK (9).

– Do not set a bad example or do things that lead the weaker sibling into what they would call “sin” (10).

– Do not allow your KNOWLEDGE to become something that destroys the faith of your weaker sibling (11).

– Remember that wounding your weaker sibling is serious business; it is a SIN AGAINST CHRIST (12).

– Take upon yourself Paul’s resolution to never allow your Freedom to cause your weaker sibling to FALL INTO SIN (13).

We believe in one God, existing as a unity of three persons: the Trinity.

The immediate issue, the one that Paul wrote about, was a controversy over food offered to idols.  Spiritual siblings with a WEAK CONSCIENCE believed it was a sin by association.  They thought the food was tainted by its association with idol worship prior to being sold in the market.  Paul wrote that there was no “taint” involved because idols are nothing.  They have no power to taint anything, as they’re just statues.  Only God is real.  So pay idols no heed, but instead, give glory to God.  Worship and serve Him.

A part of Paul’s teaching is to affirm the Trinity, the three-in-one nature of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He did this in verse six, where he made an OT-sounding affirmation of faith: THERE IS NO GOD BUT ONE.  We believe in one God, made known to us in three persons.

Paul reinforced this in verse six, where he wrote that, in contrast to idol-worshipers who have many gods, FOR US THERE IS BUT ONE GOD, THE FATHER, FROM WHOM ALL THINGS CAME AND FOR WHOM WE LIVE; AND THERE IS BUT ONE LORD, JESUS CHRIST, THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS CAME AND THROUGH WHOM WE HAVE LIFE.  It is true God the Holy Spirit is not mentioned directly here but he is elsewhere.  It is through the accumulation of these Scriptures that we have support for the doctrine of the Trinity.

We set aside one Sunday each year to celebrate God’s three-in-one nature as a reminder of this central doctrine.  Every time we worship or pray, we need to remember this foundational fact about God.  This fact clearly guided the writers of the Bible; Trinitarian teaching is implied everywhere in the Bible.



Creation: All You Need to Know

Please read Romans 1:18-23 in your Bible.

Creation Sunday (2)

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

Faith can be found in the stars, so there’s no excuse.

CONTEXT: In 1:16-17 Paul shared the good news that God has revealed SALVATION and RIGHTEOUSNESS for EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES.  It is available to us BY FAITH.

In our culture, the Church is often content to stop there.  We hope to maintain our failing institution by making people happy, causing good vibrations, having positive thinking.  We are hesitant to even get into vs. 18-32, the flip side of the GOSPEL, because we fear offending or the censure of the “politically correct.”

Vs. 18-32 deal with the wrath of God against unrepentant sinners, against all kinds of depravity that stems from their rejection of God.

In the interests of public relations, we’ve dropped the “inconvenient truth” that hell is real.  We just don’t talk about the fact that a person has to confess being a sinner before they can become a saint.  We must be frank about the “bad news” before we get to the Good News.  Heaven without hell is just slick marketing; it is not the whole truth.

We’re observing Creation Sunday today, remembering to be thankful to God and give Him the glory for the wonderful world in which we live.  One aspect of creation is the truth Paul sets forth here: the existence of creation is sufficient proof that God exists.  Because of that, no one can claim ignorance as an excuse.  Creation itself tells us all we need to know.

  1. God’s wrath is being revealed and there are no excuses. (18-20)

THE WRATH OF GOD is His just and righteous sentence of the unrepentant.  Don’t be misled by an emotional reaction to the word WRATH.  God’s wrath is not about revenge, it is about justice.  It would be unjust (and unloving) for God to simply ignore sin, especially the sin of unbelief.

God has delegated enough of His authority to each person to make up their own mind; to decide for themselves and be responsible for their decision to accept or reject his offer of salvation.  Accepting it places one on a life-long path of spiritual maturing resulting in heaven.  Rejecting it place one on a life-long path of spiritual denial, resulting in hell.

Paul wrote about the WRATH OF GOD BEING REVEALED in the present tense because we live in the time between the Ascension and Second Coming, an age where we’ve been warned what is to come.  Those who receive God’s pardon based on Christ’s substitutionary death are no longer under WRATH.  Jesus took care of it for us. Those who refuse God’s offer remain under WRATH.  It is their choice.

How does God reveal His will?  One form of revelation set forth in these verses is General Revelation.  Creation testifies to the existence of a Creator.  Paul makes reference to General Revelation in v. 20.

Personal Revelation occurs in the person of Jesus Christ.  Especially in the three years of His earthly ministry, Jesus’ words and deeds reveal the character and will of God.  Specific Revelation is the Bible.  As we learned recently, God used human beings to record His words detailing His character and will.  Neither of these types of revelation are referred to in this passage.

Individual or Direct Revelation occurs on a personal level through dreams, visions, angelic experiences, God’s voice, circumstances and experiences.  Paul makes reference to Direct Revelation in v. 19.

Paul’s point: those under WRATH fully deserve it.  They are guilty, worst of all, of GODLESSNESS.  That alone condemns them to hell.  Unbelief is the only “unforgiveable sin.”  Think about it: the only way to be forgiven is by having faith.  If you refuse to have faith, forgiveness is not an option.  In spite of all the evidence creation provides, some folks stubbornly persist in their rejection of God.

Secondarily, they are condemned by their WICKEDNESS because even the kindest deeds done apart from God are as FLITHY RAGS (Isaiah 64:6).  Our minds can be troubled when we think of people we know who are good, moral people being self-condemned to hell.  This is worldly reasoning.  The Bible rejects any notion we can earn salvation by good deeds or any other means in our control.  We can’t redefine WICKEDNESS on the basis of whether or not we like a person or know somebody “that way.”  In the end, it doesn’t matter if a person is sincerely or insincerely wrong.  Polite unbelievers are condemned just as thoroughly as impolite ones.

They are also guilty of suppressing the TRUTH by means of their WICKEDNESS.  Listen to people when they talk about their beliefs.  If the word “I” appears frequently in their words that is a sign of making up one’s own beliefs, not receiving what God has revealed.  God wants us to use our freedom and our brains to recognize the truth and commit to it, not to make up something because it seems more sensible or excuses our sin.

No one can use the excuse of ignorance.  As Paul wrote, WHAT MAY BE KNOWN ABOUT GOD IS PLAIN TO THEM, BECAUSE GOD MADE IT PLAIN TO THEM.  Here is Paul’s reference to Direct Revelation, as we defined it earlier.  No one else may perceive God’s revelation to them, so we accept by faith what Paul says here is true: God, in some way, makes the truth PLAIN to every person.  Again, no one has an excuse.

Paul asserted God MADE IT PLAIN because the visible qualities of CREATION point to GOD’S INVISIBLE QUALITIES.  This is Paul’s reference to General Revelation as we defined it above.  The universe offers testimony that God exists and that He may be found.  This is an article of faith, so we don’t need science to verify this teaching.  However, to the degree that science increases our understanding and appreciation of creation, it is useful to our faith.

For example, the beauty of creation ought to give us a sense of God’s love and attention to detail.  In this way, visible aspects of creation give us insight into the INVISIBLE QUALITIES of God.

The bottom line is THAT MEN ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE. This is the purpose of Paul’s argument; to show that no one can use the excuse of ignorance to justify their unbelief.  To put it another way: there is no fence to sit on.  There is no “neutral” position on this issue.  A person either chooses to believe or to disbelieve.

People can show a lot of creativity when it comes to excuse-making.  However, on Judgment Day God knows the truth perfectly and will not be fooled.  He will act in perfect justice.

  1. Those who deny God put them-selves under His wrath. (21-23)

People who reject God cannot claim ignorance as an excuse.  The truth is, we choose to recognize God or refuse to recognize him.  There is a set of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that come with acceptance of God.  People who truly recognize God can, themselves, be recognized by the way they live.  We don’t live this way in order to be saved, but because we are saved.

On the other hand, people who reject God tend to behave in ways that betray their refusal to believe.  Their behaviors may not be vividly sinful, but they trend toward selfishness and sin.

Since they have no excuse, their rejection of God is their choice.  That they have made a choice can be seen in two ways.  First, they refuse to glorify Him AS GOD.  Instead, they live to glorify creation (self or the world).  They give no heed to God, doing nothing to honor Him.  Indeed, their life has been spent drawing attention away from God, instead of drawing attention to Him (which is what “glorifying” means).

Second, they refuse to give THANKS TO HIM.  All that exists owes its existence to God.  Gratitude is certainly appropriate.

Being thankful is also good for us.

– It puts our focus on God and His supply rather than our needs and our perceived lack.

– It requires us to pay more attention to solutions (which come from God) than to problems (which we create for one another).

– Thankfulness prompts us to pray and worship; both needful activities for spiritual maturity.

– An attitude of gratitude motivates us to serve God and others, to witness gratefully to what God has done for us.  Service and witness make us more mature and they also essential means by which we share our faith with others.

Before heaven is denied them, Paul listed earthly effects of being under God’s WRATH: the futility and darkness of their inner life.  THEIR THINKING BECAME FUTILE in the sense that it did nothing to produce true spirituality.  Their resistance to the truth guarantees their beliefs and decisions will ultimately end in frustration and destruction.

THEIR FOOLISH HEARTS WERE DARKENED: darkness is a biblical symbol of ignorance and evil.  In the Bible, a “fool” is someone who is ignorant of God and behaves poorly because of it.  Biblically, the HEART is a figure of speech for the inner life of a person, not really separating thoughts and emotions or making the rational and sentimental distinctions we tend to make when we draw a difference between “head” and “heart.”

ALTHOUGH THEY CLAIMED TO BE WISE, THEY BECAME FOOLS.  So many people reject God out of pride; on the basis of their big brains they think they’re too smart to believe in God.  We see examples of obnoxious atheists and even antitheists in our own time.  They have no interest in a respectful public dialogue, merely using media to condemn believers.

An especially damning proof of their foolishness is the “fool’s bargain” they made in exchanging THE GLORY OF THE IMMORTAL GOD FOR IMAGES MADE TO LOOK LIKE MORTAL MAN AND BIRDS AND ANIMALS AND REPTILES.

The other effects Paul describes here are SEXUAL IMPURITY (vs. 24-27) and every other kind of depravity (vs. 28-32).  We don’t have space to address those items in this post.  I believe they are self-explanatory of one is willing to cast off the blinders put in place by political correctness and moral relativism.

As If In a Dream

Please read Psalm 126 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I prefer the NIV (1984) and used it to prepare these remarks.

