Monday, February 27, 2012

Worship and Prophecy

Worship and Prophecy

Many Christians, as well as the world, believe that the word "prophecy" means only one thing: foretelling the future.

Prophecy in our society forms headlines in tabloids and newstands. Palm readers and fortune tellers advertise in newspapers and the internet. Doomsday prophets are discredited every year.

But the Bible describes prophecy as a gift of God, meant for the building up, encouragement and consolation of Christians.

How can we reconcile the tawdry, false image of prophecy in our society, with the high place of honor in which Scripture places it?

Does prophecy always mean foretelling the future?

Can prophecy be communicated in ways other than by preaching or speaking?


Essential facts about inspired, genuine prophecy:

  • Prophecy is one of four types of inspired communication: Prophecy, Revelation, Knowledge and Teaching.
  • Prophecy can mean to speak OR sing by inspiration.
  • Prophecy communicates truth, whether in prediction or simple discourse.
  • That which distinguishes true prophecy from false prophecy is the source: God.
  • The test of true prophecy: fulfillment.
  • Although it can be faked, inspired prophecy causes the prophet's appearance to reflect the passion and power of God's Holy Spirit.
  • Prophecy is powered by God but controlled by the prophet.
  • Without inspiration, prophecy can go terribly wrong.
  • True, inspired prophecy continues to today.
  • Inspired prophecy proclaims the mighty works of God, whether fulfilled in the past or the future.
  • Inspiration provides the truth, and the effectiveness, of the message.
  • Prophecy builds up, encourages and consoles Christians.

Prophecy Through Music

"David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals." 1 Chronicles 25:1 (ESV)

PROPHESIED: naba (to prophesy, to speak or sing by inspiration, in prediction or simple discourse) and nabi (a prophet or inspired man)

The text uses two related words together, which we translate as "prophesied". Literally, the verse reads: "...the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, the prophets who prophesied".

The essential idea contained by these two words is that of inspiration, whether in prediction or simple discourse. The words do not necessarily mean the act of foretelling the future, although they may.


In the days of the exodus from Egypt, the Jews were in a desolate wilderness, surviving on manna alone. An intense craving for new food grew in the hearts of a large group of people. They wept and complained, wishing for meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and they enjoyed even while slaves in Egypt.

The complaining expressed an attitude deeply opposed to worship, and God became angry.

Moses felt the heat of God's anger, and his heart also expressed a low opinion of God. Moses accused God of spoiling everything, leading them all into a wasteland with little care or compassion. Moses had no idea how to satisfy the hunger of the people, giving little thought to the unlimited power and provision that God had demonstrated in the past.

Neither Moses nor the people were moved to worship God.

God's response was to inspire the elders of Israel, seventy men listed as leaders under Moses.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, - Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone." Numbers 11:16-17 (ESV)

Moses witnessed the inspiration of these elders:

"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it." Numbers 11:25 (ESV)

"Prophesied" is the same word used in Chronicles 25:1.

What did the elders prophesy? The text does not say explicitly, but it most likely was the orginal message given to Moses:

"Say to the people, - Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt. Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, Why did we come out of Egypt?" Numbers 11:18-20 (ESV)

The inspiration of God on these men must have been obvious to all. The people could see a startling difference when the Spirit ceased to rest upon them. The inspiration was temporary, but awesome while it lasted.

The effect of God's inspiration was not limited to the large group of elders gathered around the tent. Two other elders had remained in the camp. When God's Spirit rested upon the group of elders, these two men also began to prophesy. The inspiration was sudden and startling, even to the people far from the tent and the large group of elders.

"Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, - Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!" Numbers 11:26-27 (ESV)

From this account of prophetic inspiration, we can make some general applications to worship:

  1. Prophecy is the proclaiming of a message from God.
  2. Prophecy is by supernatural inspiration of God.
  3. Prophetic inspiration is outwardly observable.

The sudden and indisputable effect of inspiration by God is seen in King Saul:

"As soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you." 1 Samuel 10:5-7 (ESV)

Saul "turned into another man" under the inspiration of God. Notice also that prophecy can be sung, as well as spoken.

