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Monday, February 25, 2013

Acts 8: Christian or Churchian?

Acts 8: Christian or Churchian?

Acts 8:18-19

Wide landscape view, deep blue sky, horizon marked by distant green trees, flat land. A small, white church building stands in the center of the frame, with a tall belfry and sharp steeple. The building is flanked on both sides with green trees. A small white house, perhaps the parsonage, peeks from behind the trees on the left side. The image evokes peaceful, quiet faith. Is the faith in the building, in the power of peace, or in their God?

What has gone before...

Simon believed, and was baptized, and must have been among the crowd that received the Holy Spirit. He understood that Peter and John had a special relationship with God that gave them the authority, or the power, to confer the Holy Spirit upon others.

Simon wanted the same authority, the same power, as Peter and John.

Moving on...

Acts 8:18-19 (ESV) "Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, - Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

This is the same word used to describe the authority and power of Christ (Matthew 7:29; 9:6). This is the power given to the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:1). It was the power offered by the devil (Luke 4:6). It is the power of God to cast souls into hell (Luke 12:5). It was the power of darkness that murdered Christ (Luke 22:53).

Pilate claimed to have this power over all who lived in Jerusalem, yet Jesus claimed that no one has power except that given by God (John 19:10-11).

Simon sought the authority to confer power upon others. He wanted to be able to lay hands on people, causing them to receive the Holy Spirit. He wanted power beyond that already given him by God.

Simon wanted to be a "grand wizard", as was Peter and John, at least in his estimation. His offer to purchase a divine power seems to have sprung directly from his previous life as a magician.

Peter's response to Simon was direct and strong, even harsh:

"But Peter said to him, - May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" Acts 8:20 (ESV)

Simon called it "power", and Peter called it "the gift of God".

GIFT OF GOD: dorea (a gratuity) and theos (a deity); from doron (a present, specially a sacrifice)

Peter regarded the "gift of God" as being the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

"As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, - John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. -If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" Acts 11:15-17 (ESV)

Jesus described Himself as "the gift of God" (John 4:10). Paul specifically described God's grace as a gift:

"If many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many." Romans 5:15 (ESV)

"God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work...Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" 2 Corinthians 9:8,15 (ESV)

GRACE: charis (graciousness, as gratifying); from chairo (to be "cheer"ful, calmly happy or well-off, to be well)

At the heart of every gift of God is grace: the gift of happiness and well-being, of all sufficiency and abundance. Whether expressed in boldly proclaiming Christ, or in miracles of healing and restoration, the ultimate goal and purpose of God's Holy Spirit in our life is that of grace: undeserved, gracious treatment that brings happiness and satisfaction.

Simon was light-years away from happiness and satisfaction.

"You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:21-23 (ESV)

HEART NOT RIGHT: kardia (the heart; the thoughts or feelings of one's mind; the middle of a person); from kar ("heart") and ou euthys (not straight, not level, not true); from eu (well) and tithemi (to place, in a passive or horizontal posture)

Simon's thoughts and feelings were misplaced. His fundamental desires and understandings were out of order, out of place and warped.

Peter's term for people who have hearts that are not right is "unrighteous":

"The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority...They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!" 2 Peter 2:9-10, 14 (ESV)

Peter confronted Simon's wickedness.

WICKEDNESS: kakia (badness, depravity, malignity or trouble); from kakos (intrinsically worthless, depraved or injurious)

It is difficult to imagine Simon as a Christian. He thought he could obtain divine power through buying it with silver. Peter confronts his deep, inner wickedness, using a word that is often translated as malice. Similar wicked maliciousness is found in the Bible describing the "unrighteous", those doomed to eternal wrath.

Yet Simon's desire, on the surface, was good. The power demonstrated by Peter and John was godly power, obviously approved of by God, working miraculous changes in people, all for the good.

Peter, however, saw the root of wickedness that motivated Simon's desire from the beginning: bitterness and iniquity.