Joy comes with God’s renewal of His people.

I hear concerns raised about how the Church in America is losing its influence on popular culture.  There are lots of reasons offered but I think it’s our impaired sense of humor that is a reason I don’t hear being discussed much.  We excel at “mourning with those who mourn,” but are morose about “laughing with those who laugh.”

Realize two things: One, among all the beliefs on the face of the Earth, the Christian faith gives the greatest reasons for joy.  Two, the Bible is a book that is full of life and a great deal of what it has to say is couched in humor.

I could go on and on with examples and explanations, but it’s such a chore and time is limited, so let me offer just one example.  The humor of the Bible is situated in a time and culture that is very distant from our own.  Humor is something that is very dependent on the moment.  Have you ever related something funny that happened to you and got a deadpan reaction?  What do we say in response but, “I guess you had to be there?”

William Shakespeare wrote a number of comedies.  But to modern audiences, it’s hard to get the joke, especially when reading it.  Sir Richard Eyre, former head of the National Theatre and one of Britain’s most celebrated Shakespearean directors, said topical comedy dates “very quickly”, leaving the meaning lost to history.

More recently, here are some 19th century American jokes, tell me what you think:
“If conceit were consumption, he’d be dead a long time ago!”
“They say that too many minors have enlisted in the army, however I think that some of the minors are doing better than some of the Majors.”

“What’s the difference between a drunkard and a condemned man? One takes a drop to live and the other takes a drop to die.”

Not exactly side splitting stuff, right?  So we need Bible scholars to tell us why Bible humor was humorous, how Jesus’ reference to a plank in your eye was probably LOL to His peeps.  After all, we don’t have a “laugh track” to tell us which are the funny parts.

But let there be no mistake that the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of JOY and its perfectly obvious.  Let’s start with today’s text.

  1. Praise God for a dream fulfilled. (126:1-3)

The text offers four very descriptive signs of joy.

Joy Sign #1: WE WERE LIKE MEN WHO DREAMED.  We think of “dreams” as visions we receive while sleeping and as visions we realize while awake.

Normally, dreams are simply ways our subconscious ways our minds try to work out waking problems while we sleep.  God created dreams as a psychological “safety valve.”  Biblically, God has used dreams to reveal His will.  There is no indication in the Bible that God has ceased to do this.

On the other hand, we express our aspirations in order to give inspiration to others.  We need to be cautious here to not mix up our will with God’s.  Self-deception comes so easily we must submit these aspirations to the scrutiny of the church for affirmation.  Especially when we envision ways to do God’s will, the fulfillment of our DREAMS brings a special and abiding kind of JOY.  What we have here is a JOY so intense it feels dream-like, “too good to be true.”

Joy Sign #2: OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER.  This phrase describes people who were giddy with joy, a happiness that demanded expression, one that could not be denied.  Laughter is not a sign of immaturity nor is it unspiritual if it flows out of godly joy.  The morality depends on what inspires a person to laugh: what’s in their heart at that moment.

Joy Sign #3: OUR TONGUES WITH SONGS OF JOY.  Like laughter, singing is a way we spontaneously express our JOY.  Wouldn’t it be great if life were more like a musical comedy?  We could express our JOY with singing and dancing, backed by a full orchestra!

Joy Sign #4: WE ARE FILLED WITH JOY.  They were FILLED, even to the point of overflowing, with JOY!  Anyone who doesn’t desire this level of JOY in their life is missing a vital part of a living, maturing faith.   To me there is a parallel between being FILLED WITH JOY and being Filled with the Spirit.

As verse two testifies even the pagan NATIONS noticed what God had done.  They offer the testimony of a “hostile witness” which carries extra weight because they have nothing to gain by misstatement or exaggeration.

We also need to understand the times.  People of this age were superstitious and tied their gods to their national identity.  For example, when your nation won a war, it was thought to be proof that your god was more powerful than your enemy’s.  In this instance, when the Babylonians conquered the people of Judah, the NATIONS concluded that the Babylonian gods were more powerful than the Jew’s God, Yahweh.

This means God allowed His name to be slandered among the nations in order to discipline His people.  On the other hand, later, when the people of Judah were allowed to come home, that was seen as their God’s triumph over the gods of Babylon.

Here’s what the NATIONS concluded: “THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR THEM.” (2)

Here’s the people of God agreeing with the pagan NATIONS; THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US. (2)

Here’s the result: WE ARE FILLED WITH JOY. (2)

This joy was not from the pampered and comfortable, but from those who were CAPTIVES in Babylon.  There is a spontaneous kind of JOY that comes like a clap of thunder.  It is often underserved or at least unexpected, and it departs as suddenly as it disappears.  There is also the kind of JOY that abides with you.  It comes as a sense of satisfaction after a good work well done.  It settles on your heart and warms it.  It stays with you, to some degree, and recurs when you recall the circumstances.  The first kind is exciting, the second kind, encouraging.

Those persons who, after 70 years of captivity, endured and then returned to their homeland experienced the first kind of joy when the news was announced and the second kind when the returned home and rebuilt Jerusalem.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who remained faithful in spite of what it cost them.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who stood against the seemingly impossible odds, travelling hundreds of miles on foot to a set of ruins.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who persevered against the elements and their enemies to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

This is how life works for all of us, folks.  The worldly culture around us offers flashes of happiness in return to submitting to the captivity of their “groupthink” and the slavery to sinful appetites that is called “consumerism.” Not content to only offer distractions, the world also actively opposes faith; it belittles and battles genuine devotion to God.

We will know divine JOY when we ignore the distractions and remain faithful when we face persecutions.  This is a depth of JOY as described in this passage that the world will NEVER be able to give.

  1. A prayer for dreamers. (126:4-6)

When dreams come true, there is still work to be done.  When the initial joy of hearing that they COULD return to Jerusalem, then the realization of what that would take set in.  That’s why the passage makes the sudden jump from JOY to pleading with God.

RESTORE OUR FORTUNES, O LORD, sounds to me like a plea, a heartbroken prayer spoken when the ruins of Jerusalem were finally in sight.  Imagine how those returning from exile must have felt when they saw all the work and struggle that lay before them.  As people of faith, they cried out to God to help them do what, to worldly eyes, must’ve looked impossible.  Don’t let the word FORTUNES throw you; this is not a plea for prosperity as much as it is a desperate prayer for survival!

Historically, we know the returning exiles had to overcome a great deal of adversity to rebuild their land: lack of shelter, opposition from neighboring nations; the insecurity of the lack of suitable defenses; raiders; locusts; bad harvests; an extended drought; mountainous problems inflicted by both man and nature.  They had no idea what they’d got themselves into when they arrived, but they knew enough to prompt this crying out to God.

LIKE THE STREAMS OF THE NEGEV refers to a common experience of the people.   In that climate, streams and rivers can dry up completely.  One might not even recognize a riverbed when walking on it.  However, when the rainy season arrived, flash floods were common and the streams would be restored, full of water.

This would have been a common experience in the NEGEV, a desert area in the southeast part of modern-day Israel.  The people felt like a desert-dry stream bed, so they prayed that God would RESTORE them and fill them with life, just as He did with the dry streams in the desert.

In spite of the intimidating task before them, the returnees had hope.  They trusted in God, and from that trust came this promise expressed twice in vs. 5+6.


The TEARS and WEEPING are the physical signs of great sorrow.  They are the trails of trials that track down our face when we have to face opposition and obstacles.

If we think of them as “seeds” we can be assured these sorrows are designed to ensure a fruitful future.  We’d prefer a gentler, kinder, experience, but that’s not the way the world works.

In ancient cultures, sowing a seed was a symbol of burial and came to be associated with grief over a death.  Both Jesus (John 12:24) and Paul (1CT 15:36) used this imagery to teach about life overcoming death.  Trust that the seed will grow; that with the harvest, there will be SONGS OF JOY.

I read a provocative statement in an article entitled “Three Absolute Truths that Determine the Harvest,” by Dr. George Bannister.  He wrote, “It has been said that the problem with Southern Baptists is that we are ‘A harvest oriented denomination in a unseeded generation.’”

His point was that there can be no harvest without sowing.  It is not enough for churches to keep their doors open and expect people to seek us out and step through them.

Ken Ham made a similar point in his new book Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant.  We are living in a culture that is ignorant of the basic truths of Scripture.  The culture has dismissed the Bible as irrelevant and disregarded sin as a relative to the situation.  The Church in America is stuck in a mode where we’re answering questions no one is asking, using language they don’t understand, referencing things that have largely disappeared from our culture, except as objects of ridicule.

We want the joy of salvation.  There is no joy in this life that is sweeter than helping someone find Jesus as their Savior.  If we are to know this joy, we must plant those seeds.  There is an unmistakable connection between joyful reaping and passionate seed-sowing.

God announced this principle in Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: a man reaps whatever he sows.”  We can resist this cultural trend in media and politics, but the forces allied against us have the advantage in those areas.  Our advantage is the power of God and the truth.  These advantages are most influential in personal relationships.  Rather than assault the culture directly, it makes more sense for us to put the majority of our effort into establishing relationships and making friends with those outside our faith.



The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

Bible Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown

The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, Lawrence E. Toombs

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce

David Got a “D” in “Dad”

David Gets a D in Dad (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

Father’s Day is the one day a year pa gets an even break – maybe.  (I know – break out your tiny violins.)  We celebrate fathers, those clever kings of comedy who treat their families to those most blessed quips: dad jokes.  How do you know a joke is a dad joke?  When it is apparent.  For example:

  • What time did dad go to the dentist? Tooth hurt-y.
  • Did you hear about the reupholsterer who hurt himself at work? He’s fully re-covered!
  • How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? Ten tickles.
  • Dad invented a pencil with erasers at both ends but decided not to sell any because they were pointless.
  • People were very emotional about the fire at the circus fire: it was in tents.

What would you think about a man who had children by multiple mothers and had more girlfriends than you could shake a stick at?  This fellow’s kids did more than bicker; rape and murder were committed under his roof.  Even so, this guy was unwilling to do much about it; he seemed content to let his kids be just about as wild as they wanted.

You would not be inclined to give this guy a very good grade on his parenting skills.  It is surprising to note, however, that God called him “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).  This man was King David.  We have an extensive biblical record of the life and achievements of King David, but when we look at his parenting, David left a lot to be desired.  Let’s see what we can learn about family life at the palace in Jerusalem.

