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R. Herbert (a pen name), holds an earned doctorate in biblical studies and ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books.

What "I Can Do All Things..." Really Means

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By GUEST WRITER R HERBERT (see more of his writings at www.TacticalChristianity.org)

I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
 
It’s a verse we all know, a verse that quarterback Tim Tebow inscribed in his eye black, one that has been engraved on thousands of items of jewelry and printed on countless items of Christian merchandising.  But does it mean what most people presume it means? 

For many people this verse (and its slight variant “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” NKJV, etc.) has become a kind of Christian mantra, a spiritual guarantee that whatever we do will succeed if we act in faith. 

The truth is that Philippians 4:13 does not really say or mean anything of the kind. But what it really does say and mean can be infinitely more encouraging.

As with any biblical verse, “context is king.”  To understand what Paul had in mind with these words, we must look at the context in which he wrote them:

“for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).

The context shows us immediately that Paul was not talking about success in doing things, but about success in dealing with things –  the ability to accept and enjoy or endure (whichever is appropriate) whatever life may throw at us. 

The underlying Greek in which Paul wrote Philippians confirms this meaning. The Greek does not literally say “I can do all things” –  the word “do” does not appear in the verse at all. Rather, the words mean “I have strength for all things” –  in other words, “I can survive, deal with, handle, be content with, all things.”


The apostle tells us that he had fully experienced the positive and negative aspects of life –  “every circumstance” –  and he had learned that through the strength God gave him, he could successfully live through them all.
 
This is important.  Paul tells us he could not only survive the bad things with God’s help, but also the good things of life. Why would we need help in surviving the good things?  Simply put, the scriptures show us that both prosperity and poverty can be snares (Proverbs 30:8-9).  Although poverty can leave us bitter and even lead to stealing, prosperity can encourage complacency,  self-reliance and pride.  But Paul’s words show that with God’s help we can meet whatever circumstances we find ourselves in with a right attitude that does not distance us in some way from God.

As such, Philippians 4:13 has nothing to do with being able to accomplish goals or other things we may want to do in life. God certainly can help us with such things if it is his will, but Paul’s point does not relate to that fact.   Far more importantly,  Paul tells us that God can help us succeed in things that are far more vital than physical accomplishments - the things Paul was talking about. That is why the NIV translates this verse:  “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (emphasis added).

Remember, too, that the apostle penned these words from a prison cell near the end of his life – hardly a position of success and accomplishment in physical terms. Nevertheless, Paul had learned that whether he  found himself in a palace or a prison cell, he could be content in the knowledge that God would help him to deal with it.

For Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” was not about performing well or fulfilling goals at the physical level,  but about achieving the things in life that matter the most. Philippians 4:13 is not about what we can accomplish with God’s help, but what God, through his help, can accomplish in us. 

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The Worst kind of Pride

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It is often said that pride –  in the sense of self-elevation rather than what we call being “proud” of other people, such as our children, team, or school, etc. –is the worst of sins because self-oriented pride inevitably leads us to set ourselves up in the place of God. As has been wryly said, we become “self-made men or women who worship their creator.”

Scripture is so clear. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things God especially hates. At the top of the list is “A proud look.”  And Peter tells us God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). God can’t endure him with a haughty look and proud heart (Psalm 101:5).

Pride of this self-elevating type can manifest itself in many ways, but it invariably involves comparison – the way in which prideful individuals compare themselves to others.  The Gospel of Luke gives a clear example of this problem in the parable of the self-righteous Pharisee and the socially despised tax collector:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

There are several not-so-obvious things that we should notice about this parable in relation to pride.  While most Jews only fasted on the yearly Day of Atonement, the Pharisees added to the law of God by fasting before and after every annual festival throughout the year – or even more frequently.  The Pharisee in the parable, however, claims to fast twice each week.  This shows us the level of his pride in that he proclaims that he is even more devout than most of the Pharisees themselves.

But there is another aspect of the Pharisee’s behavior that reflects the nature of comparative pride.  The parable tells us the actual words that the Pharisee prayed – indicating that he “said” these words out loud rather than “thought” them (compare, for example, Luke 12:17).   

Public prayers were made twice each day in the temple – at the times of the morning and afternoon sacrifices.  At those times Jewish temple-goers would assemble in the “Court of the Israelites” directly outside the inner temple.  First the priest would perform the sacrificial offering of the day and then he would enter the inner temple area to offer incense. It was at that point that the Israelites outside would pray, out loud, while the priest made the offering on their behalf (Luke 1:8-10). 

When we realize that the Pharisee’s prayer was not thought, but spoken out loud, we see the deprecating nature of pride at its worst.  By saying “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector…,” the Pharisee publicly shamed the tax collector in order to enhance his own self-exaltation.

The situation described in the parable is a classic example of the way pride, in its worst form, puts down others in order to elevate oneself. 

C.S. Lewis described the phenomenon perfectly: “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”   As a result, the Pharisee prayed but did not see or really communicate with God. That is why, Luke tells us, Jesus taught this parable “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9).

For most of us, pride is not expressed so blatantly or in such an obnoxious manner, but we must always be aware of the human tendency in this direction.   Pride can often be found in even seemingly innocent comparison.  That is why the apostle Paul wrote: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

There are a number of tactics we can utilize to avoid this trap, but Paul himself gives us two that we can all put into use.  First, as the apostle wrote to the Philippians: “in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3), or, as the NKJV translates this verse: “in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  This is the most fundamental deterrent to pride of any type, but especially comparative pride.

Paul gives us another basic principle in his letter to the Galatians. “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4).   In writing this, Paul shows us that it is not wrong to be happy and thankful to have accomplished something or to have made progress toward our goals, as long as that is not done by comparing ourselves to others.  

Ultimately, the worst kind of pride is avoided when our self-concept is based not on how we compare to others, but how we compare to what God calls us to.  That is always a humbling thought and one that leaves no room for the growth of pride at all.

** ***

For more from R. Herbert – his pen name – go to www.tacticalchristianity.org   

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The 80% Principle of Prayer

 

By R. Herbert

Not all prayer is asking for something, but a great deal of it obviously is.  When we do ask, do we pray mainly for our own physical and spiritual needs and concerns?   There is no doubt that it is acceptable to pray for these things – we have Christ’s encouragement to do so – but that is only part of the picture we find in the words of Jesus and in the New Testament as a whole.

