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!

Warnings From Past History That Can Be Found In Scripture Are Still Applicable Today, and That Means It Applies to Us

Warnings From Past History,

From 3,500 Years Ago Until Now

(1st Corinthians chapter 10, verses 1-17)

social-gospel-vol 3 PaulIn this week’s Biblical study series on the writings of the apostle Paul, I will begin the 10th chapter of the 1st book of Corinthians. In the closing verses of chapter 9, Paul the apostle was exhorting the early church at Corinth to “run the race in such a way as to win the prize”, which refers to living our lives for Christ instead of ourselves, with the ultimate goal being eternal life with Jesus in heaven forever. As the apostle Paul begins chapter 10, he uses the fate of the first generation of Israelite’s who came out of Egypt as an example of what can happen to those who don’t live their lives as such. Paul begins in verse 1, and he minces no words with the Corinthian church and with the rest of us.

 

 

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry’. We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.” (1st Corinthians 10; verses 1-10)

 

 

In the above passage, Paul is talking about the exodus of the Jews – descendants of the modern-day Israelis and American Jews, among others – from Egypt where they had all been slaves to Pharaoh. The mass escape from Egypt by the Jews is a historical fact. Chariot wheels and the skeletons of humans and horses have been found at the bottom of the Red Sea near to where Moses and the Israeli nation crossed it. The ancient Israelite’s were led out of Egypt by God, who appeared in the form of a bright cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night (those who have Bibles can find this in the Old Testament, beginning in the first chapter of the book of Exodus. If you don’t own one, don’t worry about it, we’ll cover it in another lesson some other time).

 

 

This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote about being “baptized under Moses in the cloud and in the sea”. He was referring to the bright cloud that guided the Israelite’s, and to the parting of the Red Sea by Moses as the Hebrew nation crossed over to the other side. But since God was displeased with them due to their idolatry, He allowed that entire generation of Jews to die in the desert during the 40 years of wandering, and so none of them ever saw the promised land that God had reserved for them. Paul then finishes with these warnings; “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel”. In fact, if you will go back and read Exodus (about a 30 minute read), you will all see that every one of the above things actually happened. Paul then continues beginning in Verse 11.

 

 

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fail! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1st Corinthians 10; verses 11-17)

 

 

The closing part of this passage of Scripture is classic Paul in every way. After admonishing the young Church that death is the certain payout for a sinful pagan life, he turns right around in the next paragraph and encourages the faithful and lifts up the church as a whole. Paul writes, “… if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fail!”. Be on your guard, he wrote, because when you think you are in good shape spiritually, that’s when the enemy will come in and attack. But Paul then encouraged the Church, writing, “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man”, and again he says in the next sentence, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it”.

 

 

So we can conclude by Paul’s words that we are not to give up and we are not to give in. If we are standing firm we do not stand alone, because we know by faith that God is with us. If we are enduring temptation there is no shame in crying out for help, because God will be there for us. Most important – or at least it seems so to me – God will never, ever allow us to be tempted to sin or to be tried by difficulty to the point that it is more than we can withstand. Remember what Jesus said, “Never will I leave you, and never will I forsake you”. These words are just as true today as they were when Jesus uttered them nearly 2,000 years ago.

Jesus prophesied this as well, when He said to His apostles, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Jesus and His word will always stand through any kind of difficulty, through any kind of illness or injury, through any bad situation, and through any worry or despair. Jesus is the same today, tomorrow, and forever. If you have never put Jesus in charge of your life and you are ready to relinquish control to Him, just pray this prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I am tired of trying to do things all by myself. Please come into my heart and dwell there, and I will make you my Lord and Savior. Please come and save my soul today, and guide me in the path that my life should take. In your precious name I pray, amen. And next week we’ll go over the second half of chapter ten. Shalom!

Following the Example Set By the Apostle Paul Makes Us Be More Christian Without Being Religious

Paul The Apostle’s Strict Personal Standards While Preaching The Gospel That We Should Emulate

(1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-27)

you did it to me

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.

