The love you had at first

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:1–5, ESV)

What is the love that the Ephesian church had at first that they have abandoned? Is it their Love for Jesus, or is it love for others, or could it be the love that we are to reflect from Christ to the world around us?

Jesus when asked the question, what is the greatest commandment, responded with Love God and love your neighbor. How does that look? What can we learn from the New Covenant writers, and the stern warning that is given to the churches at Ephesus?

In the book of John Jesus is teaching his apostles when Philip asks this question – “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”” (John 14:8, ESV)

It is from this point forward that Jesus unpacks some deep teaching on the coming of the Spirit and abiding in Him. Much of the language through this section is soaked in various forms of Love. Some of those ideas are – “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:21–23, ESV)

Continuing in chapter 15, John continues to unpack this genuine Love in the form of abiding in the vine. The Greek root used for abide is “meno” and has the sense of to await or to stay in, also having a sense of an eschatological promise already in possession.[1] It is also of interest that a form of the Greek word for abide hypoménein is used in the Septuagint also with a sense of Waiting on or cleaving to God. The Theological dictionary of the New Testament abridged has this entry on the word…

… so that the idea is not that of standing against but waiting on. In this sense it is used for Hebrew terms expressing tense, steadfast, or patient expectation (cf. Job 3:9; Ps. 37:7; Job 32:4). The noun hypomonḗ similarly denotes either confidence or tense expectation. It is a mark of the righteous in the OT that they wait on God. In distress and opposition, they look to God for deliverance (cf. Ps. 37:9; Mic. 7:7). God is the almighty covenant God on whom they can rely (Is. 51:5; Zeph. 3:8). As the God of Israel (Jer. 14:8), he is also the God of Israelites (Ps. 39:7). Only the wicked abandon hope in him (Sir. 2:4). The final deliverance is eschatological (Hab 2:3). Those who endure to the end will be saved (Dan. 12:12). The focus here is neither on the hostile forces nor on inward strength but on the power and faithfulness of God. Yet this divinely oriented hypomonḗ confers courage (Ps. 27:14). This is the strength of cleaving to God or waiting for him (Is. 40:31). There need be no fear of weakening it by a link with hope. It focuses on hope and issues in it. What sustains the righteous is that God will establish justice (Ps. 140:12).[2]

It is a wonderous journey where we are fully dependent on the power and faithfulness of God, clinging with expectations to the time when the bridegroom returns for His bride. But, in that tense, steadfast, patient expectation there is a movement forward with the works that Jesus has prepared beforehand that we are to walk in them (Eph 2:8).

Did you catch that? The works that Jesus has prepared that we are to walk in. But how are we to do that? Paul gives us some clues…

We must first start with prayer– “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14–21, ESV)

In prayer and through faith we seek to be strengthened through His Spirit in our inner being, grounded in the Love that Christ has shown us, together with the body of Christ the assembly of believers all filled with the fullness of God who then works through us more abundantly than anything we can ask or think according to His power within us.

Soak ourselves in The word of God – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1–2, ESV)

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the scriptures and a serious read through shows the many benefits of the Word in the people of God when they soak themselves in its richness.

The Lord asks the Ephesian church to repent and do the works they did at first. They had lost their first love. Were they no longer seeking His strength, seeking the things that are above or walking in the works that He had prepared for them?

Today, do we do similar things, racing ahead of the Spirit of God with our plans, then claiming they are from God? Prayer lives that barely give him a few minutes of their time in a single day then crash forward with their plans, maybe even feeling good about themselves for what they accomplished in their own strength.

Jesus took the time to seek the Father in prayer continuously. There are so many times we are given glimpses of this simple communion with God and yet it seems today seeking after God is lost in the busyness of life.

Jesus told the Ephesian church, most likely in a better place than many churches today, to repent and return to that first love – a passion for God that takes us deep into prayer, deep into His words, and moves us forward in His power to do the works that He has prepared that we should walk in them.

Why? Jesus gives us that simple answer…

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” (Revelation 2:7, ESV)


[1] [2] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 582). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Together…

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47, ESV)

When we think about attending a worship service on Sunday what ideas come to mind? Do we think about the teacher we want to hear, the songs we want to listen to, or is it the people we have things in common with? If we are watching online, are we satisfied with just sitting under teaching that satisfies what we want to hear?

What is the purpose of the assembly of believers? Why was it important for the body to assemble and not just get the latest sermon we like off the internet? The year of 2020 Covid drove the body to seek alternative ways of trying to stay connected, and many may have attended church for the first time virtually. But is that a healthy way of gathering or is there dangers in continuing to be secret attenders? Zoom helped many stay in touch, but it always seemed like something was missing.

To answer any of these questions, we must first look at how we define church. Is it a building, or a denomination, or is it built around a pastor? The actual word that is translated in most of our English translations as church is the Greek word “ekklesia”.

