Sunday, March 31, 2013

Counting the Omer

Have you been counting the omer? This is a command by God found in Leviticus 23.

Leviticus 23:15-16 (KJV)
15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:
16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.

Most Christians have never even heard of the omer, much less the counting of it. Yet, here it is, right after the description of the Feast of First Fruits. In fact, the Feast of First Fruits is the beginning of the counting. Verse 15 refers to the Feast of First Fruits as the morrow after the sabbath, the day that the Jewish people were to bring the first sheaf of barley to be waved before the Lord. This counting was to continue until seven sabbaths were counted. This equals 49 days (7x7). Verse 16 then concludes that on the following day, the 50th day, a new grain (meat as in meal) offering would be made unto the Lord. This would be an offering of the wheat harvest.

Can you guess what day is the 50th day after the Feast of First Fruits? It is the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost! This feast is one that most Christians are very familiar with given the events of Acts chapter 2 and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The counting of the omer connects the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost. But what is an omer? An omer is a measure of about 3.64 liters. The idea was to bring the first sheaves of the barley harvest to the priest to be waved before the Lord. So the command is basically to count a sheaf of barley every evening until Pentecost. Traditionally, the counting began on the 16th of Nisan. (Remember the Passover lambs were to be killed on the 14th.) Today, we simply count the days, since the Temple has been destroyed and we can't physically perform the required offerings. But the counting is still called, "the counting of the omer."

The traditional count, done in the evening, is accomplished by saying something like the following:

"Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us regarding the counting of the Omer. Today is the (whatever day, eg. fifth) day of the Omer."

After Yeshua was raised from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits, He spent 40 of the 50 days teaching the disciples. After that, Yeshua ascended into Heaven and told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit, which occurred on Pentecost, the 50th day.

If Yeshua meant those days to be a type of preparation we should continue to remember them. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Resurrection of Yeshua and First Fruits

On this coming Sunday Christians around the world will celebrate Easter. This is in commemoration of Yeshua's resurrection from the dead. Unfortunately, this date is not chosen based on Scripture, but rather on a formula standardized in the fourth century that determined Easter was to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. In Scripture we read nothing about the vernal equinox or full moon, instead Yeshua's resurrection is based on when Passover and the Feast of First Fruits occur.

Leviticus 23:5-6 (KJV)
5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD'S passover.
6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.

The first month in the Jewish calendar begins on the new moon of Nisan which occurs sometime in March or April. This year it began on the evening of March 12, 2013. The 14th day corresponded to March 25, 2013. On that evening Jews and Torah observant Christians around the world began the celebration of Passover with a seder meal.

Prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. the Passover lambs were slaughtered on the 14th of Nisan. It was on this date that Yeshua was crucified as our once and for all Passover lamb. If Christians were to commemorate Yeshua's crucifixion, the anniversary was on March 25th of this year. How many Christians marked this date? How many erroneously will be going to "Good Friday" services on March 29th?

Leviticus 23:10-11 (KJV)
10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:
11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.

These verses of Leviticus describe the Feast of Firstfruits. It occurs on the morrow after the sabbath during Passover (Unleavened Bread). It is very likely that Yeshua rose from the dead on the day of Firstfruits.

1 Corinthians 15:20 (KJV)
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

But how many Christians celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits? 

Besides Christians celebrating the death and resurrection of Yeshua on incorrect dates, the overriding problem with Easter is its pagan origins. The name "Easter" comes from "Eastre" the Teutonic goddess of spring, although from ancient times spring has been celebrated by pagans. When the religious leaders wanted to Christianize the pagans, their traditions were absorbed in Christian practices to make the transition more comfortable and acceptable. This blending of the impure with the holy is detested by God and should never have been done, because it has left sincere and devoted Christians guilty of celebrating pagan feasts. 

2 Corinthians 6:14 (KJV)
14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:17 (KJV)
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

And no amount of focusing on the correct interpretations of Yeshua's death and resurrection can make a pagan holiday Christian. If Christians want to honor Yeshua's death and resurrection we need to follow the proscription of Scripture rather than pagan traditions. Let us remember Passover.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Goal of Happiness Pt 3


God does want the believer to be Biblically happy, although this happiness is different from the world's understanding. Biblical happiness is not dependent on circumstances. Secondly, mankind's purpose is to glorify God. But how does happiness, Biblical or worldly, fit into the purpose of God?

