Vigilance on the road to New Eden

The vigilance required to live the life that God requires involves two distinct yet complementary aspects: a constant focus on God and a committed attitude of dying to self.

Focus on God:
Romans 8:5 – For those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit.

Dying to self:
Romans 8:12-14 – So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons.

Focus on God:
Colossians 3:1-2 – So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Dying to self:
Colossians 3:5-10 – Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator.

The apostle Paul conveys some of his most profound teaching in the passages presented here. The crux of the believer’s life is rooted in these deep truths. The summation of the argument in both cases is the ongoing blending of these twin acts of keeping one’s eyes on God and dying to self.

  • “For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons,” (Romans 8:14).
  • “…you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator,” (Colossians 3:10).

Focusing on God and dying to self is defined here as being “led by God’s Spirit,” and by “putting off the old self; putting on the new self.” By faithfully doing these things, Paul says we engage a process of renewal, a type of ongoing resurrection from dead practices to knowledge of what is right. As this process continues we become what God has originally created us to be, “in his image.”

Genesis 1:27 – So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.
Genesis 9:6 – … for God made humans in his image.

All of humanity’s striving is to get back to Eden, to return to the original concept and design that God has for all people. Yet Messiah has begun a new type of creation, one that is better because in it we can be victorious over all trial and temptation. This the the grand goal of all Scripture, to point us in that direction and to empower us through his Spirit living within us. Only dying to self allows for this level of renewal. Only a clear focus on God and his Word provides for dying to self. And the two aspects of this life of dying to self and being led by God’s Spirit are brought to fruition through Messiah Yeshua.

Romans 8:1-2 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Messiah Yeshua, because the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Colossians 3:1 – So if you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.

In Messiah, God had begun this new and renewed humanity. As Adam was the first physical being, Yeshua became the first spiritually renewed being.

1 Corinthians 15:45-49 – So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is of heaven. Like the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; like the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

As we focus on Messiah and his steadfast obedience to God, we are renewed in his likeness to ultimately bear the image of God.

Galatians 5:16, 24-25 – I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. … Now those who belong to Messiah Yeshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvR_aNEyA7WEZJtF4B8fZ6g

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Alert and thankful prayer that overcomes temptation

Core of the Bible podcast #39 – Alert and thankful prayer that overcomes temptation

Today we will be exploring the topic of vigilance, and how vigilance in alert and thankful prayer is a primary method of overcoming temptation and accomplishing God’s will on earth.

Matthew 26:40-41. And he [Yeshua] came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Yeshua was speaking this to Peter for the specific purpose of admonishing him to stay alert with him while he was praying in Gethsemane. However, this has become a type of universal admonition regarding prayer to avoid temptation, and not without good reason.

Praying to avoid temptation was a key teaching within Yeshua’s template for prayer. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Based on the original word definitions, this can be expanded and paraphrased as “May we not be lead into adversity and hard testing; nevertheless, rescue us from anguish, harm, and all evil.”

Praying in this manner is a demonstration of vigilance. When praying to avoid temptation, 1) there is an awareness of the possibility of impending challenges and 2) there is also a recognition of God’s ability to provide assistance or escape.

The act of praying focuses the mind on the essential needs of the moment. This is necessary because vigilance also involves alertness and overcoming the distractions and limitations of fleshly influence. While our spirit may be willing, many times we become spiritually disoriented as worldly impulses (whether internal or external) overwhelm us.

Galatians 5:16-17 …walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Walking in the spirit includes a rich and abundant prayer life. Many believers, myself included, struggle to maintain a vital spiritual walk throughout the occurrences of each day.  It’s easy to push spiritual things into the background while we attempt to deal with the seemingly urgent issues we face each day. Consistently praying helps provide leverage over real fleshly distractions and desires, and allows us to truly walk in the Spirit.

Yeshua’s template, his model prayer for believers does include the phrase: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This has been fertile soil for many commentators over the years to plant seeds for consideration in this question of overcoming temptation.

