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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.
My Prophecy Against Phony Churches
and Their False Teachings
by Minister Paul J. Bern
This past week on the Lame Stream Media, I noticed that Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of the TV evangelist Jerry Falwell, was forced to resign his position as head of Liberty University in South Carolina after evidently getting caught up in a bisexual love triangle with his wife and another younger man. You probably know by now that this little incident is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption in the ministry in modern Christian churches of today. Having written a Sunday message about financial corruption in government and the churches just a few months ago, I will skip over that for now. Today, I want to alert everyone who reads this to be aware of certain other teachings that are being taught in some churches as being factual and prophetic when in fact they are neither. These three erroneous teachings, in no particular order, are the ‘prosperity gospel’, the “pre-tribulation rapture”, and tithing”. Allow me a little of your time to sort through these because this is stuff that people, be they Christian or otherwise, need to be made aware of. Otherwise one may find themselves on the wrong road, forcing them to back-track. I cannot stand idly by and allow this to occur, so here we go.
First and foremost, in the “prosperity gospel”, also known as the “Word of Faith,” the believer is told to use God, whereas the truth of biblical Christianity is just the opposite – God uses the believer. Word of Faith, or ‘prosperity theology’, sees the Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person who enables the believer to do God’s will. The prosperity gospel movement closely resembles some of the destructive greed sects that infiltrated the early church. Paul and the other apostles were not accommodating to or conciliatory with the false teachers who propagated such heresy. They identified them as dangerous false teachers and urged Christians to avoid them. The pursuit of wealth is a dangerous path for Christians and one which God warns about: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1st Timothy 6:10). If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. But He did not, preferring instead to have no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), and teaching His disciples to do the same. Let’s also not forget that the only disciple concerned with wealth was Judas, and we all know what happened to him.
James chapter 4, verses 13-15 clearly contradicts the prosperity gospel: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Far from speaking things into existence in the future, we do not even know what tomorrow will bring or even whether we will be alive. Instead of stressing the importance of wealth, the Bible warns against pursuing it. Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In sharp contrast to the Word of Faith emphasis on gaining money and possessions in this life, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The irreconcilable contradictions between prosperity teaching and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and money.”
The second of the 3 false teachings is the so-called “pre-tribulation rapture”, which is based on the rapture of the Church as written in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 15-18, among other places. In this passage of Scripture, the Lord returns for His people, his Church, and for His Bride, which are one and the same. The ‘rapture’, as it’s called, coincides with the Great Tribulation as foretold in the books of Revelation, Daniel, Zechariah and others in the old and new testaments. The reign of the Antichrist, as foretold in Daniel chapter 12, will last for exactly three and a half years.
But in the very next sentence it says that prior to that, there will be a period of 1,335 days (about 3.6 years) of turmoil upon the earth, with wars, plagues, pestilences and much death being inflicted on humankind. It is this period of time that signifies the first part of the Great Tribulation (as prophesied in Matthew chapter 24 and Luke chapter 21), that is in question by these “pre-tribulation” believers. The “pre-tribulation” rapture simply says that all followers of Christ will be taken up at the very beginning of the combined 7-year tribulation period (that is, the 1,335 days plus the 3.5-year reign of the Antichrist just before Jesus’ return).
But this implies that Christians – particularly American Christians – will (allegedly) not have to endure any of the Great Tribulation period. Brothers and sisters, nothing could be further from the truth! The Bible clearly states in Revelation 13, verses 6-7, “He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His name and His dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” “He” in this passage refers to the Antichrist, and he clearly will wage war against Christianity – and the Antichrist will win up until his end comes, which it most certainly will.
Any Christian – including Catholic, Protestant and Jewish Christians – who think they will escape persecution in the terrible times soon to come is ill-informed and dangerously naive. If any US resident who is in the top 2% income bracket is reading this thinks they can stay safely barricaded in their gated and walled communities during the time of the Great Tribulation – which according to prophecy will likely begin any time now – I’m sorry but you are all sadly mistaken. I realize I’m not going to be winning any popularity contests (especially here in the US) for making that statement, but it is in your own best interests that the truth be told.
