Monday, October 29, 2012

Spiritual Ignorance

Spiritual Ignorance

Paul described his past as a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent. He knows firsthand how the "certain persons" are acting in Ephesus, because he once was the same. He used the Law of God as a weapon and a rod, exerting control over others and protecting his own power and influence.

Paul had used the law unlawfully.

But Jesus graciously forgave and transformed Paul.

"But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (ESV)

Ignorance causes unbelief, and actions flow from that unbelief that can hurt one's own self and others.

IGNORANTLY: agnoeo (not to know, to ignore); from a (not) and noeo (to exercise the mind, to observe, to comprehend or heed); from nous (the intellect, the mind, meaning); from ginosko (to know absolutely)

We use a similar word in English: agnostic. "Agnostic" often implies that "it's God's fault". An agnostic will say, "I don't know that God exists, neither do I know that God does not exist," implying God's failure to adequately communicate or make a difference. Agnostic means ignorance of God with little inclination to remedy the ignorance.

Paul's words, at first glance, seem to say that Paul received mercy from Jesus only because his sin was rooted in ignorance, as if any other origin of sin would have prevented such mercy. Many people believe in levels of sin, with God unable to forgive some sins, but easily overlooking “minor” sins, or sins of ignorance.

BECAUSE: hoti (demonstrative, that; causative, because)

"Because" can be demonstrative or causative. Demonstrative means "because" is best translated as "that", a word that describes which object is being pointed to, as in "Hand me THAT dish, please."

Causative means "because" indicates the reason for an action, as in "I fell BECAUSE I slipped on the ice."

The context of this verse indicates that the word "because" is causative. Paul is explaining the reason for mercy. Paul required, and received, mercy because of his sin of ignorance. Paul is not saying that only sins of ignorance will be forgiven, but that merciful forgiveness is required in all cases of sin. In Paul's circumstance, it was his sin of ignorance that required mercy, and he's thankful that God's grace met that need.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Paul was blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent. Of what was he ignorant when he was living in this way? What major decisions or circumstances have you experienced that may have been influenced by ignorance on your part? When have you ever been confronted with the stark knowledge of your own ignorance regarding something important?

First comes ignorance, then comes unbelief.

In that order.

Paul's ignorance was the direct cause of his unbelief, which then gave birth to sinful behavior: blasphemy, persecution and insolence.

The remedy for ignorance is more that simple teaching or informational education. Jesus often encountered ignorance in his disciples, despite simple, clear explanations.

"While they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, - Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. - But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying." Luke 9:43-45 (ESV)

"They did not understand", is the English translation of the very same word used by Paul: agnoeo (not to know, to ignore).

Despite simple words, the disciples remained ignorant of the very important message given to them by Jesus. They wanted to understand, and it bothered them that they didn't understand, but still the fact remained: they were ignorant.

What didn't they understand?

Fourteen simple words! They didn't connect "Son of Man" with Jesus, and they failed to see in what way the "Son of Man" would be delivered into the hands of men.

The result of their ignorance was unbelief. That is, they did not act upon what Jesus said, and they did not allow it to affect their thoughts and desires, other than to feel fear. Their ignorance led to unbelief which expressed itself in sinful fear.

Another example of the sad results of ignorance is in how people become hardened and impenitent due to ignorance.

"Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed." Romans 2:4-5 (ESV)

Again, "not knowing" is the same word translated elsewhere as "ignorant". Ignorance of the foundational truth that God is kind leads people to lack faith in God...they do not believe that He is kind. Therefore, despite countless instances of mercy shown to them by God, they remain ignorant of His patient, kind forgiveness, and their hearts become sin-hardened. Unless a miracle happens, these hard and impenitent hearts will end their lives on earth and spend eternity in precisely the circumstance in which they hoped for: an eternity without God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Compare your life now with your past life. Of what were you ignorant that you now understand much better? In what things are some of your non-Christian friends ignorant? What do you feel you are still ignorant of, things that other Christians seem to be so sure of?

What is the remedy for ignorance?

Notice what Paul said:

"Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (ESV)

Paul did not cease to be a sinner first before Jesus showed him mercy. No! Paul was in the very middle of his sin when Jesus broke through to his sin-hardened heart and showered grace upon him, making Paul realize that God had already shown him mercy the moment that Christ Jesus had died for Paul's sins.

Before God acted, mercy was hidden from Paul...he was ignorant of God's mercy until God broke through that ignorance.

The disciples of Jesus suffered from this same malady.

"They did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it." Luke 9:45 (ESV)

CONCEALED: parakalypto (to cover alongside, to veil); from para (near or beside) and kalypto (to cover up); akin to klepto (to filch) and krypto (to conceal by covering)

Humans, all of us, have a congenital defect. Each one of us is born spiritually blind. We are born unable to see essential spiritual truths. It's like living in a world where all the important signs and messages are written in infrared ink, but our eyes can't detect infrared light rays. The truth is there, but we lack the ability to see it.

Moses spoke of this spiritual blindness.

"Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." Deuteronomy 29:2-4 (ESV)

The people of Israel had experienced miracles of God, yet they meant little to nothing for them. Their heart did not understand what they had physically seen and heard. Just as the disciples stood there, hearing the words of Jesus with their physical ears, but it meant little or nothing to them.

Ignorance gives birth to apathy.

"They say to God, - Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?" Job 21:14-15 (ESV)

The ignorant condition in which we are born quickly becomes a lack of desire to have that condition remedied. God becomes at best a superstitious, religious concept that has little to do with what we naturally desire here on earth.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What is the world's perception of the word "ignorant" and what it means? In the world's mind, what causes ignorance and what is the world's remedy for ignorance?

What is the remedy for ignorance? Is it a better educational system? Is it the world wide web internet? Is it found in some still-hidden scripture or religion?

Isaiah says it best:

"Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: - I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them." Isaiah 42:5-9 (ESV)

It is God Who can remedy our ignorance. God alone.

Isaiah describes God's relationship with His Son, the One given as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations. It is God's power, through Jesus, that opens spiritually blind eyes and frees spiritually imprisoned sinners.

It is God's power that remedies our ignorance.

Unless God intervenes in a person's life, they remain as they were naturally born: ignorant.

"They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand." Isaiah 44:18 (ESV)

Understanding spiritual truth is a blessing of God, an undeserved gift given to those who would not be able to see unless God opened their eyes. That is why Jesus blessed those that followed him:

"But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear." Matthew 13:16 (ESV)

Seeing and hearing with spiritual understanding is evidence that God has worked a miracle in a person's life.

Simon Peter understood that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and this spiritual understanding was possible only because God chose to bless Simon:

"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 16:17 (ESV)

The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, confessed his own ignorance and inability to be truly wise:

"I said, - I will be wise,- but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?" Eccl 7:23-24 (ESV)

This was Paul's experience. His ignorance of the truth concerning Jesus led Paul to lack any faith in Jesus, hardened his heart, and made him a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent.

Until Jesus opened his eyes.

Ironically, Paul's spiritual eyes were opened to the truth of Jesus at the very moment that his physical eyes became blind.

"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

"In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, - Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. - And I said, - Who are you, Lord?- And the Lord said, - I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles - to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." Acts 26:9-18 (ESV)

Jesus broke through the sin-hardened ignorance of Paul, giving him spiritual eyes to see and understand the truth about Jesus, making Paul His servant, an instrument through which Jesus would perform the same miracle to hundreds of others.

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. - For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 (ESV)

"Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." Psalms 119:18 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Image a friend coming to you and saying that they feel ignorant about spiritual things. What would you advise them to do? What is the connection between spiritual activities - study of the Bible, prayer and worship - with the fact that God alone can open a person's eyes to spiritual things? Do our efforts count toward fixing our ignorance? Is one who spends more time studying or praying less ignorant that someone with less time available?

Image provided by Quinn Dombrowski, Creative Commons License.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Scattered Seed

Scattered Seed

The religious rulers had decided upon a policy regarding the heresy called Christianity: Attack, Assault and Arrest. Saul became their chief Enforcer, ravaging the church in Jerusalem and surrounding towns.

"Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city." Acts 8:4-8 (ESV)

The Christians were scattered.

SCATTERED: diaspeiro (to sow throughout, to distribute); from dia (through, as a channel) and speiro (to scatter or sow); from spao (to draw)

Elsewhere, the Bible describes this scattering as extending throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, as far as Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch. (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19)

Jerusalem is in the region called Judea, which includes Mount Ebal to the north and the Dead Sea (Lake Asphaltitus) to the south.

Phenice (Phoenix) is modern-day Loutro, a harbor on the island of Crete.

Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean.

Antioch (Hatay, Turkey) is about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, on the Orontes River, at the meeting of the mountains of Lebanon and Taurus.

Saul was forcibly entering houses of families known to be Christian, violently arresting the adults, binding and imprisoning them.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How did Saul know which houses to invade? Could the same thing happen in our town, in our current political and social condition? If such persecution began today, to where would you most likely escape? What towns, states or countries would you right now expect to be more open to religious freedom?

"Scattered" is from a word that means to sow seed for growing plants. The root word, "speiro" occurs 57 times in the New Testament, all of the instances reference some spiritual truth that has its parallel in sowing seeds.

Jesus described Scripture that speaks of God's kingdom as being seeds, sown in different types of soil, with different results with each sowing. (Matthew 13:18)

Another time, Jesus used a story of good seeds and weed seeds, meaning people chosen by God for eternal life in His presence, and people destined for an eternity separated from Him. (Matthew 13:31)

Jesus compared Himself to a farmer sowing good seed. He was describing people who were either "sons of the kingdom" or "sons of the evil one". The good seed were given His righteous standing with God. The weeds, the "sons of the evil one" were gathered and burned with fire.

The apostle Paul considered his preaching to be a form of sowing spiritual seeds, bringing a harvest of people belonging to the kingdom of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 9)

Our natural bodies are also described as a type of seed. Born into the world, with weakness and sin, at death our bodies are buried into the ground. For the Christian, however, that burial is a spiritual sowing of seed that grows into a glorious, powerful, imperishible new spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15)

Sowing seed is sometimes compared with charitable contributions: tithes, offerings and gifts. God has promised to meet every need of ours, physical as well as spiritual, and His generosity should encourage us to be willing to give freely to other. The apostle Paul described gifts as seeds of generosity that will bring a rich harvest, for ourselves as well as for the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 9)

Finally, sowing seed is compared to thoughts, words, images and behavior that we allow into our lives.

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV)

The violent ravaging by Saul resulted in sowing of spiritual seeds. Christians fled the oppressive and dangerous city of Jerusalem, many ending up hundreds of miles away, in cities and cultures completely different than their own.

Everywhere they went, they spoke about what was most important them: the words of Jesus.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? It seems that our all-powerful, sovereign, wise and good God could have spread the words of Jesus in a way that did not require such a violent, tragic initiation. What might have been God's reason? What is it about violence and oppression that would allow an advantage for preaching the gospel to others? Are the churches in our city too comfortable, too inoffensive, too quiet?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Christ's Church Ravaged and Scattered

Christ's Church Ravaged and Scattered

Stephen was stoned to death by enraged religious leaders who felt threatened by the growing community Christians, among whom Stephen had become one of the most outspoken.

The religious rules were Jews, locked in tradition and pride, relying upon their ancestral relationship with God. They had charged Stephen with heresy. Stephen responded with a carefully built argument that revealed both the faithfulness of God and the fickleness of the Jews. Generation after generation of religious leaders had rebelled against God's direction and killed God's prophets, yet they still maintained that they were the guardians of the faith.

As guardians of the faith, they believed their fear and anger justified the killing of Stephen.

"And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." Acts 8:1-3 (ESV)

Saul was one of the religious leaders. He was young - today he might be known as an intern or apprentice - he was not allowed to join in the actual act of executing Stephen, but he happily took charge of the coats and jackets laid down by the others.

Stoning heretics is hard work.

The execution of Stephen set off a pogrom, an organized massacre of helpless people. The Christian community in Jerusalem fled, hiding themselves in the outlying regions of Judea and Samaria.

Except the apostles.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why did the apostles remain? What advantage might they have seen in staying in Jerusalem? What prevented them from fleeing?

Stephen was buried. "Great lamentation" implies a large, public burial ceremony. It would be difficult for the religious leaders to prevent the community from weeping. Tears of sadness were not a threat to the the leaders, as much as the words of Christ. That is what the leaders persecuted: faith in Jesus as the Christ, the living Son of God.

Young Saul, the fresh-faced religious intern, was now given his first assignment: Purge the heretics!

RAVAGING: lymaino (to soil, to insult or maltreat); from lyo (to "loosen", to reduce to sand)

Jesus often described his own body as a temple of God:

"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. - The Jews then said, - It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days? - But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken." John 2:19-22 (ESV)

The religious leaders could understand the concept in literal terms, thinking Jesus was threatening to destroy their temple. But the disciples understood the spiritual meaning. From that point on, their faith in Christ became a spiritual building, a temple.

The enraged Jewish religious leaders did not believe Jesus was alive, but they did recognize the threat of the Christian community, structured and organized, relying upon one another, just as blocks were built up in a building, giving strength and support to each part.

Saul's assignment was to locate each building block and reduce it to sand. Destroy enough blocks and the entire building will collapse.

The Christians did not flee Jerusalem on the day on which Stephen was killed. They went into hiding, trusting in becoming anonymous in a big city, retreating to their small homes, hidden along alleys and small streets.

A perfect mission for the young enforcer.

Saul entered house after house, arresting family after family.

DRAGGED: syro (to trail); akin to haireo (to take for oneself, to prefer); from airo (to lift, take up, raise, keep in suspense or sail away)

"Dragged" implies a highly physical, one-on-one, confrontation. It implies that Saul was muscular and intimidating. The Roman government would not have assigned him a centurian guards, nor would they have permitted the Jewish religious leaders to have many weapons, certainly not more than a common sword or dagger. Raw violence, coarse threats and rope sufficed for Paul.

The unrelenting, daily home invasions, beatings and arrests began to accomplish the religious leader's goal: Christians fled Jerusalem and the organized Christian community became scattered, broken down and reduced to lonely families, hiding in villages far from Jerusalem.

Jesus expected this to happen.

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." Matthew 10:16-25 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why did Jesus not prepare His followers to fight back? How does this apply to current issues of gun control and the right to carry personal firearms?

Image provided by David M. Goehring, Creative Commons License

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sound Doctrine

Sound Doctrine

Paul grouped six terms together, breaking them into three pair of related words to describe the audience for whom the Law was intended:

"The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane." (1 Timothy 1:9)

  • Lawless: Those with no law, not included in any government or supervisory system
  • Disobedient: Those with law, but refusing to obey, rejecting governing authority
  • Ungodly: The irreverent, those not adoring God
  • Sinners: The losers, those who miss the mark and fail to obtain a prize
  • Unholy: Those in the wrong, those who are untrue, weak, and common
  • Profane: The wicked, those who live worthless lives, filled with coarse, easily-satisfied appetites that are often based upon superstition or myth

The three groups of descriptors can be separated according to their focus:

  • Lawless and Disobedient: Authority
  • Ungodly and Sinners: Pleasure
  • Unholy and Profane: History

It's as if beginning a study of human sociology, asking three questions, researching three grand themes of human life and culture:

  • What directs and controls human behavior?
  • What do humans desire and seek after?
  • What have humans accomplished?

Perhaps, rather than an objective study of humans in general, it would be more meaningful to personalize those questions.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What directs and controls your daily behavior? What do you desire and seek after, more than anything else? What have you accomplished since your birth? How would your answers differ from those of a scientist who had observed you, 24-hours-a-day, in every circumstance?

Paul has explained that God laid down the law as one sweeping, broad message to all humans, all religions, Jew or Gentile, past, present and future:

Your behavior, your desires and your accomplishments all prove that you are not righteous and you need a Forgiver, a Redeemer...a Saviour.

Now, Paul moves from the general to the specific. He lists eight specific behavior which characterize the unrighteous:

  • FATHER-STRIKER: patraloas (a parricide, a father-killer); from pater ("father") and halon (a threshing-floor, as rolled hard; grain and chaff); from heilisso (to coil or wrap)
  • MOTHER-STRIKER: metraloas (a mother-thresher, matricide); from meter ("mother") and halon (a threshing-floor, as rolled hard; grain and chaff); from heilisso (to coil or wrap)
  • MURDERERS: androphonos (a murderer); from aner (a man) and pheno (to slay)
  • SEXUALLY IMMORAL: pornos (a male prostitute or debauchee, one given to sensual excesses); from pernemi (to sell)
  • HOMOSEXUALITY: arsenokoites (a sodomite, one given to unnatural copulation); from arren (male) and koite (a couch, cohabitation, the male sperm); from keimai (to lie outstretched)
  • ENSLAVERS: andrapodistes (an enslaver, bringing men to one's feet); from aner (a man) and pous ("foot")
  • LIARS: pseustes (a falsifier); from pseudomai (to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood)
  • PERJURERS: epiorkos (on oath, a false forswearer); from epi (superimposition, over, upon) and horkos (a limit, restraint or oath); from herkos (a fence)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Looking at the eight definitions, do any modern meanings surprise you? Do you see a pattern or progression to Paul's list? Do any of the eight behaviors seem out of place or inappropriately listed?

Paul connects these eight behaviors, and the six general descriptors previous, to one over-arching class:

"Whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine."

CONTRARY: antikeimai (to lie opposite, to be adverse or repugnant to); from anti (opposite or instead of) and keimai (to lie outstretched, utterly prostrate)

The root word of "contrary" is the same as that of "homosexuality": to lie outstretched, utterly prostrate, as well as the word "made" or "laid out", found in verse nine.

SOUND: hygiaino (to have sound health, to be well, uncorrupt or true); from hygies (healthy, well or true); from auxano (to grow or "wax", to enlarge)

DOCTRINE: didaskalia (instruction); from didaskalos (an instructor); from didasko (to teach); from dao (to learn)

"Sound doctrine" is instruction that maintains, or causes, good health, whether physical, mental or spiritual.

A foundational tenet of education is that something is learned when it results in changed behavior. Unless a student can actually perform or accomplish something, the lesson they've studied has not yet been learned.

In other words, our actions show best what we've learned well. Our words, our diplomas, our books and blogs and bumper stickers all mean little unless our lifestyle behaviors reflect the fact that we've learned what we talk about.

It's not enough to simply say, to others or to ourselves, "Quit being bad." To acknowledge sinfulness in the general is only a start. To stop at "Don't kill parents" or "Don't practice homosexuality" is a poor use of God's Word.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Take each of the eight sinful behaviors listed by Paul and try to see what foundational truth, what "sound doctrine" they violate or harm. How are each of the eight sins unhealthy?

  • Parent-killers:
  • Murderers:
  • Sexually immoral:
  • Homosexuality:
  • Enslavers:
  • Liars:
  • Perjurers:

Image provided by Korean Resource Center,, Creative Commons License

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Prayer

The Prayer

As they were stoning Stephen, his last words were to Jesus alone, as final prayers:

"He called out, - Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. - And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, - Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 7:59-60 (ESV)

SPIRIT: pneuma (a current of air, breath or breeze; figurative for the human rational soul, vital principle, mental disposition; used to refer to an angel, daemon, God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit); from pneo (to breathe hard, a breeze)

Stephen was dying.

His last words reflect what he passionately believed was true: Jesus was his Lord, his body was injured beyond repair, the only imperishable portion of his life was his spirit, the very breath of God given him at his conception, returning now to the One to Whom it truly belonged.

  • The Babe in the womb of Mary was conceived by God's Breath.
  • Jesus assured His disciples that God's breath would speak through them, especially in times of danger and weakness.
  • God's spirit within us is the only part of us that is capable of seeking and desiring God.
  • The sudden insights, the discovery of indisputable truth, is due to the very breath of God entering your being.
  • Only in our spirit can God be truly worshiped.
  • Only in our spirit can we truly experience life.
  • A Christian is born twice, first given a fleshly body made animate by a human spirit through the breath of God, then given a divine spirit through the breath of Christ.
  • The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus frees us from the law of sin and death.
  • For the Christian, death is merely a doorway to God Himself, a heavenly adoption and redemption.
  • God's breath in us, His Holy Spirit, is our direct, eternal connection with Himself, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

(Matthew 1:20, 10:20, 26:41; Luke 12:12; John 3:6, 4:23, 6:63; Romans 8:1, 23; 1 Corinthians 2:12)

"He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." 1 Corinthians 6:17 (ESV)

"In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body --- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free --- and all were made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)

"The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (ESV)

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. - Blessed indeed, - says the Spirit, - that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" Revelation 14:13 (ESV)

"The Spirit and the Bride say, - Come. - And let the one who hears say, - Come. - And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

In one, brief, flashing instant, Stephen experienced every implication of the word, "spirit", seeing with his own eyes the object and focus of his entire life's desire. In one instant Stephen saw his future: Jesus.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What helps make it possible for ordinary people to remember daily their spiritual life? What helps you keep uppermost in your mind the truth of the invisible, but ultimately most powerful, aspect of your life in Christ: His Spirit within you? Is it possible to experience rapturous worship without experiencing physical pain and death?

Stephen's final words were ones of supplication:

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 7:60 (ESV)

HOLD AGAINST: histemi (stand) and autos (self)

Stephen's prayer implies that Jesus could choose to hold this sin against those who executed him, or not. To hold against means to stand their guilt in their place, to view them not as human beings, but as sin.

SIN: hamartia (sin); from hamartano (to miss the mark and not share in the prize, to err, to sin)

Imagine yourself competing for the prize in an archery contest. The prize represents a deep inner desire of yours, to qualify for acceptance onto our nation's Olympic athletic team. You've practiced, you've shown superior skills in smaller, local contests. You draw back the bow, you sight the center of the target and release the arrow.

And you miss.

You misjudged the wind, you chose a defective arrow, you held too long, you released too soon, you took your eyes off the target...time after time you miss the mark and your score at the end is humiliatingly low.

From that day on your identity in your own mind is "Loser". You missed the mark and your judgemental conscience replacing your name, your worth, and your future with the word, "Loser".

The word used here for sin does not necessarily mean malicious, selfish or rebellious intent to disobey or pervert. It can also include sins of omission, sins of weakness, sins of simply being human.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? On what grounds could Stephen ask Jesus to forgive these murderers? Biblically, how are sins resulting from human weakness forgiven by God? Are the actions of Stephen's killers resulting from unavoidable human weakness or purposeful intent to destroy and pervert? How do you deal with your own judgmental conscience when it holds your sin against you? How does God deal with it?

Image provided by John Trainor, Creative Commons License, cropped by the author