Benson Commentary

“And lead us not into temptation — the clause may be translated, Lead us not into temptation, but so as to deliver us from the evil, viz., either by removing the temptation, when it is too strong for us to withstand; or by mitigating its force, or by increasing our strength to resist it, as God shall see most for his glory. This correction of the translation, suggested by Macknight, is proposed on this ground; that to pray for an absolute freedom from temptation is to seek deliverance from the common lot of humanity, which is absurd; because temptations are wisely appointed by God for the exercise and improvement of piety and virtue in good men, and that others may be encouraged by the constancy and patience which they show in trials. Hence, instead of praying to be absolutely delivered from them, we are taught to rejoice when, by the divine appointment, we fall into them. See James 1.

James 1:2-4 – Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

This petition teaches us to preserve a sense of our own inability to repel and overcome temptation, and of the necessity of assistance from above, to enable us to stand in the evil day.”

As for myself, I have sometimes wondered if God purposely places us in trying situations so we will learn to reach out to him more frequently. This type of logic says that if we are in the habit of praying to him during regular times, perhaps we will not need to be disciplined in as many trying times.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

“And lead us not into temptation— There is some difficulty in the form of the petition, as it is certain that God does bring His people—as He did Abraham, and Christ Himself—into circumstances both fitted and designed to try them, or test the strength of their faith. Some meet this by regarding the petition as simply an humble expression of self-distrust and instinctive shrinking from danger; but this seems too weak. Others take it as a prayer against yielding to temptation, and so equivalent to a prayer for support and deliverance when we are tempted; but this seems to go beyond the precise thing intended. We incline to take it as a prayer against being drawn or sucked, of our own will, into temptation, to which the word here used seems to lend some countenance—”Introduce us not.” This view, while it does not put into our mouths a prayer against being tempted—which is more than the divine procedure would seem to warrant—does not, on the other hand, change the sense of the petition into one for support under temptation, which the words will hardly bear; but it gives us a subject for prayer, in regard to temptation, most definite, and of all others most needful. It was precisely this which Peter needed to ask, but did not ask, when—of his own accord, and in spite of difficulties—he pressed for entrance into the palace hall of the high priest, and where, once sucked into the scene and atmosphere of temptation, he fell so foully. And if so, does it not seem pretty clear that this was exactly what our Lord meant His disciples to pray against when He said in the garden—”Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”? (Mt 26:41).”

And to this I would add again, this idea of alertness in prayer means that we are spiritually aware of our situation and not just being carried along by our own desires. This is where we tend to fall into temptation: when we let our circumstances guide us instead of God’s good Counsel (through his Word and his Spirit) guiding us.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

“But deliver us from evil— As the expression “from evil” may be equally well rendered “from the evil one,” a number or superior critics think the devil is intended, especially from its following close upon the subject of “temptation.” But the comprehensive character of these brief petitions, and the place which this one occupies, as that on which all our desires die away, seems to us against so contracted a view of it. Nor can there be a reasonable doubt that the apostle, in some of the last sentences which he penned before he was brought forth to suffer for his Lord, alludes to this very petition in the language of calm assurance—”And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work (compare the Greek of the two passages), and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2Ti 4:18). The final petition, then, is only rightly grasped when regarded as a prayer for deliverance from all evil of whatever kind—not only from sin, but from all its consequences—fully and finally. Fitly, then, are our prayers ended with this. For what can we desire which this does not carry with it?”

Vincent’s Word Studies

“It is a mistake to define this word [temptation] as only solicitation to evil. It means trial of any kind, without reference to its moral quality. Thus, Genesis 22:1 (Sept.), “God did tempt Abraham;” “This he said to prove him” (John 6:6); Paul and Timothy assayed to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7); “Examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Here, generally of all situations and circumstances which furnish an occasion for sin. We cannot pray God not to tempt us to sin, “for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13).”

To my way of thinking while keeping an eye to the perspectives of these learned commentators, the thought here is that it is acceptable for us to pray to be kept from hard testing and temptation; Yeshua himself illustrated this prayer in Gethsemane:

Luke 22:41-42 – Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me ​– ​nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

As children of God, though we may need to suffer trials and temptations, things that God can use to try us and to refine us, we can still pray to be delivered safely through them. It’s ok to pray “Lord, if it is possible to avoid this trial, then please remove it from us. But if we must enter this trial, please strengthen us to remain pure and victorious over it.”

