Test the Spirits (Part 7)

We began examining the two temporal aspects of the antichrist last week. We observed the that that the antichrist is already in the world. He is referred to as the serpent, and we examined him particularly in the Garden of Eden.

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John writes, “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming…” (4:3). That is, there is currently an antichrist in the world (not only Satan, but also the many antichrists who work to disprove the deity of Christ), but there is an antichrist who is coming as well.

Now, there is much discussion and disagreement when it comes to the End Times. This post is not seeking to present a case for either. Instead, it is a reminder of what the apostle John reveals, as well as what Paul. In 2 Thessalonians chapter two, Paul offers an in-depth discussion of this dastardly man,

For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Thisindividual is described as:

  • A man (notice the words “man” and “son,” and masculine pronouns)
  • An individual who cares not about the Law
  • An individual characterized by destruction
  • An individual who hates gods and religions
  • An individual who assumes worship as God
  • An individual who will be revealed

We see here the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture.[1] That is, the clearness of Scripture in light of other Scripture. Or, as the London Baptist Confession of Faith helpfully states, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.”[2]

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Paul’s words help provide additional insight into John’s statement. Paul fleshes out John’s verse, if you will. Like a picture that is out of focus, Paul’s information helps remove the blur and clears up possible confusion.

But this brings us back to our thought of testing the spirits. You remember that this is John’s focus at the beginning of chapter 4. He is providing additional support to his command for believers to test the spirits: because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The difference between a true prophet and a false prophet, at least in this portion of John’s letter, centers on the prophet’s view of Christ. A failure to present Christ as a having a body denotes the falsity of the prophet. The energizer of this prophet (and others like him) stem from the spirit of antichrist, and John reminds his readers that the antichrist is already present but is also still to come.

Brothers and sisters, we must beware of the antichrist. He is coming, and he hates God and opposes Him at every turn. We must be aware of the false teachings that beset the church. We must test them.


[1] For a helpful article, see Burk Parsons, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” Table Talk Magazine, October 1 2015, Ligonier Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/perspicuity-scripture/, accessed 8 September 2020.

[2] LBCF, I:9.

Test the Spirits (Part 6)

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We have learned much from the aged apostle. Our world is fraught with false prophets, seeking to undermine the Word of God and His Messiah.

Our last post provided the how of testing. In that post we learned that, for at least one type of test, the views of the prophet/teacher must align with the biblical truths concerning Jesus Christ. If they do not, then, as John tells us, they are “not from God” (1 John 4:3, ESV).

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Now we come to a shift, or at least an adjusted focus. Cameras are incredible machines. They can focus on one blade of grass amidst an entire field. John has been focusing on one single blade: testing the spirits. Now he shifts his focus from the individual blade of grass to the field.

He writes, “and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already” (4:3). The origin of the false teach (i.e., spirit) is the antichrist. We learn two things about the antichrist from this one verse.

First, we learn that the spirit of the antichrist was coming. We read about this in 2:22 where John writes, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” The antichrist, then, is against the Triune God. And who has been against God since the beginning? The devil himself.

We will focus on this first point of the antichrist for this point, and pick up the second aspect in the following post. However, we learn about Satan and his opposition to God all the way back in the Garden of Eden. He is referred to as “the serpent” in Genesis 3:1.
In this account, the serpent enters the Garden and begins a discussion with Eve. He asks, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (3:1) His very first statement to a human being is a question of God’s Word. And the serpent has been questioning God’s Word ever since. He denies the Father, to borrow John’s terminology.

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As the account progresses, the serpent plainly denies God’s Word. He tells Eve, “You will not surely die.” In other words, “God has lied to you, Eve. You will not die.” The Scriptures record the remainder of his speech, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5, ESV). “Eve, God has ripped you off! He has kept back the fruit because He doesn’t want you to be like Him. How ridiculous could He be?” Once again, the antichrist is denying the Father.

