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Does the Bible tell Christians that their physical bodies are actually God’s temple?

It’s an amazing thing, but, yes, it does. By His Spirit, God lives in the bodies of believers in Jesus. To be truthful, most Christians really are not sure what that means—at least I don’t. But we believe it by faith.

However, I think if you’ll ask most Christians what the practical implications of this truth are, they’ll tell you that because we’re the temple of the Holy Spirit, that we should take care of our bodies. I’ve heard very many Christians say this including, yes, pastors and leaders. Exercise Eat right. Don’t do drugs or drink too much alcohol. Don’t smoke. However, all these ideas are already part of the cultures of most of the people of the world, because they’re all unhealthy. We don’t need the Bible to tell us this.

This is a good thing. Because none of these admonitions are in the Bible.

Maintaining a healthy body makes good sense, but it has nothing to do with the biblical understanding about being a temple of God. In fact, the Bible has very little to say about the care of one’s body. Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Timothy 5:23) and that exercise profits a little (1 Timothy 4:8). That’s pretty much it, as far as I know.

I once thought these same erroneous things about exercise and smoking like the other Christians I knew. However, because I finally took time to read the Bible passages about this—I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me many years to study it—I discovered that there is much more going on in the New Testament than living a healthy life.

In this post, we will look at the two places this truth appears in the letters. I’ll address the third passage next week, because it’s more difficult and requires more explanation,

The first is relatively straightforward and speaks to our identity as Christians:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22). 1 Contextually, we can see that Paul is addressing a group of people, not just one person in the church at Ephesus. However, it’s also true that each individual believer is part of this group of Christians.

It’s a wonderful passage, of course, about how Gentiles who become Christians are now members of God’s household and His temple, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with smoking or any other bodily care.

The second reference is in 1 Corinthians 6:15–20.

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

In this passage, Paul says that “your bodies” are the members of Christ, but also goes on to address individuals: “he who is joined to a prostitute” and “he who is joined to the Lord.”

This is a strong admonition to avoid sexual immorality and the use of prostitutes for sexual pleasure. However, again, it has nothing to do with smoking, dieting, or exercise. And the reason Paul gives are not because such actions result in a venereal disease. It’s a spiritual reason: Don’t become one flesh with a prostitute. Don’t be sexually immoral. Glorify God in your body.

Fellow Christians, we need to read our Bibles so we will not remain in ignorance and spout off admonitions that have absolutely nothing to do with Scripture. In this case, the world will accept our misunderstanding of what it means to be God’s temple. However, this misunderstanding has had tragic consequences, as we’ll see next week.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

 

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Today’s post will deal with what Revelation 13 calls the the first and second beasts, one of which is also called “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and “the antichrist” (1 John 4:3), who must appear before Jesus returns.

A little background.

By the time the first and second beasts come onto the scene—and if it’s correct to read Revelation chronologically up to this point—the seven angels have already blown their trumpets, and some excruciatingly horrible things have transpired on the earth. Strange, perplexing events have occurred. Very many people have suffered and died. However, the wrath of God has not yet been poured out upon the earth. It may be difficult to think what has happened before the two beasts are revealed is not God’s wrath, but what is called the “bowls of God’s wrath,” which begins in chapter sixteen, has not yet happened.

In my opinion, these bewildering and terrible events will pave the way for people to accept and even worship these evil beings that are to come. Mankind will be crying out for deliverance. They will “long to die” (Revelation 9:6). However, as difficult as it may be to believe, after all the misery and death, people will not repent: “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20–21). 1

After all these dreadful things, there is an interlude in chapters ten through twelve. In chapter ten, an angel with a little scroll appears. Chapter eleven relates the appearance and subsequent deaths of the “two witnesses.” Chapter twelve describes the woman, the child, and the dragon.

Then, in chapter 13, the two beasts are revealed.