Jesus certainly commanded us to pray about our own needs. “Give us this day our daily bread” lies at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:11), but we should never forget that all the petitions in that guide to prayer are for the needs of others – “us” – as well as our own.

Asking in Acts

If we continue in the New Testament and look at the Book of Acts, we find something very interesting. Acts continually speaks of prayer in the Church, but if we set aside the scriptures that simply tell us that the early church members prayed and we look only at verses telling us what the early believers were praying, in most translations we find only 2 verses in that book showing people praying for their own situations and 12 verses showing believers praying for the needs and welfare of others. This means that of the recorded prayers in Acts, some 83% are prayers on behalf of others rather than prayers for the individual who was offering the prayer.

If we have not thought about this topic before, the statistic may seem unexpected. Perhaps we would expect the ratio to be about 50/50 – prayer for others just as much as for ourselves. But the 83% prayer for others we find in Acts is a powerful statement of another way of looking at prayer – and the Book of Acts is not alone in taking this view.

Paul and Prayer

When we look at the writings of the apostle Paul, we find the principle corroborated.   Paul speaks of prayer some 50 times in his epistles. Apart from non-specific examples, when we look at the nature of the prayers Paul mentions we find only three instances of praying for one’s own needs. Seven times Paul speaks of praying generally; but in some 40 of the 50 instances (80%) where he mentions specific things being prayed about, we find him speaking of praying for others or urging people to do likewise. For example, Paul tells us that he and his fellow workers prayed constantly for the spiritual needs of others:

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

And he urged others to continually do the same:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:18-20, etc.).

So the pattern we found in Acts where we are told what people were praying for is repeated in the epistles of Paul where he so frequently tells what we should be praying for. These facts should speak to us. It is not a matter of attempting to establish Christian practice through statistics. It is simply acknowledging that of the prayers recorded and commanded in the New Testament Church the great majority – somewhere around 80% – are prayers for others.  

Applying a Principle

That’s why we can think of this fact as the 80% principle of what we ask for in prayer. It’s an estimated number with no claim to being correct to the third decimal place, but it’s a rounded number with a clear message.   The 80% principle does not mean we should not pray for our own needs – and in some circumstances, of course, our own needs may be urgent and take full precedence in our thoughts. But the 80% principle opens a window for us to see how the early Church saw prayer, how Paul encouraged us to pray; and it gives added meaning to Jesus’ words that we pray for “us” in the plural.

We certainly don’t need to feel constrained to structure our prayers to a certain percentage in a certain way, but if we are growing more and more like the One to whom we are praying, the chances are that our prayers will become increasingly full of the needs of others and reflect our concern for them. If our prayers are growing in that direction and we begin to see the needs of others as usually greater than our own needs, we can trust that God will be pleased with our prayers – perhaps 100% pleased. 

R. Herbert, Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org, TacticalChristianity.org, and FreeChristianEBooks.org.

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Seven Biblical “Firsts”

In this post, we are not talking about historical first events such as the first sacrifice or the first building of a city that is mentioned in the biblical narrative, but the first appearance of terms that play vitally important roles in conveying the teachings of the Bible – words such as faith, hope, love, etc.  We have selected seven of these key concepts; seeing their first occurrences can be instructive as well as interesting. 

FAITH – Finding the first instance of the word “faith” in the Bible is not as simple as it may seem. This is because the Hebrew of the Old Testament has at least six words that can reflect different aspects of the idea.  But many of these words carry meanings such as “faithful” which really means some aspect of loyalty (Genesis 5:22, 24, etc.). When it comes to the concept of faith as “trust,” the first clear instance is found in Genesis 15:6 which tells us “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (emphasis added). Paul quotes this verse in the New Testament and translates it with the Greek word pistis – the same word he uses throughout his writings on faith.

HOPE – The first mention of hope is found in the book of Ruth. In Ruth 1:12 we find Naomi telling her daughters-in-law: “Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me – even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons…”  Here, in hope’s first appearance in scripture we see the very real difference between faith and hope.

LOVE – Arguably the most important single concept in the Bible, the first mention of love in the Bible occurs in Genesis 22 when God tells Abraham: “… Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:3).  Once again, a key biblical concept first appears in the stories about Abraham, in this case a particularly important one. This is not only the first occurrence of the word love in the Bible, it is also the love of a father for his son – a foreshadowing or pre-enactment of the greatest act of sacrificial love the world has known.

JUDGMENT – Although judgment is a quality often associated with the Old Testament in the minds of many, the word “judgment” itself does not appear till relatively late in the biblical narrative. It is only when we get to Exodus 6:6 that we read: “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.”   Judgment here in its first mention, as in so many cases in the Old Testament, is associated with an equal stress on salvation – in this case the physical saving of Israel.

TRUTH – This is one of several key biblical concepts first mentioned specifically in the story of Joseph. Genesis 42:16 records Joseph telling his brothers: “Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!”

MERCY – Like truth, we first find this vital spiritual principle in the story of Joseph. Genesis 43:14 records his father Jacob telling Joseph’s brothers: “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you ...”  This is the original biblical story in which mercy and truth are juxtaposed.

FORGIVENESS – Yet another important biblical term – the last one on our list – is first specifically mentioned in the Joseph story. In Genesis 50:17 we read: “‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father…” The key qualities of mercy and forgiveness were obviously at the core of this story.

Looking at these “first occurrences” of key terms in the biblical narrative, it is especially interesting to notice that two of them – faith and love – first appear in the story of Abraham and three others – truth, mercy and forgiveness – occur in the story of Joseph.  That accounts for five of the seven spiritual qualities that we look at here, and noticing these key “firsts” helps us to realize the importance of these two stories in the development of the Bible’s teachings.  In these two stories alone we find direct examples of spiritual concepts that lie at the very heart of all the Bible contains.  It is not surprising then that the stories of Abraham and Joseph are recognized as perhaps the greatest foreshadowings by individuals in the Old Testament of Jesus Christ –  in whom these qualities would all be perfected. 

