Dealing with Gray Areas

1 Corinthians 10

23“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake — 29the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:23-33, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

When is the last time you wondered if the meat you were about to eat had been sacrificed to idols?

That’s probably never happened to you but in the New Testament culture, this was a big issue that created a lot of controversy.

The Roman Empire was an amalgamation of many diverse cultures that had been conquered and grafted into the Roman/Greek culture. As a result, there were hundreds of different religions and gods that the people worshiped and animal sacrifice was a normal part of worship for most of these religions.

So the context of this passage is one in which Christians were wrestling with whether or not it was morally right for them to eat a meal with someone when they know the prepared food had been previously sacrificed to a pagan deity and then later sold at the local market.

Though we don’t wrestle with this exact issue today, Paul outlines several principles that enable us to make wise biblical decisions when we’re faced with unclear moral choices today. In some Christian circles, we refer to these issues as “gray areas” – issues the Bible doesn’t specifically speak about but there’s an element of the issue that might make it morally questionable.

Classic “gray areas” might include: drinking, smoking, dancing, gambling, watching R-rated movies, listening to certain kinds of music, etc.

The Bible never says anything about R-rated movies, as movies didn’t even exist until a little over 100 years ago. So how can we know whether it’s ok to partake in some of these activities that some have questioned?

Paul gives a number of principles that we can apply to current situations.

The first thing Paul says is that even though we may be permitted to do certain things (in other words, it doesn’t clearly violate God’s laws) doesn’t mean it is beneficial or constructive. The implication is that we should not do things just because it’s technically allowed. We should consider whether it’s beneficial to us, and others!

Paul builds on this by citing his main principle, which is to seek to the good of others, not our own good.

Paul explains that he has no problem eating anything that is set before him because he knows that there is only one God and that even if the meat had been sacrificed to an idol, he knows that the idol is not a real god. So in his conscience, he can give thanks to the one true God and gratefully eat whatever is put before him.

However, others may not have that understanding. This difference may be the result of a lack of spiritual maturity and understanding on such issues or the person may just have a difference of opinion. Whatever the case is, Paul explains that he will forgo the eating of meat if he thinks it may in any way be a hindrance to the conscience of the other person who is there to observe.

The bottom line is summarized in verses 31-33. Whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God and in whatever we do, our aim should be to not cause others to stumble. We should seek the good of others above our own good so that we may not create any barriers to them being saved.

Reflection

What are some “gray areas” that you have wrestled with in the past?

What do you think are the most critical and controversial “gray areas” issues the church is facing today?

What has been your method in the past for determining whether or not it was ok to participate in some of these questionable activities?

Of the principles shared, which one stands out to you the most? Why?

What changes do you need to make to adjust to the principles Paul shares in this passage?

 

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Is it Always Wrong to Judge Others? (Part 2)

1 Corinthians 5

12It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. 13God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NLT)


One of the biggest criticisms against Christians in our culture today is that we’re “judgmental”. Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, in their book “UnChristian” outline several negative traits that non-believers perceive to be true of Christians and being judgmental is one of them.

As a result of this criticism, many Christians wrongly believe that we should NEVER judge others. Matthew 7:1, in which Jesus says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is often cited as proof that Christians should never judge others.

I wrote about this passage several months ago (you can read it here) and explained why that passage does not teach that Christians can never judge others, while explaining what Jesus was really teaching in that passage.

Now, in this passage of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives further clarity on the issue of judging.

The context of this passage is sexual immorality. Apparently, there was a person in the church who was involved in some pretty heinous sexual sins, and nobody was calling him out on it.

Does this sound familiar?

Often, we in the church don’t want to confront others regarding their immoral life choices because we don’t want to be seen as “judgmental”.

Paul offers a rebuke to the Christians in the Corinthian church precisely because they did NOT judge the person for their sinful actions.

Paul explicitly states that while it’s not our job as Christians to be the morality police to the world, for those who are in the church, those who claim to be followers of Jesus, we ARE to confront and rebuke them when their actions and life choices do not line up with God’s standards for righteous living.

We should note that the idea of “judging” someone is simply confronting them whenever they are in sin.