Being a godly father requires righteous involvement in the lives of your children.

  1. David serves us as a negative example – don’t try this at home.

(2 Samuel 12-19)

On the plus side, there were four occasions David demonstrated he was a caring father.

First, he prayed for the survival of his infant son in 2 Samuel 12:16-17.   Following his sin with Bathsheba and the cover-up that eliminated her husband, a son was born to their union, but was sickly and not expected to survive.  This text tells us the intensity of David’s prayers:


The child died.  When this happened, David calmly returned to regular life because he knew the child’s death was God’s answer.

Second, his reaction to the news of his daughter Tamar having been raped was appropriate.  In 2 Samuel 13:21 read, WHEN KING DAVID HEARD ALL THIS, HE WAS FURIOUS.  As furious as he may have been, David was curiously slow to act.

Third, his reaction to the news of Amnon’s death is similar to his pleas for his newborn son’s life.  In 2 Samuel 13:30-31 we read:


This report turned out to be false; it was corrected in the next two verses to the truth: that only Amnon had been killed.  David’s other son’s had fled the scene.  In v. 36, when all of David’s sons except Absalom returned to Jerusalem, David WEPT BITTERLY.

Fourth, even though Absalom was a killer and rebellious usurper, David’s heart ached for him.  While Absalom was in self-imposed exile with his grandfather in Geshur, (2 Samuel 13:37) KING DAVID MOURNED FOR HIS SON EVERY DAY.  Two verses later, David’s grief is reiterated: AND THE SPIRIT OF THE KING LONGED TO GO TO ABSALOM, FOR HE WAS CONSOLED CONCERNING AMNON’S DEATH (v. 39).  In the very next verse (2 Samuel 14:1) David’s heart condition is mentioned again. JOAB SON OF ZERUIAH KNEW THAT THE KING’S HEART LONGED FOR ABSALOM.  And again, at the end of the Absalom story arc, David is heartbroken, this time over Absalom’s death (see 2 Samuel 18:33-19:4).

TRANSITION = It’s clear from these verses that King David’s heart was in the right place.  On the other hand, David did not always do right by his children.  One may imagine that the writer of 2 Samuel wanted to show David cared about his children because there were no caring actions to write about, so the character of David had to be balanced.  On a practical level, however, all the proper emotions count very little without actually acting upon those emotions.

  1. David was too passive on four occasions; he needed to act decisively to discipline his children and failed to do so. I freely admit all four of these examples rely on argument from silence. However, if David had acted (wisely or foolishly) I would assume the king’s actions would at least receive some mention.

The first example is His response to Tamar’s rape: David did not get involved.  While the text tells us David was FURIOUS that the rape occurred, it does not record any action that he took.   The brutal crime against Tamar left her a disgraced woman who lived out her days in Absalom’s house.  There is no record of David having done anything for her, no punishment or even rebuke of Amnon.  There are two years of silence between the crime and the next thing that happened.  In 2 Samuel 13:23, the account resumes TWO YEARS LATER, when Absalom carries out his plot to kill his half-brother Amnon.

The second example is the murder of Amnon.  Though he was grief-stricken to lose his first-born son, David did not pursue Absalom after Amnon’s murder.  He did not seek justice; not even a rebuke is recorded in the text.  2 Samuel 13:38 tells us Absalom fled the scene of the crime and went to the city of Geshur, where his grandfather ruled as king.  Another THREE YEARS passed with Absalom in exile.  Though David’s heart longed to be reconciled to his third eldest son, there is no record that he did anything to reach out to him.

In fact, in 2 Samuel 14 Joab had to essentially trick David into welcoming Absalom back to Jerusalem.  Maybe in THREE YEARS David’s heart had hardened!  Even then, David insisted on this condition (14:24):


The third example is in chapter fourteen, where the text notes Absalom had lived in Jerusalem for two years before David called for him.  2 Samuel 14:28 plainly says, ABSALOM LIVED TWO YEARS IN JERUSALEM WITHOUT SEEING THE KING’S FACE.  In v. 29 Absalom made the first overture toward reunion, attempting to arrange a meeting with his father through one of his advisors, Joab.  At first Joab was unwilling to make the arrangements, but Absalom pressured him into it.  (We see Absalom’s persuasiveness on display more than once in this story arc.)

Finally, in v. 33, father and son were reunited:

SO JOAB WENT TO THE KING AND TOLD HIM [WHAT ABSALOM HAD SAID].  THEN THE KING SUMMONED ABSALOM, AND HE CAME IN AND BOWED DOWN WITH HIS FACE TO THE GROUND BEFORE THE KING.  AND THE KING KISSED ABSALOM.  Don’t let the kissing fool you – this was not a reunion, not a reconciliation.  In the next chapter we see Absalom put in motion a coup against his father, so I assume this was staged to make David unwary or give a wholesome public appearance to make the people unwary.

The final example may be the most serious act of apathy: David did not oppose Absalom’s “hostile takeover,” but left Jerusalem to Absalom without a fight (2 Samuel 15:13-16).  This passage comes after twelve verses describe how Absalom slowly turned the people to him and then staged a “publicity stunt” where he was proclaimed king.

David appears to be thoroughly intimidated:


Why would David give up without a fight?  The text gives us two motives.  One, to save his own life and the lives of his family.  Two, to save the city of Jerusalem from being sacked.

Even so, it’s hard for me to believe this is the same guy who, as a youth, defied Goliath on the battlefield.  I only hope this was a “strategic withdrawal” on David’s part or a sincere desire to avoid damage to Jerusalem.  I hope it is not the cowardice it appears to be.

One more thing: David made a mistake in trusting Absalom with all his sons, which lead to Amnon’s death (2 Samuel 13:23-27).  We are backtracking in time, going back two chapters in the narrative to see how Absalom plotted to get his chance to avenge his sister’s disgrace.

After waiting TWO YEARS (13:23), Absalom used the annual festival of sheep shearing day as a pretext to draw out Amnon.  This passage details a conversation between David and Absalom that could be described as “verbal fencing.”  David did not truly trust Absalom, but gave in and allowed all his sons, including Amnon, to attend the sheep shearing.  Absalom conspired with his men to do his dirty work for him; they actually killed Amnon.  His revenge was made possible by David having given in to Absalom.





  1. Righteous involvement includes the following godly actions.

Righteous involvement requires avoiding unnecessary exasperation and bitterness in the course of training your children.  Ephesians 6:4 commands FATHERS, DO NOT EXASPERATE YOUR CHILDREN; INSTEAD, BRING THEM UP IN THE TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION OF THE LORD.  Colossians 3:21 gives a similar instruction with a warning: FATHERS, DO NOT EMBITTER YOUR CHILDREN, OR THEY WILL BECOME DISCOURAGED.

Anyone who has been a parent or a child can recount times when a legitimate, necessary instruction has caused exasperation or bitterness because it opposes the child’s selfish nature.  These verses do not forbid godly instruction where it causes the child to gripe.  Instead, they forbid behaviors that cause unnecessary exasperation or bitterness.  Examples of such fatherhood miscues would be teasing or misuse of authority to bully the child to serve the father’s sin nature.

Righteous involvement requires fathers to discipline children as necessary to train their hearts.  The job of parents is not to merely control the behavior of their children.  We have a much higher calling, to train them in godliness so that they will be godly of their own accord, apart from our control.  Hebrews 12:9-11 alerts us to the godly purpose of discipline.


I appreciate the fact that this passage recognizes that babies don’t come with manuals (OUR FATHERS DISCIPLINED US FOR A LITTLE WHILE AS THEY THOUGHT BEST).  Parenting is, if we’re honest, a seat-of-your-pants exercise that often feels like we’re doing it for the first time.  Knowledge of the word and intentional imitation of our heavenly Father must guide our decisions about fatherhood.

Righteous involvement requires fathers to teach their children the truth by living it.  Read Deuteronomy 6:6-9 =


Parenting is primarily teaching.  No one can teach what they do not know and no one can truthfully teach what they do not practice themselves. Because “experience is the best teacher,” our instruction as parents doesn’t usually take place in a classroom setting, but amidst daily life.  As this passage indicates, that is exactly how God wants it.  Heart training is the true goal of parenting and God recognizes here that a parent must first possess a good heart before hoping to train a child’s heart.

Character is forged in the ordinary circumstances of life, in the mundane challenges of each day.  Training happens; godly training happens when we commit ourselves and do it with intention.

Finally, righteous involvement of fathers requires us to be a husband; to love your wife (Read Ephesians 5:25-27, 32-33).  Following the Old Testament prophets, the Apostle Paul put the highest possible value on the marriage relationship by using it as a symbol of the relationship between God and His people.  In fact, Paul makes Ephesians 5:22-33 a difficult passage because he believed that marriage was more than just a symbol, it was the “flip side” of the divine relationship.  That creates all kinds of pressure, doesn’t it?


This passage deals only with the marital relationship between a man and a woman.  Admittedly, it has nothing to say directly about fatherhood or motherhood.  However, as the marriage relationship is the relationship that constitutes a “family,” to which children become welcome additions, we understand the marriage relationship to be the one that has the most effect on raising children.

To put it bluntly; fathers who love their children love their children’s mother.  In moments when you can’t find it in yourself to love your wife for your sake or her sake, love her for your children’s sake.  Success in raising godly children depends most on our relationship with God, but the second-most important factor is the marriage relationship.

Being a godly father requires righteous involvement in the lives of your children.

One thing that’s particularly sad about this whole Absalom tragedy is that there’s a victim (Tamar) and a lot of bad actors (Amnon and Absalom), but no one really doing any good.  David’s heart was in the right place, but in his actions he failed his children and his nation.

This is a cautionary tale preserved in the Bible so we can be informed and motivated to avoid making the bad choices David made.  The takeaway from this soap opera I call “The Absalom Saga” is this: “Don’t be a David-type Dad.”  Have David’s heart, but act upon it too: do the right thing at the right time in the right way.



Paul’s Collection

Paul's Collection (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

Let’s start out with a little lesson on finance.  We’ll learn the difference between “disposable income” and “discretionary income” because, on the surface, those terms look very similar.

Here’s how the website “Investopedia” defines them.

“Disposable income is the net income available to invest, save, or spend after deducting income taxes.  Disposable income is calculated by subtracting income taxes from income.

“Discretionary income is what a household or individual has to invest, save, or spend after taxes and necessities are paid.  Examples of necessities include the cost of housing, food, clothing, utilities, and transportation.”