R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org.

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The Tax Collector and the High Cost of Love

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously distinguishes between what he called “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” While Bonhoeffer defined cheap grace as requiring nothing from us and being ultimately meaningless, he characterized costly grace, on the other hand, as something that takes something from us, something that hurts, something that costs:  “the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Exactly the same can be said of Christian love.  Love that does not cost us anything ultimately accomplishes little and has little depth.  It is so often only costly love that makes a real difference in the lives of others. There is a wonderful example of this principle in the Gospel of Luke – though it is one that we often read over – in the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:1-9).

By way of back-story to this account, Luke tells us that as Jesus approached Jericho he healed a blind man at which the people praised God (Luke 18:35-42).  As he entered Jericho then, Jesus was a hero – beloved of the city’s inhabitants who had gone out to meet him as he approached.  But in Chapter 19 Luke tells us that Jesus was only passing through the town and that he declined to stay overnight. This doubtless disappointed many citizens, especially as Middle Eastern culture meant that as a teacher of God’s word (to say nothing of the fact that he was regarded as a famous prophet who healed by the power of God), Jesus doubtless would have been offered hospitality and would normally have accepted it. 

But as Jesus left Jericho, a strange scene unfolds.  Zacchaeus, the chief regional tax collector for the Roman occupation, desired to see Jesus and so he ran down the road a little way and climbed up a sycamore tree to get a better view.  The fact that it is mentioned that it was a sycamore tree is interesting as those trees usually have a profuse covering of large leaves and it is very possible that Zacchaeus chose the tree as one from which he could see Jesus as he passed by, but not be seen by crowds that thronged around the Teacher.

As the local tax collector and thus a “collaborator” in the eyes of many, Zacchaeus may well have been the most disliked individual in the city.  Tax collectors often charged far more than the actual Roman tax rates and pocketed the extra cash – as Luke tells us was true in this case (Luke 19:8). So positioning himself in the leafy tree might well have been a conscious and prudent decision on the part of Zacchaeus.  A hated tax collector caught in the swirl of a large crowd could easily come to harm.

Yet Luke tells us that when Jesus drew near to where the collaborator was, he called out and not only greeted the man, but openly stated that he would like to spend the night in his home.  We have to concentrate on this situation to really understand the effect of this behavior on the inhabitants of Jericho.  Not only had the teacher declined the hospitality of "decent" citizens, but now, after indicating he would not stay the night, he changed his mind in order to stay in the home of the most hated man in town. Not only was Zacchaeus hated, but as a tax collector he was “unclean” and anyone who entered his home, ate there, or stayed the night, would automatically also be made unclean.

The reaction of the crowd as recorded by Luke is understandable in these circumstances: “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner’” (Luke 19:7).  Because of his reaching out to Zacchaeus in love Jesus incurred the total displeasure of not just a few, but of “All the people.” The famous prophet and teacher, the beloved healer of one of their own citizens, instantly became an object of local displeasure and perhaps even anger and scorn.

Nevertheless, as Luke shows, the love that Jesus extended to the hated individual was repaid in the man’s true and thorough repentance and his promise to more than restore all of the excess money he had taken from his neighbors (Luke 19:8).  We must remember that Zacchaeus already knew the law of Moses, already knew that it was wrong to cheat and steal.  It was not hearing an exposition of the law that changed the tax collector, but seeing the demonstration of love that Jesus made to him.  Zacchaeus was moved and transformed by that love, but it was not free.  Jesus immediately paid a price for the expression of his love, but he did so knowing full well that the cost of real love is often high.  

R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org.

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The Parables of the Old Testament

When we think of parables it is usually the parables of Jesus that come to mind.  His parables were one of the most characteristic features of his ministry. Yet they are not the first parables to be found in the Bible – parables were an essential part of the religious teaching of ancient Israel.  The book of Hosea tells us, for example, that God: “... spoke to the prophets … and told parables through them” (Hosea 12:10).  If we learn to recognize them, we can actually find this form of teaching throughout many books of the Old Testament; and understanding its nature can help us better understand the parables that Jesus gave. 
 
The key to recognizing true biblical parables in the Old Testament (as opposed to figurative or metaphorical statements, short riddles, or stories with an obvious moral) is that a true biblical parable has two parts. In the first part – called the marshal in Hebrew – a simple story is told for the sake of conveying a deeper truth. But that truth is never obvious in the story itself; it has to be revealed in the second part of the parable – called the nimshal – which provides the “key” to unlocking the parable’s meaning. The two parts of content and intent are only brought together at the conclusion of the narrative – which is why, of course, we read in the New Testament that Jesus often taught in parables and later explained them by providing the nimshal or key to his disciples (Luke 8:9, Mark 4:33-34, etc.).
 
We see this two-part structure in one of the earliest parables of the Old Testament.  The book of Judges records that the young man Jotham told the people of Shechem a detailed story of how the trees of the forest made themselves a king (Judges 9:7-15). When the parable is finished, he explains it by showing how the parts of the story fit their own political circumstances (Judges 9:16-20).
 
We also see the two-part structure in the famous story that the prophet Nathan tells King David about a sinful rich man who took his poor neighbor’s only lamb when he had plenty of lambs himself. When David indignantly states that the evil man deserves death, Nathan provides the nimshal to the parable by simply saying “you are that man” – because David had taken the only wife of his general, Uriah (2 Samuel 12:1-4). 
 
In these cases, the connection between the marshal/content of the parables and their nimshal/ntent is easy to grasp, but sometimes the Old Testament gives parables that would be very difficult to understand without the explaining “key” or the background we are given.  Such is the case with the story of the two fighting brothers that was told to David by the wise widow from Tekoa (2 Samuel 14:1-7). In this story David’s general Joab carefully constructs a parable with a meaning we would not guess unless it is explained – as it is by the wise widow (2 Samuel 14:13-14).
 
