The Christian with Integrity

The righteous man who walks in his integrity; how blessed are his children after him. (Prov 20:7)

IntegrityWords are the currency of the heart, for by them, we reveal our moral wealth or poverty. For some, a person’s word is gold. We trust what they say is true and that they will keep their promises, even at great cost to themselves. Faithfulness to keep a promise is a measure of one’s integrity. God wants us to have integrity, because He has integrity. To say God has integrity means He is honest in nature, that He always speaks truth, and that He is faithful to keep His Word. Because of who He is, God does not lie, and when He makes a promise, He always keeps it. The Bible reveals, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num 23:19; cf. 1 Sam 15:29). Elsewhere it is written that God “cannot lie” (Tit 1:2), and that it “is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18a). Scripture reveals that even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). This reveals the character and immutability of God as well as the integrity of His Word, which is comforting to His people, especially since there is much falsehood and many promise-breakers in the world.

As Christians, God calls us to be like Him, to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) and to keep our promises to others. Warren Wiersbe writes, “The foundations of society today are eroding because of unkept promises, whether they be official contracts, marriage vows, political pledges, or words spoken on the witness stand. We expect the Lord to keep His promises, and He expects us to keep ours. Truth is the cement that holds society together.”[1] But truthful lips and a faithful life are the fruit of a heart that is filled with God and His Word; a heart committed to walk in godly integrity.

In Psalm 15, David writes about the one “who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Psa 15:2).[2] One of the characteristics of the person who walks with integrity is that, “he swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psa 15:4b). Other translations read, “he keeps his word whatever the cost” (Psa 15:4 CSB), and “he makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise” (Psa 15:4 NET), and “keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind” (Psa 15:4 NIV). This behavior describes a mature believer who has a well-developed walk with the Lord. Concerning Psalm 15:4, Dr. Allen Ross comments:

Here the psalmist is dealing with faithfulness, keeping one’s word, even if it proves costly or inconvenient. The righteous must not change their mind to avoid an unexpected painful outcome; they must keep their word even if it means they suffer loss of some kind. In fact, to take an oath and not keep it would be to take the name of the LORD in vain. It would be better not to take the oath in the first place if possible.[3]

The Christian who has a deep concern for integrity, truth, and faithfulness will keep his/her word, for honor is of more value than the pain of loss, whatever it may be. Solomon tells us, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool” (Prov 19:1), and, “Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than he who is crooked though he be rich” (Prov 28:6). This second proverb reveals a situation where a person chose godly integrity over crookedness, even though it resulted in financial poverty.

Three closing points. First, having Christian integrity does not mean we become sinless. As Christians, we still possess our fallen natures, live in a fallen world, and face temptations and attacks from various sources that seek to undermine our walk with God. Even the godliest of saints sin (i.e., Moses, David, Peter, John, etc.).[4] The reality is there will be times when we fail to live by godly integrity, when we fail to keep our word, both to the Lord and others. But relapse does not have to mean collapse, for if there is humility, we can come before God’s “throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). And if we confess our sins to Him, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Second, our failings, though many, do not destroy the Lord’s faithfulness to us, for though “we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). God has blessed us with many promises (2 Pet 1:4), and He has perfect integrity, always keeps His Word and never fails. Third, God wants us to develop godly integrity so our character and life measure up to His righteous standards as revealed in Scripture. But developing godly integrity is the pursuit of a lifetime, as we make moment by moment choices to submit ourselves to God, to learn and live His Word, to be honest in who we are, to speak truth in love, and to keep our promises to others, even if the cost is great. As Christians who want to serve the Lord, may we rise to pursue such an honorable life, for God’s glory, and the benefit of others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson on The Christian with Integrity:

Related Articles:

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Counted, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 133.

[2] The believer’s walk (הָלַךְ halak) is idiomatic of his/her behavior or lifestyle. It is the fruit of life that reveals the root of the heart. In this context, righteousness (צֶדֶק tsedeq) refers to a life in ethical conformity to God and His Word. And truth (אֱמֶת emeth) denotes what is dependable or reliable, and refers to God’s absolute and unchanging Word, that should fill the heart of the believer.

[3] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary, vol. 1, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011–2013), 393.

[4] Moses sinned when he disobeyed God by striking the rock twice rather than speaking to it (Num 20:6-11). David sinned when he had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17), as well as when he took a census in Israel (1 Ch 21:1-8). Peter resisted Christ going to the cross (Matt 16:21-23), and later denied Him three times (Luke 22:54-61). John was rebuked twice for worshipping an angel (John 19:10; 22:8-9).

A Role Model for Believers

There’s a wonderful passage in the book of Ezra that tells us something about this righteous man that God used to bless others. We learn, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The Hebrew verb כּוּן kun, translated set, means “to prepare, make ready…to erect, set up…determine, to fix something.”[1] Other translations render the verb as determined (CSB), dedicated (NET), and devoted (NIV). This determination speaks of an inward decision by Ezra to do three things: 1) to study the law of the LORD, 2) to practice it, and 3) to teach it to others. Laney states, “The order is significant. A person cannot practice what he has not thoroughly studied; and he should not teach principles he has not carefully applied.”[2]

As a priest, Ezra was modeling God’s intention for him, “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal 2:7). There is direct relevance for us as Christians, for Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom, to serve as priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6). Righteousness is a choice to learn God’s Word, to live God’s Word, and to instruct others to do the same.

Bible With PenLearn God’s Word. First, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD.” To study the law of the LORD is simply to study His written Word. This kind of devotion and study lasts a lifetime, for one cannot adequately grasp God’s Word in a few lessons. A devoted life of studying God’s Word was held by others in the Old Testament. David writes of the godly person, whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law, he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). And the benefit of such activity is that the dedicated person “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). Another psalmist wrote, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa 119:97). Paul told Timothy, “Study to shew yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 KJV). A little further on in his letter, Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Walking with GodLive God’s Word. Second, Ezra sought “to practice” what he’d learned from God’s Word. There’s an axiom that we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. Of course, it is possible to study God’s Word and never apply it. This is why James wrote, saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jam 1:22). Biblical wisdom is the application of God’s Word to everyday life. Jesus communicated this, saying, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). Learning and doing. That’s the order. Warren Wiersbe writes, “If our knowledge of the truth doesn’t result in obedience, then we end up with a big head instead of a burning heart (1 Cor 8:1; Luke 24:32); and truth becomes a toy to play with, not a tool to build with. Instead of building our Christian character, we only deceive ourselves and try to deceive others (1 John 1:5–10).”[3]

Sharing God's WordShare God’s Word. Ezra went a third step, as he sought “to teach” other believers how to live the truth of God’s Word. If the next generation of believers are to be effective, they need to know God’s Word and how to live it. This was true in Ezra’s day, and it’s certainly true in ours. But such biblical communication should not be limited to the church pulpit or seminary classroom. Sharing God’s Word should be something practiced by all growing Christians. What’s interesting is that that apostle Paul built on what Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him in the home. Paul said to Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well…and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).

In closing, may we all model this simple formula for godliness and success, diligently studying the Scriptures, applying what we learn as we grow, and sharing that knowledge with others. This is what Paul hoped Timothy would do, as he encouraged him to “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Not only was Timothy to retain and guard the treasure of God’s Word in his heart, but he was to pass it on to others, as Paul stated, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 465.

[2] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 169.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Heroic, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1997), 38–39.

Choosing a Righteous Life and Righteous Friends

BibleThe Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of choosing a righteous life and righteous friends. Solomon wrote, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov 12:26 NIV). Elsewhere, Solomon said, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). The word walk translates the Hebrew verb הָלַךְ halak, which here refers to “a lifestyle, [or] a pattern of conduct.”[1] Our lifestyle is influenced by our friends, who reinforce our path, either for good or harm. The one who chooses wise friends will gain wisdom and be blessed. A wise person—biblically speaking—is one who fears the Lord (Prov 1:7a), whereas, “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7b). The wise person receives “instruction in wise behavior, doing what is right, just, and fair” (Prov 1:3), and this according to the standard of God’s Word. Simply stated, the biblically wise person is the one who learns and lives God’s Word on a regular basis. Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24).

There is a danger in choosing foolish friends, for the one who befriends a fool will end a fool, and this with injury. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt 7:26). Dwight Pentecost states, “A fool is not necessarily one who is marked by a low IQ but one who leaves God out of his consciousness…The fool is the man who does not take God into consideration in every area of his life.”[2] Merrill F. Unger adds, “The ‘fool’ is not so much one lacking in mental powers, as one who misuses them; not one who does not reason, but reasons wrongly. In Scripture the ‘fool’ primarily is the person who casts off the fear of God and thinks and acts as if he could safely disregard the eternal principles of God’s righteousness (Psa 14:1; Prov 14:9; Jer 17:11; etc.).”[3]

Path of RighteousnessAs Christians, we choose what paths we take. Biblically, there is a righteous path and a wicked path, and we must choose the former and avoid the latter. David wrote, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psa 1:1; cf. Prov 4:14-17). David generally made good choices throughout his life, and this meant avoiding wicked people. He said, “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked” (Psa 26:4-5). Elsewhere he said, “He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me” (Psa 101:7).

The psalmist also wrote, “I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts” (Psa 119:63). Allen Ross writes, “The psalmist’s loyalty to the LORD also finds expression in his association with other believers—he is a companion (חָבֵר) to all who fear the LORD, meaning those who keep his commandments. The tie that binds the devout together is the commitment to keep God’s commands.”[4] And Charles Spurgeon adds, “We can hardly hope to be right in the future unless we are right now. The holy man spent his nights with God and his days with God’s people. Those who fear God love those who fear him, and they make small choice in their company so long as the men are truly God-fearing.”[5]

In the New Testament we learn about the good choices Christians were making as they “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The words continually devoting themselves translates the Greek word προσκαρτερέω proskartereo, which denotes steadfast commitment and constant devotion. The two things these Christians were constantly devoted to were: 1) the apostle’s teaching, and 2) fellowship with other believers (which included a time of meals and prayer). Here is wisdom.

Christians are to live righteously, as this is consistent with our identity in Christ. The apostle Paul implores us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2). Here, our pattern of behavior should mirror our position in Christ. Paul uses similar language when he writes, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light; for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:6-10). Since we are called to such a high standard of living, it’s very important that we choose our friends carefully, to make sure there is mutual interest in walking with God and living as He directs.

Do not be bound together.pngFor this reason, Paul directed the Christians at Corinth not to associate with people who are committed to live by worldly values. Of the unbeliever, Paul wrote, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). Of the worldly Christian, Paul wrote, “not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?” (1 Cor 5:11-12; cf., Jam 4:4). The general reasoning behind these directives is that “bad associations corrupt good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).

Close relationships should be developed over time, only as we get to know others, hearing their words and watching their ways, and feeling confident they are among the faithful righteous. Some of the characteristics of a righteous person include:

  1. A commitment to learning God’s Word (Psa 1:1-2; Acts 2:42; Rom 6:17).
  2. Submitting to God’s will (Rom 12:1-2; Jam 1:22).
  3. Confessing sin to God daily (1 John 1:9).
  4. Displaying Christian love (John 13:34; Rom 13:8; 1 Th 4:9; 1 Cor 13:4-8a).
  5. Seeking to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31).
  6. Living by faith in order to please the Lord (Heb 10:38; 11:6; 2 Cor 5:9).
  7. Speaking biblical truth in love (Eph 4:15, 25).
  8. Modeling humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and peace (Eph 4:1-3).
  9. Being forgiving (Matt 18:21-22).
  10. Doing good (Gal 6:10).
  11. Encouraging other believers to do good (Heb 10:24).
  12. Desiring fellowship with growing believers (Heb 10:25).
  13. Praying for others (1 Th 5:17; 2 Th 1:11; Jam 5:16).
  14. Building others up in the Lord (1 Th 5:11).
  15. Being devoted to fellow believers (Rom 12:10).

Choose the righteous life, and choose your friends wisely.

Audio Lesson

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 924.

[2] J. Dwight Pentecost, Designed to Be Like Him: Understanding God’s Plan for Fellowship, Conduct, Conflict, and Maturity (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 55.

[3] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Fool”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[4] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 519.

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 111-119, vol. 5 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 257.

A Divided World Until Christ Returns

We live in a divided world. I’m speaking about a division between believers and unbelievers, children of God and children of the devil. Jesus gave an illustration of this when He told the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30). Afterwards, when Jesus was alone with His disciples, they asked for an explanation of the parable (Matt 13:36), and Jesus said:

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt 13:37-43).

In this revelation we understand: 1) God the Son has sown good seed in the world, which are believers, 2) Satan has sown weeds, which are unbelievers, 3) both live side by side until Christ returns at the end of the age, 4) at which time Jesus will send forth His angels to separate out all unbelievers, 5) which unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire, and 6) believers will enter into the millennial kingdom. We have here a picture of the current state of the world which consists of believers and unbelievers. The current state ends at the return of Christ when He renders judgment upon unbelievers and establishes His earthly kingdom.

Satan as ruler of this worldFor the present time, Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 1 John 5:19). We are all born under “the dominion of Satan” (Act 26:18), into his “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). Our spiritual state changes at the time we turn to Christ and trust Him as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4). At the moment of faith in Christ, we become “children of God” (John 1:12), are transferred to the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13), forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given eternal life (John 10:28), the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and the power to live holy (Rom 6:11-14). And, it is God’s will that we advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; Eph 4:11-13; 1 Pet 2:2), and serve as His ambassadors to others (2 Cor 5:20).

Are Christians called to make the world a better place?

As Christians, our primary focus is evangelism and discipleship (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:19-20), not the reformation of society. Christians are to be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), and in this way, society is better as a result. However, the reality is we live in a fallen world that is currently under Satan’s limited rule, and God sovereignly permits this for a time. True good is connected with God and His Word, and His good is executed by those who walk according to His directives. But there are many who reject God and follow Satan’s world-system, which system is always pressuring the Christian to conform (Rom 12:1-2). A permanent world-fix will not occur until Christ returns and puts down all rebellion, both satanic and human (Rev 19:11-21; 20:1-3). Those who are biblically minded live in this reality. As a result, our hope is never in this world; rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). We are looking forward to the time when Christ raptures us from this world to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18). This will be followed by seven years of Tribulation in which God will judge Satan’s world and those who abide by his philosophies and values (see Revelation chapters 6-19). Afterwards, Christ will rule the world for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-7), and shortly after that, God will destroy the current heavens and earth and create a new heavens and earth. This is what Peter is referring to when he says, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Isa 65:17; Rev 21:1). Our present and future hope is in God and what He will accomplish, and not in anything this world has to offer. As Christians, we are “not of the world” (John 17:14; cf. 1 John 4:4-5), though it’s God’s will that we continue to live in it (John 17:15), and to serve “as lights in the world” (Phi 2:15), that others might know the gospel of grace and learn His Word and walk by faith. This understanding is shaped by God’s Word, which determines my worldview.

How are we to see ourselves in this present world? In the dispensation of the church age, we understand people are either in Adam or in Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22). Everyone is originally born in Adam (Rom 5:12), but those who have trusted in Jesus as Savior are now identified as being in Christ (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Co 5:17; Rom 8:1; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:3). This twofold division will exist until Christ returns. Furthermore, we are never going to fix the devil or the world-system he’s created. Because the majority of people in this world will choose the broad path of destruction that leads away from Christ (Matt 7:13-14), Satan and his purposes will predominate, and Christians will be outsiders. And being children of God, we are told the world will be a hostile place (John 15:19; 1 John 3:13). There will always be haters. Until Christ returns, Satan will control the majority, and these will be hostile to Christians who walk according to God’s truth and love.