In the Theological dictionary of the New Testament, it first mentions variations of how ecclesia is defined both locally and denominationally, but I really like what it says on page 398…

In the case of the church it is God (or the Lord) who assembles his people, so that the church is the ekklēsía of God consisting of all those who belong to him (cf. hólē in 5:11; 15:22). Applied to believers, the term is essentially a qualitative one, the assembly of those whom God himself gathers.[1]

An assembly of those who God gathers. This is what we are seeing in the opening chapters of the book of Acts, believers who were together locally and congregationally. They met in their homes, at the local synagogue or house, and while it was still standing, they attended the temple together so that they could have teaching, and worship God as the whole body.

In the letter he writes to the Ephesians, Paul reminds them that as gentiles they were separated from God and were far off, but the blood of Christ had reconciled them and the Jewish believers back to God. So that…

…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)

Joined together, built together, but what is the purpose of those called by God to be gathered? Again, we can look to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to give us some insight. Paul in chapter 4 is exhorting the Ephesian assembly to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. To be unified in Spirit, and to use the gifts that God gives by grace to serve the body and build it up. So, at verse 11 he says…

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

Everyone who is a follower of Christ and has the Spirit dwelling in them are tools in the hands of the potter. Each with gifts that can build the body of Christ, so when we are working properly, the body grows in maturity and love so that ultimately it can carry out the will and desires of the Lord in the world.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

In the next several blogs I am going to take a look at the assemblies of revelation and reflect on the exhortations and warnings that the Lord gives to the assemblies through His servant John.

Just an interesting side Note – I was curious of how the church has handled pandemics in the past and found this article, be curious of what people think about how the church has handled the current pandemic?

Pandemics and the Church: What does History Teach us? | Campus News | Dallas Baptist University (dbu.edu)

I also came across this “For King and Country” version of the song By our love that captures the essence of the body of Christ in action…

By Our Love – For King and Country (Lyrics) – YouTube


[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 398). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Lack of Knowledge

Hosea 4:6

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6, ESV)

Hosea is the last prophet sent to Northern Kingdom of Israel before they fell to Assyria. His ministry came on the heels of a golden age in their history where there was peace and prosperity of the likes not seen since the time of Solomon.

But there was a problem, the people where in moral decay, no longer seeking after God, and heavy into idolatry.

God instructs Hosea to marry a woman of whoredom whose unfaithfulness to her husband is an example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Yet Hosea would remain faithful to his wife through all of this as an example of God’s love for His people.

The message is simple – return to God or judgment is coming. Today our message is no less complicated, return to God by believing in the name of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (Jesus) and you will be saved from God’s coming judgment.

Chapter 4 is where God brings an indictment to the people based on their violation of the covenant.

Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.” (Hosea 4:1–3, ESV)

The word in this passage is the Hebrew word daat and is from the root word yada which has the implication of intimate relationship. If you do a search on the exact use of the verbal form of this word you will come across some 140 places that it is used. Here is a verse that I think captures the idea well considering the condition of the people in the time of Hosea.

“Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”” (1 Kings 8:56–61, ESV)

Look at the condition again of these people – swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery. Does that sound familiar – not with the world, but with God’s people! Is this not also a condition that Paul warns Timothy about regarding the last days before God’s return.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:1–7, ESV)

History is repeating, God’s people in Hosea are destroyed for lack of knowledge, they rejected knowledge and forgot the instruction of God.

Paul in his encouragement to Timothy after this warning is about following Pauls example in all that he has taught Timothy and to hold steadfast through it all. He warned of trouble and persecution, of evil people and imposters. But to Timothy he gave simple instruction:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17, ESV)

This brings me to the reason for writing this blog, we are in a time of decay in the body of Christ where people are not wanting to do the hard work of learning God’s instruction but are settling for pithy sayings, entertainment, and manipulation of the word to give them what they want to here. This is not always on purpose and it has subtly slipped into the body of Christ over time so that not even some very well intentioned leaders have noticed the issue and are caught up in the excitement of the shiny new and improved yet man created way of doing church.

Time permitted I hope to blog more on this subject in the weeks to come. May the encouragement Paul gave to Timothy ring true in our lives…“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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3–5, ESV)

No Ordinary Worm

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” (Psalm 22:6, ESV)

Recently a friend of mine told me about a sermon he had heard on this passage in Psalm 22, he said that the Hebrew term used here for worm was not the normal word used for worm but had another meaning that I should look into. So the following is just a musing of what I have found so far…..

Psalm 22 is considered a Messianic Psalm, it is from this Psalm that Jesus quoted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”

A person that was familiar with scripture would have recognized these words and possibly have pondered through the meaning of this Psalm in light of all that was happening both at that moment and most likely in the days that would follow.

