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I’m not sure where to begin here. I guess I’ll start by saying that, growing up, I never considered the color of Jesus to ever be an issue. I would see pictures of Jesus on paintings and in illustrated Bibles. I was given some Bible study books when I was a child and would see perhaps most of the depictions of Bible characters looking “European”, except for a few Old Testament characters and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. But then I would see elsewhere, depictions of Black Jesus mainly in Black churches. I was never confused by either image. I guess I just figured for someone who lived 2000 years ago (before life-like paintings and photos), everyone was just guessing what He looked like. No harm, no foul. His color isn’t the most important thing about him anyway. Right? To me a Jew from the ancient Middle East probably looked, well like a modern Middle Eastern man. I was 8 or 9 when Operation Desert Storm happened and I remember thinking that most Bible people, Jesus included, probably looked like the people of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.
Then as I got older I realized that the color of Jesus is a real stumbling block to a LOT of people. Some believe He is White. Some believe He is Black. Some even go to the lengths of giving God the Father one of the two skin tones. I don’t know if this is mainly an American problem. I’ve seen pictures of Asian Jesus as well but I have a feeling its not that much of a divisive issue in Asian countries as it is here in the U.S. I don’t know. It seems that different cultures like to represent Jesus as being like them in appearance. Maybe it makes Him more relatable. Maybe it was done in ignorance.
Some of us feel as though “White Jesus” was forced on to my ancestors in order to see “Master” as being closer to God. Or closer to the image of God. And because of the evil in men’s hearts, I can’t say that some slave owners didn’t do that exact thing. However, physical depictions of Jesus aren’t inspired and infallible. You can’t go to the ancient Greek or Hebrew texts and find a drawing of any person. There are some limited descriptions of certain people. Like David who was handsome and “ruddy” (the same red complexion given to Esau) 1 Samuel 16:12, Genesis 25:25. In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron were upset Moses’ wife was an Ethiopian (what I always assumed was the first fight over an interracial marriage). The point is that no one is really described in great detail how they look.
But, then there are those people who say that we can know Jesus was Black because of the description in Revelation 1:15 “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.” I’ve heard the explanation, “Who else has feet the color of burned brass? Definitely not them White Jews!” However, just one verse before that it says “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” So, is this saying Jesus is white? Well, it said His head and hairs are white, but His feet were like brass. What color is Jesus?
First, I would like to point out that the Book of the Revelation is full of imagery. Symbolic imagery. Four chapters later Jesus is described as a “Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes.” Ok, well that’s obviously symbolic right? Well, I believe His depiction in chapter 1 is obviously symbolic or metaphoric also. Especially given how it describes His eyes and voice. And in verse 16 of chapter 1, He has a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. It’s all imagery.
What does the Bible say about white hair? In Proverbs 16, it says wisdom and old age. Again, I’ve heard the objection, “But it says His hair was like wool. Who has hair like that?” It’s talking about the color, not texture.
In the Torah, bronze was used in the tabernacle for the laver (for cleansing) and the alter (for sacrifice). The Greek words here can be used to describe how bright and shining they are like if the metal is still in the furnace or if it is highly polished.
His eyes are as fire, shining light in the darkness. His face which the scripture says was like sun, as though the intensity is too much to bear. The sword that came out of His mouth pierces and cuts. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.“
There is also a description of who we believe to be the Son of God in the prophetic Book of Daniel. Chapter 10:5-6, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, His face like the appearance of lightning, His eyes like torches of fire, His arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of His words like the voice of a multitude.” Here we see similar descriptions. A face too bright to look at, eyes like fire, a voice so loud, arms and feet like burnished bronze. The “burnished” in the Hebrew means brightened or polished. Now, a simple Google search will show what burnished bronze looks like. And when compared to human skin it is very much non-white. So here, you may have an argument that the man Daniel was describing was a “Black” man. Or a sun kissed Middle Easterner. People didn’t spend a whole lot of time inside.
But what does it mean that His body was like beryl? Beryl can come in many different color variations: red, pink, aquamarine, emerald green, golden. But, it’s always translucent. The book of Daniel is full of imagery like the Book of Revelation, like his vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 and the king’s vision of the statue that represented four kingdoms in chapter 2. Remember that biblical visions and dreams usually are symbolic in nature.
