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[For a short explanation of “Do not judge…” click here.]

What is the most quoted verse of the Bible today? Any guesses?

Josh McDowell reports that until recently, polls showed that the most well-known verse in the Bible was John 3:16. But now, the verse most widely known and quoted by Christians and non-Christians is Matthew 7:1:

Do not judge…”

Why? Why would “Do not judge…” become such a popular verse?

I once received an email from a woman (I’ll call her Jane) who described herself as a lesbian. Jane was very angry because someone in our church (I’ll call him Bob) had offended her. So, I—a completely innocent bystander—received an angry email simply because I was Bob’s pastor. I found out later that the offense was simply that Bob chose not to attend Jane’s lesbian “wedding”. Bob felt his presence would communicate an endorsement of Jane’s lesbian lifestyle. Jane’s email included this question: “Is it encouraged in your church to judge others?”

Is that what happened? Did Bob “judge” Jane? Most people in our culture today—I believe—would say yes. They would say that to not affirm someone’s lifestyle—especially homosexuality—is to judge them.

Is this what Jesus meant by “do not judge”? If so, is there any behavior that should be called into question? Is there any lifestyle that can be identified as sinful? Or, is judging the only sin? Is that what Jesus meant?

Let’s go to the source. Let’s look at Matthew 7:1—Jesus’ original statement—and its context (Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount and the New Testament) to gain the guidance we need in order to understand “do not judge.”

Two Basic Meanings

The word “judge” (κρινω) appears 114 times in the New Testament. It has different meanings depending on how the word is used in its context. That’s true in English as well. If I told you I was “judging” someone, you might not know whether I was being overly critical of someone or doing my job as a judge in a court of law or disapproving of their lifestyle. You would need more information.

When we come across κρινω, we have to look at the context to know exactly what is meant. Basically, it can mean two things:

  1. Bad judgment—which is self-righteously condemning other people without a good reason.
  2. Good judgment—which is using discernment to make a wise choice.

My premise is this: Jesus was commanding us to stay away from the bad judgment—the bad sense of κρινω. In Matthew 7:1, He is telling us not to self-righteously condemn other people.

We humans don’t make good judges. I’m not saying that we should not have judges in a court of law—that’s a different issue. The kind of judging Jesus was talking about is God’s job.

  • We don’t know all the facts. God is the only one who knows everything. We don’t know why people dress the way they do or why they behave the way they do. We don’t know how much they’ve changed or grown in the past year. We don’t know how hard they’re struggling with their sin. God knows.
  • We don’t know someone’s motives. Only God knows the motives of a man’s heart. We only see the outside. We may see someone who appears to be unfriendly, but they may have just lost a loved one or been fired from a job. Maybe you got mad at some guy because he didn’t shake your hand. Well, maybe he didn’t shake your hand because he didn’t want to give you that skin rash he’s been trying to get rid of. We can’t discern motives usually.
  • We tend to pre-judge people. We see how they dress or the color of their skin or how they smell. I once had a guy admit that he didn’t like me because I reminded him of someone else! I didn’t have a chance!

My point is: We just don’t make good judges. But, God is completely objective and shows no favoritism.

Another time, Jesus taught on this same subject and Luke recorded a somewhat expanded version of this command: Look at Luke 6:36,37:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

This list supports my interpretation of this command in Matthew 7:1, which is that Jesus is telling us not to have an unmerciful, judgmental, condemning attitude toward people. The question is, does the context support this? Look at v.2:

“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

This verse tells us that if we “judge” in a wrong manner, it will directly affect the way we are judged. Possibly, this means God will judge us by our own impossible standards. If you are short on mercy and long on condemnation, perhaps God will not show you much mercy. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

Same principle. But, I think Jesus had something else in mind here. If you and I are unmerciful and judgmental of others, I believe others will pick up on that and treat us the same way. We don’t like unmerciful people—as a general rule. We have trouble extending them mercy. We have trouble giving them the benefit of the doubt that they have good intentions. People tend to be repelled by a judgmental person. We judge him by dismissing him. Ignoring him. Just wanting to get away from him. So, Jesus is telling us that if we are unmerciful and judgmental, we will repel people and our good intentions will never be known.