"The Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, - What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?" 1 Samuel 10:10-11 (ESV)

Saul was still recognizable as himself, but the effect of inspiration was obvious and startling, even to those who had no knowledge of what had happened previously.

Inspired prophecy in song emphasizes thanksgiving and praise to God. The men organized by David for worship "prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord." 1 Chronicles 25:3 (ESV)

Organized Prophecy

Although inspiration is entirely at the will of God, the communication of that inspiration can be organized and scheduled:

"They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful, was 288." 1 Chronicles 25:6-7 (ESV)

False Prophecy

Without inspiration, prophecy can go terribly wrong.

"What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? They did not say, - Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells? -

"And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, - Where is the Lord?' Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.

"Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2:5-8,11-13 (ESV)

"And the Lord said to me: - The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds." Jeremiah 14:14 (ESV)

How can a true prophet be distinguished from a false prophet?

"The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet." Jeremiah 28:8-9 (ESV)

Only through accurate documentation can prophecy be authenticated. The original message from God must be accurately remembered and compared with current events.

In other words, the Holy Bible must be often read and taught from generation to generation, guarding against errors and ignorance, continually comparing God's Word to current events. This allows us to recognize false prophets.

Bottom line: Inspired prophetic messages, whether spoken or sung, must be consistent with God's Word, the Holy Bible.

Biblical Prophecy

Biblical, inspired prophecy continues to this day:

"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Joel 2:28-32 (ESV)

The apostle Peter cited this same passage:

"Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Acts 2:14-21 (ESV)

Peter connected inspired prophecy with the filling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

"Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:2-4 (ESV)

The crowd of worshippers, all from different nations and speaking different languages, were amazed and astonished:

"We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." Acts 2:11 (ESV)

The inspiration of God was apparent because none of the prophets could have known the foreign languages that they were speaking. The message, however, was simple and clear: the mighty works of God.

The essential idea of prophecy is speaking, or singing, the truth about God. Inspiration allows the message to be effective.

PROPHESY: propheteuo (to foretell events, to divine or speak under inspiration); from prophetes (a foreteller, a "prophet" or inspired speaker"; from pro ("fore", in front of) and phemi (to show or make known one's thoughts, to speak or say); from phos (luminousness); from phao (to shine or make manifest, especially by rays)

The Greek word that corresponds to the Old Testament word for prophesy emphasizes the prediction or foretelling of events. But the context of the passage in Acts that ocurred on Pentecost involves the fulfillment of events foretold centuries before. In other words, the Holy Spirit filled the Christians with inspiration to speak of events that had been prophesied centuries earlier: the works of God.

Thus, prophecy involves speaking, or singing, the truth of God's Word, whether foretold and fulfilled earlier, or still yet to be fulfilled.

Again, the essential idea of prophecy is speaking, or singing the truth about God, whether in prediction or not.

"Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up." 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (ESV)

UPBUILDING: oikodome (architecture, a structure, confirmation); from oikos (a dwelling, a family) and doma (an edifice, a roof); from demo (to build)

ENCOURAGEMENT: paraklesis (imploration, hortation, solace); from parakaleo (to call near, invite, invoke); from para (near) and kaleo (to "call", properly aloud); from keleuo ("hail", to incite by word, order); from kello (to urge on)

CONSOLATION: paramythia (consolation); from paramytheomai (to relate near, to encourage or console); from para (near) and mythos (a tale, fiction, "myth"); from myeo (to initiate, to teach); from mysterion (a secret or "mystery"); from muo (to shut the mouth)

GREATER: meizon (larger); from megas (big)

Inspired prophecy builds up the Church, creating structure, making a dwelling place for Christians. It confirms their relationship with God as His children, with Jesus as His Bride.

Inspired prophecy encourages the Church, calling them her near to Christ, urging her on to desire and treasure God.

Inspired prophecy consoles the Church, the Holy Spirit coming near to each individual Christian's heart, ministering quietly but deeply.

Paul describes those who prophesy as being greater or larger than those who speak in tongues. The comparison does not imply a different value, but a different audience. Prophesy speaks to the entire Church, while speaking in tongues is individual, mysterious prayer to God.

"Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?" 1 Corinthians 14:6 (ESV)

Paul distinguishes prophecy from three other forms of communication, yet all four are beneficial to the church.

