This week’s Biblical study series on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister & Author Paul J. Bern will conclude Acts chapter 2

Biblical study series for this week on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister & Author Paul J. Bern will be part 3 of Acts chapter 2, on the continuing relevance of the Day of Pentecost https://www.social-gospel.net/so/58NN32iTV

A Major Dose of Encouragement From the Apostle Paul to All Who Read This, Whether You Call Yourself Christian or Not

The Apostle Paul’s Final Instructions to the Corinthian Church

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 50-58; 1st Corinth. 16)

This week we will finish our chronological study of First Corinthians, having begun at chapter one 6 months ago, and ending today with chapters 15 and 16. Last week you will recall the apostle Paul comparing the first Adam with the last, who was and who is Jesus Christ. He moves on to another topic, almost as an afterthought, but it turns out to be one of the more prophetic writings of either the entire Bible. I will begin at verse 50 where we left off last week.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’. ‘Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 50 – 58)

Paul reminds the Corinthian church one more time that humankind, in its physical existence, can never enter heaven where God dwells. But then he does something interesting; He gives this early Christian church something to look forward to as far as the end of one’s physical life is concerned. He begins to prophesy about life after death, describing how the process will seem to most of us as we experience it. There are a number of ways this is being interpreted in the modern church, particularly if we go outside of the mainstream denominations. Many say and teach that these verses are a prophecy for the “rapture” of the church, which is explained as the literal taking up of the modern church during the reign of the Antichrist in the books of Matthew, Luke, Mark, Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others.

There is much disagreement about the timing of the “rapture” that I will not write about today, since I regard that as a separate topic. On the other hand, when Paul wrote, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed…..”, there can be no doubt that he was prophesying about the dead being raised at Christ’s return. This, in case there is anyone that hasn’t been paying attention, could happen just about any time now. All you have to do is just keep following the news regarding the Middle East like I do.

My main concern about the way the “rapture” of the Church is currently being taught is how many churches are convinced that the “rapture” will come just as soon as the Antichrist comes to power. Moreover, what about those preaching a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’? You know, those are the ones who say the church will be taken up at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and that the Bride of Christ will escape it entirely. What if the Antichrist comes to power and we’re all still here? What if the “rapture” doesn’t happen until weeks, months, or maybe up to a year or two after the Antichrist comes to power?

The Bible prophesies about that in the Book of Revelation, not once but twice. The first is in chapter 6, verses 9-11, which reads: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed”.

Then again in chapter 13 and verse 7, it reads, “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (“he” being the Antichrist). What will all those who have believed in a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ do then? I hope that some, if not all, of them will realize they may have to undergo one final time of testing by the Lord before being called home to glory. I am deeply concerned that the many who think God will just come along and scoop them up will become discouraged and fall away after the Antichrist comes to power, which could be only months away from now. Or, they might change their minds and take the “mark of the beast” to preserve their lives and the lives of their children, mistakenly believing they are ‘doing the right thing’. That would be an extreme tragedy if it were to occur, and I hope these words that I write will be sufficient warning to my brothers and sisters to be vigilant, to be prayerful with much thanks, and to remain filled with the Spirit during these tumultuous last days.

With another eloquent description of what some call the “rapture” of the church, Paul wrote, “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality”. Paul the apostle was exhorting us to draw ourselves continually closer to God by preparing ourselves as pure vessels in which an immortal being can dwell. And it is we, the transformed Believers, who will become immortal beings and live with the Lord in New Jerusalem forever and ever. By working hard at preparing ourselves to become imperishable vessels and immortal beings, we engage in a dress rehearsal of how we will spend eternity. Paul praised God for this when he wrote, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Paul ended this paragraph by encouraging the entire congregation to continue to press onward toward the goal of being one with Christ, and to let nothing stand in the way of their relationship with God through the saving power of Jesus Christ. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” These words apply to us more than ever as we navigate our way through the stormy waters of living in the last days, while we navigate our way around Covid-19. Never get tired of doing the right thing and living for Christ, because our work is never in vain. Paul then closes out the remainder of this letter with a few words about the collection of the offering at these churches that bear close scrutiny.

Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” (1st Corinthians 16: verses 1-4)

When Paul writes them to “do as I told the Galatian churches”, he is referring to a passage in the book of Galatians, but I will save that for when we get there, since we’ll be studying the 2nd book of Corinthians first (Galatians comes right afterwards, OK?). There are two things that are noteworthy here: The first being Paul’s mentioning setting aside church collections “on the first day of every week”. Keep in mind here that the calendar that we use today has only been around since the third century AD. Since Paul, a Jew and a former member of the Sanhedrin, went by the Jewish calendar, which has been in existence for 4,500 years. He used the Jewish Sabbath as his guide, which is from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday. My point is that the day on which we celebrate the Sabbath today, Sunday, is actually the wrong day of the week from a purely historical perspective when compared to the way in which the original Apostles and Jewish believers were celebrating the Sabbath 2,000 years ago. Keep this in mind each week as you attend services on Sunday morning.

The second noteworthy thing Paul mentions in these closing verses of 1st Corinthians is the amount that is to be given at each offering. Paul wrote, “ On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…….” Notice that Paul did not specify an amount to be given, nor any certain percentage of one’s income, but he only said that their gifts should be “in keeping with his income”. In other words, if you can’t afford to ‘tithe’ a full 10% of your income, like what is specified in quite a few modern churches, then that’s okay – just give whatever you can and ask the Lord to bless your offering and receive it, knowing that it will still be enough. You need not worry – there are no cash registers or pocket calculators in heaven.

God isn’t counting your change to see how much you can give. He doesn’t want our money, he doesn’t need it anyway, but God does want each and every one of us. He wants our love and devotion, our worship and our praise, and our dedication and our service to His cause. And the cause of the Lord is the salvation of souls, and a cause of eternal justice, which is a worthy cause any day of the week.

The Alleged Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Grave

The Apostle Paul’s Teaching About the Resurrection (part 2)

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 35-49)

 

When we finished last week’s study, we were focused on the apostle Paul’s teaching to the early church about the true nature of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after being buried in a borrowed tomb for three days. After admonishing them for allowing some man-made teaching about the Resurrection to infiltrate their congregation, Paul then continues with his explanation of the resurrection from a Scriptural viewpoint by answering what is apparently yet another question the congregation had raised regarding the nature of the Resurrection. Paul continues his train of thought beginning at verse 35.