Though tempted by the serpent, Eve could have resisted. Adam, as the guardian of the Garden, should have stepped in, but he failed at protecting his wife and the Word and glory of God. We test the spirits, John tells us, because antichrist is coming. He will remark about his presence already, but this antichrist is the embodiment of full opposition to God. Paul speaks more about him in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. He is coming, both Paul and John tell us. But we see that his origins date back to the beginning and have manifested itself throughout human history. That will be the focus of our next post. For now,  when you do not feel like testing the spirits, when you read that blog, or notice that post on Facebook but aren’t sure whether it is biblical or not, remember that the antichrist is coming. That spirit (i.e., teacher) is not from God, but is from the antichrist.

Test the spirits.

Test the Spirits (Part 5)

Last time we were together we discussed the why of John’s command to test the spirits. Believers are commanded to test the spirits, to use discernment. It is not optional. But we turn our attention now to the how of testing.

In 1 John 4:1, John offers the command to test, provides the basis for the test, and the reason for the test. In verses 2-3 John provides the how of testing. Knowing the how is important for anything we do. Knowing how to change the oil in your vehicle prior to changing the oil in your vehicle is vital. You can do tremendous damage to your vehicle if you make mistakes during this process. The same could be said of making a cake. If one does not know how to make the cake, the order in which to mix the ingredients, the measurements, and even the time and temperature in the oven, then one cannot enjoy the warm, fluffy delight of a cake (strawberry is the best, by the way!).

Likewise, knowing the how of testing is vital. If God provides us a command, it is consistent with His just and righteous character to provide the how, and He does so through the aged apostle John. John write,

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (ESV)

John tells us that we will not the veracity of the spirit based upon their confession of Christ, specifically His humanity. We have mentioned different heresies that have plagued the church throughout her existence, so we will not recount that again. It is important to remember that the church has been, is, and will be beset by false doctrine until the Lord returns. It is a good reminder, then, that we must test the spirits.

While this test is not exhaustive, it is an excellent test. How do teachers, preachers, and philosophers relate to Jesus Christ? Do they proclaim Him to be the Son of God, fully God and fully man, without sin? The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith provides an excellent summary of what we must believe about Jesus Christ,

The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her: and the power of the Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures; so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man. ( John 1:14; Galatians 4;4; Romans 8:3; Hebrews 2:14, 16, 17; Hebrews 4:15; Matthew 1:22, 23; Luke 1:27, 31, 35; Romans 9:5; 1 Timothy 2:5 )

How do you know if a spirit is from God? How do you know if someone is a believer? You know this by their relationship to Jesus Christ. Now, it is important to remember this is not an exhaustive test. This test is not like a battery test at the local automobile supply store. This is like a pass-fail test for the veracity of the individual. But perhaps it would help to provide an example.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), holds a certain belief about Jesus. Now, this group of people claims to be Christian. While there is much that could be written here, I want to offer one quote from The Book of Moses (referred to as The Pearl of Great Price), 6:9,

“In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them…”

This passage refers to God’s Creation of human beings. But notice the language, “in the image of his own body…” That is, God has a physical body at one point. Now, what does this have to do with Christ? Well, it negatively impacts the doctrine of the Trinity (a point that LDS already have an issue with), particularly the spiritual composition of God the Father (see John 4:24). This, in turn, affects one’s views of Christ. In addition to the nature and origin of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also adds to the work of Christ (you can see an example in 2 Nephi 25:23).

While this post is not about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it does help to have an example of how to test the validity of what individuals are saying. Jehovah’s Witnesses provide another example. Jehovah’s Witnesses also deny the deity of Christ, His co-creative power, and the biblical fact that Jesus is Jehovah.[1] It is important to test the veracity of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in accordance with their views of Jesus. This is one way that we can test the spirits.

Brothers and sisters, we must test the spirits in accordance with “sound doctrine.”[2]


[1] https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200002451#h=1:0

[2] See: Titus 1:9; 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; and 6:3.

You can read the other posts below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Test the Spirits (Part 4)

In previous posts, we began examining the aged apostle John’s command to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). This is a command for believers to test individuals on their teachings and lifestyles.

There is a need for testing, as we noted last time. But before we dive into the how of testing, we must know the why. John answers that important question when he writes, “for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1b).

That is, there are many false prophets in the world. Now, John wrote this epistle around 90 A.D. (probably a few years before).[1] This would be roughly 60 years after Christ’s ascension (see Acts 1:6-11). Within 60 years, then, false prophets were already abounding in the early church.