A few years ago, I had to go to Topeka for an appointment. As I drove through town, I passed by what I believe was a funeral home. I’m not sure because I was greatly distracted by a group of protestors on the sidewalk outside the business. They were young and old—some even children. They all held signs or wore t-shirts that proclaimed, “God hates fags.” Did those people have good intentions? It’s possible. Was anybody going to listen to them? No one will even give them the time of day because their whole approach is so unmerciful and judgmental.

Specks and Logs and Pearls and Hogs

Look now at vs.3-4:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”

This is one of Jesus’ greatest illustrations. A “speck” is small. A “log” is big. The word “speck” here refers to any tiny piece of wood, or grass or hay. The word “log” refers to the main beam holding up a building. An enormous piece of lumber! Do you get the picture? Imagine a person standing here with a speck in her eye and I come along with an enormous log in my eye and I say, “Here, let me help you with that speck in your eye.” It’s really quite humorous.

The point is this: The “speck” and the “log” represent sins. Jesus is mocking a person with a big sin making a big deal out of the relatively small sin of someone else. In fact, the humorous part of this picture—which is actually the sad part—is that this person with an enormous beam in his eye does not even seem to be aware of his sin. This tells us that his sin is self-righteousness.

Self-righteousness is a sin of blindness. It is the sin of someone with grossly distorted vision. It looks directly at its own sin and still sees only righteousness.

Don’t think it won’t happen to you, either. Any of us can be completely blinded by our own self-righteousness. King David—a man described by God as “a man after God’s own heart”—took Bathsheba, another man’s wife, got her pregnant, then had her husband killed to try to cover up the sin. Then, in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan came along and told David a story that made him mad. It was about a man with many sheep who stole the one single sheep another man had. David insisted that the man be punished! Nathan said, “You are that man.” David was so blinded by his own self-righteousness, he had no idea Nathan’s story was about him. No doubt, the tears came and washed that big log out of David’s eye.

So, when Jesus said, “Do not judge…” He meant don’t be self-righteously judgmental. It is God’s place to judge. Only He can judge in pure righteousness.

But—and this is really getting at the crux of the matter—did Jesus mean we are unable to “judge” (i.e., discern) what is and is not sin? The answer is found in the verses which follow. Look at Matthew 7:5-6:

“…First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

First, Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye.” Obviously, Jesus is telling us to begin by taking a good hard look at ourselves. Before we can remove our logs, we must find them and admit that we have them. Before we can do that, we’ve got to quit judging others. Why? If we’re busying ourselves with everyone else’s sins, we can easily ignore our own.

So, the first thing we should do is ask God, “What are my logs?” Then confess your sins.

Ask God, “What sin am I not seeing in my own life?” When He shows you, don’t make excuses. Don’t even start with promises. Just agree with Him that its sin and grieve with Him. Remember earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4) Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He was saying that those who understand how bad sin is will grieve with God over the destructive nature of their sin.

Then confess your sins. 1 John 4:8 tells us:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

God’s not surprised when there’s logs floating around in our eyes. Don’t you be surprised either. Don’t be surprised when you see one in my eye. If anyone claims to have no specks or logs he is deceiving himself and the truth is not in him. But fortunately, God has no logs. He is faithful and righteous. The next verse, 1 John 1:9, gives us one of the sweetest promises in all the Bible:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Confess it and get rid of it.

James 4:8-10 says:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

That’s how you get rid of logs. Mourn over and confess your sin, humble yourself before God. Ask Him to cleanse you.

But that’s not all. Following Jesus is not just about me. It’s about us. In the second part of this verse, it becomes clear that Jesus did not say we should never “judge” someone else. There is such a thing as good judgment. In other words, a “speck” represents someone else’s sin. If you’ve had a speck, a grain of sand in your eye—maybe under a contact lens—you know that it’s painful, it’s destructive and it must get out of there. It’s no log, but it’s still sin. In this verse, Jesus encourages us to “take the speck out of your brothers’ eye.” It’s a good thing to help a brother or sister in Christ to remove the sin from their lives.

So, the second thing we should do is ask God, “What specks should I remove?” Then proceed with caution. 

Never forget that you must be seeing “clearly” before you do this. You must let God examine your own heart and you must confess your own sins first, but there is a time to address someone else’s sin and help them remove it.