Unfortunately, the world’s view of “judging” usually involves any type of negative feedback that might be critical of a person’s choices. Paul says that we, as believers CAN and SHOULD be prepared to approach, confront, rebuke and even criticize those who are in the church if their actions are not righteous and honoring to God.

Of course, whenever we do this, we need to be careful how we do it and we need to ensure that our own lives are above reproach. Otherwise, we can easily be labeled as hypocrites, which is another one of the negative traits labeled against Christians that was identified in the book UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons.

If you read the passage in Matthew 7, you’ll see that this was exactly the point Jesus was making about judging others – it’s not wrong to judge but we don’t want to be hypocritical in the way that we judge others.

So is it always wrong to judge others?

Clearly, NO! But we need to be careful how we confront others so that we are not doing it in a way that may seem hypocritical. Additionally, we should not apply the same moral standards to those outside the church as we do to those who are followers of Jesus.

Reflection

What do you think is meant by the term “judging”?  How have you defined it?

What is your response to the view that many non-Christians view Christians as being judgmental? Do you think this charge is true or fair?

Paul says that “it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways.” How does this statement align with your current thinking on the issue of judging? Does it surprise you to know that we as Christians SHOULD judge others (those inside the church)? Why or why not?

What do you think are some ways we can be better at judging others without reinforcing the negative stereotypes that Christians have on this issue?

 

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Training in Righteousness – Part 2

2 Timothy 3

14But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.
(2 Timothy 3:14-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago, I shared a post with some devotional thoughts from Proverbs 11:17, entitled, “Can Golf Nourish Your Soul”.

The idea behind that post is that we can actually train ourselves to live righteously. Just as a golfer takes thousands of practice swings in order to perfect their technique and ensure proper form when they’re out on the course, we too can train our souls to act righteously by doing the right thing, even when we might not feel like it.

But that begs the question: how do we know what the right thing is?

Paul gives the answer to Timothy in this passage, which includes the popular verse:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.
(2 Timothy 3:16)

This verse tells us that there are 4 functions of God’s word:

    1. God’s word teaches us what is true. We know what is right and what is wrong because God’s word tells us. By reading God’s word, we get insight into what God says is right and what is wrong.
    2. God’s word shows us what is wrong in our lives. With God’s word as our barometer for truth, we can determine when and where we’ve strayed off course.
    3. God’s word tells us how to straighten out our lives. When we stray off course, God’s word gives us the blueprint for how to get back on the right path.
    4. God’s word teaches us what is right. Some versions say that God’s word is useful for “training in righteousness”.  In other words, just as a golfer can create muscle memory in his or her swing through increased repetition and practice, so we too can train ourselves to respond the right way through repetition and practice, creating habits that are imprinted upon our character.

We know what the right thing is based on what God’s word (Scripture) tells us.

The Scriptures give us insight into God’s character and direction regarding what is moral and true.

By aligning our lives and our actions with God’s word and its description of moral truth, we can train ourselves to be righteous.

One of the problems in our culture today, however, is that everyone has their own view and understanding of what is right and what is moral. Even many Christians dismiss portions of Scripture that don’t align with their preferred morality in order to support their own life choices.

Whatever standard of morality one chooses to adopt and follow will shape their soul and their character. If we adopt God’s standard as outlined in the Scriptures and consistently obey and follow his guidelines and statues, we will be training our hearts and souls to live righteously.

However, if we adopt some other standard of morality, whether it’s one promoted by the culture, or even a personal standard that is only loosely based on Scripture, we will be training our hearts and souls to live unrighteously.

In some circles, Christians talk about making Christ Lord, not just Savior. The idea is that Jesus, through his death on the cross, saves us from eternal condemnation and punishment. But if we want to experience the full spiritual life that Jesus desires for us, we must submit our will to His, making Him Lord in all areas, including the area of personal morality.

Reflection

What is the basis for your own personal moral views? What is the source for how you determine what is true and right?

Trusting Jesus for salvation is only one component of the Christian life. It “saves” us from eternal punishment but if we want to experience true spiritual life now, we must make Jesus Lord. Is Jesus Lord of your life? If not, why not? What keeps you from submitting to Jesus fully and completely?

In what ways have you seen Christians compromise their morality, dismissing biblical views for their own personal morals that are contrary to the Scriptures?