—–

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

I find it interesting that prayer is meant to be an activity in which our conscious awareness is alert and watchful. This implies that prayer is purposeful and intentional, not just something in which our rational thought is disengaged. In fact, it is just the opposite; as we can see in this selection of Scripture references, believers are encouraged to pray for very specific things at specific times:

Tenakh:

Num 21:7: “The people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against Yahweh, and against you. Pray to Yahweh, that he take away the serpents from us.” Moses prayed for the people.”

Jeremiah 42:1-3 – Then all the commanders of the armies, along with Johanan son of Kareah, Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached the prophet Jeremiah and said, “May our petition come before you; pray to the LORD your God on our behalf, on behalf of this entire remnant (for few of us remain out of the many, as you can see with your own eyes), “that the LORD your God may tell us the way we should go and the thing we should do.”

Yeshua

Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, “

Matthew 6:9: “Pray like this:… “

Matthew 9:38: “Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.””

Matthew 24:20: “Pray that your flight will not be in the winter, nor on a Sabbath, “

Mark 13:33: “Watch, keep alert, and pray; for you don’t know when the time is.”

Luke 10:2: “Then he said to them, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out laborers into his harvest. “

John 17:15: “I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. “

Apostles:

2 Corinthians 13:9: “For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. And this we also pray for, even your perfecting.”

Philippians 1:9: “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment;”

2 Thessalonians 1:11: “To this end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness and work of faith, with power;”

2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, even as also with you;”

James 5:14: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…”

Throughout the Bible, prayer is exemplified as being enacted for intentional and specific purposes; most importantly, for the will of God to be accomplished on the earth. This strikes at the heart of the all-too-common practice of only praying for personal needs and wants.  While God does want us to trust him for everything, in the grand scheme of the Bible message, ultimately our personal needs and wants are and should be subjected to the larger scope of God’s kingdom and the establishment of his rule and reign in the hearts of people on this earth.

Remember in our Colossians passage, Paul encourages believer to pray with an alert mind (as we have just illustrated), but also with a thankful heart.

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Having a thankful heart means that one is in view of all of the ways that God has blessed them. If you are thankful for the provision of your home, you won’t be tempted to go into further debt for a shiny new one beyond your means. If you are thankful for the nutritious food that God has provided you for your sustenance, you will not be tempted to eat beyond what your body needs. If you are grateful for the friends and family you have, you won’t be tempted to go astray from your spouse or to put your family or friends at risk.

Thankfulness runs all through Paul’s epistle to the Colossians:

Colossians 1:9, 12 – For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, … giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

Colossians 2:6-7 – So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 3:15, 17 – And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. … And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Constant prayer and giving of thanks is a theme Paul also brings to the congregation in Thessalonica as well. In fact, he cements this as a cornerstone of believing practice in the accomplishment of God’s will.

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 – pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua.

If we are therefore praying in an alert fashion, that is, being aware of what we are praying and why we are praying, and we are doing so from a place of gratefulness and thankfulness for his provision in our lives, then we have a recipe for overcoming temptation.

This takes discipline and thoughtfulness. By intentionally praying for God to assist us when we are being challenged, this type of behavior can be changed. The victory over a trial or temptation is through prayer and the strengthening of God through his holy Spirit. How quickly it happens depends on how alert we remain and how diligent and thankful we are in prayer.

As we grow in this process, remaining steadfast in prayer to God keeps us focused and in communication with the One who is more than able to provide us the necessary strength to overcome any obstacles we may encounter.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Involving God’s word and his Spirit in all of your ways

Proverbs 14:8 – The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.

Vigilance of thought is one of the most challenging yet most rewarding aspects of a believer’s life. The thoughts and plans we have will reveal what is truly in our hearts. To lead a life that is constantly focused on defrauding others or finding ways to exploit relationships is one that is bound to fail. In this proverb, Solomon illustrates this way as “folly.”

According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon, this type of individual demonstrates characteristics of always being morally bad, one who:

  • despises wisdom & discipline
    • Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
    • Proverbs 15:5 – A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
  • mocks at guilt
    • Proverbs 14:9 – Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.
  • is quarrelsome
    • Proverbs 20:3 – It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.
  • is licentious
    • Proverbs 7:7, 10, 21-23 – and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, … And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. … With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
  • it is folly and useless to instruct him
    • Proverbs 16:22 – Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.
    • Proverbs 27:22 – Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him.