The rule of the Antichrist will be global, meaning he’ll be running the North American continent just like everywhere else. And yes indeed, some American Christians are going to wind up getting killed for refusing to worship the image of the Antichrist or take his mark. I fully expect to be one of these fortunate individuals. Yes, I wrote “fortunate” out of due deference to the apostle James, who wrote: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promise to those who love him.” (James chapter 1 verse 12) Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for their righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5, verses 11-12) So I tell you boldly that we are not to fear persecution when it comes, and it is surely coming! Instead, the Bible commands us to embrace it.
The last thing I need to mention here is ‘titheing’. The word ‘titheing’ has its roots all the way back in the Old Testament to the books of Moses, in this case to Leviticus – it can also be found elsewhere too, but for the sake of brevity let me side-step that for now. The definition of titheing is the giving of 10% of one’s net worth, or in ancient times one’s crops or livestock, to the Lord. This had two purposes. The first and most important was as an atonement for sin, and the second was as a donation towards the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as to the High Priests for their sustenance. But that was the Old Law, or Law of Moses as it is still called in synagogues to this very day. Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice which fulfilled Levitical law, which says there must be shedding of blood for our sins. Sorry if that seems too graphic for some people, but I didn’t write any part of the Bible, I’m only a messenger.
But on Resurrection Sunday when Jesus rose from the grave to live forever and to be seated eternally at his Father’s right hand, the New Testament, or law of Christ, not only supplanted but entirely replaced the Law of Moses. A new deal took effect – a fresh covenant. Jesus Christ is the new sacrifice, He is the new covenant and the fulfillment of the old one – all at the same time. Only Jesus can do that. What does the Bible tell us about this? “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who are baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, 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)
OK, so if we are all heirs due to the sacrifice of Christ, then we are also all equals, am I right? At the very least, we would be Jewish by adoption in the eyes of God, but not so in the eyes of men. So, it no longer matters how much we put into the offering basket, because Jesus has paid the price for us all. This teaching about tithing is cut from the same cloth as the ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ and the ‘prosperity gospel’. Virtually all of the modern churches are teaching the Old Testament concept of tithing, the giving of 10% of the profits, or of one’s income, for the support of the Temple at Jerusalem and all the Levitical priests.
Today in most churches, its members are still expected to “tithe” 10% of their income because the pastors haven’t read their Bibles in so long they have forgotten what’s in it. Sacrifice can also be done in far more ways than merely giving money. The apostle Paul wrote something that I think is very timely concerning the modern Christian church and its “teachings” about titheing. “If the willingness is there”, Paul wrote, “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” And again it is written, “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth’, he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21, verses 1-4)
Notice that this is exactly the opposite of what most of the modern evangelical/Christian churches are teaching, especially those with a strong television presence. Instead of sending our money to the TV evangelists, donate it to your own churches where you congregate, or to the charity of your choice. Give what you can to others first, and to the church second, according to your ability. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. The size of your offering does not matter. Real Christians will not judge your offering. Only the bogus ones will size you up. The one true God won’t judge your offering either.
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.
Spiritual Gifts and Modern Christianity
(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 1-13)
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!
Millenials Have Little or No Interest in Christianity. Modern Church Leadership Is To Blame, and I Have Found Bible Prophecy About Why It’s the Leadership’s Fault
(Ezekiel chapter 34, verses 1-16; part 1 of 2)
by Minister Paul J. Bern
There is simply no end to the amount of Biblical prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled, despite the fact that seemingly so much has already been fulfilled. One thing that is still in the process of fulfillment is the fate of the modern churches, regardless of denomination. Everyone has already heard all the stories told by modern churches of their alleged exclusivity, of being taken up while the rest of the world gets left behind, and of themselves being the only persons out of all who were ever created that make it into heaven. But the purpose of this week’s commentary is not to have a theological debate about the state of modern Christianity. The purpose of this message is to call out the Christian leadership of all the world’s denominations for what amounts to dereliction of duty. My text this week will be taken from Ezekiel chapter 34, starting with verses 2-5:
“2) Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3) You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4) You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5) So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.‘” ‘Son of man’ meant Ezekiel, but it could be interpreted as being any one of us today. So, to be considered a “son of man” simply means to be a red-blooded human being. Jesus Christ was the ultimate Son of Man, a Son of God born of human flesh but with the Holy Spirit of the risen Savior of the world.