Love your enemiesHow should we respond to the world? The challenge for us as Christians is not to let the bullies of this world intimidate us into silence or inaction. And, of course, we must be careful not to become bitter, fearful, or hateful like those who attack us. The Bible teaches us to love those who hate us (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 12:14, 17-21), and we are to be kind, patient, and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-26; cf. Eph 4:1-2; Col 3:13-14). What we need is courage. Courage that is loving, kind, and faithful to share the gospel of grace and to speak biblical truth. The hope is that those who are positive to God can be rescued from Satan’s domain of darkness. We also live in the reality that God’s plans will advance. He will win. His future kingdom on earth will come to pass. Christ will return. Jesus will put down all forms of rebellion—both satanic and human—and will rule this world with perfect righteousness and justice. But until then, we must continue to learn and live God’s Word and fight the good fight. We are to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), share the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:3-4), disciple others (Matt 28:19-20), be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Tit 2:11-14), and look forward to the return of Christ at the rapture (Tit 2:13; cf. John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The Armor of God

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul set forth the Christian armor which, in many ways, is a picture of the healthy Christian life. It is something we intentionally put on and use to defend ourselves when we come under attack. The assaults ultimately come from Satan who has well developed strategies of warfare and demonic soldiers to command. Satan and his fallen angels knowingly and intentionally attack. They are behind every act of terror the world has ever known, they do not relent of their activities, and they are not reformable. In addition to these fallen angels, Satan also has useful idiots—unbelievers and carnal Christians—who assist him in his efforts. These people help make up Satan’s world-system that seeks to envelop and enslave everyone it can. Satan’s system is philosophical, social, political, economic, religious, and cultural. These are all things external to us, but which are intended to penetrate our thoughts and impact our values, speech and practices. Furthermore, Satan has an inside agent within every person, which is the sinful nature which naturally resonates with all that is sinful and prideful. Warren Wiersbe writes:

As Christians, we face three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph 2:1–3). “The world” refers to the system around us that is opposed to God, that caters to “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15–17). “Society apart from God” is a simple, but accurate, definition of “the world.” “The flesh” is the old nature that we inherited from Adam, a nature that is opposed to God and can do nothing spiritual to please God. By His death and resurrection, Christ overcame the world (John 16:33; Gal 6:14), and the flesh (Rom 6:1–6; Gal 2:20), and the devil (Eph 1:19–23). In other words, as believers, we do not fight for victory—we fight from victory! The Spirit of God enables us, by faith, to appropriate Christ’s victory for ourselves.[1]

The apostle Paul addressed the subject of spiritual forces throughout his letter to the Christians living in Ephesus (Eph 1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 4:27).[2] He then mentions the armor available to them—and us—toward the close of his epistle (Eph 6:10-17). Paul opens his section about our spiritual armor, writing, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10). The word Finally (Τοῦ λοιποῦ) pertains to closing matters about how to live consistently concerning their new life in Christ. There are dangers that will threaten their walk with the Lord, and these believers need a divine perspective of the world and a divine strength to live successfully in it. Harold Hoehner writes:

From Eph 4:1 to 6:9 Paul gives practical applications for the believers concerning how to live out their new position in Christ before both believers and unbelievers. Now, in his final section (6:10-20), he describes the continual warfare of wicked forces against believers and accordingly exhorts them to be strengthened in the Lord in order to be able to stand against the wicked schemes of the devil. The struggle of believers ultimately is not a human conflict but is a battle against wicked spiritual forces.[3]

The Greek verb ἐνδυναμόω endunamoo, translated “be strong”, is a present passive imperative. The present tense relates to ongoing action, the passive voice means the subject receives what is provided, and the imperative mood means we are commanded to accept it. The prepositional phrase ἐν κυρίῳ en kurio, translated “in the Lord”, means that Jesus Himself is the sphere within which our strength is found. The strength is not in us. We are weak. It’s Him and His strength we need. We are to be strong “in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10b). William MacDonald states:

Every true child of God soon learns that the Christian life is a warfare. The hosts of Satan are committed to hinder and obstruct the work of Christ and to knock the individual soldier out of combat. The more effective a believer is for the Lord, the more he will experience the savage attacks of the enemy: the devil does not waste his ammunition on nominal Christians. In our own strength we are no match for the devil. So the first preparatory command is that we should be continually strengthened in the Lord and in the boundless resources of His might. God’s best soldiers are those who are conscious of their own weakness and ineffectiveness, and who rely solely on Him. “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27b). Our weakness commends itself to the power of His might.[4]

Roman ArmorPaul continues, saying, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). Put on translates the Greek verb ἐνδύω enduo which is an aorist middle imperative. The middle voice means we are to dress ourselves, thus acting in our own self-interest. The imperative mood means it’s a command that we can and should obey. The armor Paul described could refer to the armor God Himself wore as a warrior (Isa 11:5; 59:17); however, it was more likely drawn from the Roman guard that supervised his house arrest (Acts 26:29; 28:17; cf., Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Phil 1:7, 13; 2 Tim 1:8). Roman soldiers were seen most everywhere, so their attire would have been familiar to Paul’s audience. And just as a Roman soldier would not go into battle wearing only part of his armor, so the Christian must put on the full armor (πανοπλία panoplia) provided to him by God. Our enemy, the devil, is a brilliant commander who has manufactured schemes or strategies (μεθοδεία methodeia) he employs against the human race, and God’s people in particular. The same term—μεθοδεία methodeia—is used of false teachers who engage “in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14), in order to trap immature Christians with false doctrine. “The devil has various stratagems—discouragement, frustration, confusion, moral failure, and doctrinal error. He knows our weakest point and aims for it. If he cannot disable us by one method, he will try for another.”[5] Satan has many demons and carnally minded people on his side, and he fights dirty. As Christians, we don’t go hunting for the devil; rather, we stand firm (ἵστημι histemi) against his attacks when he comes against us. This is accomplished by following God’s will. Thomas Constable writes:

From other Scripture we know that Satan is behind all of our temptations having received permission to assail us from God (e.g., Job 1–2). He uses the world system and our flesh (sinful nature) as his tools. He also attacks us directly himself and through his angelic emissaries. God has given us specific instruction in Scripture about how to combat these attacks. We are to resist the devil (1 Peter 5:8–9), flee the temptations of the world system (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; 1 John 2:15–17; 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22), and deny the flesh (Rom 6:12–13; 7:18–24; 8:13). How do we know the source of a given temptation so we can respond to it appropriately? Satan has consistently aimed his personal attacks at getting people to doubt, to deny, to disregard, and to disobey the revealed will of God (cf. Gen 3; Matt 4). The world system seeks to get people to believe that they do not need God but can get along very well without Him (1 John 2). The flesh tempts us to think that we can find satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment on the physical, material level of life alone (Rom 7).[6]

Angelic WarfarePaul continues, saying, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Though we live in a physical world and interact with other people—both saved and lost—our ultimate struggle is against unseen spiritual forces. In this verse, Paul ransacks the Greek vocabulary for power-words to describe a definite group of demonic forces he calls “rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…[and] spiritual forces of wickedness.” Warren Wiersbe writes:

This suggests a definite army of demonic creatures that assist Satan in his attacks against believers. The Apostle John hinted that one third of the angels fell with Satan when he rebelled against God (Rev 12:4), and Daniel wrote that Satan’s angels struggle against God’s angels for control of the affairs of nations (Dan 10:13–20). A spiritual battle is going on in this world, and in the sphere of “the heavenlies,” and you and I are a part of this battle. Knowing this makes “walking in victory” a vitally important thing to us—and to God.[7]

It could be Paul’s classifications refer to ruling demonic forces with various degrees of authority over the world, such as Generals, Colonels, Majors, and so on, right down to frontline troops. The scope of their influence is global, and their general character is wicked. I think it can be said with certainty that these fallen angels are behind all sinful pleasures and pressures that entice or push people into conformity with Satan’s world-system. We are not able to identify these unseen forces except by their activities. When someone lies, hates, steals, murders, or is enticed or pressured to commit any sin, we know the ultimate source is from Satan, his demons, his world-system, and/or the sinful nature within each of us. A person’s words and actions reveal the ultimate source of influence.[8] To stand in opposition to these forces means we’re in for a fight. Thomas Constable writes:

If we want to obey God and resist the devil, we are in for a struggle. It is not easy to become a mature Christian nor is it automatic. It takes diligent, sustained effort. This is part of our human responsibility in progressive sanctification. This struggle does not take place on the physical level primarily, though saying no to certain temptations may involve certain physical behavior. It is essentially warfare on the spiritual level with an enemy that we cannot see. This enemy is Satan and his hosts as well as the philosophies he promotes that people implement.[9]

God has not left us defenseless against this unseen enemy. He has provided armor for our protection. Paul writes, “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph 6:13). As the Son of God, Jesus had the authority to deal with Satan directly (Matt 4:1-11), and we know He interacted with demons and cast them out of men (Matt 8:16). Later, Jesus delegated authority to His disciples so they could cast out demons (Matt 10:1, 8). And, the apostle Paul also cast out demons during his missionary journeys (Acts 16:16-18; 19:11-12). But we are not commanded to engage Satan and/or his demons directly; rather, we appeal to God, who handles them Himself, or sends His holy angels to do the work. The command given to us as Christians is to be aware that we have an enemy that seeks our harm (1 Pet 5:8), and that he has demonic forces that war against us (Eph 6:12).[10] We stand against Satan and his demonic forces by wearing God’s armor so that when we are attacked, we will be able to resist the assault. The word resist translates the Greek word ἀνθίστημι anthistemi, which means to stand against. We don’t search out the fight; rather, we stand against the enemy when he comes. And, as we seek to live in God’s will, the attacks will come. Paul speaks of the evil day, which is the day when evil forces attack us, trying to get us to give up ground we’ve taken for Christ. And having done everything in preparation of that day, we simply stand firm. Grant Osborne writes:

The battle has been joined, and the forces of the enemy are in attack mode, coming at us fast and furiously. Paul changes his imperative from “put on” (clothing imagery) to “take up” (weapon imagery). This is a stronger verb, often used in a military setting, that speaks of an emergency situation in a battle that is already in process. The soldiers are arming themselves one piece at a time, but they are in a hurry lest the encroaching hostile forces catch them unprepared.[11]

As Christians, we realize dark spiritual forces are at work in the world and against us. Though we live in this reality, our sphere of influence is more directly related to people around us who have been manipulated by Satan and his forces. Ours is a battle of the mind, as we pray for others and speak God’s truth in love, hoping they will turn to God and be rescued from Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13-14). As we engage in Christian ministry, sharing the gospel and teaching God’s Word, it is our hope that “they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). When people do not turn to God, but choose to follow Satan and embrace his world-system, we then focus our efforts on others, seeking their liberation from the enemy captor.

Belt of TruthPaul describes the weapons of our armor, saying, “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph 6:14). Stand firm translates the Greek verb ἵστημι histemi which is an aorist active imperative. This implies a sense of urgency. The active voice means the subject produces the action of the verb. It’s our responsibility to stand against Satan and his forces. The imperative mood makes this a command. The armor is put on in order of priority. After putting on a tunic, a Roman soldier would put on a thick leather belt. This belt was used to tuck his tunic in so that his legs would be free to move about. It also helped keep the breastplate in place and held his sword. The belt of truth refers to the truth of God’s Word. The palmist wrote, “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psa 119:160). And Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17). Biblical truth is what should govern our lives. This is the truth of God’s Word lived out daily in our thoughts, words, and actions. As we live out God’s Word, this produces Christian integrity and a life of faithfulness to the Lord and others. Warren Wiersbe states:

The girdle holds the other parts of the armor together, and truth is the integrating force in the life of the victorious Christian. A man of integrity, with a clear conscience, can face the enemy without fear. The girdle also held the sword. Unless we practice the truth, we cannot use the Word of truth. Once a lie gets into the life of a believer, everything begins to fall apart.[12]

Soldier's BreastplateIn addition to the belt of truth, we are told to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” The breastplate of righteousness refers to the righteous life we live in conformity to God’s truth. Objectively, it is true that we are positionally righteous before God because the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us at the moment of salvation (Rom 3:21-26; 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9); however, Paul seems to be referring to our subjective righteousness; that is, our righteous lifestyle. Harold Hoehner writes:

Like the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness is likely a subjective genitive. This means it refers to the believer’s righteous lifestyle, of which the Christian has a part to play, as we make choices to live by God’s Word. As a soldier’s breastplate protected his chest from an enemy’s attacks, so sanctifying, righteous living (Rom 6:13; 14:17) guards a believer’s heart against the assaults of the devil (cf. Isa 59:17; James 4:7).[13]

And Warren Wiersbe adds:

This piece of armor, made of metal plates or chains, covered the body from the neck to the waist, both front and back. It symbolizes the believer’s righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) as well as his righteous life in Christ (Eph. 4:24). Satan is the accuser, but he cannot accuse the believer who is living a godly life in the power of the Spirit. The life we live either fortifies us against Satan’s attacks or makes it easier for him to defeat us (2 Cor. 6:1–10). When Satan accuses the Christian, it is the righteousness of Christ that assures the believer of his salvation. But our positional righteousness in Christ, without practical righteousness in the daily life, only gives Satan opportunity to attack us.[14]

Soldier's ShoesMoving on to the next piece of armor, Paul states, “and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15). Roman soldiers had some of the best footwear in the ancient world. Their shoes were comparable to cleats that gripped the terrain. Scripture teaches the gospel that brought us peace with God (Rom 5:1-2) is to be shared with others that they might know peace with Him and peace with other people. Because Paul presents the Christian as standing against an attack (verses 11-16), it’s probably best to take his meaning as the surefootedness that comes to us in battle, knowing we have peace with God. However, it’s possible Paul also envisions this as the gospel that we bring to others as we advance in the devil’s world. Thomas Constable writes:

The gospel that has brought peace to the Christian enables him or her to stand firmly against temptation. Likewise the gospel is what enables us to move forward against our enemies (cf. Isa. 52:7). The preparation of the gospel of peace probably refers to the gospel the Christian soldier has believed that enables him to stand his ground when attacked. We must be so familiar with the gospel that we can share it with others (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).[15]

Roman ShieldPaul continues, saying, “in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). The Roman shield was large, approximately 2 ½ feet wide and 4 feet long. It was commonly overlaid with leather, and soldiers would wet their shields during times of battle in order to help extinguish the fiery arrows their enemy would shoot at them. And, when in battle, Roman soldiers would stand side by side with their shields, like a wall of defense, making them practically impenetrable to attacks. The phrase of faith is likely a genitive of content, meaning the shield consists of faith. When we live by faith, we are able to extinguish the fiery darts that Satan throws at us, which would certainly cause damage if they got through. This faith is trust in God, His promises and commands. William MacDonald writes:

In addition, the soldier must take the shield of faith so that when the fiery darts of the wicked one come zooming at him, they will hit the shield and fall harmlessly to the ground. Faith here is firm confidence in the Lord and in His word. When temptations burn, when circumstances are adverse, when doubts assail, when shipwreck threatens, faith looks up and says, “I believe God.”[16]