I’d like to address some characteristics of these beasts. The first beast is healed of a mortal wound, which causes the world to marvel (verse 3). He makes war on the saints and conquers them (verse 7). Then the second beast creates an image of the first beast, gives it life, and commands people to worship that image or be killed: “And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (Revelation 13:15). It may seem odd to us that anyone would want to worship such an image, but keep in mind that this second beast is a miracle worker, much like the beast that preceded it. He performs “momentous signs” and even makes “fire come down from heaven in front of people” (verse 13). Keep in mind that many shocking, supernatural events already transpired before these two beasts arrived and many have suffered and died. In addition, how long will it take before the reality of getting slaughtered causes people to submit and worship this image, especially after all the wondrous things they have done? Had these two beings, after all, caused them? Christians and non-Christians alike must choose to worship or not at the price of their lives.

Now, about this living image. What I write below about it is speculation.

Most of us are familiar with holograms. The technology to create them is relatively new as of 2016, and making such images is still relatively primitive compared to what we may have seen in movies. Creating them demands a massive amount of data. They naturally require the interaction of people and the energy technicians supply. But the anti-Christ will create an image with life and will require no human interaction or power source. It will not just be a projection. How will people explain this? Perhaps they will believe that the anti-Christ is an alien, who has the power to create life. It seems that humankind almost yearns for such beings to exist. In fact, some scientists now wonder if aliens are responsible for life on earth.  We have come to such a state of unbelief that the source of life here is either from an asteroid or an alien, because after all, life does not spontaneously emerge from nothing. If this second beast were to claim he was an extra-terrestrial, it would not be a gigantic stretch for humanity to believe it. In addition, UFOs have been appearing for a long time, and many of them and the actions they display—making right-angle turns at tremendous speeds, for example—have convinced or at least caused people to wonder—if, somehow, aliens are “out there.” Regardless, an individual who possesses such power—remember he is lawless and will thus fit well and confirm the immoral cultural standards we see so quickly emerging—and who creates a living image of the first beast who has blasphemed God (verses 5 and 6) and is able to create life and then threatens to take it away from people—it is believable that mankind will bow down to such a one as this and the living image it creates.

 

 

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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In the last three posts, we’ve been looking at an event that Scripture tells us must occur before Jesus returns: the coming of someone called the man of lawlessness or the man of sin. We’ve considered the truth that in the Bible lawlessness usually means moral laxity and sin, both of which are increasing in the world. We’ve also looked at passages in Revelation that indicate this man of lawlessness, called the second beast in Revelation, will make war with Christians, defeat them, and enforce economic control over the world. He will force people to worship an image he makes. We put forth the prediction that in order for an individual to be invested with such economic and political power, turning-the-world-on-its-head events must occur in order to precipitate that investment. People and nations do not easily give up their sovereignty. When the two beasts show up in Revelation 13, if the Book of Revelation has proceeded chronologically, some terrible things have already happened on the earth, catastrophic events: earthquakes and plagues to name only two. The world will be yearning for a deliver.

Then will come a man on the scene who will perform impressive signs and wonders.

Paul wrote about him in his second letter to the Thessalonian Christians:

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders…” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). 1

This is how Revelation 13 speaks of him:

“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (Revelation 13:13–14).

One of the common criticisms of God is that He doesn’t act when we need Him to or in ways that help or please us. The question asked is often, “Where was God during the Holocaust?” We could add many other human disasters, both personal and national, to the list that question God’s goodness or power. If He is good, He wouldn’t have allowed it. If He is powerful, He could have stopped it. He is either evil, powerless, or both. Atheists proclaim that when they stand face-to-face with God and are asked why they didn’t believe in Him, they will answer, “You didn’t give me any evidence of your existence.” This is the response of a fool, as Psalm 14:1 says. All creation speaks of His existence, as Paul wrote: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).