Of particular interest is this statement in the Psalm “But I am a worm and not a man”. The word for worm in this verse is the Hebrew word “tola’at”. In most of the Bible dictionaries where I looked it up the word could be used as we see here “worm”, but it is also a word that is used to describe the color crimson or scarlet. How is it that this word could have both these meanings?

If you do a word search for the places this is used, you will find it used as a scarlet yarn that was used in the crafting of the High Priest’s garments to be worn for ministering in the Holy Place, the curtains and other fabrics of the tabernacle, it was also used in the coverings of things inside of the tabernacle.

It is thought that the word is a reference to the worm or grub know as (coccus ilicis or Kermes illicis) or more commonly called the crimson worm. The Encyclopedia Britannica has this as a definition…

 A species of scale insect in the family Kermesidae (order Homoptera), the common name of which also represents the red dye that is obtained from the dried bodies of these insects. The dye was often part of the tribute paid to conquering Roman armies, and, in the Middle Ages, landlords accepted it as payment for rent. The oldest known red dyestuff, resembling but inferior in color to cochineal, it was used by the early Egyptians.

Some commentaries on this passage refer to this worm and how it was used in the making of crimson dyes in the Mediterranean area. What most of the commentaries miss though is the fascinating life cycle of this bug.

The male coccus ilicis has wings and is able to fly. Though I have yet to verify the information, in my research I heard a presentation that said that the male hovers over the female during mating but never actually touches the female.

The female will only give birth one time and begins the journey by climbing onto a particular type of oak tree, or wooden post where she attaches herself permanently.

She then creates a hard-outer shell to protect the eggs she lays under her.

When the eggs hatch the babies feed on the flesh of the living mother who is now providing them life.

After a few days the mother dies and at that moment a scarlet liquid leaks out and colors the baby worms and the wood of the tree that it is on. This covering of red dye stains the babies for life.

Three days after the death of the mother, her body shrinks up into a heart like shape that is waxy and turns white. It has the look of wool and flakes off and looks like snow falling from the tree.

If the mother is harvested during the 3 days, the crushing of her body produces the dye that was used for the yarn and fabrics in the middle east and most likely the same process was used in the materials of the Tabernacle. The wax could also be harvested and was used to make shellac.

So, it has been suggested and it is hard to ignore the connections of the symbolism that is represented here. Let’s break it down….

  • Flying male hovering over the female to impregnate her.
    • Luke 1:35 – “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
  • The female climbing onto a tree voluntarily knowing that she would die.
    • Jesus died on a wooden cross that he voluntarily allowed Himself to be nailed.
    • John 10:16–18And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
  • The female worm secretes a hard shell to protect her offspring.
    • John 17:12 – “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
  • The larvae stay alive by eating the flesh of their living mother.
    • John 6:51 – “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
  • The larvae are permanently colored red by the death of the mother.
    • Eph 1:3-9 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ”
    • Heb 12:24 – “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
  • After the death of the mother she turns white and has the texture of wool and flakes off and falls to the ground like snow.
    • Mark 9:2-3 “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.
    • Isaiah 1:18 ““Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

It is interesting to note that in Isaiah the word used for crimson is the same root used in the word worm in Psalm 22.

Is this coincidence? Maybe we are reading into the passage more than what is really there? Or maybe, our God is so infinitely majestic and powerful that he gave unique symbolism throughout His Creation to point us to the work of His Son. I will let you decide, but it is all very interesting.

Enlightening the Eyes

“the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:8b, ESV)

The day that I am writing this is in the time of the counting of the Omer and in just a short while, we will have arrived at Shavuot, the day that it is believed that God gave the commandments from Mt Sinai to the people of Israel.

It is wonderful that the part of Psalm 19 that I am looking at today is focused on “the commandment of the Lord”.

What does this word commandment really convey to us? What does it mean that it is pure, and how does it enlighten the eyes?

The Hebrew word for commandment here is “mitzvah” and if we were to look at a handful of verses where the word is used, you should get a fairly good idea of what it conveys….

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.” (Deuteronomy 6:1–2, ESV)

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” (Deuteronomy 8:5–6, ESV)

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, ESV)

Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” (Judges 2:17, ESV)

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;” (Proverbs 2:1–2, ESV)

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,” (Proverbs 6:20–23, ESV)

At a top level, the word seems to be pretty strait forward. It is used in the sense of a father’s instruction to his son, or a king to his servants, and when we put it in perspective of the words of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, then we see a structure for a culture where we are ruled by God’s instruction and in that, he desires that we walk in obedience to those instructions. What is very important to see, especially in light of Deut 30:11-14 is that they are not very difficult for us, and it would seem that the Lord provides all the means and ability to accomplish His instruction. If you continue to pour through the many verses that contain this word you will also notice that God desires to bless those who walk in obedience to His commands, and yet as in the Garden of Eden, rebellion against his instruction brings forth discipline. Again, the perfect model of a father-son relationship.[1]

So, what does it mean that God’s instructions are pure? The Hebrew word here is “bar” and at it’s root has the sense of being pure, radiant, bright, and clean. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament speaks of the Arabic variation of the word having the sense of reverent, dutiful, devoted, kind, charitable, virtuous, and good. It also mentions that in Akkadian the verb form has the meaning of “to glitter” and as an adjective, the word means pure, as in a pure metal with no contaminates. Looking through the Psalms and Proverbs the adjective also has the sense of something pure or a quality of moral purity.[1]

The next word to consider is the word “enlightening” which has at its root the Hebrew word “or” which is the same word used for light. This word has variations that are translated as shine, give light, brighten, Glorious, shining brighter and brighter, and simply give light. The word can also mean “to become light”.

Finally, we must think about the word for “eyes”. It is the Hebrew word “ayin” and I really like what the Theological Wordbook provides as an opening to its explanation of this word…

More than the eye itself is implied by this word. Occasionally it represents the whole process of seeing and by extension, of understanding and obedience (Jer 5:21). However, in the ot it is the ear which is generally used in this figurative way. The eye is used to express knowledge, character, attitude, inclination, opinion, passion, and response. The eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of man.[1]

So, a good way to think about this verse is that God’s instruction is so perfect and pure that as we gaze upon its beauty, it will give us understanding, help us walk a life of obedience, it has an impact on our character, attitude, inclination, passions and ultimately, if the eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of a man, then God’s instructions should reveal when our thoughts are not where they need to be and bring us to a place of repentance.

Let us gaze diligently at the beauty of God’s instruction and let it transform our lives into lives that are full of understanding, and a desire to walk in humble obedience to our God.

[1] Schultz, C. (1999). 1612 עִין. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 662). Chicago: Moody Press.

Bible Study, The Gospel, Salvation and Discipleship

What is Bible Study? Why do believers struggle with Bible Study, or in-depth study of the word in a small group setting? How is this related to the Gospel and Salvation? I continue to examine my thoughts on this subject and maybe I can be of some encouragement along the way.

Let’s start with a simple definition of our western idea of Study from a standard dictionary…

“Study is the devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on a subject.”

So, if we were to apply this definition to the study of the Bible, we would have something like Bible Study is the devotion of time and attention to the Bible to acquire knowledge on the subject. Essentially, we relate the study of the Bible to the same category as going to school to study a subject so we can fill ourselves with lots of facts and eventually have mastery of the subject in hand.

How would someone in a a Jewish world view the study of the Bible? They would consider study as the highest form of worship.  Most study of the scripture was also done in community or in family. Why? Most likely because it was part of their core understanding of what God desired as laid out in Deut 6:4-9…

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV)

At myjewishlearning.com there is a short article that is an excerpt from a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner which speaks of it this way…

“Jews worship God through study. The central moments of a Sabbath morning service are dedicated to reading aloud not merely a brief passage from the Bible but several chapters of the Torah, so that in the course of the year, the entire Five Books of Moses will have been studied aloud…….Why this emphasis on study? One of my seminary professors used to say, “When I pray, I speak to God. When I study Torah, I keep quiet and let God speak to me.” ……By immersing ourselves in Torah, we transport ourselves back to Sinai, to the presence of God…..When we exercise our minds and consciences by studying God’s word on how a person should live, when we occupy our thoughts with questions of how to carry out God’s will rather than with matters of finance, fashion, or sports, we feel that we are developing our uniquely human aspect.”[5]

Maybe part of the problem is that the study of the words of God is no longer based on a biblical model and that we look at learning the Bible as an activity that the church needs to do for our children just like school. We are just to busy to have to bother with teaching our children the word of God. Sure, we have recognized this problem, but instead of returning to a biblical model, we develop nice western techniques or programs to try and remedy the problem with more fact learning and fancy ways of motivation with something that is labeled new and shiny. Why don’t we just challenge the body to live out what scripture teaches and hold each other accountable to it.

As I mentioned in a previous blog,  I still wonder if 2 Timothy 3:1-7 is playing out more and more in our culture today?

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1–7, ESV)

To me, it sure does sound a lot like our culture today. Lots of learning, lots of knowledge, but what is the “knowledge of the truth” that people can’t arrive at? Could it be related to what Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17?

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV)

The word here for know is “ginosko” and is a very broad term. In general use, it is a word that could mean intelligent comprehension and also emphasizes understanding. It is also a word that means the act of embracing every part of ourselves in seeing, hearing, and the investigation of people as well as things. It was also a term of intimacy to the level of sexual intercourse. Knowledge of God also meant an acknowledgement of his grace, power, and demand, not just as an intellectual exercise but in action and relationship. John uses the word in such a way as to drive us towards a deep personal relationship with the Father and the Son.

What distracts people from the deep relationship with the Father and son? I have heard many reasons and excuses and even blame, but could it be driven by what Paul said, that people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”? I think about how much time people are willing to devote to pleasure and then give God about 5 minutes in the morning, a few hours on the weekend, and maybe some thought in the evening. Yet, we can play a video game all night long, watch hours and hours of sporting shows, binge watch a favorite series on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, or anything else but find pleasure in God. I am not saying that those things are bad, but that our proportion of time devoted to them vs. God is out of balance.

These problems are not just something of modern culture, even Paul had to encourage Timothy in his day…

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:12–17, ESV)

Then right after this amazing verse about the importance of Scripture in his life Paul says this…

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)

This is why discipleship, a command given by Jesus to his followers, is so important. But even this simple command has been blurred. Discipleship seems to now be a much broader idea that brings together the Gospel message and Salvation as a major part of the process. But is that what we see in scripture? I do believe that all these things can happen very close together, but they are usually separate parts and functions of the body of Christ.

So, let’s take a few moments to just look at a ideas that bring these pieces together. First let’s think about the Gospel. In its simplest form it is essentially good news. But what is that good news. I really like the concluding definition found in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary…

The gospel in the NT can be summarized as the message about the kingdom of God established in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, who is enthroned as Lord of all. This good news describes events to which all Scripture points and declares that all principalities and powers are defeated once and for all by Jesus the Messiah. Finally, all of humanity will be judged according to their reception or rejection of this good news.[1]

This is an excellent high-level definition of what the Gospel is, and the final sentence that humanity will be judged against their reception or rejection of this good news is vital to our understanding of Discipleship. Also note that the good news is found in the scriptures.

That brings us to the next piece of the puzzle, what does it mean for a person to be saved? Let’s start with a simple definition, I really like this synopsis from the Lexham Theological Wordbook…

In both Testaments, then, salvation deals with deliverance from danger and a restoration to wholeness and prosperity. It involves victory from forces that threaten wholeness and prosperity, such as enemies and sickness. The NT emphasizes the work of Jesus as the one who saves people from sin and death, but it is clear that salvation is holistic and involves the well-being of the whole person.[2]

Paul was a master at this process and even modified his message to the audience he was communicating with…

Consequently, the meaning of salvation tends to vary depending on how the problem is perceived. For example, if the threat is a guilty verdict on the day of judgment, then salvation entails forgiveness and justification. Where Paul describes people being enslaved to sin, the idea of salvation involves redemption or ransom. If the emphasis is on alienation from God, then reconciliation or adoption is the relevant sense of salvation. When the problem is impurity or defilement, a person is saved by being sanctified.[3]

So, when it comes to the gospel and to salvation, I think what Paul says in Romans 10 brings it all together…

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [4]

There are those who are sent out to preach the good news of the Kingdom and of Jesus and his work at the cross. It is the word that is spoken that God uses to reveal His Son to the hearts of those who hear the message. They then have a choice to either accept or reject that message. This is not a magic prayer or incantation, it is a genuine well thought out desire to believe the message of scripture and devote ones self to a life of submission to our King. Those who accept the message are the ones that we are called to make disciples of. We disciple the person that has committed to a life of following Jesus. This could be done by the same person, or it may be that God uses many different people to accomplish these things…

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5–9, ESV)

So, how is all this related to the study of scripture?

Mark Dever in his Discipleship book (Part of the 9Marks of a healthy church series) said this about Bible study in light of Discipleship…

“God’s Word is the seed that ultimately bears fruit, even if we don’t see it in the short term. Sow the word now. Sow with your spouse and kids, sow with other members of the church. And trust that God’s word does not return void”

Discipleship is the process of transmitting the knowledge (this is not intellectual) of God and His word through every moment in life. It’s a dynamic relationship that applies Deut 6:6-7 in our families which includes the family of God.

Scripture seems to play a role in all of the process we have examined above. The word of God goes forth and is heralded, then that Good News is either accepted or rejected. Finally those who have chosen to follow Jesus are discipled by mature believers that can help them move towards a life that mimics that of our Lord.

Paul and his relationship to Timothy is a great example of this discipleship relationship. I imagine that Paul taught Timothy both by example, and also by teaching him as they walked, lied down, and rose up each day. Timothy would have also been present on the Sabbath with Paul as they would discuss and wrestle with scripture and its understanding in the light of Jesus the messiah with the community.

I personally think discipleship is best accomplished in a small group setting, Jesus provided the example, he lived the life of a teacher who made disciples that have gone out and changed the world.

Scripture is the character and will of God. Jesus was scripture embodied and lived out before us, and discipleship is moving people to follow that example.

Let’s not let the study of the breathed-out words of God become an institutional exercise that becomes a burden in our lives, but instead let us find delight in the fellowship of His word both in personal meditation, but more so in community and individual discipling.

[1] Mathis, D. (2003). Gospel. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 673). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Hamme, J. T. (2014). Salvation. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Morrison, M. D. (2016). Salvation. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 10:14–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5]Kushner, Harold. “Torah Study as Worship.” My Jewish Learning, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/torah-study-as-worship/.

Rejoicing the Heart

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)

Precepts, Precepts, Precepts, what could this word mean and how in the world does it rejoice the heart?

Precepts is an interesting word. It is the Hebrew word piqqudim and is used only in the Psalms. In 23 of the 24 places it is translated “precepts”, the one other place it is translated “commandments”. Even more interesting is that 22 of the 24 verses come out of Psalm 119, a psalm that exalts the word of God and its impact on our lives.

What can we learn from just a quick look at some of those verses…

You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” (Psalm 119:4, ESV)

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:104, ESV)

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15, ESV)

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17–18, ESV)

So what kind of conclusion can we draw about “Precepts” from this quick examination of these verses? Seems “Precepts” are to be kept diligently, they provide understanding, they help us to fix our eyes on the ways of the Lord, and our one translation that is not “Precepts”, translated commandments, is tied to keeping the covenant by obedience. So, it seems that precepts are related to the commands of God. A quick check of the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament seems to confirm this idea…

פִּקּוּדִים (piqqûdîm). Precepts, statutes, commandments (used only in pl.) (RSV “precepts” in all twenty-four occurrences), used only in Ps (all but three of its occurrences are in Ps 119), is a general term for the responsibilities that God places on his people.[1]

OK, so how are the responsibilities that God places on his people able to drive us to the conclusion of the Psalmist – “rejoicing the heart”?

The Hebrew word here for rejoicing is “samah” and the Dictionary of Bible Languages has this for the definition…

8523 שָׂמַח (śā·mǎḥ): v.; ≡ Str 8055; TWOT 2268—1. LN 25.116–25.134 (qal) rejoice, be glad, delight in, be elated, i.e., have a feeling or attitude of joy and happiness, with a possible focus of making an outward expression of that joy (Dt 27:7), note: for Isa 9:16[EB 17] cj+, see 9022; (piel) bring joy, gladden, make merry, bring happiness (2Ch 20:27); (hif) make rejoice (Ps 89:43[EB 42]+); 2. LN 88.283–88.288 (piel) be merry, i.e., drink alcohol as a mood elevator, but apparently prior to the full stage of staggering drunkenness (Ecc 10:19+)[2]

Wow, this is really joyful, so much so that another form of the word is the feeling from drinking alcohol to elevate the mood. But that still leaves me the question, how does the responsibilities that God places on His people provide this joy to my heart.

So, in ancient Semitic cultures there were a lot of different Gods, I mean a whole plethora of God’s that people could potentially worship. These gods were not very friendly and generally one did not know how to please these gods or even understand what these gods even wanted. It was a guessing game and hopefully you might figure out just what one of these god’s might desire.

For the faithful Israelite who trusted in the one true God, this was simply not the case. They understood exactly what God desired of them, and what the impact would be for living a life that walked in obedience to them. Not only that, they were tied to a covenant. A covenant that showed a deep relationship between God and His people. To me, that is definitely enough to rejoice the heart.

But, you may be thinking…I don’t have other gods around that distract me from what God really wants – “my heart”.  Well, in our culture today we do have a lot of different gods (idols) we worship.  Idols like sports, drink, games, jobs….you get the picture. Anything that we exalt higher in our priorities than the one true God that deserves ALL of our priority.

I love the word picture that we get from the word Heart. The root Hebrew word for heart is “lev” and the word picture that is derived from these letters combine to give us a definition of “that which controls the inside”. Everything about us, our emotions, thoughts, and will, combined, control all that we are and do.  So God’s precepts brought great joy to the inner man, all that controls us, that overflowed at times into an outward expression….WORSHIP.

So, does the precepts of the Lord have that impact on your life? Or, does the idea of God putting responsibility on His people make us uncomfortable in a culture that says I am free to do anything I want? A culture in the end that seems more focused on how to bring myself joy, rather than finding that joy in a relationship with a God who loves us and want the best for His people.

 

[1] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 732). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Testimony

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:7–10, ESV)

Recently I have been listening to an audio book by Dr. John Walton called “The Lost World of Genesis One”, where the basic premise of the book so far is that in the ancient world their cosmology was functionally based rather than materially based. As I was thinking over this and how it also fits in with the idea that Hebrew tends to lean towards being a language of actions and function, how does that play out in the verses that I have been studying?

In the previous blog we looked at how the instructions of the Lord can turn our inner being back towards God, and that the more we turn towards God, the more it can benefit our lives. What does it really mean to turn back to God? Our actions of meditating on those instructions, hiding them in our inner being, and most importantly putting those instructions into practice so that we begin to walk a life of obedience, transforms our inner being and turns us back towards God and the desire He has for us to be His image bearers. In other words, we return towards the function that God originally created us for.

Today, I examine the “testimony of the Lord”. What does this word mean, or maybe I should ask what is the function that this verse leads us towards?

Testimony is another interesting word. It is the Hebrew word “Edut” and is used about 50 times in the Hebrew Bible. The Theological Wordbook says this about the word…

This word is always used in reference to the testimony of God. It is most frequently connected with the tabernacle (Ex 38:21; Num 1:50, 53), resulting in the expression “tabernacle of the testimony,” and with the ark (Ex 25:22; 26:33, 34; 30:6, 26), resulting in the phrase “ark of the testimony.” In fact in several instances this word stands alone to indicate the ark (Ex 16:34; 27:21; 30:36; Lev 16:13). Moses was instructed to put the testimony in (“before,” Ex 16:34; 27:21) the ark (Ex 25:21) and he did so (Ex 40:20; cf. Heb 9:4). Here the meaning is made quite clear. It designates the two tables of stone upon which the Ten Words (commandments) were written (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29). These two tables represented God’s covenant with Israel (Ex 34:27, 28) and as such are called the “tables of the covenant” (Deut 9:9; 11:15). [1]

Testimony points us towards God’s covenant, a written agreement between two parties in which they agree to the actions that should be taken to maintain a good relationship between those parties. As pointed out above, the actions that we are to do consist of the 10 words that God spoke at Mt. Sinai. It says that this covenant, the Testimony, that it is sure. The root Hebrew word here is “aman”, which conveys a very important meaning, a basic idea of firmness or certainty, the foundation of our doctrine of faith. The Theological Wordbook of the OT (TWOT) has this as part of the definition of this word…

The various derivatives reflect the same concept of certainty and dependability. The derivative ʾāmēn “verily” is carried over into the New Testament in the word amēn which is our English word “amen.” Jesus used the word frequently (Mt 5:18, 26, etc.) to stress the certainty of a matter. The Hebrew and Greek forms come at the end of prayers and hymns of praise (Ps 41:13 [H 14]); 106:48; II Tim 4:18; Rev 22:20, etc.). This indicates that the term so used in our prayers ought to express certainty and assurance in the Lord to whom we pray.[2]

God’s Testimony, His covenant, expresses certainty and assurance for our lives as we enter into relationship with our Lord.

What does the Psalmist say is the effect of that assurance in our lives? “Making wise (hakam) the simple (peti)”. The Hebrew word “hakam” means generally to be wise, or better, to act wisely. The idea is that our manner of thinking, our skills, moral sensitivity, and our experiences are shaped and driven by our relationship with our Lord and the lives He desires us to live.

This ties in perfectly with the idea of “the simple”. Again, the definition from the TWOT…

The basic verb idea is “be open, spacious, wide,” and might relate to the immature or simple one who is open to all kinds of enticement, not having developed a discriminating judgment as to what is right or wrong.[3]

In other words, we are simply open to what God has to say about how we live in relationship to Him, we are not the judge of what is right or wrong, we simply trust that he has our best interests in mind and we faithfully follow in obedience.

Just like in the Garden, we are left with a simple choice, one of wisdom, and one of folly. This same choice that God had put before His people both in the Hebrew Bible…

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, ESV)

Then also in the writings of the Apostles….

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.(John 3:31–36, ESV)

[1] Schultz, C. (1999). 1576 עוּד. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 649). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Scott, J. B. (1999). 116 אָמַן. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 52). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 742). Chicago: Moody Press.

WALTON, J. H. (2009). The lost world of Genesis One: ancient cosmology and the origins debate. Downers Grove, Ill, IVP Academic.

Law, Testimony, Precepts, Oh my

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:7–8, ESV)

Why should I desire to study God’s Word? Should it feel like a burden? What benefit does it have on my life? Can I reach a place like that of Psalm 1 where the man who is blessed is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and on it he meditates day and night? Why do so many struggle with Bible Study?

Is it possible we just don’t see the benefit? Maybe we need to reflect more on the benefits that God has spoken to us about His word through His servants. So today I am starting a series of writings on various Psalms and passages in Scripture that reflect on the benefits of God’s Word in our lives.

The second half of Psalm 19 (ESV) begins with “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul”. I really love to examine scripture with a variety of versions, the Holmen Christian Standard Bible translates the verse this way…

The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life.” (Psalm 19:7a, HCSB)

Why did these translators choose to word it this way? The English word Law in this passage is really to me a poor translation choice since in our cultures today Law has a very negative feel to it. I really prefer the translation as instruction, since it actually captures more closely the meaning of the word Torah.