All of this speaks to the foolishness of the one who rejects wisdom and discipline. The proverb goes further, though, and explains that fools are deceiving. They will operate from a base of deception and exploitation of the weakness of others. Their continual mode of operation is selfish gain with no regard for the harmful effects on others. This in itself is a mode of self-deception, as well; thinking one can always simply manipulate a situation for their own gain.

By contrast, those believers who are vigilant in all their ways will seek to avoid these dead-ends of life by “discerning their way.” The Hebrew word for discerning means “to consider, perceive, understand, distinguish, have insight.” Just reviewing this list of words demonstrates that to discern one’s ways is a practice that takes time and careful thought. Fools may rush in, as the old saying goes, but it’s the wise who take their time to review the consequences of their actions. Only then will they take the appropriate course of action.

One of the key benefits of this practice that I have seen in my own life is having peace about momentous decisions which need to be made. When I feel pressured to make a big decision about something, whether it is a large purchase or a career move, I have learned to ensure that I do not arrive at a hasty decision. Anything that presents itself as urgent immediately goes into a “consideration buffer.” Through meditation on God’s word and through prayer, the correct ways will ultimately present themselves.

The apostle Paul related this principle to the Ephesian congregation, as well.

Ephesians 5:15-18 – Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

He represents how paying careful attention to how a believer should walk involves understanding the Lord’s will and being filled with the Spirit. Being vigilant with our actions means that we are taking the time to involve God in all of our decisions in life. We are examples to others of how God’s goodness and mercy watch over us and protect us from every false way.

Psalm 119:103-104 – How sweet your word is to my taste — sweeter than honey in my mouth. I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.

Psalm 119:127-128 – Since I love your commands more than gold, even the purest gold, I carefully follow all your precepts and hate every false way.

Hating every false way means there is a high dependence on the truth of God’s word. If Paul related the days were evil in his day, how much more we need to vigilantly follow his advice, and the advice of Solomon and the Psalmist, today: “Pay careful attention as to how you walk, discerning your way, carefully following God’s precepts.”


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The practice of vigilance in exposing falsehood

Acts 20:30-31 – Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears.

As Paul was preparing to leave the Ephesian congregation, he gave an eloquent speech specifically to the leaders of the group, that they would remain as faithful overseers of the believers. He tasked them with remaining on the alert for false teachers, those who would distort the truth and gain followers who would abandon the Way for some other substitute.

His admonition to the leadership in Ephesus is one that we should heed today. There are scores of individuals and groups that promote falsehoods regarding the Bible, which is why the the Way of truth is so badly maligned and misunderstood in this generation.

1 Timothy 1:18-19 – Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have shipwrecked their faith.

Paul cautioned his protégé Timothy that retention of faith and a good conscience is a primary method of avoiding falsehood. Our consciences should never be jeopardized or silenced in the pursuit of godly living.

2 Timothy 2:16-19 – Avoid irreverent and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness, and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, bearing this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his, and let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.

Paul spares no words in calling out, by name, those who were representing falsehoods. The reason is that irreverent and empty speech, he says, spreads like gangrene and ruins the faith of those who are sincere. This type of false teaching can lead to wickedness and godlessness, the very things we are taught to turn away from.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 – For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.

This famous passage illustrates how false teaching can be identified by how it attempts to satisfy our own desires and cravings. Those who only listen to what they want to hear cannot have a full understanding of the truth of God which, many times, challenges and confronts us with our own wrong behaviors and attitudes.

Myths, like the Mormon stories of Jesus among the South Americans, or the Catholic concept of the Virgin Mary being sinless and also ascending to heaven, generate unnecessary complications over the truth and simplicity of the biblical narrative.

The apostle Peter, in like fashion to Paul, brazenly calls out the false prophets that were already evident among the congregations.

2 Peter 2:1-3 – There were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved ways, and the way of truth will be maligned because of them. They will exploit you in their greed with made-up stories. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.

He mentions their ways were depraved, and how they were exploiting people with made-up stories for the sake of their own greed. A large number of “televangelists” such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and Robert Schuller could easily fall under that banner. Hal Lindsey falsely predicted a rapture in 1981 with the end of the world in 1988. Harold Camping had a large conservative following and also famously and falsely predicted the end of the world in 1994 and then again in 2011. These types of slick, popularized leaders and failed prophets are the primary reasons that believers today are lumped together and characterized as blind followers of charlatans.

Being vigilant in our faith means that we have to exercise godly discernment in what we are accepting as biblical teaching. The Bible is not meant to be a means of gaining superficial wealth or to be used as some sort of magic incantation, saying the appropriate phrases in the correct language of an approved version to get what we want. It is not some sort of self-help manual to help us overcome our inadequacies. We need to be aware of group-think when the results go against basic reason and conscience.

We should, however, follow the instruction of Paul to the Thessalonians in “testing everything, and only holding to that which is good,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We live in an age and culture (in America) in which the Word of God is readily available and accessible to just about everyone. If we are serious enough to only read it thoroughly and constantly, we would be able to identify falsehoods much more readily. And if we pray sincerely for understanding and wisdom, God is faithful to provide our every need.

Proverbs 9:10 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
James 1:5 – Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God ​– ​who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly ​– ​and it will be given to him.

But being vigilant is harder than just waving our hand and dismissing these blatant types of exploitation as just “people believing whatever they want to believe.” While people in our culture certainly have that freedom and right, we also should recognize that if there is truth in the Bible, then there are distinctions between falsehoods and truth. If individuals and groups are misrepresenting God, it is up to us to ensure that his name is not defamed due to the perverse actions of popular figures.

The example of Yeshua sets the stage for confronting the hypocrisy of the religious establishment.

Matthew 23:33 – “Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to the judgment of Gehenna?

Almost the entire chapter of Matthew 23 contains Yeshua’s tirade against the inconsistencies and selfish exploitation used by the scribes and Pharisees of his day. If we consider ourselves his followers and we are serious about the truth, then the biblical falsehoods, and those promoting them, need to be exposed for what they are.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Balance and self control requires vigilance

In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua dramatically illustrates the necessity to avoid sin at all costs.

Matthew 5:29-30 – If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Through the use of hyperbole, he emphasizes the drastic need to maintain right actions in the life of the believer.

One of the aspects of vigilance in this area is expressed through the idea of balance. The Greek word sophron was used to indicate the quality of those who were to be entrusted with leading God’s people, and a quality exhibited by all believers, old or young, men and women.

1 Timothy 3:2 – The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher,

Titus 1:8 – Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled.

Titus 2:1-7 – But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good. In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited. Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled, showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way…

In these passages, the word translated as “self-controlled” and “sensible” is the Greek word sophron. According to the Helps word studies, this self-control and balance is achieved by remaining obedient to the commands of God; i.e., fearing God:

sṓphrōn (“acting in God’s definition of balance”) makes someone genuinely temperate, i.e. well-balanced from God’s perspective. True balance is not “one-size-fits-all” nor is it blandly static. Biblical moderation (sṓphrōn) describes “a man who does not command himself, but rather is commanded by God'” (K. Wuest, Word Studies, 2, 46). This root (sōphro-, “soundness”) then reflects living in God-defined balance.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 All this have I seen in my days of vanity: there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who lives long in his evildoing. Do not be overly righteous, neither make yourself overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be too wicked, neither be foolish. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this. Yes, also from that do not withdraw your hand; for he who fears God will come forth from them all.

The Pulpit Commentary provides this concise summary of this passage in Ecclesiastes: “The fear of God will keep a man from all excesses.”

Also speaking on this passage, John Gill, in his Exposition, highlights how the fear of God provides the necessary balance in the life of the believer.

…for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all; or escape them all; the phrase is become Rabbinical, that, is, he shall be free or exempt from them all; from over much righteousness and over much wisdom, and over much wickedness or over much folly; the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, is the best preservative from, and antidote against, these things; for a man that fears God is humble, and renounces his own righteousness, and distrusts his own wisdom; he fears to commit sin, and shuns folly.

This concept of balance between two extremes is also brought out in the Proverbs:

Proverbs 4:23-27 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

This temperance and balance will keep us from having to “gouge out our eyes” or “cut off our hands” to avoid sin, however that imagery used by Yeshua highlights the urgent commitment required of all believers. There is true and dire risk that we face when challenged with taking our eyes off of God and his Word. But by being vigilant with our hearts and maintaining a respectful fear of Yahweh, we will keep from swerving to the right or left, and remain on the path of righteousness that God has laid out for us.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Being mindful and vigilant with the message of the Bible

In our desire to share the good news of the kingdom with others, we need to be mindful that not everyone will be receptive to the message. This is a difficult lesson, as we may have sincere desires to see those around us come to a knowledge of the truths of God and his kingdom as he has revealed them in the Bible. However, the biblical standard, and the instruction of Yeshua, is that those who are resistant to the instruction of God should be left to their own perceptions.

Matthew 7:6 – “Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.

Yeshua used the example of “dogs” and “pigs” not being receptive to the “holy things” or “pearls” being offered to them. The designation of dogs and pigs typically was used of those outside of the house of Israel. We know that Yeshua himself used this imagery in his discussion with the woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon (outside of Israel proper) as she begged him to help her daughter.

Matthew 15:21-22, 24-27 – When Jesus left there, he withdrew to the area of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon.” … He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, help me! ” He answered, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

While this type of apparent profiling may be unseemly to our modern ears, the truth of the matter is that Yeshua clearly stated his mission in his day was “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The disciples were carrying on that work as they ministered first and foremost to the Israelites in Israel, and then to those whom had been scattered throughout various regions during the Dispersions which had occurred hundreds of years earlier due to the conquests of Assyria and Babylon.

1 Peter 1:1 – Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…
Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.

That the message of the kingdom was being shared with the scattered Israelites first was a fulfillment of prophecy; God was reclaiming and regathering his people, his faithful “remnant.”

Deuteronomy 30:4 – “Even if your exiles are at the farthest horizon, he will gather you and bring you back from there.
Ezekiel 20:41 – “When I bring you from the peoples and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, I will accept you as a pleasing aroma. And I will demonstrate my holiness through you in the sight of the nations.
Zephaniah 3:20 – At that time I will bring you back, yes, at the time I will gather you. I will give you fame and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes. The LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 10:21 – The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God.
Isaiah 11:11 – On that day the Lord will extend his hand a second time to recover the remnant of his people who survive ​– ​from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the coasts and islands of the west.
Micah 5:7 – Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or linger for mankind.
Romans 9:27 – But Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, Though the number of Israelites is like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved;
Romans 11:5 – In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.

As the door of faith was opened to those scattered among the nations, this also provided the opportunity for non-Israelites, the Greeks and “gentiles,” to also come to God through belief in his Messiah.

Romans 15:8-12 – For I say that Christ became a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, and so that Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praise to your name. Again it says, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people! And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples praise him! And again, Isaiah says, The root of Jesse will appear, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; the Gentiles will hope in him.

The wonder and beauty of the message of the kingdom is that as God reclaimed his remnant from among the nations as he had promised, the door was opened to all to come to the God of Israel in the eternal kingdom. There would no longer be the distinction between Jews and everyone else; all could become one in the Messiah.

Galatians 3:28 – There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 3:11 – In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

While our enthusiasm in our inclusion among the people of God may cause us to want all others to share in these truths, we must remember temper our enthusiasm with vigilance in recognizing our audience. If we are sharing with those who are unreceptive to the message, we should recognize that they are simply following a pattern that has been evident even from the days of Messiah. We should follow Yeshua’s instruction and not continue to throw our “pearls” and “holy things” before them, and focus rather on those who do have a sincere interest and desire in learning more about the God of Israel.

Acts 10:34-36, 43 – Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, “but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ ​– ​he is Lord of all. … All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The necessity of being watchful at all times

There is a Greek word that illustrates how believers need to always be ready and wary of danger and falsehood. It is the word agrypneo (ag-roop-neh’-o) and carries some of these meanings:

  • to be sleepless, keep awake, watch
  • to be circumspect, attentive, ready

It is only used in four places in the New Testament writings, but all of them depict a state of watchfulness which I believe is lacking from most believers today.

Two of them apply to the Messiah’s followers in the context of being sure that they were not becoming complacent in that generation, as the culmination of all things was at hand.