(Stephen Nikolas, Investopedia. com, April 30,2020.)

Now here’s my question: does your tithe/offering come out of disposable or discretionary income?  The answer will depend on whether or not you view your monetary gifts to God as a “necessity” or not.  If you understand support of our church as being one of the necessary expenses of life, then it is neither disposable nor discretionary.

A problem with giving is that we put our gift in either the disposable or discretionary category.  We think of church as one more thing that we pay for, one more resource that we purchase and consume.  It is not.

Our relationship with money is a mirror that reflects our relationship with God.  Our use of money will reflect the degree to which we love Him and have matured in our spiritual life.  It is a brutally honest mirror, as we tend to put our money where our heart is.

Take for example, collections like One Great Hour of Sharing.  It turns out the practice of taking collections for those in need has been observed in the Church from the beginning.  It was done in the Jerusalem church and later, at Paul’s direction, to benefit the Jerusalem church.  We’ll take a brief look at what Paul did to organize a collection among the Grecian churches in which he ministered.

Love involves caring for those in need.

  1. The need for a collection.

In AD 48, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem for the first-ever Church council (Galatians 2:1–10 and Acts 15:1–29).  The reason for the council was to decide whether Gentile converts had to become Jews first.  Paul and Silas argued it was unnecessary as they represented the church in Antioch of Syria.  The decision of the council was that non-Jews were full members of the Church without any additional requirements.  Paul summed it up in Galatians 2:10: ALL THEY ASKED WAS THAT WE SHOULD CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THE POOR, THE VERY THING I WAS EAGER TO DO.  Paul demonstrated his eagerness by organizing this collection.

While he was in Jerusalem, Paul became aware of a famine in Judea.  He saw the need and organized a response.  See Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 for examples of Paul’s teaching on this subject.

  1. The means of collection. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)

Paul’s instruction to take a collection ON THE FIRST DAY OF EVERY WEEK assumes the practice of a Sunday worship service.  See John 20:19+26; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10 for more information on the practice of Sunday worship in the First Church.

EACH ONE OF YOU SHOULD SET ASIDE A SUM OF MONEY IN KEEPING WITH HIS INCOME fits with Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 9, that offerings should be a percentage of one’s income rather than a fixed amount.

SO THAT WHEN I COME NO COLLECTIONS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE is consistent with wise stewardship; it is better to have a habit of generosity than to rely on special appeals.  Regular and systematic giving happens when we don’t rely on fund-raisers and emotional appeals creating a “crisis” mentality.

In vs. 3-4 Paul expresses flexibility on whether or not he is with the group who delivered the collection.  (He did go with them.)  This was a project on which Paul had worked for years and with many congregations.  He even had to endure opposition from church folk who accused him of padding his own pockets!  (See 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2; 7:2; 8:20-22; 12:14–18.)

That’s why Paul was careful in these verses to distance himself from the money.  He was willing to accompany those delivering the collection, but the responsibility belonged to men the Corinthians approved.  The men they selected were to take with them LETTERS OF INTRODUCTION from Paul if Paul did not accompany them himself.

These steps were taken primarily to protect Paul from accusation, but he also had to be careful to not offend some of the believers in Jerusalem who might be reluctant to accept help from Gentiles!  It’s strange to think of that kind of pettiness in the church back then, but human nature was no different back then than it is now.

  1. The outcome of the collection. (2 Corinthians 9:10-15)

Supplying the generosity of God’s people (10-11).  God supplies both the seed and the harvest (BREAD); He can be counted on to supply all kinds of material needs.  SEED TO THE SOWER AND BREAD FOR FOOD is a phrase Paul borrowed from Isaiah 55:10, where the prophet used it to show that God will accomplish His purposes.  One of his purposes is to provide for His people so that His people can provide for others.

Above and beyond that, God can be counted on to INCREASE and ENLARGE t RIGHTEOUSNESS of the church family, supplying spiritual needs.  In fact, God’s supply is so generous they will become RICH IN EVERY WAY (materially and spiritually).  Their riches will fuel their generosity.  Their generosity will, in turn, RESULT IN THANKSGIVING TO GOD.

SUPPLYING THE NEEDS OF GOD’S PEOPLE (12) is Paul explaining the process of meeting the needs of people. God’s supply => their generosity => human needs met => thanksgiving to God.

The outcome is OVERFLOWING IN MANY EXPRESSIONS OF THANKS TO GOD (12-15).  Worship (glory given to God) should be the outcome of everything we do.  Prayer should accompany everything we do. THANKS is to be given to God – not exclusive of gratitude to the giver – but in greater proportion.

Paul appealed to the believer’s most enlightened motive; we do things not to solicit the praise of others, but to direct their attention to God.  After all, God made our generosity possible by means of His supply; we are merely giving what has always been His. God has set for us the greatest possible example of generosity and grace.  In our own circumstances, God wants us to use all our resources to keep the example He has set.

Love involves caring for those in need.

A commentary I looked at illustrated this passage with a picture of an ancient paving stone, one that had been unearthed in the city of Corinth.  It says “Erastus paid to pave streets in Corinth.”

Isn’t that interesting?  Paving stones is a fundraiser we use in modern times.  For some strange reason I’ve been contacted with an offer to buy a paving stone for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium.  As if I would do such a stupid thing!  Here we have an artifact that survived from antiquity.  The streets Erastus paid to pave have not survived, but his stone thank you has survived!

Will you be remembered as a person whose love was revealed in generosity?  Have you ever heard anyone remembered fondly as a “good money manager?”  Does stinginess ever have a positive reflection on a person’s legacy?  What parts of you will survive because you made a positive and generous contribution to the needy around you?  To what degree do you inspire people to praise God?  Generosity is not optional; it is commanded by God for all His people and commended by all people as well.


Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul W. Marsh & David J.A. Clines

Love the Author More Than the Book

Love the Author More than the Book (1)

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

Over the last several weeks I’ve been revising – for the fourth time – a Bible study I’ve written.  The third edition had FOUR PAGES (single spaced) of typographical errors and rewrites.  This fourth edition is on track to do as poorly as that.  As unhappy as these typos make me, they do not hold a candle to mistakes made in some editions of the Bible.

In a Nov. 18, 2017 article by DeNeen L. Brown of the Washington Post, I found several historical examples of flawed printings of the Bible.

“The ‘Wicked Bible’ omits one crucial word from the Seventh Commandment: ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’

“The Wicked Bible contains another huge error in Deuteronomy 5:24, ‘And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse.’

“The ‘Breeches Bible,’ a 1560 Geneva Bible that says in Genesis 3:7, ‘Adam and Eve put on “breeches instead of aprons.” ’

“The ‘Bug Bible,’ which says in Psalms 91:5: “So yet thou shalt not need to be afraid for any bugs by night.”

“The ‘Murderer’s Bible,’ which contains a typo in Mark 7:27 that says: ‘Let the children be killed,’ instead of ‘filled.’

“The ‘Printers’ Bible,’ a 1702 edition of the King James, contains an error in Psalm 119:16. Instead of saying ‘princes have persecuted me without a cause,’ David complains, ‘printers have persecuted me without a cause.’

“In a 1549 printing of the ‘Matthew’s Bible,’ a note on 1 Peter 3 offers husbands some terrible advice: ‘And if she be not obedient and helpful unto him [he] endeavoreth to beat the fear of God into her.’ That version is called the ‘Wife Beater’s Bible.’

“The ‘Vinegar Bible’ has a heading instead of the ‘Parable of the Vineyard,’ it says ‘Parable of the Vinegar.’

“The Bible Museum in Washington D.C. contains a collection of more than 500 Bibles [including the ones I’ve mentioned].

(Retrieved from on 3 June 2020.)

The Bible is our sacred text because it was given to us by God.  We thank God for it, as the Bible tells us all we need to know to be saved.

God has provided us with Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  Love Him even more for it.

  1. Jesus is the Author of the Bible.


It’s true this passage identifies Jesus as the AUTHOR of our FAITH, not specifically the Bible.  But the distinction is not an important one.  The word AUTHOR means the originator or source of our faith.  The word PERFECTER refers to all Jesus does to help mature our faith.  In all things, Jesus is the example we are to follow.  How would we know what kind of example He set if we didn’t have the Bible to tell us the story?


NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN GOD, BUT GOD THE ONE AND ONLY, WHO IS AT THE FATHER’S SIDE, HAS MADE HIM KNOWN.  This passage directly connects Jesus the Word of God (note the capital “W”) with the Bible, the word of God (note the lower case “w”).  The Greek word translated as WORD here is logos.  It is more than literal words, language-shapes made on a surface.  It means a “thought” or “concept.”  We refer to the Bible as the “Specific Revelation” of God and Jesus as the “Personal Revelation” of God.  Jesus has made God known to us.

  1. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers (“Holy Ghost writers”).


We make a distinction between the Author of the Bible: Jesus, and the writers of the Bible, the men who took time into recording what God had revealed to them.  Those who wrote the Bible did not conceive the truths they recorded; they received those truths from God and recorded them as faithfully as possible.

The truths are recorded in the context and language of their times, not ours.  In order to understand what they meant, we have to do the hard work of first orienting ourselves in their context.  This passage is unconcerned about HOW the Scriptures were written.  Peter’s concern was to show the Bible is not made up of human imagination.  Its source is the Holy Spirit.  The divine origin of the Bible is a central part of our faith – no compromise can be accepted on this point.

Some people like to debate whether or not every book is authored by the person named.  While we can allow some latitude on the issue of authorship, such discussions miss the point.  Regardless of who penned the words, the main point is that they were inspired.

  1. God provided us with the Bible because He knew we needed it.


The Bible is intended to be a practical book, having a direct effect on daily living.  There are four uses for the word of God specified in these verses: TEACHING, REBUKING, CORRECTING, and TRAINING.  These four uses have one purpose: to give TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.  The goal of the TRAINING is to equip every believer to do GOOD WORKS.

Dealing with human nature and sin nature requires a written word.  Here are four examples.

One, to counter self-deception: We need an objective resource to study and learn because we have a strong tendency to make stuff up that excuses our sins.

Two, to bring us together: the Bible was given to be a point of unity.  Shamefully, we’ve used it to justify our decisions.

Three, to empower us: We need an authority greater than self to resolve differences.

Four, to reveal His will: In order to be righteous, we need to learn the will of God and be encouraged to practice it.

God has provided us with Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  Love Him even more for it.