When we look for such stories that have to be explained in the course of the narrative in which they appear, we find many parables in the Old Testament.  Parables were especially favored by the Hebrew Prophets and the book of Ezekiel, for example, contains at least nine of them.  Isaiah also uses parables in his teaching, and some of these parables clearly influenced those given by Jesus.  In Isaiah chapter 5 the prophet tells a parable of a vineyard and its bad fruit (Isaiah 5:1-6) which he then explains as being relevant to the nation of Israel (vs. 7).   Although Jesus altered the details slightly in his parables found in Matthew 21:33–44 and Luke 13:6–9, the stories are recognizably similar, and their message is identical. 
 
Jesus often framed his own parables on both parable and non-parable stories found in the Old Testament.  His parable of the Good Samaritan is an example of this and appears to be based on a section of 2 Chronicles which tells of the kindness given to Judean captives by men of Samaria who:
“… clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria” (2 Chronicles 28:15).
 
In this simple narrative, Jesus found the basis for one of the most profound of his parables, the lessons of which are far-reaching and apply in every age. But the greatest reliance of Christ’s parables on the Old Testament is found not in their use of Old Testament story plots, but in their use of imagery applied to God.  Old Testament parables show God as a king, a father, a husband, and in other key ways.   Of the somewhat more than forty parables of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, at least twenty metaphorically refer to him by means of the same imagery used of God in Old Testament parables and stories.  This self-portrayal with imagery used of God is unique to the parables of Jesus and ties directly to his teachings of his own messianic role. 
 
So the parables of the Old Testament are important not only in their own right, in the stories in which they are found, but also in forming the basis for some of Jesus’ own parables, as well as providing images for his parables that Jewish hearers would associate with God when they understood the parables’ nimshal key or intent.  But although there are numerous well-crafted parables in the Old Testament, there is no doubt that Jesus perfected the art of parable-telling and brought to the form a subtlety and spiritual depth that had not been seen before.
 
R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books.  
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Does God Create Evil?

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV).

In the King James version of the Bible quoted above, this verse from the Book of Isaiah is one that has puzzled countless people over the centuries since that translation was made.  If God is good, we might naturally ask, how can he create evil?  But three lines of evidence show that the KJV translation is not accurate in this instance and must be revised in order to properly understand what Isaiah wrote.  We will look at the three factors individually.

First, the Hebrew word ra translated “evil” in the KJV of Isaiah 45:7 can mean moral evil, and it is often rightly translated that way in the Old Testament; but the word also has the meanings of physical adversity, calamity, disaster, injury, ruin, or even misery.  So while evil is a possible translation in Isaiah 45:7, it is only one of many and we must look at the immediate context of the scripture and the context of the whole Bible to see which meaning would be most appropriate in this verse.

Second, the immediate context of Isaiah 45:7 indicates that Isaiah did not have moral evil in mind when he composed this verse. Chapter 45 has a clear context in which God says he rewards obedience (for example, vss. 8, 17) and punishes disobedience, rebellion and sin (for example, vss. 9, 16). This immediate context makes it far more likely that Isaiah 45:7 is using the Hebrew word ra in the sense of calamity or disaster that comes upon the wicked as a result of their own actions. We can see this in the exact wording of the verse –  notice how “light and darkness” (two direct opposites) are compared with “peace and evil.” But evil is not the opposite of peace – this second pair of words should clearly be “peace and calamity.”

Finally, everything we are told throughout the Bible about the goodness and righteousness of God indicates that God does not himself create that which is wrong or morally evil.  The prophet Habakkuk tells us of God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13); the Psalms tell us: “The LORD is upright…there is no wickedness in him” (Psalm 92:15); Isaiah himself tells us that “Those who walk righteously … shut their eyes against contemplating evil” (Isaiah 33:15).  These and a great many other biblical verses show that God clearly does not and cannot contemplate evil.

The fact that the Hebrew word translated “evil” has many other meanings, the fact that the immediate context of Isaiah 45:7 is one of the calamities of punishment for sin rather than the creation of moral evil, and the fact that the Bible is consistent in showing that God does not even look at evil all indicate that it is not moral evil that God creates, but the punishment that comes as a result of sin. 

That is why English translations made since the King James was translated in 1611 have almost all chosen to translate the Hebrew ra not as “evil” but with a word reflecting some kind of punishment. The New International Version, for example, translates the word “disaster,” as does the Holman Bible. The English Standard Version translates it “calamity,” as does the New King  James Version which brings the English of the King James Version up to date.  God does not ever directly create evil, though he creates beings that may of their own will turn to evil and bring punishment upon themselves.

R. Herbert (a pen name), holds an earned doctorate in biblical studies and ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books.

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THE VERSE WE ALL KNOW, YET DON’T

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 


John 3 16For many Christians John 3:16 is their best known and most loved verse in the Bible. It has been called the “golden verse” of Scripture, one of the Bible’s most succinct summaries of the gospel, and the ultimate single-verse summary of God’s plan for humanity.   But many do not realize just how much meaning is packed into this one short verse –  its very familiarity often obscures its richness –  and it can be profitable to look at each part of the verse more closely:

“For…”The word “For” with which this verse begins points back to John’s previous statement that: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15). This refers, of course, to the bronze image of a serpent that God instructed Moses to place on a high pole for the healing of the Israelites who acknowledged their sin in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). In that story, everyone who “looked at” the serpent was granted life, and in John’s Gospel we see Christ made it clear that in the same way whoever “believes” on him is granted eternal life (John 3:16).  Looking and believing are equal in these accounts of the same story –  faith is “looking” without the eyes, or beyond what the physical eyes see, to a reality that saves (see our article “Seeing Is Believing: The Serpent on the Stake”here).  That is the background to John 3:16 – that our belief is not just the acceptance of an abstract idea about God and what he has done, but an active looking to the Person who is salvation .

“God so loved…”We should also realize that when this verse tells us that God “so” loved the world, it does not mean God loved the world “so much.”  Instead, the Greek in which the verse was written clearly means God loved the world “in this way.” In other words, “God loved the world in this way – he gave his only son …” It’s an important difference.  The Old Testament often stresses God’s love (Isaiah 63:9; Hosea 11:1-4, etc.), but John 3:16 shows the way in which that love was expressed.

“the world…”The Greek word translated “world” is kosmoswhich can mean not just the physical world or universe, but also –  as in this case –  all the inhabitants of the world. Rather than just telling us that God loved people in general, “the world” emphasizes the all-inclusive and universal love that God displayed – love of everyone without exception.