What are some practical steps you can take to begin to adopt a moral understanding of truth and righteousness that aligns with God? 

 

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Who Was at Fault for the First Recorded Church Split?

Acts 15

36After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return to each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are getting along.” 37Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not shared in their work. 39Their disagreement over this was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40Paul chose Silas, and the believers sent them off, entrusting them to the Lord’s grace. 41So they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches there. (Acts 15:36-41, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

If you’ve had many conversations with non-believers about Christianity and the gospel message, you no doubt have encountered questions about “all the different denominations” of Christianity.

To many non-Christians the existence of so many different groups and denominations is a kind of proof of the invalidity of the message. After all, if Christians can’t get along and they disagree enough to split over, how can we believe the message they are promoting is true?

This line of reasoning argues that if Christianity were really true, there wouldn’t be so many “versions” of it.

If you happen to agree with this, you might be surprised to know that Acts 15 records the first known church “split”.

Paul and Barnabas were the first missionary super-team, having been commissioned and sent out in Acts 11 by the church at Antioch. Along for the ride was John Mark, who was the cousin of Barnabas.

In Acts 13, when they arrived at Pamphylia, the text says that John Mark left to return to Jerusalem:

Now Paul and those with him left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14But Barnabas and Paul traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia.

The mention of John Mark leaving almost seems like an after-thought. There certainly isn’t any indication that his return to Jerusalem was anything more than an expected part of the plan.

But in chapter 15 we find out that John Mark’s return to Jerusalem was NOT a part of the plan – that he had left the team unexpectedly. In his first experience as a missionary apprentice, he washed out.

Now Paul and Barnabas are planning their return trip and Barnabas wants to take John Mark along. Paul wants nothing to do with John Mark, seeing as how he had deserted them on the previous journey.

Their opinion on this issue is so strong that they split. Barnabas takes John Mark with him while Paul selects Silas as his new sidekick.

When evaluating this situation, it’s natural for us to want to assign blame – to ask, “who was in the wrong?”

Let’s look at Barnabas for a moment. We first see Barnabas at the end of Acts 4 when he sells some property and gives the proceeds to the church. We learn that his name means “Son of encouragement”.

Barnabas was an encourager. He believed the best in people. It was Barnabas who first found Paul after he had converted and brought him to the apostles. Barnabas vouched for Paul when others thought his conversion story was just a ruse to worm his way into the church for the purpose of arresting and persecuting its followers.

And now Barnabas is wanting to give John Mark, his cousin, a second chance. It’s who Barnabas is.

But Paul is different. He’s a hard charger – a leader who is singularly focused. Because of Paul’s vision and determination, not only are numerous churches planted throughout the known world, but he writes half of the New Testament as well.

Being a missionary is serious business and Paul doesn’t have time for those who aren’t going to last.

So who was at fault? Who was wrong?

If you are an encourager like Barnabas, you’re likely to take his side and say that Paul was in the wrong.

However, if you’re a leader with a pioneering spirit like Paul, you’re likely to take his side and think that Barnabas was in the wrong.

In my opinion, neither was at fault or in the wrong. This is simply an example where two people with different personalities and different values could not agree. As a result, they decided to go their separate ways.

While some might bemoan the fact that they split as an example of “disunity” or even selfishness, consider the fact that by going their separate ways, their missionary labor force was essentially doubled.

In addition, God honored both groups. We see how Paul’s ministry continued to expand even without Barnabas by Paul’s side. Also, we know that John Mark did indeed learn from his previous mistakes, thanks to Barnabas believing in him. Even Paul, later in 2 Timothy 4:11, recognizes John Mark’s contribution when he states:

Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me.

So who was at fault for the first recorded church split? Neither party. Instead, both parties stood firm to their principles and personalities and as a result agreed to dissolve their partnerships and form new ones. God uses each new missionary unit to further his kingdom purposes.

So while it’s true that there are many denominations and many different groups within Christianity, it’s an overstatement to assume that the reason so many groups exist is because of some sinful or immoral separation. Though it’s possible and even likely that some splits occurred because of sinful and selfish reasons, it’s also true that the existence of different groups is not because of sin or immorality but simply different preferences and choices that in no way negate the validity or truthfulness of the Christian message.