Being Married Versus Being Single — It’s a Personal Choice, But Both Choices Have Their ‘Caveats’. Caution Is Advised….

Remaining Married Is Better Than Getting a Divorce Or, It Really Is Cheaper to Keep Her

(1st Corinthians chapter 7, verses 10-20) Part 2 of 3

life has no remote

Taking up where we left off last week in First Corinthians chapter 7 brings us to verse 10. In the previous two verses where we ended last week’s study, Paul the apostle was giving advice to the unmarried and to widows. But then in verses 10 and 11, Paul begins to focus on married couples and what their responsibilities are to their partners as Christians. Most of all, he appeals to married couples to stay together regardless of their differences in spiritual beliefs. I will quote Paul’s words beginning at chapter 10.

“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled with her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1st Corinthians chapter 7; verses 10-14)

Contrast the apostle Paul’s command in verse 10 with the state of the church today, and we find a whole lot of people who aren’t obeying this command. The divorce rate among Christians is about 50% give or take, which is the same rate as the secular world. As a result, we Christians are making ourselves a terrible example of what a Christian relationship looks like. Paul then further states that couples who separate must reconcile if at all possible, or otherwise not remarry. The main exception to this would likely be an abusive relationship where domestic violence and a pattern of intimidation and bullying are present. That is why I think Paul was saying that believers should not divorce nonbelievers, nor vice versa, just because they are nonbelievers, due to their sanctification through marriage that makes that unity and the children produced by it to be sacred in God’s sight (through Jesus Christ our Lord). Paul then continues this train of thought beginning in verse 15.

“But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches (1st Corinthians Chapter 7, verses 15 –17).

Here we find the apostle Paul saying to the church, ‘If an unbelieving spouse wants to leave, go ahead and let them go. You have done all you can by being a good witness for Christ.’ After all, in the end it is only Christ Jesus who saves, there is nothing more that we can do in such a situation. If they want to leave, don’t stand in their way. God may send another more Christ-like companion to you in due time, but that is between you and God. Unless the rapture of the church (which will happen sometime prior to Jesus’ second coming) takes place beforehand, in which case remarrying will be a moot point anyway. Paul then goes on to use two examples of external circumstances that have no bearing on our internal and most closely held Spiritual beliefs about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, presumably to make a comparison between spouses who leave, circumcision, and slavery, and why they make no difference with regard to our faith.

“Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called him is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.” (1st Corinthians 7; verses 18-20)

When Paul wrote about male circumcision, he is writing from the standpoint of one who was raised and educated while steeped in Jewish tradition. For those who have not read the Old Testament, male Israelite children, beginning from the time of Moses, were circumcised when they were 8 days old in accordance with the law of Moses handed down through the generations through Paul’s time and up until today. All Paul was saying is that whether we are circumcised or not, whether we are slave or free, and whether we are married or single, doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as our obedience and loyalty to Christ, who is the head of His church here on earth.

If we as believers in Christ are married to a nonbeliever and the nonbeliever decides to leave, that does not in any way affect our salvation in Christ as Spirit-filled believers. Paul the apostle wrote elsewhere in the New Testament that we are all to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord”. Make your reverence towards the Lord known to all who you come into contact with, making the continuation of your salvation and your walk with Jesus the single most important thing in your life. Remember that, based on what Paul has written, we are either a slave to Christ or a slave to sin. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Jesus any day.

Jesus Is the Cornerstone, the Church Is the Foundation, and Those Who Truly Believe In Jesus Are the Walls Built On That Foundation

Building On The Foundation Of Christ

(1st Corinthians chapter 3)

apostle paul new front cover

This week’s Biblical study of the writings of the apostle Paul will be going the third chapter of the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In this passage of Scripture, Paul was teaching about building on the foundation of Christ as a way to avoid divisions within the church, and he was doing so in the context of the state of the early Church at that time (today it’s far worse). Paul is addressing specific issues that had been brought up previously by this congregation, presumably regarding certain disagreements and arguments that had sprung up among them. In the early part of this chapter Paul finds himself having to rebuke this congregation for their lack of unity due to disputes among them concerning their views on what it meant to be Christian. We will begin at the first verse as usual.

