“Like All the Nations…”

Just as Samuel was heartbroken when Israel demanded a king (1 Sam. 8:5ff), so the Lord must also be heartbroken that so many of His people today look so much like the world. It’s human nature to want to fit in, to be accepted. I believe that the desire to be like the world around us has led to several potential pitfalls in our Christian lives these days. Let’s examine a few of these pitfalls that lead to worldliness:

Disregarding the Word — “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). When we want to be like the world, it becomes much more difficult to meditate on the words of God (Psalm 1:1-4). A wise but worldly Solomon married foreign wives who, “turned his heart away” (1 Kings 11:4-5). Likewise, our desire to “fit in” may well be the water that extinguishes the fire of God’s word within us (Jer. 20:9; 1 Cor. 15:33).

Exalting People — “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). We ought to beware of thinking too much of people, whether they be celebrities, family members, or even fellow Christians. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and neither should we be.

Grumbling and Complaining — “Now the people complained, and it displeased the Lord” (Num. 11:1). It’s always much easier to criticize than to find solutions to problems, and legion are those who will help complain. We are too much like the world when we disregard God’s goodness and complain against Him and His people (Ps. 107:8).

Personal Laziness — “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways, and be wise!” (Prov. 6:6). The world tells us that if we don’t enjoy our lives and careers, that we should just work halfheartedly. God’s word, on the other hand, says that Christians ought to work, “sincerely,” and, “with goodwill, as to the Lord and not to men” (Eph. 6:5-8). What kind of work habits do you have? Your work says something about your heart!

Discontentedness — “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). We are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us that we should not be content with the myriad toys and gadgets we have. In fact, the buzzwords of our time seem to be “more” and “better.” We are like the world when we cannot say with Paul, “I have learned whatever state I am in, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11).

Lack of Eternal Insight — “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Jesus rebuked the world by telling us all that we are thinking short-term. He teaches us that we ought to be more concerned about eternity than we are about our daily provisions (Matt. 6:33-34). We are like the world when we blindly pursue things that will one day be burned up (1 Peter 3:10-11), and give little thought to eternity!

Fence Riding — “How long will you halt between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21). Our culture has become very adept at being “tolerant.” We dare not hold any view or opinion too strongly, lest we offend some group of people. While we ought always to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), shouldn’t the world know where we stand on issues of morality and godliness (Jude 3)? We are like the world when we try to be too friendly with those who are lost and dying in sin (James 4:4). Let there always be a distinction between righteous living and the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11)! — JB

The Need for Self-Examination

We are often too easily deceived regarding our own sins. For some reason, we don’t tend to believe we’re the ones the Bible is talking about when it says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It’s relatively easy to study the Bible or listen to a class and think, “so-and-so needs to hear this!” But how much harder it is to allow God’s word to rebuke and change us in our sins! God tells us to continually, “examine ourselves whether we be in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). What kinds of attitudes can help us to truly examine ourselves? How can we more easily recognize and let God help us deal with our sins?

Pray risky prayers — The Psalmist sincerely wanted to examine himself, so he prayed to God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Talk about risky prayers! The person who prays like this had better be ready to deal with sin, because God will most certainly help us see what is lacking (cf. 1 John 5:14-15). We need to be able to honestly and frankly talk to God about our sin. We also need to be able to ask God to help us see our sin! When we have offended Him, there is no Biblical way to sugar-coat our behavior (Isa. 59:1-2). Risky prayers like the one the Psalmist prayed help us to look honestly at ourselves, and God answers prayers like that!

Stand next to Jesus — Many times we do not see our sin because we are in the process of pointing sin out to others. “Why do you look at the speck in your neighbor’s eye, and do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). When we carry around a harsh, critical, and fault-finding attitude, we will never see ourselves as we truly are. Why? Because when we find fault with another, we automatically begin to compare ourselves to that person. The only comparison that really matters, however, is how we measure up to Jesus (cf. Gal. 2:20). Friends, when we compare ourselves to the sinless Son of God, we will never measure up. When we stand next to Him, we will always be able to clearly see our faults (cf. Matt. 5:3). What a blessing to be able to see His righteousness! What a blessing to see our own brokenness!

Call sin what it is — The Bible is not shy about calling certain attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors, “sinful.” Sometimes we are slow to examine ourselves because we do not call sin by its true name. The Israelites are not the only ones who ever, “called evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). We might be robbing God in our contribution (cf. Mal. 3:8), and rationalize that the economy’s not so good. We might be worshipping in vain (Mark 7:6-7), and chalk it up to, “too much stress.” We might be engaging in any of several forms of despicable behavior and call it an, “alternative lifestyle” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). No matter what we call it, our sin is still breaking God’s heart. How we need to be honest with ourselves and with Him regarding our sinfulness!

Brethren, without self-examination we will find ourselves becoming increasingly self-righteous, calloused, and stagnant in our spiritual growth. Our relationship with God will be diminished, and our appreciation for the salvation He has provided will wane. Self-examination may be one of the hardest things God asks us to do, but it is absolutely essential to our growth as Christians (2 Pet. 3:18). We will never realize the joy and blessings of Christianity unless we develop and cultivate the habit of continually turning to God (James 4:8-10). May all of us truly examine ourselves! — JB

The Consequences of Sin

Throwing It All Away

We can learn a lot from early man. I’m not talking about evolutionary theory or the supposed, “missing link,” I’m talking about Adam, the very first man. He, like all of us, was created in the image of God. Adam knew what it was like to walk and talk with God in the garden of Eden. He knew the incomparable pleasure of an unmarred relationship with his Creator. Despite all this, Adam gave up everything for a taste of forbidden fruit. What can we learn from Adam?

There is no grief so great as a lost opportunity. When we mourn for a lost loved one, what do we most desire? We’d probably like the opportunity to hug them one more time, to tell them how much we love them, and to right any wrongs we might have caused. Adam must have thought a lot about missed opportunities after he had been cast out of the garden. God no longer walked and talked with him as He had done before. Adam’s close, intimate relationship with God was gone. That opportunity was lost because there was something between Adam and God that could not be reconciled. Just as you can’t un-speak a word or un-ring a bell, Adam found that he couldn’t undo sin. Tragically, it was only after he had been cast out of the garden that Adam truly realized what he’d lost. So it is with us, that many times we do not realize the grief that sin can cause until we have already made the wrong choices.

You cannot “pass the buck” with sin. Have you ever been caught red-handed and tried to talk your way out? When Adam was confronted with his sin, he began his explanation by blaming both Eve and God, “the woman whom You gave me, she gave me of the tree (Genesis 3:12).” Our culture is bent on shirking responsibility when it comes to sin. Our sin is determined, we are told, by our genetic background, our early childhood experiences, and peer pressure which is just too much to endure. God says, however, that we will not be tempted beyond our power to resist (cf. 1 Cor 10:13)! He leaves us, like Adam, without excuse where sin is concerned. Adam could have (and should have) told his wife, “no,” when she offered him the fruit. How many of us have been in the same situation as Adam and tried to, “pass the buck?”

We need a Savior. You have to wonder if Adam personally regretted eating the forbidden fruit. As he labored in the fields, day in and day out, Adam had plenty of time to think about what he had done. He probably remembered his conversations with the Lord in the garden, how they had talked about all the good things the Lord had made. Remembering all this, Adam must have come to realize his own utter bankruptcy. How could he make things right with God? What could be done? Apparently, God had told Adam and his descendants that they needed to sacrifice to Him (cf. Gen. 4:3-5), but in the back of his mind Adam must have known that sacrificing animals could never rebuild his relationship with God. That’s like putting a band-aid on a broken arm. For true spiritual healing to take place, Adam needed a Savior. He needed God to take the first step in making things right. Praise God that He did exactly that (John 3:16)! Are you poor in spirit? Are you spiritually bankrupt? May all of us see our need for the Savior and come to obey His will! — John Baker

Severe Heart Problems

Is your heart right with God? Sadly, some Christians seem to have a form of godliness, but they deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). One of the most frightening warnings of Scripture rebukes every self-satisfied Christian: “Let everyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Thankfully, the Bible provides us some signs that help us know when our hearts are not where they ought to be. Consider:

We are angry with the messengers of truth — Paul once asked his Galatian brethren, “have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Gal 4:16). Stephen lost his life because of angry reaction to a much-needed sermon (cf. Acts 7:54-60). The lesson? We ought to be extremely careful how we respond when someone is trying to tell us the truth. When Christians begin to lose focus on what’s important, we may well come to see those who call for Godly change as enemies. Let’s not play the “victim” and unnecessarily make truth-tellers our enemies. Rather let us, “prove all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21).

We seek the approval of men above God — When we are more concerned about our own reputation than we are about God’s, we need to repent. The Bible speaks of men who believed in Jesus but refused to embrace His teachings because, “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). There’s a vast difference of motivation between being kind and being political. When the world’s acclaim is what we most desire, our lives and hearts cannot help but be self-centered. The person worried about his or her own reputation will find it difficult to accomplish God’s will. Don’t spend time wondering how to get people to love and respect you. Rather, spend time trying to show love and respect for others (Phil 2:3), and your reputation will take care of itself!

Our surroundings determine our behavior — One of the fastest ways to determine if our hearts are where they ought to be is to consider our behavior in a variety of daily situations. Do we think, talk, and behave differently when Christians are not around? Paul told the Galatians, “it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you” (Gal 4:18). Evidently, some brethren in Galatia had changed their behavior because Paul was not around to rebuke them. Integrity is how we act when nobody is watching. Jesus said, “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matt 5:15). Are we letting the light of Jesus shine before all men, or are we allowing circumstances to determine our behavior?

Our lives do not show Christ living in us — Impatience, anger, resentment, bitterness, and negative criticism of others are sure signs that we need to be more Christlike. Unfortunately, too many of us allow these and other Satanic qualities to be seen by those we love the most. Far too many people spend their lives trying to destroy and tear down as much as possible. Sad thing is, they often don’t realize that’s what they are doing! Paul talked about Christianity as a complete change in his outlook on life. He said, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20a). Paul spent his early life tearing down the church with “good intentions” (Acts 23:1). His death with Christ allowed Christ the room He needed to live in Paul, giving him a new outlook, “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20b). How badly we need to stop tearing down what is good and allow Christ to be seen in us more! How’s your heart? Is it right with God? — John Baker

The Synagogue

Synagogues are mentioned throughout the New Testament, but curiously, there is virtually no mention of them in the Old Testament. A number of profitable truths can be gleaned from a historical and Biblical study of synagogues.

The History of Synagogues — The first synagogues probably originated during the Babylonian captivity of 606-536 B.C. Enslaved Jewish exiles who had been carried far from their homeland obviously could not travel to the temple to worship, and so they began to gather together in communities (“assemblies,” or “synagogues”) dedicated to preserving the word of God and their devotion to the Old Covenant. Although the Jews were permitted to return home in 536 B.C. (Ezra 2), millions never returned to Israel, but instead continued to live dispersed through various parts of the world. In Jesus’ day, there were 4.5 million Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, a most of whom belonged to a local synagogue in the community where they lived. Thus, there were faithful “pockets” of Judaism scattered throughout the civilized world because of the existence of synagogues. These synagogues would later play a quite significant role in the spread of New Testament Christianity.

Synagogues were prolific in the Roman Empire; nearly every civilized town had at least one. To establish a synagogue, a community first needed to have ten adult Jewish males. Having met this requirement, a synagogue would be established as a place of worship, teaching and fellowship for Jews in a local community. Synagogues also sometimes served as a means of instructing Gentiles in the ways of the one true God. Judaism was attractive to many Greeks and Romans because it encouraged family stability, practiced monotheism (as opposed to the confusing array of mythological “gods” worshipped by the Romans), offered a well-defined moral and ethical code, and placed a high value on human life. Thus, many Greeks and Romans became noadiches, or “God-fearers.” These noadiches, while not converted to Judaism and the Law of Moses, were permitted to come to the synagogues, provided that they recognized and worshipped the God of Israel alone (cf. Acts 18:4-7).

Items in the Synagogues — The architecture of synagogues in Bible times appears to have varied somewhat from place to place. However, history teaches that Jews often preferred to build synagogues at the highest locations possible as a symbol of the fact that worship of God was the highest endeavor in which one could involve himself. When high points were not available for constructing a synagogue, the buildings were often located near a river or sea.

Nearly every synagogue contained a “holy ark” (a chest or cabinet) in which the scrolls of God’s word were kept. The scrolls themselves were carefully constructed copies of the Old Testament Scriptures. At the end of each service, the scrolls would be carefully and reverently placed in the “holy ark” until the next service. It is not inaccurate to say that the Scriptures were considered the most sacred item inside a synagogue.

Each synagogue had a bema or platform at the center or one end of the room. The bema contained a reading desk (what we would call a “podium”) and the “chief seats” for those leading or presiding over the service (see Matt. 23:6; Luke 14:7). Seating was arranged so that everyone faced the bema. In many (but not all) synagogues, it appears that women customarily sat separate from men. Often, the walls of synagogues would be adorned with elaborate carvings reminding the Jews of their history and heritage. Continued next week — JB

The Synagogue (2)
By the first century A.D., the synagogue had become a center of Jewish religious and social life in most communities. It is fascinating indeed to examine what Scripture and history have to teach about synagogues in Bible times.

Officers of the Synagogue — A number of specialized tasks and responsibilities were handled by certain individuals in each local synagogue. For example, each synagogue had a, “head,” “director,” or “ruler,” of the Synagogue who was chosen from among the elders to arrange and supervise the orderliness of services (cf. Luke 13:14; Acts 13:15). Another official, known as the hazzan or “minister,” was often a paid employee responsible for blowing the shofar (ram’s) horn three times from the roof to signal the Sabbath. The hazzan was also responsible for copying and keeping scrolls in good condition, and he was responsible for reading the Scriptures in the public assembly if not enough readers were present. If a synagogue was especially fortunate, their hazzan would also be a trained scribe — someone who had studied the Law extensively for years in order to be able to teach others better (cf. Ezra 7:10; John 7:14-15). In many parts of the ancient world, synagogues also needed interpreters or translators. Scripture would often be read in Hebrew or Greek and then translated into the native tongue of that region.

Worship in the Synagogue — Generally, any Jewish male could lead a prayer or read and translate Scripture. Every service began with specific readings that had been prescribed by the scribes and rabbis. Most commonly read was the shema (“hear”) passage (Deut. 6:4-9). Nearly every service gave much attention to reading sections from the Law, the Prophets, and especially the Psalms. The congregation would stand as Scripture was read (cf. Neh. 8:1-8), and the reader was forbidden to take his eyes off the scroll in order to ensure that the word of God was communicated accurately (cf. Luke 4:16-20). Following a reading, a male in the synagogue (usually prepared in advance) would seek to apply the Scripture to life in the form of a brief sermon. Visiting rabbis were frequently asked to bring sermons to local synagogues (see Acts 13:15ff.).

Other Uses of the Synagogue — In addition to a worship location, the synagogue also served other functions in a community. It was a school for training Jewish children in the Laws and ways of the Lord. It was not uncommon in the first century to find young children hard at work in synagogues memorizing the Torah, or Law of Moses. The synagogue also served as something of a community center for festivals, times of mourning and fasting, and as a center for feeding strangers and the poor. Sometimes the synagogue functioned as a court of law in which important questions regarding God’s law were decided. People could be banned from the synagogue (Jn. 9:22; 12:42), and sometimes corporal punishment (administered by the hazzan) could be applied for rebellion against the authorities — usually 39 lashes to honor God’s commandment (cf. Deut. 25:3).

Some applications for Christians come to mind based on all these facts:

We ought to love and respect Scripture, and practice Scripture reading more, especially in our public assemblies. It was an essential part of synagogue worship.

We need to get serious about teaching our children the Bible — in many cases that was the only education available in the first century

We need to appreciate the value of fellowship with both God and man (1 Jn. 1:7) -JB

Works Referenced for this article:

Elwell, Walter and Robert Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

“Synagogue.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915. 4 vol. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Behold, I Thought…

Naaman was desperate. A great general in the Syrian army, he could ill afford to suffer the effects of the leprosy that had invaded his body. In fact, Naaman was ready to try anything to get his life back on track.

Fortunately for Naaman, he was a man of considerable meekness. Meekness is merely power under control. Meekness is evidenced by the absence of pride and the presence of a teachable spirit. Naaman showed meekness when he listened to his servant, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria. He would cure his leprosy!” (2 Kings 5:3).

So, the great Syrian general took the advice of a young servant girl and headed off to Israel to seek a cure for his leprosy. Problem was, Naaman was evidently concerned about his image. The meekness he showed in the private confines of his home seemed to disappear when he crossed the border into Israel. He went first to the king, bringing with him lavish gifts (2 Kings 5:5-6). Israel’s king was suspicious… Syria had historically been an enemy of God’s people, and so the king quickly referred Naaman to Elisha, the prophet of Jehovah.

Elisha’s response to Naaman’s arrival was less than impressive, by the world’s standards. Naaman and his entourage were left standing in the street, never even gaining a direct audience with God’s prophet (2 Kings 5:9). The only message Elisha sent challenged Naaman’s meekness to the core: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you will be clean.”

Naaman’s response was classic: “Behold, I thought…” (2 Kings 5:11). If Elisha had asked Naaman to do some heroic thing, Naaman would never have questioned. But God’s message to Naaman was to go and wash himself in a dirty river. Seven times.

The great excuse of the Bible is, “Behold, I thought…” We, like Naaman, are often convinced that God’s will is one thing, when in fact His word clearly teaches otherwise. What can we learn from Naaman as we strive to be what God wants?

We need to cultivate a teachable spirit — So many in the world have their consciences seared (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3). Sad thing is, many in Christ’s church are in a similar predicament. There is no place in Christ’s kingdom for the proud, know-it-all Christian (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1-2). Naaman was angry because he expected one thing and got another. How often do we really let God’s word change our thinking? How teachable are we?

We need to cultivate meekness — Jesus was meek and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29-30). This means that our Lord knew what it meant to wield great power with restraint. Naaman was undoubtedly a meek man, but he needed to grow. So, too, we grow when we are forced to confront our own pride and arrogance. Meekness is seen when the words, “Behold, I thought…” become, “Now, I know!” (2 Kings 5:15). Naaman learned that restraint of power is a characteristic of Godliness.

We need to cultivate faithfulness to God — God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8). Who would have imagined that God’s recipe for cleansing Naaman would be to dip seven times in a river? Yet through faithful obedience, Naaman was cleansed. Who could have imagined that repentance and baptism in water would be God’s means of salvation from sin (Acts 2:38)? Yet, when we are faithful in these things, God saves us. May He help us to be more faithful to Him! — JB

Burning Heart

Our attitude toward God’s word affects every facet of our lives. Those who see the Bible as dense and confusing will likely be inconsistent in our living. Those who think the Bible is stale and dry will inevitably seek meaning from “more pleasurable” endeavors. Those who view God’s word as living and life-changing are the very ones whose lives ARE changed by the gospel. Which are you?

The word of God is powerful (Rom 1:16), and hearts are changed when it is allowed to prick and penetrate (cf. Acts 2:36-37). Our faith and commitment to Christ will be deeper and stronger ONLY if we continue to allow the word of God to change us for good! This is the essence of having a “heart on fire” for God. How can Christians have more enthusiasm for the word of God? Consider the following:

Develop a Deep Love for Truth — “His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jer. 20:9). Jeremiah wanted to quit preaching, but he couldn’t stop because he understood the urgency and life-changing power of God’s word. Discouragement may well set in with us, too, but the remedy for discouragement is found in developing the same love for truth that Jeremiah had. No one who truly understands and contemplates the value of a soul (Mk. 8:36-37) will give up trying to reach souls with the gospel. “Rivers of water run down mine eyes because men do not keep Your law” (Psalm 119:136).

Choose to Hunger for the Word — “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103). Are we more like Jesus today than we were yesterday? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6)? People who are physically hungry recognize the need to choose nutritious, satisfying food instead of “junk” food. Unfortunately, many spiritually malnourished people choose to feed themselves a steady diet of garbage (TV, movies, magazines, etc.) and later wonder why their hearts do not burn for the gospel. The way we choose to satisfy our spiritual appetite will affect where we spend eternity (John 12:48-49). “Your words were found and I did eat them; and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15:16).

Become a Careful Listener to God’s Word — “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). Those disciples on the road to Emmaus spent time with Jesus, and as a result their hearts burned within them. God’s word has that kind of power — it stirs the intellect as well as the emotions. Too often we develop a mind for things that don’t matter, and as a result we may be unwilling or unable to listen for things that really do matter (cf. Phil. 4:8)! Those who truly long to change their lives to be more Christlike will strive to listen intently when His word is being taught. Listening is active, not passive. It takes energy to listen. The disciples on the road to Emmaus heard the words of the Old Testament proclaimed as they never had before (cf. Luke 24:27), and their eyes were opened to life-changing truth!

The Bible describes men and women who loved God’s word as having, “burning hearts.” The key to loving truth to such a degree is found in our willingness to accept, embrace, and apply it in our daily lives. Let’s make sure our faith is not dead (cf. James 1:22; 2:26). Let’s make sure God’s word is burning in our hearts! — John Baker

The Ministry of Study

“Ministry” is a multi-faceted word that calls to mind faithful teaching, service to others, and a life of self-sacrifice. But have you ever thought about the “ministry” of studying the Word of God? An astronomical number of passages in the Bible speak of loving God’s word, writing it on our hearts, and meditating on the things of God (cf. Deut. 6; Psalm 1; Psalm 63; Psalm 119; Jeremiah 15:16; 20:9; Matt. 4:4; Col. 3:16-17, etc.). Truly, part of our ministry as Christians ought to involve study.

Study: Its Challenges — Modern culture does not teach us to think deeply and use our imaginations well. As a result, we seem to have lost our forefathers’ tremendous ability to meditate and ponder on the things of God. Perhaps the biggest challenge to effective Bible study today is the busy nature of our lives. As a shepherd, David could spend time thinking, praying, and writing inspired Psalms about God (cf. Psalm 23). Maybe it is significant that David’s greatest sins (cf. 2 Sam. 11) were committed when he was weighed down with the busy burden of being king. As a busy teacher, Jesus always made time to commune with His Father (Mk. 1:35; Luke 6). The prophets often spoke of “eating” the word of God (Jer. 15:16), meaning that Scripture so consumed their thoughts that it became a part of who they were. As a people we need to recapture that sense of wonder and stillness that facilitates great Bible study. He still says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

Study: Its Purposes — Uncomfortable as this may sound, you cannot really know Jesus better unless you involve yourself in what the Spirit reveals about Him in Scripture. Often we ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” and yet our lack of study may reveal that we really have very little idea of who He is! Philip once asked, “Lord, show us the Father and it is sufficient for us,” to which Jesus replied, “Have I been with you so long, and you have not known Me, Philip?” (John 14:8-9). Fact is, without the ministry of Bible study, we can never know Jesus as we ought. Participating with Christ in all aspects of life was the consuming passion of Paul: “That I may know Him…” (Phil. 3:10ff). The Psalmist declared, “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). The primary purpose of Bible study is to know God better and to understand His will for our lives. What a glorious ministry He has given us! What a privilege to be able to ponder the character and nature of our Creator!

Study: Its Benefits — Psalm 1:3 declares that for the man who meditates and delights in the law of the Lord, several benefits will become evident. First, the ministry of study will provide the student of God’s word with stability: “He shall be like a tree.” Others with less substance will be swept away by the storms of life, but not the student — he will be firmly planted. Second, the ministry of study provides God’s servant with nourishment: “Planted by the rivers of water.” When all other sources of hope bring disappointment and exhaustion, the Word of God will nourish the believer as nothing else can (cf. 1 Tim. 4:6). A third benefit of study is fruitfulness: “He brings forth its fruit in season.” When we continually meditate on the things of God, our lives will ultimately bear fruit to God (Gal. 5:22-23). Serious Bible study can transform our personalities and make us more like Christ — now that’s good fruit! Fourth, the ministry of study gives the believer endurance: “Whose leaf also shall not wither.” God’s strength will sustain the individual who seriously contemplates the challenges of life within the framework of God’s plan. Psalm 1:3 says that prosperity is not the property of the rich nor the famous — it is the possession of the student of God’s word! — JB

Understanding the Old and New Testaments

Understanding the Old and New Testaments — FAQ’s

Some Bible answers to Frequently Asked Questions concerning the two Testaments…

1. Do members of the church of Christ believe in the Old Testament?

Absolutely. While the Bible says all people today are under the Law of Christ (John 12:48), we still learn many great truths and principles from the Old Testament (Romans 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). In the Old Testament we learn Who created the world (Gen. 1), what sin is (Gen. 3), and we also learn the best lesson of all – that God has always intended to DO something about sin by sending a Savior into the world (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 49:9-10; 2 Sam. 7:12-15; Isaiah 53).

2. What is a covenant? Why is a covenant important?

A covenant is a pact or agreement between two individuals. Sin separates people from God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13), and so a covenant is needed in order for mankind to have a relationship with Him. Because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), every covenant between God and man requires blood to be shed. God always has the right under any covenant to set the terms and conditions in order for us to have access to Him.

God has established three covenants in history. First, there was a “Patriarchal covenant” that applied to all people from Adam to Moses. We do not know many of the details about this covenant, but we do know some, mentioned in passages like Genesis 9:3-7. Second, in the book of Exodus God established a special covenant with Israel, known as the “Law of Moses.” The Law of Moses (including the Ten Commandments) was a covenant that applied only to Israelites. The rest of the world continued to be under the Patriarchal covenant until Jesus came. When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled and abolished the first two covenants (Patriarchal and Law of Moses), and established a New Covenant. Today, all people whether Jew or Gentile are commanded to be a part of the New Covenant (Titus 2:11-14). Jesus set the terms of the New Covenant by telling all men to be “born again” of “water and the spirit” (John 3:3-5; Mark 16:15-16).

3. Why would God make a Law (the Old Testament), and then get rid of it?

The Old Covenant had one glaring problem: it could not get rid of sin. By obeying the Old Covenant you could worship God and live a life of faith, but sin could never be fully removed until Somebody paid the price (Hebrews 10:4). That is exactly why Jesus came. The Old Covenant was like a doctor who could tell you that you are sick, but could not cure you. Jesus, by dying on the cross, became the Cure for sin and fulfilled the Old Law (Matthew 5:17-20). Because of Jesus’ death, a new and better covenant has been established – one that can both tell you that you’re sick, but can also point out the Cure (Hebrews 8:6-7)!

4. What happened to people who lived and died in Old Testament times? Could they be saved?

Those who lived in a faithful relationship to God are saved. When Jesus died on the cross His blood finally covered and removed the sins of every faithful person who lived and died before Him (Hebrews 9:15). Truly, Jesus came to earth to die for all men (Titus 2:11). The Bible teaches that, “the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Obedient faith has always been the condition of salvation, no matter which covenant one lived under. Are you obedient to God’s will today?

5. How many of the Ten Commandments did God get rid of? Why do we still seem to keep some of them?

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are part of the Old Law, and so they were all done away when Jesus died (Colossians 2:14). Just because many of the Ten Commandments are also part of the Law of Christ (don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.), doesn’t mean that the original Ten Commandments are still in effect. Remember: the entire Old Law was replaced by the New Covenant established by Jesus’ death. It is impossible to be under two covenants at the same time – that’s like being married to two wives (Romans 7:1-4).

6. What about the Sabbath day? Is Sunday the “new Sabbath?”

No. “Sabbath” means, “rest” in Hebrew, and it was a specially designated day for Jews living under the Old Covenant (Exodus 20:8). We worship on Sunday because it is commanded under the New Covenant (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2), not because we are still trying to keep part of the Old. So, it is not right to say that Sunday is the “new Sabbath.” Observance of the Sabbath day was abolished with the Old Covenant.

7. Why did God allow musical instruments in worship under the Old Law, but not under the New?

Under any covenant, people are only permitted to do as much as God commanded. Under the Old Covenant, God seems to have commanded the Israelites to use musical instruments (2 Chronicles 29:25). So, the writers of the Psalms sometimes mentioned praising God with instruments (cf. Psalm 150). However, in the New Covenant, the only musical instrument God has authorized is the heart (Eph. 5:19). We are to, “sing, and make melody in our hearts.” By specifying the heart as the instrument of praise, God excludes all other instruments. As to why God chose to do things this way, we are not told, but we can know what it takes to please Him!

8. If I choose to obey some parts of the Old Covenant (like instrumental music or worship on the Sabbath day), can I still be saved under the New Covenant?

No! You cannot be under two laws at the same time (Rom. 7:1-4), and if you attempt to keep any part of the Old Law, you are obligated to keep all of it (James 2:10-11; Galatians 3:10). In the first century there were Christians who believed that others needed to be circumcised (part of the Old Covenant) in order to become Christians. Paul rebuked these brethren as false teachers in the book of Galatians. When you try to keep even one part of the Old Law in order to be saved, you fall from the grace that is found only in Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:3-6). The only way to be saved today is by keeping the law of Christ (John 14:6).

The difference between the Old and New Covenants is one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible. It is likely that more religious error comes from misunderstanding the differences between the covenants than from any other source. Christians are to, “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). We are also to, “rightly divide the word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Thank God that He has provided a New Covenant, and thank God that all men can participate in it! —JB

Opening Our Eyes

The apostles were mystified. Jesus had a way of saying things that sometimes enlightened, sometimes rebuked, and sometimes bewildered them. On this particular occasion, the latter was the case.

Here’s what the Lord had said: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him, and the third day, He will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33).

God’s word says the apostles understood none of these things (Luke 18:34). The intriguing question is, “why not?” Had the prophets not been clear about the suffering Messiah? Indeed, they had (cf. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69). Had the apostles not heard Jesus speak this way before? Of course they had (cf. Luke 9:44). What, then, was the reason the apostles did not understand the Savior’s mission?

The simple answer is this: Jesus was not living up to the expectations the apostles put on Him. The twelve, like the majority of their countrymen, expected Jesus to rise up with a vast army and return Israel to prominence among the nations. It was this misguided expectation that kept the apostles from seeing the horrific and glorious truth that Jesus was plainly speaking to them: He was about to die for them. Their eyes were closed to truth because they were looking for a different kind of Savior.

Things aren’t much different today. Some religious people are still looking for Jesus to return and set up an earthly kingdom. Others are looking for Jesus to rid them of their financial debt. Still others expect the Lord to, “perform a miracle” in their lives so that they can have abundant wealth, happiness, and freedom from sickness. Many people today are looking for a different kind of Savior. Like the apostles 2000 years ago, these folk just won’t open their eyes to the real mission of Jesus.

Here’s a grand thought, however: Jesus didn’t leave His apostles with their eyes closed! After His death, burial, and resurrection, the Lord appeared in Jerusalem where the eleven were gathered.

Jesus said to His men: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).

It was like a splash of cold water in their faces. The Bible says, “He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). As these apostles opened their eyes to truth, they began to live fruitful lives in the service of the Master.

Truth can only change us if it can first reach us. As long as they had their, ”great expectations,” Christ’s message was not heard by those apostles. They, like us, needed to open their eyes. They needed teachable spirits — spirits marked by that enduring and challenging prayer, “not my will, but Thine be done!”

Life is all about learning to see the world from God’s perspective. We do that by delving into His word and allowing it to change us. What about you? Are you learning to see things the way He sees them? Are your eyes open?

— John Baker