REVELATION: apokalypsis (disclosure); from apokalypto (to take off the cover, to disclose); from apo (off) and kalypto (to cover up)

KNOWLEDGE: gnosis (knowing or knowledge); from ginosko (to "know")

TEACHING: didache (instruction); from didasko (to teach); from dao (to learn)

"Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church." 1 Corinthians 14:12 (ESV)

All four types of communication: prophecy, revelation, knowledge, and teaching, are essential for building up the church, and they are inspired by God's Holy Spirit.

Prophecy reveals truth that is yet to be completely fulfilled, yet even in the present time it builds up, encourages and comforts Christians.

Revelation reveals truth that God has purposely hidden until the proper time.

Knowledge reveals truth that would be impossible for others to know.

Teaching analyzes truth, revealing elements and steps toward practical application.

Prophecy Under Control

"In church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written,

"By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.

"Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." 1 Corinthians 14:19-25 (ESV)

Inspiration is by God's Holy Spirit, over Whom we have no control whatsoever. Yet, Paul urges Christians to use their reason to choose what and how to communicate the truth that only God can reveal. The truth is from God alone, yet we use our minds to shape how that truth is communicated. Paul says to shape the communication to fit the audience.

"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (ESV)

"The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets."

This cannot refer to men controlling the Holy Spirit.

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8 (ESV)

No man can control the Holy Spirit, any more than any can control the wind.

SPIRITS: pneuma (a current of air, breath or breeze, a spirit, the soul, vital principle, disposition, angel, daemon, God); from pneo (to breathe hard, breeze)

"Spirits" is a general term that can describe simple movement of air or the soul, or even God Himself.

Jesus blessed "the poor in spirit", promising them a kingdom of heaven. In this instance, spirit refers to the essence of the person. In all that mattered, "the poor in spirit" lacked everything while still here on earth, yet faith in Christ promises complete satisfaction in God.

Jesus healed a 12-year old girl, "and her spirit returned". The human spirit is that which sustains life, the essential force that motivates and moves a person.

When Paul says that "the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets", he is referring to the essential core of the person being in control of what and how something is said. God alone provides the truth, but men and women choose how to shape the communication of that truth, although God remains sovereignly in control of all details of all life.

DECENTLY: euschemonos (decorously); from eu (good) and schema (a figure, a mode or circumstance, an external condition); from echo (to hold)

ORDER: taxis (regular arrangement, fixed succession, official dignity); from tasso (to arrange in an orderly manner, to assign or dispose)


Inspired prophecy can be seen as a wonderful sharing of the divine and human. God alone reveals truth to those He chooses. His Holy Spirit dwells within, side by side with my spirit, encouraging and urging and consoling, giving me the power and the desire to share that truth with others, communicating in accordance with my personality and talents, with the goal of building up the Church.

All glory to God!

Image provided by griraffe, Creative Commons License

Monday, February 20, 2012



Does the Bible say that Christians should seek happiness?

It seems that "happiness" has acquired a bad reputation, at least with many Christians. The word seems to have connotations of cheap worldliness, or fleeting fancifulness.

Some try to distinguish between joy and happiness, exalting joy and denigrating happiness.

What does "happiness" mean? Is it something less than "joy"? Does the Bible exalt joy over happiness?

HAPPINESS: (good luck, good fortune, prosperity; a state of well-being and pleasurable satisfaction; bliss)

HAPPY: (favored by hap, luck or fortune)

HAP: (chance, happening, luck)

"Hap" is an old-fashioned word that simply means an event or incident. To be "happy" means to regard an event or incident as good or fortunate. "Happiness" is an experience that one considers to be favorable, pleasureable, or good. Because experience is closely followed by emotion, happiness has come to mean the feeling that is triggered by favorable experiences.

JOY: (emotion excited by experiencing or expecting good; gladness, delight, happiness, gaiety. From Latin, gaudere: to rejoice or be glad)

The distinction is small between "happy" (the experiencing of good) and "joy" (the emotion excited by good). It is entirely acceptable to use the two words interchangeably.

Is "happiness" or "happy" in the Bible? It depends upon the translation!