After some world-shaking calamities, the world will be looking for and in need of a savior, someone to provide answers to the terrible reality they will be facing. Will there be lack of safety? Lack of food? This man of sin will speak great swelling words and will back them up with astounding supernatural acts. He will portray himself as the one who has the ability to make all things well. None of this, “Where is God when you need him?” stuff. He will be present. Active. And supernaturally powerful in obvious ways.

He will make it all “good.” Peace, peace. Finally, peace.

This passage from Deuteronomy has made me think for very many years now:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

The Lord told Israel that He would allow a prophet to do signs and wonders to test His people.

Christians should take notice. When Paul wrote about the coming of the lawless one and his false signs and wonders in the passage from Second Thessalonians quoted earlier, he also said this:

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12).

Please pause for a moment and consider. God Himself will send a strong delusion so they will believe in the man of lawlessness. Will you be wondering why people think the crazy way they do? Perhaps you wonder this even today. Paul wrote in Romans, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1:28). This is the hard truth: God Himself is deluding them.

This will never be you? Fellow Christian, be not high-minded, but fear. You and I are not immune. If we are still here in those ending days, we will be subject to some difficult times. We will be tempted to call out to anyone for rescue, especially one who can do amazing miracles.

Establish your strong Christian life now. You have no reason to wait.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

 

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In his second letter to Christians in a city called Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul wrote about a man of lawlessness who must appear before Jesus returns.

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).1

This evil individual appears in Scripture again, in the Book of Revelation. There he is called “the second beast.”

“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (Revelation 13:11–14).

Not only does this “second beast” perform great signs, it also “…causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelation 13:16–18). (Side note: Other than this time in Revelation, the number 666 appears in Scripture only three times. Once it refers to how many sons a man named Azgad had, in Ezra 2:13. The other two times are both in reference to how many talents of gold came to Solomon in one year (2 Kings 10:14; 2 Chronicles 9:13). This makes me wonder if the Holy Spirit was making a connection to the richest ruler on earth at the time who was a worshiper of foreign gods but also considered the wisest man in the world. That’s an interesting combination.)

The taking of the mark that allows people to buy and sell is more than economics, although it clearly is that. Worship is involved. This second beast “…was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (Revelation 13:15).

This is a troubling passage. Christians may not only starve to death but also be killed because they will not worship the image of the first beast. (This worship of an animated image is interesting; however, we will not speculate about that here.)

Some maintain that Christians will not be present at this time because they will have been raptured away. However, we are told in the verses that precede the forcing of everyone to take a mark that the first beast “…was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8).

In response to this terrible time when the saints are conquered, John wrote, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10). Whether you think you will be present for this time or not, Christians will be suffering. Christians today should be concerned about that. We should be praying for God’s mercy in these days to come.

In order for this level of authority to defeat Christians and dominate the world and its economic system to be in place, something very perilous and threatening will have to precede it. Unless people are drowning, they do not call out for rescue. And nations would not easily release their sovereignty, nor allow a single power to control the world’s economy unless there will be extremely drastic reasons. So, this is my prediction. What we are experiencing now and will experience in the years to come are just “the beginning of sorrows,” as Jesus called them (Matthew 24:8). Some thing or some very terrible things must transpire in order to these events to happen.

When you pray for the Father’s kingdom to come, please also pray for mercy—and for the endurance and faith of the saints.

 

1All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

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After last week’s post about the coming of the man of lawlessness, a good friend questioned whether the moral lawlessness we are witnessing now is worse than in previous generations or that it just seems so because of the availability of the media. My friend has a good point. Broadcast news is available almost everywhere on the planet twenty-four hours a day. This has never been the case in the history of the world. Therefore, it’s difficult to determine if our knowledge of pervasive evil has increased just because we know more about it via the media or if it is just the way it has always been. The interest in this issue among followers of Jesus Christ is understandable. Every generation of Christians, I suppose, has thought theirs is the last—the New Testament writers did. Paul, Peter, and John wrote in their letters instructions to their readers about this time to come.

