Why We Aren’t Cessationists

If you’ve been following us for some time, you’ll know that while we do preach Biblical discernment in all matters, we firmly assert that we are not cessationists. I think today we should clarify our position a bit so that there is no mystery on where we stand.

We are functionally cessationist while theologically we acknowledge
that God remains Sovereign over His gifts

First, let’s clearly define cessationism. Cessationsim is the assertion that certain gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in the Bible are no longer available or in operation today. That at some point in early church history, they ceased. Sometimes this assertion is tied to dispensationalism, at other times it is simply tied to the Apostles (or those upon whom the Apostles had directly laid their hands). When tied to dispensationalism, the assertion sometimes sounds like, “God doesn’t operate or deal with His people in that way anymore”, and when tied to the Apostles it sounds like, “those where only for a short time as a testimony of the authority given to the Apostles, and now that there are no more Apostles, the need for those gifts has gone away”. These views are held (in general) by both Lutherans (who generally take the Apostolic argument) and Calvinists (who generally take the dispensation argument). Our problem with the assertion of cessation of certain gifts of the Holy Spirit is that it isn’t taught in Scripture. That presents a bit of a problem when one considers Sola Scriptura as a major tenet of the Reformation.

Generally speaking, there is an argument within the cessation camp that pre-supposes a win as its fundamental argument for discernment. The argument is, “God doesn’t speak to people directly anymore; therefore, anyone who claims a direct revelation from God is either lying or deceived”. This is an argument that really should cease. If the Bible declared that God no longer speaks to His people directly, then there would be no further argument. That it doesn’t, means that we should drop this argument or at least demote it from being a foundational presupposition. At best, it is an empirical bias that may motivate an individual to exercise Biblical discernment, but the assertion should really be presented as a bias and not an objective Biblical truth.

Common Proof Texts for Cessation of Gifts

To Seal both Vision and Prophet

Perhaps one of my favorite pastors to listen to, whether it be one of his sermons or his discernment ministry, is Pastor Chris Rosebrough. When it comes to preaching the Word of God and practicing sound Biblical hermeneutics in breaking down bad teaching, I’ve not found anyone better. I haven’t heard him speak on this recently, but in the past on his program I’ve heard this approach taken a few times. This proof comes from Daniel 9:24. Let us start at the beginning of Daniel 9 so we understand the context of this passage.

Daniel 9:1-2 (ESV) 1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Okay, so we have Daniel, one of the exiles who feared the Lord God and was blessed by God and promoted to a leadership position in the realm of the Chaldeans. We see here that as he studied the Scriptures, he perceived the minimum number of years of the exile prophesied by Jeremiah as 70 years. What follows is Daniel’s prayer of repentance for himself and on behalf of Israel. In so doing, Daniel is following the instructions given to Solomon at the completion of the Temple.

2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (ESV) | If My People Pray
11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished.12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’ 19 “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 22 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’”

Solomon and Israel did not obey, and God kept His Word, as He always does. But now that the 70 years had been completed, Daniel sought the Lord in prayer.

Daniel 9:3-5 (ESV)3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.

I encourage you to take some time and read his prayer in full. For now, let us skip to the response from the Lord given to Daniel by messenger, the Angel Gabriel.

Daniel 9:20-27 (ESV) | Gabriel Brings an Answer
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision. 24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Itsend shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

So, our proof text for cessation comes from a Messianic Prophecy. This scripture gets presented as a declaration that when the second Temple is built both vision and prophet are sealed up, which is taken to mean “closed”. The Hebrew words used here can be legitimately interpreted in that light, so there is no point in digging into the roots of the words. There are 2 problems with using this passage, the first is that it comes in a prophecy regarding the Temple and the Anointed One (Messiah or Christ) which points to Jesus. So it is difficult to treat this text as a clear teaching text, because it was a specific message, to Daniel, regarding His plans for Judah and Jerusalem. The second problem is that if we are to take this as a definitive closing of both Prophet and Vision, well, then we have a problem because the New Testament has both visions and prophets revealed by God the Holy Spirit. So, in this text, there is no mechanism for putting this sealed up vision and prophet “on hold” until sometime after the John finishes writing the Book of Revelation on the Isle of Patmos.