In other words, just as God honored and blessed the two different groups that emerged from the Paul and Barnabas split, the existence of many different groups within Christianity today should not be seen as evidence against Christianity but as proof that God is able to accomplish His purposes and expand His reach despite the conflicting preferences and personalities of those who claim to be His ambassadors.

Reflection

In this scenario pitting Paul vs Barnabas, are you on team Paul or team Barnabas? Why did you pick the side you picked?

What has been your response to someone who argues that all the different denominations must somehow be a proof against the validity or truthfulness of the Christian message?

What insights have you gained from this passage that might help you to address those who seem overly concerned about the number of churches and denominations within Christianity?

What do you see as the primary values each person (Barnabas & Paul) were holding onto in their disagreement? When do you think a person should hold fast to their principles and when do you think a compromise is warranted?

 

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Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?

Matthew 5

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever heard someone say that “God helps those who help themselves”?

It’s a popular notion that’s been around for years. But is it biblical?

To be fair, there are numerous passages in the Proverbs that extol the virtues of hard work and the foolishness of being lazy. (See Proverbs 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 19:15, among others)

Additionally, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul issues this admonition:

“Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Whoever does not work should not eat.”

However the sentiment of this popular bit of cultural wisdom is not meant to discourage laziness but instead, it promotes an attitude of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism that is associated more with American culture than biblical values.

Jesus teaches the exact opposite. Instead of teaching that “God helps those who help themselves”, Jesus teaches that ”God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.”

To be poor in spirit means to recognize your own spiritual need; to recognize the poverty of your own soul. The New Living Translation says it this way:

“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

The reality is that we are all broken and there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Many people mistakenly believe that we come to Jesus only to be rescued from an eternity in hell.

While Jesus does save us from the judgment we deserve, we still need Jesus every day, even beyond our initial conversion experience. We are broken and only Jesus can empower us to live the kinds of righteous and holy lives He desires. Only Jesus can provide fullness of life.

Jesus doesn’t just promise to save us from hell. He promises us LIFE. REAL LIFE. Unfortunately, we cannot experience that life if we subscribe to the idea that we must help ourselves first. NO. We cannot help ourselves. We need Jesus to help us every moment of every day!

Reflection

What are some ways our culture promotes the kind of attitude that is expressed in the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”?

In what ways have you seen this kind of thinking filter into our church and Christian doctrine?

Besides your conversion experience what are some other times or situations where you recognized your own brokenness and need for Jesus?

What are some ways that people can cultivate an attitude of being “poor in spirit”?

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Dealing with Differences of Opinion

Is one day more important than another? Paul answers this question and others in Romans 14.

Romans 14

1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.

5In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. 6Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. 9Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10So why do you condemn another Christian ? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’”

12Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God. 13So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. 19So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. 21Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. 22You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. 23But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
(Romans 14:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with a common issue among Christians – how should we handle issues on which we disagree?

In a previous post on this chapter of Scripture, I addressed the issue of whether Paul was advocating moral relativism. The short answer is “No”, but you can read my thoughts and explanation in my post “Does Paul Advocate Moral Relativism?”.

In this post, I want to focus instead on Paul’s admonition that we not condemn one another by arguing about minor doctrinal views and personal preferences. For some reason, probably pride and arrogance, people everywhere have this tendency to think all of their views and preferences are correct. Christians are not immune to this phenomenon, so we can tend to think that all of our doctrinal views and religious preferences are also correct, whereas those who may disagree with us or think differently must be wrong in their thinking and understanding.

As a result, we can fall into the trap of trying to correct every view and idea of others that differs from our own.

Paul says that when we condemn other Christians for their actions and preferences which differ from ours, we are potentially putting an obstacle in their path. Instead of taking on the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, we should let God do the work of convicting and transforming.

Several years ago, in my first ever seminary class, I learned some valuable principles that I think apply here.

Alan Scholes, in his book “What Christianity is all About” outlines three different categories of thought that we can place almost all of our views and positions into. In the book, these categories were talking about doctrinal positions but I think the categories can extend beyond just our doctrinal views and can include other views and positions as well.

The first category is what Scholes refers to as Opinions. Opinions are thoughts and beliefs I have regarding a particular topic or issue but I recognize that others may have different views and I don’t assert that my view is necessarily correct or the only view that a person can have.