The ‘shepherds of Israel’ represent the corrupt church leadership during the time these words were originally written. By the time Jesus walked the earth roughly 500 years later, he spoke quite plainly about the corruption of church leadership (see Matthew chapter 23), and He condemned those who practiced that. This can also be extended to the modern church, which sometimes put light shows and technology ahead of the true Gospel of Christ Jesus. People who are members of the church have been laid off and there is simply no employment to be found, while the pastors are driving around in cars with 6-figure price tags. Verse 4 is particularly spot-on: “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”
Think of all the homeless people living in their cars, under bridges or in tents, and let’s not forget that nearly half the country is living on public assistance as I write this. They are in the predicament they currently find themselves in because their jobs were out-sourced overseas, or because of business and plant closures. I think that qualifies as ruling over the population with excessive harshness. This is what the Lord says will happen next: 7)“ ‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8) As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9) therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10) This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.‘”
‘You shepherds’ are the religious leaders, and their congregations are their ‘flocks’. There is a dearth of leadership in churches of all faiths that goes back centuries. That’s because many of the ‘ministers’ and ‘pastors’ are in the ministry for all the wrong reasons. For them, running a church amounts to part time job with full time pay and benefits. These people are milking their congregations for money, much like the money-changers in the Temple of Jesus’ time. But the Lord, the risen Spirit of the risen Savior and Kinsman Redeemer, stands firmly against all that, as it is written in verse 10: “I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.” Unlike these predatory churches of which I write, the true church of Jesus Christ is not owned and operated by the Vatican, nor by groups of wealthy evangelicals, nor are they run by boards of directors. But we ourselves who are the true followers of Jesus dedicate our lives only to him exclusively. And now, let’s close out Part One of this week’s message, beginning at verse 11.
11) “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12) As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13) I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14) I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15) I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16) I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
So, God has said in verses 11-13, since all the combined pastors, bishops, apostles, priests and deacons are refusing to do their jobs, God will intervene on behalf of all those who sought Christ’s salvation as he bypasses those shepherds who have abandoned their flocks in favor of money. These pastors, teachers, bishops, “apostles” and evangelists are too busy milking their congregations for money to provide anything resembling true, authentic Christian leadership. The former members, many of whom are still in attendance, have become led into sin and addiction of all kinds because they lack a good example in their lives, something that is the responsibility of the leadership to provide. In verses 14 through 16, the Lord Almighty prophesies about the eventuality that he will have to step in and intervene to bring back the lost sheep.
The “lost sheep” in verses 11-16 represent ourselves, the sheep of God’s pasture. In verse 14, the “good grazing land” represents the Word of the Lord, which is the Bible. Interestingly enough, the ‘good grazing land’ and the money we use for our financial transactions are both the same color. I do not believe that is a coincidence. It is better to pursue the right kind of ‘green’ while avoiding the bad kind which breeds corruption. In verse 15, it is prophesied that Christ Jesus himself will personally tend to the needs of his flock. This is because of the dereliction of duty on the part of those in charge of His flocks – the pastors and bishops, teachers and deacons, etc., etc., who pay themselves and each other handsome salaries and even provide leased luxury automobiles.
Then in verse 16, the Lord Almighty spells out the fate of those who got into the ministry for the easy money while failing to provide for the needs of their congregations as it is written: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” Who are the ‘strays’? They are the ones who have fallen into sin – never mind what kind, since we’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory anyway. Who are the injured? They are the ones who have been marginalized due to neglect by those in charge, or because of simple incompetence. To strengthen the weak and to shepherd with justice mean exactly what they say they mean. This is no need for any fancy explanations here.
Next week I will return for part 2, for the sake of brevity. There’s too much in here for all 34 verses, since that would threaten the attention span of all who read it, and there’s no way I’m ever going to do that. So until then, everybody keep Jesus in your minds and your hearts at all times. Shalom….
Paul The Apostle’s Strict Personal Standards While Preaching The Gospel That We Should Emulate
(1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-27)
In today’s study I will take up where I left off last week and finish the ninth chapter of First Corinthians. Paul was writing this particular letter to the early church regarding whether he should be allowed to take any part of the church offering to cover his own expenses. This was in response to at least a few who had a problem with Paul using any portion of the offering for his personal needs. Paul was traveling from church to church at that time, working without a salary as we are accustomed, and he was incurring certain costs as he went, not the least of which was food. Obviously this money had to come from somewhere. The apostle Paul then goes on to describe why he saw nothing wrong with this practice so long as it was not done to gain personal profit. And, he points out that he never did so, beginning in verse 15.