When Psalm 19 was penned, God had instructed His people that the responsibility of educating our children was the responsibility of the family. What little ancient evidence we have suggests this was done by the practice of repetition and a firm foundation of discipline. If we were to reflect back to Psalm 1, there, the idea of meditation is one of mumbling the Word of God to one’s self over and over quietly, but out loud. This is actually a very effective tool and can be done just about anywhere.

As we reflect and consume God’s word, and act on the instruction that God has given us, Psalm 19 then says that it has the effect of “reviving the soul”, or “renewing one’s life”. The underlying Hebrew word here is mesibat (transliteration) and has a root in the word sub. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says this about sub…

The Bible is rich in idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance. Such phrases would include the following: “incline your heart unto the Lord your God” (Josh 24:23): “circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jer 4:4); “wash your heart from wickedness” (Jer 4:14); “break up your fallow ground” (Hos 10:12) and so forth. All these expressions of man’s penitential activity, however, are subsumed and summarized by this one verb šûb. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.[1]

If you were to do an extensive word study on this word you would find a variety of glosses that give us a sense of restoration, turning, returning, to restore, to turn back, and to return. The word for soul in our passage is nepes with the p having a ph sound. The concrete meaning of this word is to breath, it points us at the heart of man, the inner being, which is why “The Scriptures” version of the Bible translates the word as “the being”[2]

So, to put it all in simple terms, the study of the Bible turns our inner being back towards God. That alone should cause us to desire to study Scripture more, but, as we turn more and more towards our Lord, there are more benefits to be found…

In the next article I will continue with examining the word testimony and what it means to “make wise the simple”.

[1] Hamilton, V. P. (1999). 2340 שׁוּב. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 909). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Institute for Scripture Research. (2000). The Scriptures. South Africa: Institute for Scripture Research (Pty) Ltd.

HCSB – The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

ESV – The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Bible Study?

Lately I have been hearing this term used in a somewhat derogatory fashion. Seems that people are starting to see Bible Study as a difficult and unhelpful tool in their walk with the Lord. Seems that more and more we are focusing more on the relational aspect of the body and very little on the relationship that is the head of that body. Sermons are becoming more and more stories and psychology methods than the true Spirit lead preaching of the word of God. Many sermons that I hear today are becoming more and more topical and filled with a lot of fluff.  So I wonder…are we seeing the reality of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 play out in our cultures? (At least I see this in american culture)

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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3–4, ESV)

I ask the question in my mind…What is the purpose of the church, or better the ekklesia (called out ones)? Do we still see the body in the way that Paul did when he wrote to the Ephesian church?

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

This is the same writer who penned to Timothy these words…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17, ESV)

Wow, the word of God is profitable for just about everything in our lives, yet we have become so filled with bible cliches and whimsical quoting of scripture in a way that does not build up the body but beats on a person our point of view of the passage. Can we not get back to a place where we have a passion for GOD’s WORD so that we can identify with David when he writes…

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law(Torah) of the Lord, and on his law(Torah) he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, ESV)

Look how beneficial it can be to our lives….

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)

More desired than Gold? I once knew a person that was a treasure hunter and the passion that he put into seeking out hidden treasures and gold was almost obsessive. Seems to me that our passion for the WORD of GOD should be equally obsessive. Yet what we tend to be obsessive about is usually not His WORD. We can binge watch Netflix, play video games from dusk till dawn, Instagram and twitter until our fingers are numb, but we wrestle to just spend 5 minutes with the Scriptures and then we pat ourselves on the back because we feel like we have accomplished something and done our daily bible study or reading for the day.

So where can we start, maybe we can start with a prayerful desire to know God and learn of the beauty of HIS Words to us. Spend a few weeks or more just pondering Psalm 119. Seek not to think of it as Bible Study but as a time to learn more about our God and the amazing words He has given to us to instruct us on how to live in His presence and in HIS Kingdom and with His people. Kindle in our hearts a healthy fear of the Lord but wrapped in the Love of His presence.

Maybe as we seek His presence and wade deeply into HIS WORDS, the Spirit can quicken in us the same feeling that the disciples had on the road to Emmaus when they said….

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Luke 24:32, ESV)

In my own life, I have personally reflected on some of the words that Jesus prayed in John 17…

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent……..Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:3, ESV) and (John 17:17–19, ESV)

How do get to know the “one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” By a deep Spirit lead desire of HIS WORDS, because it is here that we see who He is and what He desires of our lives. It is in those Words that we are edified and equipped.

My prayer, is that we can feel deeply the words that were penned in Psalm 119…

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes;

I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9–16, ESV)