"For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:23 (ESV)

BITTERNESS: pikria (acridity, especially poison); from pikros (sharp, pungent, acrid); perhaps from pegnymi (to fix, as a "peg"; to set up a tent)

INIQUITY: adikia (injustice, moral wrongfulness of character, life or act); from adikos (unjust, wicked, treacherous, heathen)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was Simon a genuine believer? Have you ever met a person similar to Simon? How was your conversion different from that of Simon's? Is it important that a person's standing with God be clearly understood by others?

Peter saw beneath the surface appearance of Simon, discerning the intent of his heart, the purpose of his thoughts and emotions. Asking for the power to confer the Holy Spirit upon others was not sin. Offering to purchase this authority was foolish, but not a grave sin. There was, however, deep within Simon, a piercing bitterness that motivated him to lust for the power. Peter saw that Simon was bound, body and soul, to wicked desires.

We know little about Simon. Little is revealed that would explain how his bitter entanglement in sin began, or what evidence of it was seen by Peter. This, however, was not the first time that Peter had discerned wickedness deeply hidden by cheerful faces. Peter confronted the secret lies of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1).

How could Simon be harboring deep, acrid bitterness, being bound by wicked thoughts and desires, after hearing and accepting the words of salvation from Philip, after joyfully being baptized, after being part of a group which had experienced the Holy Spirit's falling upon them?

Christians are not immune to bitterness and wickedness. Christians remain human, even after spiritual conversion to children of God, and humans on earth are wicked.

All humans.

"All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. - Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. - The venom of asps is under their lips. - Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." Romans 3:12-14 (ESV)

Paul was citing Psalms 10 when he condemned all humanity as "full of curses and bitterness". Yet later he used the same words in warning to Christians:

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

The Ephesian Christians were sealed for the day of redemption and Christ had forgiven them, yet still Paul felt he needed to urge them to put aside their bitterness and malice.

We cannot be quick to heedlessly dismiss Simon's sin as due to a failure to accept Christ and become a Christian.

It is possible that Simon was a genuine Christian. More than possible, it seems probable that he was a child of God, however dirty his heart appears.

Christians require confrontation of their sinful behavior, or at least their tendency toward sinful behavior, or their desire for sinful behavior.

Simon's wickedness is not necessarily evidence that he was not a believer.

It is the sad tendency of genuine Christians to relax in God's grace and flirt with the sin that had once separated them from their Saviour. Free from guilt of sin, free from fear of God's wrath, we tend to imagine ourselves free to dress ourselves at times in our old clothing.

Peter described this as a Christian cover-up.

"Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God." 1 Peter 2:16 (ESV)

"Evil" is the same word as "wickedness" or "malice".

Peter's response to Simon, while harsh and confrontational, supports the notion that Peter yet considered Simon to be a Christian:

"Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:22-23 (ESV)

Peter did not urge Simon to "believe on the Lord Jesus". He did not call him a "child of wrath", nor did he describe him as "seed sown along the path", snatched up by the evil one. Peter did not treat Simon as he had treated Anania and Sapphira, predicting their immediate death and dismissing them without any suggestion of redemption or forgiveness.

Rather, Peter urged Simon to deal with his sin as only a Christian can deal with any sin: repent and seek forgiveness.

REPENT: metanoeo (to think differently, to think afterwards, to reconsider or feel compunction); from meta (accompaniment, "amid", association or succession; participation, proximity, transfer or sequence)

Divine intervention is required for a person to think differently, to regard their condition as sinful. Natural, unsaved, unredeemed people resist the notion that they have sinned.

PRAY: deomai (to beg, as if binding oneself; petition); from deo (to bind)

Only believers pray. Only believers have a heart that has been soften and humiliated, made willing to cling to the feet of a Judge, begging for mercy.

Only a Christian can repent of sin and seek forgiveness. Only a Christian can be given a heart that recognizes sin, and sees God as Saviour, and seeks His forgiveness.

Unbelievers do not recognize their sin. Unbelievers see pain and sorrow follow their choices, but they blame others, or they change behavior to improve their condition, or they curse God.

