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.

Spirit of God – Part 2

Continued from Spirit of God Part 1

Throughout the Torah, the early writings that were given to the people of God through Moses contained many examples of God’s spirit and His action in the lives of His people. Not only would the spirit be attributed to creation and life, but it would be seen as the power of God working in and through His chosen people. Examples of this can be seen in passages like Ex 28:3, 35:31, Nu 11:17, 11:25, Dt 34:9. Later writings would also have similar descriptions of God’s spirit at work in his servants. Sometimes anthropomorphic terms would be used to describe the work of the spirit in such a way to emphasize importance or urgency in the Spirits action like we see in 1 Sam 11:6 – “And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.” (ESV)  The Spirit which is present everywhere and at all times is shown here to rush upon Saul, giving urgency to what the Spirit was doing through Saul.

Later on in the scriptures, David would pen various psalms (Ps 139:7-10) that would also give us more insight into the very essence of God. In many Eastern cultures, their gods were more like humans and were not present everywhere at all times, but in the Psalms, David shows us that God’s spirit is present everywhere and at all times. Throughout the scriptures, God’s spirit would be attributed to His presence, so we could understand that the very essence of God is present everywhere and at all times.

In the prophets we would see even more of the Spirits actions in the lives of his people when they would show that from the Spirit would flow wisdom and understanding, yet, the prophets would also repeat the original theme of life and creative power like in Isaiah – “Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:” (Isaiah 42:5, ESV) It is also shown that it is God’s spirit that enables men to continue to carry His image to a world that has lived in darkness and chaos. (Is 61:1)

The prophets also show us another aspect of the very presence of God, that in our rebellion and sinfulness we can grieve the Spirit, which is just a way of showing that we are grieving God. “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore, he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit,” (Isaiah 63:10–11, ESV)  In this very passage the He is God and it shows that He is the one who is in the midst of His people, and it is His spirit, the very essence of who He is that is grieved.

A beautiful passage where we see future actions of the ruah is the wonderful promise to all the people of God is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It is here that God tells His people that he will gather them from the places they have been scattered and cleanse them. Then he tells them that he will give them a new heart, a new or fresh spirit, He will put His Spirit (ruah – breath) within them so that they will walk in His ways. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27 ESV)  This should drive the reader straight back to Genesis and the ideas regarding God as the Life-giver.

A similar passage is also given in Jer 31:31, where it is tied to a new or refreshed Covenant that will be given to the people of God. ““Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV)  If you ponder these passages you will see an interesting parallel to God’s spirit and God’s Torah. In Ezekiel God says he will put his spirit in them and cause them to walk in His Torah, whereas in Jeremiah he says that he will put his Torah in them and that they will Know the Lord.

This opens the door to the world of the coming of God in the flesh as the Messiah of Israel. We will continue to explore these ideas found in the New Testament in Part 3.

Not Everyone who says – Part 1

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV)

This verse should bring the fear of God into all our hearts. For Yeshua himself has declared that there are many who will be doing mighty works, prophesying, and casting out demons…All in HIS name! But he declares “I never knew you” and calls them workers of lawlessness.

This teaching comes near the end of Yeshua’s teaching called the sermon on the mount. Right after this declaration Yeshua declares that:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” (Matthew 7:24–27, ESV)

There are two questions we need to ask, what words is He talking about, and what is the will of the Father in heaven? To begin to unpack this, let us consider another passage that came earlier in the Sermon…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20, ESV)

From this place in the sermon, Yeshua begins to unpack details of the true requirements of the Torah. He tackles anger, lust, divorce, oaths, love for your enemies, giving, praying, fasting, the treasures of your heart, anxiety, judgment, God’s good gifts, and the fruit of good and bad trees.

It would be easy at this point to slip into an attitude of needing to obey every detail of the Torah to live a righteous life and to declare that to know the Lord means following these things as closely as possible. Is this really what is going on?

At this point in time, the details of all the Yeshua will do are still hidden from the people. Also remember, that the crowd is hearing this, but the teaching is being directed at the disciples, who will bring all these things to remembrance after the resurrection of the Lord.