The second category is what Scholes calls Persuasions. A persuasion is stronger than an opinion. I may have done some research on an issue and therefore may be persuaded that my position is logically correct, but I still allow for others to hold different positions.

The third category is what he calls Convictions. A conviction is a persuasion that is so strong that if someone were to disagree with me, it could impact or hinder my relationship or my ability to be in fellowship with that person.

Scholes argues that for followers of Christ there should be a limited number of doctrinal issues that we hold at a conviction level, which would limit our ability to partner with or fellowship with that person.

It doesn’t mean I couldn’t have a relationship with them but if we differ on these critical conviction issues, it may limit my ability to work with and partner with them.

Most other issues I should hold at an opinion or persuasion level.

The problem that many Christians experience is we too often elevate opinion level preferences to conviction level status. Paul gives several examples of this happening in his own experience. He first gives the example of whether you can eat meat or not, and then follows up with the example of whether worship should be reserved for a specific day for everyone.

Paul says that these issues are not critical. It’s ok to have your own opinion and you may even be persuaded that your view is right, but you shouldn’t impose your opinions and persuasions on others who may have a different view. On these non-critical issues, we should allow for a diversity of views and allow God to work in people’s hearts and minds if a change in view is required.

You may be wondering what constitutes a “non-critical” issue. Couldn’t someone argue that we should allow for a diversity of issues on just about any doctrine and position?

The answer is no, we shouldn’t allow for diversity in every doctrine and there are definitely issues we should hold at a conviction level. If you want to know what those issues are, just familiarize yourself with the scriptures because they are clearly spelled out.

For example, Paul leaves no room for people to hold a diversity of views on the nature of God or the person of Jesus. Those who taught a divergent view of Jesus were labeled as false teachers by Paul and other New Testament writers. See my posts here and here regarding this.

In general, if a person’s doctrinal viewpoint results in false teaching or an inaccurate or deficient view of God, Jesus or salvation, then it should be rejected. But if the person’s view has no impact on our view of God or our understanding of critical doctrines such as the doctrine of salvation, then some latitude should be allowed.

In Paul’s examples, you can see that whether or not a person eats meat is not relevant or critical to our understanding of God or salvation. Similarly, the exact day of the week that is reserved for worship has no impact on our understanding of salvation.

Paul’s advice on how to deal with differences of opinions can be summed up well by verse 19, which states:

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Reflection

What are some critical doctrines that you think you should hold at a conviction level, meaning that if others disagreed with you it would negatively impact your ability to fellowship with them or even consider them to be legitimate followers of Jesus?

What are some opinion-level issues that you see Christians today elevating to conviction level status?

What are some issues or views that you personally hold at a persuasion level? What makes it a persuasion for you rather than just an opinion?

What steps can/should you take if other believers are condemning you for views that you think are opinions or persuasions and not convictions?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

Further Proof that Jesus is God

Titus 3

3Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us.

4But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. 5He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. 6He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. 7He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. 8These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trusts in God will be careful to do good deeds all the time. These things are good and beneficial for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

“The Bible never claims that Jesus is God!”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone make this claim. The argument essentially says that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, but teaches that Jesus is something less than God, such as “Son of God”, or “Son of Man”, or “Messiah”, or “anointed one”, etc.

Because the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, then Jesus must not BE God and therefore, the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus is divine must be false. Hence Christianity is false.

But is it true that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is divine?

No.

The evidence for the deity of Jesus is overwhelming and generally falls into three categories: 1) Direct claims of deity that Jesus made – I covered one such incident here.  2) Passages that show Jesus has attributes that only God could possess and 3) passages in which Jesus’ followers clearly identify Jesus as divine. This passage in Titus is one such example.

Jesus’ divinity is not hard to demonstrate from this passage and only a basic understanding of logic is necessary to prove that Paul believed and taught that Jesus was God.

Verse 4 says clearly:

“But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love.”

Verse 6 states that:

“He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did.”

So in one verse, Paul refers to God our Savior, while just two verses later, he refers to what “Jesus Christ our Savior did.”

These two verses show that God is Savior AND Jesus Christ is Savior. Therefore, Jesus Christ is God.