This proof-text isn’t always used alone. It is often used in tandem with the following proof text.

But in These Last Days

Many will point to the introduction to the book of Hebrews as the proof that God no longer speaks directly to His people. The argument goes that the author is declaring that while God spoke in many ways to our fathers by the prophets, He now only speaks one way and that is by the Son. Let’s take a look at it.

Hebrews 1 (ESV) | The Supremacy of God’s Son
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
Or again,
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7 Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
10 And,
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
12 like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.”
13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,
“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

But is the author making a declaration regarding how God will no longer speak, or is he pointing out that in Christ, the Son of the Living God, we now have something far better than Moses and the Prophets? I believe it is the latter. Why? Well, because this letter is first and foremost a letter to those who are familiar with the Law and the Prophets, but need better understanding and teaching on how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and is now our perfect High Priest of a covenant superior to all previous covenants. There is also the matter of a member of the trinity not being included in this intro, namely, God the Holy Spirit. We know that God the Holy Spirit was promised to the Apostles to teach, remind, and grant power and gifts for the edification of the Church. Therefore, if the event that silenced God from speaking directly to His people by prophets was the virgin birth of Jesus, then why are we promised God the Holy Spirit?

Prophecies Will Pass Away; Tongues Will Cease

This one is less often used, but I have seen it so I want to point out the issue with using this one. It comes from 1 Corinthians 13.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (ESV) 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

The idea behind using this proof-text is that this passage demonstrates that all of these gifts have a limit. What follows is usually an argument from silence or borrowing from the close of the Book of Revelation to suggest that tongues already ceased once we learned how to understand all of the major spoken languages and that prophecies have ceased since the canon of Scripture is now closed. The problem with using this text in that way is that its primary teaching is to demonstrate the eternal quality of love (a more excellent way). Paul explains that we see in part and prophesy in part but when the perfect comes… ah, Paul did insert a marker. To what is Paul referring here as when the perfect comes? The Return of Jesus Christ Our Lord. And that stands to reason, for once Jesus returns, we’ll have no need of prophecies or tongues or even knowledge, for all will know and bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Of this I am quite confident, especially when we consider that the very next chapter is a prescriptive text on the primary gifts of the Holy Spirit that cessationists make off-limits, namely the gifts of Tongues and Prophecy.

Cessationism is Lazy Discernment

It would be very easy to rubber-stamp any claim to a direct revelation from God the Holy Spirit as clearly heretical (and many take that stance).  However, we know that God speaks to everyone through His Written Word, and we know that all scripture is God-breathed. We also know that God will not add to the Law, the Prophets, or Revelation and as such the canon of scripture is closed. We know that if anyone preaches a Gospel that does not agree with the Gospel revealed in Scripture, that person is to be accursed. We know that signs and wonders do not in themselves point to God or His blessing, nor do they prove the existence of an “anointing”. We know this from both the Old Testament Law regarding testing of the Prophets as well as in the New Testament warnings. We also have 1 Corinthians 12-14, we have the Book of Revelation, we have several mentions in Acts of prophets and prophetic words spoken over Timothy.

Biblical Discernment is a Mandate

While I do consider cessationsism to be lazy discernment, what I’ve found in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is that no one exercises discernment beyond their emotions, or what they call “feeling in their spirit that it isn’t right”. They seem to rely only on the Gift of the Holy Spirit listed:

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV) 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

In the KJV, the highlighted portion phrases it “discerning of spirits”. So, they (in my experience) seem to rely on “those with that gift” to practice discernment just as they rely on those with the gift of prophecy to prophesy. In my opinion, that goes beyond lazy and into negligent. I have yet to find an online biblical discernment ministry from a Pentecostal/Charismatic point of view. I have come to believe (granted, by an argument from silence) that the movement(s) actively discourage Biblical discernment ministries and seeks to silence them. The seeker-mergent church actually teaches in their leadership conferences that those who question the pastor (exercise discernment) are wolves and need to be silenced, even going so far as practicing excommunication. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you are standing on solid, Biblical foundation, there is no need to fear being challenged doctrinally. I’m not saying you have to stop mid-service to entertain a heckler every time, but the standard is Scripture, not the so-called “vision of the pastor”.