Roman HelmetPaul adds, saying, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17). The helmet obviously protects the head. Here, I believe it is designed to protect our thinking. The helmet of salvation is the confidence of present and future salvation we have in the Lord (John 10:28; 1 Th 5:8-9). At salvation, the believer is forgiven all sins (Eph 1:7), given eternal life (John 10:28), has peace with God (Rom 5:1), and will never face condemnation from the Lord (Rom 8:1). We know God is for us (Rom 8:29-36), and that “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). Thomas Constable writes:

Since Christians are to put this salvation on, the salvation or deliverance in view seems to refer to the present and future deliverance we need when under attack by Satan (cf. 1 Thess. 5:8). We have already received salvation from condemnation. We receive this present salvation (deliverance) as we receive all salvation, namely by calling on God and requesting it (cf. 1:15–23; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). This salvation is evidently similar to a helmet because deliverance involves a mental choice, namely trust in God rather than self, and obedience to Him. Confidence in God becomes our salvation and so protects our thinking when we are under attack.[17]

Roman SwordThe sword (μάχαιρα machaira) was the Roman offensive weapon. It was a short double-edged sword. Romans also carried spears, but Paul did not include that in his list of armor. Unlike the other pieces of armor, Paul tells us the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. The word (ῥῆμα rhema) refers to “that which is said, word, saying, expression, or statement of any kind.”[18] The sword of the Spirit refers to the revealed word of Scripture we use to fight back when under attack. Jesus, when under assault by Satan, cited specific passages of God’s Word which were appropriate to the specific temptations (see Matt 4:4, 7, 10). William MacDonald writes:

Finally, the soldier takes the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The classic illustration of this is our Lord’s use of this sword in His encounter with Satan. Three times He quoted the word of God—not just random verses but the appropriate verses which the Holy Spirit gave Him for that occasion (Luke 4:1–13). The word of God here does not mean the whole Bible, but the particular portion of the Bible which best suits the occasion.[19]

Praying HandsPaul closes, saying, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). Prayer is important to the Christian life, as it is the communication channel between us and God. It’s important that we know to call out to the Lord, Who is the source of all our logistical support. Praying in the Spirit means praying in the power of the Spirit. We pray for ourselves, and we pray for God’s people, who are also under spiritual attack. Harold Hoehner states:

The manner in which a soldier takes up these last two pieces of armor is suggested by two Greek participles: “praying” and “being alert.” When the enemy attacks—and on all occasions—Christians are to pray continually in the Spirit (i.e., in the power and sphere of the Spirit; cf. Jude 20). With all kinds of prayers and requests suggests the thoroughness and intensity of their praying. And like reliable soldiers, they are to be keeping alert, literally, “in all persistence” (en pasē proskarterēsei; the noun is used only here in the NT). Their requests are to be for all the saints because of Satan’s spiritual warfare against Christ and the church.[20]

The battles we face are part of an ongoing war that will not end until Christ returns and suppresses all rebellion against Him, both demonic and human. Fighting effectively against Satan and his demonic forces requires a deep knowledge of God and His Word. Jesus had a well-developed knowledge of OT Scripture and this is what He used to defend Himself when attacked by the devil (Matt 4:1-11).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. The Sovereignty of God
  3. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  4. Satan’s Evil World-System
  5. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  6. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  7. Restoring Fellowship With God
  8. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  9. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  10. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 56–57.

[2] In the first half of his letter, he wrote about the believer’s union with Christ (Eph 1:12; 2:6-7, 13; 3:6), the spiritual assets available (Eph 1:3), and the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers (Eph 2:11-22). In Ephesians 4:1 through 6:9 Paul provides practical application to his readers, telling them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1), to walk in love (Eph 5:2), to walk as children of light (Eph 5:8), and to walk as wise men (Eph 5:15). The subject of love is also important to Paul and he addresses it in Ephesians more than any of his other letters, using both the noun (ἀγάπη) and verb (ἀγαπάω) a total of 19 times (out of a total of 107 times throughout all his letters).

[3] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker Academic, 2002), 820.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1951.

[5] Ibid., 1952.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Eph 6:11.

[7] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 57.

[8] Examples of this are found throughout Scripture. When the Pharisees attacked Jesus, He knew the ultimate source of their words and actions, saying, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Later, when Jesus revealed to His disciples that He would go to the cross and die (Matt 16:21), this did not set well with Peter. Matthew records, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Matt 16:22). For a brief moment, Peter—a believer—became an enemy of the cross. Satan was behind Peter, motivating him to defy the Lord. Matthew records Jesus’ rebuke, saying “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’” (Matt 16:23). Here, Jesus rebuked Peter for being Satan’s mouthpiece. When Paul and Barnabas were on the island of Paphos and sharing the gospel with a proconsul by the name of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-7), there was a Jewish false prophet who opposed them. Luke records, “Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts 13:8). Paul identified this man by his words and actions and rebuked him, saying, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). The apostle John wrote, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Again, words and actions reveal the source of influence.

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Eph 6:12.

[10] To this, we can also add that we live in a world that is systemically hostile to God (1 John 2:15-17), and that we have a sinful nature that influences us to walk independently of the Lord (Rom 7:18, 21; 8:5-7; Gal 5:17).

[11] Grant R. Osborne, Ephesians: Verse by Verse, Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 227.

[12] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 58.

[13] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 643.

[14] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 58.

[15] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Eph 6:15.

[16] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, 1952.

[17] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Eph 6:17.

[18] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 905.

[19] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, 1953.

[20] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 644.

Future Christian Rewards

Salvation is the work the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ atoning death on the cross propitiated the Father’s demands toward our sin (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and we come with the empty hands of faith, trusting in Christ alone to save us (John 3:16; 20:31 Acts 4:12). The gospel is the good news “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it (Rom 4:1-5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Once saved, the Lord calls us to “be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4), and to engage in “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). As Christians, we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10), for He instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12), and to be a people “zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14).

Our loyal obedience to God is in appreciation for all He has done for us. It’s a “Thank You” response to His grace and goodness. As an added benefit, God promises future rewards to the Christian who walks in His will. But, to be clear, not all rewards are the same, as they are given in proportion to the life of obedience. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples (Matt 5:1-2), He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12). A reward (Grk μισθός misthos) denotes “a recompense based upon what a person has earned and thus deserves.”[1] Though salvation is free and simple, eternal rewards are earned. A little later, Jesus explained that there will be distinctions in heaven based on the believer’s obedience or disobedience to His will, saying, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19). Being IN the kingdom of heaven connotes an end of life location, as this will be the final resting place for all believers. But the distinctions of being “least” or “great” in heaven are the result of the believer’s disobedience or obedience to God, and their instructing others to do the same.

We survived the Judgment Seat of Christ Paul taught the Christians at Corinth that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be evaluated for our works. Paul was a “wise master builder” who shared the gospel with others and laid the foundation, which is Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11). Paul spoke of the believer who “builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). The composition of material is distinguished between what is precious and what is worthless. And a day is coming, when “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Cor 3:13). And if the “man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward [Grk μισθός misthos]” (1 Cor 3:14), being justly compensated for his work. However, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss [of reward]; but he himself will be saved [eternally], yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). The phrase suffer loss translates the Greek word ζημιόω zemioo, which means “to experience the loss of something, with implication of undergoing hardship or suffering, suffer damage/loss, forfeit, sustain injury.”[2] The apostle John also taught that rewards can be lost if the believer succumbs to false teachers (2 John 1:7-8).

Jesus taught that we should look to the future and think in terms of storing up rewards in heaven, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21). We all spend our time, efforts, and resources investing in something we consider will bring a good return on investment. Biblically, there is no greater investment to be made than learning and living God’s Word, and instructing others to do the same. The growing Christian thinks more and more about investing in God’s work, realizing he/she will receive an eternal reward from the Father.

After the Rapture of the church to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 2:1-3a; Tit 2:13), believers will be judged for their works (Matt 5:12; Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10). As Christians, we are to inspect our own fruit and not the fruit of others. For this reason, Paul comments, “why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14:10). All Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). This judgment is not to determine who gets into heaven, for that problem has already been settled by Christ, who died in our place and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Rather, the judgment is to determine rewards for eternity. “The question is often raised how one’s sins can be forgiven and yet one’s deeds reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ. Forgiveness concerns justification; the review concerns rewards, and after the review is made there will be no sorrow or tears because there are none in heaven.”[3]

Rewards are offered by God to a believer on the basis of faithful service rendered after salvation. It is clear from Scripture that God offers to the lost salvation and for the faithful service of the saved, rewards. Often in theological thinking salvation and rewards are confused. However, these two terms must be carefully distinguished. Salvation is a free gift (John 4:10; Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8-9), whereas rewards are earned by works (Matt 10:42; cf. Luke 19:17; 1 Cor 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:7-8). Then, too, salvation is a present possession (Luke 7:50; John 5:24). On the other hand, rewards are future attainment to be dispensed at the second coming of Christ for His own (Matt 16:27; 2 Tim 4:8). Rewards will be dispensed at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10).[4]

layingcrownathisfeet     We don’t know what many of the rewards will be. That is for Christ to determine and dispense at that time. However, we are aware of crowns that will be given to some who are faithful, such as: the imperishable crown given to those who exercise self-control in godliness (1 Cor 9:24-27), the crown of exaltation for those who bring others to Christ (1 Thes 2:19), the crown of righteousness to those who love His appearing (2 Tim 4:7-8), the crown of glory given to elders who faithfully execute their service in the church (1 Pet 5:4), and the crown of life given to those who endure testing because they love the Lord (Jam 1:12; cf. Rev 2:10). In the future, there is a heavenly description of “twenty-four elders who will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev 4:10). These will cast their crowns as an expression of worship to the Lord, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev 4:11). If crowns are only given to those who live righteously, then this means some will have greater capacity for worship than others, as what we give is in proportion to what we have.

This rewarding is a display of God’s righteous character, for “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Heb 6:10). As Christians, we know our “toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58), and that we will reap what has been sown during our lifetime (Gal 6:7-8). For this reason, Paul says, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal 6:9). God graciously permits us to share in His work on earth, and then rewards us for our participation. God’s rewards are a reflection of his goodness and He is pleased to give them, like He does all good things. Eternal rewards manifest His glory in our lives, and will be manifest in the Church, the Bride of Christ, at His second coming (Rev 19:8).

OT saints will be rewarded as well (Dan 12:1-3), perhaps at the Second Coming of Jesus, alongside the saints who survive the Tribulation, whose “deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13). These are evaluated just prior to Jesus’ millennial kingdom, in which He separates the sheep from goats (Matt 25:31-46), to determine who will enter the kingdom and reign with Him (Rev 20:4-6). Whether OT or NT saints, all believers will be judged as Jesus declares, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev 22:12). Unbelievers will be judged after the millennial kingdom, but theirs is a judgment for eternal suffering (Rev 20:11-15). And it appears from certain passages in Scripture that some unbelievers will suffer more than others (Matt 10:15; 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11). Since God is just, it would make sense that punishment for unbelievers would be in proportion to the degree of how sinfully they lived after rejecting the gospel.

Summary:

God has secured our salvation through the substitutionary atoning death of Christ who shed His blood at the cross and propitiated every righteous demand the Father has toward us (Rom 3:25). Having trusted Christ as Savior (John 3:16), we now have peace with God (Rom 5:1). However, after salvation, God expects us to learn His Word, live righteously (Tit 2:11-14), and encourage others to do the same (Heb 11:24-25). After the Rapture of the church (1 Thess 4:13-18), all Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be evaluated for how we lived our lives (2 Cor 5:9-10). This evaluation is not a judgment concerning the Christian’s right to enter heaven as the place of eternal residence, for Christ has secured our salvation and there is no fear of condemnation before God (John 3:18). Rather, it is a judgment concerning eternal rewards for the life we’ve lived in service to Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15). Apparently, we must stay the course in faithfulness, otherwise we run the risk of losing part of our reward (2 John 1:8). Those who learned God’s Word, lived His will, and taught others to do the same, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. But those believers who disobeyed God’s Word and taught others to disobey as well will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 490.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 428.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972).

[4] Merrill F. Unger, “Rewards,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1080.

The Rapture of the Church

The Bible reveals Jesus will return to earth; however, a distinction must be drawn between Jesus coming for His saints at the Rapture (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 2:1-3a; Tit 2:13), and Jesus coming with His saints at His Second Coming to reign for a thousand years (Dan 7:13-14; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 19:11-21). There are basically five views on the rapture of the church which are held by Bible scholars.

  1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before the Tribulation begins (this author’s view).
  2. Partial Rapture: Only believers who faithfully watch for the Lord’s return will be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation.
  3. Mid-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world in the middle of the Tribulation.
  4. Pre-Wrath Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before God’s wrath is greatest, just before Christ returns to establish His earthly kingdom.
  5. Post-Tribulation Rapture: The church is raptured up as Christ is returning to earth at His Second Coming.

The doctrine of the Rapture was first presented by the Lord Jesus when He provided new information to His apostles on the night before His crucifixion. After speaking of His soon departure (John 13:33), Jesus comforted them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The place where Jesus was going was heaven. The purpose of His going was to prepare a place for them. And, at some unspecified time, Jesus promised He would come again to receive them to Himself, that they may be with Him.

Changed     Paul explained to the church at Corinth that the changing of our bodies at the Lord’s return was a mystery. Paul said, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53). The word mystery translates the Greek word μυστήριον musterion, which means “the unmanifested or private counsel of God, (God’s) secret, the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God.”[1] A mystery was something “which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col 1:26). What Paul revealed for the first time—not found in the OT—pertained to the physical transformation that occurs at the Rapture, that our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal ones.

Raptured     Paul described a time in which Christians will be raptured out of the world and taken to heaven. He explained, “the dead in Christ shall rise first [i.e. be resurrected]. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [ἁρπάζω harpazo] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16b-17). The meaning of ἁρπάζω harpazo is “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away.”[2] The form of the Greek verb is passive, which means the Christian will offer no resistance when the Lord removes His church in a moment, without notice, and by force.

The Latin translation of this verse used the word rapturo. The Greek word it translates is harpazō, which means to snatch or take away. Elsewhere it is used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2–4). Thus, there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.[3]

Some have asserted that the Rapture is not a biblical doctrine because, they argue, the word Rapture is not mentioned in the English Bible. However, the word Rapture comes from the words “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This verse could be translated, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be raptured together with them in the clouds.” The important point is that the verse says Christ will come for believers and take them from the earth to heaven, where they will be in His presence till they return with Him to the earth to reign. The Rapture will mean that all believers “will be with the Lord forever,” enjoying Him and His presence for all eternity.[4]

Paul reaffirmed his teaching of the Rapture in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. Apparently, someone had upset the Christians living in Thessalonica by writing a false letter, as if from Paul, that the Rapture had already occurred and their suffering was a result of entering into the time of the Tribulation. Paul said, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him [at the Rapture], that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us [i.e. a false letter], to the effect that the day of the Lord has come [day of the Lord = seven year Tribulation]” (2 Thess 2:1-2). Paul explained the Rapture could not have occurred yet, saying, “for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first” (2 Thess 2:3a). The word apostasy translates the Greek word ἀποστασία apostasia, which is believed by the majority of scholars today to refer to a special end-time rebellion against biblical teaching. Though this departure from God’s Word will happen in the days leading up to the Rapture (1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3-4; 2 Pet 3:3-6), it is argued—quit convincingly—by some Bible scholars that the word ἀποστασία apostasia is better understood as referring to the physical departure of the church at the time of the Rapture.[5] Dr. Thomas Ice states:

I believe that there is a strong possibility that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture. What do I mean? Some pretribulationists, like myself, think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated “apostasy,” is a reference to the rapture and should be translated “departure.” Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the rapture comes before it. If apostasia is a reference to a physical departure, then 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is strong evidence for pretribulationism.[6]

The above passages, taken as a whole, argue convincingly that we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). The appearing of Christ at the Rapture is what the Christian is looking for, since that is the next prophetic event to come. This Rapture is immanent, meaning it may occur at any time and without prior notice. All Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, will go with Him to heaven, and be spared the wrath to be poured out during the seven-year Tribulation. Our future is not one of judgment; rather, we are assured we will be spared God’s future wrath, both in time and eternity (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9; Rev 3:10).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 662.