There are dozens of other passages that demonstrate that Jesus’ own followers saw him as divine and even worshiped Him. Keep in mind that for the Jew, worship was reserved for God alone. Therefore, when a Jewish person worships Jesus, they are doing so because they believe He is God and therefore worthy of worship.

This one passage may not be enough to convince your non-Christian friends that Jesus is indeed God, but it should help convince you. Jesus not only made direct claims of deity but His followers also ascribed deity to Jesus and promoted their understanding of Jesus’ nature to others.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the nature of Jesus? In what ways have your views changed or been substantiated?

In what ways do you find the above logic regarding proof of Jesus’ divinity convincing? In what ways are you not convinced?

If you are not convinced that Jesus is God, what are your reasons for not believing? Conversely, what basis can you give to support the idea that Jesus IS God?

Why do you think it matters whether a person has a correct understanding of the nature of Jesus? What are the consequences for having a wrong understanding of who Jesus is? (For my thoughts on these questions, see my posts here, and here.)

 

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Should Christians Obey the Government?

Titus 3

1Remind your people to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2They must not speak evil of anyone, and they must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. (Titus 3:1-2, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

How do you view the government? Do you see the government as good or evil? How much control should our government have? Should we, as Christians, obey the government, or are we free to disobey the government when it suits us? What should the Christian’s response be towards our government and its leaders?

In Paul’s letter to Titus, he closes his thoughts in this final chapter with the admonition that people should obey the government and its leaders.

Paul’s command is not just that we would obey, but that we should do good, avoid quarreling and act with humility towards everyone. Honestly, when I nose around on social media for any extended period of time, I don’t usually see many believers who are actively heeding Paul’s words.

Whenever I see believers actively resisting the government these days, most often the basis given is that the government is evil, or the government is violating our constitutional rights or something similar.

Keep this in mind: when Paul wrote these words, Nero was in power over the Roman Empire. To say that Nero was not kind to the Christian community would be a gross understatement. Nero was so antagonistic towards Christians that he blamed the great fire of Rome in AD 64 on the Christian community. And yet, Paul here is urging Titus to tell his people that they should submit to the government and its officers.

There are two things to be aware of here regarding Paul’s command:

First, obeying government leaders is not a tacit admission that everything the government does is somehow holy and good.

Secondly, Paul’s command to obey the government is not a universal command to obey ANYTHING that the government says. It’s meant to be a general statement about our posture towards our leaders. In general, we should obey what the authorities are asking us to do. But that doesn’t mean that there are no circumstances where we would be justified in disobedience.

How do we know when we should obey or disobey?

Acts 4 provides a helpful guideline on this topic. The disciples are brought in before the religious leaders because of a miracle that has been performed in healing a crippled man at the Temple. As a result of this healing, many people were praising God. Peter and John took advantage of the situation and shared the gospel to a captive, curious and open audience. As a result, many believed in Jesus and became followers of Christ on that day.

But the religious leaders weren’t happy, so they brought the apostles into their presence for questioning. They used this opportunity to warn them not to continue spreading their “propaganda”. They told them to stop preaching the message about Jesus.

Peter and John’s reply is recorded in Acts 4:19, in which they say:

“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, NLT)

Here’s the principle: in general, Christians should obey their government and its leaders, particularly when there is no morally objectionable reason to disobey.

However, if our government or its leaders ask you to do something that is immoral or contradicts God’s laws or decrees, then we, as Christ followers, are morally obligated to reject that request and instead, pursue those activities that represent God’s moral law. In other words, when earthly laws and regulations contradict or oppose biblical laws and/or values, the biblical value should trump earthly rules every time.

Reflection

What are some laws or regulations that you are most likely to see Christians disregarding?

Why do you think believers are sometimes quick to resist government authorities and regulations? What are some of the reasons cited?

What are some government rules and regulations that you think Christians SHOULD reject and disobey? What reasoning can you give to explain why Christians should disobey those particular rules and regulations?

What would it look like for people to show gentleness and true humility to everyone?

 

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

 

Where Did that Ball Come From?

Romans 1

18But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves. 19For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.

21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 22Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. 23And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people, or birds and animals and snakes.

24So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.

26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27Note And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.