We might assume that studying the Bible is always a good thing.  Like many assumptions, that is not true.

On one occasion Jesus confronted some people who were studying the Scriptures for the wrong reason.  In John 5:39-40 it is written, “YOU DILIGENTLY STUDY THE SCRIPTURES BECAUSE YOU THINK THAT BY THEM YOU POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE.  THESE ARE THE SCRIPTURES THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME, YET YOU REFUSE TO COME TO ME TO HAVE LIFE.”

Bible study is wrong whenever it is done from a wrong motive and human beings are capable of a variety of wrong motives.  What makes that so terrible is that study of the book can actually cause us to misidentify the Author. If you can’t quote John 3:16 but know it talks about YOUR JESUS, then there is a place in heaven for you.  On the other hand, if you’ve memorized John 3:16 and studied it in great scholarly detail but don’t know Jesus, there is NO place in heaven for you.

Yes, there is an important place for biblical literacy, but it is NOT first place.  That distinction belongs to Jesus alone.  Bible literacy is a virtue that is worth pursuing as long as it increases our spiritual maturity, informs our witness, and most importantly, draws us closer to Jesus.  A knowledge of the Bible that fosters no change is a symptom of knowing the truth but not the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  To fail to see Jesus in the Bible is a deadly failure.

Fitted for Hard Times (3 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33, 40-42.

Fitted for Hard Times v_03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,


Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship


Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

I imagine all of us has experienced driving behind someone who is driving another car ahead of us, showing us the way.  This experience was much more intense in the olden days before cell phones to ask questions and smart phones to find your own directions, so bear with me if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.

Anyway, the person you’re following is your lifeline between where you are and where you want to be.  At some point a traffic light comes between you.  True to their usual form, the leader speeds through the yellow light, leaving you behind at the red.  Distance and cross-traffic cars coming between you cause you to lose sight of the leader.  You can hope to catch up or you can hope they pulled over to wait for you, but those are pretty much your two options.  What sounded like a simple trip has now become more complicated.

That’s a little window on what following Jesus can feel like.  Sunny days and good times can make discipleship seem easy.  But then difficulties emerge and we feel separated from our Savior.  In those moments, courage is needed.  Here’s good news: Jesus provides courage for His disciples!

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. We can have courage because God supplies us with the right words (vs. 19-20).

Jesus warned we would face persecution and informed us these were opportunities to witness.  As we saw last week, facing persecution was one of the costs of discipleship.  Jesus warned it would be present in all levels of society: at the family level, city government, regional government, and across the Roman Empire.

Surprisingly, the result of persecution at all levels could be DEATH.  Jesus spared the disciples none of the truth, warning about the worst-case scenario.

He promised to supply the words when witness opportunities arise.  This is kind of ironic because several years ago, public speaking was supposedly the number one fear people had, with death being number two. (Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on those survey results: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved from on 28 May 2020.)

So here we have Jesus directly addressing the so-called number one fear, saying, “When you have opportunity to witness to the authorities, don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit will be talking through you.”  Wow.  OK, now that we have the number one fear dealt with, let’s move on to number two; being put to death by those guys.

But seriously, Jesus told His Apostles, “Of all the things you may worry about, don’t let the fear of WORDS stop you, because we’ve got that covered.  It’ll be our words, not yours.”  Or, as Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, “IT WILL NOT BE YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU.”  You will be God’s “mouthpiece!”

This is an excellent perspective to have on all of life, so let’s put it on a bumper sticker: “Life is not about me and now, it’s about God and eternity!”  Use that as your “north star” and life will be a lot easier and more productive.

  1. We can have courage because the secrets of our persecutors will be revealed (vs. 26-27).

Evildoers prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness.  The first fear to be overcome by courageous disciples was fear of words.  The second fear is fear of the dark.  Unlike a childish fear of the dark, this might be a fear of being swept under the rug; of having one’s witness made ineffective by a cover-up.

We do not fear their darkness because it will all come to light.  Jesus overcame the fear of words with a promise to supply words.  He overcame this fear of darkness by promising that the evil deeds done in darkness will be made known; they will be brought into the light.  More than that, their witness will not be in vain.  Instead, the words Jesus gives them in secret they will proclaim in the DAYLIGHT from the rooftops!

There is a third way to understand this promise.  The Gospels tell us (Matthew 8:20; John 14:26; 16:12-15) that there were times the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.  After His Resurrection, however, the meaning became clear to them and they proclaimed those truths.

  1. We can have courage because we fear God, not man (v. 28).

God has complete power over everything that might make us afraid.  This is the third fear Jesus discussed w/t Apostles.  Here is where fear of death is addressed.

People of faith realize death is not a fearful thing, but is our release from this world.  Neither death nor dying are to be feared, because our faith focus is on God, not evil people.  It is natural to dread dying; the physical pain and loss of health that precedes death.

But Jesus is not talking about death in general terms, as we have been.  He is talking about MEN who will use pain and the threat of death to cause the disciples to recant their faith.  Such individuals are not to be feared because their power is limited to the BODY only.  They cannot harm the SOUL.

Here again, the matter is one of perspective: keep your attention on God, who is capable of destroying both BODY and SOUL in hell. Don’t worry about what people can do to you; their worst is still only temporary.  As it is written in Proverbs 29:25 = FEAR OF MAN WILL PROVE TO BE A SNARE, BUT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN THE LORD IS KEPT SAFE.

Even death is not the end of our witness.  This fact is implied in the survival of the SOUL who shows respectful fear of God.  The SOUL who does not respect God has no place in eternity: as v. 28 plainly says, it is destroyed, not “tormented.”

  1. We can have courage because we’re very valuable to God (vs. 29-31).

When we are frightened, it is natural to feel God’s “absence.”  Some call these “wilderness experiences,” times we feel as if God has abandoned us in the wilderness, left us to fend for ourselves.

But the Bible is clear that God’s character and His will do not change.  So if we feel as if God is distant, it’s not because He moved!

This fourth fear Jesus addressed is fear of abandonment.  When we are in the throes of it, the feeling of God’s distance can seem very real.

As God is in the details, He is also in charge of the “big picture.”  When we feel abandoned, we need to remember God is in charge and He is still with us, working His will in our lives.  Jesus offered two examples of God being involved in both the details and the big picture.

Example #1: sparrow flight.  SPARROWS were the food of very poor folk because they were cheep (pun intended)!  Jesus said two of them were sold for a PENNY – an asarion – one-sixteenth of a working man’s daily wage.

We assume FALL TO THE GROUND as a reference to a sparrow dying on a tree limb and dropping to the dirt.  Actually, it pictures a routine flight from the limb to the ground.  How many times a day does that happen?  Wouldn’t this be the very example of “the small stuff?”

It’s as if Jesus said to them, “Listen, guys, a sparrow doesn’t travel from branch to ground without your Father knowing it.  I think you can trust Him to keep track of YOU!”  “After all,” He continued, “you’re worth more than MANY pennies!”

Example #2: scalp census.  Jesus assured the Twelve that God knew them so intimately, He knew the number of hairs on their heads.  (Some of us make it easier for God to keep track of that number!)  It is funny.  When we’re having a “pity party, table for one,” we think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.  Nobody sees or cares how much I’m suffering.”  False!  Jesus reassures us God knows us and keeps track of us, even down to a useless statistic like the number of hairs on our heads.  Psalm 40:12 is interesting in connection with v. 30.


In these two examples Jesus may be using exaggeration to make His point, but in any case, He’s assuring us we are not abandoned.  Just the opposite; God knows us intimately and cares for us completely.

  1. We must have courage because these days have eternal significance (vs. 32-33, 40-42).

Our discipleship in this world reveals our eternal destination.  We need to be careful here; on the surface it seems Jesus is teaching we can earn salvation by acknowledging Him and that we can lose our salvation by disowning Him.

The truth goes deeper than this; our salvation is not so easily gained or lost.  In fact, it is not by any works of ours gained or lost.  It is God’s gift; His grace to us.

Instead, what Jesus teaches here is two-fold. First, acknowledging or disowning is not just a verbal act and it is not a single action.  Rather, it is the course of a person’s life.  Our character, the general trend of our days is in view.

Second, it is the testimony offered by our day-to-day decisions that gives evidence of our salvation.  People headed toward acknowledgement before the Father will behave in faithfulness to His teaching. People headed to being disowned will behave in ways that deny God to the world.

Jesus has just candidly addressed four fears and offered promises to encourage His followers to remain faithful in the face of those fears. Here he describes the outcome of those who give into fear (disowning) and those who resist fear (acknowledging).

Our discipleship in this world determines our reward in the next (40-42).  These verses are actually more for the people who will assist the Apostles than for the Apostles themselves, but they are instructive for all of us.

Judgment Day will settle two important issues for each person.  The first and most important is the salvation.  Persons who receive God’s gift of salvation are true disciples and will be welcomed into God’s presence for all eternity; the receive immortality.

The secondary determination is related to works; the kind of things we did in our time on Earth.  For the unbelieving, those who will be destroyed in hell (v. 28), any revelation of their works simply proves God’s condemnation; the evil they did proves they deserve the Second Death.

For the believers, an inventory of each disciple’s good works is the basis for heavenly reward.  In the Bible these rewards are pictured as CROWNS.  It is true that eternal life with God in heaven is reward enough.  But God, in His extravagant grace, further rewards good deeds.

Jesus states the principle in v. 40, elaborates on it in v. 41, and offers an example in v. 42.

The Principle.  The Apostles were to be encouraged, because the people who receive them peaceably (vs. 11+12) have, by proxy, actually received God the Father.

The Elaboration.  The person who receives a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN has received someone whom the Lord is using to represent Himself to the world.  They will receive the same REWARD the Lord has prepared for the PROPHET and the RIGHTEOUS MAN.

The Example.  Receiving a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN need not be a complicated matter; a simple act of kindness like sharing a CUP OF COLD WATER is sufficient to merit a reward if the motive for the act is recognition of his discipleship.

The REWARD referred to in v. 42 is not the primary REWARD of salvation, but the secondary REWARD given to the saints upon their admission to heaven.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

As we’ve seen, this passage takes a long view on the subject of discipleship.  It encourages us to be disciples by reminding us that what we do in our daily lives has repercussions into eternal life.

Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra Nathan C. Schaeffer took a similarly long view and wrote the following: “At the close of life, the question will not be, ‘How much have you gotten?’ but ‘How much have you given?’  Not ‘How much have you won?’ but ‘How much have you done?’  Not ‘How much have you saved?’ but ‘How much have you sacrificed?’ It will be ‘How much have you loved and served,’ not ‘How much were you honored?’”