The King James Version has 28 different instances of "happy". The English Standard Version has only 11, with two additional instances of "happiness".

Regardless of how the Bible is translated, what about the original language? What Hebrew and Greek words does the Bible use that are close to the meaning of the English words, "happy" or "happiness"?

Perhaps the closest equivalent to "happy" is the word used in Psalms: esher. This Hebrew word is translated differently by the King James Version (KJV) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

"Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God." Psalms 146:5 (KJV)

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God." Psalms 146:5 (ESV)

HAPPY/BLESSED: esher (happiness); from ashar (to be straight, level, right, happy; to go forward, be honest, prosper)

The same Hebrew word, esher, is translated differently by KJV and ESV.

"Esher" is used 45 different times in the Old Testament. The King James Version translates it as "blessed" in some instances and as "happy" in others. Why the inconsistency?

Psalm 128:1 translates esher as "blessed":

"Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways." Psalms 128:1 (KJV)

In the very next verse, esher is translated as "happy":

"For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." Psalms 128:2 (KJV)

The same Hebrew word, translated differently!

The translators seem to have used "blessed" to describe someone receiving a benefit from God. "Happy" seems to have been used to describe a person's emotional response to a benefit from God.

However, they are translating the SAME word!

The New Testament poses the same situation: "Happy" occurs 6 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. The English Standard Version of the New Testament has no instance of "happy" or "happiness".

The Greek word that KJV translates as "happy" is makarios, as used in John:

"I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." John 13:15-17 (KJV)

"I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." John 13:15-17 (ESV)

HAPPY/BLESSED: makarios (supremely blest, fortunate, well off)

The KJV translates makarios as "happy" while the ESV translates the same word as "blessed".

How often does "makarios" occur in the New Testament? 50 times!

There are other words used in the Bible that are similar to what we mean when we say "happy":

GLAD: samah (to brighten up, be blithe or gleesome)

REJOICES: gil (to spin round, rejoice; cringe in fear)

JOY: simha (blithesomeness or glee); from sameah (blithe or gleeful); from samah (to brighten up, be blithe or gleesome)

The point of all this is to highlight the frequency with which the Bible speaks of happiness. Whether we call it being "glad" or "rejoicing" or "joyful", the distinctions between the words are very small. All of the words describe an emotional response to something that happens.

For a Christian, nothing happens accidentally or randomly...all things are given by God for our good. Even the hard things, the painful things, the "crosses" in our life...all things are given by God for our ultimate good.

Does the Bible encourage Christians to seek happiness?

Yes! God wants His people to seek Him!

Use a Bible reference book and look up the verses that mention the Hebrew word "esher" and the Greek word "makarios". God's Word uses happiness to encourage His people. God presents happiness as something that should motivate us to obedience and worship. God exalts happiness as an incentive and a reward...a promise given to us of the glad consequences of making Him our Treasure.

Remember, "esher" and "makarios" are translated inconsistently. Regardless of how it is translated into English, the original word is the same! In the following examples, the word printed in bold is "esher" (Old Testament) or "makarios" (New Testament):

"Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole." Job 5:17-18 (KJV)

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." Psalms 1:1-2 (KJV)

DELIGHT: hepes (pleasure, desire, something valuable)

"Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord." Psalms 144:15 (KJV)

"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding." Proverbs 3:13 (KJV)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Matthew 5:3-12 (KJV)

REJOICE: chairo (to be "cheer"ful, calmly happy or well-off)

"Chairo" is used 77 times in the New Testament! In the KJV it is translated variously: farewell, be glad, God speed, greeting, hail, joy, joyfully and rejoice.

"Cheerfulness" is so closely related to "happiness" that the distinction is negligible.

"Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." John 20:29 (KJV)

"According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust." 1 Timothy 1:11 (KJV)

Amazing! Literally, this verse points to the Lord as the "happy God!"

The Bible is full of "happy" references to happiness. Translators may use different English words to communicate slight shades of implied meaning, but the basic original words remain constant.