It’s also important to note that even those who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry didn’t recognize Him after His resurrection (John 20:14-15; Luke 24:16).
The point is I don’t believe either depiction of Jesus describes His color. And if it does, I don’t believe that we should get so hung up on it that it distracts and divides us. No matter what, any physical depiction you’ve seen that is supposed to be Jesus is inaccurate. No one really knows what He looked like. At this point I’m almost willing to side with my Reformed brothers and say that all depictions of Jesus are violations of the 2nd Commandment. So much emphasis is being placed on what He looked like instead of what He did, it’s becoming idolatry.
I don’t need Jesus to look like me. The goal is to look like Him.
the·od·i·cy (thē-ˈä-də-sē ) noun – An explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
In a world full of such beauty and love and happiness, we also find sadness, pain, and disaster. There are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, school shootings, holocausts, wars, rapes, all manner of diseases, death… The Christian view of God is that He is good. That God is in control. That God cares and loves His creation. If this is true, then why is there so much suffering? This is perhaps one of the biggest if not the biggest stumbling block to many people when it comes to understanding God. And not just understanding God, but a lot of people just reject the notion of an omnipotent and omniscient God because of what’s known as the “problem of evil.”
Why does a good God allow evil?
Ancient skeptic and philosopher, Epicurus, said of God, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Are God and evil mutually exclusive? Does the existence of evil negate the existence of God? Some would say that to have both in the same universe would be a contradiction.
First let’s start with definitions. Let’s define “God” and “evil.” Merriam-Webster online defines God as “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe.” They define evil as, “arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. The “archaic” form is “causing discomfort or repulsion.” So, for its use in this blog “evil” consists of both natural and man-made trouble.
So God is defined as “perfect in power.” This means He can do absolutely whatever He chooses to do. As the Psalmist said, “He does whatever He pleases.” Being perfect in power He can stop all evil.
“Perfect in wisdom” means that He will never make a mistake and everything He does is absolutely wise. And being perfect in goodness means that all goodness dwells in Him and in Him there is no evil.
So if this all powerful, all wise, all good God exists and sees the evil in the world, why doesn’t He stop it?
Well we must ask ourselves what exactly is it we want stopped. Do we want God to stop all evil? If so and you’ve ever had an evil thought then you would want God to control your thoughts. If you’ve ever uttered an evil word, you would want God to control your speech. If you’ve ever done an evil deed or even made a mistake that caused harm, you would want God to control your actions. Therefore, we are asking for one of two things if we want God to stop all evil: 1. That God take all free will from mankind, or 2. God kill us upon our first evil thought, word, or deed.¹ And we can’t ask that justice be done to others and not to ourselves.
Now let’s break down Epicurus’ argument:
- Is God willing to prevent evil? Well if He is good we would have to say yes. We also know from the Bible that He is willing to prevent evil. He Himself heals. And He sends people out to heal the sick, warn people of judgement, and free slaves.
- Is God able? A perfectly powerful God is definitely able to prevent evil. But ability doesn’t mean necessity. A good God may allow things that we deem bad for other purposes. He doesn’t have to stop evil.
- Whence then is evil? Or from where does evil come? This is an important question to consider when pondering the existence of a good God when evil is so prevalent in the world.
Is evil “bad” just because it causes discomfort and repulsion? If so, the act of a parent correcting a child is “evil.” But of course a parent correcting a child is doing a good thing. But it feels bad. It causes discomfort and no child- nor any adult for that matter – likes correction. And, of course we can say that a parent, or teacher, or friend that corrects is doing it for the other person’s good. Therefore, we would rarely call it evil because we know there is love behind it. So we can logically say there are some things which feel bad that actually aren’t. We can also look at childbirth, growing pangs, the pain we get in our muscles from exercise that facilitates gaining strength: not all pain and discomfort are bad.
But of course there are those things caused by wrongdoing. People with malicious intent doing bad things for a bad purpose. What are we to make of that? And if God can stop them and if it’s in God’s good will to end evil then why doesn’t He stop them? Well as I mentioned earlier, where then would free will be? God can do whatever He pleases, but to stop all evil men from doing evil deeds He would have to stop all evil hearts. As Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This would mean at best we would all be “robots” with no will of our own, or at worst destroyed at the first bad thought.