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul’, and another, ‘I follow Apollos’, are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1st Corinthians 3: verses 1-9)

As you can see, Paul was telling the early Corinthian church to grow up, stop fighting among themselves and to quit acting like children in the faith. Paul was admonishing them to become more mature in their faith as God first intended. But he was also saying that it doesn’t matter how they first heard the Gospel being preached or from who they heard it. What is important is that the Gospel originates from God, not from mere men. Jesus is the message, and we are the messengers. Paul then refers to a well-known Old Testament verse, “One man plants, another man waters, but it is God who gives the increase”, stating, “…for we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”, with other translations of ‘building’ in this context being ‘storehouse’ or ‘barn’. Paul is saying that all blessings come from God, and He can send even enough to fill up any storehouse or any barn. Paul then continues in verse 10.

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1st Corinthians 3, verses 10-17)

When Paul says “I laid a foundation as an expert builder”, he was speaking in the context of himself being the founder of the church at Corinth. He then stated definitively that anyone building on his foundation had better not use any combustible materials, referring to the Old Testament, which calls God a “consuming fire”. This was written as a warning to the church against the pursuit of material gain and the hoarding of money and goods. This same warning is just as valid to the church today as it was when those words were first written nearly 2,000 years ago.

Paul then added that putting too much faith in our earthly works and treasures won’t necessarily prevent us from getting to heaven when we die, but it will be the same as escaping from a fire with nothing but the clothes on our backs. It was also a warning that Christ is the only true foundation upon which the Church is built, and that anything less is impure at best, and heresy at worst. Finally, Paul compared the early church to a new Temple of the Lord in which He can dwell, and he reminds us that, “…God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” Paul then concludes the chapter beginning at verse 18 by completing his warning to keep the church fastened to the foundation of Christ.

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile’. So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1st Corinthians 3, verses 18-23)

To put this into 21st century English, Paul was warning the early church, ‘Don’t kid yourselves. People who think they are smart aren’t as smart as they would like to think. In the end, everything belongs to God. Anything that is not consumed in His consuming fire, will stand the test of time and be permanent. Everything else is just temporary anyway.’ And I believe Paul was telling us these things to make sure we kept our values in perspective, so we can be more spiritual and less superficial. This is a good thing for all of us to put into practice, so let’s all start to do this today if you’re not doing so already. That way we’ll be able to advance the state of all our lives and our spirits as we transition into tomorrow, and all under the watchful eyes of God through Jesus Christ.

The following post is an excerpt from my new book release, “The Social Gospel Teaching Series Volume 3: Paul the Apostle (available on Amazon)

How to Keep and Maintain the Mind of Jesus Christ

(Romans chapter 12)

Social Gospel series Volume 3

Today in our continuing series of studies of the book of Romans, we will move on to chapter 12. In this chapter, the apostle Paul talks about how we can initiate fundamental change from within ourselves for our own good. He then explains how this renewal of self can affect our place within the entire community of believers, as well as for the good of everyone else. He then goes on to outline how this personal renewal in Christ – for the sake of our relationship with Christ – applies to our everyday lives and what we as responsible Christians can do to cause this personal renewal manifest itself. I will now begin with verse one.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12: verses 1-2)

We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God in the same way that Christ offered Himself up on the cross of Calvary. Furthermore, we are to be living in the world while remaining separate from it. We can live here as usual but not be caught up in the materialistic and vain trappings of the world as it currently exists. We can accomplish this by what Paul the apostle called “mind renewal”. In a modern context, this means being a modern Christian requires a new and different way of thinking that sets us apart from the rest of humanity. It is only when we do this that we can find out for ourselves what God’s will is for our lives. And His will is always perfect for us whether we realize it or not. And if we don’t yet do so, we can still accomplish this at any time by the renewal of our minds in Christ Jesus.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it to the proportion of his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12: 3-8)

The first point Paul makes is that there is no room for big egos in God’s family. Everyone has a place in God’s family “in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you”. Everyone has a function within God’s family, and Paul named these functions without any particular order of importance. Notice that he mentions money only briefly (“if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously”). This is in stark contrast to the erroneous teachings of the modern church, which emphasizes tithing 10% of one’s income. This is a teaching that goes all the way back to the Old Testament, well before the time of Christ. As I said in one of my recent commentary, we should definitely contribute to churches and other charities as we see fit. However, the harsh economic realities of the modern world in which we live make giving 10% a prohibitively expensive proposition, especially for the poor and middle class. Let the rich give 15% to their churches in our place. Besides, when Jesus died on the cross, the old law was sacrificed with Him and he became the new law. Paul then goes on from there.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those that mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12: 9-16)

The timely advice that is in these few verses is just as relevant now as it was nearly 2,000 years ago when it was first written. Love must be genuine, and never abusive. Stand up to evil and oppose it at every turn. Be a truly selfless person who thinks of them selves last, who puts others first, rarely complaining. Now comes the hardest part, because it’s a quote from Christ himself. “Bless those who curse you…”, be kind to those who oppose you or who have personal vendettas. You will be surprised (based on my own experience) at how quickly this tactic can disarm those who oppose you. Be willing to associate with people of low position, such as the homeless. I was once homeless myself for about four months, and I didn’t think such a thing could happen to me. I’m retired from IT after over 20 years in the computer business. But when you’re self-employed and the demand for your product dries up, your income dries up too. Never be conceited, and be wary of all the class warfare that’s going on in America. And how do we accomplish this and other similar things, such as our relationship with Christ? By being “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. Paul then continues on with these closing verses.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written. ‘it is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord’. (Deuteronomy 32:35) On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 17-21)

As far as it is possible, live at peace with everyone. If any of your enemies refuses to act peaceably toward you, avoid them and don’t associate with them. Take it to the Lord in prayer and let God deal with them, and you can be sure that He will. God will deal with your enemies in his good and perfect will according to His perfect timing. That is the way of the Lord, and we are to emulate Him every chance we get. And the peace of God which is beyond all human understanding will be with you all. Let’s start putting these teachings into practice on a daily basis. You will be surprised at how much your quality of life will improve, as well as how many doors of opportunity this will open for you. Living God’s way through Jesus Christ really is the best way to live our lives. Try it and see for yourself, you will be pleased with the outcome. Be sure and return next week for our Biblical teaching series as we move on to chapter 13. Enjoy your day.

What if you just discovered you were adopted? What about if you were a foster child?

We Are All Abraham’s Children

Romans chapter 9

In today’s study we will be tackling part 1 of Romans chapter nine. This chapter is a little bit more lengthy than some, and so I will break it up into 2 halves for the sake of brevity. As we begin today, the apostle Paul is still elaborating on what we now know as the end of chapter eight. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”, wrote Paul at the close of last week’s study. This means all believers and Christ followers are totally ‘bad to the bone’ in their spirits, with unbreakable willpower and strength of mind and spirit. Today we will continue to examine these Scriptures verse by verse in order to better our understanding (mine included, since I learn something new every time I write another one of these). So let’s get started at verse one, shall we?

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoptions as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because of his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary: ‘it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated:’at the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son’. Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’. Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’.” (Romans 9, verses 1-13)

We’ve all had those moments when we knew in our heart of hearts – still others have expressed it to me as “a feeling in their guts” – when we knew when something was either right or wrong, on target or a complete miss, or of simply finding oneself in a situation where they felt leery of the circumstances or the people in them for one reason or another. The feeling of something that is too good to be true is one such example. That is exactly what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit… ”. It is interesting to note here that Paul’s conscience had a direct connection to the Holy Spirit. They were interconnected in such a way that the presence of one element depended on the presence of the other. This is a goal that is worthy of attaining for the sake of our relationship with the Lord, that of unity of mind and Spirit. The more interdependent they are within ourselves, the closer our walk with Christ becomes.