“that he gave…”Giving is, of course, characteristic of the nature of God –  it is one of the things that most clearly defines him –  and the gift of his son is his greatest gift, eclipsing all others (Romans 8:32).  The gift was foreshadowed in the prophets, as Isaiah wrote: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6).  

“his one and only son...”In this phrase John stresses that God’s love extended to giving his “one and only" son – a sacrifice that reminds us of the story of Abraham’s willingness to give up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17).  Here the expression marks the unique nature of the gift that God was willing to give (1 John 4:9).

“that whoever believes on him…”The word “whoever” signifies “everyone” and stresses again the universal nature of God’s gift and its availability to anyone who will accept it. John reiterates this truth a little later in the same chapter: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life …” (John 3:36).  Unseen in our English translations is the fact that the word “believes” is a “present participle” in the Greek of the New Testament – a verbal form that stresses continuity of action. The required belief is not just associated with a one-time emotional occurrence – it is ongoing, and it only those who continue to  believe who receive the gift (Matthew 24:13).

 “shall not perish but have eternal life.” Here we see as much stress on God’s desire that we do not perish (2 Peter 3:9) as on his desire to grant us life. The specific words “eternal life” are typical of the teaching of the apostle John, who uses them more than twice as many times as all the other Gospel writers combined. John here uses the expression in the present tense to stress that the life God offers us is not just life that we “shall” have at some future time, but spiritual life that begins now, in the present, and continues eternally from now.

The total message of this great verse is echoed by John in his first epistle: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). But it is only in John 3:16, the verse we all know but do not always appreciate to the full, that the great message is so clearly and thoroughly explained.

R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books.

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Are You an Imitation?

 

Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.”
― George Bernard Shaw

imitationThe word “imitation” often has a negative connotation – we can think of imitation designer clothes that don’t look as good as the real items, imitation coffee or milk that doesn’t taste as good as the real thing, and many other examples.  Usually, the imitation is just not as good as the thing imitated – the real thing.

But there is one type of imitation that is perfectly acceptable - in fact desirable:  when God himself is involved in the process of imitation.  The first chapter of Genesis clearly tells us that God made an imitation when he made the first human.  “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them…” (Genesis 1:26-27).  And, of course, when God had done this,  God looked at the imitation he had made and “God saw… it was very good” (vs. 31).

Naturally, the imitation God made of himself was not endowed with the power, wisdom, goodness and countless other qualities that God has, but it had a small measure of these qualities – just enough to show the family likeness – and  it was good, but it wasn’t as like the original as might be possible.

In most cases, if you have an imitation of something, that’s what you are stuck with.  It’s always going to be a kind of second-class item.  But the interesting thing about the imitation that God made is that it was upgradable.  God made the imitation of himself with the ability for countless ongoing upgrades – with the potential to make the imitation ever more like the original.  In one sense, that’s what life is – or should be – all about: taking the opportunity to fulfill that potential.

So this kind of imitation is not wrong – or in any way second class.  It’s something we should all be doing in our lives – seeking to be a better imitation of God.  You may not have thought about it this way, but that was what Jesus himself was doing, on a daily basis, during His physical life.  Notice what he said in this regard: “… the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).   Jesus plainly says that even though he was the Son of God, his focus was on imitating God.  He knew the Father and constantly imitated him in his actions and thoughts.

How do we do this?  Although we do not have the unique knowledge of God that Jesus had, fortunately, God has made available clear templates and instructions for us to follow to continuously “upgrade” ourselves to become increasingly better imitations.

First, we can imitate the original by getting to know God better through in-depth study of his word, not just in looking to see what it says, but looking to see what it says about him.  It’s a different approach when we don’t just read the story, but read the story like we would read the instructions for updating the software on our computers – carefully, and focusing on what the words are showing us that we should do to successfully make the upgrade.

Second, we can imitate good copies.  God has given us the examples of his trained and trusted servants who closely imitate him. This is why the apostle Paul repeatedly stresses that we need to look at his example and that of others to the extent that they imitate Christ.  Look at these instances of what Paul says about this: 

“Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus …”  (1 Corinthians 4:16).

“We did this… in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).

These words of Paul dovetail with those found in the Book of Hebrews:

 “… imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12).

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

Third, we can pray specifically for help in becoming a better imitation.   Notice in Philippians Paul tells us something about imitating. He says we should “… have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), and after discussing this he then goes on to say “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (vs. 12).  If we are praying for God’s will in our lives, we should be getting his help to better imitate him and those he has changed – and we can pray for this specifically.

We need to remember that humans are actually programmed to imitate. That’s how we learn language, social skills, and countless other things.  It’s in our natures to imitate, and God put that there for a reason.  As a result, we must be careful, as John says, that we “do not imitate what is evil, but what is good” (3 John 1:11a).  If we are diligently studying, watching and praying to better imitate the model we have been given, God will continue his work in us and our spiritual imitation of his nature will truly be “very good.”

 

R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books. 

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When We Doubt

By R. Herbert

 

Sometimes, as Christians, we need to remind ourselves that it is human to doubt.  When we occasionally wonder if we are sure about some point of our faith – or even in extreme cases, about our faith itself – we may get caught up in concern about our doubts as much as in the doubt itself and effectively double our problems!

God’s word has something to say about this.  It is clear that “untreated” doubts can erode our relationship with God, but a doubt is essentially no different from any other human weakness to be faced and worked on.  We need to remind ourselves that the disciples often doubted (Luke 24:38) –  even after Jesus’ resurrection: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17).   The interesting thing is that in all these cases Christ gently asked his doubting disciples “Why do you doubt?”  but never condemned them for it. Rather he encouraged them to overcome their doubts.  

The fact is, we all have doubts about many things in life and do not usually feel badly about that – only when our doubts come within the realm of our faith do we tend to feel that we are failing because of them.  In his classic book Know Doubt John Ortberg  shows that doubt is actually a necessary part of growth. Our doubts are often based on lack of information and can prompt us to search for truth –  in the long run actually strengthening our convictions.

We can still trust despite our doubts, and God wants us to learn to trust him even when we may doubt the details. The Bible shows clearly that God can often continue to work with us despite our doubts. He did it with Peter  (Matthew 14:22-33) and He can do it with us.  God’s word expressly tells us to “Have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 1:22), and He does not deal with us any differently.

So how do we deal with the doubts that we get?  First, we ask God to help us in that specific area. One of the best examples of this is the way  in which the doubting father pleaded for help with his doubts and was rewarded by Christ.  The father’s cry of “Help my unbelief” can be ours, and we can ask for help in exactly the same way.   In times of doubt it’s easy to make things more complicated for ourselves, however. We can tell ourselves that the doubting father was unconverted and did not fully know the truth – that we who know more should do better.  Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the Bible itself, in the account of John the Baptist.

While John was imprisoned and facing execution, he sent to Jesus to ask him if he really was the promised Messiah  (Matthew 11).  Rather than chastise John for his doubt, Jesus pointed to the miracles and signs that he was doing and thus to the answer to John’s doubt.  But the important part of this story that we must not miss is that it was at that exact point in time – just as John had admitted his doubt – that Jesus told his disciples: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).  It was at precisely the moment of John’s greatest doubt that Jesus called him the greatest among men. Clearly, God knows it is human to doubt and is willing and desirous to point us to the answers to our doubts.  But like John, we must ask Him.

R. Herbert (a pen name), writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books.  

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Should We Pray to Jesus?

Jesus began the model prayer he gave his disciples (Matthew 6:9–13), with the words “Our Father…” and some Christians feel this is a clear teaching that we should pray only to God the Father.  This understanding does not doubt the divinity of Christ as the Son of God, but sees him as our intermediary or authority for prayer (Ephesians 2:18) which, it is presumed, should be addressed only to the Father himself. But the New Testament does not contain any prohibition against prayer to Jesus, and we should look carefully at what it does show.

The Teaching of Jesus

First, we should remember that the Lord’s Prayer is doubtless primarily a guide to prayer and not a prayer to be followed verbatim. For example, there is no thanksgiving mentioned within the prayer outline, though we know that giving thanks is an important part of prayer often stressed in the Bible (Ps. 100:4),  by Jesus (Matthew 11:25) and by his apostles (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18). In the same way, the Lord’s Prayer does not include the words “in Jesus’ Name,” though we know from other scriptures they are right and proper to include in prayer. So the prayer outline need not be seen as limiting or exclusive. It was natural that Jesus himself prayed to the Father, and taught his disciples to do so, but that fact does not tell us whether prayer to Jesus is, or is not, acceptable.

We must also remember that Jesus received and accepted divine prerogatives such as worship and prayer during his lifetime (Matthew 2:11, 8:2, 14:33, 28:9, etc.).  He specifically said we should honor him as we honor the Father (John 5:23), and he instructed his disciples not only to petition the Father in his name (John 15:16), but also said: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

The Example of Stephen

There are numerous apparent examples of prayers to Jesus in the words and writings of the apostles (Acts 1:24, James 1: 5-7,  etc.), and one of the clearest examples of such prayer is found in the words of  Stephen at his martyrdom. The Book of Acts tells us that “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60).  This verse not only records the prayer Stephen made to Jesus, but makes it explicit that it was a prayer and not a “statement” or any other form of speech, as is sometimes claimed.  Stephen’s prayer is certainly not criticized by Luke – his direct prayer to Jesus as Lord is recorded as the final righteous act of a righteous servant of God.

The Writings of Paul

In writing to the church at Corinth the apostle Paul spoke of  “… those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:1–2), indicating that at least on occasion these Christians prayed directly to Christ.

Paul also gives us an example of his own prayers to Jesus in saying he “besought the Lord” to remove his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8). Not only does the title “Lord” usually signify Jesus in Paul’s writings, but also he specifically tells us that it was Jesus who replied to this prayer: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In some of his epistles Paul offers prayers for those to whom he is writing which specifically ask the blessing of both the Father and the Son on his readers (1 Thessalonians 3:11–14, 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17, etc.), and we find other glimpses of this same approach of addressing Jesus as well as the Father.   To the Ephesians Paul wrote that believers should speak “… to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). It would surely be futile to suggest that we can sing praises to Jesus, but are not to address him in other ways. 

In 1 Corinthians 16:22 Paul ends the verse with two Aramaic words that are almost certainly a simple prayer to Jesus: “Come Lord.”  This is the wording followed by virtually all modern translations (NIV, ESV, HCSB, NKJ, NRSV, NAB, etc.).

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A DIRECT PRIVATE LINE

R. Herbert

I was never in business, so the ways of the business world are often news to me. Take, for example, when I found out that some businesses have a direct private line to the CEO that is made available to the most important clients.

Not to the rest of us, of course. We have to go through the recording with a raft of choices only to hear “There are twelve people ahead of you” then perhaps eventually be transferred a couple of times and perhaps put on hold for several minutes before we finally get an answering machine. All this to call companies with only a few thousand callers. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had to reach our Heavenly Father by phone? “There are four million, three hundred and twenty-five thousand, seven hundred and fifty-six callers ahead of you.”

12866922 Private LineThe truth is we all have a direct private line that is always there. It’s humbling to think that we are each, individually, important enough to Him to have a direct line to the CEO of the universe. We don’t have to wait on hold in order to get through eventually – the line we are given is direct and instant. At any time. There isn’t even a weekend plan where we have to wait to call because we are low on minutes. It’s really a wonderful thing that we so often take for granted. No downed or bad lines, no poor satellite signal, no answering machine or dropped calls – ever. We can actually reach our heavenly CEO faster than we can get through to our doctor’s office or the manager of the local grocery store. Have you ever given thanks for that?

The fact that we have direct access to our Heavenly Father is truly a great gift – and it is sad that many do not understand that the access is there, but believe they can only call on God through various intercessors. Jesus’ words are clear on this, however, that although we ask in His name (John 16:23) and are only able to approach through His sacrifice (John 14:6), we do not need any intercessor, but may pray directly to the Father (John 16:26, Matthew 6:9).

Another thing to remember is that our calls are always answered. Although we talk about answered prayer and unanswered prayer, I find it helps to remember that prayer is like a phone call that’s always answered. God is always there and the “phone” is always on. He may not give us what we ask for, or as quickly as we ask for it, for our own good, but we should remember the sincerely made call is always answered (Psalms 86:7, Jeremiah 33:3). Something else for which we should be constantly thankful.

There’s only one catch to the direct private line package, and it’s a relatively small one. We have to use it regularly for maximum effectiveness. It’s not like that legendary “hotline” between the leaders of the US and the old Soviet Union – there to be used if circumstances become desperate enough that it is needed. Remember Paul shows we should pray in all things. But it’s not hard to do. In fact, we don’t even need a reason to call. God is always desirous to hear from us and happy to take our call. So if you haven’t done that recently, why not make the call and give thanks for your direct private line!

R. Herbert (a pen name) served as an ordained minister and church pastor for a number of years. He holds a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern and Biblical studies and writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org.

 

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HEALTHY INCOMPATIBILITY

R. Herbert

Recent statistics suggest that as many as 40% to 50% of marriages in some developed countries end in divorce. The divorce statistics for second and third marriages are even higher (practice evidently does not improve performance), and these sad statistics underline the even more unfortunate truth that many of these divorces were undoubtedly preventable.


While some marriage splits are, of course, the result of adultery, drugs, alcohol, spousal abuse and other problems, the great majority of divorces claim “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for dissolution of the marriage bond.  This is where the aspect of preventability enters into the picture. “Irreconcilable differences” is really just an expensive way of saying “incompatibility,” and at the heart of many divorces – and of problem marriages which somehow stay together – it is incompatibility that is so often cited as the underlying problem.

Now in most all cases where incompatibility is cited as an issue, it was not present at the beginning of the relationship (we doubt many couples who always considered themselves incompatible get married) – it is something the marriage partners feel “happened” as time progressed.  But the truth is, incompatibility between a man and a woman usually never just “happens” – it is present, under the surface, all the time.  It is simply that marriages begin to falter when couples begin to focus on their incompatibility.  A century ago, in his bookWhat’s Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton put it this way:

“I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.”

These may be among the wisest words ever written on marriage problems.  They are based on the undeniable fact that most marriages occur because “opposites attract.”  But when  marriage begins we are focusing on the “attract.” As marriages progress, if we are not careful, the focus switches to looking at, and dwelling on, the “opposites.”  Our point of view shifts and we begin to see our relationship differently – and as we do, the problems develop.

Simple as it may sound, the quality of every marriage, and every day within every marriage,  depends on how we look at our partner. We must remember it is not that beneath the attraction there are differences we must somehow try to suppress, but that the differences between us are so often the root and cause of the attraction itself –  and we mean not just the sexual aspect, but the full range of psychological, spiritual and physical attraction.

A happy marriage is, then, always one of managed incompatibility. We can certainly do what we can to make it easier for our mates to deal with our differences where they are problematic (Romans 14:19 – “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”), but each mate must concentrate on how he or she sees the other – we must continue to look at the attractive things about him or her.  There is perhaps no more helpful scripture on this fact than the words of the apostle Paul:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

We render this wonderful advice useless by consigning it to nice thoughts about pleasant ethereal things.  But this approach is a potent marriage problem solver.  If we apply these words  in the sphere of our relationship with our mate  – in constantly looking for, affirming, complimenting the good things we appreciate about each other on every level – the matter of incompatibility usually becomes increasingly a non-issue.  

Incompatibility is not the destroyer of marriage; it is the healthy tension that forms the basis of meaningful marriage relationships. The more we begin to see each other in a positive way and keep our focus there, the more we see attraction and the less we see opposites.  In fact, we become more and more able to celebrate our incompatibility – and good things happen when we do.  In the words of Genesis: “He created them male and female and blessed them….” (Genesis 5:2). We see God blessed the marriage relationships not generically as unisex, unithought, uniform pairs of mankind, but blessed us as male and female – blessed us in our differences.  

COMMENT from Philip  Shields, host of this website:

I couldn’t agree more. Please allow me to comment.  My wife and I couldn’t be two more different people. I married my exact opposite. And so have many of you. This caused for many opportunities of seeing incompatibility, but it took us a long time to realize, as R Herbert explains, that this could be healthy.  I also realize there truly are cases where couples are in a dangerous and toxic relationship – and I don’t refer to those – but even then, see what the Spirit can do before bolting from the marriage.  

I have the highest respect for R. Herbert and have known him for decades. I believe too many marriages “give up” too soon when they hit the turbulent waters caused by two rivers (lives) coming together.  Work through those incompatible turbulent times and smooth waters lie ahead when the 2 rivers value what each brings to the flow. 

If my wife and I, married almost 42 years now, left every time we had a huge disagreement (OK – a fight) – of which there have been many – we’d have divorced long ago. But instead, we pray over our marriage, and we realize each brings qualities to the marriage the other does not have. If my wife was exactly like me in all perspectives and thoughts, why would I need her?  And if I was exactly like her, why would she need me? It’s when we both grew up enough to VALUE the other’s viewpoint and request it, and when we learned to apologize more quickly and express our undying commitment to the marriage – that we grew in our marriage.  I have given my wife cause to leave, but she felt she could trust the Holy Spirit to convict me and change me and that is what she saw happening, so we worked things out. Praise our King and God in heaven.  Healthy incompatibility.  I like it. It’s all in how you look at what you have in front of you.  Thank you, R Herbert, for letting the Spirit of God speak through your pen. It’s worth a second reading, and a third. 

R. Herbert (a pen name) served as an ordained minister and church pastor for a number of years. He holds a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern and Biblical studies and writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org.  

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THE WAR PRIEST

Although many Christians have never heard of the biblical “War Priest,” a study of the concept is worthwhile as it can help us more fully understand the roles of the One who became the promised Messiah.  In the Bible, this role is only mentioned once specifically, and then only briefly, in Deuteronomy 20:1-3:

“When you go to war against your enemies … do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them.”