"People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds." Revelations 16:10-11 (ESV)

God does not forgive unbelievers. God pours wrath upon those who are blind to their sin and unwilling to think differently.

"Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth...Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you...Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." Revelations 2:16; 3:3,16-17 (ESV)

Did Simon repent? Did he agree with Peter's assessment of his inward, sinful condition? Did he regard Jesus as his Only Hope, his Merciful Judge Who forgives?

"And Simon answered, - Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me." Acts 8:24 (ESV)

What had Peter said? What fearful consequence Peter described concerning Simon's sin if left unforgiven? Four woes appear imminent unless Simon's heart becomes straight, free from bitterness and iniquity.

  • Perish
  • Neither part nor lot
  • Gall
  • Bond

PERISH: eien (might) and eis (to or into) and apoleia (ruin or loss, whether physical, spiritual or eternal); from apollymi (to destroy fully; to perish or lose, literal or figurative); from apo ("off" or away) and ollumi (to destroy; ruin, death or punishment)

Three Greek words are used to describe this first consequence of unforgiven sin. We translate the three words with a single English word: "perish". Together, the three words imply that the destruction is not certain, but it is final and catastrophic. The conditional word, "might", probably refers to the issue of repentence and forgiveness. Peter is acting as judge, determinining Simon's guilt and appointing him to punishment, but there still remains the possibility of pardon.

NEITHER PART NOR LOT: ou (absolute negative) and meris (a portion) and oude (not however) and kleros (a die, for drawing chances; an acquisition)

"This matter" refers to the conferring of the Holy Spirit upon others by the laying on of hands. This divine privilege is obtainable, as in the example of Peter and John. However, "neither part nor lot" implies that Simon is not eligible for the least of God's consideration. It's as if God were the wealthy patriarch who is considering what portions of his estate to give as inheritance to his children. Each child would be given a die, or a token, representing different portions of the wealth. The die would be cast, or the token drawn at random, thereby determining their share.

Simon is not even involved in the drawing...he's given no die or token.

As it stands now, according to Peter, Simon is completely excluded from any consideration by God concerning the power, or the privilege, of conferring upon others the Holy Spirit.

GALL: chole ("gall" or bile, meaning poison or anodyne, such as wormwood or poppy); from Chloe ("green", the name of a woman)

BOND: syndesmos (a joint tie, a ligament; uniting principle or control); from syn (union; with or together) and desmon (a band; a ligament of the body, a shackle of a prisoner; an impediment or disability)

Peter describes four consequences of Simon's sin.

  • Perish: destruction and loss
  • Neither part nor lot: separation from God
  • Gall: a poisoned life
  • Bond: a shackled life

Simon is shaken. He begs Peter to intervene. In his plea to Peter, Simon is making, second-hand, a prayer of desperation to God, begging to be pardoned for his sin, pleading for a blotting out of his wickedness.

Only a Christian can realize the depth and consequence of sin. Only a Christian can pray for forgiveness.

Simon's understanding of Christ is shallow. He fails to realize that there is nothing preventing him from appealing to Christ himself. He only sees the wickedness of his sin, and he feels so completely dirty and inadequate that he fears to be so bold as to speak directly to Jesus.

But it is to Jesus that he does appeal, although the appeal is made through Peter. Simon recognizes God's right to punish sin, and he agrees that his inner condition is sinful, and he clings to the hope that Jesus is the Savior of sinners.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you struggle with attacks of bitterness or malice, even now as a Christian? Have you experienced the frustrating, empty aftermath of sinful actions or thoughts, even now as a Christian? What now is your opinion of Simon's spiritual condition? Was he a genuine Christian before he met Peter or after he met Peter? Or not at all?

Notice Peter's conditional confrontation, "if possible":

IF POSSIBLE: ei (conditionality: if, whether, that) and ara (an inference, more or less decisive); probably from airo (to lift, to take up or take away; to raise, keep in suspense; to sail away, as to weigh anchor)

FORGIVEN: aphiemi (to send forth); from apo ("off", away) and hiemi (to send); from eimi (to go)

Peter regards the wicked intention in Simon's heart as the potential cause of four terrible consequences. The terrible consequences, however, are not certain to occur. In this moment of confrontation, Simon's life is balanced between joy and sorrow. What will determine his future? Will it be joyful or sorrowful? Simon's repentence and prayer is not the determining factor. Peter is saying to Simon that the terrible consequences of sin depend, not upon Simon's heart and mind, but upon God alone. Peter urges Simon to repent and pray, but even so the consequences remain possible.