"Happiness" has lately gotten a bad reputation. The value of happiness should not depend upon different levels of emotion or ectasy. The difference between joy and happiness is not measured by time or depth of feeling. Joy, rejoicing, blessing, blessed, gladness, contentment and satisfaction...all of these words communicate the basic emotion that is a consequence of regarding current events as good and favorable: in a word, happiness!

I believe that "happiness" is often denigrated because our fallen human condition tends toward seeking happiness from people and things that at best are only temporary, and at worst they are harmful and ultimately destructive.

We tend to reserve the word "joy" for emotion we feel when contemplating people and things that are longlasting or ultimately good and healthy.

However, in exalting "joy" over "happiness", we are falsely accusing the word "happy" of being cheap or tawdry. It is not.

"Happiness" deserves to be revived as a word that describes what God ultimately promises us: Life with Jesus will ultimately be good...very good!

And that hope makes me happy, right now!

Image provided by Matthew Hine,, Creative Commons License.

Monday, February 13, 2012

One Heart and Soul

One Heart and Soul

"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet." Acts 4:32-37

ONE HEART: kardia (the heart; figuratively, the thoughts or feelings or the mind; by analogy, the middle); from kar (heart)

Kardia literally is the organ that pumps blood through every part of our body. The organ's crucial importance to the body probably resulted in "kardia" becoming the word for thoughts and feelings, what we now think of as our mind.

"Heart" describes that part of our being that generates thoughts, attitudes and desires:

"What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander...This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me...Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart...As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience." (Matthew 15:18-19; Mark 7:6; Luke 2:19, 8:15)

Words and actions generally result from the thoughts and desires in our heart, although it is certainly possible to lie and pretend, living false to the thoughts and desires truly within us.

The Jews listening to Peter preach Christ were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). The early believers lived together in Jerusalem, having all things in common, sharing food together with "glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:46). Satan filled the heart of Ananias with a desire to lie (Acts 5:3). Stephen rebuked the Jewish leaders for being "stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart" (Acts 7:51).

Most importantly, the heart is that part of us which provides trust and dependence upon Christ:

"The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Romans 10:8-10, Ephesians 3:17 (ESV)

Luke described the Christians in Jerusalem as having one heart. This cannot mean they all had the exact same thoughts and desires, as if they were robots or clones. They certainly dressed differently, spoke differently, preferred different foods, lived with different families, loved different husbands and wives. Rather, having one heart refers specifically to their belief about Christ.

Luke's declaration focuses on "those who believed." With the heart being the center of thought and desire, concerning Christ, all the believers had the same thought and desire. They depended upon and lived according to the same faith: Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour. Every Christian in Jerusalem owned the same, great Treasure:

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Luke 12:34 (ESV)

"The eunuch said, - See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? - Philip said, - If you believe with all your heart, you may. - And he replied, - I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." acts 8:36-37

"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, - Let light shine out of darkness - has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (ESV)

"That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Colossians 2:2-3 (ESV)

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body." Colossians 3:15 (ESV)

The Christians were united in their thoughts and desires towards Christ. They were of one heart.

Luke also describes the Christians in Jerusalem as having one soul.

"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul." Acts 4:32 (ESV)

ONE SOUL: mia (one or first) and psyche (breath or by implication, spirit); from psycho (to breathe, voluntarily but gently)

"One soul" literally means breath, and it implies the spirit of a person. The Bible often uses another word for spirit:

PNEUMA: (a current of air, breath or spirit, the immortal soul of a human)

We can see the inter-connectedness of heart and soul here:

"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

SOUL: psyche, "thoughts"

SPIRIT: pneuma, "intentions"

HEART: kardia: "heart"

The soul and spirit of a person are closely connected and can both be included in "the heart" of a person. In this verse, "psyche" refers to the thoughts of a heart, and "pneuma" refers to the intentions of a heart.

THOUGHTS: enthymesis (deliberation); from enthymeomai (to be inspirited, to ponder); from en (in position) and thumos (passion, as if breathing hard); from thyo (to rush, as if breathing hard; to sacrifice or slaughter)

INTENTIONS: ennoia (thoughtfulness or understanding); from en (in position) and nous (the intellect or the mind)

Peter used the word "psyche", implying the process of deliberation or pondering, the passion of thinking or feeling.