It is easy to assume, reading these verses, that “the priest” is the High Priest who officiated in the Tabernacle or Temple, but Jewish commentary and tradition as found recorded in the tractates of the Talmud unanimously state that this priest was, in fact, a “Second High Priest” who was called the “Priest Anointed for War”  (Tractate Sotah 8:1). Deuteronomy itself gives us little information, but it would appear that the priest was someone who would have been present with the army, as the text does not say the priest “shall come and address the army” but that he would “come forward” – the Hebrew signifying coming from among the army rather than to it.  This would perhaps indicate, as tradition affirms, that before battles the War Priest was responsible for preparing the warriors, making sure they were fit for battle and rejecting any he felt were unfit for the fight.

Bringing together what information we can from Jewish tradition, we find that this priest was apparently specially anointed for his position and role. According to the Talmud, the High Priest serving in the Temple was of the highest rank, but the role of the War Priest was of greater significance than that of the “Deputy High Priest” (Tractate Nazir 47b) – hence the naming of the War Priest as the “Second High Priest.”

The first War Priest mentioned in the Old Testament was apparently Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (Exodus 6:25), who personally executed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman for their immorality and so ended a plague sent to punish the Israelites for their sin in regard to prohibited relations with Midian (Numbers 25:1-9).  Phinehas served as War Priest according to the Talmud (Tractate Sotah 43a), as we see in Numbers 31:6:  “Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.” His role as War Priest is made even more explicit in the later Jewish commentary Midrash Rabbah which states of Elisheba the wife of Aaron (Exodus 6:23) that  “… her husband was High Priest, her two sons were both Deputy High Priests, Phinehas her grandson was a Priest Anointed for War.”

As an anointed priest, the War Priest was a type of “messiah” (anointed), and elsewhere in Midrash Rabbah the War Priest is called the “War Messiah.” In fact, the Midrash contains an interesting tradition that the “four craftsmen” of Zechariah 1:20 were to be equated with Elijah, the Messiah, Melchizedek, and the War Messiah (Midrash Rabbah - Song of Songs 2:8-13).   This is interesting because in the New Testament, Elijah and Melchizedek are both clearly linked to the Messiah, and the inclusion of the War Messiah in the same group leads us to consider that individual in terms of one of the messianic roles of Christ. 

For the most part, the New Testament stresses the priestly role of Christ as an atoning one parallel to the work of the Temple High Priest – as in the detailed analogy given in the Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 5, 7-10), of course.  But although it does not draw the comparison directly, the New Testament also shows Christ fulfilling a separate priestly role – more like that of the War Priest – at his return.  Usually we think of the Messiah’s return as being that of a king, which it is, of course, yet the language of the Book of Revelation:  “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war” (Revelation 19:11) is largely reflective of scriptures such as Isaiah 59:17 where:  “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance, and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak” – in which the comparison is often not primarily one of kingship, but of judgment and war.

Ultimately, the concept of the War Priest and the symbolic linking of his role to the Messiah are post-biblical and speculative.  Yet some of the traditions seem to be ancient ones.  Judas Maccabaeus, who led the Jewish Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire (167–160 BCE), is said to have done what the War Priest was to do (1 Maccabees 3:56), and it is interesting that of all the priests, only the High Priest and the War Priest are said to have been personally anointed – and thus could be said to be parallels of the Anointed One, the promised Messiah.  

While every King, High Priest and “Priest Anointed for War" was individually anointed, according to Exodus the sons of Aaron, representing the whole group of regular priests, only received a semi-anointing or sprinkling (nazah) after the service of consecration (Exodus 29:21). This “sprinkling” was apparently not repeated and is said to have been for the group for posterity (Exodus 40:15 – where the forms of the word mashaḥ mean only that the priests received oil and do not confirm the manner in which it was applied).  Interestingly, this kind of situation was found in other nations of the ancient Near East and is seen in the Amarna Letters (51:4–9), where an individual proclaims his authority based on his grandfather's anointing.

But whether tradition is correct in claiming a distinct office for the “War Priest” or not,  it is clear that while the  Messiah fulfilled the role of the Temple High Priest at His first coming, at His second coming His preeminent role will be not one of atonement, but of war. In that sense, the second coming of the Messiah will certainly be parallel to the role understood to have been that of the priest called the “War Messiah,” the “Priest Anointed for War.”

R. Herbert (a pen name) holds a Ph.D. in biblical and ancient Near Eastern languages, archaeology, and culture.  He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can find many of his other articles and free eBooks.

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NOT RUSHING TO ANGER

By R. Herbert

Intro by P Shields/Light on the Rock: This blog by R. Herbert is thoughtful. Besides the excellent main point it makes, it also makes the implied point that we should be more careful in our reading of scripture. There is so much more going on in the scriptures than we often see at first glance. I’ve never heard or read anyone else make the point he makes in this blog.

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All the Gospels tell the story of Jesus casting the money changers and animal sellers from the temple. It’s a powerful story. When He found people keeping animals in the temple and making profit in various ways He overturned the tables of those who changed the common Greek and Roman money for Jewish coins (which were acceptable for temple offerings) and used a whip to drive out the animals and birds being sold there (for sacrifices), saying: “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16).

The picture painted in the Gospels is clearly one of Jesus displaying righteous anger at the way in which the temple was being polluted and commercially used, and at least one modern portrayal of the story depicts Jesus as seeing the selling and essentially flying into a sudden and furious rage. It may be easy to imagine it that way, but the Gospels actually show that nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the Messiah’s purposes in living out a human life was to provide a role model for us. How Jesus dealt with this difficult situation shows us how we should act under the same circumstances - a situation in which it would be all too natural to become instantly angry and to begin to lash out to act on that anger.   So how did the Son of God deal with this provocation to “righteous anger”? We find the answer in the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple is particularly interesting in that it gives us extra information which shows that Jesus certainly did not just act with natural, impulsive anger, but with a controlled anger based on calm prior thought.  

*Read more to see how Jesus really dealt with this anger arousing situation ….

Alone of the Gospels, Mark adds a fascinating detail to the temple cleansing narrative. After his humble but triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Mark tells us that “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11). Then Mark continues, “The next day … On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there” (Mark 11:12-15). It is clear from Mark’s addition that Jesus must have already seen the sellers and money changers in the temple courts, but He chose to return to Bethany for the night – doubtless thinking about what he had seen – before returning the following day to cleanse the temple.

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