What about “natural evil?” Stopping that wouldn’t inhibit human free will, right? Why doesn’t God stop natural disasters? Well, it would seem that most people “accept” natural evil as “nature being nature.” Not that they like all that happens in nature, per se, but that those things that happen naturally are more acceptable than “moral evil” caused by man. But for the atheist, the discomfort “natural evil” may cause has no good or bad to it. Actually, it should be seen more so as a good thing if it is just nature doing what nature does. It would be just the earth or universe replenishing itself or going through its phases. If plagues happen, it’s just nature. So why seek to cure disease? Also, what about nature would the inquirer want God to stop? Many aspects of nature that can harm us are also things that we need to survive on this planet. Would God need to make water less dangerous to prevent drownings? He would need to make the composition different, but then it would cease to be water. Lightning is another example. Lightning strikes kill many people every year. But, we need lightning. All life requires nitrogen-compounds and “the enormous energy of lightning breaks nitrogen molecules and enables their atoms to combine with oxygen in the air forming nitrogen oxides. These dissolve in rain, forming nitrates, that are carried to the earth.” (http://www.biology-pages.info/N/NitrogenCycle.html) Basically, we need lightning for healthy air and fertile soil.
Well, you might say “that’s all well and good but an all-powerful God could prevent lightning from striking people.” And you would be right. But, once again, that would involve preventing me from being in a certain place at a certain time so that I am not struck by lightning. “Well doesn’t Christianity claim that God does, in fact, intervene sometimes to prevent such occasions?” Yes, whenever God intervenes to prevent what would otherwise have happened, that is called a miracle. As Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis writes, “That God can and does, on occasion, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is a part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.” Have you or someone close to you said after some natural or otherwise unfortunate event, “I was supposed to be there at that moment but ________ happened and I’m alive because of it.”?
Now back to God’s wisdom. When we are children, our parents often tell us that we can’t do something we want to do. We think we are smart enough and mature enough to do whatever it is, but our parents spoil the fun with a “No!” or “Stop!” and sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we get an explanation of why. Sometimes. Those other times we don’t get the reason because we wouldn’t understand it even if they told us. And we definitely wouldn’t agree with the explanation because we don’t understand it. Our parent’s life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences have given them a better understanding of the world around us than we have as children. So, their no’s to us may seem cruel at times but it is often for our benefit.
God created the world around us and the universe beyond us. God sees the past, present, and future all at once. God, therefore, is more knowledgeable than our parents (and, of course, us) could ever have dreamed of being. Our knowledge is finite and therefore our wisdom and perception are finite. God is infinite and therefore His wisdom is infinite. So while we can’t always know the reasons of the pain and suffering we experience here on earth, we can know that God does. So, because of our ignorance the words of Job ring true, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3
Evil proves God exists. Why do we hate “evil”? Why would someone question why bad things happen? It is because we know that there is a standard of good and of rightness and therefore whatever is “evil” doesn’t seem to meet the standard. We know a line is crooked because we know of straightness. Anything that goes against the “transcendentals” (truth, beauty, and goodness) is evil, bad, or wrong. Since God is defined as perfect in goodness, He is the standard against which one judges evil. If God does not exist, whence then is evil? What standard does anyone have to judge evil? Evil and goodness would only exist as opinions.
If naturalism is true, the best hope we have is that we will return to the nothing from which naturalists say we came. That not only does pain end when we die but so does any amount of pleasure and joy. Nothing created us for no purpose and back to the void of nothingness we will return. All of our pleasures and pain on earth were for naught. No truth, beauty, or goodness awaits in exchange for all the suffering in the world.