(Retrieved from on 28 may 2020.)

It takes courage to be Jesus’ disciple.  In the verses we surveyed today we saw Jesus address five fears that would be very typical in the experience of those who genuinely want to follow Jesus.  He addressed fear of words, fear of the dark (evil), fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of failure.  In each case, He taught that our response must be trust in God and that our response matters.

Jesus did not promise to relieve us of those fears or help us to avoid them.  Instead, He offered courage through the Holy Spirit and a perspective on fearful circumstances that is faithful to see and follow-through on these opportunities to witness.  Our courage for discipleship, like our status as disciples, is Jesus’ gracious gift.


RESOURCE: Message #1323


Fitted for Hard Times (2 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:16-25 & 34-39 in your Bible.

Fitted for Hard Times_v02 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

REVIEW: Part One was the Conditions of Discipleship

There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that cannot be proven he either said or wrote.  Nonetheless, it is amusing and has a good truth, especially in these times of overreaching governments: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

In our passage today Jesus is still preparing to send out the Twelve Apostles on their short-term missions project.  He is completely honest, even brutally honest, in warning them what it will cost them to follow Him.  They will be the lambs contesting the wolves of the world around them.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

NEW: Part Two is the Cost of Discipleship

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your innocence but not your virtue (vs. 16-18)

By “innocence” I mean naiveté; you will see the world as it truly is.  For the sake of our own comfort and sanity we tend to assume people are most often have good intentions and that the world is safe.  Jesus shattered any false sense of safety by saying He was sending the disciples out LIKE SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WOLVES is an oft-used image for persecutors of the Church (for example, Matthew 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29).  SHEEP is an even more frequent biblical symbol of God’s people (for example, Psalm 23).  Even though He sent them to THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL (v. 6), the disciple were not assume everyone they meet will accept or even tolerate their message of repentance.  In v. 14 He warned them some people would not WELCOME or LISTEN to them.

By “virtue” I mean a refusal to hold a grudge, get revenge or in any way compromise God’s standards.  SNAKES were an Eastern symbol for prudence.  Though DOVES are used otherwise in the Bible, Jesus used used it as a symbol of innocence.  Disciples are not to close their eyes to evil, but are to deal with it directly and even assertively.  We keep our virtue after our innocence is lost by being smart, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching here.

The effect of this transformation is for you to BE ON YOUR GUARD.  Be prepared; as sure as sparks fly upward, so will disciples suffer persecution.  Jesus’ teaching about His Second Coming required His disciples to be on their GUARD.  You do this by never giving up.  They were warned to be ON GUARD AGAINST MEN (v. 17) because men are prone to prioritize self-interest.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you your freedom (vs. 18-19).

Persecution can come from the top down as well as the bottom up.  V. 18 is a contrast with v. 17.  In. v. 17 Jesus warned them against local level persecution: city government (COUNCILS) and Jewish SYNAGOGUES.  In v. 18 Jesus warned them against persecution brought by GOVERNORS AND KINGS. In v. 21 Jesus warned a third group – family members – may be among a disciple’s persecutors.  God’s purpose in their being persecuted is to give them an opportunity to be WITNESSES to the Jews and eventually to the GENTILES too.

Is your freedom – your rights – more precious than your salvation?  Is your search for personal comfort more important to you than your duty as a disciple?  If the priority is on salvation and discipleship, you’ll be encouraged by Jesus’ promises and commands.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause you to suffer persecution and rejection (vs. 22-25).

Persecution comes to Jesus’ people because evil people hate Jesus.  I wonder how much persecution the Apostles actually faced when they went out?

It’s clear He prepared them to face opposition in vs. 17-20 just as He did in vs. 11-16.  But vs. 17-20 have a feeling of looking further into the future; that Jesus is speaking here about circumstances long after His death, things the Twelve will have to face as they represent Jesus in other parts of the world.

This interpretation is based on more than intuition; in v. 18 Jesus promised they’d be WITNESSES to the GENTILES as well.  But at this moment their mission is to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL exclusively (v.6), the GENTILES are not included.  This warning is more appropriate to the decades after Jesus’ Ascension than this immediate situation.

To the degree that it helps to know your persecutors are not making it a personal issue, Jesus warned, ALL MEN WILL HATE YOU BECAUSE OF ME.  These words also take a broader view than just this short-term mission.  This is their future.  ALL MEN should not be understood as “everyone.”  It can be translated as “all kinds of men,” which takes in the locals mentioned in v. 17, the VIPs in v. 18, and family members in v. 21.

Jesus said, “A STUDENT IS NOT ABOVE HIS TEACHER, NOR A SERVANT ABOVE HIS MASTER,” explaining why hatred for Him automatically becomes hatred for His disciples.  Jesus did not die on the cross to make us happy or feel fulfilled, or to improve our self-esteem.  Jesus suffered and died to save us.  As His disciples we must share in His sufferings if we want to also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).  Our attitude toward suffering should be the kind expressed by the apostles in Acts 5:21 who were overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name.

Jesus has provided us with recourse to persecution: a promise, path, and a finish line.

His promise: v. 22 promises those who remain ON GUARD and STAND FIRM TO THE END they will be saved.  This command is similarly expressed in…



Disciples experience seasons of growth and seasons which threaten us and/or tempt us to give up.  In those seasons, it is perfectly acceptable to dig in and prevent losing any ground, to cling fiercely to the measure of faith we have, and refuse to be moved.  To be faithful TO THE END means to the end of one’s life or to the Second Coming, whichever comes first.

Jesus’ path = In v. 23 Jesus advised the Twelve, “WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED IN ONE PLACE, FLEE TO ANOTHER.”  In other words, “You don’t have to stand there and take it.”  In this teaching and in others, Jesus authorized the use of passive resistance and non-violent protest as responses to persecution.  He did not call His disciples to be door mats: He commanded us to be as SHREWD AS SNAKES but as INNOCENT AS DOVES.

For example, a SHREWD alternative to just standing there and allowing yourself to be persecuted is to get out of the way of your persecutors.  We have an example of this happening in the history of the Church: Acts 8:1 says the members of the church in Jerusalem scattered into neighboring provinces in the face of persecution in the city.

Jesus’ finish line = YOU WILL NOT FINISH GOING THROUGH THE CITIES OF ISRAEL BEFORE THE SON OF MAN COMES.  This is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave any of His disciples to suffer their fate.  He did the opposite: He promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).  This is an occasion where it’s especially important to be aware of the context of the verse.  Jesus has just instructed them to flee persecution.  What is he saying here is that there will always be a fall-back position, until Jesus comes again, and fall-back positions will no longer be needed.  We’ve already observed that Jesus’ instructions look beyond the time in which they were given.  This statement looks forward to the end of time.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause a loss of false peace (vs. 34).

Jesus didn’t come to be “nice,” if that word means being completely benign, inoffensive, no trouble, no confrontations, or no harsh words of any kind.  Jesus said it plainly, but people don’t want to hear it, so they start off a comment with “Well…” and proceed to make excuses to water down Jesus’ radical statements.  To them I say, “Grow up.”

Jesus said “DO NOT SUPPOSE THAT I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE EARTH.  I DID NOT COME TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD.”  Similarly, in Luke 12:49-51 He said, “I HAVE COME TO BRING FIRE ON THE EARTH AND HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED.  BUT I HAVE A BAPTISM TO UNDERGO, AND OW DISTRESSED I AM UNTIL IT IS COMPLETED! DO YOU THINK I CAME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH?  NO, I TELL YOU, BUT DIVISION.”  This is not Jesus’ desire to be a troublemaker nor is he authorizing us to merely be troublemakers.  Instead, He is offering another explanation of why people hate Him.

Telling the truth has a polarizing effect on people.  People who are living a lie hate the truth because it exposes them as liars and thereby feels like an accusation.  People who live in the truth love the truth because it encourages and affirms what they’re doing.  Jesus told the truth, but more than that, He IS the truth (John 14:6).

Discipleship is following Jesus’ example in seeking the truth, which will produce both peace and judgment in a single circumstance.  Jesus is called the PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6-7) because He brings inner peace to His disciples (Philippians 4:7).  At the same time, He is a galvanizing figure whom people will love or hate.  Hear this: the most faithless reaction to Jesus is apathy (Revelation 3:14-16).  Just as history has been divided by Jesus (A.D. versus B.C.), so are people divided into for or against.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you some family relationships (vs. 21, 35-37).

Our first family is our church family.  We’ve observed Jesus’ warning in v. 21: “BROTHER WILL BETRAY BROTHER…A FATHER HIS CHILD…CHILDREN AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.”  This is such an important point, it is essentially repeated in vs. 35-37.  Note the deadly consequence of these betrayals: TO DEATH.  Jesus is offering families as an example of people we would normally expect to trust, but as we know family members are not any more likely to agree or be agreeable than complete strangers.

Jesus’ attitude toward family may surprise you.  In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus responded to a call to join His family by saying, “MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S WORD AND PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.”  Verse 37 is a similarly provocative statement: “ANYBODY WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.”  The Bible does place a high value on family relationships, but in terms of priorities, it is clear our church family comes before our birth family.

Even in families, some people will react to your discipleship with division.  Discipleship demands extreme devotion to Jesus, a situation that will not sit well with all the members of one’s family.  The polarizing effect of Jesus and the followers who imitate Him can be deep enough to part close but superficial relationships.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your life (vs. 38-39).

Salvation is free and it costs you everything.  Salvation is FREE in the sense that it cannot be earned.  It is available to us only because of God’s grace.  Salvation COSTS us everything in the sense that following Jesus must be our first priority.  Anything that is more important than loving God is actually an idol: including family.  We can claim anything we want, but we can’t actually be a disciple of Jesus if we prioritize anything else above Him.

There are three aspects of discipleship Jesus mentioned in this passage.

Take up your cross.  In Jesus’ culture, the cross was a symbol of shame.  Jesus transformed it into a sign of victory, but He did so only by means of sacrifice.  Taking up our own cross means to do a similar thing, to sacrifice self on the altar of devotion to God.  In our culture, this will involve the sacrifice of choice, convenience and comfort, things we insist upon.