You can imagine that things have not gotten any better. They have gotten progressively worse. Paul says as much when he writes to Timothy, “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Why should we test the spirits, John? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. They abound!

We, as believers, must understand this. While some godly men and women encourage the Church and stand for sound doctrine, many false prophets are seeking to undermine the work of God. John gives us a glimpse into some of the challenges he faced in the first-century church.

For example, apparently some individuals doubted the fact that Jesus had a physical body. At the beginning of his epistle, John focuses on the physical body of Christ. He describes Christ as one “which we have seen with our eyes,” and “which we have looked upon,” and one that they even had contact with when he writes “have touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). Later in church history, this would become a heresy known as Docetism.[2] There seemed to be those who denied the dangers of sinning (see 1 John 1:5-10). All that is in chapter one!

The present Church faces many of the same challenges. Many of the heresies she fought against are present today. Additionally, there are other challenges the Church faces. Many false prophets are in the world, teaching that the Church must be more like the world, that the Church must stop preaching against sin, and that the Church must be more accepting. That is precisely why we must test the spirits, “for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1b).

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[1] Robert W. Yarbrough, “Introduction to 1, 2, & 3 John, in Christopher W. Morgan, Stephen J. Wellum, and Robert A. Peterson, ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1573.

[2] If you want to learn more about Docetism, check out these two websites: https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/docetism and https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/docetic-heresy/.

Test the Spirits (Part 3)

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…” (1 John 4:1, ESV)

After warning believers against a gullible approach to spirits (i.e., teachers), John then commands believers to test the spirits.

The word test is an interesting word packed with meaning.

Ultimately, however, the word means to evaluate. Evaluations are a routine part of life. Employers consistently evaluate their employees with annual evaluations. These are times when managers or supervisors sit down with the employee and discuss their performance at their job. I spent over five years as an Assistant to the Store Manager with Walmart. Though there were challenges, one of my favorite aspects of the work was giving associates evaluations. We would discuss their strengths, their areas of opportunity, and ways to help them develop. Of course, some evaluations were more enjoyable than others. Some had to be encouraged to develop in several areas. One of the tasks of an ASM was to evaluate. The sports world is no stranger to evaluation, either. Athletes are evaluated for their performance. Their statistics are evaluated to see their proficiency in their respective sport. Managers evaluate the effectiveness of coaches. Arm-chair quarterbacks evaluate the passing games of their team’s QB. We need to evaluate. It is a necessity.

Think about heading on a road trip. One of the important steps is to evaluate your motor vehicle to make sure it is running properly and ready for the trek. Doctors evaluate aging individuals for maximum health and to detect any potential health issues.

John tells believers to test, to evaluate, the spirits. This is a command. For the believer, to test or not to test is not the question. Believers must evaluate spirits. I mentioned a few modern heresies (though they are not really modern) in the previous post. That is just one example of why believers need to evaluate the spirits.

Another reason would be to simply look at popular, “Christian” books. CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) has Jesus Calling by Sarah Young as their number one book they recommend believers purchase. Now, if one were to test Sarah Young’s book, one would find several issues (biblically speaking) with it. Here are a few websites you can check to see why evaluation (testing) is needed for believers.

We do not have an option for testing. We need to test. We must test. Now the question is, “How do we test?” I am glad you asked! You will have to wait until next time to find out (or you could just continue reading 1 John 4:1-6).

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For previous entries in this series, see:

Testing the Spirits (Part 1)

Testing the Spirits (Part 2)

Testing the Spirits (Part 2)

In 1 John 4:1, John writes “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (NASB). It is a prohibition. Just as individuals are called to believe in the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), believers are equally called to not believe every spirit. Believers, in other words, must exercise a form of caution when dealing with “every spirit.”

Now, questions may arise in your mind, “What is a spirit? Is it referring to demons? Are these angelic spirits?” John is not discussing those spirits, however. Colin Kruse calls these spirits “secessionists.”[1] These individuals were with the apostle at first (2:19), but because of the separation of doctrine and practice (2:3-6, 19-23), they separated.

These individuals preached false doctrine, denying the physical body of Jesus (4:2). It is important to keep this in the back of your mind as you work through 4:1-6 in particular. While this section limits the testing to the incarnation of Jesus, the Scriptures teach that other doctrines can be and are denied by antichrists. John uses this term to describe anyone who denies Christ (2:22; cf. 4:3).

This helps explain why we are not to believe every spirit. We are to be cautious. Adding to this command is the explicit declaration of John that “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

We must be aware that there are false prophets in the world. They are attempting to deceive believers. They want to lure them away from the truth. Just as a fisherman uses flashy and often realistic lures to catch fish, false prophets provide a wide array of alluring beliefs and practices.

There are appealing views all throughout the world. The believer is to be on guard against such false teaching. The believer must learn to be able to identify such falsity. They must ever be watchful against enemies of the truth.

The church has not been unfamiliar with false teachings. Consider a recent study by Ligonier which found that “3 out of 4 US evangelicals are ‘Arians.”[2] For a brief examination of Arianism, please check out Gervase N. Charmley’s article on it.[3] Other heresies have beset the church with false doctrine. And while the term heresy is used frequently, it has a narrow meaning. Mike Leake of Crosswalk.com offers a helpful description of heresy, as well as a discussion on four present-day heresies.[4] This is why we must not believe every spirit.

So, are you believing every spirit? Do you blindly accept the latest book published under the title “Christian”? Do you see materials put out by publishers as truth itself?

As John writes, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit,” the command stands true today. We must become individuals with discernment. We receive discernment by the Word of God. The basis for the test, a topic which we explore more in the future, is on the incarnation of Christ. We learn this, however, from the Word of God. As believers, we must spend time in God’s Word, not merely reading it, but studying it, applying it, checking Scripture against Scripture.

“Do not believe every spirit.”—John

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[1] Colin G. Kruse, “1-3 John,” in D. A. Caron, gen. ed., The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 2255.

[2] Caleb Lindgren and Moran Lee, “Our Favorite Heresies of 2018: Experts Weigh In,” Christianity Today, 26 October 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/october/evangelicals-favorite-heresies-ligonier-theology-survey.html, accessed 14 July 2020.

[3] Gervase N. Charmley, “Arianism,” Banner of Truth, 1 December 2016, https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2016/arianism/, accessed 14 July 2020.

[4] Mike Leake, “What is Heresy? Bible Meaning and 4 Examples Alive Today,” Crosswalk.com, 18 June 2020, https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/4-heresies-still-alive-in-the-church.html, accessed 14 July 2020.

Testing the Spirits (Part 1)

I recently finished preaching through 1 John 4:1-6. In this portion of Scripture, John commands believers to test the spirits. Why is this important?

In our present day, we see that believers are gullible. We are easily deceived. Like the kid who, when told that the word gullible is not in the dictionary, replies “It’s not?” believers today are prone to deception, just like the believers of John’s day. This is evidenced by the confusion recently discussed in the joint efforts of Ligonier and LifeWay Research, published in the report, “The State of Theology: What Do People Really Believe in 2018?

The depressing results demonstrated a severe lack of knowledge regarding the crucial doctrines of the faith. It also demonstrated the gullibleness of the Church. In response to the third statement, “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Isalm,” 51% were in agreement. There is no doubt that this confusion and susceptibility to gullibility has only increased.

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Statement No. 3, The State of Theology

In John’s day, people were questioning the physical body of Jesus (1:1-3). People were causing believers to doubt how to interact with one another (2:7-11). The first-century believers are not much different than we are today. What was the remedy? John gives several points that we must consider today:

  • Do not believe every spirit (4:1a)
  • Test the spirits (4:1b)
  • Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (4:2a)
  • Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (4:2b)
    • This is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that is coming, and now it is already in the world (4:2c)

These will form the topics for this series. In this introductory post, I think it is important to provide some helpful resources to educate and edify the believer. These resources are not perfect, nor are they infallible. God’s Word holds that honor. However, these should be placed into your toolbox for growth.

flat lay shot of tools
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Founders Ministry provides excellent articles and books to help provide discernment to the believer.

Desiring God is another helpful resource. Predominately the ministry of John Piper, this website gives sermons, articles, books, and videos to educate and edify the believers.

The Gospel Coalition offers a wealth of resources. One that separates TGC from the rest is their courses. Many courses are available, for free, that help believers understand theology, ethics, and many other issues.