However, it seems indisputable that moral lawlessness has increased from previous generations; certainly it has numerically. Fifty million babies have died since 1973 in the United Sates alone, almost a billion and a half worldwide since 1980. Around one hundred twenty-five thousand helpless children are aborted daily around the globe. I don’t think it’s a stretch to contend that this level of murder has never happened in the history of the world. The killing of children for personal convenience is the ultimate example of moral lawlessness and the apex of selfishness. This “lovers of self” attribute is mentioned by Paul in the very well-known portion about the last days from Second Timothy: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1–5). 1

One could counter by saying that people have always been lovers of themselves. It is hard to dispute that; however, again, killing one’s own child trumps all other selfish acts. It is what pagans once did—although the babies may not have been taken from wombs—so their gods would grant them favor. This is one of the reasons the Lord could not abide the ongoing survival of the nation of Judah and through Jeremiah prophesied their destruction (Jeremiah 19:5-6). In his song, Spirit of the Age, Michael Card calls the killing of “innocent and helpless little babies” as offerings to the spirit of the age—Satan.

However, the murder of millions of children is not the only manifestation of our current state of moral lawlessness. The definitions of good and evil have shifted. Behaviors that were once moral anathemas are accepted, even encouraged. The state sponsorship of homosexuality in the West, in what seems to be the blink of an eye, is stunning.

People in the West are much more interested in the occult than they once were. Television shows and movies abound with it.

Adherence to naturalism—that only natural laws and forces operate in the world—has greatly increased.

The notion of absolute truth is opposed, and doubt about the integrity of Scripture has spread widely.

Universalism—the belief that there are many roads to God—has increased in the Western world.

The accumulation of this lawlessness and the convergence of events since the re-establishment of Israel and Jerusalem causes me wonder if the last days are truly here. I freely admit that I could be wrong. However, I would rather be wrong about this than not ready. Jesus warned about this lack of readiness in His parable about the unprepared and foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.

And here: “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:39–40).

And here: “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15).

And here: “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28–31).

The man of lawlessness is coming. Before he comes, the world is being moved toward an acceptance of lawlessness; therefore, his rise to power as a lawless, immoral man will not seem unusual in the least.

Please be ready. The appearance of the man of lawlessness will precede the return of Jesus. Please endeavor to know Him.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

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My original intention for this week’s post was to bring up another crazy thing Christians think, but another pressing matter is at hand. That critical matter has to do with the biblical truth about what must occur before Jesus returns: the appearance of what Paul called “the man of lawlessness” or “the son of destruction.”

What I write is my opinion, but I trust is biblically based. I do not claim to have revelation or knowledge from God about the specifics of the events that precede Jesus’ return. So, please feel free to reject what I say. Nothing I write here is a cause for believers to suffer division. However, one truth is not arguable. The lawless one must appear before Jesus returns. There is much to discuss here, but for this article, we’ll deal with only one topic: the nature of the lawlessness to come.

The passage we’ll be looking at is from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. He’s making sure the believers there understand that Jesus had not returned yet. So, he tells them about the events that will occur before an event called the Parousia. He writes,

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–12). 1

I once thought that the lawlessness that would accompany this son of destruction was something akin to anarchy. However, when the New Testament speaks of lawlessness, it most often refers to moral lawlessness. Here is but one example among many:

“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19).

Current evidence of deleterious impurity, certainly in my home country, the United States, offers verification of what may be the preparation for such a lawless man. Europe and even Israel reveal this, as well. I cannot speak with any accuracy concerning other nations. However, if I’m right, I would expect equal, if not exceeding, moral degradation to be occurring in other places, too.

I also considered the reality that governments of all kinds would restrain anarchy with physical force. It’s just the way the world works. In “noble” governments, that endeavor would—and is—in force to maintain safety for the civilian population. For those governments more given to dictatorial rule, those in power would want to remain in power, regardless of the cost to safety.