Follow Jesus.  Finding something to die for is, in some ways, easier than having something to life for, because living requires the hard work of being faithful in the mundane details of everyday life.  Following means letting Jesus lead.  Whenever we want to dictate the terms of discipleship or tell Jesus what we’re willing to do, that’s where falsehood enters in.

Lose your life for His sake.  This is obviously a figure of speech but it describes the radical depth of commitment a disciple shows.  Disciples are mostly unconcerned about their own rights.  They give evidence of humility and a servant’s heart in word and deed.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

In this second of three installments, we have observed Jesus preparing His disciples by frankly telling them what it will cost them to follow Him.  In all the years since, the cost of discipleship has not changed.  The rewards are literally out of this world but they are realized only by faith and sacrifice.

One place where discipleship can become difficult is when the faith collides with the world.  Jesus did not want to send His people into the world naively expecting to be appreciated.

I read recently that expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are “good” is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.  The bull simply does not care.  In all walks of life, in all situations and experiences, you will encounter resistance against your faith.  People will not care.

In those moments, Jesus does not expect us to be a witty debater, a fiery preacher, or anything other than our selves, clinging resolutely to what we know to be true.  We do not require the world’s agreement or approval to be disciples; with the Holy Spirit in us, we operate under a greater authority.  Quiet confidence and a ready reply is what’s needed when the world starts knocking our faith down.

PREVIEW: Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple


Message #1322

Fitted for Hard Times (1 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:1-15 in your Bible.  Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Fitted for Hard Times (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

In the white collar world of professional businessmen, there has been a lot of popular press written on the subject of leadership.  In the Bible, a lot is said about discipleship and service.  How’s that for an illustration of the clash of cultures?

The subject of discipleship, of training and being trained in following Jesus, is so important we’ll devote the next three weeks to studying Jesus’ method of discipleship in Matthew 10.  It is a rich vein of teaching, so we are going to sink a deep shaft into it.

To stimulate our thinking, it want to share a few insights into the subject of discipleship, representing varied viewpoints.

Nineteenth century Danish theologian Soren Kierkagaard wrote, “I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.”  Kierkagaard’s comment?  “And no one laughed.”

The reformer Martin Luther wrote, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

American evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “It is better to train ten people than to do the work of ten people. But it is harder.”

These three men all observed, in their different ways, the essential nature of discipleship in the Christian life.  Real belief is manifest in spiritual growth, as haphazard as it may look from the outside.  There is no choice in this matter; Jesus’ followers are disciples or they follow someone else.

CONTEXT: In Matthew 9, Jesus has called Matthew to be a disciple.  He is the last one to be called to follow Jesus.  Then, at the end of the chapter, Jesus looked compassionately on the crowd gathered before Him and urged His disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more workers in the field.  These two chapters have a focus on Jesus’ disciples, His partners in ministry.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. To be a disciple you must first be named as one of His people (vs. 2-4).

The Twelve are named four times in the New Testament.  The four lists are here in Matthew 10, Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13; there is no listing in John.

This is the only time in Matthew and Mark they are called APOSTLES. The word itself has a specific meaning: “messenger, envoy, ambassador.”  Hebrews 13:1 refers to Jesus as an APOSTLE.

When the word came into use as a title for a church officer, its meaning widened.  At first, only the Twelve were called Apostles.  Then Paul and five others were called APOSTLES.  Then leaders over groups of churches got the title.

Regardless of one’s title, every believer is first called by God.  We are saved because God decided to offer salvation to us.  Here are some general observations about the original twelve Apostles.

– The Twelve were all laymen; there were no priests among them.

– They were not chosen because they gave Jesus any advantage.

– They were a mix of personalities w/ some opposites.  (For example, the opposing political views of Matthew the tax collector versus Simon the Zealot, the opposite personalities of Peter and the “Sons of Thunder” versus “Doubting Thomas.”)

– They were called to follow Jesus, they didn’t volunteer.  Some of Jesus’ followers did volunteer, but they are not called APOSTLES.

The Apostles were ordinary men whom God empowered to extra-ordinary things.  They were so important to the plan of God that Revelation 21:14 tells us that the foundation stones of the heavenly city are inscribed with their names!

  1. To be a disciple you must come under Jesus’ authority (v. 1)

JESUS CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TO HIM: Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, called each of these men individually.  It was His decision that made them disciples; it was their decision to accept.

To be CALLED is to be invited by God to accept His will.  Everyone is CALLED to be saved.  In 2 Peter 2:9 we are told it is God’s will that no one should perish, that all should repent.  This is a universal calling.

Those who accept God’s call to salvation receive an additional calling to do a specific kind of ministry in a specific time and place.  In the modern Church we have mistakenly used the language of “calling” for professional church leaders.  That is unbiblical.  All disciples are CALLED to minister for Jesus.

HE…GAVE THEM AUTHORITY = On this occasion, Jesus delegated to the Twelve His AUTHORITY to do two things in particular.  One: TO DRIVE OUT EVIL (“unclean”) SPIRITS.  These spirits are in opposition to God.  They do evil and tempt people to do evil.  They were to be driven out because their evil is toxic to humans, separating their victims from God.

Two: TO HEAL EVERY DISEASE AND ILLNESS.  As Jesus gave the Twelve AUTHORITY to do these two different things, it is plain that not every physical illness is a result of demonic activity.  Matthew Henry’s comment is good: “The design of the gospel is to conquer the devil and cure the world.”  Last week we saw Jesus doing both these things in Luke 4.

On other occasions (i.e., Matthew 19:28) Jesus’ delegated authority would take other forms.  What’s important for us here is to note that His disciples do not exercise their own authority.  Instead, they minister under His.

  1. As a disciple you must do service and witness at the same time (vs. 5-8).

Jesus sent out the Twelve after giving them INSTRUCTIONS.  This is a potent word, used in a variety of situations: the commands given by military leaders to their subordinates, the rules or principles given by a teacher to their students, and the word of a king or emperor as laws put upon the people.

This emphasis on service and witness means the object of ministry is not self or other believers, but others, and particularly the LOST.  In this case Jesus’ command was to minister only to their fellow Jews: the Gentiles and Samaritans would be reached at another time.  Jesus’ command to GO… TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL fulfilled the Old Testament promises that a Messiah would be sent to Israel.  This is an example to us that ministry is not about gratifying self, but is focused on meeting the needs of others.

Our ministry of witness is to PREACH…THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.  Repentance is the response for which we’re aiming as we witness, because repentance is necessary for salvation (Mark 6:12).  THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN refers to the people of God, distinguished by true faith.

To say t KINGDOM is NEAR means two things.  One, it is close enough to be recognized by those who have faith and the Spirit to see it.  Two, that a decision is demanded: don’t procrastinate.  The KINGDOM is NEAR in time; the opportunity to join it is now.

Our ministry of service is to relieve all kinds of distress.  SICK…DEAD…LEPROSY…DEMONS are a representative sample of all the kinds of ills human beings can suffer.  Jesus gave His disciples AUTHORITY over them all!  Following the example of the Apostles, we are to provide the material and spiritual service that results in healing other’s suffering.  The Apostles returned later and testified that they had received power to accomplish these works of service.

Witness and service are to be given generously.  As Jesus said, “FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE.”  God gives to us with grace and generosity; it reveals a lot about the true state of our faith when we don’t show that same kind of grace and generosity to others.  In this, the apostles were to follow God’s example and thereby set an example for us to follow.  This instruction also helps us avoid the temptation to build our own ”empire” instead of building God’s Kingdom.

  1. As a disciple you must depend on God, not yourself (vs. 9-11).

This requires you to not trust in your worldly resources.  There is a personal reason Jesus gave this command: the Apostles were to trust God to provide for their material needs.  To teach them this, Jesus instructed them to take no provisions for themselves: no money, no bag for carrying an extra tunic or sandals, nor even a staff.  If they took it along, they were depending on their own resources, not on God.  The phrase TAKE ALONG meant “procure.”  It was about going out to get all the stuff a person might need for a life on the road.

Jesus had a theological reason for this teaching.  If you and I do only the things we know we can do, then we get the glory.  On the other hand, if we do the things that only God could do, He gets the glory.

Jesus had two practical reasons.  First, if you know you’re going to depend on others for all your material needs, you have an obvious motive for ministry.  If your next meal depends on you witnessing, you’ve got some urgency in your belly that doesn’t depend on “willpower.”

Second, this was a short-term “training” mission, not an extended trip.  They were not going to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  There was no need for the extensive preparations that a lengthier journey would require.  Ministry was the priority.

Disciples trust God to equip them through the people He has prepared.  Notice the principle behind Jesus’ instruction in vs. 9-11: worthiness.  The worker is a worthy person.  FOR THE WORKER IS WORTHY OF HIS KEEP.  Those who sacrifice themselves to do the work of ministry deserve our support.

The worker is to search for a WORTHY PERSON to supply His needs and stick with them.  The worthiness of this person would be spirituality first and material support second.  Also, because the Apostles would be associating with that person throughout their stay, their worthiness would be measured by their reputation in the community: would association with them help or hinder their witness?  Jesus told them to STAY AT HIS HOUSE UNTIL YOU LEAVE.  It would be tempting to “trade up” to a nicer house or better food, but that would be ungrateful to someone who’d been generous and might have impaired the reputation of the Apostles.

  1. As a disciple you must practice peace and judgment (vs. 11-15).

Begin new relationships with peace, but be prepared to render judgment.  Remember that the home in this example belongs to a WORTHY PERSON, so it is reasonable to expect a peaceful greeting.

The first step, then, is to give the household a peaceful GREETING (12).  In Jewish culture, that was “Peace to this house” or “Shalom.”

The second step was determined by the response of the household.  If they responded to the greeting of PEACE with PEACE, then they were deserving of PEACE.  In that case, the Apostles were to STAY AT THAT HOUSE until they left, and allow their PEACE to REST ON IT too.

On the other hand, if they responded to the greeting of PEACE by not welcoming them or not listening to them (v. 14), then the Apostles were to LET their PEACE RETURN to them and shake the dust of that house or town off their feet.  In Jewish culture, shaking the dust off one’s feet or clothing was a nonverbal curse (Nehemiah 5:13; Acts 18:6).  For example, it was their habit to shake the dust off before entering Gentile lands so as not to carry any of the soil of the Promised Land with them.  Before leaving Gentile lands, they would shake the dust off to avoid bringing any of that unclean soil with them into the Promised Land.  This was a curse that would come to pass ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.