[2] Ibid., 134.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 537.

[4] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 1265.

[5] Among these are Dr. E. Schuyler English, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Dr. Thomas Ice, Dr. Andy Woods, Dr. Paul Lee Tan, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Dave Olander, and others.

[6] Thomas Ice, “The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3″ (2009). Article Archives. 82.
https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/82.

God Used Jonah to Change a Culture

Assyrian Cruelty 1     God used the preaching of Jonah to change the corrupt culture of Nineveh. Around 760 BC, God sent His prophet, Jonah, to preach a message of judgment to Nineveh, a major city in Assyria. The reason for the message was, as God declared, “their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jon 1:2). As “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), God had paid attention to the wickedness of the Ninevites, and the time was near for Him to pour out His wrath. Prior to Jonah’s preaching, the Assyrians were living wickedly and their culture was noted for its brutality. Some of their cruelty could be seen in how they treated non-Assyrians, whom they attacked. For example, “Assurbanipal, one of its rulers, was accustomed to tear off the hands and the lips of his victims. Tiglathpileser flayed them alive and made great piles of their skulls.”[1] There are ancient relief carvings that picture Assyrian cruelty, no doubt to intimidate those who may have considered opposing them. This would have been an early form of psychological warfare.

Assyrian Cruelty 3    God is very slow to anger (Exo 34:6; Psa 86:15), but His patience with the Assyrians was coming to an end and He was ready to judge the nation. His message to the Ninevites was simple, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4b). This was a message of pending destruction. However, the forty days was a period of grace in which God gave the nation the opportunity to turn from their wickedness and pursue righteousness. Surprisingly, the Assyrians displayed positive volition and responded properly to God’s message. The text reveals, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jon 3:5). Even the king of Nineveh “arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, [and] covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes” (Jon 3:6). The king acknowledged his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people and called for a fast to demonstrate their humility (Jon 3:7). He reasoned that since God had not brought judgment already, there was opportunity to turn from their violent ways and avoid the Lord’s wrath. The king commanded, “let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jon 3:8). His reasoning was simple, for he thought, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jon 3:9). Because the Ninevites humbled themselves before God, He spared them from His judgment, for “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” (Jon 3:10). This shows the principle that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). Because of their humility, that generation knew God’s grace and was spared from destruction.

     Unfortunately, the following generations of Assyrians returned to their evil practices and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. And two decades later they attacked the southern kingdom of Judah during King Hezekiah’s reign (ca. 701 B.C.).[2] But God spared Judah because they humbly sought the Lord (Isa 37:1-38). Because the Assyrians turned away from the Lord and pursued evil again, God destroyed their kingdom in 612 B.C.

     What this lesson about the Assyrians reveals is that the humility and faith of one generation is merely the humility and faith of one generation, and that believing and humble parents do not guarantee believing and humble children. We are no different. God will judge America if we are wicked, and He will spare His judgment if we humble ourselves and turn to Him in faith. We all want to leave a good and lasting legacy to our children, one upon which they can build and do better than we have done. However, we cannot make their decisions for them, as they must choose to carry on what is handed to them. But if we make bad choices, our children will suffer because of our unfaithfulness.

     Personally, I blame much of America’s spiritual and moral decline on the preachers who have failed to accurately communicate God’s Word from the pulpit. False teachers and prophets have communicated a message of their own imagination and have not accurately taught God’s Word. The result is that much of the nation has slipped into moral decline and our pride has grown large as we worship at the altar of self-interest. I pray it’s not too late to turn things around.

     So, what do we do? Well, like Jonah, we should preach the righteousness of God, His judgment of sin upon the arrogant, and His grace and mercy which is available to the humble who turn to Him in faith. Hopefully Americans will listen, and there will be revival, and our nation will pursue righteousness and not evil. If we’re not going to share God’s Word directly with others, then we should at least support those ministries that do. But even once we’ve done all we can, we should realize we are only responsible for our godly output, not the outcome. That is, we control our message and personal lifestyle, but not the response of those who hear and see it. People must be free to accept or reject what is offered. In addition, we should realize there will always be some, sometimes the majority, who are hopelessly unrepentant. The Bible reveals historical events in which God judged arrogant generations, both Gentile and Jewish, because of their defiance against Him (i.e. the Noahic flood, Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt, Canaan, Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.). Not even Jesus persuaded His generation, and they too were destroyed (Matt 23:37-40). Hopefully we can learn from the historical lessons found in the Bible.

     Let us seek the Lord, learn His Word, live righteously, and share His Word with others and support those ministries that do the same.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Gerald B. Stanton, “The prophet Jonah and His Message.” Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (April 1951) 240.

[2] Scripture informs us, “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them” (Isa 36:1), and the king sent his military commander, Rabshakeh, to besiege Jerusalem. His message was, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern” (Isa 36:16). If they refused, the residents of the city would be “doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (Isa 36:12). No doubt, worse cruelties were involved, and one can only imagine the post-traumatic stress their victims endured.

Improving Culture – A NT Example

Culture represents the values, traditions and behaviors of a society, and though culture is improvable, it is not perfectible. And even where positive change occurs, it’s difficult to perpetuate, largely because the people needed to sustain the change are few, flawed and temporary. A society’s culture is no better or worse than its leaders and the citizenry who support them; and at the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. Apart from regeneration and a transformed mind and will, people will default to selfishness and sin, and so social problems continue. Furthermore, if we did make great improvements, we cannot guarantee succeeding generations will follow the good pattern set for them. Below is a NT example in Acts 19 of how the city of Ephesus was improved culturally from the bottom up, as a result of the apostle Paul’s preaching the gospel and biblical teaching over several years.

ai8scsonp5sri42cdgth     The apostle Paul came to the city of Ephesus, and as was his custom, “he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Paul’s normal ministry pattern was to preach to Jews first, then to Gentiles (Rom. 1:16; cf. Acts 13:46; 17:2; 18:4, 19). However, there were some Jews with negative volition who rejected Paul’s teaching, who “were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people” (Acts 19:9a). Paul did not argue with them, nor did he try to force his teaching on them. Rather, “he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9b). It’s very possible Paul was renting a room at the school in order to host his daily Bible classes. Luke tells us, “This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Though Paul was teaching, he continued to work with his hands to support himself and his traveling companions (Acts 20:34), and it’s possible the seven churches of Asia were started as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; Rev. 2-3). In addition to Paul’s teaching, we learn “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out” (Acts 19:11-12). In this way, God was authenticating Paul’s apostolic authority and validating him as a true servant of the Lord. Ephesus was a city known for its occult practices, and there were some unbelievers who thought they could borrow the name of Jesus and use it to advance their own agendas. We learn there were some “Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, [and] attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches’” (Acts 19:13). These men were identified as “Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this” (Acts 19:14). But the results were not what they expected, as “the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’” (Acts 19:15). The question implied they had no authority, “And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16). Though these exorcists tried to use the name of Jesus in the form of a verbal incantation to control evil spirits, it backfired on them and caused personal harm, and the event “became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified” (Acts 19:17). The failure of these Jewish exorcists became widely publicized and began to draw people to hear the Christian message. Furthermore, many of “those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices” (Acts 19:18). Those who “had believed” were Christians who had not completely let go of some of their pagan practices, but now they were willing. Luke records, “And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:19). Though it took nearly two years, these Christians were finally willing to let go of their past practices by burning their magic books and turning fully to the Lord. The value of these books totaled a large financial sum, as each piece of silver was probably equal to a day’s wage. “Ephesus was known for its magic, and apparently the Christians had not yet put away all such evil practices. So they brought their books and scrolls of magic and burned them as an open repudiation. Then—after the believers made their relationships with the Lord right—the Word of God grew and prevailed.”[1] The result was that people were being transformed from the inside out and Ephesian culture was positively impacted for Christ, as “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:8-20). Here we see cultural improvement in the lives of those who were positive to gospel preaching and biblical teaching.

49Ephesians_500     These events marked the high point of Paul’s ministry in Asia. However, some pagan craftsmen who made their living selling statuettes of Artemis felt threatened by the cultural changes that were taking place (Acts 19:23-27). Acting out of rage and economic self-interest, they formed a mob and stormed the city theater, even dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s traveling companions, who undoubtedly felt threatened by the uproar (Acts 19:28-29). Paganism has no real answers to Christianity, and when threatened, many will resort to violence to suppress the advance of truth. Though Paul wanted to address the mob, he was prevented by friends who were concerned about his safety (Acts 19:30-31). The riot lasted for several hours with great intensity (Acts 19:32-34), until eventually the crowd tired out, at which time a city official reasoned with them to bring their complaints to the courts, where matters could be handled lawfully and peacefully (Acts 19:35-41). These events likely occurred between 52-55 AD. We know Paul was marked by these events (2 Cor 1:8-9), and by the end of his ministry around 62-64 AD, everyone who once supported him in Ephesus turned away from him (2 Tim 1:15). By 95 AD the church in Ephesus had grown cold and lost its “first love” (Rev 2:4).

In In Acts 19:8-41 we observe that gospel preaching and biblical teaching can, over time, bring about positive cultural change. However, we must keep our focus on evangelism and biblical teaching, and not reducing Christianity to a methodological system merely for the purpose of effecting social change (i.e. a social gospel). We also observe in Acts 19 that when Christianity does bring about positive cultural change, it threatens those who love and live by their paganism, and when this happens, people may resort to violence to suppress the biblical teaching. Lastly, gospel preaching and biblical teaching does not always yield large or lasting results. Remember that Noah preached for 120 years, but only seven persons besides himself were saved (2 Pet 2:5), and Jeremiah preached for 23 years to the same group of leaders in Israel, but they refused to listen (Jer 25:3). Jesus came as the Light into the world, but the majority of those who heard and saw Him rejected His message, as they “loved the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). Jesus informed us that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matt 7:13), whereas “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt 7:14). The result is that there will continually be believers and unbelievers in the world, as the wheat and tares will grow side by side until Jesus returns and establishes His earthly millennial kingdom (Matt 13:36-42). Even Paul did not always get the same results in each city where he preached, for though he had many disciples in Iconium, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (read Acts 14), there were only two positive responses in Philippi, namely Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:27-34). As Christians, we are more concerned about our godly output rather than the responsive outcomes of those we interact with; for though we can control our godly life and good message, we cannot control how others will respond to it.

Lastly, we live in the reality that there will always be resistance to God’s work in every Christian ministry because the world is fallen and Satan desperately wants to keep everyone—both saved and lost—thinking and acting according to his world-system. New Christians will inevitably face many obstacles, because at the moment of salvation, their minds are not automatically filled with Scripture and their characters are not instantly changed to be like the character of Christ. The process of being transformed into the character of Christ and learning to think biblically involves many thousands of decisions over a lifetime, in which worldly viewpoint is driven from the mind as the believer’s thinking is renovated and brought into conformity with Scripture. Without regeneration and positive volition to God and His Word, biblical discussion is hindered and the appropriation of Christian values to culture is not possible. Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, as they manifest the highest and best virtues within society, not the lowest and worst. And the Bible is our sword by which we destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds, within ourselves and others (2 Cor 10:3-6), realizing true cultural change occurs through preaching the gospel and consistent biblical teaching. As Christians, we should always pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and preach God’s Word (1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:1-2). As we grow spiritually and walk with God, we stand in opposition to Satan’s world-system and sow the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in his kingdom of darkness. We disrupt Satan’s kingdom when we share the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4), and influence the thoughts and lives of others through biblical discussion (Matt 28:18-20); which we do in love and grace (Eph 4:14-15; Col 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim 2:24-26).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

Related Articles:

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Acts of the Apostles, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), 102.

The Biblical Teaching on Tithes

tithe

     I took this picture with my camera phone while passing through an apartment complex one day.  The person living in the apartment apparently thought the message important enough to stick on the front of her door for others to read as they passed by.  It certainly reveals her theology.  So, will you “tithe if you love Jesus”?

      The word tithe means “to give a tenth.” Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law (ca. 1445 B.C.), we see an example of Abraham giving Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war which he had accumulated after he had defeated Chedorlaomer at the Valley of Shaveh (Gen 14:17-20). Later, Jacob made a vow to give God a tenth of his possessions if God would be faithful to protect him on a journey (Gen 28:20-22). In the accounts of Abraham and Jacob, there was no mandate from heaven for them to give a tenth, and when they did give a tenth, it appears to be a one-time act, never repeated as far as Scripture is concerned. It was not until several centuries later that tithing became mandatory for the nation of Israel when they entered into the Mosaic Covenant and came under the Mosaic Law.

     When God established the nation of Israel as a theocracy under the leadership of Moses and Aaron (ca.1445 B.C.), He gave them 613 commandments known as the Mosaic Law. This law-code was designed to regulate the values and behavior of the citizens of the nation, morally, religiously, socially, economically, etc. Within the Mosaic Law, God required Israel to pay several tithes, which was tantamount to a form of taxation.

The so-called tithe (“a tenth”) added up to far more than a simple 10% annually, because there was a second tithe annually, and a third tithe in the third and fifth years…In the Old Testament economy all the giving covered the sanctuary offerings for God, the taxes for the nation, and charitable gifts all rolled together.[1]

     The tithe consisted of produce and livestock (Lev 27:30-32), and was given to the Levites for their support for ministry (Num 18:21-24). The Levites, in turn, gave a tithe of the tithe to the Priests for their service (Num 18:25-28). Additionally, the worshipper could eat a portion of the sacrifice with his family and the Levites (Deut 12:17-19; 14:22-27). Lastly, a tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows. This tithe was comparable to a social welfare system for the most unfortunate in society.  

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deut 14:28-29)

tithe-storehouse     The tithe was to be gathered into a “storehouse” (הָאוֹצָר בֵּית – bet ha otsar; Mal 3:10), which referred to a large room where “they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests” (Neh 13:5). Withholding the tithe was a form of robbery to God, the Levites, and the less fortunate in society who depended on it for daily living (Mal 3:6-11).

Non-tithers-board     Sadly, some pastors have mishandled Malachi 3:8-10 and applied it to the Church, browbeating Christians to make them feel guilty for not giving money to the Church. Some tyrants have even required church members to show their annual tax returns, or publicly posted their annual contributions in order to strong-arm Christians to give. This is more an act of despotic control over one’s flock than loving leadership. Pastors who use Malachi 3:8-10 against Christians display both an ignorance of God’s Word and a spiritual immaturity in leadership. The fact is, Malachi 3:8-10 has nothing to do with the Church.