However, the Bible tells us there is a reason that pain and suffering are in the world. Man’s sin is so potent that it affects the world. Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused death to come into the world. Before sin, there was no hard work, pain in child labor, shame, disaster, or death. The Bible also promises us that all will be made right again. That God is a God of justice. That one day man will be free from pain and suffering. That one day even nature will experience this freedom. This freedom is not just an absence of pain. Ceasing to exist could do that. No, this freedom from pain will be because of unconquerable and unending joy. This freedom comes to those who place their faith in God. This promise is for those of us that believe He has this gift awaiting us and that it is only available through His only begotten Son, Jesus. God has promised us that the pain on earth has been used to make a way possible to live eternally. The death that Jesus died on the cross was the death that brings us life. What was meant for evil, God is using for good.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:4-5(ESV)
¹I present to you that this might be a false dichotomy. And it actually answers the question of “How can evil exist if a good God exists.” The third option is that God uses people to change things. He sometimes uses people to show the world His love and goodness. He uses people to spread His good news, administer justice and benevolence. Anytime God’s people do God’s will, we see God in action.
Today one of the most brilliant scientific minds has died. Stephen Hawking, a world renowned physist, was perhaps best known for his work studying black holes. His contribution to science will be remembered for generations to come.
Mr. Hawking was also an athiest. He said, “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said. “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
My purpose in writing this is not to stress the eternal fate of Mr. Hawking. My purpose in this writing is to stress to believers the importance of being salt and light to a dying world. My purpose in this writing is to stress the importance of evangelizing. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who may die not believing.
There is a video that was released a few years back with Penn Jilette, performer and prominent atheist, in which he says, “If you believe there is a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell and not eternal life, or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it could make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize. How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
The death of a nonbeliever is nothing for believers to make snide comments about. Comments like “I bet he believes now,” are more prideful than helpful. There should be no rejoicing but rather prayers for his family.
Death should remind us all that our time on this earth is short. Everyone old enough to read this will most likely face God within the next 100 years. That’s not a long time. No one is promised tomorrow. Therefore, there should be an expediency for believers to spread Christ’s Gospel.
Penn Jilette continues in the video that if you see someone standing in the way of an oncoming truck how much would you have to hate them to not push them out of the way “This [hell] is more important.”
In conclusion, we should pray for Stephen Hawking’s family and that any family members who do not know Jesus would come to accept Him as their Lord and Savior. That they have peace during this difficult time in their lives. We pray they are surrounded with people who will comfort them.
If a group of believers pray’s for someone to be healed of an illness, and that person dies of that illness, then how are we to take Matthew 18:19?
This question was posed to me a couple years ago. My first thought was that person, if a believer, would be immediately healed upon their death when they leave their body. Also in their glorified bodies after their resurrection they will experience no more pain and sickness. This was my first thought. And while true, I didn’t take the context of the verse into consideration. Rather, I didn’t take the time to study the context.
Matthew 18:19 says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”
At first glance this passage seems pretty up front. That whatever two or more believers ask of God, He will do. So if several Christians gather to pray for someone’s physical healing, we can be confident that God will heal them. Some would even say that God is “obligated” to do what’s being prayed for. That’s what many of us hear all the time anyway, especially in America.
This belief seems to be validated when we look at the verse immediately before and the verse immediately after. Verse 18 reads, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
So now we seem to have a good formula for healing in Jesus’ own words. 1) Two or three gather making Christ present, 2) touch and agree, 3) bind and loose [binding sickness or demons and releasing blessing and healing, etc] 4) God will do it.
Sounds pretty cut and dry. But, what about the last part of the question posed at the beginning. “…the person dies…” One could take this sad result several ways:
- Someone praying or the one being prayed for didn’t have enough faith (Jesus did just say in chapter 17 that the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon because of their lack of faith).
- Or, there was unrepentant sin in someone’s life. John 9:31 says that God does not listen to sinners but those that do His will.
- Or, it just wasn’t God’s will at that moment to heal that person (2 Corinthians 12:8). But God is true to His word, so why would there be a promise if God would only keep it sometimes?
So what are we to make of this passage?
In one of my earlier blogs on how to understand the Bible, I mention that we must read scripture in its correct context. Picking a verse out of context can, and often does, lead someone to believe something that was not intended. So let’s apply Matthew 18:18-20 to its proper context.