In Colossians 1:28, Paul described what good, healthy ministry should look like:

We proclaim him, admonishing (warning) and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul added:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

This is tough stuff and even dangerous territory. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Make sure it’s an important matter. Romans 14:1 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” Some things are “disputable matters” (yes, my Evangelical brothers and sisters, some things are gray!) and we might not need to deal with those at all. This does not mean something that is “disputable” is not important. It just means that we might need to be patient with a new believer or a weaker brother. Don’t make a big deal out of a disputable matter at the wrong time or in the wrong situation.
  2. Let the Word of God be the judge. You’re not acting as judge from your own idea of what is sin. If you’re going to help someone remove something from his eye, make sure it’s a speck and not his retina. Make sure it’s really sin. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” When we let the Word of God be our guide, we are not kicking God off the throne. We’re letting Him be judge. When we judge ourselves by the Word of God, we are sufficiently humbled and equipped to “judge” others because we will judge them by that “standard.” It will not be you or me judging them, but God’s Word and thus, God Himself—the true Judge.
  3. Make sure you have the right goal. Jesus said later in Matthew (18:15), “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Is the point of “removing specks” to make someone feel bad? Is it to demonstrate your superior spiritual maturity? No. If you even suspect that you have prideful motives, back way up. Jesus said the goal was to “win your brother over.” You’re proceeding with caution for the sake of someone else. That’s the right goal.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “We do not judge the people we love.” If he meant, we are not judgmental toward the people we love, he was right. But, if he meant, we never call any behavior sin and just keep quiet no matter how destructive we believe their behavior is, he was wrong.

Brothers” help each other with their “specks.” A sister who loves her sister in Christ will lovingly and gently help her remove that sin from her life that is blinding her. Brothers in Christ will find a way to help their brothers recognize the presence of sin in their lives and help them remove that sin.

Look again at v.6 (Matthew 7):

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Jesus indicates here that you have something that is “holy”—spiritual “pearls.” Our “pearls” represent truth and righteousness. The words of Jesus Christ in this great Sermon on the Mount are life-changing and eternally important. We have been given the great privilege of calling people to be disciples of Christ—to live a life of surpassing righteousness, to be light in a dark world and to be salt in a decaying society.

So, the third thing we should do is ask God, “What are my pearls?” Then get ready.

To be a follower of Christ is to be ready, willing and able to offer “holy pearls” of truth and righteousness to the world around us.

“Dogs and swine” in that day were not pets—not valuable livestock. Most were wild scavengers. They foraged through the garbage dump on the edge of town and were potentially dangerous to anyone who came near. So, what did Jesus mean? Jesus isn’t talking about dogs and hogs—He’s talking about people. A type of person who is so angry, so closed-minded, so stubborn, so lethargic, so stuck in their ways that it is a waste of time to try to convince them that there is sin in their lives and they need to change. I believe Jesus is telling us to use another type of good judgment—discernment to know when we should just shut up and pray.

So, the fourth thing we should do is ask God, “Who are my hogs?” Then pray and get out of the way.

We have great treasure to share with people. But there will be many who treat these truths—not as holy and priceless—but as foolish or unimportant. “They will trample (you) under their feet…” if you invite them to trust Christ and identify themselves with Him and His people—the church—and walk in His ways. “They might “turn and tear you to pieces” if you let them know God calls what they’re doing “sin”—even if you do it lovingly and graciously. They might chew you out. They might call you names. They might quit talking to you. They might just completely ignore you. They might leave the church. There comes a time when we just need to pray and get out of God’s way.

Why is “Do not judge…” such a popular verse today? I fear it is because people believe it means something Jesus never intended. I fear it is because people believe it means we should never call anything sin. But this cannot be what Jesus meant. We would have to ignore the rest of the Bible for it to mean that. But God Himself—through the special revelation found in the Bible—has identified many things as sin. It is not judgmental for followers of Christ to lovingly and graciously agree with God and let others know. It is not judgmental to agree with God that all sin is destructive and to lovingly and graciously help others put off those sins.

In fact, it is very unloving and even judgmental to ignore others and “tolerate” sin by hoping it won’t be a big deal to God. It is unloving because all sin is destructive. It is judgmental as well. When we ignore people we know to be in sin, and we don’t do anything to intervene, it is the same as saying, “They’re not worth the trouble. They’re not worth my time.”

So, do not be judgmental. But be discerning. Agree with God about what is sinful and—like God—intervene in the lives of those you love to help them identify and put off that sin for good.