     To be clear, Israel and the Church are both God’s people, but Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:11; Gal 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 40:18-38; 2 Chron 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; cf. Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

     To Christians, the apostle Paul mentions systematic giving (1 Cor 16:1-2), but nowhere specifies an amount. Giving 10% of one’s income is fine, so long as it is understood that it’s a voluntary action and not required by the Lord. One could easily set aside a different amount to be given on a regular basis. Certainly, the financial support of the Pastor is in line with Scripture (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18), although the apostle Paul supported himself in his own ministry as an example to others of sacrificial living (Acts 20:32-35). Giving systematically and giving joyfully is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 9:7).

     Lastly, we should realize all we have is on loan from God, for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1). The Lord declares, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10), and “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). When we give to the Lord, it’s a test of our love and loyalty to Him; for what we give is already His, and giving back to Him means we trust and support His work in the world. David captures this well when he says, “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Ch 29:14).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson on Tithing

Related Articles:

 

[1] Allen P. Ross, Malachi Then and Now: An Expository Commentary Based on Detailed Exegetical Analysis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 156.

The Old and New Priesthood

     A priest was one who offered prayers, sacrifices, and worship to God on behalf of others. He also offered instruction, by speech and behavior, concerning how to properly approach God in righteousness. In the OT—before the Mosaic Law—few priests are mentioned. Melchizedek functioned as the king/priest of Salem (Gen 14:18-20; cf. Heb 7:1), and Jethro/Ruel (Moses’ father-in-law) as the priest of Midian (Ex 2:16-21; 3:1). Job served as the priest over his household, offering sacrifices for the sins of his family (Job 1:5). Most people worshipped and served God as non-priests. Men such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built temporary stone altars and worshipped God directly (Gen 8:20-21; Gen 12:7; 13:18; 26:24-25; 35:1-7). Before the Mosaic Law, it appears that sacrifice and worship were personal, simple, did not require special attire, and were not tied to a specific geographic location or facility.

     After Israel was delivered from the bondage of Egypt, God established the Hebrews as a theocratic nation among the Gentile nations of the world. God originally intended the whole nation to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and gave it solely to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-10).

     Aaron was from the tribe of Levi, and he and his descendants constituted the priestly class in Israel, and other qualified Levites helped them in their priestly duties. The distinction between priests and Levites continued into the NT (John 1:19; Luke 10:31-32). The priests in Israel were not given land (Num 18:20, 23-24), but could live in one of forty-eight cities that were assigned to them (Num 35:7). Their living was derived from the tithe (Num 18:21, 24-28), and they could eat part of the animal sacrifice (Lev 5:13, 7:31-34), along with their family (Lev 10:12-15).

     God required that Levitical priests could not have any physical defects (Lev 21:17-23), and restricted the age to twenty-five to fifty (Num 8:24-25). The Levitical priests originally served in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. Special clothing was required both for the priests and the high priest. Throughout the years of their priestly service they were required to:

  1. Be holy in their behavior (Ex 19:6).
  2. Teach God’s Law to others (Lev 10:8-11; Deut 31:9-13; 33:8-10; 2 Chron 17:7-9; Ezra 7:10; Mal 2:7).
  3. Offer sacrifices for sin to God (Lev chapters 4, 9, 16).
  4. Adjudicate legal matters (Deut 17:8-13; 19:16-17; 2 Chron 19:8-10).
  5. Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num 18:1-7).
  6. Perform official duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex 30:6-10; Lev 16).
  7. Inspect persons, animals, and fabrics to make sure they were clean (Lev 1:3; Deu 15:21; Lev 13-15).
  8. Receive the tithes (Num 18:21, 26; cf. Heb 7:5).
  9. Pronounce God’s blessing on the nation (Num 6:22-27).

     The death of Christ on the cross fulfilled the Mosaic Law and ended the OT animal sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood (John 1:17; Rom 6:14; 8:3-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:1-13; Gal 5:18; Heb 8:13). Jesus is identified as a Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Psa 110:4; Heb 7:11-19), and He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin (Mark 10:45; Rom 8:3-4).

The Priesthood of all Believers     Today, there is no specialized priesthood, and the Catholic Church—or any organization—is not justified in creating a priestly cast within the body of Christ. Presently, in the church age, every Christian, at the moment of salvation, becomes a priest to God. Peter writes of Christians, saying, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5), and “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).[1] This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who “has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6), and “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10; cf. 20:6). Furthermore, we do not worship at a temple; rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to God (1 Pet 2:5). The basic functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

     The Christian becomes a priest at the moment of salvation; however, the practice of the priesthood begins when he/she surrenders their body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Unlike the OT animal sacrifices which surrendered their lives once, the Christian life is a moment by moment, continual surrender to God. This spiritual service is performed by the believer “to our God” (Rev 5:10), for the benefit of others (Gal 6:10; Phil 2:3-4; Heb 13:16).

Audio lesson on The Old and New Priesthood

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Restoring Fellowship With God
  3. The New Covenant and the Lord’s Supper
  4. What is the Church?
  5. The Basics of Prayer
  6. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  7. Walking with God

 


[1] Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues that the references in 1 Peter 2:5-9 refers narrowly to Jewish Christians, and there is merit to his argument. He also makes clear that all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, are priests to God, and references Revelation 1:6; 5:10, and 20:6 as his prooftexts. For further investigation, read Israelology, pages 720-722.

Social Justice from a Biblical Perspective

Thus has the LORD of hosts said, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zec 7:9-10)

Social Justice     The phrase social justice is commonly used in America today in connection with socialism; and though the term is good, socialism is not.[1] Many of the passages cited in this article are from the Mosaic Law and properly describe God’s expectation of Israel toward the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens in their community, which was a theocracy. Though there are no theocracies today, the OT passages nonetheless reflect the heart of God toward the poor, needy, and most vulnerable in society. From a biblical perspective, social justice refers to the divinely bestowed rights that God legislates concerning vulnerable persons in society; specifically, the poor, widows, orphans, and sojourners. These rights were theirs by divine law in which God commanded those blessed with resources to provide for the needs, protection, and just treatment of the vulnerable. Blessed Israelites were theologically obligated by God to help the less fortunate. In God’s theocratic kingdom, the dependent could expect the powerful and wealthy to help meet their needs and defend their rights. Solomon wrote, “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern” (Pro 29:7).[2] The “righteous” are those who have regard for God and His laws and are “concerned for rights of the poor” (cf. Isa 10:1-2). Those who disregarded God’s laws concerning the vulnerable could expect to be judged by Him, as Moses wrote, “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow” (Deu 27:19). God’s written law was the basis for “the justice due” to the vulnerable in Israel. According to God’s law:

  1. If a person became poor and had to sell his land, it could be purchased back by a near relative, or by himself if able. However, if there was no one to buy the land, it was automatically returned to the owner in the Year of Jubilee, which came once every fifty years (Lev 25:23-28).
  2. The poor could expect those whom God had blessed to be open-handed toward them and to give generously (Deu 15:7-11).
  3. If a poor person sold himself as a slave to a fellow Israelite, he was to be set free in the seventh year, and sent away with abundant resources. But if the slave chose, he could stay with his master forever (Deu 15:12-17; cf. Lev 25:39-42). Moreover, slaves were to be treated fairly, as God declared, “You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God” (Lev 25:43).
  4. If a poor person gave their cloak as a pledge, it was to be returned to him at sunset so that he would not get cold during the night (Deu 24:10-13).
  5. If one of God’s people hired a poor person to perform labor, he was to be paid the same day (Deu 24:14-15).[3] This is because the poor person relied on that money to eat.
  6. Sojourners, widows and orphans were free to eat the remnants of a crop after harvest (Deu 24:19-21).
  7. Levites, sojourners, widows and orphans were to enjoy the tithe of produce that came every third year (Deu 14:28-29).

     God called His people to be righteous, honest, truthful, protective and open-handed toward the less fortunate in society. Sadly, there were times when kings, princes, judges, wealthy, prophets and priests behaved wickedly and abused the poor.[4] For this reason, God raised up prophets such as Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zechariah and others who called for His people to “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). This call for obedience was rooted in the ethics of the Mosaic Law, which God’s people were to follow. And the prophets were functioning as prosecuting attorneys and not merely as social reformers as liberation theologians would have us believe. Unfortunately, God’s prophets were ignored or mistreated and the vulnerable continued to be exploited. When God’s people would not turn back to Him, He administered retributive justice, which brought about national discipline and eventual destruction (see Ex 22:21-24; Deu 10:17-18; Mal 3:5; Jer 21:12). God used both the Assyrians and Babylonians as His disciplinary agents to dispense retributive justice in Israel.

     In the Church age, governmental leaders—both Christian and non-Christian—serve as conduits of God’s grace to help care for the needy in society. In this case, tax dollars are used for basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Scripture teaches us to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), and to regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the governmental leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7). Christian leaders who have a healthy walk with the Lord are ultimately directed by His Word. Non-Christian leaders are influenced directly by God who controls their hearts (Pro 21:1), their consciences (Rom 2:14-15), and through the influence of godly believers in their periphery (Dan 3:28-29; 6:25-27).

     As Christians, we use the phrase social justice within the context of God’s moral absolutes. We agree with the laws of man when those laws reflect God’s laws. As a result, we are to advocate for the poor, widows, orphans, and all who are vulnerable to exploitation. In many cases, we are the proponents who affect that blessing as we open our hands to the destitute. This was true of the early church, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). There is no model for socialism here, whereby the state acts as the mediator who takes from one and gives to another. Instead, these Christians willingly sold “their property and possession” to help others, and this was done freely in order to help “as anyone might have need.” James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jam 1:27). Individual Christians are to be open-handed when helping the poor, widows and orphans.[5] This can be done directly, or through the agency of others, including organizations that help the needy and defend their rights. We are called to be good stewards of God’s resources, and this means compassion for others should be governed by wisdom from God’s Word.

     Simple ways to help the poor include: 1) spending personal time with them and treating them with respect, 2) sharing the gospel of Christ, 3) giving kind words and praying for them, 4) sharing Bible promises, 5) personally delivering freshly prepared meals or snacks, 6) giving clothes and blankets, 7) sharing information about local charities that might help them, 8) giving money, 9) volunteering at a homeless shelter, 10) offering gift cards that can be used at local restaurants such as McDonalds or Taco Bell, 11) giving to a local church that helps the poor, 12) or giving to a local charity such as Meals on Wheels or the Salvation Army.

     Lastly, there will be no utopian government nor lasting social change until Jesus returns and establishes His millennial kingdom. At that time, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7; cf. Jer 33:15). During that time “He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth” (Isa 11:4). 

When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge. He will show Himself to be King of kings and Lord of lords in the same arena where man’s rebellion against God took place.[6]

Summary:

     When Israel was a theocratic kingdom, God legislated certain benefits to the poor, widows, orphans and sojourners in order to meet their daily needs, and these were to be given by those whom He’d blessed with abundance. God instructed His leaders to uphold and defend the rights of the vulnerable, knowing there would be wicked persons who would seek to exploit them. Sadly, much of Israel’s history was marked by a breakdown among His people, as the leaders and wealthy in the land exploited the poor they were called to defend. Now, in the Church age, God provides care for the needy in society through human governments, as well as through individual Christians and local churches. Lastly, perfect government will come in the future when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth and provides righteous reign and care for all.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Here’s the audio lesson.

Related Subjects:

  1. The Gospel 
  2. Christians in America 
  3. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 
  4. Honor the Lord from Your Wealth 
  5. Treating Others with Dignity 
  6. Helping the Poor  

[1] Socialism is little more than thievery, in which governmental leaders extract wealth from one class of citizens—often the honest and hardworking—and redistributes it to others in order to create outcomes of equality. Socialism has brought nothing but social and economic ruin wherever it has been implemented.

[2] Solomon’s mother planted seeds of righteousness in the garden of her young son’s mind, hoping someday the landscape of his thinking would beautifully display the richness of God’s Word. She instructed her young son, saying “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Pro 31:8-9). Oh, that mothers would instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; that children would grow up with godly values that instruct them to care for others and to help the less fortunate. That children would grow up to represent the highest and best within society and not the lowest and worst.

[3] The Bible promotes a strong and honest work ethic. In fact, God’s expectation of compensation for work performed is so strong, it even extended to animals, as Moses wrote, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deu 25:4). The animal that works has the right to benefit from its labor. In contrast, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Th 3:10).

[4] The wicked are described as those who “slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans” (Psa 94:6), who “deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans” (Isa 10:2). In addition, “They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor” (Jer 5:28).

[5] Not all widows were eligible for support from the church, but only those who met the age requirements and displayed a life of humility and service to others (1 Tim 5:9-10). And, if a widow has children, they are to care for her (1 Tim 5:4). Younger widows were to seek remarriage and a godly life (1 Tim 5:11-14). And if a young woman has a dependent widow, she must care for her and not expect the church to do it (1 Tim 5:16).

[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 316.

What is the Church?

[This article is included in the book: What is Dispensationalism?]

     The church refers to the body of Christ which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. It is comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as Savior. The church exists universally as an organism, the global presence of Christians who form the body of Christ. The church also exists locally as an organization, a nearby assembly of believers who gather together for Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Christian church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and is separate from Israel, having a different identity and purpose.

The Meaning of Ekklesia

     ChurchThe term church is a common translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means called out ones, assembly, congregation, or community of Christians.[1] The New Testament writers use the word both in a general and technical sense. When used in a general sense, the word refers to any assembly, such as an assembly of residents in a city (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is interesting that the assembly mentioned in Acts 19 refers to pagan worshippers of the Greek goddess Artemis and does not refer to believers at all (Acts 19:34-35). The word ekklesia is also applied to Israel as a general assembly or congregation (Matt. 18:17; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12). In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus addresses the subject of discipline within the fellowship of a community (ekklesia); however, the evidence of the passage favors a Jewish assembly (i.e. a synagogue) and not the Christian church.[2] In Acts 7:38 Stephen is speaking to a Jewish audience and mentions “the congregation [ekklesia] in the wilderness.”[3] Stephen’s use of the word ekklesia simply refers to the assembly of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt by Moses. In Hebrews 2:12 the writer quotes Psalm 22:22, in which the Septuagint[4] has the term ekklesia, again, used in a general way of an assembly or congregation of Jewish people.