“But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this; that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-18)
The first time I read through this first paragraph of scripture, I was struck by the contrast between what the apostle Paul was writing about and the materialistic version of watered-down Christianity that I have heard preached from many pulpits in the contemporary Church. There is a stark contrast between what Paul wrote about here and the way many “preachers” today enjoy generous salaries, real estate holdings and other investments, high-end luxury vehicles, even their own airplanes. That is why Paul wrote, “… in preaching the gospel I… offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it”. Paul didn’t care whether he got paid or not, so long as he could eat and have shelter, along with plenty of Christian fellowship since there was no radio, TV or internet.
It is for this reason that I think there are too many churches today (and many of the TV evangelists are undoubtedly the worst) that emphasize getting blessed by God over the act of blessing other people. This is an incorrect teaching that has undertones of blasphemy, and I am not comfortable with it at all. There is a scripture in the Bible that promises to reward those who work to spread the gospel up to “30, 60, or 100 times what he has sown”. But that verse refers to our heavenly reward when our physical lives are over, when only our soul will remain. It is written as such because it invokes Spiritual gain. In no way is it intended to glorify material gain over that of the Spirit of Christ. That most certainly qualifies as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which the Bible says “cannot be forgiven in this life, nor in the next.” If you are in a church and you hear that being preached as the ‘true gospel’, get out of there immediately. Never mind if leaving causes a stir, it’s far better to please God than it is to be concerned about offending men and women.
Does God want us to be happy? Sure He does! Does He want us to have a life of wellness and prosperity, lacking for nothing? Absolutely! But does God want us to be filthy rich? No way; in fact Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money. You must either love one or despise the other” (that’s paraphrasing what Jesus said, but it’s in all 4 gospels). This is a glaring contradiction to what the so-called “prosperity gospel” represents, and that’s why I stand against it. So, what is the correct way to preach the gospel of salvation in Christ? Paul describes this eloquently beginning in verse 19.
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I become like those under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I become like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 19-27)
In the above passage of Scripture, Paul makes it abundantly clear his motivation for preaching the gospel. It’s not about religion and it’s not about money and prosperity. It’s about souls, the souls of people that God cares about deeply, the souls for whom Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, only to be resurrected on the morning of the third day to live and rule forever! It’s about you and me worshiping that same Jesus in Spirit and in truth, regardless of our nationality, race, religion, gender, marital status, economic status, age, background or sexual orientation. Let me remind you all that God doesn’t care about any of the above because He isn’t concerned about what’s on the outside or what’s on the surface regarding any person. God is focused on what’s on the inside, the soul of every man, woman and child. This is because the degree to which Christ abides within the individual is directly proportional to the way he or she interacts with and treats others. After all, it is on the inside of us – within our souls and hearts and minds – where Jesus wants to dwell. But it’s up to us to invite Him in. That’s the secret of salvation through Christ. He never enters the heart unless He is asked. But if He is asked, He will come and abide there 100% of the time. Nobody gets turned down by Jesus. Nobody.
I try to emulate Paul the apostle in my ministry where I live and work near downtown Atlanta. I am a Caucasian man living in a neighborhood that is mostly Black. But this is where my missionary work takes place when I’m not working in my office at home. In the inner city of Atlanta, as many as 20% of the local population is homeless as I write this. I was once homeless myself after having a stroke, but eventually I got back on my feet again. But that experience taught me some difficult but very valuable lessons about life and how to bounce back from disastrous setbacks. In so doing I have succeeded in doing what Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago. I have run my “race” in such a way as to win the prize – eternal life with Jesus in heaven.
But I also recognize that living my life for Jesus was not possible until I first invited Him in. In so doing, I don’t try to act more African-American in order to get along with people in my neighborhood. Instead I treat them respectfully as equals, and I make sure they understand that it is my faith in Christ and my desire to serve Him that motivates me to perform this service in His holy name. By emulating Paul, I emulate Christ as well. Remember that it was Jesus who said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my children, that you do for me”. I challenge each and every one of you to begin doing this in the course of your everyday living. To win as many souls as possible, simply reach out to as many as possible in as many different ways as you can. No drama is required, no special skills either, so don’t be concerned about that. I guarantee you will feel really good about the result.
What Does the Biblical Word ‘Pestilence’ Mean? Could Corona Virus Be Considered to Be a ‘Pestilence’?