Concerning faith in Christ, the Christians in Jerusalem were united in their thoughts and desires, which were motivated by a common passion: Jesus is Lord and Savior.

The center of a person is their "heart", through which their "soul" and "spirit" work. The "soul" produces thoughts which originate from the understanding of the "spirit".

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Estimate the number of churches in our small town, those churches with members who claim Christ as Lord and Savior. Multiply the number of churches by an average membership, perhaps 100 or so. How many Christians possibly live in our town? Were you Luke, writing about the Christians in our town, would you describe them us as having "one heart"? Why or why not? Is the state of Christian unity in our town glorifying to God? What opportunities is God providing for building up Christian unity in our town?

The most visible result of having a common heart and soul concerning Christ was generosity and compassion.

"No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common...There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." Acts 4:32,34-35 (ESV)

The Christians in Jerusalem had "all things in common".

COMMON: koinos (shared by all)

"Koinos" referred to anything touched or used by many people. Unwashed hands were described as "koinos":

"Some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed." Mark 7:2 (ESV)

Peter himself later experienced a moral conflict when it became clear to him that Jesus wanted him to stop regarding some foods as "koinos", or unclean:

"Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: - Rise, Peter; kill and eat. - But Peter said, - By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. - And the voice came to him again a second time, - What God has made clean, do not call common.” Acts 10:9-15 (ESV)

The writer of Hebrews rebuked those who reject faith in Christ as something unclean and common:

"How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned (koinos) the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?" Hebrews 10:29 (ESV)

Paul, however, took pride in calling our faith common:

"To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior." Titus 1:4 (ESV)

"Koinos" meant something dirty or unclean only when it was describing something touched and used by many people. The underlying meaning of the word was not based upon dirtiness, but upon the sharing of something with others.

The Christians in Jerusalem were moved by a single heart-felt motivation: "Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and all I have is from Him, given to me to give to others."

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is this an unrealistic situation for today? What parts of this unity could we begin doing in our town? Is it okay to regard some things as personal, not meant for others to use, regardless of need? How is "need" to be measured and verified?

Joseph Barnabas, "son of encouragement", sold a field and brought the money to the apostles (Acts 4:37). Earlier, Luke explains that many wealthy Christians sold their property, bringing the proceeds to the apostles for distribution.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What benefit is it to give a small group of leaders the power, and the responsibility, to distribute charitable donations given by others? Why not simply publish a list of the needs, and ask individual Christians to do the right thing? What policy and practices should we as a church be following as we collect and distribute donations?

We skipped over an important element of generosity:

"With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." Acts 4:33 (ESV)

Luke credits the power and grace behind intense generosity as being a result of the apostles "giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus". Powerful preaching was also referenced in an earlier verse:

"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31 (ESV)

TESTIMONY: martyrion (something evidential, evidence given); from martys (a witness, a "martyr")

"Martyrion" is first seen in the New Testament, describing a leper healed by Jesus:

"A leper came to him and knelt before him, saying - Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. - And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying - I will; be clean. - And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him - See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Matthew 8:2-4 (ESV)

"Proof" here is the same Greek word, martyrion. Convincing evidence of supernatural healing required the healed person to offer a gift at the temple and allow the priests to see for themselves a healed body.

Jesus warned His disciples about the power, and the danger, involved in being a witness for Him:

"They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death." Luke 21:12-16 (ESV)

Paul later emphasized the same power, hinting also at the danger, for all believers who witness of Jesus:

"I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ...Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God." 2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Look back at the passages quoted from Luke 21, 2 Timothy 1, and 1 Corinthians 1. What things are involved or required for successful witnessing of Jesus?

  • Persecution
  • Wisdom from Jesus
  • Betrayal
  • Enriched speech and knowledge
  • Spiritual gifts
  • Hope in Christ
  • Boldness
  • Suffering
  • The gospel
  • The power of God

Image provided by qthomasbower, Creative Commons License

Monday, February 6, 2012

Then We Worship

Then We Worship

"Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self." John Calvin

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, - Give me a drink, - you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:10 (ESV)

Worship requires two distinct elements of knowledge: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.

Alone, neither is sufficient for worship.