 

“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 35-41)

 

I think the main thing Paul the apostle was trying to communicate here is that what kind of bodies we will have after we die is neither here nor there as far as the Word and our Faith are concerned. It is a side-issue in the form of an unhealthy diversion from Truth. Our “bodies” will be spiritual, and there is simply no comparison between spiritual beings and physical ones since they are of a completely different nature. It would be like trying to compare insects to fish (imagine that!). There are many different types of bodies of various kinds, and each has its own beauty in its own way, with each having a special uniqueness that sets it apart from the others, emulating the uniqueness of each person within the whole of humanity.

 

All of us are unique individuals, and by extension sovereign forms of life here on earth and of the heavenly and magnificent kaleidoscope of the universe. And since each was created by God, it becomes a reflection of His glory for all to see and marvel. Paul then goes on to compare all this to the last resurrection in the book of Revelation, where all those who ever lived and died will rise for one final judgment, and each will have to give an account of themselves – how did they live, who did they help, who did they protect, and above all, who did they serve.

 

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; if it is sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; if it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit’. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have born the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 42-49)

 

Paul’s commentary here is pretty clear, and so requires no explanation per-SE. But I think that it would be helpful to those readers less familiar with the Bible if I substituted some 21st century vernacular for the Biblical terms of old. We are born mere mortals, but unwavering belief in Christ makes us immortal, effectively giving us a chance for eternal life. Paul’s second comment applies directly to me and others like me, who started out in life as orphans or as unwanted “throwaway kids”: Although I was “born in dishonor” (with no real family or social standing and no inheritance of any kind), accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior back in 1992 has caused me to be “raised in glory” at His second coming because I did everything in my power to try and mold myself into someone useful for Him, leaving my old life and all the negative stuff that went with it (bad childhoods, crappy marriages, etc.) behind in the past, where it belongs. That is my personal testimony regarding this portion of Scripture, and I exhort and encourage all who read this who started out in life as being disadvantaged in any way to follow my example in this matter as I have tried to follow the example of Christ. Oh yes, you can all do this, and the Bible tells you how.

 

For example, if you are “sown in weakness”, lacking confidence and/or self esteem, belief in Christ will cause you to be “raised in power”, giving you a quiet confidence and internal peace that can only occur when we give our hearts completely over to Jesus Christ, because doing so blocks out all fear. And fear is something we should all be doing without, substituting unconditional faith in Jesus in its place. Paul then goes on by comparing Adam with Christ, with Adam being the first man and Jesus being the last in the form of a “life giving Spirit”, foreshadowing the future spiritual coexistence with God for all eternity in heaven after our physical lives are over. “And just as we have born in the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven.”

 

So, in closing, if there is anyone reading this who has not given their heart over to Christ and wishes to do so, now is as good a time as any. You don’t have to do anything dramatic or fancy, just quietly ask Jesus to come into your heart, for the purpose of Him abiding there forever, in whatever way feels comfortable to you. You can rest assured that once He enters, and He will, He will be there to stay for the duration of your life. In the process, you get a new friend in Jesus, a new dad in the form of God the Father, and millions of new brothers and sisters – as few or as many as you want. So let the peace of Christ, which is beyond human comprehension or intellectual understanding, be within you, replacing all the old negative emotions and traumas that you can now let go of. Because now you have something infinitely better to take their place, the man in the glory, Jesus Christ!

The Resurrection of Christ: Did It Happen or Not? (part 1 of 2)

The Apostle Paul’s Teachings About the Resurrection of Christ (part 1)

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20-33)

book cover volume 3
This posting is taken from this book, of which I am the author. To get a copy, visit authorrevpauljbern.com Enjoy!

During last week’s study of the first 19 verses of First Corinthians chapter 15, we left off where the apostle Paul was reminding the early Church of the truthfulness and authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day after he was crucified. You will recall that Paul asked pointedly how anyone could not believe in Christ’s resurrection, followed by his emphatic statement that those Christians who don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection believe in vain, and they will thus die in their sins, with their souls unable to be saved. I’d say that’s pretty blunt and direct, wouldn’t you? Frankly, I couldn’t agree more on this point. Any ‘Christian’ who doesn’t believe in a personal, 1-on-1 relationship with Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was crucified, died on a cross, only to be raised from the dead 3 days later, is wasting their time attending church on Sunday mornings. They should stay home and wax their vehicles instead. And now I will take up Paul’s train of thought where he left off as he wrote it, beginning in verse 20.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn; Christ, the first-fruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he has ‘put everything under His feet’. Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When He has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20 thru 28)

When Paul called Christ “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”, he was referring to an ancient tradition of Judaism that is based on the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The ‘festival of first fruits’ involved the farmers and livestock herders bringing one tenth of their initial harvest or their mature livestock to the temple as a living sacrifice to be given unto God for atonement for their sins. And so Jesus was, in effect, the first-fruits offering for all of humankind. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ was a pure atonement offering made unto God consisting of Christ himself as a living sacrifice for sin. In the course of making this offering, Jesus became the new covenant between God and humankind and the new sacrificial sin offering, taking the place of the old, which was the law of Moses.

Unfortunately, there pervades a teaching of sorts within the modern churches that says – quite presumptuously – that both laws are in effect, and that although Christ died and was resurrected on the third day and so saved us from our sins, we are still obligated to give a tenth of what we earn, or own, or a combination of the two, at every service. This is NOT what the Bible says at all, and if those within the church who are demanding 10% of everyone’s wages would bother to read it, they would see that they are seriously in error. Unfortunately for the greater Church, the ones who are disseminating this wrong teaching are the same “ministers” who have turned their houses of worship into profitable enterprises. Such pastors and evangelists, if they do not repent of this, are not saved by the blood of Christ like they think they are. At the end of their lives, their expectation of eternal reward because their churches were “successful” will turn to terror when they learn their fate. And then it will be too late. How tragic for them. If only they would have read their Bibles once in a while instead of preaching about ‘tithing’, or abortion, or homosexuality to the exclusion of nearly everything else, their error would then become apparent to them. And yes, that’s still another prophecy.

The tithe, as the Word calls it, was offered as the sacrifices that were made on the feast days that God directed the ancient Israelite’s to celebrate, such as Passover, first fruits, and the Feast of Tabernacles, among others. They were also offered on the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week according to the book of Genesis. Interestingly enough, that would mean we are supposed to be going to church on Saturdays instead of Sunday as we do now, if our calendar were to be strictly followed by the modern church. Sacrifices on the feast days instituted in the Law of Moses were mandatory. However, it is doubtful that sacrifices had to be made by every single person at every Sabbath since there were approximately one million Israelite’s encamped in the Sinai desert at its high point before they were given the land of Canaan. In that case, there would still be sacrifices waiting to be offered from the previous Sabbath by the time of the following one, making the offering of so many sacrifices impractical. But the festivals and holy days celebrated from the time of Moses up until now were many days in length, enabling ample time to be made for so many sacrifices.

But the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ changed all that when He made himself the new atonement, the everlasting sacrifice and the propitiation for the numerous sins of all humankind. Jesus is the embodiment of the new covenant, the New Testament and the new offering for us all. So there is no more need to bring a sacrifice to the altar – Jesus has already offered up Himself. To teach and preach that the 10% sacrificial offering must continue to be made brings into question the very reason for Christ’s death and resurrection. How many times must He shed his blood for us all? Without a doubt, once was enough.

So the claim being made by some modern churches that all who congregate must tithe 10% of what they make every single week is not only untrue and unnecessary, it also comes across as a thinly disguised grab for funds by the pastor and senior leadership. This would presumably be for the enrichment of those “in charge”, making God and the monthly electric bill to be little more than afterthoughts. Since only a fraction of the Sunday offerings at churches throughout North America are actually allocated for charitable purposes – with most of the remainder spent on “administrative” expenses like salaries – what we have are an entire host of houses of worship posing as non-profits or as charities that are actually being run like businesses. You know, just like the money-changers in the Temple who were physically removed by Christ himself?

Of course, the flip side of this coin is that this does not excuse us from giving to the church of our choice. Giving at least a little something each week is required for the church to stay in operation. Only those who are unemployed, disabled, or retired for any reason would be exempt from this tradition. The churches have rent or a mortgage to pay, the power bill, and garbage pickup, etc, plus sufficient salaries so the pastor and his/her family may be reasonably provided for, and it all costs money. But as it was in the days when Jesus walked the earth, so it is today with organized religion, as Jesus said when He threw the money-changers out of the temple, “You have taken my Father’s house and turned it into a den of robbers.” That rebuke from Jesus himself still holds true today.

So take my advice, which is based on my own previous experiences with these so-called “churches”. If when visiting a church, or after having joined a church, you hear preaching and teaching about how everyone must give 10% of their earnings each and every week, get out of there at the first opportunity and go find a better church, preferably one whose teachings are grounded in the Word as it is written, rather than those which are taught by men for men. I will now continue at verse 29.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day – I mean that, brothers – just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. Do not be mislead: Bad company corrupts good character. Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God – I say this to your shame.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 29-34)

To clarify this passage of scripture, there was within the early church a practice of being baptized in the place of dead relatives and other loved ones who had died having not had an opportunity to be baptized and to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. The idea behind this was to make sure that all those with whom we had gone through life’s journey would not be condemned to hell, and that we would someday see our loved ones again when we all get to heaven together. To the best of my knowledge, only the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches still practice this ancient tradition, and then only in the forms of having a service, or a “mass” for the dead, such as on the celebration of All Saint’s Day every fall by those denominations.

Paul the apostle continued by making the point that true believers should be adhering to the Word of God as they have read and learned it, and he is telling them in blunt terms that they needed to stop listening to false doctrines being taught by phony “teachers” of the Bible. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, as I pointed out earlier, are completely sufficient for the salvation and redemption of humankind. To not believe in the resurrection of Christ, therefore, is heretical and blasphemous. Ditto for getting baptized in place of someone else, which Christ also made unnecessary. None of these man-made ideas are anywhere in the 4 gospels. But instead, if we stick to God’s word, who lived among us in the form of Jesus Christ, we can’t go wrong. So study the Bible, read what’s in it and put it into practice. It’s the one sure way to know that you are on the right track in life. And when we return next week we’ll go over the second part of Paul’s writings on the resurrection as we move on to part 3 of chapter 15.

Jesus and the Apostles Preached Against Wealth and Materialism, and I’m Repeating the Message

My Prophecy Against the Rich

(Matt. 22, 37-40; James 1, verses 26-27; James 5, verses 1-6)

by Minister Paul J. Bern

I have been struck lately by the fact that several key issues are being completely ignored in the 2020 US presidential race. One is the urgent need for development of clean energy and a green economy. Another big one that is being brushed aside is climate change and what we can do about it, not to mention what I view as the urgency of that situation. But the biggest issue by far that is being ignored is economic inequality, the fact that 98% of America’s wealth is in the hands of 2% of the population. This situation is much the same throughout the world. It is not something that is peculiar to America at all – far from it.

Both of the candidates running for the top office in the land are in the top 2% who own nearly everything, and who lord it over everybody else. Although I’m not naming names, it seems that these same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. President Donald Trump is, without question, the best example of this so far. The fact that he’s another billionaire from New York underscores the rampant and often extreme economic inequality that exists in America today. The primary reason that working Americans are being ignored is because there is someone from the top 1/10 of 1% who is occupying the oval office.

According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by data from the US Office of Management and Budget, one in every seven persons currently living in the USA lives at or below the poverty line. One in seven sometimes goes hungry, especially children. For over one forth of America’s school children, lunch at school is their only meal of the day. One in seven pregnant women don’t get enough food for themselves and their unborn child. One person in every seven lives in a household with a gross income of under $14,000.00 per year for a single person, allowing only slightly more for children. Poverty devalues the individual in such a way that it can damage the mind or crush the spirit of anyone in its path. The hunger pangs are only what’s on the surface. Poverty is everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized, and this is compounded the more that person becomes devalued. I submit to you all that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-27).

It is our capitalist economic system that is broken, and we are all feeling the effects of it. More and more people are being thrown out of work, often losing their homes, their transportation and their dignity as corporate America continues to re-size downward. The more that American business downsizes, the more people will be affected. Life can sometimes be like a game of musical chairs, and people are starting to notice that the music has stopped playing and there are no chairs left. Many US jobs were out-sourced overseas, and many more American workers that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 years. The US economy, plus the job market or what’s left of it, is in much worse shape than we’re being told (surprise, surprise). People are banding together by family or by neighborhood to ensure each other’s well-being. In Detroit, in particular, people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another, that we have created a society, over the last period, in particular, where each of us is pursuing self-interest. We have devolved as human beings.

We have been focused on taking care of ourselves for so long that we have forgotten how to take care of each other. Now that hard economic times have hit us right between the eyes, we need to do more to take care of each other. Get plugged into a volunteer program in your community. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up with it. And do it all knowing that God is watching over you as you go about your business. So, do not put God out of your life but rather keep Him within your heart and allow Him to dwell there. That is when you will know for sure that you are on the right track.

Jesus summed this up perfectly when He defined the two greatest commandments, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, verses 37-40) The apostle James similarly wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James chapter 1, verses 26-27)

That’s not all the apostle James had to say about the loving the world as opposed to loving God. He connected it with the same mass inequality that we see today when he wrote, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)

Your wealth has lost its value! Your investments have divested themselves of their own worth! Not just their net worth either. Not only have you lost all your interest, you have lost your principal as well! Your entire portfolio is forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climbed the corporate ladder to the exclusion of everything and everyone else! In so doing, you have fallen into idolatry. ‘Idolatry, you ask? But how?’ By prioritizing your careers over your worship, and by valuing your material goods over the supreme sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross. Make no mistake about it, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything else on the planet – period! The biggest mansion, the most expensive yacht, the fastest car or truck and the trendiest clothes and night clubs are rubbish when compared to the purity of Christ. Besides Him stands no other! Jesus stands alone, heads above the rest!

Speaking of Jesus, he had lots to say about rich people. But, one of His most famous comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21) The more attached we become to our material stuff, the farther away we get from God. But it’s about more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first and foremost, because it’s invariably the most important. I cannot overemphasize this one main point!

Both of the candidates running for the top office in the land are in the top 2% who own nearly everything, and who lord it over everybody else. Although I’m not naming names, it seems that these same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. President Donald Trump is, without question, the best example of this so far. The fact that he’s another billionaire from New York underscores the rampant and often extreme economic inequality that exists in America today. The primary reason that working Americans are being ignored is because there is someone from the top 1/10 of 1% who is occupying the oval office.

According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by data from the US Office of Management and Budget, one in every seven persons currently living in the USA lives at or below the poverty line. One in seven sometimes goes hungry, especially children. For over one forth of America’s school children, lunch at school is their only meal of the day. One in seven pregnant women don’t get enough food for themselves and their unborn child. One person in every seven lives in a household with a gross income of under $14,000.00 per year for a single person, allowing only slightly more for children. Poverty devalues the individual in such a way that it can damage the mind or crush the spirit of anyone in its path. The hunger pangs are only what’s on the surface. Poverty is everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized, and this is compounded the more that person becomes devalued. I submit to you all that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-27).

It is our capitalist economic system that is broken, and we are all feeling the effects of it. More and more people are being thrown out of work, often losing their homes, their transportation and their dignity as corporate America continues to re-size downward. The more that American business downsizes, the more people will be affected. Life can sometimes be like a game of musical chairs, and people are starting to notice that the music has stopped playing and there are no chairs left. Many US jobs were out-sourced overseas, and many more American workers that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 years. The US economy, plus the job market or what’s left of it, is in much worse shape than we’re being told (surprise, surprise). People are banding together by family or by neighborhood to ensure each other’s well-being. In Detroit, in particular, people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another, that we have created a society, over the last period, in particular, where each of us is pursuing self-interest. We have devolved as human beings.

We have been focused on taking care of ourselves for so long that we have forgotten how to take care of each other. Now that hard economic times have hit us right between the eyes, we need to do more to take care of each other. Get plugged into a volunteer program in your community. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up with it. And do it all knowing that God is watching over you as you go about your business. So, do not put God out of your life but rather keep Him within your heart and allow Him to dwell there. That is when you will know for sure that you are on the right track.

Jesus summed this up perfectly when He defined the two greatest commandments, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, verses 37-40) The apostle James similarly wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James chapter 1, verses 26-27)

That’s not all the apostle James had to say about the loving the world as opposed to loving God. He connected it with the same mass inequality that we see today when he wrote, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)

Your wealth has lost its value! Your investments have divested themselves of their own worth! Not just their net worth either. Not only have you lost all your interest, you have lost your principal as well! Your entire portfolio is forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climbed the corporate ladder to the exclusion of everything and everyone else! In so doing, you have fallen into idolatry. ‘Idolatry, you ask? But how?’ By prioritizing your careers over your worship, and by valuing your material goods over the supreme sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross. Make no mistake about it, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything else on the planet – period! The biggest mansion, the most expensive yacht, the fastest car or truck and the trendiest clothes and night clubs are rubbish when compared to the purity of Christ. Besides Him stands no other! Jesus stands alone, heads above the rest!

Speaking of Jesus, he had lots to say about rich people. But, one of His most famous comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21) The more attached we become to our material stuff, the farther away we get from God. But it’s about more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first and foremost, because it’s invariably the most important. I cannot overemphasize this one main point!

In closing, the fact that Donald Trump may still be considered the front-runner in the early part of the 2020 presidential race to the White House says a lot about the state of our country. The most eligible candidate, if the Republicans get their way, would be President Trump, the one with the most money. But Joe Biden has also raised very large amounts of cash, even to the point where he and Trump are currently in a dead heat. So, the bottom line here is that the two presidential candidates in the 2020 election are both top 2%’rs who profess to have the solutions to the plight of the remaining 98% of us, when it’s already an established fact that no matter who wins, the winner is beholden to the mega rich who bought the election in the first place. Capitalism – and the materialistic, consumer lifestyle that goes along with it – has conquered the world without firing a single shot. In so doing, the top 2% are in charge of, and in many cases own, just about everything, right down to the land every building is built upon. But when Jesus returns, all power and authority will be given to Him on earth as it is in heaven, and the rich will find themselves destitute.

A Reinforcement in the Faith of Believers In Christ, and An Appeal To Those Who Do Not

Why Be a Christian in the First Place?

Is There Really a Point to It All?

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1-19)

Since the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is noticeably longer than the one we just completed, I will be dividing chapter 15 into 4 lessons to allow me to get into some serious depth regarding the apostle Paul’s letters to the early churches. As we begin to read at verse 1, we find Paul reminding the early Corinthian church of the reasons for the faith of the whole congregation, which is unconditional belief and unshakable confidence in the saving power of the shed Blood of Christ. I would liken this portion of Scripture to a coach going over some of the basic fundamentals of the game during a team meeting, reminding the players that if they stick to the basics consistently, they will ultimately win. Being a follower of Jesus is a lot like that, and so you may think of Christ as your Spiritual coach. Here is an example of that from Scripture.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 1-11)

The basis of Christianity and of belief in Christ as the Son of God is summed up in Paul’s words “ …Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…….” So we have basic fundamental teaching and instruction here from Paul the apostle to the brethren in the early Church, which is the ultimate sacrificial offering of Jesus himself for the sins of all humankind who freely accept His eternal salvation.

Without this faith, all the good deeds and personal sacrifice in the world will do us no good at all, and we will have “believed in vain”. Based on this portion of scripture I would say that one of our primary tasks as practicing Christians is to make sure our belief is genuine – that is, that we exercise our faith in such a way that our passion for Christ strives to approach and imitate His passion for all humankind when He died upon the cross. As He gave his all for us, so we must be willing to give our very best for Him. In fact, a time is coming soon to North America when Christians will begin to be slain for their faith. The apostles saw the risen Lord in person, but we believe having not seen Him (yet).

At this point I would ask that all those reading this who are knowledgeable about the Bible, or who have been Christians for a very long time like I have, to bear with me for a few moments while I explain something to the newer believers regarding what Paul wrote about himself towards the end of the above passage. Paul wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”. Paul is referring to his initial meeting with the Spirit of Christ on the road to Damascus, which is documented in chapter 9 of the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was blinded for 3 days and instructed to go to a certain house where he met the apostle Peter, who laid his hands on Paul and healed his blindness.

Before all this happened, Paul was one of the leaders of Judaism at that time who actively persecuted Christians prior to his own conversion. The Book of Acts also documents Paul’s being present at the execution of St. Stephen in chapter 6. And yet ever since meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul had been converted and was actively preaching and teaching throughout the known world of that time. This is why Paul calls himself “the least of the apostles”, but Paul does one thing here that we all should learn to emulate. He gives all the credit for his conversion to his faith in God through His grace, taking none for himself. He even mentions working harder in his new ministry than anyone else in an attempt to make up for his previous life as a persecutor of the followers of Christ.

God gets all the credit for our own conversions because He loved us first, not the other way around. Remember what Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”. Therefore, if we humble ourselves in our faith by giving all the credit for our salvation and well-being to Jesus, and to God’s grace (which means unmerited favor), we will be rewarded with higher places in heaven when our physical lives are over and our eternal Spiritual lives begin. I will teach more on this topic at some point in the future. But for now, I will continue today’s study at verse 12.

But if it has been preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1st Corinthians 15, verses 12-19)

Based on what the apostle Paul wrote just above, perhaps there was some disagreement among the members of the early Churches regarding whether the resurrection of Christ was real or a myth. What we are seeing here is one of the first indicators of denominational teaching. Paul clearly wanted this practice stopped immediately, but history teaches us that not only did this not occur, but the fragmentation of the original church into divisions that were set against one another is an unfortunate reality that continues into modern times. But Paul responded back then by pointing out an obvious truth, which is that being a Christian while not believing in the resurrection of Christ, along with all who have believed on and trusted in His name, defeats the very purpose of our beliefs.

The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day is the very basis for all Christian faith. Even the two greatest commandments as they were taught by Jesus in the four gospels – love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself – are impossible to follow without a belief in the deity of God through Christ. And a belief in God through Jesus Christ is unworkable without the strongly held belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and that in so doing, He gave all of humankind a chance to have the same opportunity to have eternal life without end, which He already has. None of us can ever achieve immortality on our own, but we can all have it through Christ, the Son of God. And that’s a goal worth shooting for every single day of the year.

Mumbling In the Sanctuary, and the Truth of It All

Clarifying Speaking in Tongues (part 2)

(1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 18-40)

In last week’s lesson we managed to get through the first portion of First Corinthians 14, and so today I will take up where I left off. You will recall my pointing out certain “teachings” within certain denominations, sects and “Christian” cults regarding ‘speaking in tongues’ that are incorrectly being taught and disseminated within and (to a lesser extent) outside of the greater Christian church. Today, I will continue to use the apostle Paul’s own words, so help me God, to instruct you all as to what is and is not considered to be an orderly and reverent worship of Christ as the Son of God. This includes the original and correct definitions of two of the Spiritual gifts. I will begin at verse 18.

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord’. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everybody speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 18-25)

To put this in a nutshell (if that’s even possible with Paul’s writings), churches are not going to get any new converts or believers by speaking in tongues. They will gain new converts by prophesying first and foremost, which means to accurately and decisively declare the Word of God. But, we can gain new believers and additional saved souls by speaking in the native language of those who are listening. A non-believer or first-time visitor will be able to clearly see and hear the Spirit of the Lord, with the Spirit being manifested in any one of a number of different ways according to the “gifts of the Spirit” that we went over last week. On the other hand, I have actually been in churches where people stood up and prayed in tongues all at once, with no one there to interpret, assuming that what they were saying actually made some sense in another language. I thought it was rather strange that up to several dozen people or more would be speaking in tongues all at the same time as if they were competing with each other in some childish game of spiritual leapfrog. This is nowhere near what the Bible says about speaking in tongues!

Needless to say, I did not go back to any of those churches, and if you stumble onto one of them in your search for a church home, don’t be shy about getting out of there at your earliest opportunity. Many of these speak-only-in-tongues-and-nothing-else churches, upon closer examination, turn out to be cults. I have had the misfortune of learning this the hard way, because it was just such a church that broke up my first marriage. So now you have been warned so you don’t make the same mistakes I made all those decades ago.

It is quite apparent from Paul’s writing in these few verses of chapter 14 that the Church has had a problem with these kind of denominations almost from the start. It’s just that Paul’s words so closely parallel my own experience with many of these so-called “charismatic” churches during my 28 years as a born-again Christian. The Word of God is not something to be taken lightly or trivialized over. The Bible is not just another book sold at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Each and every word within it is sacred, holy and sanctified and must be taken very seriously.

Therefore I say that any teaching of the Bible that is inaccurate or misleading – assuming that the incorrect teaching is being done unknowingly – is a very serious matter indeed. And anyone who teaches the Bible in such a premeditated way so as to control and manipulate people, such as in a cult pretending to be a church – and unfortunately there are a disconcerting number of those as well – will be found guilty of apostasy at best, or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit at worst, when it comes their time to stand before the Throne of Judgment. And Jesus said that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – where someone deliberately defames God or twists and perverts the Bible’s teachings in such a way as to enrich themselves or to do damage within the church, or who refuses to believe that Jesus was the Son of God – these are the only sins that cannot be forgiven. And if Jesus said it, you had better believe it, because He cannot lie. I will now continue at verse 26.

“What shall we say then, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 26 thru 33)

It is clear from this quotation that the apostle Paul is giving the early church an example of what a church service should look like and how it should proceed. Everyone is to use the Spiritual gift that God gave them to the best of their ability, and as they feel led by the Spirit. If someone is speaking in tongues, they should do so quietly to themselves unless there is another there to interpret. Prophecy, or proclaiming the Word of God as it applies at that moment in time, can be done without 2nd party interpretation, but praying in tongues aloud cannot, nor should it ever be done in a disruptive or distracting manner.

The next two verses the apostle Paul mentions that, in his opinion, women should be silent in the church, with the conducting of the service being the exclusive domain of the men. First, let us keep in mind that these words were written nearly 2,000 years ago, and the world back then was a very different place – downright primitive by today’s standards, as were many of the people. But let’s also keep in mind that part of the message of the Gospel of Christ was that all humankind enjoyed unconditional equality in the sight of God. Jesus ministered to, healed and cured men and women alike, as it is well documented throughout all four gospels. So, I am going to respectfully (in God’s sight) decline to cover these two verses in this lesson on the basis that I, another follower of Jesus, do not share Paul’s opinion on this subject.

I try to treat both genders equally as I live my daily life so that I might better emulate Christ who has saved my soul and who rules my life. Gender equality is more than an idealistic goal. It’s scriptural, as it is written: “You are all sons/daughters of Christ through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3, verses 26-29). And now I will finish up this lesson with the final few verses of chapter 14.

“Did the Word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, then he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 37-40)

So, Paul the apostle was saying that what he was writing is the truth because he was led by the Spirit as he wrote his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, Galatians and others. Anyone who refuses to go along with the order of worship as Paul has explained it will be ignored if they try to speak out of turn or otherwise unduly dominate the discussion within the service. “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”. We are all adults and so we should know what it means to be fitting and orderly in a service. And we should always do so out of a reverence for God that is highlighted by a sense of awe and worship. But there is one more important thing to consider. We don’t have to be in a church to pray to God, or to praise him, or to worship him. We as believers and followers of Jesus Christ can praise, worship or pray to him anytime and anywhere. To be at worship and to be giving God praise is the very essence of a Spirit-filled worship service, and it’s a frame of mind that we should try to be in every day. So let’s all work on this starting today, and use what we learn as we grow to live a better life for Jesus.

Mischief In the Sanctuary; Why Churches Who “Speak In Tongues” Are Getting It All Wrong

Settling the Controversy, and Dispelling the Myths, of ‘Speaking in Tongues’ In Church and In Prayer

(1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1-17)

 

 

In this week’s lesson we will begin the 14th chapter of First Corinthians which I will break up into 2 parts for the sake of brevity. There is considerable confusion within the Christian church as a whole regarding the issue of speaking and praying in tongues. Some believe speaking in tongues is evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and this is essentially true. But there is an erroneous teaching that presents speaking in tongues as the primary – or worse yet the only – evidence of being a ‘born again Christian’. As you are about to read, this teaching is incorrect and misleading because it is based on verses of Scripture being taken out of context. In a worst case scenario, it drives away new believers who mistakenly think that since they do not have the gift of speaking in tongues, then they must be falling short when it comes to their level of faith. This kind of teaching is damaging and ultimately destructive to the propagation of the Gospel. That’s why I stand against it. Let’s now read what the apostle Paul wrote about it, beginning at verse 1.

 

 

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 1-5)

 

 

In verse 1, the first five words are written in the form of a command to the first century Corinthian church, and that command is equally applicable today as it was when Paul the apostle wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago. The words “follow the way of love” refer to the two Great Commandments Jesus gave in the 4 gospels: “Love the Lord your God with all your might, with all your soul, with all your heart and with all your strength. And the second command is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments rest all the law and the prophets.” This is ‘commandment number one’ for not only the church, but for the entire world.

 

 

The apostle Paul is also stating that it is not possible to truly serve God through our relationship with Christ unless we first practice and obey these first two crucial commandments. Anyone who does not obey them rejects Christ, and by extension God. Only after that does Paul write, “eagerly desire Spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy”. This intense desire for Spiritual gifts is evidence of our devotion and loyalty to Christ and to the saving power of his Blood. Paul then goes on to explain why he believes prophecy to be the most important Spiritual gift.

 

 

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit…. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues…..” In this verse of scripture Paul makes it abundantly clear that, while all gifts of the Spirit have their place and their importance, the gift of prophecy trumps speaking in tongues (and all the other gifts), and therefore gets precedence within the true Church. Paul then continues with this train of thought beginning at verse 6.

 

 

Now brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have Spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 6-12)

 

 

As you can clearly see here, the apostle Paul is stating emphatically that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about exercising the Spiritual gifts, and especially that of speaking in tongues. Abruptly speaking in tongues in the middle of a service, for example, would be a distraction at best and an interruption at worst, ruining the spirit of the moment during the act of worship. Not only is there a time and a place for it, it would be out of place for someone who does not have the gift of speaking in tongues to attempt to imitate those who do. If you see others that have this gift and realize that you do not, there is no shame in this at all, and let no one tell you otherwise! No one can rightfully fault you for your silence in that case.

 

 

Silence in church can be a kind of reverence, provided that our thoughts are directed towards Jesus. God simply has a different place for you within the Bride of Christ, and a different gift that suits you best. Let go and let God. Allow the gifts of the Spirit to come to you through prayer, persistence and faithfulness, and do not attempt to blindly pursue it on your own. The Holy Spirit will lead you down the correct path, so do not concern yourselves with that. Paul then continues in verse 13.

 

 

For this reason anyone who speaks with a tongue should pray that he interpret what he says. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 13-17)

 

 

Although I can and do pray in tongues, it is not my main spiritual gift and it’s not something I do on a daily basis. When I do I am usually in church and I pray quietly to myself, but if I am in public and alone, such as walking down a street or waiting for a bus or subway, I also sometimes pray in tongues when the Spirit moves me to do so. I would not pray out loud with others present unless I can interpret what I am saying (and I often can’t), otherwise bystanders on the street or other folks in church would be mystified and bewildered at best. There is such a thing as one person in church being able to interpret what another is saying in tongues, but I have only seen one such church where this gift of the Spirit was present in over 27 years of being a born again Christian.

 

 

Do not allow the topic of speaking and praying in tongues to distract you in your walk with Christ. Jesus is the Savior and kinsman redeemer of all humankind and it is by His blood that we are saved – that and grace, which is a separate topic. Continue to make sure He is the center of your life and the focus of your faith. And when this is all over some day, we will be united in heaven with Him forever and ever with one language, the elegant language of praise in Spirit and in Truth. So be sure and praise Him and be thankful every day, and next week we’ll cover the rest of 1st Corinthians 14.

The Modern Churches, Particularly In and Around North America, Are a Far Cry From the Early Churches In the 1st Century A.D.

This Is What An Authentic 21st Century Church Is Supposed to Look Like

(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 14-31)

social-gospel-vol 3 Paul

Today I will conclude chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians in my ongoing blog about the writings of the apostles (to get a copy, visit this link, guaranteed virus-free). Last week in part 1, you will recall how the apostle Paul was explaining to the 1st century church at Corinth about the many different functions of various church members, and how they are interrelated to one another. He described the gifts of the Spirit as they are applied to the various church members, with no one gift being more important than any other. In the conclusion of chapter 12, the apostle Paul compares the church to the human body as he analogizes the two. So let’s start up where we left off last week, beginning in verse 14.

“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 14-20)

Now let’s go back to last week’s study for just a minute. You will recall Paul the apostle naming the “gifts of the Spirit” as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues (other languages), and the interpretation of tongues. When taking them in context like I am doing in the above Scripture, it is clear that Paul meant multiple things are happening all at the same time within the true Church – the one that’s not a corporation or a social club. Not everybody can be a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon; not everybody can have gifts of healing and of miraculous powers, nor do all speak in tongues, or interpret, and not all prophesy either. But each part within the church is absolutely indispensable to each other, and each part is an essential part of the whole body of Christ’s church. And, as Paul the apostle wrote, the various parts of the body of Christ are arranged exactly as God wants them to be. That is all part of His good, pleasing and perfect plan for each of us, according to his most excellent will. Let us now continue at verse 21.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’. And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 21-26)

Each part of the true Church of Jesus Christ is interdependent on one another, and all work in unison for the edification of that Church. There is no such thing as a one-man band in authentic Christianity, but instead the church possesses a “team spirit” that is Spiritual in nature. And there is total equality among the membership so that “its parts should have equal concern for each other”. And so we see that, in the spirit of true Christianity, everyone has an equal standing within Christ’s church, and no one is higher or better than anyone else. This is why equal protection under the law is part of the US legal code passed by Congress back in 1965. It is based on the Bible, as Rev. Dr. King correctly pointed out repeatedly during the civil rights era, prior to and in the days leading up to the day of his assassination.

I have one more comment about this passage before I move on. Paul wrote in verse 22 above, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor”. The work of those within the Church who are weaker, presumably meaning those persons of lesser stature either because they are new or because they have spiritual or personal issues they are working out, counts for just as much as a long-time member who has grown strong in his or her relationship with Christ. There is no such thing as a pecking order or a hierarchy in a church filled with true followers of Christ. Authority is distributed laterally among the membership, and Christ is the sole head of the church.

And then there is the part about those who “we think are less honorable, we (should) treat with special honor”. Remember what Jesus said in the four Gospels about, “Those who put themselves first will be last, but the last will be first”, and again when Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”? Jesus was clearly referring to the rich and the poor, and to those in positions of power and influence, and to those who crave it. And so the parts of the church, the very poorest and most insignificant members of the church, who seem to be the least ‘honorable’, should be treated with special honor.

Social and economic position count for nothing in the true Church, but passion for Christ is everything. If any of us should die tomorrow, we can’t take anything with us. Our cars, clothes, furniture, houses (if you are lucky enough to still own one of those), our jobs and all our friends and loved ones are going to be left behind when we go home to be with the Lord forever. In the end, our relationship with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will remain of what we once were. It is that very relationship that sets apart God’s people from the rest of humanity. And now allow me to wrap up the remainder of today’s study.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 27-31)

Each member of the Body of Christ has their function, and it will invariably be the one thing that they do best within the overall structure of the Church. The best way to find out what your ministry is, or what function you serve for the glory of Jesus, is to first pray about it. Assume nothing, and do nothing on your own that you have not prayed about previously. In other words, don’t do anything without talking to God about it first unless you are absolutely sure that your will and God’s will are synchronous. God will open the right door for you, he will do so at precisely the right time, and He will do it in the right church.

So if you find yourself in a church where there does not seem to be any place where you can be a helping member, or even where you fit in for that matter, this is a sign that you need to look elsewhere for a church you can call home. Keep seeking and let God show you the way. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to where you belong, because if it worked just fine for me, then it will for you too. In the meantime, follow the apostle Paul’s advice and “eagerly desire the greater gifts” of the Spirit. God has the perfect place for you in his Church, and the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is what allows us to have this special relationship with Him. No one place within the church is more important or valuable than any other, nor is any one single person, not even the pastor. No matter what Spiritual gift you may have, it all counts equally as much in the true church of Christ. And if it counts equally within Christ’s church, then all is equal in the sight of God. In next week’s study, we’ll be moving on to chapter 13, ‘the love chapter’.

The Spiritual Gifts of Old Have Remarkable Similarities to the Social Gospel of Today

Spiritual Gifts and Modern Christianity

(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 1-13)

blessed are the poor

Continuing onward today in our ongoing study of the apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the 1st century Corinthian church, let’s move on to chapter 12. I’ll be going over the first half of chapter 12 today, and we’ll get into detail on the second half next week due to the very important and highly significant subject matter contained herein. Let’s begin right away with verse 1: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed’, and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 1-6)

Paul the apostle starts off by reminding the Corinthians how far they had come from a spiritual standpoint. They had gone from being pagans, worshiping gods of wood and stone, to born-again Christians, saved by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. What a quantum leap these Corinthians had made in the Spirit! In this there is good news for all of us; that is, anyone who can say without hesitation, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, or, “I worship Jesus as the Son of God”, knows immediately that they have the Holy Spirit living within them. Otherwise, they could not utter these words and really mean it. And if they didn’t mean it, others will know it because it will be self-evident. Paul goes on to make the comparison that as surely as there are manifestations of the Holy Spirit within widely varied types of individuals, in the same way there are widely varied signs of the fruit of that same Spirit exhibited within each and every one of us. Paul then goes on to name the different fruits of the Spirit.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 7-11)

You will notice that Paul names nine different gifts of the Holy Spirit. These different gifts are diverse enough that anyone who is a true follower of Christ Jesus can pick one and begin to pray directly to Jesus for that particular gift, whatever it may be. No special talent or innate ability is required. That’s exactly why all can participate. That’s the first nugget of truth that we can extract from Paul’s writing. In the family of God, nobody gets left out. Everyone participates and benefits equally without exception. So pick a gift, any gift that you think best matches your abilities in the Spirit, and begin to exercise it. If you seem to get off to a slow start at first, don’t let that deter you. Keep practicing, because you know that practice makes perfect.

Remember that you won’t be going it alone, for the Spirit of the Lord will be with you, and He will stay with you because He is dwelling within you. God is very willing to give you supernatural ability in the Spirit that will cause you to excel in an area where you may not have been able to previously. I know this to be true because it has worked for me in the past, and if I can do it then so can you. Let’s go through these nine gifts one at a time.

The first is the “message of wisdom”. Do not mistake formal education, or human intelligence, or any person’s IQ, for what the apostle Paul calls “the message of wisdom”. The 3 things I just mentioned are all carnal in nature, being of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. “Wisdom”, from Paul’s viewpoint then, is spiritual wisdom, a wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience gained from constant devotion to Christ. The “message of wisdom”, then, is a gift generally reserved for the clergy, or for those in academia, but also for older people like myself who have been around the block a time or two, and who have gained wisdom from many years of experience, sometimes even by trial and error. This type of deep and lengthy experience should never be underestimated. When one learns their life lessons the hard way, one tends to learn them quite well, and I’m speaking here from experience.

The second spiritual gift is the “message of knowledge”. Like the ‘message of wisdom’ above, the ‘message of knowledge’ is about spiritual matters rather than knowledge of this world. The message of knowledge can be interpreted here as having extensive knowledge of the Word of God, and this can only be accomplished through years of study. Pastors and those who teach Bible studies have this gift, and it is an honorable thing to use this, or any of these gifts, to one’s utmost for the love of Jesus.

The third spiritual gift is faith. Faith is a gift most often bestowed unto prayer warriors and prayer partners, and to those with gifts of healing (more on that one shortly). Faith is also a very good starting point for new believers as they build their new-found faith in Christ. It is something very good and valuable to hold onto while deciding which one of the 9 spiritual gifts is best for the individual believer. That also includes having Spiritual faith as the chosen gift of the new believer. This is how we exercise our faith as we explore the gifts of the Spirit so that we may discover which gift best suits each of us according to the talents and abilities of the believer.

I will comment only briefly on the next two, ‘gifts of healing’ and ‘miraculous powers’. While these gifts have existed since the time of Christ and His apostles, there are those “healers” today who claim to have these powers, but in reality they are fierce predators. They continue to “heal” people on TV as they charge them for the privilege while broadcasting the results of their “work”. But Jesus warned us about this when He walked the earth, as it is written: “Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name proclaiming, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many.” (Matt. 24, verses 4-5) Further down in this same chapter Jesus adds, “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert’, do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms, do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”. (Matt. 24, verses 26-27)

I’m not saying miraculous healing doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact I think it does. All I am saying is that, based on what I have seen on the ‘Christian television’ stations, one should approach what is being taught and what you are seeing with a critical mind, using the Bible as a reference manual for what is on your screen. That is the one sure way to keep oneself from being deceived. Discern for yourselves what is genuine or what is phony. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit has already given you this power. Use it judiciously.

The next gift Paul mentions is that of prophecy. Prophecy means to literally proclaim the Word of God while applying it to events from the past, present and future. Evangelists, for example, most often have the gift of prophecy as their spiritual gift, but anyone can have this gift. I once met a Texas housewife who had this gift while having never studied in a seminary, so God can bestow it upon anyone he chooses.

The seventh gift Paul mentions is the gift of ‘distinguishing between spirits’, and he is not talking about a medium at a seance. Distinguishing between spirits also has nothing to do with judging people, so be sure and not fall into that trap. As you have probably guessed, ‘distinguishing between spirits’ is done in the Spirit of Christ, not in the flesh or through intellectual capability. It is a spiritual distinction one can make through a supernatural gift of identifying different types of spirits, mainly being able to separate bad from good, but also as a way to distinguish hidden motives and concealed agendas within otherwise “nice” people.

The last 2 spiritual gifts are speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Speaking in tongues simply means to be able to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in any foreign language in a supernatural way, while having no specific knowledge of that language. Those who interpret those tongues are the ones who are translating the unknown tongue being spoken back into the native language of the hearer for the edification of that church or group. This spiritual gift exists so that the gospel can be preached in every language on the face of the earth. It is common for missionaries to have the gift of speaking in tongues, or of the interpretation of tongues.

A word of caution here – there are churches that teach that speaking in tongues is the best evidence that believers have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, as if this particular gift is the one that matters most (or worse yet, that it is the only one that matters). If you find yourself in a church that teaches that speaking in tongues is the only, or the primary, evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, get out of there immediately. I won’t name names, but they are a single-minded denomination bordering on a cult, and as such they are not teaching the whole truth, so it would be wise to not associate with them. Remember that even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. Paul finishes his train of thought by comparing the human body to the church. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 12-13)

We are all within the body of Christ, which is His church, but we all serve various functions within that Body. Our diverse gifts of the Spirit, which God gives to everyone, make up the different functions of the greater Church. Not everyone can be a pastor, or a teacher, and not everyone is called to be only one thing, all except for prayer. Prayer, my dear readers, is mandatory for all serious believers. We can’t have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ unless we pray to Him daily. How can we have a personal relationship with Jesus unless we talk to Him? There are also those who have multiple gifts, such as music and dance, and others who focus on a specific ministry, such as missionaries. But instead, in the kingdom of God, everyone does one thing and does it well (even if it’s just being an usher), and all the various functions and ministries that are being performed coordinate together to form the living body that is Christ’s church. As the old song goes, “we are one in the Spirit, we are one with the Lord”, and that sums up His church very well. And next week we’ll finish chapter 12. Until then, be blessed in Jesus’ holy name!