By Minister Paul J. Bern
The more that the talking heads on cable news chatter about the Corona virus pandemic, the more it reminds me of the great plagues as described in the Old Testament. You all have heard this story at some point in the past; the one about Moses having a meeting – so to speak – with Pharaoh, to tell him to “let my people go”. The ‘people’ Moses referred to were the ancient Israeli (a.k.a. Israelite) nation (a separate ethnic group living in the midst of Egyptian society), who had been there as slaves for the previous 400 years (see Exodus chapters 1 & 12 for details).
So I went back and re-read those passages this morning prior to writing this week’s commentary, and those two words are being used interchangeably for the most part. What does pestilence mean in the Bible? Pestilence means a deadly and overwhelming disease that affects an entire community. The Black Plague, a disease that killed over thirty percent of Europe’s population, was certainly a pestilence. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘pestilence’ as, “a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating especially: bubonic plague.”
So is the Corona virus and/or Covid-19 virus a “pestilence” by Biblical standards? By all the measurements used above, the answer is ‘absolutely yes’! By sheer numbers alone, Covid-19 rivals the Black Plague of centuries ago as being a killer of Biblical proportions. And so, speaking as a minister and a man who seeks after God with every breath I take, if an overall feeling of foreboding has been hanging there with you every day as of late, that’s because we are slowly, to varying degrees, becoming ever more traumatized by the complete insanity that surrounds us all. Unarmed Black men continue to be hunted down as if the police have all decided to go out on safari, while there were 41 mass shootings in 2019 that resulted in 210 fatalities. Domestic violence is at an all-time high, according to the CDC. The list goes on and on, and I’m sure you can think of a few of your own.
But there is historic precedence to what is currently happening with the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of the Black Plague of centuries ago, as well as the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. Due to the earth being far more populated now than in days of old, the Corona virus could kill multitudes more, and yet so many people are still not paying attention to what is going on around them. For some of them, when this pestilence catches up with them, it will be too late. That is when this pestilence of Biblical proportions will begin taking lives with an ever-greater vengeance than ever before.
That is when Biblical precedence will activate itself. King David wrote about this very thing in the Book of Psalms, and I quote: “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways….” (Psalm 91, verses 5-11)
‘Not fearing the night’ in verse 5 was a reference to the rough times in which people lived back in those days. Due to the presence of an illiterate populace, not everyone could always find work, and sometimes food was scarce. So crime was a problem back then, and it often occurred in the dead of night. This must have instilled a certain level of fear throughout the population, and so that’s how that verse of scripture originated. Moving along, the “arrow that flies by day” was a reflection of the times in which they lived like I wrote just above. Roving bands of heavily armed marauders were out in the countryside just off the main roads, and people routinely got robbed as they traveled from place to place. The “plague that destroys at midday” in the next verse sounds strikingly similar to modern-day Covid-19.
But if you will put God first before all others and yourselves, the Bible tells us right in the very next verse, you will overcome all obstacles and defeat all foes who would dare to come against you. “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” When we submit to God’s will in place of our own, we will see amazing things happen, stuff we hadn’t even dreamed about. I will use tornadoes as an example. You know how tornadoes can skip all over the place, touching down just here and there? Yet others stay on the ground for miles, wreaking untold destruction and snuffing out lives in its wake. Yet when the survivors get interviewed, they are all people of faith. Dozens or hundreds of casualties may be left to be treated for their injuries, or to be buried. A thousand here, ten thousand there during wartime, death can be so arbitrary at times.
No matter how much really bad stuff is going on around you, “but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will emerge unscathed from the coming economic calamity, but much of the rest of the world (but not all) will perish in the flames. What flames? Things like wildfires, volcanic eruptions, wars and terrorism, and meteor or comet strikes in any place on the planet – all come to mind.
“If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near (you)…. See that, everybody? The Lord Almighty is my refuge, and he can be yours too. All you have to do is to ask him in, to let the Holy Spirit of the Most High God dwell within you. So why not do that right now? Ask the risen Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ to come and dwell within your heart. Unless you’re in the middle of a public place like a movie theater, it’s perfectly suitable to do this out loud. Jesus, be my Lord and Savior. Come into my heart and dwell there forever, so that I can be with you forever too. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.
On Being the Light of the World
by Minister Paul J. Bern
We’ve all heard or seen the expression “let your little light shine”. This is a truism that dates all the way back to the time of Christ, and it is documented in all the Gospels in one way or another. The apostle Paul also mentioned it in his letter to the church at Ephesus, more commonly known as the book of Ephesians. However, I am posting this commentary because I am becoming increasingly aware that much of the world has been turning from light to darkness. It has been my observation for quite some time now that the four lights of justice, truth, empathy and compassion are being snuffed out all over the world. The ultimate Light, that of Jesus Christ the Son of God, never goes out. The apostle John, the younger half-brother of Jesus, wrote about it in his story, known simply as the Gospel of John: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John chapter 1, verses 4-5)
Two thousand years later, things are much the same. The reason some evil people stay that way is because they prefer the darkness to the light. They perceive the Light of Christ, but they despise it because evil people have dark minds and souls. They naturally gravitate towards things like murder, kidnapping or hostage-taking, sexual or other physical assault, and all kinds of thefts. They cannot be trusted under any circumstances. They are dangerous and they are prevalent. Such people should be avoided at all costs. I’m sure just about everybody reading this knows at least one.
The apostle Paul also wrote on the topic of the Light of Christ, and I quote: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians chapter 5, verses 8-14)
When any person becomes a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, they become an entirely new person. Without Christ, one is in darkness because they rely only on their five senses, which can deceive us. But with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our senses are taken to a higher level with the addition of a Spiritual sense known as discernment. A discerning spirit within any given individual is not easily taught because it takes a lifetime to acquire one. You’ve heard or read that the best things in life are those that take the longest time. Discernment is one of those things, a subject that I myself have yet to master. But I continue to learn from the Lord daily.
The “fruit of the light”, Paul wrote, consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth. Paul then wrote, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” I can think of one person who has been in the news off and on for the last year or two who has made it his mission in life to do exactly that. Of course, I’m talking about Mr. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor and government whistle-blower who blew the lid off of the NSA’s and FBI’s massive secret collection of people’s mobile phone data. Secret spying of American citizens is prohibited by law. As such, this domestic espionage can be defined as deeds of darkness, and Mr. Snowden, who is a modern-day hero as far as this preacher is concerned, has gone out of his way to expose them just as the apostle Paul said and wrote.
Those who take videos of police brutality against citizens are another modern-day example of following this precept of the apostle Paul’s. But then Paul wrote, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible…This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’.” What light was Paul referring to here? The Light that is the person of Jesus Christ, of course! It is said that the only thing those Roman soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ tomb saw when Jesus rose from the dead was a blinding light. When the dead in Christ arise with the rapture of the Church, we too will be instantly transformed into Spiritual beings of light. This is likely to happen in our lifetimes. Now there is something to look forward to!
Last but certainly not least, let’s examine what Jesus himself had to say about walking in and being a part of the Light we are discussing. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew chapter 5, verses 14-16) If we are in fact “the light of the world” in the sight of Christ, shouldn’t we be acting more like it? And if we are the light of the world in Jesus’ sight, how much more can we be for the Father, if only we will aspire to it?
Whether we get a positive reaction from others when we try to do this for others – or not – is besides the point. Because ultimately, we’re not doing this for them, nor for ourselves, but for Christ Jesus, because he is watching us. A city at night cannot be hidden when it is lit up. Let’s not hide the light that exists inside each of us. Whether we realize that or not is besides the point, so that all who claim to be believers be held to that higher standard. Those who refuse to let His light shine, or who won’t let it in at all, dishonor God, themselves, and even their family and friends. Since we are all God’s unique and distinct creations, let’s honor God by expressing our thankfulness and gratitude towards Him for creating us, and for keeping us alive and safe, even after all these years. After all, what better starting point is there?
Paul the Apostle, His Love for His Believers, and His Plans to Visit Rome
(Romans 15, verses 14-33; Romans 16)
Today I will complete the study of the book of Romans that I started some weeks ago. I will conclude this series starting with the end of chapter 15 through all of chapter 16. The following quotes from Scripture are a summary of the apostle Paul’s closing thoughts as he finished up his letter to the early Roman church. I will begin by taking up where I left off last week in chapter 15, beginning at verse 14.