28When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done. 29Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents. 31They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving. 32They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:18-32, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

I heard a humorous story a long time ago that goes like this:

A guy is talking to his atheist friend and poses this series of questions:

“You’re walking along the beach and you see a tennis ball. What do you assume? Is it the product of random ocean forces that somehow mixed random ocean materials together to create a tennis ball and then washed it up onto the shore?

“NO! It’s a tennis ball. I assume someone left it here after playing with it on the beach.”

“Ok. Let’s say you’re walking along the beach and you see a bigger ball, like a soccer ball. What do you conclude? Was it designed or did it create itself through some random process?”

“It was obviously designed and placed there by someone.”

“Ok. Let’s say you’re walking along the beach and you see an even BIGGER ball, like a weather balloon. What do you conclude?”

“Well, since a weather balloon has purpose, it must have been created by someone who understood that purpose.”

“Great. What about an even BIGGER ball? What if you’re walking along and you see the EARTH? What do you conclude? Was it the product of an intelligent designer?”

“Oh no. The Earth was not created by an intelligent being. It’s the product of billions of years of random chance processes.”

Romans 1 is the classic Bible chapter outlining the process by which people, in the futility of their own mind, devolve into the depths of their own sinfulness.

Paul speaks to the fictional exchange above in verses 18-20, which state that it’s obvious when you look around that there must be some powerful, creative force behind all that we see. Given our own understanding and experience with creating and designing advanced, complex machines and electronics, how could anyone come to the conclusion that something like our universe, which is so intricately, beautifully and purposefully designed is the result of random chance?

It really makes no logical sense.

William Paley, in the early 1800’s, posed this scenario when he developed his “Watchmaker” analogy. In his analogy, he said in effect,

If I stumbled upon a stone and asked how it got there, I would think the question is absurd. It has been there forever. But if I stumbled upon a watch and asked how it got there, the answer would be different, for a watch is obviously designed with purpose, showing evidence of a designer.

So what is the reason people will acknowledge that man-made items such as watches, computers and automobiles are obviously designed, yet something much larger, more complex and intricate that includes biological living things and entire eco-systems, is NOT the product of a designer?

Paul’s answer in this chapter is spelled out in the first verse of this section (verse 18), when he says:

“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves.

The short answer is that people suppress the truth that is inherently obvious to them. To suppress truth is to deny it and reject it.

Paul’s discourse outlines the depth of the problem of sin. Sin is not just doing bad things or saying bad things, but sin has penetrated to the very depths of our heart.

The heart represents our will, our most inner motives and desires. Paul is saying that though God’s qualities are obvious to all through creation, people end up suppressing (rejecting) this truth through a downward spiraling pattern of inner rebellion.

How does this happen?

It starts when people who know God, or at least know there is a God, refuse to give thanks to God or acknowledge His role in our lives. Next, people develop an image of God that matches their own preferences. They fail to acknowledge God as He is, but instead begin to create a god in their mind who matches their own desires and preferences.

As people begin to follow and worship their own view of god, their hearts become darkened. Why? Because they are not following the truth but they’re following a distorted and false image of god that represents their own preferences and desires. In effect, people begin to train and condition their own moral values away from God’s standards and towards their own sinful desires.

As people continue on this course, God gives them over to their own base desires. In other words, He gives people the freedom to follow their choices and also experience the natural consequences of those choices. People’s thoughts, attitudes and actions become more and more vile and wicked as they reject God’s standards of morality and choose to follow their own inclinations.

The end result is that people develop their own moral values that contradict and oppose God’s values in varying degrees. What sinful humanity now thinks and calls normal and good, God views as wickedness. These rebellious acts show up in every possible area of our lives, from the way we talk to others, the way we conduct our business, our sexual practices, etc.

The final stage in this rebellion is a declaration that our sinful acts are righteous (thus, morality is redefined) along with an encouragement for others to follow these new moral guidelines.

In order to justify the new moral order, people either eliminate God altogether (atheism) or they re-create God in such a way that He actually advocates and endorses these attitudes and behaviors that have traditionally been seen as sinful (paganism/idolatry).

I think verse 31 is a fitting summary that characterizes the attitude of the person Paul is describing, when he says,

“They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving.”