Paul then goes on to lament his own people, the Hebrews of their day, for what they were missing out on as a result of their continued unbelief that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the Son of God. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoptions as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Paul was reciting a litany of his own faith as he wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago. All he has written here is a summary of only a fraction of a part of the Law of Moses as it is documented from the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. The Jews of Paul’s day had Jesus crucified by the Romans. Instead of greeting him as their Savior and “Rabbi”, they had him executed.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because of his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary:… ‘it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” When Paul wrote that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”, he was referring to Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac. Although they were twin brothers, Jacob became one of the patriarchs of Israel while Esau became the patriarch of the Philistines. (For more details on this topic you may refer to the book of Genesis starting around chapter 25.) Paul then expounds on the fact that it is not those who are Jewish by birth who are God’s children, but that it is all people – the entire world or body of believers – who have become Jewish by adoption with Jesus Christ as the head of our households. Only those who worship Jesus in Spirit and in truth will be adopted into the family of God, and all others will be rejected by God because of impure hearts and their clandestine motives.

If we had all of Romans 9 in front of us, we would see that we are at roughly the halfway point for this chapter. Beginning at verse 14, Paul the apostle continues to elaborate on whether God should be considered as just, as opposed to unjust, with respect to his seemingly inconsistent treatment of Jews and Gentiles. For a detailed study of the remainder of Romans chapter 9, watch for this in your inboxes or on your social media of choice. Until then, take care….

Today we start a new series on the Book of Romans

All you regular readers out there have been following for quite a few years now, having started this blog back in 2011. I wish to thank you with all my strength, my mind and my soul, each and every one of you! Since then I have reinvented this Web publication twice to make it more appealing for first-time visitors as well as my thousands of followers. The following is an excerpt from my 2017 book, “The Apostles in Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul” (c) 2017 by rev. Paul J. Bern, all rights reserved To order this or any of my other 4 titles at half price, please visit https://www.amazon.com/author/revpauljbern right away…..

Jews And Non-Jews Are One And The Same

[Romans chapter 1]

Today I will begin a series of studies on the writings of the apostle Paul in the order they appear in the New Testament. Naturally we’ll begin with the book of Romans, since this book elaborates on the apostle Paul’s ministry in great detail (others do as well, but we’ll start with this one because it is the first of Paul’s letters). Bearing that in mind, I will now begin with the first chapter:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the Gospel he promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” . (Romans 1: 1-6)

The first thing that we notice here is the phrase “ …the Gospel he promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David…”. Jesus was in fact a descendant of King David of Jerusalem, the writer of the book of Psalms. Since King David ruled ancient Israel, Jesus was also an Israelite who walked the earth as a Jewish man just as David did. But Paul doesn’t stop there. “Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”. We have received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles! Therefore, we are all apostles like Paul. Paul was a Jewish man educated in the Jewish theological centers of his day. This would be equivalent to modern-day seminaries, and Paul was definitely a Bible scholar. But Paul takes his argument a step further with this next quote.

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written ‘the righteous will live by faith’.” (Romans 1:14-17)

Now let’s compare that with the first quotation from further above. “Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” ‘The obedience that comes from faith’ and “the righteous will live by faith” is the same faith that Paul calls “the salvation of everyone who believes”. Also, please note that Paul uses Greeks and Jews as well as non-Greeks and Gentiles interchangeably. Although this is no big deal to the early 21st century Bible student, this was a radical teaching for Paul’s time since the Jews, Greeks and every other nation still considered themselves to be separate nations for nationalistic as well as religious reasons. The phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” can be taken with a grain of salt since much of the Gospel, including this part, were written by Jewish people.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse… (Furthermore) since they did not think it worthwhile to to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind,to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they follow God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1, verses 18-20; 28-32)

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…”. Translated into 21st century English this would read, ‘The more wicked and evil anyone may harbor in their hearts, the more God will stand against them’. People who are willfully evil, or who are just plain bad individuals for whatever reason (and sometimes for no reason at all), and who do not care whether they hurt anyone or not, aren’t being very smart because they only bring more judgment on themselves. Doing these kinds of things makes an already-miserable life even worse, but there are way too many people who completely miss this. The root cause of this seems to be a hatred of God, or a refusal to even acknowledge His existence, let alone believe in him exclusively as we should.

Paul writes a few lines defining his meaning in the next verse when he wrote, “They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” There it is again from Paul’s perspective. Evil and wicked people simply don’t have any sense, which to me is a nice way of saying someone is incurably stupid. Let’s all be on our guard against this, otherwise Satan may steer our lives in such a direction that we cross paths with one of these “ruthless” characters, all of whom are minions of Satan. Since obviously no one wants to be anywhere near to that, let’s be sure and take an internal inventory of ourselves. If any traces or issues concerning any of the things Paul mentioned is found, the best way to repent of whatever it is that presents a problem is to ask Jesus to take it from you.

Sin can sometimes be like kids getting their hands wet when playing outside in the snow, like I used to do when I was little. One day I put my wet hands on a swing-set I used to play on all those decades ago, and they got stuck. My mom had to come out and get my hands unstuck because I was unable. When we have sin in our lives, sometimes people who have been hanging on to certain behaviors and hang-ups have done so for so long that they can’t let go on their own. But if we only ask Jesus to help us get rid of whatever character flaw, personality defect, inadequacy or addiction by taking it from us, he will make up the difference. So we should voluntarily surrender our sins to Jesus by lifting them up with both hands and saying, “Lord Jesus, please take this from me. I don’t want it anymore, but I can’t seem to get rid of it. So please help me, in your holy name I pray. Amen”.

We can all be sure that He will show up, and always with perfect timing, which can often be at the last minute. But when God does that, it is to show us that He was in charge of our lives, situations and circumstances all along. No matter who we are, or who we know, or how much (or little) we know, or how much money we have, God is still in charge of all of it. Be warned that those who put their faith in any of these other things instead of faith in God is living in a state of idolatry, a clear violation of the first two commandments. To avoid eternal death, which will be the fate of all idolaters, seek Jesus Christ, because he is the only correct way to eternal life. And that’s all I want from him. Ask him and He will do the same for you.


This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 2 of Acts chapter 28

Paul Preaches in Rome Under Guard

Acts chapter 28, verses 17-31

Last week when we left off at verse 16, the apostle Paul, together with the apostle Luke plus some other Christians who were traveling under guard, had shipwrecked in an exceptionally severe storm along with 260 additional souls. It turns out they had landed on the island of Malta, which was approximately 900 nautical miles from Rome, their original destination. Having spent the winter there, they had embarked on the last part of their journey, having arrived in Rome after some stops in several ports on the west coast of what is modern Italy today. Paul and the other Christian believers along with him, combined with a sizable group of onlookers, was about to give their testimony, along with Paul, who by this time had become the unofficial spokesman for the group. So let’s begin this week’s study of part 2 of Acts 28, starting at verse 17.

17) Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: ‘My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ 21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.‘” (Acts 28, verses 17-22)

“He” in verse 17 is Paul the apostle calling a meeting with his accusers just prior to his giving his testimony before Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor of that time. Paul then reiterates his innocence of the charges against him, citing the Roman governor Festus as one one who expressed a willingness to release Paul immediately, as it is written: “18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar…..” And so there he was, standing before his own blood relatives, pleading his case. He finishes by stating that, “20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.

Paul is there to testify on behalf of Christ the Lord and Savior. Moreover, he considered his accusers back in Jerusalem to be unworthy of his testimony, and said as much to the all-Jewish audience he was talking to. “21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’” Owing to the fact that news traveled at a snail’s pace compared to today, many of those present were hearing about the apostle Paul and his testimony for Christ for the first time, just as it’s written: ““We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”

So Paul and his compatriots found themselves confronted with what must have seemed to be a deep mystery to the Jewish leaders who were present. They wanted to know why Christianity – or The Way, as it was known during the days of the early Church – was so controversial and reviled. The answer was, as Paul spelled it out to them that fateful morning, was that pure Christianity posed a major threat to the bases of power by presenting a much better alternative to governing and management. Up until then, these persons in charge were the deity who was also the president, and those he or she appointed to keep things running smoothly. But due in large part to there being only 1 true God, the early Church presented a viable alternative to worship of the king or queen. That part is what his audience had already concluded, and now Paul lets them have the rest of it, starting at verse 23.

23) They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: ‘The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 26) ‘Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ 27) For this people’s hearts has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves. 30) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31) He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!

The apostle Paul, “….witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” So Paul was using examples from what we now call the “Old Testament” as a way to motivate his audience to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. He used something they could relate to as a means of persuasion because he already knew that is what would have worked best. “24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave….

The rest of verses 25 and 26 are of Paul quoting Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9-10. To paraphrase Paul, ‘You have had the Word of the Lord and of the prophets for at least 1,000 years. You have read it and studied it half to death, and you have had it before you for all this time, and yet you still do not see that Jesus Christ was the Son of Almighty God?’ Paul then finishes up with, “28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves”. They were arguing, all right, but there was something even more basic than that.

Many of the Jewish accusers who were there had followed Paul in one way or another so they could refute him at every turn. It’s because they were all guilty by association of being accessories to murder in the crucifixion and death of Christ the Lord. By this time the name of Jesus had surpassed the relatively small following he had attained during the course of his life. By this time, the name of Christ was a name held sacred by untold multitudes of people, easily in the 100,000 plus range at this point, and maybe hundreds of thousands more. In short, Christianity had become – and remains – unstoppable. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God ….with all boldness and without hindrance!”

The Book of Acts, as far as we know, ends right here. At the very least, the above passages are all we have, nor do we possess a sequel of any kind. The book ends with the main character, the apostle Paul, under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trial before the Emperor Nero. It is not known why Paul’s companion Luke, the author of Acts, chose to end the book at this point without revealing the results of the trial. However, there is strong biblical and historical evidence that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had an additional “season” of adventures before his eventual martyrdom. For some additional background about this topic, click here.

Several lines of reasoning support the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First of all, the case against Paul, as described in Acts, was not very strong. When Paul was initially tried before the procurator Felix in Caesarea a few years earlier, three charges had been made (Acts 24:5-6):

  • · Paul had been the cause of riots all over the (Greco-Roman) world.
  • · Paul was the ringleader of a dangerous Jewish sect.
  • · Paul had brought Gentiles closer to the Jerusalem Temple than was permitted, thereby desecrating the Temple (Acts 21:28).

Roman courts tended to show little interest in charges like the second one, figuring that the Jews could best sort out their own sectarian arguments. In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had dismissed similar charges against Paul (see Acts 18:12-16).

The third charge had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, who did not bother to come to Caesarea to make their case (Acts 24:19). There were also no witnesses in Caesarea to support the first charge. Paul was only kept in custody after this trial because Felix hoped to receive a bribe from him (Acts 24:26). When Paul presented his case before Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa observed, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). After Paul arrived in Rome, he found that Jewish leaders there were unfamiliar with this case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one, as yet, had come from Jerusalem to present the accusations against Paul. If the case was not seriously prosecuted, then chances are it would have been dismissed.

This week’s ongoing Bible study series will be part 1 of Acts chapter 28

Ashore on Malta Healing Many, and Onward to Rome

[Acts chapter 28, verses 1-16]

Last week as we concluded our study of Acts 27, we finished off part 3 with the shipwreck described in vivid detail by the apostle Luke. After being blown around by a major storm that lasted 2 full weeks – due to the sailing ship’s lack of mechanical propulsion – the pilot and his crew managed to beach what was left of the ship on the eastern shores of Malta. Malta is situated in the east-central part of the Mediterranean sea, with Sicily to the north, Algeria to the west, Libya to the south, and the island of Crete far off to the east by roughly 1,000 miles or so. So the island of Malta isn’t near much of anything. So much so that the culture there seemed a bit backward and superstitious to Paul, and the other men with him couldn’t help but notice it. With that in mind, let’s plunge right in to the refreshing waters of the apostle Luke’s testimony, starting at verse 1.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2) The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3) Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4) When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’ 5) But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6) The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.” (Acts 28, verses 1-6)

Sometimes in life we are taught things that later turn out to be wrong. Denominational church dogma has a disconcerting habit of repeatedly doing just that (based on my own experiences). Things that we learn from first-hand experience, on the other hand, tend to stick with us for our entire lifetimes. Unless, that is, something or someone comes along and completely upsets our entire way of looking at things. Jesus Christ is such a person as that. Just as the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord is a consuming fire, so the large bonfire that evening consumed the cold night air as a metaphor for the mercy and goodness of the Lord Almighty. The great kindness of the Maltese people lifted the spirits of all 260 people who had been on that ship. Anytime anyone can raise the tired spirits of any group of strangers, and with the absence of organized religion, that’s when you know the Holy Spirit is at work.

Next in verses 3 and 4, we have the little incident with the apostle Paul and the snake that found itself flung into the bonfire. The fact that Paul was unharmed by that venomous snake obviously startled the people of Malta, as it is written: “4) When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’ 5) But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.” There is a God who stands for Justice and Mercy, but his real name is Jesus Christ. OK, so if we tie this into what I said in the previous paragraph about “Sometimes in life we are taught things that later turn out to be wrong”, the suspicion directed at Paul by the Maltese people was one of those instances where this was the case. The apostle Paul demolished the superstitions of the island’s inhabitants once they saw he was unharmed.

The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.” See what I mean? The Maltese people based their initial judgment of Paul on what amounted to folklore by our standards. But folklore by our standards was all they knew, so the whole tribe thought that only an escaped murderer or one who was protected by “the goddess of Justice” could have done what Paul did in the presence of everyone. They were witnessing and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit for the very first time, and there is nothing that compares with the Spirit of the risen Lord. Bearing that in mind, let’s move on to the second part of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 7.

“7) There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8) His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9) When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10) They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.” (Acts 28, verses 7-10) The apostle Paul was very grateful for the shower of hospitality, as were the other 260 or so people who were on board the storm-stricken vessel that we covered in lasts week’s study. So when Paul saw an opportunity to heal someone, he did not hesitate to do so. Many were healed following the first one in the house of Publius, and many sick or handicapped persons were healed on Malta. And now, let’s close this week’s installment beginning at verse 11.

11) After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island – it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12) We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13) From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14) There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15) The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16) When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

The verses from the above passage comprises several consecutive weeks of sailing, with stops at 4 different ports along the way. The first was Syracuse, on the southern tip of Sicily, followed by Rhegium on the southern tip of the Italian boot. Afterwards there were 3 more ports closer together, going up the western coast of Italy towards Rome. The 1st of those three was Puteoli, where Paul and those with him met up with some “brothers” (notice the absence of titles, unlike today’s churches?), many of whom were accompanied by their fellowship of believers. Having spent an entire week there and being rejuvenated by the hospitality of Puteoli’s people, they completed the final leg of their northward journey to Rome days later. “And so we came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”

As you can see, Christianity had developed quite a following by the time this was occurring, which was roughly 15 or maybe 20 years after the Resurrection of Christ the Lord. So much had the Christian faith grown by this time that Paul, who was nearly killed on 3 separate occasions, had nearly achieved near rock star status by the time he reached Rome. For the apostle Paul, it was more than enough validation for all the bad experiences he had endured, including the attempts on his life at the hands of his fellow Jews. He gave thanks out in public for his deliverance from a watery grave, and for the opportunities to heal all those whom he could heal. And now, Paul was on his way to Rome, the final stop on this particular journey. A trial awaited him, that much was certain, but the outcome of it all was anyone’s guess. To find out what happens, please be sure and stop back next week for the final installment of the Apostle Luke Gospel Study Series.