Notice that "forgiven" literally means, "to send forth". If Peter regards Simon as a believer, and there is no evidence to the contrary, then his conditional use of the word "forgiven" does not apply to Simon's salvation, but rather to the consequences of Simon's sin, or "the intent" of his heart.

Simon is pleading for rescue from four dreadful consequences of sin:

  • Loss and destruction
  • Separation from God
  • A poisoned life
  • A shackled life

Peter is urging Simon to repent and ask forgiveness of God, but he implies that the result of his prayer is conditional...it depends upon God.

Can this be so?

Can it be that a Christian might live always with the possibility of destruction and loss, poison and enslavement, even after genuine repentence?

Yes.

None of us, Christian or not, can sustain our own righteous standing before God. Peter is completely justified in confronting Simon with the conditional consequences of sin. Our well-being depends upon the continual grace and mercy of God. No action or thought or behavior or lifestyle of ours obligates God to treat any of us in a "nice" way. Our happiness, our health, our wealth, and even our eternal security in Him rests continually upon His constant favor.

Peter cannot guarantee that God will straighten out Simon's heart, replacing wicked intentions with righteous rejoicing. No man can command God. Everything is under God's control. Everything is subject to His grace and determination.

How then do we survive?

How can we live under a "conditional" salvation?

Our eternal, unshakeable confidence and hope is not based upon our own actions or attitudes. Rather, it is based upon what we know of God.

God is good, completely good.

God is powerful, completely powerful.

God is wise, completely wise.

God is loving, completely loving.

"The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." Exodus 34:6 (ESV)

"You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit." Job 10:12 (ESV)

"By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper! You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!" Psalms 30:7-12 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does the notion of "conditional" salvation bother you? Does it oppose, or support, the doctrine of eternal salvation? To what else might Peter have been describing when he said, "if possible"?

Country church landscape by Darryl, Creative Commons Licence

Monday, February 18, 2013

Acts 8: Baptism, The Holy Spirit, and Tongues

Acts 8: Baptism, The Holy Spirit, and Tongues

Acts 8:18-19

What has gone before...

Philip's preaching brought crowds in Samaria to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Sustainer. They gladly proclaimed their repentance and dependence upon God through water baptism. But something more was yet in store for these new believers. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritan Christians and they received the Holy Spirit.

Moving on...

"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, - Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Acts 8:18-19 (ESV)

Simon the Magician was a believer, baptized along with crowds of men and women who had listened to Philip and saw the signs that he did. Simon must have also been among those for whom Peter and John prayed, and upon whom the Holy Spirit had fallen. Luke does not describe what "receiving the Holy Spirit" looked like, but it would be proper to assume it was what the apostles themselves had experienced previously:

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And 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 2:1-4 (ESV)

A loud sound as of wind, tongues of fire and the ability to speak in other languages were, for the apostles, the signs of the Holy Spirit.

Soon after, the Christians in Jerusalem again experienced something similar:

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31 (ESV)

No such description is found, however, concerning the believers in Samaria.

Why?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was your conversion to Christ accompanied with a distinct, miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Is the description found in Acts 4:31 something you've long desired, or have you found it to be better that God's presence was quietly in the background at your conversion?

Let's look first at examples of the Holy Spirit's immediate, powerful manifestation in newly converted believers. We've seen references to it happening first on the day of Pentecost and then later, following persecution from the religious rulers of Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4 and 4:31).

On another occasion, Peter was preaching to a household of Gentiles, non-Jews who sought to learn of Jesus. Their belief was instant and powerful, with unmistakeable signs of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, surprising Peter, who had long held deep animosity against all non-Jews.