This sounds a lot like our current culture to me, and the thing is, none of us are immune to these outcomes. If we are not intentional about caring for our spiritual life, we may find ourselves, over time, slowly drifting away from God until one day we resemble the person described in Romans 1:28-32.

How can we avoid this?

I’m sure there are many practical steps that could help but if we did these three things consistently: acknowledge God, give thanks to Him for His goodness, and worship Him for who He is, we would likely safeguard ourselves from entering the downward spiral which starts the progression.

Reflection

What are the typical reasons you hear people giving to reject God and His existence?

What examples can you see in our current culture where people are redefining morality and changing their view of God in order to accommodate their own life choices and preferences?

What biblical moral standards do you struggle with the most? What do you think are the reasons you (and others) struggle with those particular moral values?  

In what ways are you most tempted to re-define God in order to meet your own personal moral preferences?

 

Photo by Kevin Mueller on Unsplash

Is Wealth Immoral? (Part 2)

1 Timothy 6

6Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11

1Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Yesterday, I posted here about a passage on wealth from Luke 12, in which Jesus tells a story calling a rich person foolish because he tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he would have a place to store his massive amounts of material possessions.

My post sought to address the issue of whether Jesus was condemning wealth in His story.

You see, there’s a lot of talk about equity these days and one of the areas where people are seeing inequity is in the wide array of financial positions held by people in our society. Some people are poor and some people are extremely rich, and a lot of people are somewhere in between.

In our very polarized society, it’s become fashionable to point to those who have extreme amounts of wealth and declare it to be immoral. It is assumed or implied that the only way people could have that much money is because of greed. To be fair, not everyone is directly declaring it to be immoral, but using words like “insane”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and “unnecessary” to describe the amount of wealth some people have makes the same point. Whether expressed directly or indirectly, many people are offended by the amount of wealth that some people have.

But is it immoral to be wealthy? Was Jesus, in his story, condemning wealth? You can read the details and explanation of my response here but the short answer is no, I do not believe Jesus was condemning wealth. What He was condemning was greed.

As if to reinforce that point, a portion of my reading today consisted of the passages above, which also speak to the issues of money, wealth and greed.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul speaks to the need for contentment and then follows with a warning of the dangers that exist for people who “want to get rich”. Paul is speaking about greed.

Paul says that when people are greedy they find themselves “trapped by many foolish desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” There are many examples of how this could play out but I initially think of a person who, in their hopes of making a big score, wastes all of their money playing the lottery or gambling.

The key verse in this passage is verse 10, where Paul says “the LOVE of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says that the love of money is the problem. He continues by saying that many who crave money have wandered away from the faith. To “crave money” is another way of describing greed.

Just as Jesus’ story in Luke 12 was predicated on His warning to not be greedy, this passage from Paul also is delivered primarily as a warning against greed, not a condemnation of wealth.

As was stated in yesterday’s post, wealth is simply a tool. It is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good and honorable purposes or it can be used for evil and destructive purposes.

The Ecclesiastes verse above is a reminder that we are to be generous no matter how much money we have. If you have a lot of money, you have the opportunity be extremely generous.

Most of us are not in that extremely wealthy category, so it’s easy to look at those who have more than enough and wonder, “how can they possess so much money?” We might even begin to entertain the idea that it’s unfair and unjust, which is just a small step away from deciding that it’s immoral.

But be careful. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth per se and as I demonstrated yesterday, there are many biblical figures who were, in fact, quite wealthy. How do we reconcile these truths if God is against wealth?

Instead of pointing to those who have more than enough and calling it unfair or even immoral, we should check our own heart and motives first. Greed is not a sin that just afflicts the rich. Anyone, from any socio-economic background can be lured by greed. However, those of us who aren’t rich can often cloak our greed by attempting to disguise our envy as justice.

Reflection

What do you think is the difference between greed and envy? When have you struggled with greed or envy in the past?

Paul warns of the dangers of “craving money”. When have you craved money, or any other material possession?

What examples can you think of in your own life or circle, where someone was “plunged into ruin and destruction” because of their “love for money”?

What steps can you take to avoid or resist greed and envy?

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some people may attempt to point to extreme wealth as a sort of attempt to right an “injustice” when they may be simply expressing their own greed in the form of envy? Explain your view.

 

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels