The Original Heresy, pt II: The Gnostic Gospels

Discovered near the Upper-Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, the Gnostic Gospels (also known as the Nag Hammadi library, or the Nag Hammadi Codicies) have managed to capture imaginations, and generate heated debate over what biblical canon ought to be, what it is, and why it exists in its current form. This collection is made up of 13 leather-bound Codicies, and contains 52 separate works, most of which are Gnostic treatises. Of the parts that are not, there are three works that are part of the Corpus Hermeticus, and a partially rewritten version of Plato’s “Republic”, complete with Gnostic themes that had not existed prior.

Since their discovery, much of the debate that has surrounded them has focused on whether or not they are to be considered biblical canon. For the majority of Christians, they simply are not considered Scripture for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they are inconsistent with the actual biblical canon. In this post, we will explore why they are inconsistent, and hopefully dispel a few of the more interesting conspiracy theories.

Background

In 1945, a man named Muhammad Ali and his brother were digging for fertilizer near the town of Nag Hammadi, when they unearthed a sealed clay jar. Though they were initially hesitant to open it, fearing that it might contain a Jinn (a type of Arabic demon, and where we get the English word “genie”), they were amazed to find the library carefully hidden within.

Rather than turn it over to local authorities, they chose to hang on to the library, in the hope that they would be able to get a really good price for each piece. The brothers took it home, and kept it there.

Through a series of events, virtually all of the library was eventually acquired by the Egyptian government, and is presently housed in a museum in Cairo. Of the parts that did not make it there, an unknown number were burned by Muhammad Ali’s mother, who feared that the codicies might cause too much trouble, and another part was eventually sold to an organization in the Netherlands, after it had been unsuccessfully offered for sale in the U.S.

The Languages

Though the Nag Hammadi library was written in Coptic, some linguists have suggested that it had been translated to Coptic from Syriac, based on the wording of certain works, like the Gospel of Thomas. The prevailing scholarly opinion is that it was originally written in Greek, but there is a strong case to be made for a Syriac origin.

In his essay, “The Fifth Gospel?”, for example, Nicholas Perrin points to linguistic analysis to suggest that the Gnostic Gospels were in fact Second Century Syriac documents, rather than First Century Judean. He says, “As I have argued more fully elsewhere, the evidence seems to show that the Coptic
gospel is not so much a witness to the historical Jesus, but instead a witness
to early Syriac Christianity. Following a linguistic analysis of the Coptic collection, with particular attention to the use of catchwords, it appears that
Thomas was not written—per the standard and prevailing assumption—in Greek, as an evolving sayings collection, dating back to the first or early second century. Instead, it seems that our sayings gospel was written in Syriac, as a piece, showing dependence on the first Syriac gospel record,
Tatian’s Diatessaron (c. ad 173).”

Perrin’s Findings

A page from Perrin’s “The Fifth Gospel?” showing the comparison between the Gospel of Thomas, the Diatessaron (a Second Century Syriac harmonization of the Synoptic Gospels) , and Scripture.

According to Perrin, the wording in the Gospel of Thomas is more reminiscent of the Diatessaron than the actual Gospel accounts, suggesting that the Gospel of Thomas was derived from the Diatessaron, not from the Synoptic Gospels. What this means for the Gnostic Gospels is that they may well have been written in the wrong time and place, with the wrong content, to be Scripture.

While the Gnostic Gospels themselves were physically dated to the Fifth Century, it is the materials contained within that were dated to the Second Century. This would imply that the Gospel of Thomas was written in the Second Century, never mind the fact that he is not believed to have survived to the turn of the century. Historians place him in India in the late 70’s when he died, yet, the Gospel of Thomas is dated to somewhere between 120-150 AD. That disparity is rather difficult to ignore.

Do bear in mind that I’ve only chosen to focus my attention on one small portion of the overall library because it is so big a detailed analysis would end up becoming a series of its own. The idea is not out of the question, but for now, I plan on sticking with the more skin-deep approach. I trust that the person reading this is more than capable of doing their own research.

The Contents

Going beyond the age of the documents, there are also the contents to be considered. What the Gospel of Thomas contains is a list of sayings attributed to Jesus throughout His ministry. Some are correct, others only partially so, and most find absolutely no correlation with what is found in the Synoptic Gospels. It runs the full gamut of credibility, however, it also completely lacks a narrative.

While some have suggested that the Gospel of Thomas is as old as the document commonly referred to as “Q”, the fact of the matter is that one would be hard pressed to make the case given the similarities between it and the Diatessaron.

Here are a few examples of what is found in the Gospel of Thomas:

#3. Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

#7. Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.”

#9. Jesus said, “Look, the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered (them). Some fell on the road, and the birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and they didn’t take root in the soil and didn’t produce heads of grain. Others fell on thorns, and they choked the seeds and worms ate them. And others fell on good soil, and it produced a good crop: it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure.” (Similar to the Parable of the Sower)

Finally, #14. Jesus said to them, “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.

When you go into any region and walk about in the countryside, when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the sick among them.

After all, what goes into your mouth will not defile you; rather, it’s what comes out of your mouth that will defile you.”

Note that much of 14 appears to be the very characterization of Gnosticism, while one small portion actually pertains to something Jesus said. This is an example of what I was saying. It is not difficult to insert an outside influence into Scripture and make it sound good. What simply does not help is that people today seem to be unwilling to sit down and engage with Scripture. People do not want to learn, and will be easily duped when someone comes along with heretical teaching that sounds similar to some half-remembered verse they heard in Sunday school.

How They Fail the Test

In my post on what constitutes heresy, I made the point that biblical teaching must be consistent with what is found in the Bible. The Bible is, in and of itself, the final judge of what is Scripture and what is not. Each of the books in Scripture find corroboration with the other books. Both Testaments support each other, with high degrees of agreement. Anything that does not mesh with this system is not to be considered Scripture. This is why the Gnostic Gospels fail as Scripture. Gnosticism is not biblically supported, it is actually proved false by it.

In Part 3, we will take a look at the Corpus Hermeticus.

Allow me to Introduce Myself…

I am a married Medical Assistant, parent of nine children (six sons, three daughters) and a currently serving Medic in the National Guard. I currently reside in a metropolitan city in the Midwest, though I’m a native Texan.

In case any are wondering, EngMed is short for Engineer Medic. I’m currently serving as a Platoon Medic in a Combat Engineer Company, so that seemed a fitting name, wouldn’t y’all think?

My interests vary between religion, politics, art, literature, hunting, camping, fishing, hiking, music, writing and serving the Lord. Yes, I am an evangelical Christian and I won’t ever shy away from the subject. I invite any to ask questions, debate and will gladly pray for any who ask.

In terms of politics, I’m a Conservative Constitutionalist. No, I’m not a Republican. I’m actually very disaffected with them, given that their commitment to conservative values tend to disappear faster than water on the surface of the sun.

I’m pro-gun, pro-life, pro-death penalty, and pro-limited government. I believe that the Constitution is the law of the land, not social whim.

I’m anti-Islam (a topic I will expand upon in the future), against virtually all forms of gun control, and I’m totally OK with the idea of legalizing marijuana, though I personally detest the stuff.

Well, I think that’s about all I have at this time. If y’all wanna know more, feel free to ask. I’ll just end with this quote:

“Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.” “It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.”

Vows

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.Matthew 5:33-37, KJV

            What does it mean to “forswear”? The Greek word used is ἐπιορκήσεις (epiorkēseis) and can be better translated as “to swear falsely”. The root of this word is epiorkos, which translates as “to commit perjury”. If you have ever watched courtroom dramas like the show Law & Order, then you are likely familiar with the term “perjury”. It is a legal term that means, “to lie under oath”, and it is a crime both in the eyes of men and in the eyes of God. This is one of the things that the Lord was referring to when He gave the command against bearing false witness (Ex. 20). Not only did He make it a crime to perjure oneself (bear false witness), but He also prescribed a very harsh punishment for doing so. When someone is found to have perjured themselves, they were required to pay back 120% of what they took by lying (Lev. 6:2-7). This is restorative justice at its finest.

            The main thrust of this passage is that we should say what we mean and mean what we say. We should not make promises lightly, we should abstain from making promises that we either cannot keep, or have no intention of keeping, and that we should not swear our oaths by anything in the sky, on the earth, or on our bodies, because all of it belongs to the Lord. A man’s word should be both his bond and all that is needed in an agreement. This also points directly to making covenant.

            Recall that I addressed covenant making in the section on adultery, and how serious such a practice is. It is deadly serious, though we seldom ever seem to see it that way. We make covenant all the time, whether we know it or not. Every time a guest walks through our front door, we make covenant. It is an unspoken covenant in which we agree that we are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of anyone who walks through our door, no matter the cost. Simply allowing someone to come in through the door signifies agreement, so there is no getting around it. Every time we sign a contract or an agreement of some type, we are making covenant. No matter which way we turn, covenant making is both implicit and explicit, which makes this even more important. Not only is Jesus pointing directly to the Old Testament Scriptures in verse 33, but He is addressing a tendency that was prevalent in First Century Judea, namely the tendency to swear oaths by various things in a manner that was anything but sacred. Their oaths tended to be facetious and profane.

            We have a similar tendency today, and it is one I had not considered until now. For the examples I am going to provide, I will be borrowing from the playbook of our Jewish brethren because I have come to realize that these phrases are blasphemous at best, and I will not blaspheme the Lord. The first phrase is, “I swear to G-d.” Note how I rendered that phrase. Our Jewish brethren render the Name (haShem in Hebrew) that way to avoid violating the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” It is one thing, I think, to use the Lord’s name, and another thing entirely to use it in a frivolous manner. In fact, it is deadly serious, and our society has somehow lost its grip on that fact.

            I am not arguing that we should not swear oaths, as I swore one when I enlisted into the Army, and I can see the value of that covenant. However, when we swear a frivolous oath, one that has no meaning whatsoever, then we have crossed a line. To make matters worse, we use phrases like OMG, “G-d knows”, and we even use the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as an expression of anger, frustration, exasperation, and just about any other profane manner we can think of. Not only are we guilty of idolatry as a nation, but we are also guilty of blasphemy, and it needs to stop. We must repent of this! We have become like the people Jesus was addressing here, in that we have lost sight of the sacred and turned it into something trivial. If you disagree, consider, how many of you greeted my words with a roll of the eyes, or a sense of incredulity? How many of you have walked through your lives thinking of such things as “no big deal” because everyone else does it? I mean, it is commonplace, we all do it, right? What we ought to do is ask ourselves a simple question, “Should we judge ourselves based on what others are doing, or on what the Bible says we ought to be doing?” Make no mistake, I am just as guilty, and it is a burden that I must repent of.

            When you swear an oath, you are intentionally binding yourself to someone or to a common cause. In swearing that oath, you are telling another party that they should place their trust in you, and therefore oaths are important. As a Soldier, I swore an oath to you, the people of this country, to defend everything about this country, from the Constitution to her very existence, even if it costs me my life, and that is not an oath taken lightly. Violating that trust goes far beyond bad, so far in fact that it lands smack in the middle of the profane, and this is where our society goes off the rails. We do not spend enough time broken over those moments when we violate the trust of others because we have bought into the lie that it is not a big deal. We have somehow become convinced that these matters are either trivial or are serious but to be kept strictly between the people involved. Neither of these could be further from the truth, and thus, Jesus made that statement.

            In the Old Testament, there are several commands against swearing false oaths, and in those commands, the Lord makes clear that swearing a false oath, especially one sworn in His Name, is profane. Here are just two of them,

And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.Leviticus 19:12, KJV

That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.Deuteronomy 23:23, KJV

            Say what you mean and mean what you say. The first time I heard that phrase, I was a child. I was maybe 12 or 13, and my grandfather said it to me after I had been caught in a lie. I can be a slow learner sometimes, but that one did not sink in for an awfully long time, to the detriment of myself and others, and the consequences are both far-reaching and profound. Making a false promise of any kind is horrendous, just ask anyone who has become disillusioned with politics, or anyone who has been divorced.

            As with the people of the First Century, we have come to suffer from a problem of perspective, and it is one that has cost our country dearly. We have allowed ourselves to believe that our idle words and false promises amount to little of anything in the grand scheme of things, and this is unspeakably wrong. There was a time when a man’s word was his bond, and when children were taught not to speak idly about matters of importance. We have not only lost sight of that practice but have also lost sight of what constitutes a matter of importance. This is, I think, why Jesus was commanding that we do not swear by anything but simply limit ourselves to “yes” or “no”. He ends verse 37 by stating, “for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil”. That is a statement that bears repeating, but without elaboration. It cannot be any simpler than that.

            It goes back to the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When you make a promise but treat it as a trivial thing, the effects ripple out in all directions. Our children learn their moral lessons from us. They learn how to see the world, how to interact with the world, and how to make decisions based upon all of that. What are you teaching your kids today? Are you teaching them to be honorable or to lie? Are you teaching them that promises are worthless, and that we can make whichever idle oaths we see fit? Are they learning to blaspheme the Lord, or are they learning to revere Him? The choice is yours. Make it.


Divorce

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.Matthew 5:31-32, KJV

For too many of you, this topic will hit closer to home than others. You either came from a broken home, suffered through the nightmare that is divorce, or both. I am one of those who has been through both. My parents were divorced when I was ten, and I have been through more than one divorce since. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I am not inclined to go into ministry, I do not qualify according to Scripture. Instead, I am content with being an apologist, and will continue my mission to spread the Gospel Truth as wide as I can. Now, let us delve into the topic at hand. We begin with Malachi 2:16,

For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

In this verse, it is stated that God hates divorce. It does not get any simpler than that. His intended model for marriage is found in the Garden, when Adam declares, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). This language indicates that woman is intended to be a part of man because she came from him. Take note of the fact that the Lord established this institution BEFORE Adam and Eve fell and were expelled from the Garden, which means that this was His plan from the beginning and that it is intended to be good. Divorce takes something good from God and rips it apart. It is a form of abuse, one that rips entire lives apart and causes tremendous pain. Abusing one’s spouse in any fashion is the same as self-harm and self-abuse, which makes it especially heinous, as it is an assault on the Imago Dei.

When you consider all of this, one can easily see why God hates divorce, and why Jesus would place such a tight restriction on what is considered just reason for divorce. Of course, there is back story here, in that at the time Jesus spoke this, there was intense debate between two differing schools of thought on the matter of the Law. In First Century Judea, there were two well-known Rabbis whose opposing viewpoints relating to the Law had tremendous influence on modern Judaism. They were Rabbis Shammai and Hillel, and they are somewhat relevant to this passage. When it came to their opinions on divorce, Shammai was very conservative while Hillel was very liberal. Where it relates to the topic of divorce comes down to how they interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1, which says, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

According to Rabbi Shammai, the proper interpretation of this verse was that the only acceptable reason for divorce was sexual impurity, or sexual immorality. Meanwhile, Rabbi Hillel’s opinion was that there was no real limitation. If a woman was in some way deficient in her husband’s eyes, then he was free to write her a writ of divorcement and send her on her way. This was one of many different points in which their two schools of thought differed, and this is about the extent of their involvement in this passage, though they are still relevant. Roughly a century later, Rabbi Akiba would take Hillel’s opinion a step further and state that a man may divorce his wife in favor of a better-looking woman, which recalls something Jesus said in Matthew 19,

Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19:8)

As the Hebrews possessed a certain hardness of heart, Moses saw fit to allow them to institute their version of no-fault divorce. Imagine how hard their hearts had to be for such a measure to be put in place, let alone necessary? Consider this very carefully, just how horrendous must people be for such things to be considered acceptable?

I want to focus on the back half of Matt. 19:8 for a minute. He said, “from the beginning it was not so”, and that is rather telling. In the passage, Jesus quotes directly from Genesis 1 & 2,

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Now, why did He do that? In the exchange in question, He was being questioned by the Pharisees and they appeared to be trying to tie Him to either Shammai or Hillel and thus find fault. If He had sided with Shammai, they could have said that they support Hillel, or vice-versa. Rather than take their bait, He brings them back to Moses and the Torah, which was a brilliant move because He not only avoided what could only be described as an unnecessary side issue, but He also took them to a source that they could not argue against, all while bringing to their attention certain glaring flaws in their character, namely their hard hearts. Checkmate, Pharisees, the game goes to the Messiah. Again.

What does it mean to have a hard heart? In the original Greek, the word translated as “hardness of your hearts” is σκληροκαρδίαν (sklērokardian). This word means hardness of heart, perverseness, and obstinacy. For illustrative purposes, there is a medical condition known as cardiac sclerosis or cardiac cirrhosis. It is a very deadly condition that derives its name from this Greek word, and involves the hardening of coronary arteries, among other effects. It is a literal hardening of the heart that chokes the life out of a person by slowly impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. In the metaphorical sense, sklērokardian removes a person’s ability to empathize, sympathize, or connect on a fundamental level with other people, thereby squeezing the life out of them.

There is a word we use more often in modern English which denotes obstinacy, and that word is stubbornness. Oxford defines obstinacy as “the quality or condition of being obstinate; stubbornness.” Obstinate is defined as, “Stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so.” Being obstinate is not necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, unless you are being obstinate about something that is bad for you in one way or another. One can be obstinate about biblical Truth, which is acceptable. However, being obstinate about quitting an addiction, smoking for example, is not.

Oxford defines perverse as, “Showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable.”, and “Contrary to the accepted or expected standard or practice.” Do note that at the root of all of this is pride, and no small dose of narcissism. Humans have a bad habit of being prideful and narcissistic, even to the point of pursuing our own destruction, which is why Moses was forced to allow no-fault divorce to Hebrew men. They were too prideful, stubborn, and perverse to have complied otherwise.

This brings us back to the passage in question. We have established that God hates divorce. Jesus, God in the flesh, states that the only reason that divorce can be justified is due to sexual immorality. As I noted in the previous post, sexual immorality includes a whole host of crimes, all of which tear apart the very foundation of society. Moses had been forced to allow the no-fault divorce as a practice because it had been so ingrained in the people that making this change could have led to disaster, and Jesus later took the step that Moses could not by not only restricting the just cause for divorce to sexual immorality, but also made violating this rule ultimately result in adultery upon the remarriage of the wife. He took marriage back to how He had originally intended it, a life-long, loving union that took two individuals and made them into one. God states repeatedly that men and women are equal in His sight, with men in the position of greater authority but not greater value.

For there to be a system in which a man has the authority to simply dismiss his wife for whichever reason, the woman must have far lesser value than her husband. He would not be able to treat her so poorly otherwise. This flies in the face of Scripture! In Proverbs 31, a good wife is described as rare and more valuable than rubies. In Genesis 1 & 2, woman is described as coming from man, and therefore they are to exist in a one flesh union. This makes her flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone, which is to say that she is a part of him! No wonder He hates divorce, it devalues women and fractures the bedrock of society!

Let us return to Malachi 2:16, and take note of two words used in this verse. The first word is שָׂנֵ֣א (saw nay), which means “to hate”. According to Strong’s (8130), this word translates as enemy, foe, be hateful, odious. We can then see that He regards divorce as something hateful, and odious. He also regards it as an enemy, a foe. This is no small thing. Enemies of God are meant to be vanquished and destroyed!

The next word is תִבְגֹּֽדוּ׃ (tivgodu). This word is translated as “ye deal not treacherously” in this verse. The root word for tivgodu is bagad, which means “to act or deal treacherously”. What does this mean? Oxford English Dictionary defines treacherous as something “that cannot be trusted; intending to harm you”. We can then determine that God’s intent in this verse is to warn people against divorce for unjust causes because He hates such things. As He hates such things, the best way to avoid divorce is to treat each other in a manner that is not treacherous, i.e., be loving and kind, safe, and trustworthy. In this, the command is simple. Husbands, God hates divorce, so become her safe space, become the place she can go to feel safe, welcomed, free, loved and wanted. You are her human, and she ought to be yours. There is no one on this planet who is to be more important to you than your wife, and when you divorce you are throwing away what is supposed to be the greatest relationship in your life and tossing aside the one person who is supposed to be your greatest friend. How does that make sense?!

Jesus again manages to bring things back into alignment with Scripture, and in so doing returns something to where it belongs. Divorce is to be the avenue of extreme last resort, to be carried out under very narrowly defined criteria because it is highly dangerous to the foundation of our society and will lead to all kinds of damage done. Compare it to Uranium, one of the most radioactive substances known. When used in powerplants, and used correctly I might add, it will provide people with electricity for a long time. However, if used incorrectly, you get Chernobyl, an uninhabitable wasteland surrounding the radioactive remains of what had once been a powerplant and a community for the families of the people working in it.

One question we must ask is, why would God be so concerned with the strength and continuity of marriages? Most modern-day people’s opinion seems to be that marriage is an entirely private institution between two spouses, and that what goes on between them is of no concern to society at large. The question is, how much of that sentiment is true? I would submit that almost none of it is true, and here is why.

First, weddings are a public affair. Seldom ever do you see people getting married in their living room, just the couple, the person officiating, and witnesses. This means that they are proclaiming their permanent bonding before members of their communities, which in turn grants them a stake in the success of their marriage. Disagree? Ask a minister who has had to watch as a couple they had married gets divorced and wonder why it is that he often mourns the dissolution just as much as they do. Ask the neighbors of a couple who have split and wonder why it is they now feel awkward and nervous as they speak with both the one leaving and the one staying. Ask the teachers of the children of a couple who has split and listen as they tell you about their worry over the sudden change in children’s personality and academic performance. Once you have done that, take a step back and picture that same thing happening to anywhere between 40% and 50% of all married couples across our nation. If that picture does not cause you to worry after the future our nation, I am not sure what else I can tell you.

Second, statistics show that children brought up in homes with two married, heterosexual parents, are more likely to succeed in life. They are less likely to experience mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, or have negative encounters with the law. They tend to do better academically, socially, and intellectually. That this is good for our society cannot be understated, and divorce undermines this. Jesus, in His immeasurable wisdom, sought to curtail that damage by creating a situation in which married couples must work together to solve their problems rather than walk away at the first hint of trouble. In fact, there was a time in our history when divorce was exceedingly rare because the only reasons divorce was permitted came down to abandonment, mistreatment, or infidelity.

When it comes to outcomes for children, being raised in a stable home is obviously preferrable to an unstable one. Currently, no one has been able to find anything better than the traditional, two married parent family for ensuring that children enjoy the greatest amount of success. According to the Social Capital Project, a project of the Senate Joint Economic Committee, there are few relationships more valuable than that of parents and children, and they say that those relationships are in trouble,

“As sources of valuable social capital, few relationships are as important as the family ties between parents and children. However, as with other features of our associational life, family ties have been weakening for several decades. Today, around 45 percent of American children spend some time without a biological parent by late adolescence. That is up from around one-third of children born in the 1960s and one-fifth to one-quarter born in the 1950s. Even more strikingly, among the most disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, even fewer children are raised in continuously intact families. Single parenthood is experienced by two-thirds of the children of mothers with less than a high school education and by eighty percent of black children. This inequality in family stability contributes to but also compounds economic inequality.”

Folks, this is what divorce does to our society. It robs families, communities, and ultimately our nation by stunting the growth of our most valuable natural resource, our children. It takes lives built up over years and cuts them to ribbons, all while our society develops a seemingly callous attitude toward the damage done. I mean, how can I not mention Hollywood and their notorious five-minute marriages? People unfortunately pattern their lives after the Hollywood celebrities, and when they see celebrities dumping each other, cheating on each other, and swapping mates left and right, then they come under the impression that it must be acceptable. How does this in any way seem right?!

As I finish up, I want you to take note of something. The Apostle Paul made an allowance for converts whose spouses refused to convert. If you converted, but your spouse has refused to follow suit, and has chosen to leave, you can make a case for divorce. As we are not allowed to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, divorcing an unbelieving spouse who refuses to convert is prudent and no one will be penalized for it. Furthermore, a spouse who refuses to behave in a manner consistent with Scripture can be divorced under this rule. This includes spouses who are abusive physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. As a true believer would not be abusive, one can conclude that an abusive spouse is certainly NOT a believer. Of course, every reasonable effort must be made to bring them into repentance, but once that is done, then there are not a whole lot of options remaining. Given that an abuse victim is likely to be murdered by their abuser, and that children brought up in abusive homes are more likely to be abused as adults, or become abusers themselves, it is best to get them away from such an environment. In a situation like this, the damage caused by divorce is outweighed by the damage caused by abuse and mistreatment.

The plain teaching is this. Marriage is for life. That is why the vows include the phrase, “until death us do part”. It is not a plaything, it is not something to be entered into lightly, and while your marriage bed is sacred and private, your married life is not as private as you would suppose. What you do within the confines of your marriage covenant has far-reaching consequences, so be careful of the decisions you make within it. Not only are the eyes of your children on you, but so are those of your community. Therefore, Jesus taught what He taught regarding divorce, and we would do well to pay close attention to His teaching here. All that He commands of us, all that He demands from us, is for our good and His glory.

Resources:     

Waldfogel J, Craigie TA, Brooks-Gunn J. Fragile families and child wellbeing. Future Child. 2010 Fall;20(2):87-112. doi: 10.1353/foc.2010.0002. PMID: 20964133; PMCID: PMC3074431.

“The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home”, SCP REPORT NO. 3-20, JULY 2020

“Three Simple Rules Poor Teens Should Follow to Join the Middle Class”, Ron Haskins https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/three-simple-rules-poor-teens-should-follow-to-join-the-middle-class/


Adultery

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.Matthew 5:27-30, KJV

            Earlier on, I made the point that Jesus’ mission was not to bring anything radical or new to the world, but rather to bring everyone back to the Moral Law that had long since been established, and then establish the New Covenant under that Law. This passage is an example of this. In the book “Jewish Literacy”, Rabbi Telushkin suggests that Jesus had taken the biblical command to abstain from committing adultery and make observance much stricter, thereby turning it into a thought crime. In other words, the Rabbi suggested that Jesus tightened up the regulation regarding adultery, taking it from the realm of physical sin to one involving the mind. The issue is, he was either misinformed, misinterpreting, or seeking to downplay what was really going on. Recall that Jesus had already stated that His intent was the preservation of the Law, and not its destruction. In this case, what Jesus commanded regarding adultery, that simply looking at a woman to lust after her, amounted to committing adultery in one’s heart, which is in accordance with the teachings of the Tanakh.

            We will begin by defining terms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Adultery is defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse”. There we have it, quite simple and clear, right? Just avoid bedding someone who is not your spouse, and you are innocent of any crime. If only that were so. According to this definition, the physical act itself is what constitutes adultery, but what about thinking of it, considering it, or even creating the opportunity for it to take place? Does this count as adultery? According to Jesus it does, and it goes much deeper than that. Consider what the Tanakh says regarding thoughts and desires.

            In Exodus 20:17, we are forbidden from coveting one’s wife. The word for covet in Hebrew is תַחְמֹ֖ד (tahmod) and means “to desire” or “take pleasure in”. Tahmod refers to things regarded as beautiful, greatly beloved, coveted, a delectable thing, a great delight, desired, and lusted after. Oxford defines lust as, a “very strong sexual desire, especially when love is not involved”, and a “very strong desire for something or pleasure in something”. To be covetous, then, is to overwhelmingly desire something, even if it is something that belongs to someone else. It is the very definition of lust. To lust after, or covet, something is to want it and desire it above anything that may involve love, respect, or decency. The Greek supports this interpretation. The word used in Matthew 5 is ἐπιθυμῆσαι (epithymēsai). This is a compound word that comes from the two words ἐπί (epi) and θυμός (thumos). Epi means “on or upon” and thumos means “desire or lust after”. Epithymēsai then means “to long for, covet, lust after, set the heart upon”. This is a word that embodies the American English saying that someone wants something so bad that they can taste it, and in this case, this is an unbelievably bad thing.

In Exodus 20:17, the prohibition is on coveting anything belonging to your neighbor, including his wife. The reason for this is that all forms of theft, from petty theft all the way up to Grand Larceny, fraud, adultery, and even murder, all begin with covetousness. Why do I include murder in with theft? Because our language does. Consider that murder is the unjust, unwarranted, and unlawful taking of a human life. When you murder someone, you TAKE their life, you STEAL their life. Murder is the THEFT of someone’s life, the TAKING of something that does NOT belong to you, and theft begins with covetousness. At some point, you must conclude that whatever it is that you desire is worth having, no matter the cost, and the moment you reach that conclusion you are guilty of violating the Tenth Commandment. It makes no difference if it is a bauble, your neighbor’s spouse, or someone’s life. If you desire something that much, you are being covetous.

            To covet something, one does not need to DO anything. Covetousness begins in the heart, and in the mind. It begins as thought and feeling, and the Tenth Commandment makes entertaining these thoughts and feelings a crime under the Moral Law. When Jesus made the pronouncement in verse 28, He was returning adultery to the place it should have always been, under the category of a thought crime, and related to theft and covetousness. If Commandments Six through Ten were intended to outline how it is that we are to love our neighbors, something that Jesus states is a rather important law, then this makes clear that doing so begins in our hearts and minds, not in our actions or abstentions from action. Never forget that gaining entrance into the Kingdom has NOTHING to do with our actions, or the lack thereof, but rather true faith and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

            This becomes even more interesting, and damning for us, considering the implications this has for our daily lives. Lord knows I am just as guilty as just about any of you considering this. If ever you have found yourself admiring the body of an attractive member of the opposite sex, you are guilty. If ever you have watched pornography, you are guilty. No matter HOW you try to rationalize it, you are 100% guilty before the Lord, and this is very much a principle that originates in the Tanakh. Not only is this addressed in the Ten Commandments, but elsewhere in Scripture.

            For example, Job makes the statement that he had made an agreement with himself to never look on a virgin,

            “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1)

            What exactly is it that he meant by that? To make covenant in those days was a very solemn thing, and usually involved making a sacrifice to mark the occasion. Covenants are absolutely binding and cannot ever be taken lightly as a result, because they are to be held to, even if it meant walking into the jaws of death itself. When people made covenant, death was preferrable to breaking them. In this, Job is saying that he had made an agreement with himself, one that he would rather die than forsake, to not look upon a virgin. Here is the verse in the original Hebrew:

            בְּ֭רִית כָּרַ֣תִּי לְעֵינָ֑י וּמָ֥ה אֶ֝תְבֹּונֵ֗ן עַל־בְּתוּלָֽה׃

            Berit karati le’einai umah etbovnen betulah.

            I placed the first two words, Berit karati, in bold print for a reason. Berit means “a covenant” and karati means “I have made”. Right here, he is saying that he has made a vow with himself, one that is so important that it is a full-on covenant, to never look upon a virgin. The next question one must ask is, why? Why did he feel so strongly about this that he had to make a covenant with himself? It is because he knew that the instant he looked upon a virgin, he would go right down the path of licentiousness. When humans start down this path, it is not long before they commit theft, in the form of sexual sin, by taking something that does not belong to them.

            Therefore, Jesus returned adultery to the position of being a thought crime, which is why it is that “checking out” an attractive member of the opposite sex, something our society and culture has long considered trivial and benign, is regarded as adultery. Taking it a step further, this is also why viewing pornography in any form also constitutes adultery. When viewing it, you are participating in the sexual sin occurring right before your very eyes. In effect, you may as well be right there as an active participant, rather than a viewer. Note that Jesus says, “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee” (verse 29). In both cases, what you are doing is creating the opportunity for covetousness and licentiousness, which leads to sexual sin.

            Chapter 18 of Leviticus lays down why sexual sin is such a huge topic, and why we must take extra steps to guard against it. In the entire chapter, which not only defines sexual immorality, but also lists many of the crimes that fall under that category, the Lord states that such acts are an abomination (Toebah), and that even the land is defiled by these acts. It is no small thing, then, to commit sexual sin, no matter what our society and culture insists. In this chapter, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest are all clearly marked as sexual sin, and the prohibition is even extended to Gentiles living within the borders of Israel. If the Lord not only uses the strongest of language to define a sin, but also extends the law to include the Gentiles living in the land, then this is something that we must pay extra special attention to. Pay attention, kiddies, because this one will be on the exam, right? Using language, what God has done here is place a giant, flashing, electronic sign over this particular category and say, “Hey, so this is beyond critical. These are the ones you must avoid at all costs, because they are unbelievably bad for you. They will ruin you, your family, your nation, and your land.” In all the things that humans do, it all begins with thought and feeling, the heart and the mind. Therefore, the old saying says that the road to hell begins with good intentions, and this brings us to my next point: avoidance.

            Job’s decision to make a covenant with himself brings up the necessary point of how one goes about avoiding the violation of this command from Jesus. It is one thing to avoid looking at someone to lust after them, but it is something else entirely to change your heart on the matter. There was a time when I was mired in sexual sin. I have been guilty of violating this command in a variety of ways, including watching porn and “checking out” women I considered attractive. I have since learned that there is far more to this than just looking somewhere else or staying away from purveyors of pornography. You must willingly give yourself over to the desire to never again be taken in by this form of sin.

            The way this can be done is through what I call “tactical avoidance”, which is the idea that one can avoid temptation simply by never being in a place where they might be tempted. One thing I do is I avoid being alone with any female not related to me for any length of time beyond what is necessary. The reason for this is that having any form of intimate contact with someone who is not your spouse, and this includes intimate conversation, counts as adultery. This goes double for any time you discuss something that you have not told anyone else or would not tell your own spouse. It is all too easy to walk right into the realm of adultery, and much of what is truly considered adultery in Scripture is generally regarded as being “no big deal” in our world. Here are a few other references that bear this out:

Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” (Proverbs 6:25)

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

            Not to be outdone, even pagans understood the idea that our thought life can and will lead to sin. Roman poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis, also known simply as Juvenal, once wrote,

“Scilus intra se tacitus que cogitat ullum, Fucti crimen habet.”

“Who in his breast a guilty thought doth cherish, He bears the guilt of actions.”

            The basic idea is, if you have the thought, then this is just as bad as having done the thing. Bear something in mind. Sexual sin has such a tremendous impact on people that it has been the cause of much struggle and strife in our world. Recall the story of Helen of Troy, and what happened with her. Her adultery was the cause of a major war that ended in the sacking of the City of Troy, and the liquidation of its population. Of course, that is an extra-biblical reference. What of examples within the Bible?

            There is David, whose sexual sin led him to commit adultery, murder, and possibly rape. There is Samson, whose sexual sin brought about his own downfall when he was betrayed by Delilah. There was Solomon, whose sexual sin led him into idolatry. As Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr. puts it, the strongest man in the Bible, the wisest man in the Bible, and the godliest man in the Bible all fell into sexual sin. The impact of their decisions was as immense as they were immediate, and therefore God speaks so strongly against the commission of sexual sin to protect us and grow us in our relationship with Him, so that we may not suffer needlessly through the consequences of our own poor decision-making. We cannot grow in our relationship with Him and engage in sexual sin at the same time. It simply cannot be done. We are too weak, and sexual sin is too heinous.

            The idea behind tactical avoidance is simply to be aware of your weaknesses, be aware of your surroundings, be aware of the people in those surroundings, be aware of the things that you are saying or doing in those surroundings and using that to prevent the possibility of being in a place where you can possibly fail. It reminds me of a tactical process known as the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is a process developed by an Air Force Fighter Pilot named Col. John Boyd. This is a concept he used while flying, and stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is represented as a loop because each step in the acronym leads to the next one in a continuous circle without beginning or end. This process requires one to constantly be on guard, to constantly assess, reassess, and assess some more.

            By this point, I am sure that some of you are wondering what this has to do with honoring Jesus’ command on adultery, and here it is. We. Are. At. War. Our Enemy, Satan, has made it his mission to bring an end to everything that God has made. He desires nothing less than the complete destruction of all that God has made, and our mission is to do all that we can to prevent that. For humanity, the foundational institution that determines the strength and health of a human society is the nuclear family. Marriage is essential to the health of a nuclear family, which is essential to the strength and health of human society. Therefore, adultery and all other forms of sexual sin is called an abomination by God because these sins can literally tear apart the entire foundation of our societies, and this is Satan’s fondest wish.

            As we are plainly at war, then war language is required. Hence, OODA Loop and tactical avoidance are appropriate here. We are fighting against more than our own fragile selves; we are also fighting against the enemy who excels at using our weaknesses against us to bring us down. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”. (2 Cor. 10:3-4) Mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. We do not war after the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. As I said, we are at war, and if we do not spend any time acting as if we are so, we will be lost long before we are aware of it.

            This is the point where I would like to bring your attention to an adage that has been around for a long time, “When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.” (attributed to Arthur Ponsonby in 1928). In the case of this war, truth fell as the first casualty to the father of lies in the Garden, and he has sold many big lies to us ever since. One of the biggest is that someone who is married can have opposite-sex friends. This is the lie that has cost a great many people their marriages because we have been told that it is acceptable for married men to have female friends, and for married women to have male friends. Even I was taken in by this lie, and this lie has caused us all a lot of pain and trouble. The truth is that this lie is beyond dangerous, and tactical avoidance dictates that we cannot fall for it.

            The reason why this is so dangerous is that human relationships are a minefield of temptation. Guys, you need to consider the following. You have an argument with your wife, and one or both of you feels the need to speak with a friend regarding said argument. Deep down, how would you feel if the friend your wife turned to was male? If the idea unsettles you, as it does me, then you understand why it is that having opposite-sex friends is too dangerous. This is because it creates the opportunity for someone to seek something from someone that they should be finding in you, and vise versa.

            One of the things my wife has taught me is that women are relational, a fact that did not settle into my mind for quite some time. I have never made to claim to being overly bright, so no one act surprised to learn that I can be incredibly dumb, especially about the ways of women. In his presentation, “Tale of Two Brains”, Mark Gungor makes the point that everything in a woman’s brain is not only interconnected but is also connected to all their emotions as well. In their minds, all things connect, and the emotional element in that only serves to cement it, and therefore it is dangerous. You turning to a female friend for anything is creating relationship, and human relationships always have an emotional element that cannot be ignored because that is where intimacy lives. If we men are behaving in our characteristically insensitive way, and they turn to a male friend for the sensitivity that they are not getting from us, that creates an open pathway for adultery, even if only in the heart and mind. Remember, simply thinking of it is as bad as doing it, and any form of intimacy with anyone not our spouse is adultery.

            Men are not off the hook, either. While we may be insensitive and dense at times (read “most times”), we can still be emotional and sensitive. That emotion and sensitivity can lead to bonding with someone, which in turn leads to intimacy. What happens if your wife does not seem to understand you and it turns into conflict? Turning to a female friend for understanding is exactly the wrong answer because you have now turned to a woman for something that you are ONLY supposed to get from your wife and no other. Folks, this is how dangerous these waters are, and this is the big lie that our entire society has bought, hook, line, and sinker.

            Think about popular media. In TV and movies, how many times do you see married men with female friends? How many times do you see married women with male friends? The image painted is that it is entirely acceptable, that one can maintain a purely platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex, while still being married! This is how the lie is sold! Truth be told, you simply cannot get around the fact that friendship involves intimacy, and intimacy with anyone outside of your marriage is a no-go. Whatever you do, keep away from that ledge. Nothing good comes from standing there.

            I will make one final point. Some of you may be thinking that you are free and clear because you happen to be single. In some ways, you are right. Having a platonic relationship with someone of the opposite sex is, to a degree, acceptable. However, there are a few things to consider here. Single men, those women you like to check out all the time will one day BE someone’s wife, someone’s mother. Single women, those guys you like to check out will one day be someone’s husband, someone’s father. In that sense, when you look on someone to lust after them, married or not, you are committing adultery in your heart.

            Now, I mentioned that it was acceptable to a degree, and here is what I mean. Friendship requires a certain level of intimacy, and if intimacy between a married person and their unmarried friend is adultery and looking at a member of the opposite sex to lust after them is adultery, then such intimacy can only be adultery as well. Again, this is a person who will one day be someone’s wife or husband. This is also why premarital sex, a form of fornication, is unacceptable in the eyes of God. When you are intimate with the wrong person, you commit adultery in your heart. When you commit adultery, regardless of the form it takes, what you are doing is taking something that does not belong to you, and that is theft. Do. Not. Do. It.

Anger and Reconciliation

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.Matthew 5:21-26

For some of you, we are traveling into somewhat familiar territory. I dealt with much of this passage in my post entitled, “Am I a Murderer?”, and we are about to cover some of the same ground. However, we will also go into some new ground as well, so no worries. This is one of those passages that deals with more than one topic and is one that certainly gives us much to think about. In this passage, the issues of unforgiveness, unwarranted anger, the destruction of a man’s reputation, and reconciliation are dealt with in one very neat package. We will see that Jesus regards unwarranted anger as being on par with murder, and that unforgiveness is NOT an option for us. We will see what the cost of speaking ill of people can be. We are commanded to forgive, though I know as well as any of you just how hard it is to do that. There are people in my past who I must forgive over and over daily, and I know that there are people out there who need to do the same for me.

One of the most common misconceptions relating to forgiveness has to do with the idea that to forgive is to condone, and we are going to squash that one right now. As a child, I was routinely abused by the people in my life who were supposed to protect and guide me. Since that time, many of the people who have come in and out of my life have caused me hurt and pain in one way or another. No part of my choice to forgive them in any way makes what they did to me right. Similarly, I have wronged many people in my life, and many of them have chosen to forgive me. Their choice to forgive me does not endorse or condone the things I did wrong, nor would I expect them to do so. What I did was wrong, no question. It is entirely possible for someone to forgive someone for their actions, while still condemning what they did.

 There are different ways to apply forgiveness, embodied by the different definitions found in the dictionary. Here are the definitions found in the Oxford English Dictionary:

  1. “to stop feeling angry with somebody who has done something to harm, annoy or upset you; to stop feeling angry with yourself”
  2. “used to say in a polite way that you are sorry if what you are doing or saying seems rude or silly”
  3. “forgive (somebody) something (formal)”

Note something here. In some of the English-language versions of the Bible, Matthew 6:9-15 (The Lord’s Prayer) refers to “trespasses”, while others render the word “debts”. This brings something to mind when looked at through the lens of the definitions provided above. When we wrong someone, we create a debt. Debts are meant to be repaid, which means that we must do something to discharge the debt. For example, in Criminal Justice, the concept of restorative justice focuses on repairing the damage done to individuals and society by lawbreakers, which in turn discharges the debt incurred by the criminal who broke the law. Note that we say someone who has served their sentence has repaid their debt to society. The idea is to heal the victim while bringing the perpetrator into a place where they become compliant with the rules and laws of society. The prime example of this is the fact that Jesus died on the Cross to bring about a just forgiveness of the debt we created the first time we wronged the Lord and have compounded numerous times since. In dying in our place, He not only restored us to a state of righteousness, thereby mending the breach between the Lord and the sinner, but He did so in a way that imputed HIS righteousness on us. Charles Spurgeon addressed this in “The Heart of the Gospel”. He says,

“Every man that believes in Jesus is, through Christ having taken his sin, made to be righteous before God. We are righteous through faith in Christ Jesus, “justified by faith” (Rom 3:28). More than this, we are made not only to have the character of “righteousness”, but to become the substance called “righteousness”. I cannot explain this, but it is no small matter. It means no inconsiderable thing when we are said to be “made righteousness”. What is more, we are not only made righteousness, but we are made “the righteousness of God”. Herein is a great mystery. The righteousness which Adam had in the garden was perfect, but it was the righteousness of man; ours is the righteousness of God. Human righteousness failed; but the believer has a divine righteousness which can never fail.”

This type of forgiveness is more akin to the third definition provided by Oxford, that being, “forgive (somebody) something (formal)”. Consider this, what if I were to accidentally throw something through someone’s window? Would I not then be required to pay for the replacement of that window, thereby mending the breach between me and the owner? Now, what if the owner of that window said, “You know what? You do not have to worry about paying to replace the window, I will take care of it.” In doing this, the owner of the window (victim) chooses to discharge (forgive) the debt I (perpetrator) have incurred by being careless. When we take up our Cross and make the choice to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the debt we have incurred through our Sin is discharged because He paid the price for it with His blood.

In choosing to be unforgiving, what some people are doing is being ungrateful of that forgiveness. They are saying that they do not have to imitate the Lord by extending the same forgiveness to others. They are also saying that His sacrifice on the Cross is insufficient to cover the debt incurred by the perpetrator, and that they need His forgiveness in addition to their unforgiveness. This applies to both believers and unbelievers alike. If either cause you hurt, you cannot hold them to the debt that they have incurred because He discharged the debt you have incurred with Him. This is what He was illustrating in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). Every one of us owes the Lord a debt we could not possibly pay off, which means that we are entirely without hope. In discharging that debt that we cannot hope to pay, we must in turn extend the same mercy and grace to our fellow men, no matter what they have done to us. It is imperative that we fully understand this, because to forgive is to show mercy, and Jesus said that those who show no mercy will not be shown any. No matter what someone has done to you, it pales in comparison to what was done to Jesus on our behalf. The most innocent man to walk the earth was executed for crimes He did not commit, and there is nothing more heinous than that!

This passage also deals with unwarranted or unrighteous anger. Anger over something immoral is acceptable, whether done to you or someone else. However, the question then becomes, “For how long?” How long is it acceptable to be angry? Paul gives us the answer on this in his letter to the Ephesians,

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27Neither give place to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)

The idea is to recall that you too were under wrath until you came to belong to the Lord. If you too were under wrath, then it would behoove you to extend the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness to others. This one speaks to me, as well as some of you out there. I was once a champion at holding grudges. Words cannot express the various ways that I violated this command from Jesus. Do not hold grudges, do not seek to harm, or diminish those who have wronged you, no matter the offense. Do not seek revenge in any form, no matter how satisfying you think it will be to see them get their comeuppance, you must not lose sight of the fact that the Lord did not do us like that, and we can do no less than model ourselves after Him.

Note too that Jesus addresses insulting people and destroying their reputation in this passage. He states that calling someone “raca” and “Thou fool” places the person in danger of judgment, but what does He mean by this? What do these terms truly mean? Raca, as it turns out, is a Syriac word that refers to someone who is empty, vain, and vacuous. It is a term of extreme contempt, used for people regarded as basically being useless and ignorant. Regarding someone in this manner requires that one see themselves as somehow superior to them, and we already know that this type of pride is sinful. Therefore, it is for this reason that Jesus tells us that we are in danger of judgment if we call someone this. To call someone something like this is a direct attack not only on their spirit, but on their value as a human being. As humans possess the Imago Dei, this makes such a thing an attack on the Image of God.

As for “Thou fool”, in the original Greek the word used is Μωρέ (Mōray), and means “dull or stupid, i.e., heedless, blockhead, absurd” (Strong’s Greek 3474). Again, these are terms that really take aim at the spirit of a person and seek to bring them down. Going beyond this, the term was also used biblically to refer to someone who was idolatrous, and immoral (Deut. 22:21, Joshua 7:15, Psalm 14:1). Given the implications related to both terms, this becomes something akin to slander, which is directly forbidden in the Ten Commandments. This counts as bearing false witness against someone, which in turn destroys their reputation.

Jesus was commanding peace here, peace through compassion, empathy, and reconciliation. He was suggesting in verse 22 that those who are angry without cause are running the risk of being guilty of murder. This makes sense given how many murders begin with someone becoming angry over a slight that was real or imagined. If we can exercise self-control, learn how to forgive, avoid saying hateful and demeaning things about others, and seek to reconcile with those who have wronged us, then we will not be the person described in this passage.

I will finish up by saying this. There will be those we cannot reconcile with for one reason or another. Either through the separation of death, the presence of some element of physical danger, or through their own intransigence, there will be those people that we simply are unable to reconcile with. From a practical standpoint, it is best to forgive and move on with life. Do not make the mistake of assuming that you get a free pass to continue hating someone because they are dead, they are a physical danger to you, they have a toxic personality, or because they refuse to ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a requirement, no matter the cost. Do not forget that Jesus forgave the people who had crucified Him because they did not know what it was that they had done.

Jesus Fulfils the Law

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:17-20, KJV

If you were looking for a passage that can and will cause a bit of confusion, this would be one of them. The passage opens with the statement that Jesus did not come to do away with the Law, which is an implicit admission that His intent is to uphold its Truth and Authority. This is of course what He did when He walked through His life on this earth and is the reason why He was without Sin when He went up on the Cross to die for us. From beginning to end, His life served as an example of how to live according to the Law of Moses and was a call to return to the moral standards contained therein. It is well noted in Scripture that Jesus never once sinned.

This does bring up a few questions, of course. First of which is, does this mean that we are still bound by the Old Testament laws, or did Jesus relieve us entirely of the Law? If you have read any of my previous work, you will know that I believe that we are still bound by certain elements of the Law, though I hasten to add that we do not find Salvation by keeping the Law. That is only found in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross for Sin. The purpose to the Law then is to convict us of Sin and bring us to the foot of the Cross. From that point, keeping the Law becomes a matter of acting in a manner that is pleasing to God as a sign of true conversion.

As for why, it is quite simple. God’s morality is immutable, unchanging, and infallible. He is eternal, which means that His nature is eternal. He can no more change His own nature than I can the color of the sky with just my words. The idea that He would set the Law aside for any humans, saved or otherwise, is simply just ludicrous. Do bear in mind that Jesus stated that He will be the One judging the world, and judgment requires a standard. What would that standard be? Simply put, it is a section of the Old Law known as the Moral Law. This law includes, but is not limited to, the Ten Commandments. These are the laws found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, that are not morally neutral, that are clearly good or bad, with no in-between. Becoming saved does not suddenly mean that we are now permitted to commit murder, idolatry, sexual immorality, or any other horrific crime against the Lord. These are still morally wrong, no ambiguity involved. For an illustration of this, consider the Doctrine of Regeneration, which holds that the work of the Holy Spirit within us will change our desires, motivations, and inherent nature. Those changes are being done in accordance with the Law, which is why repentance is so importance. Metanoia (repentance) requires that we change our hearts and minds, thereby turning away from Sin. This brings Romans 3:29-31 to mind,

Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

What changed? In dying on the Cross, Jesus did something amazing. A full two-thirds of the Old Law, Ceremonial and Judicial, was aimed at either keeping a person in a position where they could enter the Temple and/or was flexible and changing with the cultural attitudes of the day and region. These aspects of the Law were malleable, subject to precedence and changes in attitude. It was these aspects of the Law that allowed the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to decide that they were righteous above all others; especially those that they had decided were “sinners” and therefore unworthy. This came about because they had come under the impression that their traditions (Talmud) were more important than the Word. His sacrifice rendered those aspects of the Law moot by removing our Sin and changing our base nature, so that we would come to hate our Sin and chase after Him.

He did not come to do away with the Law, He came to bring humanity back to it through a perfect relationship with Him. That is why He took human form and demonstrated for all who were paying attention how to live according to that Law. Consider the Greek word for “destroy” used in Matt. 5:17, καταλῦσαι (katalysai). This word has been translated as “to destroy”, “to abolish”, “to be torn down”, “thrown down”, and “to overthrow”. The main thrust of this statement is that Jesus is laying to rest the idea that He somehow came to do away with the Law.

The word πληρῶσαι (plērōsai), on the other hand, is translated here as “fulfil”. According to Strong’s Greek (4137), this word means to make full, to complete. In other words, His intent was to bring to fruition the sole intent of the Law, which was to bring humanity into right relationship with Him. This is the primary mission of Messiah, to make right what went wrong in the Garden. Furthermore, another meaning to fulfilling something is to teach or inculcate. His overall purpose then is to bring the Law to completion, and to bring the people back to Him. He came to teach people how to find their way back to the Lord who created them.

Jesus takes His statement further by saying that not one “jot’ or “tittle” of the Law will pass from the Law until the whole thing comes to fruition. What does He mean by this? The answer lies in verse 17 when He says, “Till heaven and earth pass”. This is an interesting reference that appears more than a few times in Scripture, but most notably in Genesis 1:1, where it is used to refer to the creation of the entire universe. In this, Jesus is saying that His intent is to preserve the Law until the end of our universe. We should interpret that to mean that we are all bound by the Moral Law until Judgment Day.

Furthermore, He makes it a crime to teach anyone anything that runs counter to the Law that He is upholding. In verse 19 He says, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven”.

This is something to be carefully considered. Jesus is making clear that treating any part of the law as if it were somehow lesser or greater is wrong. We must treat every law equally, and we must treat the violation of every law as equally heinous. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin. But you have disregarded the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were busy focusing on one area, while completely neglecting other more important matters, specifically justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They suffered from a problem of perspective, much like someone who is blind in one eye. They can still see, but their perspective, especially depth perception, will be lessened. The point is, we should not make any distinctions between the laws, and regard the keeping of those laws in an egalitarian manner.

It is equally important to recognize that violating even one of the laws makes us guilty of violating ALL the laws, even if we have not committed the specific offense. James speaks to this in his epistle. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10-11, see also Psalm 119:6)

Finally, we come to verse 20. I was looking forward to this one, because I have become convinced that this is an example of Jesus speaking tongue-in-cheek. If I am not mistaken, this was what we call a backhanded compliment directed at the Pharisees, who were likely standing by and listening. It is uncertain how they might have responded in the moment that He made the statement, but it is likely that they were not pleased to hear Him reference them in this manner. Consider how Jesus addresses them at various points in His ministry. He calls them hypocrites, snakes, whitewashed tombs, and various other less-than-flattering names. When it came to the religious authorities, He held them all in contempt for their hypocrisy, and unjust attitudes.

When He makes the statement that one must be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees to enter the Kingdom, I believe that He must have said it with sarcasm. In fact, His statement here reminds me of a joke I once heard.

There was once a man who had died and gone to heaven. Upon arrival, he was given a tour by St. Peter. During the tour, he noted that there was a high wall running off into eternity in both directions, appearing to divide heaven in two. When he asked St. Peter about the wall, his response was, “Oh, the Catholics are on the other side. They think they are the only ones here.”

If I am not mistaken, Jesus’ statement in verse 20 was something akin to St. Peter’s statement in the joke I have just shared. The scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees were all self-righteously convinced of their own superiority. Even as they argued amongst themselves on how to interpret the Law and the Prophets, they all regarded themselves as being the cream that had risen to the top. In arriving at that conclusion, they managed to make themselves into raging hypocrites, liars, murderers, thieves, and gross caricatures of what it meant to keep the Law. In making the statement that He made, He not only took a backhanded shot at them for their utterly depraved ways, but He also set the bar for His followers. Do not be self-righteous, hypocritical, dishonest, or unjust in your conduct. Do not go about puffing yourself up, while mistreating those who are less fortunate than yourself. Show kindness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and understand that you have nothing that was not given to you by God.

An Open Letter to Rep. Cleaver

By now, I am sure many of you have heard of the way that Missouri Representative Emanuel Cleaver III closed the opening prayer for the current session of Congress. If not, here is a link to one of the stories. I recommend checking it out,

https://nypost.com/2021/01/04/rep-emanuel-cleaver-closes-congress-opening-prayer-with-amen-and-awoman/

 Folks, there are many different layers of blasphemy contained in that one prayer, and I would like to address them, each in turn. This will take the form of an open letter to Rep. Cleaver, so bear with me as I go through all of this.

Representative Cleaver,

Good evening, sir. I am writing to address the closing of your opening prayer for this current session of Congress. I will begin by addressing the point where we agree, namely in your call for peace everywhere, most especially within the halls of Congress. This is a most fitting thing to call for, especially since you are an ordained minister. Given the craziness and upheaval our nation has seen these last few years, calling for such is only reasonable and good. Lord above knows how fervently I wish for peace in our fractured nation, and within the halls of power in our nation’s Capital.

Where I take issue, sir, is in the way that you closed your prayer. While inclusion is generally an admirable goal within a Secular society, how can you, an ordained minister, sell your faith out in that manner? Preacher, examine thyself! In Scripture, we are commanded to examine ourselves, and test ourselves against Scripture (2 Cor 13:5). It is not one bit simpler than asking yourself if what it is you are thinking, saying, or doing, is consistent with the clear and concise commands given by God in His Word. If you are a born-again Christian, and one would hope so given your credentials, then you ought to know that there is to be NO business between the Lord and Mammon! How can you invoke the name of the Almighty God in one breath, and false gods in the other, without condemning those gods as false?! Sticking strictly with your faith is not just a good idea, it is a requirement. Repent.

There are several reasons why your choice of words was tragically wrong. First, Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” In taking the names of idols alongside the Name of Almighty God, you have not only shamed His Name, a violation of the Third Commandment, but you have also demonstrated shame in your own professed faith. Repent.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

14Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Sir, I ask you. In which way does this statement you have made exemplify this command given by the Lord Jesus? To be Salt and Light in the manner that Jesus commands here, you must stand fast in your faith, and doing so does not include bowing down before false idols. God specifically reserves worship for Himself, and no others. In case you need a reminder, Commandments 1 through 3 in Exodus 20 cover this, and it is these three commands that you have violated. In choosing to include them in your closing, you have effectively bowed down before false gods and committed idolatry. Repent.

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus goes on to say, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Where do your loyalties lie, sir? To the risen Christ, our Savior and King, or to the world? You cannot serve both. If your loyalty lies with the Lord Jesus, why would you choose to shame Him by associating His Holy Name with false gods and idols? How dare you, sir? You, someone who is supposed to be a leader within the Church body, are called to set the example for all others. In doing this, you have set the wrong example. You have given the green light for people to commit idolatry in pursuit of worldly acceptance and accolade. For what reason do you do this? Fear? If so, Jesus had this to say,

Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

As someone who purports to be a man of faith, you are called to repent of your Sin, take up your Cross, and follow the Lord Jesus. You must bear good fruit, you must be Salt and Light, you must not bow down before false idols, and you cannot compromise your faith in any way, shape, fashion, or form. In this instance, you have done NONE of that and I pray for you, sir. I pray that you repent before the Lord you have offended, that you turn away from your Sin, and that you begin to bear good fruit. Your friends in Congress cannot save you from the wrath of God that is to come, nor will any of them be able to stand with you on the day of judgment. Repent.

Matthew 12:33-37, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. 34O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

When questioned about which of the Commandments is the greatest, the Lord Jesus summed up the entire Ten Commandments in this way,

Matthew 22:37-39, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Sir, to love the Lord your God in the way described, you must keep the first four Commandments. To love your neighbors, you must keep the remaining six. In behaving in the way that you have behaved, you have been unloving to both God and your neighbors, and I pray that you repent of that. Anything beyond this is between you and God. I speak as a brother in Christ, and a fellow image bearer of God. Test yourself, examine yourself, and seek to determine whether you are in fact acting in accordance with the Word of God.

Finally, to comment on your decision to sum up with “Amen and awoman”, I am not sure if you were saying that tongue-in-cheek. As I tend to err on the side of pessimism in cases like these, I will assume you were not. The English word “Amen” is NOT a gendered word in the English sense, as it is merely the rendering of the Hebrew word “Amayn” אָמֵן, which translates as “verily”, and “truly”. To do what you did at the end of a prayer that you sent up to Almighty God shows a lack of reverence for the Lord, a lack of reverence that is even more astonishing since you profess to be a Christian and have chosen to be a leader within the Church.

I ask, sir, that you rethink your future conduct when dealing with something as reverential as prayer. You should not drag the name of the Creator of our universe through the mud, as I am sure He will have much to say on the matter.

Salt and Light

This is the first section after the close of the Beatitudes, and the section where Jesus begins to teach further on some of the principles covered therein. We will begin with the section entitled “Salt and Light” and explore what Jesus is saying here. As with the Beatitudes, we will be covering this section in detail, though verse-by-verse will not work as well here. As such, we will cover the passage in its entirety. Here is the passage, Matthew 5:13-16,

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

14Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

In this passage, the overall message is that believers are called upon to behave as salt and light. The question one needs to ask is, how does one accomplish this? The answer lies in something I did not know until I began researching this brief passage. The type of salt that Jesus was referencing bears little resemblance to the salt we Americans find in our grocery stores.

 I had always assumed that salt is salt, is salt, is salt, etc. It is sodium chloride, easily obtained from ocean water by way of distillation, or by mining (i.e., Himalayan Pink Salt). It is this wonderful flavoring that we add to our food in quantities that make my hypertension meds nearly useless. Once exposed to a liquid like water, its level of purity ensures that there is nothing left once it is fully dissolved, and that it also makes an effective preserver of food. For someone growing up in a world where this is salt, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the comparison to salt means that we are to preserve the world from immorality, in addition to bringing a variety of flavors to the world through our attitudes, our prayers, and our influence on the world around us. All of this is true, however, there is an aspect that is not well known in our world. Salt in First Century Judea looked nothing like the salt we find on grocery store shelves today, and this adds a new spin on what Jesus means here.

The Geological Society of America published a special paper entitled, “Saline Deposits: A Symposium based on Papers from the International Conference on Saline Deposits, Houston, Texas, 1962”, which in turn has a chapter entitled, “Salt Deposits of the Dead Sea region”. The author of this chapter, Yaakov K. Bentor, says of the salt deposits found in Israel, “Mount Sdom, 10 km long and 1–2 km wide, rising 220 m above the present level of the Dead Sea, consists essentially of salt interbedded with sand, shales, anhydrite, and carbonate rocks.” What this means is that the salt of Jesus’ day, literally rock salt, did not fully dissolve when used, which meant that it had to be protected and kept in the right environment to retain its salty flavor and properties. Historical accounts show that after use the remaining materials, wholly useless to the people for any other purpose, was generally used to line streets and walks, as it was good for nothing else. In fact, the remaining material was known to rob soil of its fertility, which was why people used it in the manner that they did. In his work, “The Land and the Book”, Dr. William Thompson (1806-1894) notes,

“I have often seen just such salt, and the identical disposition of it that our Lord has mentioned. A merchant of Sidon having farmed of the government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over an immense quantity from the marshes of Cyprus – enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for at least 20 years. This he had transferred to the mountains, to cheat the government out of some small percentage. Sixty-five houses in June – Lady Stanhope’s village were rented and filled with salt. These houses have merely earthen floors, and the salt next the ground, in a few years, entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the street, to be trodden underfoot by people and beasts. It was ‘good for nothing.’”

Consider this imagery in terms of believers who have become like that salt and lost their properties. Good for little else but to be trampled underfoot by man and beast alike. This is a very stark imagery indeed, either you can preserve the word and make the world a better place through it, or you can become good for nothing beyond being trod into the ground. While this does not change the overall message of verse 13, it does give one pause as the added element of this goes a long way toward casting the intentional watering down of the Word by many modern preachers and teachers in a whole new light. We are commanded here to be like salt, to preserve the Word and bring a pleasing flavor to the world through our attitudes and behaviors, or else we will ultimately be trampled underfoot. In other words, one who has become a true follower of Jesus and who has begun to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit cannot simply keep quite about it. We must speak up, we must speak out, and we cannot compromise.

This is further supported by verses 14-16, in which we are commanded to be as a light. What does it mean to be a light? Consider what we do with light. Light allows us to operate under the darkest of conditions. A light can help someone who has lost their way be found. It can help someone caught in a natural disaster either find their way to help, or lead help to their location for rescue. Light brings life, it brings safety and security, it keeps the predators at bay, and allows us to be productive long after the sun has set. Going beyond this, in biblical terms, light also signifies knowledge and divinity. The command is to bring people to the knowledge of God, and what He has done for us. We are to illuminate the wretched condition which all humans are born into, so that they may see their way to the rescue provided by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. How can we, those who have been rescued, keep silent about that? Frank Turek says it best when he says, “Evangelism is simply one beggar telling the other beggars where the food is!”

Notice the imagery used in verse 14, “light of the world”, and a “city set on a hill”. To be a light of the world, one would have to shine very bright indeed. Furthermore, to be a city on a hill is to be a shining beacon in the darkness! Cities, by their very nature, produce large amounts light. We are to be a bright point in a sea of darkness so that those who are desperately seeking rescue will know where to go! We can be no less than that, and this is what Jesus was commanding in this passage. Be the light! Be the Salt! Preserve the Word and illuminate the world with the Gospel. It makes no sense to do otherwise.

https://pubs.geoscienceworld.org/books/book/741/chapter/3809162/Salt-Deposits-of-the-Dead-Sea-Region

Blessed are they which are Persecuted

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:10, KJV

            This is one of the more interesting Beatitudes, as it is not only being demonstrated all over the world at this very moment, but it also contains the same promise as the one given in verse three of this chapter, namely, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Not only are we to stay the course, but our willingness to do so in the face of persecution is being referred to as a sign that we will inherit the Kingdom of God. This is one of the things that Jesus spoke to on many occasions, taking the time to make clear that we must be willing to follow His commands, even if it means our own death at the hands of our fellow men.

            What then does it mean to be persecuted? The Greek word used, δεδιωγμένοι (dediōgmenoi), is a word that refers to being hunted, pursued, and persecuted. The Oxford English Dictionary defines persecution as, “​the act of treating somebody in a cruel and unfair way, especially because of their race, religion or political beliefs”. Between the two definitions, we get the picture of someone whose life is being turned upside down by others on account of their beliefs, insofar as it pertains to this Beatitude, and Jesus calls this a blessing. Why? The end of the verse shows that those who stand their ground while being persecuted will inherit the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus takes this further by finishing out the Beatitudes with,

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

            What He says here is that being persecuted is an honor and a blessing, and this is how we ought to regard it. At this moment, there are Christians and Messianic Jews all over the world who are being actively persecuted. People are hunting them down, speaking lies against them, assaulting their bodies and their character, imprisoning them, torturing them, and even murdering them for refusing to disavow their faith in Jesus. Their churches are being closed, torn down, and burned down, as their Pastors are being hauled away to jail, all for the sake of the Gospel. All over the world there are entire congregations that operate entirely underground because the authorities will seek to stop them at every turn. Countless millions of believers must worship the Lord in hidden places in order to avoid being found.

            Currently, the Communist Chinese Party is in the process of rewriting the Bible to bring Scripture more in line with the Communist ideology. They are tearing down the crosses from churches and out of the homes of believers, while forcing them to replace religious imagery in their homes with pictures of Xi Jinping. Similar things are happening in North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and many other countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. The persecution is so bad that Open Doors, a Christian organization that tracks reports of ongoing persecution has compiled an annual list of “The 10 most dangerous places for Christians”, which shows the ten countries with the worst track records when it comes to Christian persecution. Here is their list, as of January of this year,

Take note that North Korea has been number one on that list for 19 years in a row, as Christians are so heavily persecuted, those who are found out are either executed on the spot or are sent to labor camps to be worked to death. It is worth noting that the punishment meted out to Christians who are found is applied to their families as well; all the way to the fourth generation.

If you think you are safe here in the US, you are mistaken. Bear in mind that just a few years ago, a Christian baker was nearly sued out of existence for refusing to place a same-sex wedding topper on a cake. Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, CO had his life turned upside down by a same-sex couple who wanted him to make a cake for their “wedding” and filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against him when he refused on religious grounds. They could have simply gone to a different baker when he refused but chose instead to try to destroy his life for his faith. In other words, he was persecuted.

Just a little note here. I had Mr. Phillips make my birthday cake last year. It was the best carrot cake I have ever tasted, and he is a very cordial and gracious man. I cannot say enough good things about him, as I had the opportunity to meet him when I picked up my cake. We shook hands and I told him what I am sure many people tell him every day, that he has inspired many others to stand up for the faith against the world.

While the Supreme Court did ultimately side with Mr. Phillips, it was not on account of persecution for his faith, but rather the fact that 1) his refusal was not against Colorado law at the time (they have since changed their law to make it illegal), and 2) the case against him showed clear signs of judicial prejudice which caused them to overturn the initial decision. After their win at the Supreme Court, Mr. Phillips continued to be harassed by people baiting him into refusing them service so that they could file suit against him. Thus far, he has held his ground and continued to fight, though it has cost him a lot. If any of you are so inclined, he makes an amazing carrot cake, has reasonable prices, and happily accepts donations. Here is his site (no, I was not paid for this, nor would I accept payment from him),

Of course, his example is not the only one, nor will it be the last. Just a few days ago, my personal YouTube account was permanently shut down for “repeated abusive, hateful and/or harassing comments”. That quote is from the email they sent me, informing me that my page had been shut down. I can honestly say that their stated reason is a flat out lie. I have never behaved in an abusive manner against anyone on there, nor have I been hateful or harassing. I have generally been respectful, open, honest, and direct. On the rare occasion when I had harsh words for someone, I was calling them out on rude, disgusting, and bad behavior.

What I had been doing was sharing the Gospel, engaging in apologetics, and speaking out regarding the stolen election we are presently dealing with. No part of that is in any way wrong, but they shut me down anyway. The icing on the cake was that they refused to provide me with a single example to substantiate their claim and would not give me a real chance at an appeal. They simply took the arbitrary step of permanently shutting down a channel that had never produced or shared any content, only comments on videos covering a wide variety of topics. While my example pales in comparison to the way people tried to destroy Mr. Phillips, or the way that Christians are being treated in other countries, stories like mine and Mr. Phillips’ indicate that this country will end up on that list if we are not careful. It is only a matter of time, and biblical prophecy shows that there will come a time when there will not be a safe place for us anywhere.

Jesus spoke to this many times throughout His ministry. In Matthew 5:11, He says that they “say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake”. He did not stutter there; people will tell lies about us because we follow Him. They will say and do bad things to us for choosing to follow Jesus, just ask the few outspoken Christians in Hollywood about how they are treated in their industry. As I recall, last year Chris Pratt was excoriated by Ellen Page for being Christian because his church has been historically anti-LGBT. Of course, no one has anything negative to say to her for being bigoted against the beliefs of Christians all over the world, but people will certainly applaud her as being brave for doing so, and this points to where the persecution begins.

Jesus had much more to say on the topic. In Matthew 10:21-22, He says, “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.

He also said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.Matthew 10:28

Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 10:37-39, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Matthew 16:25-26, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. 26For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

            The bottom line here is that our first loyalty is to Jesus, which will not win us many friends. In sharing the Gospel on YouTube and taking down the arguments and objections people have brought against the reality of Christianity, I was blessed by the people at YouTube, though I doubt very much they would see it that way. The irony of the situation is that they managed to silence a minority voice when they shut me down, but I guess the only minority voices that matter to them are the ones that toe the party line. I would be lying if I said that I was not angry about the whole situation, but the fact remains that they are engaged in active censorship and the denial of people’s rights, which is the only reason why it bothers me. If it were just me, and not me as an example of a larger trend, I would simply be amused. However, this is not the case, and they are persecuting many of their fellow citizens.

            Mr. Phillips was blessed by the people who sought to destroy his life for standing with Jesus and His commands, and the Lord saw fit to reward him for his efforts. Many more have been blessed in similar manner and will continue to do so until Jesus makes His return trip. We must understand that this is not going away and will one day break open in a way that has never been seen before. However, no matter how bad it will get, it will pale in comparison to what awaits those who will be condemned on Judgment Day, and what we will receive will be far greater than anything we could ever imagine in this life. Stay the course, be blessed, and love God with all that you have.

More articles and sources:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gospel-according-to-xi-11591310956

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/november/china-christians-jesus-communist-president-xi-jinping-yugan.html

https://freedomhouse.org/report/2017/battle-china-spirit-christianity-religious-freedom

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” ~Matthew 5:9, KJV

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? In the original Greek, the word for “peacemaker” is εἰρηνοποιοί (eirēnopoioi), which translates as “pacific/loving peace/peacemaker”. What this means is that our primary goal when faced with conflict is to find the peaceful solution. Not only should this be our primary goal, but it works together with the previous verses which call for us to be meek, merciful, to mourn over our sins, and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Becoming the person who lives according to those commands will result in someone who does become a peacemaker.

            Being a peacemaker goes beyond simply just living peaceably with others, though this is encouraged, too. We find this further elaborated in James 3:17,

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

            Note that James lists the whole thing in order, beginning with that which is from above, and so on. He states that we ought to be full of mercy and good fruits, that we should be impartial, and that we should be without hypocrisy. Furthermore, we should be willing to pursue peace no matter what it costs us to bring it about. These are traits that naturally lend themselves to being peacemakers, as they instill trust in us from others.

            The principle expressed here stipulates that a peacemaker should use whichever means are available to prevent all manner of conflict, even war, and that the peacemaker is never more like God than when he is working to maintain peace among the people around him because God is the author of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). We should bear in mind that this does not mean that we should turn ourselves into busybodies, but that we should be ready to help create or maintain peace should the need arise.

            For someone to become a peacemaker, they need to be willing to give up much of their own comfort to bring it about. This means doing things like swallowing pride, setting aside the need to be right in favor of bringing happiness to others, and taking the time to help others see things from your perspective while seeking to do the same for them. The more you pursue understanding and peaceful relations with others, the more fruit your efforts will bear.

            Do bear in mind that this does not necessarily mean that you should turn yourself into a doormat or abandon your principles. In fact, the dividing line between being a peacemaker and being a doormat is a very easily defined one. Consider Romans 12:18-19, in which the Apostle Paul says,

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

As much as possible, seek the peaceful solution so long as doing so does not compromise you morally, legally, or ethically, and do not take the road of vengeance. If the road to peace requires you to work against God, and both compromise and vengeance will do just that, then you are not headed down the road to peace and should turn yourself around immediately.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” ~Matthew 5:8, KJV

             What does it mean to be pure of heart? According to the original Greek, it means to have a heart that is καθαροὶ (katharoi), or clean. We must have a clean heart, which sounds great, but we are still stuck on what that means and how to achieve it. For the last few months, I have been very deeply drawn to Psalm 51, as this Psalm gives great insight into the meaning of the Beatitudes. What we have is the picture of someone whose heart has been made clean of the blemish of Sin, and king David did a tremendous job of illustrating it when he poured his heart out onto Psalm 51.

            We will begin with Psalm 51:10, which says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” In the original Hebrew, the word rendered as “clean” is טָ֭הוֹר (tahore). According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, this word means “pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial, or moral sense) — clean, fair, pure(-ness)”.

            Oxford English Dictionary defines pure as, “not mixed with anything else; with nothing added”, “clean and not containing any harmful substances”, “complete and total”, and “without evil thoughts or actions, especially sexual ones; morally good”. These account for four of the definitions provided, and certainly paint the picture of what is meant by purity of heart. The picture now becomes clearer. What Jesus commands, and what king David begged for, is a heart that is free from anything that will cause us harm, free from evil thoughts or actions, leaving room only for the morally good. Sounds simple, but how many simple things in life are also easy?

            Turn over to Isaiah 64, if you would, and we will look at verse 6, which says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Where we will center our focus is on the Hebrew word for “unclean”, which is כַטָּמֵא֙ (katamay). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that katamay comes from the root word “tomay” and means, “defiled, infamous, polluted, unclean” (Strong’s 2931). This word demonstrates in the strongest terms possible that we are all unclean, and therein lies the problem. How do we make the transition from unclean to clean? We have already established that the end goal is to become pure of heart, so that we may be able to see God, but how?

            The answer lies in the text of Psalm 51 itself, in what king David is begging the Lord to do for him,

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities…

            The first thing to note is that king David is begging the Lord to make his heart clean and pure, which means that none of us can to this on our own. I cannot make my heart pure; it takes God. The Hebrew texts in this refer to the act of cleaning, which may remind some of you of the way clothing used to be washed on a washboard. You must plunge the clothing into the water and rub it across a rough surface to remove anything stuck on the fabric. You must do this repeatedly until all stains are gone, and this brings us to the next point made by king David, becoming pure of heart requires that we be broken over our Sin.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” (Verse 8)

            Note who it is that king David says broke his bones. To repent of our sins, we must first be convicted of them. We must come to the complete understanding of what it is that we have done to offend God, and we must not only be sorry for it, but we must be brokenhearted over the things that we have done! It is only through this that we can begin to turn away from Sin and become pure of heart. He is begging the Lord to do for him that which he cannot do for himself, namely, purify his heart and take away his desire to sin. What he is asking requires action on the part of the Lord, and therein lies the rub. We cannot purify our own hearts. If we could, there would have been scant need of the Salvation brought by Jesus when He went up on that Cross! To be pure of heart, we must be repentant before the Holy God who made us. Then, and only then, can we become pure of heart.

            To be able to see God, that is to stand before Him, one must be without the blemish of Sin. His nature is so pure, so Holy, that He cannot abide Sin in His presence. It would simply be destroyed. In dying on the Cross for us, Jesus has created a way for us to stand before God unblemished and pure. To be pure of heart is to be repentant, and regenerant. This brings us to a doctrinal point, the Doctrine of Regeneration.

            Once one has truly repented before the Lord, something that can only happen when the Holy Spirit begins His work in that person, He changes them in ways that cannot be adequately expressed. He takes us and regenerates us, turning us into a new creature. There are two quotes I will share, both of which illustrate the work that the Holy Spirit does in us.

“Regeneration is the work of God’s Holy Spirit in the soul of humans, enabling us to see our sinfulness and peril, and to behold the beauty of the Savior so that we can truly praise and worship him again.” ~Edward N. Gross, “Doctrine 101: Regeneration”

“There is a greater manifestation of the power of God in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit than in the creation of the world, or even of the universe, because He created the world ex nihilo: out of nothing. But He re-creates a man out of a mass of corruption. It is parallel with the very resurrection of our Savior from the dead.” ~Paul Washer, “Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church”

            This is what creates an important distinction. There is a difference between someone who changes their behavior because the Holy Spirit has begun a good work in them, and someone who mimics this behavior because they either want to appear pious, or because they fear the consequences. This is one of the reasons why Jesus so frequently excoriated the religious authorities over their hypocrisy. They were mimicking the pious behavior of the regenerate to elevate themselves above all others. Being pure of heart is more than just doing the right things at the right time, it is being remade into someone who WANTS, who NEEDS, and who DESIRES to do the right thing to the point of actively HATING the very idea of doing the wrong thing! Praise be to GOD for this.