"While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, - Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? - And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

In this instance, the first Christian conversion of non-Jews, the Holy Spirit's manifestation was immediate and powerful. It occurred without water baptism and without prayer or laying on of hands.

The apostle Paul encountered a few disciples, only twelve, of John the Baptist, in faraway Ephesus. He asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They expressed ignorance of the existence of such a thing, explaining that their only baptism had been that of John's.

"On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying." Acts 19:5-6 (ESV)

Paul's response upon first meeting these disciples demonstrates that, for Paul, the Holy Spirit always manifested Himself in outward, observable ways for every genuine believer. He had expected, and evidently didn't see, such manifestation in these men in Ephesus. For Paul, it was evidence that the men's belief was not founded upon Christ. Paul's manner also indicates that he did not expect the Holy Spirit to come upon the men without his prayer and touch.

The common denominator in each of these examples is that of "firstness". Peter and John's arrest was the first recorded instance of religious persecution following the crucifixion of Christ. Peter had refused to consider a ministry among Gentiles, until God's Spirit persuaded him otherwise. The far-flung disciples of John the Baptist had not even heard of such a thing as "Holy Spirit", and they probably didn't even realize that the "Lamb of God", preached by John, had been crucified and resurrected as Lord and Savior.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does the notion of "firstness" seem, to you, to apply to the question of why the account of the Samaritan believers lacks any mention of loud wind, shaking walls or speaking other tongues? What other reasons might there be for the difference?

Now, let's look at instances of believers receiving the Holy Spirit without any suggestion of powerful signs.

Peter preached to a crowd of Jews in Jerusalem:

"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." Acts 2:38,41 (ESV)

No mention of tongues of fire, miraculous languages or boldness.

The same thing happened not long after, with a crowd of Jews who had witnessed Peter and John heal with a word a man lame from birth. After preaching, about five thousand men had believed. But, again, no mention of the Holy Spirit coming upon the new believers in fire and boldness (Acts 4:4).

Philip preached to an Ethiopian eunuch in the desert. The man was a Jew, returning to his home country after worshiping in Jerusalem. He believed Philip's words, was baptized and filled with joy, but there is no mention of his receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-40).

Paul believed, and was baptized, but with no tongues of fire, no foreign language nor bold speaking, although the boldness did appear a few days later (Acts 9:17-20).

In these examples we can see that the Holy Spirit's manifestation in a believer is different from person to person, from situation to situation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you share with the group a passage or verse of Scripture that you've found helpful or encouraging concerning the Holy Spirit? How have you found God's Spirit working in or upon you in your Christian walk? Why, do you think, is the Holy Spirit's ministry often seem confusing or controversial?

Let's look at references to the purpose or essence of the Holy Spirit's ministry. Shortly before ascending into heaven, Jesus comforted the eleven apostles:

"Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Luke 24:49 (ESV)

Jesus was reminding His closest friends of what he had said early in His ministry.

"The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:26 (ESV)

The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to be the presence of Jesus with those who love him. Through the Holy Spirit, believers remember and understand His words.

"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:13-14 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit is given to believers as a guarantee, a confirmation of our eternal relationship with God, His precious, beloved children who have a glorious future beyond life on this earth.

Peter connected water baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." 1 Peter 3:21-22 (ESV)

Just as water will remove dirt from the body, the baptism of the Holy Spirit removes from the spirit the dirt of guilt. The Holy Spirit's primary influence upon a believer is the creation of a good conscience. Guilt, for a genuine believer in Christ, is removed, based upon the decree of Jesus, the One given all authority and power, including the power to grant forgiveness of sin.

It seems crucial that Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize disciples "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:20 (ESV)

This implies that it is essential that believers understand with their mind and treasure with their heart the knowledge that God is triune, that they have been spiritually reborn and immersed into the life of God, Who is their Father, their Lord, and their Spirit. All three manifestations of God are necessary for righteousness and truth to be understood and valued.

Jesus regarded the Holy Spirit as the motivating Force for His ministry:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

This passage implies that the Holy Spirit's influence upon believers is the boldness to speak and preach.

It may be that the Lord's Prayer can be understood as a good overview of the Holy Spirit's ministry upon a believer:

"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, - Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. - And he said to them, - When you pray, say: - Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)

Immediately after this example of prayer, Jesus emphasized the believer's dependence upon God, using an extended story to describe God's willingness to help those who ask. Jesus finished the lesson with a statement that connected the prayer directly to the Holy Spirit:

"How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13 (ESV)

This passage implies that asking God for food, forgiveness and protection is, for the believer, a prayer for the Holy Spirit's help. The Holy Spirit's ministry might be described as one of providing physical and spiritual health and strength for believers.

This conclusion is supported by other references:

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." John 6:63 (ESV)

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, - Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. - Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:37-39 (ESV)

In contrast to descriptions given in the the Book of Acts, the writings of Paul connect the Holy Spirit with a spiritual ministry much deeper than the sound of wind shaking a room, tongues of fire or miraculous ability to speak unknown languages. Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit's influence as being joy and peace in the believer:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." Romans 15:13 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? With Scripture presenting many difference facets of the Holy Spirit, can you make some general conclusions that might connect together all the different ways in which the Holy Spirit influences people? What overall principles might include everything from loud wind, speaking in tongues, boldness, healing and hope?

Paul connected the Holy Spirit with spiritual power, but emphasized the variety of ways in which that power may be manifested:

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)

This explains the seemingly inconsistent descriptions of believers receiving the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. God is not held to a rigid pattern of behavior, although the foundational purpose of His Holy Spirit remains the same: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

For many Christians, the miraculous ability to speak unknown tongues has seemed the primary, perhaps only, evidence of a person's baptism in the Holy Spirit. The apostles certainly spoke different languages immediately upon receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), and tongues were evident in the conversion of others (Acts 10:44-48, Acts 19:5-6).

Paul listed the gift of tongues as one of the many different manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28). But in the same passage, Paul cautioned Christians to avoid insisting that everyone possess the same gifts:

"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (ESV)

The expected answer to these rhetorical questions is, "No!"

"All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." 1 Corinthians 12:11 (ESV)

In fact, Paul explains that tongues, among other spiritual gifts, will pass away:

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (ESV)

Paul describes love as "perfect", while prophecy, tongues and knowledge are "partial". Later, Paul lists three "perfect" spiritual gifts:

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

It may seem difficult to imagine "knowledge" (gnosis, knowing absolutely) passing away, as if there will come a day when we will "know" nothing. However, Paul's exhortation describes the spiritual gift of miraculously "knowing" something, a gift that some Christians are given by the Holy Spirit. The gift will pass away, according to Paul, implying that "knowledge" will no longer depend upon the spiritual ability of some Christians. Rather, "knowlege" will be completely known and understood by all, in the form of faith, hope and love. This is supported by Paul's connection of prophecy with "mystery" with "knowledge":

"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing...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." 1 Corinthians 13:2, 14:2 (ESV)

The definitive purpose of the gift of tongues is presented in Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians:

"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." 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 (ESV)

Paul cited a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 28. The prophet Isaiah described the spiritual condition of the Jewish nation, calling the people "proud drunkards", "reeling and staggering". Isaiah implied that the Jews were children, "weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast". He accused the people of being unable to hear God's words, unable to connect together anything but the very smallest ideas, "precept upon precept, line upon line." The Jewish leaders were mistaken in their visions and stumbling in giving judgement.

As an indictment against the Jews, God revealed to Isaiah His plan to confront the proud, willful deafness of His people with a reflection of their ignorance. A "people of strange tongues" would witness to them of God's power and providence.

The gift of tongues was meant as a picture of the confused, ignorant hearts of God's people, the Jews. God was putting to shame the proud Jewish scholars who so badly misunderstood His words, comparing them to people who did not understand His language.

Tongues were meant as a sign to the ignorant hearts and minds of unbelievers. They were not meant to encourage or teach believers.

Paul encouraged Christians to understand the purpose of all spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues, cautioning the Church to not forbid speaking in tongues:

"So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order." 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What has been your experience with the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues? In your opinion, has the need for miraculous language passed away? What immediate effect does the gift of tongues seem to provide today?

Abstract - Photomorrobay photographers in one-second blur-exposure by Mike Baird, Creative Commons License

Monday, February 4, 2013

1 Timothy 3: Bishops, Overseers and Health Inspectors

1 Timothy 3: Bishops, Overseers and Health Inspectors

1 Timothy 3:1

What has gone before...

Paul urged the church in Ephesus to pray for two essential things: peace and quiet. Building on this theme, he focused on women and their need to learn godliness, which includes the skill of submissiveness, not only for the women but also for men and children.

Biblical submissiveness is best defined as willing, joyful acceptance of God's sovereignty, protection and providence. A woman will live out their submissiveness to God by gladly allowing her husband to be the protector and provider of her family.

The process of learning the skills of godliness includes experiences of pain or loss, and for the woman, childbearing often provides just such an experience.

For men and women, learning is always an active demonstration of a skill or ability, and whether physically or spiritually.

Moving on...

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." 1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV)

Now, Paul focuses on the fundamental problem facing the Ephesian church, the deep-rooted degradation of faith that probably led to unsubmissive hearts and swerving away from love.

Paul targets the leaders of the church.

OFFICE OF OVERSEER: episkope (inspection, for relief; superintendence, "episcopate"); from episkeptomai (to inspect, to select, to got to see, to relieve); from epi (superimposition of time, place, order; distribution over, upon; rest at, on; direction, towards, upon) and skeptomai (to peer about, "skeptic")

An "episcopate" is an organized group of bishops.

"Bishop" is from the Anglo Saxon word, "bisceop or "biscop", meaning an inspector.

"Office of overseer" literally means one who is appointed or called to be an inspector, one who looks closely, essentially to bring relief from harm or weakness by close observation.

The first instance of this word in the New Testament is in Luke's gospel, in the description of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem:

"When he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, - Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation." Luke 19:41-44 (ESV)

"Visitation" is the same Greek word that is later translated as "office of overseer".

Jesus wept over the future sad condition of Jerusalem, when it would be barricaded and surrounded, torn down to the ground, and its beautiful temple of worship razed.

This depressing, despairing future for Jerusalem would result from the Jews failure to recognize Jesus as the Provider of "the things that make for peace". Jesus was "visiting" Jerusalem as a "health inspector", One appointed to make sure that the people had all that they required for their spiritual health and happiness.

And they were blind to their deep spiritual needs.

They rejected Jesus as their "health inspector". They used the temple as a shopping mall, allowing mobsters to run the businesses (Luke 19:46).

They sent spies to watch Him, hoping to catch incriminating statements. They laid crafty traps and attempted to snare Him in criminal controversy (Luke 20:19-20).

They commanded Him to tell only the truth, and when He did, they rejected His words and judged Him a blasphemer (Luke 22:67-71).

Jesus inspected His people, and observed their weakness and disease, yet they would have none of Him.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What has been your experience in being "inspected" by Jesus? What is the risk, and the reward, of asking God's Holy Spirit to examine your heart and mind? What verses of Scripture come to mind that support the truth that God "inspects" His people, and that "inspection" is good and entirely necessary?

It seems likely that the first "episcopate", or group of bishops, were the apostles called by Jesus.

"In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor." Luke 6:12-16 (ESV)

The deceptive betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot created an empty seat in the "episcopate". Peter believed that the Book of Psalms spoke prophetically of the betrayal and the need to appoint another in the place of Judas:

"For it is written in the Book of Psalms, - May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it; - and - Let another take his office." Acts 1:20 (ESV)

"Office" is the same word as "overseer".

Peter was referring to a psalm written by David, describing his anger and frustration for "wicked and deceitful mouths, speaking against me with lying tongues" (Psalms 109:2).

"They reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office!" Psalms 109:5-8 (ESV)

OFFICE: pequdda (visitation, often official); from paqad (to visit, with friendly or hostile intent; to oversee, muster, charge, care for, miss, deposit)

People appointed to guard duty were described as having "custody", using the same word as that of "office" (Numbers 3:36).

Priests having charge of the holy oil, incense, offerings, and all to do with the tabernacle were described as having an "office" and "oversight", both the same word (Numbers 4:16).

Moses challenged those who doubted him to a test of faith. Confronting a group of rebels, Moses predicted their imminent death:

"Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord." Numbers 16:28-30 (ESV)

"Visited" is the same word as "office". Typically, humans die of disease or man-caused accident or violence. The "normal" manner of death can be described as the human fate or "visitation".

The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word for "office" or "visitation" means anything to which someone may be appointed or assigned. Combining the meanings implies that "the office of overseer" means an apppointment made by others, requiring the "officer" to supervise closely, to inspect diligently, for the purpose of protection from harm or pain.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Paul speaks of "aspiring" and "desiring" the office of overseer, yet the word for "office" implies being appointed. We often appoint people to a committee or task, without requiring them to "aspire" or "desire", but simply that they are willing to do it. Is that okay? What risks are involved in appointing someone who passionately desires the office?

ASPIRES: orego (to stretch oneself, to reach out after, to long for); apparently from oro (to rise or "rear")

DESIRES: epithymeo (to set the heart upon; to long for, rightfully or otherwise); from epi epi (superimposition of time, place, order; distribution over, upon; rest at, on; direction, towards, upon) and thymos (passion, as if breathing hard); from thuo (to rush, breathe hard, blow, smoke; to sacrifice, immolate or slaughter for any purpose)

"Aspires" can be positive or negative. Paul will later rebuke Christians for "aspiring" after money (1 Timothy 6:10). However, he also commends Christians for "aspiring" toward heaven (Hebrews 11:16).

"Desires" is also dependent upon the object desired. Jesus rebuked those who "desire" adultery (Matthew 5;28). Yet, Jesus also "desired" greatly to celebrate passover with His apostles (Luke 22:15). We are commanded not to "desire" (Romans 13:9). Yet it is a good thing if we "desire" the office of overseer (1 Timothy 3:1).

"Desire", "covet", "aspire" and "lust" are all words meaning the same thing: my heart and mind are completely convinced that a thing is good, with a promise of pleasure if I were to possess it, and I reach out for it.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are the indications that we are "desiring" or "coveting" or "apiriring" or "lusting" for something? How is "aspiring" different than "accepting" or "tolerating"? What things in life is it absolutely essential that we deeply and intensely feel a desire or aspiration for? How does lukewarmness or apathy frustrate you personally?

Paul describes the office of overseer as a "noble task":

NOBLE TASK: kalos (beautifully good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use) and ergon (toil, as an effort or occupation; an act); from ergo (to work)

"Noble" means good, in a sense that is related to its appearance or function. The word is used in the New Testament to describe fruit, seed, pearls, salt and fish. It is also used to describe events or conditions places and people.

The common element of usage for this word is its appearance or function. The "beautiful goodness" of a thing is outwardly, immediately apparent. It's usefulness is plain to see.

Paul describes the office of overseer as something that is "beautifully good", something pleasing to look at or functional to use.

The same word is found just a few verses later, describing a character quality essential for all overseers:

"He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:7 (ESV)

"Well thought of" includes the same Greek word as that of "noble task". An overseer for the church must have a "beautifully good" reputation with the community...their actions must be pleasing to see or functionally useful.

Those who exercise their office well will gain a "beautifully good" step of faith or an outwardly pleasing appearance of their faith (1 Timothy 3:13).

Paul assures Timothy that his ministry in Ephesus will be "beautifully good" as long as he diligently exhorts the people in faith and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

WHAT DO YOU THINK? When have you experienced an example of a "beautifully good" overseer, whether inside or outside of church? Can you describe the "perfect" leader of a church, one who would be "beautifully good"? Do you desire to serve in our church as a spiritual "health inspector"? Why or why not?

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