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Q: “Where in the law does it say that women should be submissive?”

A: I assume this question came from 1 Corinthians 14:34 which reads: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”

To the Jew, “The Law” was another way of saying, “The writings of Moses” or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible).

I take this reference to the Law in 1 Corinthians 14:34 to be referring to Genesis—the story of the creation of man and woman because in two other places in Paul’s writings about the submission of women, he refers to Genesis 2:20-24 and the order in which man and woman were created:

1 Corinthians 11:8-9: “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”

1 Timothy 2:13-14: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. “

Again, in both contexts Paul is explaining why wives are to be in submission to their husbands and in both cases teaches that the order in which God created man and woman was significant—it demonstrated that wives were to be subordinate to their husbands.

Peter also uses the example of women in the Law to support his teaching about the submission of women:

1 Peter 3:5-6: “For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

So, this is the understanding of the Apostles (the Apostolic teaching) about the subject of submission from the Old Testament Law.

If you’d like to do some more extensive reading on this subject, I recommend Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood which are both available for free on-line in pdf form.

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Just Joking?

I like to joke around. Sometimes people actually laugh. In fact, I think no other people in history have loved to joke around more than Americans.

I was recently wondering about my jokes, others’ jokes and just what the Bible has to say about how and how much we like to joke around. Can you believe how practical the Bible is? It actually does talk about joking!

So, I took a look—just to gain clarity regarding some of my own joking. You decide if any of this applies to your own joking. It starts with a word study and my conclusions are at the end.

Coarse Jesting?

Depending on what the joking actually is, it may fall under the prohibitions of Ephesians 4:29 or 5:4:

Ephesians 4:29 (NASB95) 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 5:4 (NASB95) 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

“unwholesome” =

sapros (σαπρός, 4550), “corrupt,” akin to sepo…  Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

sepo (σήπω, 4595) signifies “to make corrupt, to destroy”; in the passive voice with middle sense, “to become corrupt or rotten, to perish,” said of riches, Jas. 5:2, of the gold and silver of the luxurious rich who have ground down their laborers. The verb is derived from a root signifying “to rot off, drop to pieces.” Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

In Eph 4:29 σαπρός (unwholesome) is in contrast with that which is ἀγαθός ‘good’ for building up what is necessary. In such a context ἀγαθός (good) may be interpreted as that which is helpful, and by contrast σαπρός (unwholesome) may be understood to mean ‘harmful.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

“filthiness” =

aischrotes (αἰσχρότης, 151), “baseness” (from aischos, “shame, disgrace”), is used in Eph, 5:4, of obscenity, all that is contrary to purity. Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson. to act in defiance of social and moral standards, with resulting disgrace, embarrassment, and shame—‘to act shamefully, indecent behavior, shameful deed.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

​”silly talk” =

morologia (μωρολογία, 3473), from moros, “foolish, dull, stupid,” and lego, is used in Eph. 5:4; it denotes more than mere idle “talk.” Trench describes it as “that ‘talk of fools’ which is foolishness and sin together” (Syn. Sec. xxxiv) Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

talk which is both foolish and stupid—‘foolish talk, stupid talk.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

​”coarse jesting” = ​​

eutrapelia (εὐτραπελία, 2160) properly denotes “wit, facetiousness, versatility” (lit., “easily turning,” from eu, “well,” trepo, “to turn”). It was used in the literal sense to describe the quick movements of apes and persons. Pericles speaks of the Athenians of his day (430 B.C) as distinguished by a happy and gracious “flexibility.” In the next century Aristotle uses it of “versatility” in the give and take of social intercourse, quick repartee. In the sixth century, B.C, the poet Pindar speaks of one Jason as never using a word of “vain lightness,” a meaning approaching its latest use. Its meaning certainly deteriorated, and it came to denote “coarse jesting, ribaldry,” as in Eph. 5:4, where it follows morologia, “foolish talking.” Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

coarse jesting involving vulgar expressions and indecent content—‘vulgar speech, indecent talk.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