Romans 8:28 (KJV)
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

This well-known verse of Scripture is often used to point out that God intends that all things in our lives work together for good. This is true. It is also important to understand that this promise is for those who are of the called, the believers in Yeshua. This calling and the good that results are all according to His purpose, the glorifying of God. Therefore, the meaning of "good" is determined not by what we necessarily think is good, but rather by those things that ultimately glorify God.

This is then what determines the circumstances in the believer's life. Only those things that will glorify God are allowed by God to happen.

Unfortunately, some segments of the church have translated this into a gospel that teaches that God's desire is for believers to be wealthy, prosperous, and without illness. This is false. We live in a fallen world. There are earthquakes, tornadoes, extremes in temperatures, floods, pestilence, and illness. Ultimately, we all die. There is also evil and sin. Man is pitted against man. Even believers choose sin over obedience to God. This world can be scary and terrible, filled with difficulties and misery that we have thrust upon us, or even fall into because of our own sin, or poor (but not sinful) choices.

Yet, God works with and through the fallen world we live in. And for Christians, we have that confidence that even though God allows tragedy in our lives, we know that what we go through somehow fits in God's purpose of His glorification. How can this be? How does the believer's misery glorify God?

Although we don't comprehend all the workings of God, some examples can help in our understanding. It is a fact, that when the church is persecuted it grows more and is more spiritually healthy than when life as a Christian is easy. Going through extreme pain from injury or illness allows empathy for others and causes focus to be on God rather than worldly goals. Even martyrdom serves as an impetus for church growth.

In some ways, this still might seem to contradict what God has promised us as believers.

Philippians 4:19 (KJV)
19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

It is hard to imagine that persecution, pain, sickness, tragedy, and death constitute "supplying all your need." This is where that supernatural gift of Biblical happiness or joy comes in. Believers can experience Biblical happiness in the most trying and difficult times! Let's also look critically at the sum total of our lives. Can we admit that God has also blessed us with times of worldly happiness as well?

What then is God's responsibility to believers overall? If His ultimate purpose is His glorification, what is He trying to accomplish in us?

God's overriding responsibility and desire is to create a people for Himself. He is molding believers into a holy people by whatever means is necessary. If persecution or tragedy will do this, God will use it. It is what is good and necessary. You see, God is more interested in getting the believer ready to be a member of His Kingdom than of providing worldly happiness.

Hebrews 8:10 (KJV)
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

Romans 8:29 (KJV)
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Goal of Happiness Pt. 2


Happiness for the Christian has become an important topic of discussion across the internet, in books, and in sermons. Although God does want us to experience Biblical happiness, today's emphasis on worldly happiness has led to the incorrect belief that the Christian life is easy and full of pleasant feelings. There is so much attention placed on happiness that it would seem that happiness is a goal not only for the Christian to attain, but is a goal for us that God approves. Is this true?

What is our purpose in life? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end (or goal) of man is to glorify God. Is this summary correct? Looking to Scripture we find:

1 Peter 4:11 (KJV)
11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 43:7 (KJV)
7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

1 Corinthians 1:31 (KJV)
31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

Matthew 5:16 (KJV)
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

John 12:28 (KJV)
28 Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

We have been created for God's glory and our good works glorify Him. This is indeed our purpose in life.

To seek Biblical happiness as a goal can fit into God's purposes, although there is a caution.

Galatians 5:22 (KJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

In this verse Biblical joy and Biblical happiness express the same concept. These fruit are outcomes that further the glorification of God. But we must be careful here, not to confuse Biblical happiness and joy with the worldly versions that are self-centered. Biblical happiness results, not so much by seeking it, but by doing those good works that are pleasing to God. Happiness is the result of focusing on others rather than on ourselves. So maybe there should be less preaching and discussing of happiness (even the Biblical kind) and more on obedience to God and service to our fellow man.

Next, we're going to look at worldly happiness as it relates to God's purposes.

Part 3:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Goal of Happiness

One of the trends that seems to be infiltrating Christianity today is the idea that God wants us to be happy. The theme is everywhere in books, blogs, and sermons, but is this a valid goal that God has for the Christian?

If we look to Scripture we do find many verses that speak about being happy. Here are some examples.

Job 5:17 (KJV)
17 Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:

Psalm 127:4-5 (KJV)
4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Psalm 144:15 (KJV)
15 Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD.

Psalm 146:5 (KJV)
5 Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

James 5:11 (KJV)
11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

1 Peter 3:14 (KJV)
14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;

According to these verses, happiness comes from being corrected by God, having many children, being a people whose God is the Lord, being a man whose help and hope is in the Lord, keeping the the Law, enduring, and suffering for righteousness' sake.

Immediately, it should be apparent that having a pleasant or easy life is not what produces Biblical happiness. If suffering produces happiness what exactly is happiness? defines happy as:

          1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing: to be happy to see a person.
          2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy: a happy mood; a happy frame
               of mind.
          3. favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky: a happy, fruitful land.
          4. apt or felicitous, as actions, utterances, or ideas. (as in a happy choice - addition mine)

The world's definition of happiness carries the idea of pleasant circumstances and things that cause pleasant responses. When pastors and teachers tell their congregations, students, listeners, and readers that God wants them to be happy, the connotation of the word happy conveys something very different from what is meant Biblically. Generally speaking, Biblical happiness and the world's definition of happiness seem to be somewhat at odds. In other words, saying that God wants us to be happy is resulting in a false understanding of God's purposes.

Biblical happiness is not dependent on circumstance. A believer held in prisoner, tortured, and soon to be executed for faith in God is not happy in the worldly sense, but can be Biblically happy. Is there a better definition for Biblical happiness that we can use?

Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language has a pertinent entry:

          6. Blessed; enjoying the presence and favor of God, in a future life.

This is the happiness that the Bible describes. When we are in a right relationship with God we have peace and favor with Him in this life and we have the promise of favor of God in eternal life with Him in the future.

This doesn't mean that God is opposed to our being happy in the worldly sense. When He has blessed us with good worldly circumstances, we should be grateful to Him. The way of demonstrating our gratitude is by being happy in both the worldly and Biblical sense. God rejoices in our gratitude. But when circumstances are difficult, worldly happiness is impossible, but Biblical happiness is always there to sustain us, to help us get through the difficult things of this life.

It is important that pastors and teachers do not mislead their audience into thinking the Christian life is always good, wonderful, and easy. It is not and we must tell the whole truth.

Next, we'll look more closely at God's purposes as they relate to Biblical and worldly happiness.
Part 2:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

God's Desire for the Sacrifices

In our sanitized twenty-first century it is difficult to imagine a world of blood sacrifices. We prefer the clean worship of praise, prayer, song, and sermon. Yet, this has not always been the case. The ancient world's worship centered on blood sacrifice. Something deep down was ingrained in our human consciousness. Blood sacrifices would appease our gods, or so we believed. Yet, even the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob required blood sacrifice. The Tabernacle and the First and Second Temples were constructed with the sacrifices as the centerpoint of worship. However, with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. the Jewish sacrificial system came to an end. Without the Temple the Jews were forbidden to sacrifice to God. Prayer became the substitution and "clean" worship became the norm. Now, the thought of blood sacrifice has become "disgusting" and aren't we glad that "stuff" is over and done with?

But what was God's opinion of blood sacrifice?

Although God had required blood sacrifice, a well known verse from Scripture in Isaiah is often used to demonstrate that God really never "wanted" the sacrificial system.

Isaiah 1:11 (KJV)
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

This verse seems to corroborate the idea that God had tired of the sacrifices. But the context of Isaiah chapter 1 speaks of Israel's rebellion of heart. Although, the people mechanically continued to offer their blood sacrifices, their hearts were far from God. They were involved in all kinds of sin, thinking that God would ignore their behavior and accept their sacrifices. 

Isaiah 1:4 (KJV)
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Then, another verse that is commonly used to point out that the sacrifices never worked comes from Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:4 (KJV)
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

What is usually ignored is that the purpose of the sacrifices was not to take away sin. Hebrews is only confirming this.

Hebrews 9:13-14 (KJV)
13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

This passage in Hebrews set up a comparison between the efficacy of the sacrifices and the greater efficacy of the blood of Yeshua. While the blood of bulls and goats would sanctify (make holy or set apart for God's use) and purify the flesh, how much more would the sacrifice of Yeshua purge sin? What this passage says is that the sacrifices did what they were designed to do!

So, is there any passage that tells us how God viewed the sacrifices? Let's go back to Isaiah.

Isaiah 43:22-26 (KJV)
22 But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.
23 Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense.
24 Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.
25 I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
26 Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.

Although God's people fulfilled the sacrifices without their hearts being right as shown in Isaiah 1, they also forgot about the sacrifices as shown in Isaiah 43. In both cases, God wanted the people's hearts. He didn't want mechanical ritual, but He did want to be honored with heart-felt gratitude and love demonstrated in the giving of the blood sacrifices. By giving God their hearts, verse 26 states that the people would be justified. The evidence of justification was the obedience of the sacrifices.

The reason for this discussion is not simply a look at the past. We still may appreciate that the blood sacrifices are not obligatory at the present time. However, in the Millennial Kingdom it appears that there will be blood sacrifices again. If the purpose of the sacrifices is for purification and sanctification in order to be in the presence of God almighty, those human beings alive at the time of the Millennial Kingdom will be in need of the sacrifices again. We find this in Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 43:27 (KJV)
27 And when these days are expired, it shall be, that upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord GOD.
If we think of the blood sacrifices as "disgusting," how likely are we to participate in them during the Millennial Kingdom? But if we want to experience the actual presence of the living God in the Temple we will have to follow what He commands. Are we willing to do whatever it takes?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Leavened Lump

I know that Passover is coming. I should be in preparation, but I keep putting it off. If I'm not careful, the feast will be upon me and I will be kicking myself for my procrastination, vowing that next year this will not happen again! But didn't I say that last year?

For Passover, I need to take out my Seder plate, afikoman bag, haggadahs, my recipes, and more! I need to do my shopping and the planning. Yet, while I am scrambling, in my procrastination, to get all these things collected and done, I will likely miss what is truly important in the feast.

Breathe. Sigh. First things first. What about the leaven? Before I worry about the Seder meal I need to clean my house of all leavening agents.

Exodus 12:15 (KJV)
15 Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

God has commanded that during the feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) there is to be no leaven (agents like yeast that make bread rise) within our homes. It is surprising where leaven can hide. Not only must we remove our yeast breads, but all the kinds of foods that contain yeast or other leavening agents. Hmmm, that box of onion soup mix contains yeast extract! Oh, no, my supplement of beta glucan contains saccharomyces cerevisiae! It all needs to go!

Yet, again, I find myself caught up in doing for doing sake. Paul's wise words pull me up short!

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (KJV)
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

In addressing the Corinthians, Paul admonished them not to tolerate the sinful behavior of someone in their fellowship. Up to this point, the Corinthians had allowed the sin to continue and were prideful about their tolerance. Paul asked them if they understood that a little leaven would leaven an entire loaf of bread. In this statement Paul was using leaven as a symbol of sin. He was cautioning them about the result of leaving sin to "grow" and infect the entire Corinthian congregation (verse 6).

He then told them to get rid of the leaven, to get rid of the sin, so that their congregation would be a "new lump", Since Yeshua was their Passover sacrifice they were "unleavened." In other words because of Yeshua they were righteous as Yeshua has made all those who trust in His death and resurrection for salvation, righteous (verse 7).

Paul then encouraged the Corinthian believers to keep the feast of Passover, not with leaven (the real physical agents), nor with the "leaven," or sin of malice and wickedness, but with the "unleavened bread" of sincerity of truth (verse 8).

Passover was coming for the Corinthians, but they weren't ready. They were living in pride, tolerating sin in their camp. When the feast came Paul wanted them to deal with the leaven (sin), but not in malice or wickedness, but with sincere truth.

Doing and observing the Seder and all the days of Unleavened Bread is important, but we can't afford to forget the most important aspects of the feast. Before we worry about all the "things" involved in the feast we need to remember to remove the leaven, and not just the crumbs of the toast we had for breakfast, but the sin that exists in our hearts and lives as well. Let's be committed to fully observing Passover as God intended. What else have I forgotten?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Galatians 6:11-18 Messianic Style


Paul was last speaking on sowing and reaping. He continued with his concluding remarks.

Galatians 6:11-18 (KJV)
11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

In New Testament times, the Biblical writers often used professional scribes to put their writings into the most clear yet space-saving format as possible. Paul wrote his conclusion in his own hand in a much larger print than the small, neat writing that the scribe used in the rest of Paul's letter (verse 11). This also served as an authentication of his work.

The false teachers had come to the Galatian assembly trying to make a good impression that would sway the new believers (verse 12). But Paul believed that the false teachers' reason for compelling the Galatian believers to be circumcised and ritually become Jews was so that persecution for the cross of Messiah would be avoided. They wanted to believe in Messiah Yeshua, but continue to fit in with traditional Judaism. However, Paul pointed out in verse 13 that the false teachers were not in obedience to Torah, because they insisted that a man-made act of ritual would make someone a Jew, when Torah was clear that salvation came by grace through faith. The only thing that the ritual would accomplish was that the false teachers could boast about their flesh.

But Paul would never boast about anything except the cross of Messiah Yeshua, which "crucified" the world to Paul and he to the world (verse 14). Being a Jew or a Gentile was not what was important, but becoming a new creation in Messiah was (verse 15).

Paul then gave a benediction of peace and mercy over those Galatians who lived according to this rule (of being a new creation in Messiah) and to all Israel of God (verse16). By using the phrase,  "Israel of God,"  Paul confirmed that God's people, whether Jew or Gentile, are called collectively,  Israel.

Verses 17 and 18 finish Paul's remarks. He had made his case and that was enough. He needed to vindicate his actions and beliefs no further since he bore in his body the evidence (scars of persecution) of a life lived for Yeshua. He ended his benediction by addressing the Galatian brethren, asking God to give them the grace of Messiah Yeshua.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Galatians 6:6-10 Messianic Style


Paul had been speaking about the Galatian believers' responsibilities to one another. He continued with these thoughts.

Galatians 6:6-10 (NIV)
6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

In verse 6 Paul urged the believers, who have received instruction in the Word of God, to share all good things with their instructors. This concept falls in line with Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 9:14 (NIV)
14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

Paul was concerned about the body of Messiah and how each one in the body should be cared for by the others. Those responsibilities included the welfare of their pastors and teachers.

 In verse 7 Paul, again, anticipated some of the less than perfect responses that even the saints (forgiven sinners) can have towards others. No matter how hard someone may try, or think that God will not "notice", God cannot be mocked. He sees and knows everything. If someone believes that he or she can get away with treating others poorly he or she is deceived, because "a man reaps what he sows." There are always consequences to our actions.

Paul explained this more in verse 8. If someone acts according to his sinful nature, by being stingy, for example, he will reap from that nature. Often, stingy people receive stingy treatment in return. However, Paul's statement went further than this. He said that whoever sows from his sinful nature will reap destruction. He was talking about someone who allowed that sinful nature to have dominance in his or her life rather than by living in reliance on the Holy Spirit. In contrast, the one who acts according to the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Another issue that believers can experience is becoming weary in doing good (verse 9). Although sowing leads to reaping, the harvest is not always immediate. Many times our good actions are forgotten by others, or are met with evil in return. Yet, Paul assured the Galatians that even if they did not receive a return right away, eventually they would, at the very least, in eternity.

Therefore, Paul concluded that the believers were to continue in doing good deeds as the opportunities arose. They were to do good to all, but especially to the others in the body of Messiah.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Galatians 6:1-5 Messianic Style


Paul's list of the fruit of the Spirit stands as an example of the virtues that should characterize the believer's life. We now come to the final chapter of Galatians.

Galatians 6:1-5 (KJV)
1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

Paul began this section of Galatians with an example. A member of the believing fellowship has fallen into some type of sin. Paul then encouraged those that were spiritual (mature in faith) to restore those that had been overtaken in a fault. This was to be done in the spirit of meekness (humility and gentleness), remembering that anyone can fall into sin (verse 1). Paul understood that our sinful human nature, often filled with pride and envy (Galatians 5:26), can make our attempts at restoring others an "I'm better than you" fest. Yet, this action of restoration was something that Paul believed was essential to the body of Messiah.

Believers are to be very involved in the lives of each other. Paul said that we are to bear one another's burdens (verse 2).This is what living in the body of Messiah is all about. We are not living out our faith as solitary individuals. We are part of a body with responsibilities towards each other. When members are suffering we are to help them. We are to care for them. We are to love them. This bearing of burdens fulfills the law of Messiah. As was seen in the prior post, "fulfill" means that the requirements of the law are satisfied each time others' burdens are shared. The law of Messiah, also called the law of love, and the Mosaic law are identical.

Paul continued his cautions in verse 3. If someone thinks too highly of himself or herself, he or she is deceived. We are to think of others before ourselves.

Philippians 2:3 (KJV)
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Paul summarized by recommending that each believer examine his or her own actions. In this way we can make sure that we are not falling into sin and that we are doing what God has required of us regarding our fellow believers.  This is important because eventually, we will all bear our own burdens. In this verse, "burdens" refers to guilt (verse 5). Paul's reference here is to God's judgment and is not contradictory to verse 2.

We are to live as members of a believing body. We must care for those around us, particularly the believers. Yet, pride and envy can cause us to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Let us remember to examine our lives and to correct our behaviors into those actions that are pleasing to God, before others need to take us aside or God's judgment falls.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Galatians 5:14-26 Messianic Style


After Paul cautioned the Galatian believers not to use their liberty as an excuse to sin, he continued by discussing how the believers should serve one another in love.

Galatians 5:14-26 (KJV)
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Paul summarized the law in one statement. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This was not original to Paul. It actually comes from the Old Testament.

Leviticus 19:18 (KJV)
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

The law is also summarized in the same way by Yeshua himself.

Matthew 22:39-40 (KJV)
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Notice also that verse 14 says that the law is fulfilled by the action of loving one's neighbor. According to traditional Christianity the fulfilling of the law by Yeshua's death and resurrection meant that the law no longer needed to be observed. Yet, here, Paul contends that the law is fulfilled by loving one's neighbor. Which is it? Obviously, the traditional understanding of fulfill is incorrect. Fulfilling means that a certain action satisfies the requirements of the law. However, the law continues, it is not ended. Every single time that the believer loves his neighbor the law is fulfilled. In the same way Yeshua did what He came to do, to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. It was a once and for all sacrifice that paid for the penalty of sin and allows believers to trust in what He did and gain eternal life. This doesn't change the requirements of the law, however.

Paul went on to say that if the Galatians bit and devoured one another, they would potentially consume one another (verse 15). Instead of loving each other and fulfilling the law, the Galatians were selfishly acting in ways that hurt each other and by doing so would splinter the group and would harm the unity of the body that God intended they have. Paul then told them in verse 16 to walk in the Spirit so that they would not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Here Paul was speaking about sinful human nature. We naturally behave in these sinful ways, but through the power of the Holy Spirit we are free from that nature and we can walk in the ways God has decreed. In verse 17 Paul described the "war" that goes on inside of the believer. We still carry the old sinful nature, but we also have the Holy Spirit dwelling within. The desires of each are opposites and in that war we often don't do as we should. Paul reiterates in verse 18, however, that if we are led by the Holy Spirit we are not under the law. Again, this is not referring to obedience to Torah living, that results from our love of God, but the rigid observance of ritual because of some sense that it is the ritual (or even Torah itself) that saves and frees from the sinful nature.

Paul listed the works of the flesh in verses 19-21. They are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and like things. Paul's list is remarkably broad, yet, it is certainly not complete. Notice that stealing and lying, for example, are not mentioned, nor are sins like disobeying the Sabbath or food laws mentioned. Paul's list, therefore, is not meant to be a complete list of potential sins. Notice, also, that there is a heavy representation of sexual sins, idolatry, hate related sins, and social sins like drunkenness. Paul ended verse 21 by stating that those who engage in these sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God. This is a sobering fact, but Paul wasn't condemning the believer who "misses the mark" or who falls into sin unintentionally. If this were the case, none of us would be able to claim salvation. Rather, there are those in the body of believers who think that they can continue in sin and will still qualify for salvation. Paul's conclusion was that this was simply not the case. The sins listed may be a representative list of sins that Paul observed or heard about in the body of the Galatian believers. It may also represent those sins that the Galatian believers were likely to engage in.

Verses 22 and 23 are Paul's contrasting list of the fruit of the Spirit, those things that are to be demonstrated in the body of believers. They are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Against these there are no laws. Again, this was not a detailed list of to do's, but rather a broad list of guidelines to behavior.

In verse 24 Paul concluded his argument with the fact that the believers had crucified their flesh with its affections and lusts. Remember, that Paul was using "flesh" not as the bodies of flesh humans have, but the sinful human nature that all have. When we are born again and we receive the Holy Spirit we are freed from the subjugation of the sinful human nature, so therefore, we should walk in the ways of the Holy Spirit (verse 25). In verse 26 Paul ended by warning the Galatian believers not to seek vain glory (pride in oneself), or to provoke one another, or to envy one another. This verse hearkens back to verse 15 where Paul seemed to imply that the Galatians were doing these very things to each other. Although they truly were believers, they certainly were behaving in ways very much in opposition to God's intent.

When the false teachers came to the fellowship of the Galatians, their introducing the necessity of becoming Jews ritually and following all of the traditions, added to this backbiting behavior, and caused further disunity. Paul was teaching them to go back to the gospel that He had taught them. What about our own congregations, do we exhibit works of the flesh and the backbiting behavior that leads to disunity? There will always be believers who hang onto sin, but if we truly are born of the Spirit and are led by the Holy Spirit, we need to implement the fruit of the Spirit and to banish those works of the flesh that can ensnare us.

As Paul initially summarized, our goal is to serve one another in love and thereby fulfill the law.