We can recognize the majesty and power of God only in comparing it to our own misery and poverty. In other words, imagine if it were possible for a human to have no true self-awareness, no knowledge of their own limited power or intelligence. Allowed to observe God or to sense God's work, the human would simply accept every observation as completely normal. The human, in fact, would be unable to place any value or worth upon God's work.

It would be similar to bringing an infant, perhaps a baby less than a year old, within sight and smell of a lion, or an erupting volcano. As long as it were warm, dry and fed, the infant would regard the powerful danger as nothing more than a picture on a wall or a fly on a table or a stuffed animal toy. Human instinct would prompt the infant to explore or attempt to discover more information, but there would be absolutely no impulse to cower or prostrate or wonder or admire.

There would be no worship.

From the other side: Imagine someone, if it were possible, who had no awareness of God, no ability to see outside of themselves, no sense of the majesty and power of God. For this person all they know is themselves. They know precisely what power and control and intellect they possess.

Yet they have no knowledge of anyone else. Every other person, including God, appears to them to have precisely the same power and control and intellect that they themselves possess. They see nothing different, or better, or stronger, in any other person or God. It would be similar to a infant born deaf and blind, brought before a lion or volcano...or God. The baby would be ignorant of any danger. The baby would be conscious of nothing special or different.

There would be no worship.

In reality, humans have a strange and inconsistent mixture of knowledge, both of themselves and of God. For some people, their knowledge of themselves is pitifully small, easily excused or ignored, thus making it easy to favorably compare themselves to others, including God. For a person ignorant of their deepest weaknesses, there is little need to worship God as being more powerful or more intelligent.

There would be no worship.

For others, their knowledge of God is pitifully small. They do see clearly their own faults, their own weaknesses and mistakes, but with only other humans with which to compare, it's easy to find a group over which they might feel superior, or at least comfortable. Without much knowledge of God's majesty and power, their own portion of strength and goodness seems quite sufficient.

There would be no worship.

For the one who is moved to worship God, it must be seen as a miracle. Two opposing yet essential areas of knowledge must be present, and balanced. To be sure, we all start small. Our knowledge of ourselves when young is very small, and our knowledge of God is simple. Yet worship does not require much knowledge, only that there is knowledge of both areas, ourselves and God, and both knowledges must be simultaneous and balanced.

Then we worship.

I have seen the consequences of unbalanced, inconsistent knowledge of God and of ourselves. There was a time in my life when my knowledge of God was shallow, yet my introspective self-awareness was deep and influential. I sensed there was a God, more a force or mysterious being, that created the world and functioned as a Watcher. Yet I understood clearly the deepest thoughts within my own heart. I could describe my youngest behavior in terms of inner desires and outside influences. I felt alone in crowds, self-aware of every facial expression, every word...scanning others for the slightest indication of how I was being perceived...continually adjusting my behavior to meet my surroundings.

This extreme, imbalanced relationship between my knowledge of myself compared to my knowledge of God made worship non-existent. I felt no impulse to kneel or bow or pray or praise God. I had such a small knowledge base of spiritual things compared to that of my own emotional and physical influences.

That was about forty years ago. I was young, on the verge of jumping off the edge at which high school ends and the world begins. I still have the same, probably much more, level of self-awareness, introspection...sometimes it's almost a social disablility.

Yet now I often worship God. Sincerely. Inwardly and genuinely.

I'm not talking about the behavior others see: going to church, reading the Bible, praying outloud, listening to Christian music, hands up, head bowed. Those are all behaviors that may, or may not, indicate what's going on in my heart.

I'm saying that often, emotionally and mentally, but rarely physically, I kneel on my knees, or lie flat on the floor, heart rent with the largeness of God: His power and creativity, His intelligence and wisdom, His sovereign control over every detail of my life, and His mercy and grace.

What has changed?

I know more about God.

My knowledge of God has caught up with my knowledge of myself. More than simply catching up, my increasing knowledge of God has deepened my knowledge of myself. Together, the comparing and the contrasting of myself with God, moves me. It overwhelms me at times.

And I worship.

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other...

"In the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone...

"On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity."

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One, Chapter One

Image provided by chrisyarzab, /, Creative Commons License