After the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua, Luke records a very revealing event that I believe ties very closely to these teachings and more that He has revealed to His disciples.

The event is the encounter on the road to Emmaus. Two men were discussing all the events that had recently transpired in Jerusalem when Yeshua begins to walk with them but prevents them from recognizing him. Yeshua asks them what they are discussing, and acts puzzled when they mention the events in Jerusalem.

After he lets them explain the story, He says these things…

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27, ESV)

After Yeshua opens their eyes to see, he vanishes and they go back to Jerusalem and find the apostles. Yeshua stands among them and they are startled and frightened. He puts them at ease and then tells them these words…

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”” (Luke 24:44–49, ESV)

What a moment that must have been for these men, having it revealed that all the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms pointing to the Christ is now fulfilled in Him. The Greek word used for fulfilled is “plerothenai” which at its root can mean to fill completely, fulfil, to fill up, to complete, and bring to completion. The emphasis of the inflection “ai” as part of the root word “pleroo” is found only here in the New Covenant. Digging into the Septuagint, the only place I found this word used is in Jeremiah 25:12. The context of this passage is God’s judgment of Israel in which they will serve the king of Babylon for 70 years. It then says this…

Then after seventy years are completed (plerothenai), I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.” (Jeremiah 25:12, ESV)

I am not an expert in Greek, but in the only use of this spelling it leads me to think that the idea is to bring to completion. I will continue to unpack this idea regarding Matt 7 in part 2 of this article.

The Torah of Yahweh (Part 2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This one was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being that has come into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1–5, LEB)

In the book of John we start with a beautiful expression of “the Word”. The faithlife study bible comments on it this way…

The “word of Yahweh” evokes associations with creation, divine revelation, personified wisdom, and the law of Moses. The “word of Yahweh” and the law had already been closely related in prophetic poetry (see Isa 2:3). The “word” is the agent of creation in Psa 33:6, but divine wisdom is personified and depicted in that role in Prov 8:22–31. In the deuterocanonical book Sirach 24:23, this personified divine wisdom is connected to the law of Moses, similarly given preexistent eternal status in Jewish tradition (see the rabbinic text Genesis Rabbah 1.1). Jesus is connected with divine wisdom also in 1 Cor 1:30. By choosing this language, John makes Jesus the very power and essence of God.[1]

John ends his opening thoughts with this statement…

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, ESV)

Many Bibles insert the word “but” between Moses and grace. It is not there in the original text. Careful study of this verse reveals that instruction was given to Moses, how to live it correctly comes through Jesus. Put another way – the instruction is the Grace of God, revealing to us how we are to live, and Jesus is the one who demonstrates it to us and enables us to carry it out by His Spirit.

Recently I have been listening to some old sermons from the late Rev Billy Graham. The more I listened that more I realized that he provided solutions to many of our greatest problems through the word of God and the saving grace of Jesus the Christ. He literally lived out and preached 2 Tim 3:16 –

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 3:16–17, ESV)

Do we believe what Paul wrote in this verse; I mean do we really believe it? The unfortunate thing today is that we have turned so many verses into short pithy quotes and out of context promises that we throw at people without first demonstrating the compassion and mercy that Jesus showed.

Scripture should be used, yes, but done so through prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit who is the one who brings those words to life in us. It needs to be kept in the full context of what is written and not just popped out and used like a pill.

I think back on Psalm 1 and ask myself, do I delight in the Torah of Yahweh, if so, how do I show it? Do I spend quality time meditating on His words or do I fill my mind and life with unfruitful junk food.

Listen carefully to your prayer life, what is you main focus. A life filled with God’s word should be more upward focused, seeking His will and not our own. God already knows our needs and desires before we even ask. Is your prayer life guided and driven by His Word and the Spirit or do you find yourself continually praying a laundry list of what you want God to do? Try this exercise – allow scripture to guide your prayer life. Develop a discipline of spending a rich amount of time in God’s word and not filling your mind with junk. (Facebook, Netflix, games, social media, Instagram etc.) These are ok when we limit our time with them, but the greater amount of our time should be reading and praying in God’s Word.

[1]Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 1:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Torah of Yahweh (Part 1)

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the advice of the wicked; nor does he stand in the way of sinners; nor does he sit in the assembly of mockers. Instead, in the law of Yahweh is his delight, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, LEB)

When you move through the Psalms you can’t help but experience the deep love the writers had for God’s word. I don’t think it is an accident that the book of Psalms starts its first stanza with words like delight and meditate. In Psalm 19, the writer looks at the revelation of God in the universe, and pairs it with the beauty of the word of God. One commentator put it this way…

The very sound of the two movements of the psalm tells something of their two concerns: the broad sweep of God’s wordless revelation in the universe, expressed in the exuberant lines of verses 1–6, and the clarity of his written word, reflected in the quiet conciseness of verses 7–10, to which the heart-searching of 11–14 is the worshipper’s response.[2]

Today, there seems to be a fierce attack on the Word of God. The methods of this attack may change but the underlying message is still the same – did God really say?

The word used in our english for Torah is law. This is also a huge problem since “law” brings many pre-concieved ideas from our culture that just are not true of the Bible.

The basic idea behing the word Torah is to throw, cast, or to shoot an arrow at the mark. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament defines the scope of this word very nicly…

The word tôrâ means basically “teaching” whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel. The wise give insight into all aspects of life so that the young may know how to conduct themselves and to live a long blessed life (Prov 3:1f.). So too God, motivated by love, reveals to man basic insight into how to live with each other and how to approach God. Through the law God shows his interest in all aspects of man’s life which is to be lived under his direction and care. Law of God stands parallel to word of the Lord to signify that law is the revelation of God’s will[1]

What an amazing thought that God’s compassion and love are poured out through his instruction to allow us to live with each other and be able to approach God. Paul a man who lived by that instruction did not look at that instruction as a burden, but as a gift that reveals his standing before God…

Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”” (Romans 7:7, ESV)

This verse from chapter 7 of Romans continues a theme Paul starts back in Romans chapter 5, then he drives it all home in Romans 7:25…

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25, ESV)

The word “Serve” that Paul uses means to be a slave to, controlled by, or to serve. So even though Paul struggled in the flesh with sin, his mind was controlled by the Lord. We see this re-emphasized in Romans 8:5…

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5, ESV)

How is this done, how do we set our minds on things of the spirit? It is in the same book a few chapters later that Paul tells us to not be conformed to this age, literally to not be in union with the patterns and fashion of the existing culture. “But to be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may approve what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God”. How can we know what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God? The Psalmist knew…read and meditate on Psalm 119 and you can see just how much the word of God can do in the life of a believer.


[1] Hartley, J. E. (1999). 910 יָרָה. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 404). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2]Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 114). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Listen to Him!

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10, ESV)

I was reading through the book of John and stopped on this verse. As I pondered over it, it struck me that it had a very subtle idea in the text. We are to obey Jesus’s commandments just as Jesus kept His Fathers commandments. In the past I usually tossed this verse up to the fact that Jesus is God, so therefore he is referring to God’s commandments. Lately I am not as sure of this. I asked myself, what are the commands of the Christ? What kind of things do we see in the gospels? Then we have Acts and the rest of the apostolic writings, what do they reveal to us?

Let’s first dive into Acts 15, this is a pivotal point in the book of Acts in regards to how the early assemblies of believers would deal with the gentile issue and the law.

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”” (Acts 15:4–5, ESV)

The problem then was that Jewish believers in the Christ were trying to insist that gentiles convert Judaism by getting circumcised and then keeping the Law of Moses. But in the end, it was decided through a quote from Amos that gentiles were to adhere to 4 things so that it would be well. Not to save them, but to allow them to have fellowship with the circumcised. But was that just a starting point, and then they would follow the law of Moses? I am not so sure of this anymore. After reading and praying carefully through the writings of Paul, keeping in mind the context of second temple writings, I am not fully convinced.

But before I get to Paul, are there other subtle clues in the gospels to consider? What about the transfiguration of Jesus that James, John, and Peter witnessed? What can we take away from that encounter that impacted Peter so much that he would later write about it in his own letter?

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1–5, ESV)

Jesus is with Moses and Elijah who represent both the Law and the Prophets in the Scriptures. They hear a voice from heaven say that this is my beloved son…LISTEN TO HIM. They fall on their face and when they look up Jesus is alone. Later the writer of Hebrews would tell us that in the past God spoke to us through the prophets but now He is speaking to us through His Son. He would then go on to show that Jesus is greater than the angels, and then the Jesus is greater than Moses.

I also noticed something else that is very subtle in the gospels. Jesus changes one of the foundational laws given in the law of Moses. To get the full impact of this let’s first take a look at what Jesus teaches a certain lawyer that had come to Jesus to put Him to the test.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:35–40, ESV)

So, Jesus tells the Lawyer that the great commandment is to Love the Lord your God…and then to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands depend all the law and prophets. Now look at what Jesus is teaching his disciples in John 15, part of a long teaching that Jesus gave before he went to the cross.

““This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14, ESV)

Instead of loving your neighbor as yourself, which is very man focused, Jesus tells them that this is His commandment to love one another as I have loved you. This changes the whole focus of the command from man to Jesus. He is now the center of this command. He is the focus and our love should reflect to others the way has loved us…sacrificially. What is even more compelling is the fact that Jesus changed the command. That is definitely something to think about. It is also important to note that it ends with “You are my Friends IF you do what I command you”

Before I could move on though, I had to then think about what Jesus meant in Matthew…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished……For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–18, 20, ESV)

Let’s get some context here. Jesus is speaking to his disciples with crowds also gathered around as he teaches what we would label the sermon on the mount. Right before he dives in to give us principles that take the law and drive it down to our heart, he tells them that he has come to fulfill them. He also notes that until heaven and earth pass away not one iota or dot will change until all things are accomplished. That is interesting considering that he changes one of those commands in the writings of John.

Let’s first look at that word fulfill. Many have tried to use this to support going one direction or another. I really like the Theological Dictionary of the NT’s definition:

In Mt. 5:17 (b) the idea is not simply that of validating the law as distinct from abolishing it. The goal of Jesus’ mission is fulfilment. He does not simply affirm the law and the prophets but actualizes the will of God that is declared in them from the standpoint of both promise and demand.(1)

When you join this with what Jesus taught on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27, ESV)

They all point to Him; He is the focus of it all. So, could the words on the cross that Jesus spoke right before He died be what He meant on the mount when He said “until all things are accomplished? John, the only disciple that was at the cross when Jesus died records it as such:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28–30, ESV)

There are arguments on both sides of the fence on this, but the idea behind the Greek word used for finished is tetelestai. In the LXX this word has such senses as goal, result, conclusion, or accomplished.(1) So if all the law and the prophets point to him and he has accomplished all the demands and requirements of the law, I would think that finished is related to “until all is accomplished”.

After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, the disciples began to meet together daily with many of those coming to believe in the Christ, one of the things that occupied their time was that they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. I would have loved to be around then. Can you imagine the excitement, the passion, the loyalty that they had to following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit? Why did Luke tell us the apostles teaching and not the teaching of the law, or the study of the Scripture which all Jewish people of the time held in the highest esteem.

Moving through the book of Acts there are things we could dive into but we eventually come to Acts 15 and to the ministry that Paul has to the gentiles. As I discussed earlier in this post the problem that was in view was that Jewish believers were wanting the gentile believers to convert to Judaism and follow the law of Moses on top of believing in the Christ.

So, I have looked at and pondered a fair amount of text, there is so much more that can be said but I don’t want to write a book. I don’t want to leave though without saying that the principles found in the law of Moses are still of value. But that value must be found in the light of the Christ and the teachings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I finish with this idea from Romans with collaborates that love, as Christ loved, is ultimately part of the primary commands that we are to obey today. Paul uses a familiar phrase, but we know that ultimately Jesus moves it’s focus to him. He is the focal point of all things.

 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, ESV)

As I ponder all these things, I am sure I will revisit this subject in the near future.

Shalom

[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 869). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

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.