     When applied to Christians in the New Testament, ekklesia takes on a technical meaning and refers to those who have been joined to the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23) by means of personal faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9). The first reference to the Christian church occurs in Matthew 16:18 after Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and based on the rock-solid truth of Peter’s statement, Jesus said, “I will build [future tense] My church [ekklesia]; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus’ future tense statement reveals a church that was not in existence when He spoke. The Christian church began on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit began His baptizing ministry of placing believers into the body of Christ. Concerning this work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 3:26-28). “The Holy Spirit of God is the primary agent who identifies the believer with other believers. Each one is a member of the body, and each member is united with the other members and with Christ (Rom. 6:1–4).”[5] The comparison of Acts 1:4-5 with Acts 2:1-4 and 11:15-17 make a compelling case for the church’s origin in Acts 2. It is mainly in the writings of Paul that the Christian church is identified as the body of Christ. Note the following Scriptures:

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23)

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col. 1:18)

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Col. 1:24)

     Several times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Head of the body, the church. The Greek word soma, translated body, occurs 142 times in the New Testament and is used most often of physical bodies; however, it is used “sixteen times to refer to the church, the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). With the exception of Eph. 5:28, in Ephesians it is always used metaphorically as a reference to the body of Christ, the church.”[6] Paul first learned about this identification when he, as an unbeliever, encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was persecuting Christians and putting them in prison. While on the road, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a bright light, which caused him to fall to the ground, and then a voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Act 9:4; cf. 22:7; 26:14). When Paul asked, “who are You Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul learned that an attack on Christians is an attack on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “The question, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, ‘Why do you persecute My church?’ The reference to ‘Me’ gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ.”[7] When a person believes in Jesus as Savior he/she is united to the body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This is a new designation in which ethnic, social, and gender identity are all secondary to the believer’s new identity of being in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).[8]

The Universal Church

     The New Testament church is understood both in a universal and local sense. The universal church refers to the global existence of the body of Christ. This is the organic church as it exists all over the planet. Several passages in the New Testament communicate the idea of a universal church, such as when Paul said, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32), and “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28), and “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; italics added). What is noticed in these and other places in Scripture is the use of the term church without a specific location (Matt. 16:18; Acts 8:3; 9:31; 20:28; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:10, 21; 5:23, 32; Col. 1:18, 24). Robert Lightner comments on this:

There are a number of usages of ekklesia that do not seem to refer to a local assembly of believers. Instead, they speak of that company of believers formed on the day of Pentecost into the body of Christ, which has been growing ever since as sinners trust Christ alone as Savior and are added to it. This company of the redeemed is called the church without consideration of whether or not those who are a part of it are members of local churches.[9]

     The universal church exists all over the earth. When the rapture of the church occurs, all believers, wherever they are on the planet, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). That is, the church, as it exists globally, will be removed from the earth and taken to be with Christ. Also, whenever we meet another Christian, we are meeting someone who belongs to the global body of Christ, whether they belong to a local assembly or not.

The Local Church

     The word church is also used to refer to a local assembly of those who regularly meet at a specific location (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3). Luke mentions “the church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). Paul mentions “the church in Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), and “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Col. 1:2) (italics added). The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). These were all local churches that existed in ancient cities, where Christians lived and worked. However, we can narrow the local church down a little further and say that Christians met in the homes of specific church members within each city. The first church—which was Jewish—met “in the temple” in Jerusalem, as well as “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). As the church grew, and included Gentiles, the home continued as the primary meeting place for believers. Luke records Paul’s ministry to Christians in Ephesus and explained that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul mentions several home churches such as the one run by Aquila and Priscilla and “the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19), and about “Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Col. 4:15), and “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Phm. 1:2) (italics added).

     Who were the members of these local house churches? From several writings in the New Testament we get a demographic breakdown of church members, which consisted of men and women (Eph. 5:22-23), parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4), slaves and free persons (Eph. 6:5-9), rich and poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19; Jam. 2:2-5), spiritual and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1), mature and immature (1 Cor. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:2). We can also surmise that home churches generally had few members because of the size of the homes (probably not exceeding 50 people) and the fellowship probably tended to be personal, with an emphasis on learning God’s Word and enjoying Christian fellowship. Luke gives us a snapshot of some of the values and practices of the early church in which he tells us “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

     We also know the first century church had problems. Churches then, like churches now, are no better or worse than the people who make up their fellowship. Christians who were immature, carnal and selfish tended to cause trouble. Churches struggled with problems such as jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21), relationship conflicts (Phil. 4:2), and legalism (Gal. 5:1-12). But God expected all to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), manifesting “the fruit of the Spirit”, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In the church, Christians were to learn Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2), grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), seek the interests of others over self (Phil. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Cor. 13:4-8a; 1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Jo. 4:7-11), pray for one another (Jam. 5:16), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify each other (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29), be kind and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10), and do good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14). These Christian qualities made the church attractive and productive.

     The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God. Paul states, “we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), and “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21; cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Pet. 2:5). Other purposes of the church include evangelizing the lost (Matt. 28:18-20), edifying believers through biblical teaching so they might advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), praying for one another (Jam. 5:16), and showing love (John 13:34).

A Divided Understanding of the Church

     One of the dispensational distinctives is that Israel and the church are separate. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, made up of Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). The church, as the body of Christ, was revealed to the apostles only in the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:24-27). However, covenant theologians see the church existing as one people of God, a single group of people that goes all the way back to Genesis. Covenant theologian Wayne Grudem states, “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”[10] And John Frame comments, “Israel was the church of the old covenant; the New Testament church is the Israel of the new covenant, what Paul calls ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).”[11] Covenant theologians such as Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, Edward Young, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and many others argue that Israel is the church and the church is Israel; they are the same. Though I have a great love for covenant theologians and am profoundly thankful for much of their writings, I respectfully disagree with their understanding of the church.

     When one reads back through the Old Testament there were basically two groups of people on the earth: Jews and Gentiles. This distinction began with the call of Abraham, when God called him into a special relationship and promised to bless the world through him (Gen. 12:1-3). Biblically, a Jew is a Jew because he/she is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7, 19; 22:15-17; 28:13-14; Ex. 2:24-25). “The biblical basis for defining Jewishness lies in the Abrahamic Covenant which promised that a nation would descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis 12:2a; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1–2, 7; 22:17; 26:4, 24; and 28:14; from which a simple definition of Jewishness can be deduced.”[12] A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. And a Gentile, no matter how hard he/she tried, could never be a biological Jew. Certainly Gentiles could participate in the Jewish blessings if he/she embraced God. Rahab and Ruth believed in God, but, though saved and in the line of Christ (Matt. 1:5), they were never regarded as biological Jews. Ruth continued to be called a Moabitess, even after her conversion (Ruth 2:2, 21; 4:5, 10). The Jew and Gentile distinction continued for millennia until the formation of the Christian church. Now, in the church age, there are three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church. This is why Paul makes the comment, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32; italics added). The church is now a third group that consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ as their Savior and been joined to the body of Christ.[13]

     Though both Israel and Christians are the people of God, the Christian church is distinct from the nation of Israel. Several observations from the New Testament provide a compelling case. First, the term Israel occurs 73 times in the New Testament (30 times in the Gospels, 21 times in the book of Acts, 19 times in the Epistles, and 3 times in the book of Revelation), and not once does it refer to the church.[14] “The term Israel is either used of the nation or the people as a whole, or of the believing remnant within. It is never used of the Church in general or of Gentile believers in particular.”[15] The fact that Israel is still called Israel, even after the church is formed, argues that Israel is not the church. Second, the word Jew occurs 186 times in the New Testament (84 times in the Gospels, 76 times in the book of Acts, 24 times in the Epistles, and 2 times in the book of Revelation), and refers to anyone who is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The word Jew is never used of Gentiles or the church. The fact that these distinctions continue throughout the New Testament make a compelling case that Israel and the church are separate groups of people.

The distinction between Israel and the church is verified by several facts. (1) In the New Testament natural Israel and Gentiles are contrasted after the church was clearly established (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:19). (2) Natural Israel and the church are clearly distinguished, showing that the church is not Israel (1 Cor. 10:32). The apostle’s distinction would be meaningless if Israel were the same as the church.[16]

     Additional biblical distinctions reveal that Israel is a nation (Ex. 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom. 10:19). God’s program for Israel focuses on the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num. 14:15; Josh. 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:1-6; Col. 1:26-27; cf. Rom. 16:25-26).[17] Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

     In the New Testament, there are Jewish unbelievers (Acts 14:2; 19:8-9), and Jewish believers (Acts 10:45; 14:1). This is what Paul referred to when he said, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, one could be a biological Jew and not belong to the remnant of saved Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah. In addition, there are Gentile unbelievers (Acts 14:2-7), and Gentile believers (Acts 13:48; 21:25). Both Jews and Gentiles are distinguished in several passages (Acts 4:27; 9:15; 14:2, 5; 21:11, 21; Rom. 3:29; 9:24), as well as Jews and Christians (Gal. 2:11-14), Gentiles and Christians (Acts 11:1), and all three at once (Acts 14:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:32). In the book of Galatians, Paul draws a distinction between Gentile and Jewish believers, where he states, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them [Gentile Christians], and upon the Israel of God [Jewish Christians]” (Gal. 6:16). Covenant theologians commonly reference Galatians 6:16 to argue that the church and Israel are the same; but this fails to consider the language of the text. “The first group is the them, the uncircumcision, the Gentile Christians to and of whom he [Paul] had devoted most of the epistle. The second group is the Israel of God. These are the circumcision, the Jewish believers who, in contrast with the Judaizers, followed the rule of salvation by grace through faith alone.”[18] These distinctions in the New Testament make a compelling argument that Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are seen as separate groups.[19]

     God’s current plan in human history is being worked out through His church. However, we should never draw the conclusion that God is finished with Israel. He is not. Israel as a nation is under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39; Rom. 11:25-27), but God has a future plan to restore them and to bless the world through them. God’s covenant promises to Israel are still in effect (Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2), which promises point to a future regathering of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15), a King and kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Luke 1:31-33; Matt. 6:9-10; 19:28; 25:31), and a righteous rule (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6; Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16), which will last for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and He will inherit the throne of His father and rule on earth.

Summary

     The church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, from Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). More so, the church exists both in a universal and local sense, globally as an organism and locally as an organization. Once the church is caught up to heaven at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), God will resume His plan with national Israel and fulfill all the promises made to them through the covenants (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2; 25-27).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio lesson with PowerPoint Presentation (What is the Church) (PDF Version)

Related Articles:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303-304.

[2] There are several reasons Matthew 18:17 does not refer to the Christian church: Firstly, the Christian church did not come into existence until after the resurrection of Jesus. To make Matthew 18:17 refer to the Christian church is to have the church in existence before the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, which is how believers are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15-16). Secondly, Jesus cites the Mosaic Law as the rule for judging the brother in Matthew 18, and this would have been expected of those living under that code (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Currently, Christians are not living under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), but under the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf. Rom. 8:2; Jam. 1:25; 2:8). Thirdly, if the brother refuses to listen to the assembly, he is to be treated “as a Gentile” (Matt. 18:17), a term which would make no sense for the Christian church, since Jewish and Gentile identity is subservient to the greater identity of being united with Christ (Gal. 3:26-28).

[3] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[4] The Septuagint, or LXX, refers to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was translated circa 250 B.C.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 229.

[6] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 2002), 290.

[7] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 375–376.

[8] Prior to this transfer, every person is identified positionally as being in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22). However, at the moment of faith in Christ, the believer obtains a new identity and is said to be in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). Paul stresses this positional identification several times in the New Testament (Rom. 8:1; 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Gal. 3:14, 26, 28; Eph. 1:1; 2:6, 13; 3:6).

[9] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review, 228.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 853.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 235.

[12] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 748.

[13] In one sense, Jews and Gentiles retain their ethnic and cultural identity, even after believing in Christ as Savior. However, in another sense, their new identity as a Christian, which is part of the body of Christ, supersedes whatever identity they had before (Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:9-11).

[14] The term Israel is used to refer to the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both saved and lost (Matt. 2:6; 9:33; 10:6; 15:24, 31; 27:9; Mark 12:29; Luke 1:16, 54, 80; 2:25, 34; 4:25, 27; 22:30; 24:21; John 1:31; 3:10; Acts 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 37, 42; 10:36; 13:16-17, 23-24; 21:28; 28:20; Rom. 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-26; 1 Cor. 10:18; 2 Cor. 3:7, 13; 11:22; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12; Phil. 3:5; Heb. 8:8, 10; 11:22; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31; Luke 1:68), Jesus as the king of Israel (Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:32; John 1:49; 12:13), the land of Israel (Matt. 2:20-21), the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23), and in contrast with Gentiles (Matt. 8:10; Luke 2:32; 7:9; Acts 4:27; 9:15).

[15] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 699.

[16] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 462.

[17] A mystery (musterion) is something “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). Paul then states what that mystery is, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

[18] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 691.

[19] A Christian can be a spiritual descendant of Abraham by exercising faith in the same God as Abraham (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:29), but this should not be confused with the covenants and promises of God which are promised to national Israel (Rom. 9:1-5).

Treating Others with Dignity

     Treating OthersWhat does it mean to treat others with dignity? Dignity most commonly refers to the honor we confer on others. Scripture directs us to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). The word honor translates the Greek word τιμάω timao, which means “to show high regard for, honor, revere.”[1] We honor all people because they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).[2] We honor those in authority (i.e. the king) because they are divinely appointed ministers of righteousness (Dan. 2:21; Rom. 13:1-4). Above all, we are to honor God (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16).

     Dignity can refer to one’s character or accomplishments. Paul told his friend Titus, “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Tit. 2:7; cf. 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4, 8). The word dignified translates the Greek σεμνότης semnotes, which refers to a pattern of moral behavior that warrants praise from others. In this sense, honor is not fitting for a fool (Prov. 26:1, 8).

     The noble woman in Proverbs 31 is described as wearing dignity like clothing. The passage reads, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:25-26). “Strength and dignity” are the developed attractive qualities of her character, which qualities are obvious to others who hear her words of “wisdom” and “the teaching of kindness” that flows from her lips.

     There is also a dignity we are to show to people because of their status in society. It can be the honor we give to the aged (Lev. 19:32), our parents (Ex. 20:12), widows (1 Tim. 5:3), church elders (1 Tim. 5:17), or a person in a high office, such as a king or public official (1 Pet. 2:17). Honor and respect are not the same. We may not respect the values and actions of others, yet we can honor them as parents or public officials. Dr. Thomas Constable explains this well.

Respect is not the same as honor. We may not respect someone, but we can and should still honor him or her. For example, I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. My friend did not respect his father who was frequently drunk, often humiliated his wife and children, and failed to provide for his family adequately. Nevertheless my friend honored his father because he was his father. He demonstrated honor by taking him home when his father could not get home by himself. He sometimes had to defend him from people who would have taken advantage of him when he was drunk. Similarly we may not be able to respect certain government officials because of their personal behavior or beliefs. Still we can and should honor them because they occupy an office that places them in a position of authority over us. We honor them because they occupy the office; we do not just honor the office. Peter commanded us to honor the king and all who are in authority over us, not just the offices that they occupy…Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is theirs.[3]

  1. At the most basic level we dignify people by recognizing their value as human beings who are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Being made in the image of God means people have the capacity to reason, feel, and make moral choices (Gen. 1:26-27). We honor people by appealing to their intellect with honesty and truth, being sensitive to their feelings, and respecting their right of self-determination (i.e. the right of a person to control their own life).
  2. We dignify people when we address them properly by their office (i.e. mother or father, senator, judge, etc.), title (i.e. doctor, officer, pastor, etc.), or simply as sir or ma’am. Public speech is a common way to honor others (Dan. 2:4; 6:21; Acts 26:1-3), or dishonor them (Matt. 15:4).
  3. We dignify people by showing love (Rom. 13:8), doing good (Gal. 6:10), and treating them as important (Phil. 2:3-4). The mature person demonstrates the highest form of dignity by loving his enemies (Luke 6:27-30), and blessing those who persecute him (Rom. 12:14).
  4. We dignify people when we use language that recognizes their sacrifices and courageous choices. We should offer praise for military personnel, police officers, firemen, medics, and others who place themselves in harm’s way for our protection and benefit. I’m a little biased here, but I also think we should praise those who care for the elderly, orphans, homeless, and the disabled in our communities. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1004.