The Biggest Problem in Today’s Church

Cessationism is not the biggest doctrinal problem facing today’s Church. A Church that limits itself to only hearing from God the Holy Spirit as He speaks to them through the Written Word of Scripture has in no-way hamstrung itself, for the Word of God (in this case Written) will not return void. Some leaders take cessationism to an unhealthy extreme where they believe it is unbiblical to pray and ask for healing, or for wisdom, knowledge, etc… but in those cases the Scriptures refute their false teaching directly. Where cessationism is hurting the Church, is in its outreach to those who are lost in a sea of mysticism or being tossed about by every wind of doctrine. When one claims to be engaging in Biblical discernment, and starts with an assertion, that person has laid a stumbling block for the individual similar to that taught in 1 Corinthians 8. By all means, take every thought captive and submit it to Christ, and tear down every lofty opinion that raises itself against the knowledge of Christ. Expose the false teacher by his fruit, his false doctrine.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete,equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 (ESV) 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

The biggest problem in today’s church, is that we’ve allowed the entertainment culture to supplant the preaching of the Word and sound doctrine. And many have turned away from listening to the truth and wandered off into myths. Mysticism has infiltrated every Christian denomination and many have abandoned the infallibility of Scripture because for too long they’ve ignored (or down-played) its sufficiency.

Not every direct revelation was included in Scripture, in-fact, we have record of some direct-revelation that were specifically prohibited from being recorded or spoken. The problem isn’t when someone says, “the Lord showed me” or “the Lord told me” or even “the Lord spoke to me”… the problem is when what is being claimed as coming from God the Holy Spirit isn’t Biblical. When someone claims “thus saith the Lord” when God has not spoken, that is blasphemy, and the individual is a false prophet. A teacher’s fruit is NOT how much money they raise, or how many disciples they gather; rather, it is their doctrine and what they teach.

In closing, if this is your first time visiting this site and you are worried about our non-cessation stance, here are some links to give a better picture of where we do stand. It could be argued that we are functionally cessationist while theologically we acknowledge that God remains Sovereign over His gifts.

Thank you for reading through to the end. Our desire is to study the Word of God in context, and as free from outside influence as possible, by God’s Grace. If you disagree with us, or feel we’ve missed a clear passage of scripture, do please share either in comments below or by contacting us directly. One final thought, in our understanding and application of Sola Scriptura, we affirm that unless a doctrine can be taught from scripture, it shouldn’t be taught from the pulpit. I don’t mind referencing a commentary or “church father” from time to time to maybe bring a different perspective, but we will not be “teaching” from the extra biblical texts. Sola Scriptura is indeed Scripture Alone. As Alistair Begg puts it, “the plain things are the main things, and the main things are the plain things”.

May the Grace of God be with you today and always,
In Christ Jesus,

Christmas in July? | Giving

A local Christian radio station is currently in full-swing with its “Christmas in July” campaign. They are currently supporting a wonderful outreach for an organization that ministers to victims of domestic violence, so I fully support the cause. My question is, what is the purpose of invoking the “Christmas in July” theme? Several of the station promos are of the Christmas variety with “the most wonderful time of the year” jingle, and on-air DJs promoting the “season of giving to each other”. But is that the focus of Christmas?

This past Christmas season (2013), we looked at the Biblical context of Christmas in a 4-part series:

No doubt in your local church there has been at least some debate regarding the focus of our Christmas celebration. While the textbook answer to the question of Christmas is “we celebrate the birth of Christ”, often times what we see demonstrated pays homage to a jolly fat elf character mystically delivering gifts to kids according to their deeds for the year (via omniscience?). Gift giving is the theme of the season overall, but on the day of Christmas the focus is generally on the gifts we have given each other. I’m all for celebration for the right reasons, and in our family we do celebrate and take part in gift giving; however, we do not in any way endorse the demigod santa or any other such mystical nonsense.