However, I have now come to view that both positions may be legitimate. This statement from Jesus, concerning the last days, led to my earlier belief that lawlessness had to do with the danger and treachery of criminal and barbarous behavior:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9–14).

This made and still makes sense to me, at least as I view what has happened in my country in the last few decades. When I was a young man, people hitchhiked. I rarely see this anymore. Why? Hitchhikers are afraid of being picked up by a murderous person. Conversely, drivers are afraid of picking up a murderous person. When I was twenty-two years old, a friend of a friend let me sleep on the couch in his living room for a few days because I had nowhere else to stay. I assume this is relatively rare these days. We lock our doors more than we used to. We don’t leave things out in the yard like we used to. We don’t leave garage doors open like we used to. When I was a child, neither my neighborhood friends nor their parents were concerned about kids playing outside without adult supervision. We’ve all now seen tragic news reports and documentaries about child abductions, molestations, and rape, even of babies. We’re not sure if we should trust old men or even males in general. Sometimes blacks don’t trust whites. Sometimes whites don’t trust blacks. Sometimes Hispanics don’t trust whites or blacks and vice versa. Sometimes we don’t trust people from the Middle East. We’re worried someone, out of nowhere, will shoot us, stab us, or bomb us. We’re not sure we should trust even our own relatives. Because lawlessness has increased, we don’t trust almost anyone anymore, and our love for others grows cold.

Jesus prophesied this would happen before the end of all things, before He returns.

That which restrains is being taken out of the way in preparation for the appearance of the man of lawlessness.

More on this next time.

 

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Oh, the crazy things Christians (like me) think. I confess. I am guilty of Lazy ChristianThink. I have no one to blame but myself.

However, I am trying to get better.

No, I don’t attend CTCTA (Crazy Things Christians Think Anonymous), but I would like to offer some insight, hopefully, into a misunderstood verse that has been passed down to us and we have lazily accepted.

The crazy-thinking verse is from Matthew: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).1

This verse is very well known. In fact, it is part of the Western culture. I remember listening to an album, many years ago, entitled Balaclava, by the group Pearls Before Swine. (I think it was the first time I heard Leonard Cohen sing.) The traditional understanding of this verse is pretty simple: Don’t tell people things you know they will reject or trample them underfoot. They’re either too dumb to understand what you’re saying, too stubborn, or just unprepared to hear. Don’t waste your time. Tagging along with that understanding is often the implied superiority of the speaker over the hearer. After all, they are pigs, right? And you have pearls.

However, this belief is the complete opposite of what Jesus meant.

Please allow me to explain. As usual, the context in which this verse is found will help us.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:1–6).

Jesus taught that we should not judge people. He did not say we should cease making determinations about right and wrong, or toss away discernment about sinful behavior. He was addressing arrogant judgmentalism—judging people because, quite obviously, they’re nasty, disobedient sinners and we’re not. Jesus said this judgmental behavior is like having a log in our eyes. However, if we stop destructive judgmentalism—taking the log out of our eyes—we will be able to see clearly and help take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Please note that this brother does indeed have a sinful problem—he has a speck in his eye. However, treating such a person like dirt offers no help whatsoever. We are functionally blind if we do so. Thus, we are to drop the self-righteous judmentalism and help the sinful person. Christians, who are also sinners, should exercise compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness—all actions that are reinforced elsewhere both in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Peter wrote that Christians are to respond kindly and respect those who oppose them (1 Peter 3:14-16).

This teaching is then followed by the verse about casting our pearls before pigs. It makes no sense whatsoever that Jesus would follow His teaching about loving compassion toward sinners and then tell people to treat them like dogs and pigs. However, this is precisely what many Christians believe He did.

Instead, Jesus taught that we shouldn’t take God’s precious, loving truths and then attempt to teach them to people we treat like dirty dogs and pigs. The result, He said, would be that these needed, life-giving truths—pearls—would be trampled under the feet of those you disdain. They would reject them. Not only would they reject them, they would actually turn and attack you. This makes perfect sense. If you treat other people like they’re unworthy animals, they won’t take kindly to your attitude, reject the precious pearls of truth you share, and then attack you for your self-righteous, condemning attitude.

That’s called human nature.

Jesus never treated people like they were dogs or pigs. He forgave a woman who had been caught in adultery. He had a private conversation at a well with a woman who was a notorious ne’er-do-well. He allowed a prostitute to wash His feet with her tears. He touched lepers so they could be healed. He called a hated, Israel-betraying tax collector to be one of His disciples.

We’ve had the understanding of Jesus’ pearls-before-swine teaching backwards. Our understanding made us feel comfortable with our feelings of superiority and self-righteousness.

It is crazy Christian thinking.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

 

Eric and Sarah

 

Eric Karua, an associate pastor and musician from Papua New Guinea, is a friend of mine. Before Eric became a Christian, he was a very angry, hard-hearted, and violent man. When the Solomon Islands fought for independence from Papua New Guinea, he enlisted as a soldier with the Bougainville Resistance Army. But at some point, the Resistance Army divided, and the two factions began to fight each other. The war for independence had become a civil war. Eric joined the newly formed Bougainville Resistance Force. Sadly, that civil war, as do many such conflicts, pitted village against village, family against family and brother against brother. In fact, Eric told me he once put a gun to his wife’s head when he thought she was betraying him to her family. As I said, he was an angry man.

One night he decided that he would go to his wife’s village to visit her. He asked a couple of his friends to go with him, but they were too afraid; so he went alone. Eric was on a dark, jungle road, carrying an M-16, three extra clips in his cargo pockets. Two grenades hung from his belt.

Suddenly a man grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arms around him.

“I’ve got him!” he shouted.

Eric quickly brought up his M-16 and began spraying the areas in front of and beside him. When he exhausted the clip, he tried to reach into his pocket to retrieve a full one. By this time, however, another man had begun to stab him repeatedly, in his chest, neck, and head. Finally, Eric was stabbed in the back, near his kidneys, and he fell unconscious. When he came to, he heard the commander of the group say, “Finish him off.”

The attacker aimed his weapon at Eric, who was certain his death was just moments away. For the first time in his life, he prayed, “God, save me. Don’t let me die.” The assailant fired, but the round misfired. He ejected it and tried another. It was a dud, too, as was the third one.

Finally, the commander said, “Leave him to die.”

Eric regained and lost consciousness three times. Each time, he felt himself falling into a dark and bottomless pit.

Eventually, he gathered his strength and crawled to the house of friend. When he arrived at the front door, he called out twice, “Steven.” The third time, when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. He dragged himself to another house. On the way, however, he saw a Coleman lantern hanging inside a church. As he drew nearer, the light became smaller and smaller, until it was the size of a firefly.

Eric was dying.

The people in the church were praying and had their eyes closed. Eric crawled to the pulpit and grabbed it. When the pastor felt the pulpit move, he looked down, but Eric was so bloody he didn’t recognize him. The pastor took off his own shirt and wiped the blood from Eric’s face. The people quickly realized the extent of Eric’s wounds, and it wasn’t long before he was on his way to a hospital. He had almost bled to death. He had to undergo surgery to stop the internal bleeding and spent a month in bed, but he eventually recovered.

It was during this time and afterward that Eric fully gave his heart to Jesus Christ. Eventually, he recovered enough to preach the Gospel. Everyone, including his wife, Sarah, was amazed at how this hardened man had changed. However, although Eric was doing a lot of ministering, his heart was still full of bitterness and hatred toward the man who had attacked him so brutally. When he decided to go to this man and tell him that he had forgiven him, none of his village friends or family would go with him. They gave him a new M-16 and urged him to take it with him, but he refused.

By the time Eric arrived, word had spread that he was coming. He went into the man’s house, which by then was surrounded by soldiers who were ready to kill him at the first misstep. Eric found his enemy sleeping. When he nudged him awake, the man went for his weapon, the M-16 he had taken from Eric the night of the attack.

Eric put his hand out and said, “No, I haven’t come to fight. Enough people have died. I have come to forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Eric immediately felt released from his bitterness. Then his enemy broke down and cried. This man told Eric that he had free access to come and preach to the people in his village and that he wouldn’t be harmed.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. Eric’s family had sent his fourteen-year-old brother to school in an area in the north where it was safe. Eric had made so many enemies that they, in retribution, sought out his younger brother and murdered him. Eric found himself at another crossroad. His friends and family wanted revenge. However, even though he was tempted, Eric wouldn’t do it. By God’s grace, he was able to forgive, again, in the realization that bloodshed and payback hadn’t brought anything but more pain and death. When the time came for the first steps toward peace, the laying down of arms, Eric’s village was the first to do so.1

 

1Thomson, Deeper: A Call to Discipleship, 85–88.

2009-02-25_1126_3_NextToDelhiOrphanSchool

 

Is poverty good or evil? Why would anyone say, as I did in India, that it is God’s will for people—pastors, in this case—to be poor?

The New Testament has much to say about poverty and wealth. Privation is never regarded as an evil, as it is currently in many cultures. A lack of the necessities for living is simply addressed as an understood state in the New Testament, and that Christians, in response to that state, should care for those in need (Matthew 19:21, 26:11; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:3).

But poverty’s opposite, wealth, is addressed at length—and it’s not good news.

Jesus made it clear that an affluent person is in danger.

First of all, He said that wealth makes it difficult for people to enter the kingdom of God:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

This should be important to Christians. I’m not convinced that it is.

Jesus reinforced this truth when He told us that riches are deceitful: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

He also indicated that being rich in this world would mean that since we have already received our consolation or comfort, we might not receive such comfort or consolation at some future time: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).

Jesus told the Christians at Laodicea that their prosperity had caused them to think they needed nothing, when, instead, they were in reality “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15–18). He rebuked them for their prideful ignorance. In fact, the Laodicean Christians had been so blinded by their riches that Jesus was not even in their church—He was knocking at their door, trying to gain entrance (Revelation 3:20).

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, we find that after the wealthy man died, he found himself in a terrible condition—Hades, in fact—while the beggar Lazarus, formerly covered with sores, was abiding in a very good place, at Abraham’s side (Luke 16:19-30). Prosperity and health does not necessarily mean one is blessed, from an eternal perspective.

Jesus also warned about the hazards of wealth in the parable of the rich and covetous man who, having prospered said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luke 12:18–19). To finish His parable Jesus said, “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20–21). In this teaching, Jesus addressed our attitude about earthly possessions, not the possessions themselves.

Jesus reinforced this mindset about affluence when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Again, this statement has to do with one’s heart toward wealth—being mastered by money, not the possession of it. A person could be relatively poor and yet devoted to and the slave of money.

In this well-known verse, Paul warned that the love of money imperils Christians: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Again, one’s heart in regard to money is emphasized, not the possession of it.

Finally, James taught that it is beneficial to be poor:  “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).

So, is poverty evil? No, it can actually be a good thing and God’s will. However, nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to live in abject poverty. Money in and of itself is not evil. It is one’s attitude toward it that is problematic; however, undoubtedly prosperity causes one to sail into treacherous waters. I must confess that I take great comfort from Proverbs 30:8–9: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This is my prayer also. It has been an interesting and challenging journey to endeavor to follow Jesus while living in the relatively wealthy culture of the Western world.

The New Testament makes it clear that riches have the potential to bring us to a very bad state spiritually, so when we are prosperous, we should be wary. One of the evil characteristics of people in the Last Days is that they will be lovers of money (2 Timothy 3:2) Christians should consider these truths and warnings with a healthy sense of fear. We should realize that neither poverty nor wealth is evil in and of themselves—but affluence is the condition that puts one at spiritual risk, not poverty.