Grace to You, the ministry of John MacArthur provides a verse-by-verse exposition of all of the New Testament. In addition to this, there are blog posts, devotionals, and books available.

 

Wise Words from Augustine

I am reading through Augustine’s City of God for the next few months. I came across this helpful statement in book V. Augustine is discussing the development and might of the Roman Empire. Specifically, he is delving into the question of how the Romans became so powerful. In his discussion, he brings up to common reasons for why events and such turn out the way that they do: fate and chance. Concerning fate, he writes, “If anyone attributes them to fate because he uses the term ‘fate’ to mean the will or power of God, let him keep to this judgment but correct his language.” (City of God, 187)

There are several important points on which to focus our attention.

  1. He acknowledges that, at times, our language may be accurate theologically, but not linguistically.

    Here Augustine recognizes that there are times in which language is accurate theologically but not linguistically. He goes on to clarify, “For when men hear this word as it is used in ordinary speech, they understand it to mean nothing other than the force exerted by the position of the stars when anyone is born or conceived.” (City of God, 187) So, for example, it is theologically accurate to say that Jesus is like us. However, it may be difficult to say the same thing linguistically. For example, when most people here that phrase, they may assume that means Jesus is only human, not divine.

  2. He reminds us that our language must be accurate in our own context.

    Augustine notes, “Some distinguish this from the will of God [that is, fate], while others affirm that it indeed depends upon His will.” (City of God, 187) Augustine shows that language means different things to different people. Even when using biblical language, it is important for us to consider our context. We can see an example of this in Acts 17:22-31. Paul worked within the understanding of the people of Athens to communicate Gospel truth. He was also careful in what he did not say.

Language is important. How we communicate as Christians, especially in matters related to our sovereign God, are of inestimable importance. So, think theologically, express it accurately, and may God be glorified.

(Image Credit: By Fra Angelico and workshop – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1022879)

“Do I believe?”

In our last post we looked at the first three ways in which “we can help each other answer the question ‘Do I believe?’” (Lawrence, 104)

We began a discussion on conversion, that is, the means by which a sinful man is brought to life by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people in our churches struggle with this question. Am I really a Christian? Do I really believe?

In an effort to help address these concerns, Michael Lawrence offers several ways for us to help discover the answer.

You can see the previous post for the first three. So let’s dive right in!

  1. “Fourth, be especially careful before you assure children of their faith.” This one may come as a shock, but how many times have children’s workers ask the child, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” And, like almost all children, the child responds, “YES!” What happens next? The worker rejoices and tells the child that he (or she) will go to heaven.

The question is, “Did the child really believe?” Were they converted? I have no doubt that there are people who become Christians in their childhood. But I fear that we unknowingly offer assurance to children who do not need it. I love how Lawrence offers balance to this area. “When they express faith verbally, celebrate. But remember that the true evidence of faith is trust, and trust needs time and opportunity to demonstrate itself.” (Lawrence, 105)

  1. “Fifth, make membership meaningful.” Perhaps more so than anything else, both pastors and congregants sadly misunderstand church membership. People today ask, “Why should I join the church?” As long as the church accepts their money, provides a preacher, and has nice facilities and programs, what difference does it make? This post is not a treatment of church membership. For that I would recommend Jonathan Leeman’s Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. Yet, if we treated membership with more seriousness, it would definitely help answer the question, “Do I believe?”
    Lawrence writes, “We help each other know that we believe by attending the public services of the church regularly and by building into each other’s lives.” (Lawrence, 105)
  2. “Sixth, practice church discipline.” Along the same lines as meaningful membership, church discipline seems to be non-existent today. If we are focused on building our church, our community, and our kingdom, why would we discipline? We cannot even switch colors of carpet for fear of offending a certain church member (who just happens to contribute financially). Alternatively, we cannot tell an individual that they cannot teach a class because we are afraid they will go to the church down the street. Is this what God’s the church to do? Did He not instruct us in matters of discipline (see Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2)? Church discipline, while certainly not an enjoyable or glamorous part of ministry, is nonetheless important. But how does this answer the question, “Do I believe?” Lawrence succinctly states, “Church discipline means that the congregation won’t console itself or anyone else falsely by saying, ‘At least they prayed a prayer when they were a kid.’ Rather, because of love, the church is not satisfied with historical faith, and won’t let you be satisfied with it, either.” (Lawrence, 106-107)
  3. Seventh, make the gospel your first recourse in counseling and discipling.” I fear that I have made this mistake too often. We assume that someone who comes to church faithfully is a Christian. However, as you probably know, church attendance does not bring about conversion. Rather than assuming, why not begin with the Gospel? Beginning with the Gospel helps us answer the question, “Do I believe?” (Lawrence, 107)
  4. “Eighth, remember that relationships are as much or more about encouragement than they are accountability.” I am quick to see the negative, slow to see the positive, and ignorant (more than I’d like to admit) to distinguish between the two. We are acutely aware of everyone’s shortcomings. Mention the name and we can rattle off their top five weaknesses in about 30 seconds. Try and think of the good qualities of that person is a different story. In fact, for many of us, it is a different book in the library down the street. Focusing on encouragement, with regards to conversion, helps us see the good that God is doing in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Lawrence notes, “Sometimes it is hard to assure ourselves. Our sins are always in front of us, clouding our view. Our perspective is so often dominated by the pressing sin and the failure of the moment. That’s when we need someone else to look at us, and to point out the longer-term growth, present trust, and the fruit of the Spirit that we often cannot see in ourselves.” (Lawrence, 107-108)

So, do you believe? Have you joined with a body of believers? Have you recently examined yourself, to see whether you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5)?

May the answer to those questions be a resounding yes! And may the church help to answer that in the affirmative.  

Rabbinical Insights into Inspiration

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I have begun the task of reading the Babylonian Talmud. It is a monumental work spanning several centuries years and written in at least two languages.i Its importance to Judaism will never be overstated. To our interests as believers in the Messiah, it draws on a “long period of oral tradition ca. 450 B.C.E. To 200 C.E.”ii

I have been incredibly blessed by reading this work. Most of it is rather boring reading, to be honest. This rabbi says this, another says the opposite. And then three to four paragraphs of attempts to justify each rabbi’s position.

But hidden within the earth of wordiness are little gems such as I am going to share with you now. In a section covering the time necessary to recite the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6.4-6) I found this:

“Did David really know exactly when it was midnight? Now Moses, our master, did not know, for it is written, ‘At about midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt’ (Ex. 11.4). What is the sense of ‘at about midnight’ cited in the preceding verse? If I should say that that is language which the Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, that is, ‘At about midnight,’ is it possible that before Heaven there is such a doubt [as to the exact time of night? That is impossible.] Rather, [God] said to him, ‘At midnight,’ but Moses is the one who came along and said, ‘At about midnight.’ It follows that he was in doubt as to exactly when it was midnight. Could David then have known exactly when it was?”iii

I find several points of interest here. To begin with, in regards to the matter of inspiration, we find that God allows the individual author to shine through. When Moses wrote ‘at about midnight’ it seems that God allowed some freedom of expression. As the Rabbis conferred, if God should choose to be more specific he would have had Moses express it that way.

Another point that I find fascinating is that there is some ambiguity in the Scriptures. There are numerous times when estimations are given rather than exact numbers (Exodus 32.28; Joshua 7.4; Judges 15.11; 16.27; and Acts 2.41). This, in turn, can be applied to the rest of Scripture. It is important not to force exactness when exactness is not intended. We can find ourselves in much trouble when we attempt to force something that is intended to be taken loosely.

The last point that I get from this is to be comfortable with not having all the answers. In the context the Rabbis were discussing whether Moses knew when midnight was.iv But they were comfortable acknowledging that Moses didn’t know (or it was at the very least a possibility), and they were fine with that. There may some issues, some matters, that believers never fully grasp. Are we comfortable with not having all the answers? Are we honest to admit that we don’t know everything?

So the rabbis have much to teach us, if we would simply have ears to hear and eyes to see.

iJacob Neusener, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I Tractate Berakhot (Peabody, Hendrickson: 2011), xv.

iiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, xxv.

iiiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, 10-11.

ivIt may seem such a trivial matter to discuss when exactly midnight is, particularly when we know when midnight is. But to the ardent follower of Judaism preciseness is a non-negotiable, specifically when regarding the recitation of the Shema.