So then, since the textbook answer to the question of Christmas is “Jesus”, why is it that we leap to “Christmas in July” to describe a call to give gifts in July? Now, I am not against giving, and the Bible clearly teaches that we are to be loving, giving followers of Christ. I agree with giving to solid, biblical ministries throughout the year and I have no problem with fund-raisers or giving drives for a particular outreach. The problem I have, is with the mixing and blending of themes in the marginally biblical practice of “celebrating Christmas” as the world does, for the world’s reasons. The problem is in how we teach, preach, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Should we be so quick to employ clever marketing at the expense of sound Biblical teaching? I don’t think we should.

So, let us take a look at how Paul fully developed the concept of giving in his letter to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (ESV) 1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

Second Corinthians is a wonderful book. I strongly encourage you to read through it as Paul gives an account of his ministry, and that of Titus and the brothers, and even shares how thankful he is that after boasting in their faithfulness, the report given by Titus proved true. The churches of Macedonia suffered extreme poverty yet demonstrated a wealth of generosity and begged for the favor of taking part in the relief o the saints. I believe this is part of the world-wide famine prophesied by Agabus in Acts 11 (I have not thoroughly searched this out, so it could be related to a later hardship). Nevertheless, Paul here is testifying of the wealth of generosity experienced by those in a sever test of affliction and extreme poverty. They want to give what they can to take part in the relief of the saints, the needs of the body of Christ. In sharing this testimony, Paul’s emphasis here is in the readiness of the church in Corinth. It is acceptable according to what a person has, not of what he does NOT have. Paul is urging that they be ready so that out of their abundance, the church at Corinth can supply for the needs of the other churches. Notice in verse 15 that Paul is quoting scripture. Let’s look at the passage he is quoting.

Exodus 16:13-21 (ESV) 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

The children of Israel wandering in the desert, having there needs met by God the Father. Notice here how Paul is setting up the paradigm for giving. Since God is already providing the mana from heaven, the first goal is for God’s people to gather up what they will eat in the day. Some gathered more than others, and then those with gathered extra gave from their excess and those who gathered too little did not lack. Notice that God provided it all, plentifully and by His grace, not by the works of the Israelites. Also noticed, that those who hoarded and broke God’s law then had to deal with the spoilage and the worms. God is sovereign. God gives the increase, and the measurement allotted each. Therefore, Paul was reaching back to this historic provision of God for His people as the basis and foundation for the giving out of readiness that he encouraged the Corinthians. Let’s skip the next portion of 2 Corinthians 8 (Paul’s praise of Titus) and catch back up in chapter 9.

2 Corinthians 9  (ESV) 1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Notice, that it is not we who provide the seed; rather, it is God who provides the seed and the bread. In doing so, He will also multiply the seed He provided and increase the harvest of our righteousness, the righteousness He imputed to us through Jesus Christ. Anyone who tries to tell you that this passage teaches that you must give out of your lack in order for God to provide is teaching this principle upside down, and is potentially fleecing the flock. Another key to this encouragement from Paul, is that he isn’t “springing” this onto the Corinthians. He is simply reminding and encouraging them to be ready to give out of their excess as indeed they had already committed to do. Nothing here is a knee-jerk, heart-strings ploy promising health and wealth in proportion to their “seed” money. But I digress, this letter comes at a time when several of the churches are in need, and those churches to whom God had provided excess (beyond their need) Paul was encouraging them to continue in faithfulness and freedom in Christ to do good works.

To close out this post, let us look at the latter portion of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian Elders:

Acts 20:17-38 (ESV) 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

Quite the charge and warning. May our Elders, Pastors, Teachers, Brothers, and Sisters do likewise. When you give, give cheerfully, abundantly, and freely, taking care of the body of Christ. Be ready, be prudent, be good stewards of God’s gifts (law, Gospel, and provision) so that when a need arises you will be ready to take part in the relief of the saints. Continue to preach the Gospel to every creature until the ends of the earth.

May the Lord Bless and keep you,
In Him,

Biblical Submission | The Marriage Relationship

marriageIn an effort to counter the commercialism and false-teaching of Valentine’s day, let’s look to the Scriptures to find what God has to say about relationships. Now that we have established the baseline for Biblical relationship, let us look at Marriage Relationships. We will be looking at passages in the Bible that lay out, in no uncertain terms, what the roles of wives and husbands are within the Marriage Relationship. To keep this post from becoming too long, I would ask that if you haven’t looked at the foundation for the delegation of Authority to Adam please take a few minutes to do so. Please note that in that post, we not only establish the chain of command, or line of Authority, we also establish the equality of man and woman. Our previous post ended with a look at Ephesians 5. As a bit of review and introduction, let’s return to Ephesians chapter 5 to begin our discussion in context. If this is you first visit to FaithfulStewardship, please visit our Welcome page for links to this and other Bible study series.