Realize that not everyone will accept your witness and service.  These instructions make the most sense when we remember Jesus was preparing His disciples for the possibility of rejection and acceptance.  He was sending them out of the safety of their group and the world was as likely to show them the back of its hand as offer a hand in fellowship.

His other purpose is to demonstrate this is serious business.  To reject God’s ambassadors is a rejection of God; to reject God is to put one’s self under a curse that will come to full and deadly fruition on Judgment Day.  As Jesus explained in verse 40, “HE WHO RECEIVES YOU RECEIVES ME, AND HE WHO RECEIVES ME RECEIVES THE ONE WHO SENT ME.”

Though we come peaceably to witness and serve, there is no guarantee we will be received peaceably.  When people make up their own minds, their response is their responsibility, not ours.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

We observed earlier the Twelve were called to follow Jesus, they did not volunteer.  The difference between the two is instructive:

  • Disciples surrender their rights in service to their master, but volunteers retain their rights and some are quite likely to bellyache at perceived violations of their rights.
  • Discipleship is an act of complete self-sacrifice while volunteers offer only a portion of their resources, often what they can easily spare.
  • Discipleship is a way of life while volunteerism is more like a hobby; something we enjoy but is not central to our survival or growth.
  • Disciples live to serve while volunteers expect to be rewarded for their service.

While it is true that the church needs workers, God calls all of us to be disciples.  The difference between the two makes all the difference.  A person can be a volunteer in the church without being a disciple, but a disciple will always be a gracious volunteer.


Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple



Message #1321

The Matthew Henry Commentary, Matthew Henry

Way to Go, MA!

Please read Luke 4:38-44 in your Bible.

Way to go, Ma! (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

I’m sorely tempted today.  On the one hand, today we recognize the ladies in our lives: it is our Mother’s Day service.  So a mother-in-law joke or two is sort of on-topic.  And – as this message is on tape delay, I can get away with it!  On the other hand, today is Mother’s Day, so mother-in-law jokes are less appropriate.  And most of you know where I live.  So let’s compromise.  If you know a mother-in-law joke, type it in the “comments” section below the video.

Here are a couple holiday-appropriate stories.  On a Mother’s Day morning, two young children told their mother to stay in bed.  As she lay there looking forward to having breakfast in bed, the smell of bacon floated up from the kitchen.  But she waited and waited and finally could stand it no longer.  She went downstairs to discover her children finishing up plates of bacon and eggs and toast.

“As a surprise for Mother’s Day,” one of them explained, “we decided to cook our own breakfast!”  I assume she was surprised!

On another Mother’s Day another family decided to surprise grandma with breakfast in bed.  Unfortunately, the surprise was spoiled for when they got to grandma’s house they discovered she was still in bed, feeling ill.

As they were making their exit, a young granddaughter stood beside grandma’s nightstand, not budging, her eyes fixed on grandma’s dentures soaking in a glass of water.

The mother said, “Honey, we’ve got to go.  What’re you looking at?”

The little one pointed to the glass and said, “The tooth fairy will never believe THIS!”

Now we’re ready to go on to Luke 4:38-44, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law played a supporting role.

CONTEXT: Jesus had just made a big appearance in a synagogue at the Jewish Sabbath (LKE 4:31-37).  It was there He cast a demon out of a man.  The amazed witnesses spread word about Jesus THROUGHOUT THE SURROUNDING AREA.

In chapter five, Jesus will begin calling His twelve disciples, do a couple more dramatic healings, and teach on the subject of fasting. We are clearly at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and He got off in dramatic fashion.  Our passage is an interlude of sorts.  Here we see Jesus using His healing power on a personal scale, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then on a public scale as all kinds of sick folk were brought to Him, and finally defining His mission as preaching.  We can see how these three brief incidents set forth a summary of what Jesus’ ministry was all about.

Jesus’ mission centered on preaching and included healing.

  1. What a Mother-in-Law Peter had! (38-39)

Jesus and Simon (whom Jesus would call to ministry in 5:10) left the synagogue for Saturday dinner.  Maybe something equivalent to our Sunday dinner?

Simon’s mother-in-law was sick at the time: she had a HIGH FEVER.  In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul wrote that Simon Peter was married. The fact that his mother-in-law lived with Simon may imply that her husband was dead.  In that case, she no longer had a home of her own and had to come under some other male’s headship.

As most people lived in single-room homes, a contagious illness was a threat to everyone who visited the house.  On this occasion there was more than family involved: Mark reported the whole city had gathered outside the home.  One reason Jesus acted promptly was to allow the safe use of Simon’s home.

Luke was a physician and accordingly, he gives us a little more information than Mark or Matthew: Luke tells us her fever was HIGH (a serious condition) and the miracle Jesus used to heal her.     All Jesus’ healings used different methods and means.  He did not want anyone to think that the healings happened because of certain words, gestures, or some kind of medicine.  The healings were neither magic nor medicine.

In this case, however, Jesus’ method was similar to what He’d done earlier in the synagogue: there He’d rebuked the demon and it left.  Here he rebuked the illness the FEVER in Simon’s mother-in-law and IT LEFT HER.  Luke alone adds the detail AT ONCE to give more evidence to the supernatural, miraculous nature of this healing.

It is a small detail, but Luke recorded that Jesus BENT OVER HER to speak the words of rebuke.  He was not intimidated by her illness, Jesus got “up close & personal.”

Once healed, Simon’s mother-in-law got up and showed hospitality to Simon, Jesus and all who’d come along.  Whatta gal!  She might have wanted to rest, but instead she got up and went to work feeding Simon’s guests.

  1. What a healer Jesus was! (40-41)

WHEN THE SUN WAS SETTING means the Sabbath was over; people could travel without breaking the Law and Jesus could heal without breaking the Law.  Word spread fast and people took advantage of having a healer in their midst.

Jesus healed ALL the people brought to Him, in their VARIOUS KINDS OF SICKNESSES.  First, we note Jesus did not discriminate between persons (He healed the ALL) or between diseases (VARIOUS KINDS).  On this occasion Jesus healed by LAYING HIS HANDS ON THEM.  On other occasions He would use other methods.

On the other hand, He cast out demons with a REBUKE.  Ironically, it was the demons who were the first to testify Jesus was the SON OF GOD.  Jesus silenced them and cast them out with a rebuke (as he had cast Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever).  His word alone was sufficiently powerful to overthrow Satan’s minions from these people.

The fact that Luke reported a difference between SICKNESSES and DEMONS implies that not all illness is an affliction from the devil.  People of his time assumed illness was caused by evil spirits or the patient’s sin, but this is not always true.  Unfortunately, that error persists among Christians to this day.

Why did Jesus silence them?  This happens a lot in the Gospels, especially in Mark.  It is called the “Messianic Secret.”  Early in His ministry, Jesus wanted people to focus on His message and not get distracted on deciding whether or not He was the Messiah.  Jesus sought to exert control on public opinion in order to make it most powerful just prior to His arrest, trial, and execution.  This was intended to force the hand of the authorities.  Jesus managed public opinion to leverage His own death!  Since that week was about three years away, He wanted to keep things chill at this time.

Another reason for the “Messianic Secret” was an attempt to limit the size of the crowds following Him.  Big crowds would inhibit Jesus’ movement and ministry.  Worse, they might force the issue too soon.  In John 6:15 we read that Jesus withdrew from a crowd because He knew they intended to make Him King by force.  Jesus wanted no earthly crown and He did not want to put His people in harm’s way by inciting a riot!  Jesus was in control.

  1. What a preacher Jesus was! (42-44)

Every preacher must withdraw regularly to A SOLITARY PLACE to prepare for preaching and recover from preaching.  In 5:16, Luke explained this practice: BUT JESUS OFTEN WITHDREW TO LONELY PLACES AND PRAYED.  This aspect of a preacher’s life is like juggling, trying to keep the “balls” of time for people, time for study, and time for self all in the air at once.  When these three demands get out of balance, troubles ensue.

THEY TRIED TO KEEP HIM FROM LEAVING THEM: this is the opposite kind of reaction Jesus got from the people of His hometown, Nazareth, when He preached in their synagogue (Luke 4:28-30).  It was also the kind of situation He was working to avoid.

Jesus responded by telling them He hadn’t been called to Capernaum only, but had to preach to THE OTHER TOWNS ALSO.  Jesus’ mission was to TEACH THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.  The KINGDOM OF GOD is a key teaching in Jesus’ ministry.  Of the 64 times this phrase is used in the New Testament, 31 of them are in Luke.  In His teaching, Jesus said that the KINGDOM OF GOD arrived with Him and that it was also not fully present until the end of the age.  The Kingdom exists spiritually in everyone who follows Jesus.  It will exist physically in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Luke did not mention Jesus’ healing ministry at all in verse 43.  This omission may imply that His healing ministry was secondary to His preaching, though it was clearly His healing power that the people wanted most.

Jesus left them and kept His word: HE KEPT ON PREACHING IN THE SYNAGOGUES OF JUDEA.  (The name JUDEA was, confusingly, used as the Roman name of the province where Jerusalem was located and in a more general sense for everywhere in Palestine where Jews lived, including Galilee.) Jesus was sent first to the Jews; in Matthew 15:24 He said, “I WAS SENT TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL.”  He met the people where they were, where they gathered for worship.

Jesus’ mission centered on preaching and included healing.

We have observed the good example set by Simon’s mother-in-law, who, when healed, rose from her bed of sickness and set to work to provide for her son-in-law and his guests.  Though she is not named, her example has been preserved throughout the ages.  She set a very high standard of love and service.

In this set of verses Luke provided us with a set of situations that summarize the earthly ministry of Jesus.  He was public and private, personal and communal.  He ministered healing, deliverance from evil, and preached the Kingdom of God.  Writing the book of Acts, Luke quoted this same Simon Peter’s summary of Jesus’ ministry, re-affirming the truths we have observed in this passage from his Gospel: “HOW GOD ANOINTED JESUS OF NAZARETH WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND POWER, AND HOW HE WENT AROUND DOING GOOD AND HEALING ALL WHO WERE UNDER THE POWER OF THE DEVIL, BECAUSE GOD WAS WITH HIM.” (Acts 10:38)



Zondervan Bible Commentary, “Luke,” Laurence E. Porter.

The NIV Application Commentary, “Luke,” Darrell L. Bock.

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, “The Gospels,” Darrell L. Bock, Ed.

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, “Luke,” Walter L. Liefield.

The Daily Study Bible Series, “The Gospel of Luke,” William Barclay.