​”are not fitting” =

In Eph. 5:4 the ἅ οὐκ ἀνῆκεν (are not fitting) … is that which does not belong, which is opposed to καθὼς πρέπει ἁγίοις (proper among saints, v.3). The unsuitable nature of an action is shown by the fact that those who perform it are ἅγιοι (saints, v.3) acting ἐν κυρίῳ (in the Lord, v.8). This unsuitability may concur with the judgment of the world (Col. 3:18) or it may contradict it (Eph. 5:4: εὐτραπελία (coarse jesting), for example, is accepted by the world, cf. Aristot. Eth. Nic., II, 7, p. 1108a, 23 ff.). Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

to be fitting or right, with the implication of possible moral judgment involved—‘to be fitting, to be right.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

Thoughts from others:

  • A. S. Wood: The three terms (“obscenity,” “foolish talk,” “coarse joking”) each occur only here in the NT. Paul has already warned against “unwholesome talk” (Eph 4:29) because of the harm it does to those who are compelled to hear it. Now he attacks it from another angle, because it is unseemly for Christians and usurps the place of praise. “Obscenity” (aischrotēs) in this context is broadly equivalent to “filthy language” (aischrologia, Col 3:8; BAG, p. 24). Next comes “foolish talk” (mōrologia), which is stupid chatter or silly twaddle. This is combined with eutrapelia (literally, “an easy turn of speech”), which means versatility and witty repartee. The NEB has “flippant talk.” Because of the determinative content of v. 3, however, it may refer to “coarse joking” (NIV) and double-entendre. These things must be repudiated, because they “do not come up to the mark” (BV). Instead, the Christian’s mouth will be continually filled with thanks to God (Eph 2:7; 5:18; Col 2:7; 3:15). Wood, A. S. (1981). Ephesians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, pp. 68–69). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
  • Harold Hoehner: “Improprieties in speech—obscenity (aischrotēs, “shameless talk and conduct”), foolish talk (mōrologia, lit., “stupid words”), and coarse jesting (eutrapelia, “vulgar, frivolous wit”)—are out of place for Jesus’ followers, because such vices often harm (cf. 4:29), whereas thanksgiving is appreciation for others and is helpful. Paul was not intimating that humor itself is sin, but that it is wrong when it is used to destroy or tear down others.” Hoehner, H. W. (1985). Ephesians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 638). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • J. B. Bond: “Paul also prohibits filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting, sins of speech. He rightly points out that believers should instead use their voices for giving of thanks to God. Words are so powerful that believers must be careful how they relate to others, showing their love for God and for them.” Bond, J. B. (2010). The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 882). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

My thoughts:

In a nutshell, the thing I took away from this was that I would like to have a higher standard. I developed a list of questions to help me think it through:

    • What exactly is a higher standard?
    • How much have I been influenced by my culture?
    • What good comes from my joking?
    • Does my joking please God? Glorify God?
    • Is it good for edification?
    • Does it ever cause harm?
    • Is it full of grace?
    • Why do I joke?
    • Do I enjoy shocking people with certain kinds of jokes?
    • Am I motivated by trying to to entertain people? Impress people? Spread joy? Build up others? Teach better?
    • How much is too much?
    • If I joke around too much will others have trouble taking me seriously?
    • Do my jokes—even if they are clean and joyful—sometimes kill a spiritual moment or stifle the Spirit’s work?
    • Do I spend more time joking or more time giving thanks and offering up praise?

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

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The fog in the ear

The youth in our church like to play a game they call telephone. Everyone sits in a circle and one person starts with a phrase from a movie or TV show or song or even a verse from the Bible. They whisper it in the ear of the person next to them and that person—having heard it only one time—has to repeat it to the next person and so on until it goes all the way around the circle. The last person has to say out loud what they heard. Usually it sounds nothing like what the first person had whispered.

Communication is often like that. No matter how clear you try to be, sometimes people just don’t understand. They hear your words through a fog of preconceived notions and misinformation and prejudices.  Sometimes, the words one person says are completely different than what another person hears. For example, when I say I am a “cessationist,” some people don’t know what that word means. But, many who do tend to have preconceived notions and misinformation and prejudices about it.

God in a box?

A cessationist is someone who believes that people are no longer given the miraculous gifts of healing and tongues. What many people hear when the word “cessationist” enters their ears is, “God doesn’t do miracles anymore.” Or, “God is in a box and can’t do what He wants.” Nothing could be further from the truth! The question is not, “Does God still do miracles?” Of course He does—whenever and however He wants. We pray because we believe God can miraculously heal and provide and change hearts and open doors and change the course of history!

The point is not to say what God cannot do. The point is to examine the Biblical and historical evidence and ask, “What has God done?” In other words, what does the Bible teach and suggest about whether people are still given miraculous gifts. The question being addressed is, “Are miracle-workers present today?”

No one could ever put God in a box. I certainly don’t want to. Please don’t accuse me of wanting to do that. I don’t mind when people listen and disagree. But it grieves me when brothers and sisters in Christ don’t listen to each other, but jump straight to accusations and name-calling.

In fact, I wish God would give me the gift of tongues. I really wish God would give me the gift of healing.

If God gave me the gift of tongues, I’d travel as fast as I could and spend every dime I owned to get to the remote parts of the world that have never heard the gospel in their own language and I’d talk for a week or a month or a year about the good news of Christ with them. I’d go to hostile tribes who don’t understand any of the missionaries who’ve tried to reach them. I’d spend day and night in the great cities of the world where the nations gather and I’d prove to them that I represent the resurrected Christ by speaking to numerous people in numerous languages.

If God gave me the gift of healing, I wouldn’t hold “healing services” where eight or ten people were delivered from internal aches and pains or bad backs after I took up an enormous offering. I wouldn’t go on TV and tell people I’d send them healing oil or healing towels if they sent me $1,000 first. I’d heal people instantly and completely like Jesus did. I’d give sight to people born blind—like Jesus did. I’d make people who’ve never walked jump up and dance—like Jesus did. I’d raise dead people (stinking, dead corpses) come to life again—like Jesus did.

If God gave me the gift of healing, I’d go the hospital—I’d start in the children’s cancer ward—and I’d heal everyone I could get my hands on. I’d go right now to my mother-in-law and heal her of her cancer. I’d go to my friends’ grandson who was born with multiple birth defects and I’d raise him up on two strong legs so he could run and play for the first in his life! I’d drive all night to get to my sweet friends whose two daughters are deaf and I’d open their ears so they could throw away their cochlear implants and hear perfectly! I wouldn’t sleep! I’d heal anyone and everyone and would never take a dime of their money. I’d say, “In the name of Jesus, I freely and joyfully heal you for His glory, and that you might know that He loves you and wants you to be with Him forever in heaven.”

I wish that you all spoke in tongues

I believe with all my heart that God could give me these gifts this instant . . . if He wanted to. But, He doesn’t want to. Think about it: If God wanted every Christian to speak in tongues (languages), they wouldn’t have to be coached (as I and so many others have been)—it would just happen as it did to the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:4 says, “The Spirit was giving them utterance.” It was instant and required no coaching or even a decision from the Apostles. They just did it. If God wanted all Christians to speak in tongues, the Spirit would give us utterance. He would simply make it happen.

I watched a sincere brother in Christ on YouTube. He teaches that God wants all Christians to speak in tongues. He quotes 1 Corinthians 14:5 as proof: “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues…” But, he didn’t mention 1 Corinthians 12:30 when Paul wrote, “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” Read it in context. The expected answer and Paul’s point is no! All do not speak with tongues. It was obvious to the Corinthians that they didn’t. That YouTube brother’s reading of the great gifts passage in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is selective. It is eisegesis (reading into), not exegesis (reading out of). In other words, he—and many others—read into verses and passages what they want them to say, not what the writer was actually saying.

Did Paul wish that every Christian could speak in tongues? Yes, he did. Did Paul believe every Christian did and could and will speak in tongues? No, he did not. He didn’t even think it was important. In 1 Corinthians 14:19, he wrote, “I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Point? A whole lot of tongues-speaking is worth less than just a little bit of clear, teaching or preaching in a way that people can understand.

If God wanted every Christian to have the gift of healing, it would follow that He wanted everyone to be healed—which is what most who disagree with me teach. But Jesus had the gift of healing and he didn’t heal everyone. Mark 1:34, for example, tells us that Jesus “healed many who were ill”—not all. And while multitudes waited for Him to heal them the next morning, Jesus went off to pray by Himself. When His disciples came and found Him and tried to get Him to come back, He said, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Jesus didn’t come to heal everyone. He came to bring a message of spiritual and ultimate healing. The relatively few healings He did served to confirm that the message He brought was true and could be believed.

Charis-mania makes me nervous?

If you take a good, careful look at what the Bible reveals, I’m convinced you will agree that God’s will no longer includes giving people gifts like tongues (languages) and healing. I can’t say I know all the reasons why, but I can say that the Old and New Testaments—especially the Book of Acts—as well as church history, my own personal experience and the experiences of many people I’ve spoken with back up this conclusion.

Is this simply my own personal preference because I’m a cynical person and all that crazy charis-maniac stuff makes me nervous? That’s what some people will believe, even if they could read my lips: No way!

My personal preference would be for every Christian to be able to speak in tongues (languages) and to be able to heal others. It would be awesome if missionaries could receive the Biblical gift of tongues (languages) and not have to go to language school. Imagine how many more missionaries could go out more quickly! Imagine how much money could be saved and devoted to more important things! But even those denominations and ministries that believe the gift of tongues is still being given today send their missionaries to language school.

It would be my personal preference for evangelists and missionaries to be able to walk up to people and heal them as they share the gospel with them. Wouldn’t a lot more believe? Wouldn’t it silence all critics of Christianity and the Bible and the Church? It would be my personal preference to have several with the gift of healing in my church so that any time my wife or children or close, personal friends got sick, a healing touch would be available within minutes.

But, the issue is not my personal preference or yours. The issue is God’s preference—God’s will. The issue is what God has revealed and what God has done. If God has not ceased to give miraculous gifts to people, then silly, party-pooping cessationists like me have gotten it all wrong and we’re missing out on some amazing experiences and more effective ministry. But, if God has ceased to give miraculous gifts to people (i.e., we’re right), then it is His will and it is the very best thing. Whatever God chooses for His children is always best. What we—His children—have to do is consider whether our beliefs are based on our own personal preferences or on God’s revelation, the Bible.

My invitation

My invitation to you is to consider the evidence I’ll be presenting in this series of posts—does it support the idea that God has ceased to give miraculous gifts to people? If so, I also invite you to consider why He would do such a thing. Then, consider how this affects what we as His church should say and do.

This is a family discussion. I don’t question your salvation or your motives or your intelligence if you disagree with me. But God-lovers must be truth-lovers. If what I write is not true, then may it be miraculously stricken from the internet. But, if what I write is true, may it edify and encourage God’s people and bear much fruit for the glory of God.

To be continued…

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Q: What is the torture we receive, according to Matthew 18:34-35, for unforgiveness?

A: This torture is discipline. These passages are not talking about justification or we must conclude that justification requires our work of forgiveness. I like how Dr. Thomas Constable handled Matthew 18:34-35. He tersely listed all the various interpretations:

The idea of God delivering His servants, the disciples, over to endless torment has disturbed many readers of this parable. Some have concluded that Jesus meant a disciple can lose his salvation “if” he “does not forgive.” This makes salvation dependent on good works rather than belief in Jesus. Another possibility is that Jesus was using an impossible situation, endless torment, to warn His disciples. If the disciples knew it was an impossible situation, the warning would lose much of its force. Perhaps He meant that a disciple who does not genuinely forgive gives evidence that he or she has never really received God’s forgiveness.[904] That person may be a disciple, but he or she is not a believer (cf. Judas Iscariot). However, many genuine believers do not forgive their brethren as they should. Perhaps the punishment takes place in this life, not after death, and amounts to divine discipline (v. 14).[905] Another possibility is that Jesus had in mind a loss of eternal reward. Or perhaps this is simply another case of hyperbole to drive home a point. (http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/Matthew/Matthew.htm)

It’s so important to see this parable in its context. The context is addressing humility and forgiveness among brothers (See Dr. Constable’s notes on this entire chapter for more on this). It’s not a salvation passage. So, I agree that the “torture” is either divine discipline—punishment in this life—or loss of reward in the next life. Probably the former. Dr. Homer Kent of Grace Theological Seminary agrees:

Delivered him to the tormentors. Herein is the crux of the interpretation. It cannot refer to the eternal ruin of one truly saved, for that would conflict with the clearest teaching elsewhere. Neither can it refer to some nonscriptural purgatory. Yet the fact that the servant had been forgiven the debt makes it unlikely that he was a mere professed believer. However, if we view the torments as temporal evils visited upon unforgiving believers by their heavenly Father, the previous difficulties are avoided. Tormentors (basanistai) is derived from the verb basanizo, which is used to describe sickness (Mt 4:24; 8:6), and adverse circumstances (Mt 14:24). Lot “tormented his soul” by contact with evil men (II Pet 2:8). Such torments God may use to chasten and produce a proper spirit among his children (I Cor 11:30-32). Thus the divine forgiveness here is that which we must experience daily in order to enjoy perfect fellowship with our heavenly Father, and it fits well this context in which relations among believers are discussed (vv. 15-20). (Pfeiffer, C. F., & Harrison, E. F. (Eds.). (1962). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Mt 18:28). Chicago: Moody Press.)

Even John MacArthur—who, as a Lordship guy, tends to assume all punishment is hell—got this right and agrees:

18:34 his lord, moved with anger. Because He is holy and just, God is always angry at sin, including the sins of His children (cf. Heb 12:5–11). torturers. Not executioners. This pictures severe discipline, not final condemnation. all that was owed him. The original debt was unpayable and the man was still without resources. So it seems unlikely that the slave was saddled once again with the same debt he had already been forgiven. Rather, what he now owed his master would be exacted in chastening by his master until he was willing to forgive others. (MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 18:34). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.)

Hope this helps. Now, get out there and forgive!

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Every letter of the Apostle Paul includes the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Makes it seem pretty important, huh?!

See 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2 (adds mercy); 2 Timothy 1:2 (adds mercy); Titus 1:4 and Philemon 1:3.

 

I like this explanation from MacDonald and Farstad:

“Paul’s characteristic greeting combines grace and peace. Grace (charis) is a Greek emphasis, and peace (shalom) is the traditional Jewish greeting. The combination is especially appropriate because Paul’s message  (in Romans) tells how believing Jews and Gentiles are now one new man in Christ. The grace mentioned here is not the grace that saves (Paul’s readers were already saved) but the grace that equips and empowers for Christian life and service. Peace is not so much peace with God (the saints already had that because they were justified by faith) but rather the peace of God reigning in their hearts while they were in the midst of a turbulent society.” (William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments).

I include it on all my emails as a prayer…

Father, I pray that You would shower us with Your grace and peace. We thank You for Your saving grace—that through Christ You have blessed us with forgiveness of our sin and eternal life even though we deserve nothing from You. But we also ask for the grace we need to be equipped and empowered for Christ-like living and service. We cannot live the life You’ve called us to apart from Your grace. We thank You for the peace we have with You. Though we were once Your enemies, separated from You and dead in our sins, because of Your mercy You have reconciled us to Yourself through the sacrifice of Jesus and given us peace. But we also pray for the peace we need in such an unpeaceful world. All around us there is war, hatred, violence, anger, bitterness, turbulence, unrest, uncertainty—without the blessing of Your peace reigning in our hearts, we will surely be pulled into this storm. Please give us the peace that defies comprehension that we may please You and display the reality of Your presence in our lives to the peace-less individuals all around us—peace that can only come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask for Your grace and peace in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Jones’ commentary on Romans 6:1:

“…If it is true that where sin abounded grace has much more abounded, well then, ‘shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound yet further?’

First of all, let me make a comment, to me a very important and vital comment. The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. Let me show you what I mean.

If a man preaches justification by works, no one would ever raise this question. If a man’s preaching is, ‘If you want to be Christians, and if you want to go to heaven, you must stop committing sins, you must take up good works, and if you do so regularly and constantly, and do not fail to keep on at it, you will make yourselves Christians, you will reconcile yourselves to God and you will go to heaven’. Obviously a man who preaches in that strain would never be liable to this misunderstanding. Nobody would say to such a man, ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’, because the man’s whole emphasis is just this, that if you go on sinning you are certain to be damned, and only if you stop sinning can you save yourselves. So that misunderstanding could never arise…

…Nobody has ever brought this charge against the Church of Rome, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said, ‘This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust’, and so on. ‘This man’, they said, ‘is an antinomian; and that is heresy.’ That is the very charge they brought against him. It was also brought George Whitfield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity—if there is such a thing—has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God ‘justifies the ungodly’…

That is my comment and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you are really preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.”

Lloyd-Jones commentary on Romans 6, pp 8-9, quoted in The Grace Awakening, by Chuck Swindoll, pp. 39-40.

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