The words of Jesus beginning with verse 12:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Here we have Jesus speaking of what we call “church discipline”. He begins first by speaking about a lost sheep which is, in this case, a brother in sin. Another brother should try to correct the wayward believer in private. If he doesn’t listen then one or two more should try. The reference Jesus gives comes from Deuteronomy 19:15, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” To call a brother out on his sinning there needed to be at least 2 witnesses. And these witnesses would work to restore their brother. If that doesn’t work, then the brother is to be brought before the assembly for the sole purpose of restoration from his sin. If after all that, he refuses to give up his sin then he is to be treated as though he is no brother at all. This is also referenced in 1 Timothy 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:4-5.
So what does the “binding and loosing” mean and what does Jesus mean when He says He is “there in the midst of them”?
A couple chapters before, Jesus tells Peter, ” ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.‘ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Here we see Jesus establishing His church. His corporate body of believers which at that time consisted of Jews.
Another step of interpreting a text is understanding how the original hearers or readers would have understood the words. For example, in John 3 when Jesus told Nicodemus that he should have understood what being born again meant because he was a teacher of the law, we should ask ourselves where in the Old Testament would he have understood being “born again” to be referenced. The answer is Ezekiel 36:25-27.
So how would the Jews have understood “binding and loosing”? Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 18 states, “…these, in the common speech of the Jews, at that time, signified to prohibit and permit; to teach or declare a thing to be unlawful was to bind; to be lawful, was to loose.” So once again we see a certain judicial understanding to what this passage in Matthew means.
Henry continues, “When ministers preach pardon and peace to the penitent, wrath and the curse to the impenitent, in Christ’s name, they act then pursuant to this authority of binding and loosing. The key of discipline,which is but the application of the former to particular persons, upon a right estimate of their characters and actions. It is not legislative power that is hereby conferred, but judicial; the judge doth not make the law, but only declares what is law, and upon an impartial enquiry into the merits of the cause, gives sentence accordingly.”
One reference for binding and loosing is found in the Gospel of John. After Jesus resurrection, He reminds His apostles of their authority. In chapter 20, verse 23, we read, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Sound doctrine and strict disciple are the two ways church leaders remit and retain sin:
So we see from reading in context what Matthew 18:19 is really about.
So am I saying that we shouldn’t pray for healing or anything else? Not at all. I’m also not saying that gathering together to pray for someone is unbiblical. What I am saying is that whether one lonely believer is praying or 100 are praying together, God hears. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Jesus even mentions how someone was healed through faith of just one person (Mark 5:34, Luke 17:19).
On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes God chooses not to heal. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The context here is Paul telling the Corinthians how he could boast because of his visions of heaven but he chooses not to be a “fool.” Rather, He thanks God for his infirmaries because they keep him humble. Therefore, his boasting will only ever be in Christ. Even though he prayed three times for God resolve this issue, God chose not to. In choosing to say no to Paul’s prayer, God granted Paul the greater benefit of understanding the greater depth of the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Then why should we pray? First, because we are commanded to do so. Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:1 are among the many commands that we have from God to pray.
We should also pray because it works. When we pray according to God’s will He hears us. The Bible is full of examples when God’s people prayed and God answered. In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah was in deep, emotional prayer by herself. She was praying for a child. God listened and blessed her with the son that would become the great prophet Samuel. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison and the church is praying for him. An angel appeared and freed Peter from his chains. Afterwards, Peter went to the house where the saints had gathered and were praying. There they were still praying when he shows up. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much. (James 5:16)
For more information on prayer, check out Focus on the Family‘s articles on the subject here.
We must also remember that sometimes we don’t see the results of our praying. As stated in Hebrews 11, some people pass on to glory before they see the results of the fruit of their faith.
Lastly, as I stated at the beginning of this blog that healing actually will come to those who place their faith in Christ. That is a promise. By His stripes we are healed. Whether in this life or in the next.
P.S.: All that being said, there is a power in Christian unity. We are the body and when the body joins together, we become a more complete picture of Jesus. All of us as different parts working and praying together, and building each other up.
Where your treasure is that’s where your heart will be also. -Jesus
There are often debates surrounding this question. Some say that tithing was only for Old Testament Israel. Some say that the mandate is still in effect for the New Testament Church.
So, which is it? Well, I’m not going to answer that question. You should prayerfully study the scriptures and be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
But I am going to ask you, the reader, to reflect on a few questions.
1. What is the heart of the person asking this question? In Proverbs we read, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (16:2 and 21:2). Are we asking to find a loophole to be disobedient? Perhaps they are asking because they don’t want to give 10%. But the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver. So maybe we should ask not what we are commanded to do, but be joyful of what we get to do.
2. Isn’t everything you have God’s? He provides us our money, our food, our time, our talents, our gifts. Therefore, whatever we give back to God, He only allowed us to have in the first place. It’s not 10% of what we’ve earned, it’s 10% of what God made us stewards of. Everything was created by God, so everything that exists is His. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters,” Psalm 24:1-2. And Paul reminded Timothy that we brought nothing into this world and we can’t take anything out (1 Timothy 6:7).
3. What would give God more glory, more or less of your earnings? Whatever gives God the glory also blesses the believer. Wouldn’t God get more glory with more of your time and possessions? If the Christian isn’t mandated to give 10%, God would still bless those that gave more of what they have. Scripture tells us that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6). David Guzik states, “A farmer sowing seed may feel he loses seed as it falls from his hand to the ground, and we may feel we are losing when we give. But just as the farmer gives the seed in anticipation of a future harvest, we should give with the same heart.” In the New Testament, Jesus said of the widow who gave only a couple coins into the temple treasury, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” This principle of giving is an echo of the widow in the Old Testament who gave her last bit of food to Elijah. Both widows gave all they had and were blessed as the result.
Are you willing to give 10% if God has commanded it? Are you willing to give it all to Him if He asks of it?
Like I stated, the purpose of this blog was not to be another arguing point for the tithing debate. But it’s purpose is for us to take a look at ourselves and our hearts behind our giving and not to be so black and white on the amount that we give. So, while I’ll leave the tithe debate up to others, I do believe these points I brought up are worth considering. All things considered, the Kingdom of God advances when the people of God give of their resources and time. What has God placed in your care that could be used? How are you making yourself available?
Further reading on giving: Deuteronomy 15:10-11, 16:17; 1 Kings 17:7-23, 1 Chronicles 29:6-17, Proverbs 3:9-10, 11:24-25, 21:26; Malachi 3:10, Luke 3:11, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, James 2:15-16
In the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth, we see that wise men came from the east bearing gifts for the Christ-child. We see images of them displayed at Christmas time on Nativity scenes and in plays. We sing Christmas carols about them. One of my favorite Christmas pastimes is watching the 80’s classic, Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas in which the Wisemen’s camels sing “We Three Kings.” But, who are these “wise men”? Were they kings? What can we know about them? Here, I’ll seek to address these questions as well as some common misconceptions we may have about them.
In Matthew 2, we are told the story of how “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem”. They were looking for Jesus that they may worship Him. From here we can see that they knew somehow, where to find Jesus and that he was someone to be worshiped when they did find Him. Where did they come from and how did they know where to go?
The word “magi” comes from the Greek word magos from which we get the word magic. The Blue Letter Bible app defines magos as:
- the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc
- the oriental wise men (astrologers) who, having discovered by the rising of a remarkable star that the Messiah had just been born, came to Jerusalem to worship him
While the word “magos” is used in Acts 13:8 concerning a sorcerer, in the context of the Nativity narrative “astrologers” probably fits as a good descriptor. They probably came from as close as Babylon (Iraq) or far as Persia (modern day Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan) when they saw a particular star in the sky. As astrologers they were looking to the stars for signs of different events and were aware that this star ushered in a most significant event of world history.
Dr. Michael Molnar believes the star was actually the planet Jupiter that aligned with the constellation Aries. At the time Jupiter represented a new king and Aries represented Judea. The Magi would have seen this unique heavenly display to the west of them and would have recognized it as being of major importance. However, I think this view has some problems and I’ll address them another time.
I believe it was also familiarity with Hebrew prophecies that drew the Magi to seek out the newborn King. Several hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Daniel was made “chief over all the wise men” of Babylon (Daniel 2:48). Being chief, he would have taught them the writings of prophets like Isaiah who foretold of the coming King. They would also have known of Daniel’s “70 weeks” prophecy in Daniel chapter 9 which some believe predicts the exact timeline for the birth of Jesus, His baptism, and death.
The Bible also says these wise men came with gifts for the newborn King. Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because of the three gifts being represented, it has been assumed that there were only three wise men. However, the Bible never states the number. All we know is that there were multiple wise men. They chose these specific gifts because they understood that Jesus was to be king so they brought gold. The frankincense symbolized His deity and priesthood. The myrrh was used for anointing and embalming. Jesus being our Prophet, Priest, and King is represented in these three gifts. They also have prophetic meaning in that Jesus is King, God on earth, and the Suffering Servant the prophet Isaiah foretold of that would die for the sins of His people.
So while the Bible doesn’t give us numbers or names of these “wise men” we do know they sought to worship baby Jesus. Other than the incarnation itself, this may be Jesus’ first miracle in the flesh; bringing “magicians” or “priests” of foreign religions to worship Him. Here He is already showing His power and supremacy over all nations. He was proclaimed King by Gentiles at His birth and He was proclaimed King by Gentiles nearing His death.
The wise men were wise in that they sought till they found. God met them where they were at and thus they knew they had to respond. If God is calling you today, He is meeting you where you are at to move you to a place He will guide you. Like the Magi, God is taking you to His Son. If in reading this you feel led to get to know the Savior of the world, that is God calling you. Respond to God and He will direct you.
They presented themselves to him: they fell down, and worshiped him. We do not read that they gave such honor to Herod, though he was in the height of his royal grandeur; but to this babe they gave this honor, not only as to a king (then they would have done the same to Herod), but as to a God. Note, All that have found Christ fall down before him; they adore him, and submit themselves to him. He is thy Lord, and worship thou him. It will be the wisdom of the wisest of men, and by this it will appear they know Christ, and understand themselves and their true interests, if they be humble, faithful worshipers of the Lord Jesus. – Matthew Henry
To start, let’s define the terms.
Definition of most:
Greatest in amount or degree.
Definition of important:
Strongly effecting the course of events or the nature of things
So with God, what specific thing strongly effects the course of events or the nature of all things in the greatest amount or degree?
To me, three answers seem to stand out; there is love, there is free will, and there is holiness.
16 “For God so loved* the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes** in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned*** already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
*We know love is important to God because He died to redeem us so we might be saved from sin.
**We know free will is important to God because He gives us the opportunity to choose His Son, to choose to spend eternity with Him, and this is evident even from the beginning when God created man and woman in the garden of Eden.
***And we know that holiness is important to God because those who do not choose to believe in Jesus don’t just get a free pass, but condemn themselves to an eternity apart from God.
In contrast, we know it cannot be any of the three by themselves because the others clearly exist, as this is evident throughout all of the Bible.
What does this mean for us?
Well, with all the beliefs in theology, there seems to be 3 levels of importance.
A. Matters of Salvation – How one is saved, the most important. Jesus is God in the flesh. It is only through belief in Him that you can be saved. This is not by works but by faith.
B. Matters of Witnessing – Effecting salvation of others, second most important. Some beliefs can affect your witness to the lost and possibly the salvation of others. Such beliefs include the authority of Scripture, the role of Christians as missionaries, views on God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, etc…
C. All Other Beliefs – The least important. These are the denominational differences that seem to divide believers but are really trivial beliefs; the proper way to baptize, types of acceptable music, religious traditions, etc…
Other theological stances on certain issues may inadvertently lead to violating A or B, for example: condoning homosexuality, gay marriage, or theistic evolution may seem innocent enough but by doing so, one would have to compromise on what Scripture says about those issues and could thus compromise the authority of Scripture leading to that person’s effectiveness in witnessing.
Also, taking something that falls under C too far could effect one’s witness, for example: if believers fight and argue about religious traditions instead of agreeing to disagree and acknowledge that traditions don’t save people, only Jesus does – that can tarnish the view of the Body of Christ for those who observe this division.
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, because we can deduce that love, free will, and holiness are so important to God, we know that each person is first solely responsible for his/her salvation. After that, we all share a responsibility to present ourselves worthy to be called followers of Christ and to bring the good news to the lost. And lastly, anything else we believe should be laid aside and not cause contention among one another. Let us strive to build each other up and spread the Gospel to all.
By Clark Campbell