Ephesians 5 (ESV)

Walk in Love

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives and Husbands

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. Without a doubt, the toughest calling for a Godly woman is to submit to her husband. This is simultaneously a clear description of authority, responsibility, but also of love. Remember, love is the baseline for all relationships of Christians. What makes the Marriage relationship special for men, is the special love, dedication, honor and respect from the one woman, in all of creation, that he asked to marry him.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Husbands, your love for your wife should serve as a depiction of Christ’s love for the church. You are the example to your children of the love of a Father, and of the love of Jesus Christ who laid down His life for the Church.  This is a tall order, but it is not new to mankind. God gave authority to Adam before He even made Eve. Jesus bore in His flesh, the punishment for all the sin of mankind that entered as a result of the sin of Adam. The Apostle Paul lays this out wonderfully in 1 Cor 15. Now, while the authority was given to Adam, he screwed up. But, by the Grace of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, man (by Grace, through Faith) is made righteous in the sight of the Lord and has his example in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let each husband love his wife as Christ loves the Church, and let the wife submit to and respect her husband. Paul felt this was such an important lesson, he also gave it in his letter to the Colossians:

Colossians 3:18-25 (ESV) 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

Colossians 4:1 (ESV) 1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

I find this separation in modern translations a bit odd; however, remember that Paul is writing a letter, not chapters and verses. Again, here, we have the entire unit of the family, of the household (which includes bondservants), to the Kingdom of Heaven. The roles of husband and wife remain the same (not just from Eph, but from Genesis), the role of children and of fathers, bondservants, and masters all are maintained in perspective of first our foundational charge to of 1 Cor 13 love for our neighbors, and as a service of our Lord Jesus Christ. To bear this last point to mind, understand that Paul calls himself and Timothy “bondservants of Christ Jesus” in his introduction to the letter to the Philippians. Now, I’ve heard and read commentaries accusing Paul of mixing in cultural norms here. We dare not entertain such notions given the fact that All Scripture is God-Breathed. Thankfully, we have another Apostle who writes on these things, the Apostle Peter.

1 Peter 3:1-7 (ESV) 1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Wow. Notice here, that Peter takes it another step forward. Remember that Paul setup the family or household relationships as a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven. Here, Peter takes it the next step by suggesting that the Godly submission of a wife to her husband might win the repentance of a husband who is disobeying the Word of God, without speaking a word herself. The next portion is often misconstrued as a prohibition of physical beauty… well that’s just silly, especially given the Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon (yay, homework reading!). What Peter is doing here is commanding a shift of importance away from the physical, temporal (and even temporary) beauty to that of the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is Precious in God’s sight. Peter also extend the exhortation of husbands (don’t get tangled up in misogyny/feminism and stumble over “weaker vessel”) to live with your wives in honor and understanding so that your prayers may not be hindered. Did you hear that, husbands? Your prayers to God the Father might be hindered by your failures as a husband. Let us be clear, your failures are in your charge, not hers. If she refuses to submit and show you honor, that is not your failure, that is hers. If you don’t love her as Christ loves the Church, honor her, and live with her in an understanding way, that’s your failure, and it may hinder your prayers. While this might be a new concept for you in the context of marriage, it isn’t a completely new concept, because teaching the Lord’s Prayer,  Jesus taught that if we don’t forgive others their sins, we won’t be forgiven ours. He also taught that we are to settle our differences with our brothers before giving our gifts to the Lord. So this shouldn’t be a totally foreign concept for us. Husbands, your failure to love your wife Biblically may hinder your prayers to God the Father. We must get this right, gentlemen. Just as Eve received her own punishment for her sins, God will deal with hold our wives accountable for their actions, we are responsible for our households. So we bear a double-load, one of fulfilling our role, and another as a result of being responsible, and accountable for our household. Where am I getting this? Let’s go back to Paul for just a moment, in his letter to Timothy:

1 Timothy 3:1-13 (ESV) 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

We will look at Biblical instruction for how the Church is to be established, later. I do want to say that if you’ve had a divorce in the past that is sin. But just as all other sin, there is forgiveness for sin, by the Grace of God, through Faith, and that not of yourselves it is the Gift of God. Having had sin in your life at one time does not forever prohibit you from being a deacon or Overseer (Elder) in the Church. There is forgiveness at the cross, otherwise none of us would ever be worthy of approaching the Throne of God, much less to be entrusted with the Word of God. We are no longer under the Law, for we are under the Gospel of Grace. There is, however, an element of time involved, and fruit of the spirit must be cultivated and evident in our lives if we are to be set as examples within the Church (verse 10 let them also be tested first….).

Marriage, is serious business. It is only for this life. It does not extend into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a picture of God’s love for His people, of Christ’s love for His Church, and a blessed path for avoiding sexual immorality.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5 (ESV) 1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Husbands, this is not a verse whereby you exact your demands for sex. She has rights to your body as well, and this verse isn’t limited just to sex. While women are just as interested in sex as we are, the avenue or pathway of that desire usually looks vastly different from our own (usually, there are exceptions). Our wives desire relationship, and that requires our presence, attendance, affection, understanding, honor, and love before and after the sex. These are her conjugal rights and your obligation as a husband, too (if you are perplexed… start again at the top of the post, and re-read). Laying down your life for her as Christ laid down His life for the Church is a way of life, one that we can only hope to walk by the Grace of the God. Note, there is no such thing as a “sexual need”. It doesn’t exist. Sexual immorality exists, temptation exists, and I am so grateful that God provided us the gift of the Marriage Covenant. Does marriage take away temptation? No. If you ignore the marriage covenant, you’ve added more problems to your life and brought more people into your immorality than you would have by sinning alone. I mention this for 2 reasons, first there is no Biblical basis for gay marriage and second, there is no “free out” anywhere in the bible for divorce. There is only Law which exposes sin, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ where He paid the price for all unrighteousness, and if we remain in Him we are forgiven. In Proverbs 5 we find a warning against Adultery. 23 verses, the first 14 of which identifying the dangers of the temptation. In verse 15; however, we find hope…

Psalm 5:15-23 (ESV)
15 Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.

So you see, Paul isn’t unfounded in his assertion “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” since if you avoid sex outright, you avoid the snare of sexual immorality. However, He recognizes that not all men and women are capable of living that way, so rather than burn up with passions, he encourages men and women to marry and stick to that covenant in a manner pleasing to God.

Therefore, this Valentine’s Day, and every day from this day forward… Let us love our spouses in accordance with God’s Word. Let us love our neighbors in accordance with God’s Word. And let us place our faith on Jesus Christ… for it is only by the Grace of God that we have any Hope, Faith, and Love. Husbands, love your wives… Wives submit to your husbands… and both of you, do everything in service to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,

Biblical Submission | Relationships

marriageSo, it’s February, and Valentine’s Day is around the corner.  My wife and I don’t really make much of a big deal of this holiday… it’s more commercial than Biblical; however, given how many online blogs and sermons seem to be taking advantage of the holiday to teach self-help advice on Love and Marriages, I figured I’d weigh in.  I’d like to take a look at what the Bible has to say about the Marriage relationship as well as some things that are not found in the Bible. There are many places where we can start this discussion of Marriage, but I think the best place to begin, is in the baseline for relationships. This will be a 2 part series.

It does us no good to discuss Marriage Relationships without first establishing the baseline for relationships. So, for starters, let’s look at what Jesus had to say about how we are to treat each other. I’d like to begin our reading in Matthew 22. To catch us up a bit on the context here, this is after the Triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. We see Jesus cleanse the temple of merchants and money changers, and when the children praise Him as being the son of David, the scribes challenge Jesus for not rebuking the children (because what they were doing was giving Jesus the praise due to the Messiah). They question the authority of Jesus to be speaking in the temple, and He moves on to teaching in parables to very openly declare who He is and of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first parable we find in Matthew 22 actually uses a wedding feast to represent Kingdom of Heaven. I’m starting here because it sets up the later portion we will be examining closely.

Matthew 22 (ESV) 1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.

So, while the setting of the parable is a wedding feast, this is a picture of the Kingdom of heaven. Those invited who ignored the call represent the Jews in Israel who rejected the Messiah. So then the servants are sent out to the rest who were not originally invited, for the feast was already made ready. This tells of the Gospel going out to the Gentiles. Finally, those who come to the wedding feast, must come dressed for the wedding. Unless they are made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, they cannot partake in the wedding feast (See Zechariah 3). Now, the next encounter is an absolutely beautiful lesson on submission to the governments of men, and to God regarding paying taxes. Awesome. But let’s move on to the next parable starting in verse 23.

Matthew 22:23-33 (ESV) 23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

I promise, we are starting at the foundation of relationships first, though we are getting hints at some of what the Bible teaches regarding marriage. Notice here, that marriage is clearly something for us while we are on this Earth… not for the Kingdom of Heaven. Moving on…

Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV) 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Okay stop! This is where we want to begin building the foundation for understanding what the Bible teaches about relationships, and upon that foundation we will look further into what the Bible teaches about the Marriage Relationship. Unquestionably, the single, most important relationship setup in the Bible, is that we are to love the Lord Our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind. This is the single greatest commandment, but notice that Jesus was quick to include a second, that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves. Is there a third? No. Jesus stops the list at 2 commandments, and clearly states that upon these 2 commandments rests all the Law and the Prophets. That’s it. Loving our neighbor as ourselves covers every imaginable relationship among mankind… including but not limited to marriage. It has to, because there are no other commandments in the short list, and the first is completely exclusive to God. Okay, but… how do we define who is “my neighbor”? Do we look to the Greek? the Hebrew? the Talmud? Well… let’s first look to how Jesus responded when the same question was asked of Him. Let’s look in Luke 10. Since this is a question asked of Jesus directly, we’ll just jump straight to verse

Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

So then, who is our neighbor? Mankind. The interesting thing about this answer, is that it was phrased in such a way where the Jewish lawyer is being told to emulate a Samaritan to show mercy on his neighbor, and to love similarly. That’s huge. So, that’s how Jesus defined being a neighbor. I want to also take a look at how the Bible defines love, since loving God and our neighbors is the crux of the Law and the Prophets. For this, lets look at what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 13 (ESV) 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This passage is almost always read in the context of marriage, at weddings, anniversaries, etc. But that is not the context of this passage, and I think limiting it to such occasions does the hearer an injustice. This is not some high-standard to aim for in our romantic/marriage relationships, this is a standard of living, of loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. This portion comes almost as an aside, or a reality-check, in a discourse on operating in the Gifts of the Spirit. The Church at Corinth had apparently gotten carried away to the point of losing sight of the very purpose of the Holy Spirit and His gifts to the Church. That is how we get to verses 1-3, where Paul is saying that you might be fully operating in tongues, prophetic power, knowledge and faith, and still miss the mark. Remember that Jesus didn’t base the Law and the Prophets on the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, He based them on 2 commandments of love. And that is reaffirmed by Paul in verse 13. This isn’t simply how we are to love our spouse, this is how we are to love.

In closing, we will look at the first part of Ephesians 5 which will bring this post to a close, and pave the way for the next post as move into some of the specific things the Bible has to say about the Marriage Relationship. It  is paramount, that we do not lose sight of the baseline for Christian behavior, and love for our neighbor. Because there is absolutely no room for abuse or mistreatment of any, not even strangers or so-called enemies. Nothing we discuss within the Marriage relationship justifies mistreatment, because mistreatment of our enemies isn’t even permitted.

Ephesians 5:1-21 (ESV) 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

So then, there we have our foundation for Christian relationships. We are to love our neighbor (friends and foreigners alike) as ourselves at the 1 Cor 13 level. Within the body of Christ, we are to walk in love, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Baseline approach to relationships. Not just marriage, not even dating or courtship… baseline. And anything short of this is sin.  Thank God for His ever abounding Grace, for without the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are surely dead in our trespasses and sins. Apart from Him, we don’t have a chance at keeping the Law and the Prophets even if they are condensed to 2 commandments!

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,