“I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15: verses 14-16)
“I myself am convinced … that you yourselves are full of goodness...”. As it was with the apostle Paul when he wrote this letter to the early Christian church at Rome, so it is with this Bible study that I send over the Internet today. All of you who are reading this must be doing so because you are seeking Spiritual knowledge and growth, realizing that the empty pursuit of material possessions and meaningless wealth has no bearing on where you stand with God. So let me take this opportunity to encourage you to continue in your faithful studies of God’s Word, and to never let up in your quest for still more higher learning of the deeper mysteries of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. By getting to know Jesus Christ personally as Savior, teacher, mentor and best friend, he then causes us to literally gravitate toward him as we are drawn ever closer to our dear Lord Jesus.
“…the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God…” Paul was a Jewish man and a Roman citizen. The audience Paul spoke to and the class of people Paul wrote to were neither Jews nor were they Roman citizens. Although this may seem insignificant to the modern Bible student, it was a really big deal in Paul’s day because, being raised and educated as a traditional Jew, he would normally have had nothing to do with non-Jews.
The religious Jews of Paul’s day regarded themselves as being superior to non-Jews because of their allegedly superior faith, traditions and especially their formal training. If this sounds familiar to you, it is because this same attitude of spiritual snobbery and religious “superiority” has infected parts of the modern church just as it did back in the day when the book of Romans was written by Paul. That is what Paul meant when he mentioned his “priestly duty” in his letter to the early church at Rome. He was referring to the Levite priesthood described in detail in the first five books of the Old Testament, known to the Jews at that time as the Book of Leviticus. Paul then continues with this train of thought starting in verse 17.
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Holy Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written, ‘Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand’. This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.” (Romans 15: verses 17-22)
“I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…”. I strive to do what Paul the apostle did when he wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago. You have noticed as you have read these weekly Bible studies that I rarely mention anything from my own past, nor do I cite any of my own experiences in life. Instead, I have always stuck with God’s Word and I have taught solely from that frame of reference. I do this so that what I am teaching and writing about conforms to the Word of God and to the teachings of Christ Jesus.
In point of fact, as a teacher and minister I am held to a higher standard in God’s eyes, and He expects me to live up to it. Since this is my Christian responsibility, I “study the word to show myself approved” and I make myself “transformed by the renewing of my mind”. There are those who teach the Word of God but who do so from their own frame of reference, based on their experiences in the secular world outside the Church. Paul warned the early Christians about this in chapter 16 as he was finishing his letter to the early Roman church.
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Romans 16: verses 17-19)
When Paul implored the early church at Rome to “watch out for those who cause divisions”, he was actually prophesying about the advent of church denominations that were beginning at the time these words were being written. In the first century AD, various churches were already proclaiming themselves to be followers of Paul, Peter, James and other apostles who were the Twelve during Christ’s ministry on earth.
As you read the New Testament you will notice numerous occasions where Paul and the other apostles preached against this very thing. The above example is only one of many throughout the Bible. In the early 21st century here in America, there are over 4,000 Protestant denominations not counting the rest of the world. That’s just here in the US. You have no doubt heard or read about examples of this sort of thing happening either in churches or in print. One denomination preaches against another as they try to convince other people that their pastor’s point of view is the only correct one. In the worst cases, different churches from the same denomination preach and teach against each other, no doubt to the complete chagrin of Almighty God.
What will God do with these churches? Let me alert you ahead of time: When the real rapture of the Church occurs in the next few years or so (and we’re not there yet), these churches will find themselves left behind to endure the latter half of the Great Tribulation prophesied in the Book of Revelation, Matthew’s gospel chapters 24 and 25, and in a fair number of other places in the Bible. Let’s not go there, people! Instead of following one denomination or another, let us instead be followers of Jesus Christ and him alone.
Watch out for and steer clear of churches such as these. It is for this very reason that this web site is not connected with or affiliated with any one particular denomination. If you find yourself in a brick-and-mortar church and you hear hate or intolerance being preached against any other church or group of people, get out of there immediately. You can be sure God has led you to this virtual church in its place, a good on-line church where the preaching and teaching comes straight out of the Bible, and one where the baptism by water and by the Holy Spirit is being taught. I am or have already done these things This is how you know you are on the right track.
Always stay in the Word, reading and studying your Bible diligently, because you reinforce your own faith whenever you do so. And next week we will begin our study of the first of Paul’s 2 letters to the church at Corinth, known as the Corinthian epistles. Until then, keep Jesus in your hearts and minds, and live your faith like He was there inside you, inhabiting your hearts and mind..