.

 

 

2009-02-25_1126_3_NextToDelhiOrphanSchool

Is poverty good or evil?

Is being poor ever something God would require?

When we lived in India, we faced this issue one day with a group of pastors who were struggling with a desperate lack of funds. These men wondered if God wanted them to be poor. In fact, they asked me this very question: “Does God want us to be poor?”

Now I know that those in the prosperity gospel camp, in their horrible ignorance, would have said, “Of course not! God wants you to be wealthy!” And perhaps many of our Western Christian friends may have held a similar opinion. “Poverty can never be good. Of course, God wants to lift you out of it.”

However, I did not respond in this way. I said, “You have prayed about this.”

Yes, they answered, they had.

I said, “And God has heard you. God hears our prayers.”

“Yes.”

I then stated, “Either God is sovereign or He’s not. Since He is sovereign, therefore, I know of no other answer than that, for now, yes—God wants you to be poor.”

That was difficult for a relatively wealthy man—by their standards—to say.

However, it must be true. They had prayed about their condition. God had heard their supplications. Yet, their poverty remained.

This truth is so difficult for us to apprehend because we Christians tend to have a skewed understanding of poverty and wealth, and that understanding is often not based upon Scripture. In the West, it is a very strong cultural truth that being poor is one of the worst things a person can endure. We have created vast government plans to deal with issues of poverty in our cultures. However, poverty is not one of the worst scourges of mankind.

Not knowing God and His ways is.

But back to our story.

Suddenly, right out in the open, in front of all the pastors, one man said, “I know what I should preach, but if I do that, no one will come.”

He candidly admitted that he compromised the teaching of Scripture in order to get more people in his church and therefore obtain more money.

The reader may decide for him/herself if such a thing could ever happen in churches in the West or anywhere else.

However, while there, we learned another distressing truth about the condition of pastors in India. For them to work at a secular job is a humiliation. The reason they feel this way is because a powerful reality has existed in the long history of the caste system there—which is illegal but still burbles strongly through the culture: The Hindu Brahmin priests were (and still are) at the top of the ladder, and all other castes below support them. They do not labor. They are too important to labor. Christian pastors enter the ministry expecting this to be the case for themselves, as well. They feel they are entitled to be supported. However, obviously, this condition does not hold for very many pastors in India.

One day, when my wife and I were walking home on the dusty, cow-dung spotted road to our house, a man rolled up next to us on his bike. He asked if we were missionaries and then told us the following things about himself:

He had seventy people in his church.

He was a full-time pastor.

We learned this man’s status before we knew his name.

He had arrived and wanted us to know it.

Because so many Indian pastors are poor, ministries in that nation reach out to people, churches, and organizations in order to support and help them. Some Indian nationals travel all over the world, spending tens of thousands of dollars on airfare, to raise funds. However, shouldn’t such leaders address with the truth of Scripture the pernicious burden under which these pastors live? These shepherds are not entitled to an income from their churches. Yes, the Bible teaches that churches should support their elders. The laborer deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:17-18). However, if a church is unable to do so, only one scriptural solution remains: Pastors must be bi-vocational. They must go to work. Although it may be humiliating in the Indian culture, it is not humiliating according to Scripture—and this is the truth the Indian pastors and churches, as well as ours, need to live by. Indian pastors must consider this truth before God. After all, the apostle Paul, chosen by God Himself, one of the greatest intellectuals in the history of the Church, worked with his hands and was not ashamed to do so. In fact, he desired it.

In addition, being humiliated is not something we should shun.

Throughout Scripture, the prophets were scorned and ignored by the religious leaders of their time.

Most importantly, the secular and religious authorities attempted to humiliate Jesus, God Himself in the flesh. However, we are taught to look beyond this, as He did.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).1

To state the obvious, God does not think the way we do.

More next time on the scriptural truths concerning wealth and poverty.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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