[2] It is because people are made in the image of God that murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6), as well as cursing people (Jam. 3:8-10). Both murder and cursing are regarded as an attack on the image of God.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pet. 2:17.

The Lord’s Supper

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor. 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42). 

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel of the home (Ex. 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet. 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom when Jesus is ruling. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless person of Jesus who “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. The Roman Catholic view—Transubstantiation— teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ.
  2. The Lutheran view—Consubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense.
  3. The Reformed view—Spiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice.
  4. The Evangelical view—Symbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ (held by this writer).

     The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and red juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His life and death.

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus.

     There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph. 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor. 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor. 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor. 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was ratified on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Honor the Lord From Your Wealth

Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine (Prov. 3:9-10). 

     This wise word from Solomon was written to his son, a Hebrew living in God’s theocratic kingdom, under the Mosaic Law. Under that system, Israelites were required to pay mandatory tithes from the produce of their land.[1] Through their obedience in giving, they would “Honor the Lord” from their wealth, and the Lord would bless them “with plenty” (Prov. 3:9-10; cf. Deut. 28:1-14). For Solomon, giving to the Lord was a means of honoring Him. 

     Giving was not only to be done for the Temple and priests, but also for the needy in the community. Solomon writes, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17), and “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Prov. 22:9), and “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Prov. 14:31). 

     Christians are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), and are not, therefore, obligated to tithe to the local church.[2] However, though we are not commanded to tithe, I would argue that our attitude about money is a sign of our spiritual health. The Lord is certainly very kind to us and gives graciously with an open hand, and grace-minded believers will support His work, both in the church and in the community (i.e. helping one’s neighbor, the homeless, orphans, etc.). There are examples in the New Testament of believers who gave freely to help meet the needs of others (Acts 2:42-45; 4:34-35; 11:27-30; Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5), and this was born out of a heart of compassion.

     Paul taught the Christians at Corinth to give regularly (1 Cor. 16:1-2). The Bible certainly teaches that Christians should support their pastor financially, as Paul writes, “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him (Gal. 6:6; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17-18). However, though it was his right to receive compensation, on at least one occasion, the apostle Paul refused to accept financial contributions from others and supported himself in his own ministry so that his life would be example of sacrificial living.  Paul said:

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)

     Paul, in the New Testament, wrote that believers should not “to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Paul then instructed them “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19). Giving for the Lord’s work is legitimate. The issue for the Christian is not how much one gives, but rather, that one gives joyfully, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] There were actually three tithes the Israelites were obligated to pay: two tithes were required every year to the Temple in order to support the Levites and priests (Deut. 14:22-23; Num. 18:21) and a third tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows (Deut. 14:28-29).  For the most part, the tithes consisted of the fruit and grain that came out of the ground.

[2] See my article: Giving or Tithing?

The Characteristics of a Christian Leader

A Christian leader will have certain characteristics that guide his/her actions.  I would argue that the believer’s good character is born out of his/her walk with God and this requires knowing God’s word in order to live God’s will. 

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2)

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Ps. 15:1-3)

The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. (Prov. 11:3)

In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Tit. 2:7-8)

A Christian leader is marked by how he/she serves and treats others.  The biblical teaching is that one who wishes to lead must make himself/herself a servant to others.  This requires a biblical mind and an attitude of humility. 

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:13-17)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Gal. 6:9-10)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col. 3:12-14)

A Christian leader may reprove others, but only because he/she cares about what is right and wants to promote justice.   

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:17-18)

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Prov. 9:8)

Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa. 1:17)

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matt. 18:15)

A Christian leader will be known by the words he/she uses when speaking to others.  Rude and offensive words reveal a corrupt heart, whereas wise and gracious words reveal a good heart. 

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. (Ps. 37:30)

The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov. 16:21)

Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him (Eccl. 10:12)

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6)

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)

A Christian leader will have a calm disposition and be slow to anger.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute. (Prov. 15:18)

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Prov. 16:32)

He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27)

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)

A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back. (Prov. 29:11)

A Christian leader will know how to handle the pressures of life.  Pressures are inevitable, but worry is optional, because God has provided certain promises that help the Christian remain relaxed in the midst of adversity. 

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? (Ps. 27:1)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The Biblical Qualifications for Church Elder

The ShepherdThe Bible states qualifications for church elders.  Paul lists 15 qualifications for elder in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-7), and 17 qualifications in his letter to Titus (Tit. 1:5-9).  The two lists differ slightly, both in number and characteristics mentioned.  Each list served either as a general guideline, or was specifically tailored by the Apostle Paul for each church-group to whom he was writing.  I tend to think Paul was providing a general list of characteristics to consider when evaluating a prospective elder.

Church organization was quite simple in apostolic days: There were pastors (elders, bishops) and deacons (Phil. 1:1). It seems that there was a plurality of elders overseeing the work of each church, some involved in “ruling” (organization and government), others in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17).[1]

       The consideration of an elder in the church is something that requires time and observation.  Certainly an elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2); however, much of what is set forth in Scripture relates to his character, home and public life.  God personally selects elders to serve in His church.  The Apostle Paul makes this clear during his discussion with the elders at Ephesus when he instructs them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Act 20:28). 

Only the Holy Spirit of God can make a man an elder. This is clear in Acts 20:28. The Holy Spirit lays a burden on a man’s heart to take up this important work and also equips him for it. It is impossible to make a man a bishop by voting him into office or by ordaining him. The responsibility of the local assembly is to recognize those men in its midst who have been made elders by God the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:12, 13). It is true that we find the appointment of elders in the book of Titus, but there it was simply a matter of Titus’ singling out those men who had the qualifications of elders. At that time, the Christians did not have the NT in printed form, as we have it today. Therefore, they did not know what the exact qualifications for elders were. So Paul sent Titus to them with this information and instructed Titus to set apart those men who had been raised up by the Spirit of God for the work. The recognition of elders by a local assembly might be quite informal. It often happens that Christians instinctively know who their elders are because they have acquainted themselves with the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. On the other hand, the recognition of elders may be a more formal procedure. A local church might gather together for the express purpose of publicly recognizing the elders. In this case, the procedure usually is to read the pertinent Scripture passages, to have them expounded, and then to have the local Christians designate whom they consider to be the elders in that assembly. The names are then announced to the entire congregation. If a church does not have qualified elders, then its only resource is to pray that the Lord will raise up such men in days to come.[2

       The Bible does not specify how many elders may serve in a church, or even what process is to be followed concerning their appointment to office.  The church has the liberty to follow a relaxed or formal policy depending on its membership.  I assembled the following observations about elders from Scripture:

  1. The first elders in Scripture had their place in the church by Apostolic appointment.  First, Paul appointed elders in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:21-23), and later, he delegated authority to Titus to appoint elders in the church (Tit. 1:5).  Since we do not have apostles today, authority does not rest in a person, but Scripture alone.  Church leadership today is appointed by God (Acts 20:28; cf. Eph. 4:11), and the church recognizes leadership because they measure up to the qualifications set forth in Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9).  It is important to keep in mind that what we read in Scripture concerning elder appointment is descriptive and not prescriptive, so one should not be dogmatic about the process of ordination. 
  2. They had to measure up to the qualifications for eldership (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9).  The two lists are not exact, and one can only surmise that each list served either as a general guideline, or was specifically tailored by the Apostle Paul for each church-group to whom he was writing. 
  3. The terms elder, bishop, overseer, and pastor appear to be synonymous (Acts 20:17, 28; Tit. 1:5-7; 1 Pet. 5:1-5).
  4. They consist of men only (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6; cf. 1 Tim. 2:12-14).
  5. They solved doctrinal problems in the church through biblical discussion and research (Acts 15:4-11, cf. Acts 16:4).
  6. They worked with “the whole church” in choosing men to send on a missionary journey (Acts 15:22).  This is important because elders lead from the front, not the top.  They work within the church, and with the church, serving as examples to the church, and not “lording” their authority over others (1 Pet. 5:3).
  7. They received biblical instruction from Paul regarding the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  Today the elder occupies his time with learning Scripture so he can be spiritually prepared to meet his obligations as a church leader. 
  8. They shepherded the church through general oversight (Acts 20:17; 28).
  9. They guarded against false teachers and their false doctrines, guiding believers into God’s will, and feeding the church with the truths of Scripture (Acts 20:28-32; Eph. 4:11-14, cf. Jer. 3:15). 
  10. All the elders were leaders (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17), but only some functioned at “preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17; cf. Gal. 6:6; Eph. 4:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:12).
  11. They were supported financially by those who benefitted from their oversight and teaching (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18).
  12. The elders offered support and prayer for those who suffer (Jas. 5:14).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:


[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 1 Ti 3:1–7.

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2086.

The Church – Then and Now

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house. (Act 20:20)

The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (1 Cor. 16:19)

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. (Col. 4:15)

       The New Testament term church (Grk. ekklesia – “called out ones”) is used both in a universal and a local sense, as an organism and an organization.  The universal church refers to the global existence of the body of Christ (Acts 9:31; Eph. 1:22-23).  The local church refers to those who regularly meet at a specific location (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3).  The Church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, from Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28).  The church was not known in the Old Testament and was first mentioned by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.  Speaking about the future church, Jesus stated, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church [future tense]; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).  The church began in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost and formed the body of Christ (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 11:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23).  The church is distinct from the nation of Israel, as the apostle Paul declares, “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32).  The church, as the body of Christ, was fully revealed to the apostles in the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:24-27). 

     First century Christians met in homes (1 Cor. 16:19; 4:15-16).  Home churches were necessarily small and the fellowship probably tended to be personal, with an emphasis on learning God’s Word and enjoying Christian companionship.  We know from Scripture that first century Christians “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Act 2:42).  We also know the first century church had problems.  Churches then, like churches now, are no better or worse than the people who make up their fellowship.  Christians who were immature, carnal and selfish, tended to cause trouble.  Churches struggled with problems such as jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21), relationship problems (Phil. 4:2), and legalism (Gal. 5:1-12).  God expected all to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).  The result would lead to spiritual maturity and the manifestation of “the fruit of the Spirit”, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  In the church, Christians were to love one another (1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Jo. 4:7-11), pray for one another (Jam. 5:16), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify each other (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29), be kind and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), and serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10).  These attitudes and actions were important, for as goes the spiritual health of Christians within the church, so goes its life and productivity.

       The Bible does not command a location for Christian fellowship, and Christians in the early part of the first century probably gathered in homes because it was simple and relaxed. Later, Roman persecution kept church fellowship small, as they were unable to meet openly in large places.  Homes were safe and Christians could worship in peace.  We also know Christians gathered and worshiped underground in the catacombs of Rome.  The early church really did not meet in large public buildings until after the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, when Constantine made Christianity legal.  By the end of the fourth century, Christianity was made the state religion of Rome, and that opened a whole new set of problems for the church. 

       It’s nice when a church building is aesthetically attractive, as nobody wants to fellowship or worship in a dump.  However, it seems most churches today tend to rely on aesthetic appeal (i.e. have a charming pastor, a beautiful building, a grand stage, theater lighting, great sound, etc.) while deemphasizing Christian education and spiritual living.  The result is larger churches with happy Christians who are biblically illiterate and spiritually ineffective.  I know pastors who “burn out” from working in these kinds of churches, and some walk away from them.  Often what they’re walking away from is not Christian ministry, but a perversion of it.  Many pastors and churches have failed to be all that God intends.  Society needs Christians who have spiritual integrity and are scripturally competent to provide godly answers about eternal life and hope for the future. 

       The church should not try to please the world or be like the world.  The world does not need a worldly church; it needs a biblical church that stands on biblical values.  The world needs a church that holds to God’s truth and loves people enough to tell them about the Gospel of Christ that they might be saved by grace through faith.  The functions of the church should agree with Scripture, Glorify God, and spiritually edify His people.  The main concern should be on knowing God (Eph. 1:17; 1 John 5:20), learning His Word (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2), and walking with Him in truth (1 John 1:5-7). 

Also, see my article, Choosing a Good Bible Church.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

The New Covenant and the Lord’s Supper

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:31-34)

      New CovenantThe promise of the New Covenant was specifically with “the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jer 31:31). These were the same Israelites who had previously received the Mosaic Covenant, although they failed to keep it, with its external laws. The New Covenant would be radically different from the Mosaic Covenant, as God’s laws would be “within them”, even written “on their heart” (Jer 31:33). God also revealed they will “all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them”, and then declared, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer 31:34). The prophet Ezekiel unveiled that God would give the Holy Spirit to indwell all His people as a blessing associated with the New Covenant (Ezek 36:26-27; 37:14, 26-27).

       The New Covenant is specifically mentioned by the Lord Jesus on the night He was betrayed, before He went to the cross and shed His blood and died. At the last supper Jesus instituted what is commonly called the Lord’s Supper which is celebrated by Christians today (1 Cor 11:23-26). Luke records the words of Jesus:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”  (Luke 22:19-20)

       The New Covenant is actually one of several covenants mentioned in the Bible. The word covenant translates the Hebrew Berith and the Greek Diatheke. Both words have the same basic meaning of a treaty, alliance, covenant[1], contract, or last will.[2] Context always determines the meaning of a word. There are six explicitly named covenants in Scripture (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenant), and two that are implied (the Edenic and Adam). There are both bilateral and unilateral covenants. A bilateral covenant made God’s blessing or cursing depend on obedience to His stipulations. A unilateral covenant meant that God blessed the recipient unconditionally. These covenants are here listed:

  1. The Edenic Covenant (bilateral – Gen 1:26-31; 2:16-17; cf. Hos 6:7).
  2. The Adamic Covenant (unilateral – Gen 3:16-19; cf. Hos 6:7).
  3. The Noahic Covenant (unilateral – Gen 6:18; 9:1-18).
  4. The Abrahamic Covenant (unilateral – Gen 12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-11; cf. Gen 26:2-5; 28:10-15; Ex 2:24; 3:6-8; Josh 1:2-6; 2 Ki 13:23; 1 Ch 16:15-22; Psa 105:3-15; Neh 9:5-10).
  5. Mosaic Covenant (bilateral – Ex 19:5, 8; 20:1-31:18; Deut 4:13; Gal 3:16-19).
  6. The Palestinian/Land Covenant (unilateral – Deut 29:1; 30:1-10).
  7. Davidic Covenant (unilateral – 2 Sam 7:4-16; 1 Ch 17:3-15).
  8. The New Covenant (unilateral – Jer 31:31-34; 32:37-41; Ezek 36:26-27; 37:21-28; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6-7; Heb 8:8-13; 9:15; 12:24).

       Some of the biblical covenants have signs. For example, the sign of the Noahic Covenant is the rainbow (Gen 9:13, 14, 16; Ezek 1:28; Rev 4:3; 10:1), the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision (Gen 17:11; cf. Gal 5:1-4), the sign of the Mosaic Covenant is the Sabbath (Ex 31:12-17), and the sign of the New Covenant is the red wine/juice (Jer 31:31-34; cf. Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6-7; Heb 8:8-13; 9:15; 12:24).

       The Abrahamic Covenant is the greatest of the biblical covenants. It is a unilateral covenant in which God promised Abraham land, seed and blessing (Gen 12:1-3). God gave the promise of blessing to Abraham when he was 75 years of age and nearly 25 years later ratified it with a covenant marked by blood (Gen 15:17-18). God has not yet fulfilled all the promises given to Abraham. Though the Lord has given His promises and ratified them with a blood covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 15:17-18), they will find their ultimate fulfillment during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ when He returns at His Second Coming after the Tribulation. From the Abrahamic Covenant comes the Palestinian Covenant (Deut 31:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:12-16), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). These three are amplifications of the Abrahamic Covenant. 

Biblical-Covenants

       Once God decided He was going to covenant with Abraham, then all the biblical covenants would be with Abraham’s physical descendants (Gen 12:1-3; Rom 9:4). The New Covenant is a difficult subject to understand and some of the finest theological minds have wrestled with it throughout their lives, occasionally reconsidering it. When one looks back into the Old Testament and reads about the New Covenant, it is clear from a plain reading of the text that the New Covenant was made with “the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jer 31:31). However, the New Covenant was inaugurated by Christ when He went to the cross and shed His blood, and the Christian benefits right now from some of the blessings of the New Covenant—such as forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—because of his union with Christ (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:26-27; 37:26-27; 1 Cor 3:6; 6:19; Eph 1:7, 13; 2:11-13). Because Jesus is a biological descendant of Abraham (and in the covenant community), then all who live in the Church Age partake of the spiritual benefits of the Abrahamic and New Covenant by virtue of their positional union with Jesus Christ (Gal 3:7-9; 26-28; Eph 2:11-13). 

       When a Christian partakes of the Lord’s Supper, he is celebrating the fact that he is the spiritual beneficiary of the New Covenant that has been inaugurated by the Lord Jesus Christ who shed His blood on the cross. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless humanity that God the Son added to Himself at the virgin conception when He came in hypostatic union. As the God-Man, Jesus lived in perfect righteousness and in His humanity died a substitutionary death on the cross. The cup of wine/red juice symbolizes the New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated when He went to the cross and shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20). When writing to the Christians at Corinth, the apostle Paul borrowed the very words Jesus used when He instituted the New Covenant (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-25):

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)

       The Christians at Corinth could celebrate the New Covenant because of their union with the Lord Jesus Christ. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, he explained that at one time they were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). But then Paul gives them good news when he says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). Some of the New Covenant blessings that were given to Israel have spilled over to Christians and blessed us because we are “in Christ Jesus.” This is good news!  William MacDonald comments:

The New Covenant is clearly made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jer. 31:31). It was future when Jeremiah wrote (Jer. 31:31a)…Israel as a nation has not as yet received the benefits of the New Covenant, but will at the Lord’s Second Advent. In the meantime, true believers do share some of the blessings of the covenant. The fact that the church is related to the New Covenant is seen in the Lord’s Supper, where the cup represents the covenant and the blood by which it was ratified (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Also Paul spoke of himself and the other apostles as ministers of a New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).[3] 

Charles Fred Lincoln comments further:

When a search is made in the Scripture of Truth, the general declarations of the above passages are borne out by the details, for the Divine record shows that all the major covenants have been made with the nation Israel or with individuals of that race for the benefit of the nation. Every one of the thirty-three places where the word covenant (διαθήκη) is used in the New Testament, there is a reference to and a discussion of the covenant relationships existing between Israel and God as set forth in the Old Testament Scriptures. This declaration is made with the understanding that the New Covenant was first of all given to Israel, Jeremiah 31:31–40, etc., and that the believer of the present age enters into the blessings of that covenant because he is united to Christ who is the mediator of the New Covenant. (cf. Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; and 2 Corinthians 3:6).[4]

Thomas Constable declares:

The New Covenant is similar to a last will and testament. When Jesus died, the provisions of His will went into effect. Immediately all people began to profit from His death. For example, the forgiveness of sins and the possession of the Holy Spirit become the inheritance of everyone who trusts in Him, Jew and Gentile alike. However those provisions of Jesus’ “will” having to do with Israel as His particular focus of blessing will not take effect until the nation turns to Him in repentance at His second coming. Thus the church partakes in the benefits of the New Covenant even though God made it with Israel particularly.[5]

Charles H. Dyer states:

How is the church related to the New Covenant? Is the New Covenant being fulfilled in the church today? Ultimately the New Covenant will find its complete fulfillment during the Millennium when Israel is restored to her God. The New Covenant was made with Israel (Jer 31:31, 33) just as the Mosaic Covenant had been (v. 32). One key element of the New Covenant is the preservation of Israel as a nation (vv. 35-37). However, though the ultimate fulfillment of this covenant awaits the millennial reign of Christ, the church today is participating in some of the benefits of that covenant. The covenant was inaugurated at Christ’s death (Matt 26:27-28; Luke 22:20), and the church, by her union with Christ, is sharing in many of the spiritual blessings promised to Israel (cf. Rom 11:11-27; Eph 2:11-22) including the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:6-13; 9:15; 12:22-24). But though the church’s participation in the New Covenant is real, it is not the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise. The fact that believers today enjoy the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant (forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Holy Spirit) does not mean that spiritual and physical blessings will not be realized by Israel. That still awaits the day when Israel will acknowledge her sin and turn to the Messiah for forgiveness (Zech 12:10-13:1).[6]

And lastly, Arnold Fruchtenbaum adds:

The relationship of the Church to the New Covenant is the same as the Church’s relationship to the Abrahamic, the Palestinian, and the Davidic covenants. The physical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, as amplified by the Palestinian and Davidic covenants, were promised exclusively to Israel. However, the blessing aspect amplified by the New Covenant was to include the Gentiles. The Church is enjoying the spiritual blessings of these covenants, not the material and physical benefits. The physical promises still belong to Israel and will be fulfilled exclusively with Israel, especially those involving the land. However, all spiritual benefits are now being shared by the Church. This is the Church’s relationship to these four unconditional covenants between God and Israel. The blood of the Messiah is the basis of salvation in the New Covenant and this was shed at the cross. The blood of the Messiah ratified, signed, and sealed the New Covenant (Heb. 8:1–10:18). The provisions of the New Covenant cannot be fulfilled in, by, or through the Church, but have to be fulfilled in, by, and through Israel. It is true that the Covenant is not now being fulfilled with Israel, but this does not mean it is therefore being fulfilled with the Church. Again, not all provisions go immediately into effect. The Church is related to the New Covenant only insofar as receiving the spiritual benefits of the Covenant (salvation benefit), but the Church is not fulfilling it. The Church has become a partaker of Jewish spiritual blessings, but the Church is not a taker-over of the Jewish covenants. The Church partakes of the spiritual blessings and promises, but not the material or physical promises or blessings.[7]

       In summary, the Christian benefits from some aspects of the New Covenant, namely the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Christian is able to benefit from aspects of the New Covenant that are in effect right now because of his union with the Lord Jesus Christ who inaugurated the covenant with His shed blood on the cross. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Listen to Audio Message – New Covenant – Lord’s Supper.

Related Articles:


[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 136.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 228.

[3] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), Ge 6:8–22.

[4]Charles Fred Lincoln, “The Biblical Covenants” Bibliotheca Sacra, 100 (1943): 316-317.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 26:28.

[6]Charles H. Dyer, eds. Walvoord & Zuck, Jeremiah, The Bible knowledge commentary, Vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1171

[7] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 635-36.

Choosing a Good Bible Church

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:23-25)

      As Christians we are to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). Choosing a good Bible church is not simply for fellowship, but for prayer, worship, and above all, learning Scripture. We learn how to pray because the Bible teaches us. We learn good Christian fellowship because the Bible reveals what good Christian fellowship really is. We learn to worship because the Bible teaches us what genuine worship ought to be. The Bible alone provides the necessary information to live the Christian life, and if we close its pages, we know nothing. Even what we think about God comes from what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture. A good Bible church will place a priority on learning the Bible, because Scripture alone provides the necessary information that makes the other activities meaningful and proper. Without a biblical basis, the church is just another social club.

       A person becomes a member of the body of Christ—the church—when he believes in Jesus for salvation (Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 1:22-23). The church was not known in the OT but was revealed to the apostles in the New Testament (Eph. 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:25-27). The local church was identified geographically (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3), and local churches met in people’s homes.

The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (1 Cor. 16:19)

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. (Col. 4:15-16)

       Biblically the church is ALWAYS an assembly of believers and NEVER a building! Too often we say “we’re going to church” as though the church is located down the street. A more correct way would be to say “the church meets” at such and such a location. You can change the location, but the church, as the body of Christ, always consists of Christians who assemble for worship.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

       Biblically, the church’s emphasis should always be on: 1) learning Scripture, 2) having quality fellowship, 3) partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and 4) praying together. Certainly there can be other activities, but these four should be present and prioritized in every church. Scripture never puts an emphasis on the quantity of members or the attractiveness of the facilities. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a clean facility and I am not against numbers, I just don’t measure a church by those things. Mormons have large congregations that meet in beautiful facilities; yet they’re spiritually dead because they’ve trusted in a false savior, having been led astray by a false prophet named Joseph Smith (Gal. 1:8-9).

       It is a real blessing to get into a Bible church where the pastor teaches Scripture verse by verse, paying attention to the original languages of Hebrew and Greek when necessary, explaining the history and culture behind the text, and always giving the plain sense of the passage as the author intended it for his original audience. A good pastor will bridge the language and historical gap, communicating the text in freshness with conviction. Some characteristics of a good Bible church include:

  1. Expositional Bible teaching (Eph. 4:11-16).
  2. Love for one another (1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Pet. 4:8; 1 Jo. 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11).
  3. Willingness to meet the needs of others (Phil. 2:3-4).
  4. Encouraging one another (1 Thess. 5:11).
  5. Edifying one another (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29).
  6. Serving one another (Gal. 5:13).
  7. Being kind and forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32).

       There are no perfect churches but there are mature ones in which mature believers place an emphasis on learning Scripture, showing love and grace, and striving to glorify God in all they do. The growing church looks upward to God in faith, outward to others with the gospel, and inward to Christians with love (Col. 3:1-16). The joy of good Christian fellowship is rewarding in so many ways as the growing believer benefits from, and adds to the spiritual prosperity of a church.

This article is an excerpt from The Christian Life, pages 121-124.

Also, read my article, The Church – Then and Now.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Early Church Persecutions

Persecution is the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or, as a last resort, execution. (G. W. Bromily, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 1986, p. 771)

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God…For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13).

       Paul both persecuted the Church and later was persecuted for it. He became an example of living and dying for Christ. Persecution for the believer is a sign of his position and life in Christ (Jo. 15:18-19; 1 Jo. 3:13), and Paul taught that Christians—like Christ—should be willing to be “obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). Paul described some of the persecutions and sufferings he underwent:

Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far ore imprisonment, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (1. Cor. 11:23-27).

       Some Christians live under the false notion that once they become saved, life’s troubles will dissipate, and all roads will become smooth. “Paul strongly opposed any notion of the Christian life as free from suffering. Quite on the contrary, for Paul suffering was one of the marks of true gospel ministry (2 Cor. 4:7-17; 11: 23-28) and discipleship (Phil. 3:10-11; Col. 1:24).” (David S. Dockery, Holman Bible Handbook, p. 683)

       In the first century A.D. Christians suffered some of the most horrible persecutions imaginable. Around the summer of A.D. 64 there was a massive fire in Rome and tradition holds that it might have been started by the emperor Nero in an attempt to do away with a rotting part of the city. Nero blamed Christians for the fire, and without investigation the fury of Rome exploded upon the church. Nero was glad to lead the persecutions because it kept all eyes away from himself as a possible candidate of the disaster. The persecutions under Nero are reported to be among some of the worst in early Church history, and he is reported to have killed both the apostles Peter and Paul.

       The Roman emperor Domitian followed in the footsteps of Nero as was one of the cruelest persecutors of Christians. It’s possible that Domitian wanted to snuff out Christianity altogether because he thought it lead to sedition. Rome would tolerate any religion as long as it could be set aside for the sake of obedience to the emperor. Early Christians were willing to serve an emperor, but not when he claimed to be deity, or when obedience to him contradicted an obedient life to God. Domitian interpreted the Christian behavior as a challenge to his authority and the authority of Rome. Domitian vigorously moved to destroy Christians because he was afraid their views might spread and Rome might become weak and divided. He was afraid of internal disintegration. One Bible scholar describes some of the persecutions as follows:

Some, suffering the punishment of parricides, were shut up in a sack with snakes and thrown into the sea; others were tied to huge stones and cast into a river. For Christians the cross itself was not deemed sufficient agony; hanging on the tree, they were beaten with rods until their bowels gushed out, while vinegar and salt were rubbed into their wounds…Christians were tied to catapults, and so wrenched from limb to limb. Some…were thrown to the beasts; others were tied to their horns. Women were stripped, enclosed in nets, and exposed to the attacks of furious bulls. Many were made to lie on sharp shells, and tortured with scrapers, claws, and pincers, before being delivered to the mercy of the flames. Not a few were broken on the wheel, or torn in pieces by wild horses. Of some the feet were slowly burned away, cold water being dowsed over them the while lest the victims should expire too rapidly…Down the backs of others melted lead, hissing and bubbling, was poured; while a few ‘by the clemency of the emperor’ escaped with the searing out of their eyes, or the tearing off of their legs. (Herbert B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church, 1906, p. 299-300)

       Some might argue that it would have been better to give recognition to an emperor rather than to suffer greatly or to watch family members be put to death. However, the demands of Christianity (now, as well as then) are such that a believer can never worship a substitute for the living Christ. When confronted with persecution, any compromise of faith, no matter how small, is shameful in the face of those who had testified of Christ with their life. The early Christians understood that there was never a time when they could deny the Lord and ever be justified in doing so. Just as three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel stood before a mighty king and were willing to face suffering rather than deny the only true God, so thousands of early Christians where willing to face Roman persecution even if it eventuated in their death.

       The Christian can be confident in the face of persecution and death knowing that God is in control of every circumstance surrounding his life. He knows that God is good, and trusts that He is in control of all things—even persecution—and will sustain him to end of his life (Romans 8:28). The following biblical truths apply to every Christian who faces death:

  1. No appointment with judgment (Heb. 9:27, 28; Rom. 8:1a).
  2. Face to face with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
  3. No more sorrow, pain, tears, death, regrets or embarrassment (Rev. 21:4).
  4. An eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4, 5).
  5. A New Home (John 14:1-6).
  6. The perpetuation of eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12; John 10 3.
  7. Resurrection body (Job 19:25, 26; John 11:25; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:1, 2; 1 Cor. 15:51-57).
  8. Removal of the old sin nature (1 Cor. 1:8, 15:55-57; Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Thess. 5:23).
  9. Removal of human good and evil (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). (R. B. Thieme Jr. Dying Grace, 1977, p. 8)

       “The meaning of the word martyr…is one who has proven the strength and genuineness of his faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death” (Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 882). Believers can face any type of persecution and death with an attitude of confidence and peace if they will claim the promises of God and keep their focus on Him who gives strength to His children. Whether peaceful or violent, the Christian’s death is an event to be embraced with confidence and peace of mind. The believer’s flesh will fail him in time as death approaches; however, there is something greater than his flesh to which he can look and find strength in his hour of need: the WORD OF GOD! “For all flesh is as grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24, 25).

       Christians face the very real threat of persecution if they choose to live by faith in God’s word rather than conform to the devil’s world. Some may bow the knee rather than endure suffering, but they do so their own shame. Some things are worth suffering and dying for; things such as honor, integrity, love, and above all, a wonderful relationship with God who gives eternal life and purpose to His children. I pray all Christians will be faithful to God when facing persecution for living His word.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.