Mark 13:33 – “Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.
Luke 21:36 – “But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”

This was incredibly important for them to recognize, as they faced many challenges and persecutions during the tribulation of those times. Their watchfulness became a necessary constant to maintain their survival amidst the infiltration of the Jews among believing communities, civil strife within their nation, and the beginnings of war with their Roman oppressors. So in a personal sense, they needed to remain alert for their own benefit and survival, as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state was at hand.

However, the remaining two uses of this Greek term apply in an outward sense where this vigilance and watchfulness was necessary to protect and help others.

Ephesians 6:18 – Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

In the Ephesians passage, Paul is in the midst of describing the now famous “armor of God” analogy. He is encouraging a constant focus on prayer, requests, and intercession for other believers. The watchfulness of the believers was not just to be for themselves, but to extend to the others around them who were enduring the same atrocities. This watchfulness and perseverance in prayer would help guard and guide the believers through the tribulation and turmoil of those times.

Additionally, the congregation of the Hebrew believers was reminded to be obedient to those who were placed in authority over them because the leaders had been tasked specifically with watching over their souls or their lives; that is, caring for the doctrinal correctness and also physical safety of that body of believers. This careful attention and vigilance was necessary because of the wide array of false teaching and practices that had arisen and were swirling amidst the chaos of those times. The elect remnant was being called out of the darkness of dead Judaism and pagan idolatry into the light of God’s kingdom.

Yeshua had plainly warned of this:

Matthew 24:24 – For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

In a similar way, we should be exhibiting this agrypneo, this watchfulness and readiness, over what we are learning about the truth of God’s Word, as well as being watchful over others to ensure they are also being guided faithfully. For those of us in active believing communities, we should honor and respect those godly leaders who are guiding our congregations, as they have a large responsibility, like shepherds for their flock.

While our social conditions and experience may have changed dramatically from that early remnant being called into the kingdom of God, our informational and doctrinal experience is just as widely diffuse and corrupt, if not more so, than first-century Israel. Our vigilance in this 21st century is just as sorely needed for our own understanding and for interceding for those around us to be kept in the way of truth. While we generally enjoy many luxuries of living standards not available to our spiritual ancestors, one luxury we cannot afford is to let down our guard when it comes to seeking, pursuing, and maintaining the integrity and truth of God’s kingdom for ourselves, for our family, and for our friends.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The modern idolatry of cultural acceptability

Throughout its history, the prophets of Israel had to continually contend with a nation that was distracted with practices other than those that God had provided for them. They were perpetually seduced by the culturally acceptable practices of the nations around them, the very thing that Moses had warned them against when they became a nation.

Deuteronomy 8:19: “It shall be, if you shall forget Yahweh your God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish.”

Deuteronomy 12:29-31: “When Yahweh your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go in to dispossess them, and you dispossess them, and dwell in their land; take heed to yourself that you not be ensnared to follow them, after that they are destroyed from before you; and that you not inquire after their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? I will do likewise.” You shall not do so to Yahweh your God: for every abomination to Yahweh, which he hates, have they done to their gods…”

By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the country had become so corrupt that they were openly worshiping the local gods (the “queen of the sky”) in blatant defiance to the word of God that had originally been given them by Moses along with the urgent warnings of the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 44:16-17: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of Yahweh, we will not listen to you. But we will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth, to burn incense to the queen of the sky, and to pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of food, and were well, and saw no evil.”

The logic of the people in that day was that their rebellious practices actually provided a bountiful economy for their people, so they had no intention of changing their practices. This was a fateful choice that led to the destruction of the nation.

It’s easy to view these ancient examples and point the finger at the unfaithfulness of the people of that time. But how we are like our faithless spiritual ancestors! We attempt to worship the one true God in amongst the cultural distractions of our day, claiming a similar necessity to maintain the status quo within our society.

This culture today, at least in my corner of America, is infected with the philosophies and practices of many different idolatries: polytheism, gender rebellion, environmental authoritarianism and self-directed hyper-tolerance. These are only some of the prevalent new gods of this age.

We must be vigilant in maintaining our devotion to the one true God in the face of these culturally acceptable norms that are diverting this generation, and succeeding ones, away from God.

These idols, and many others like these, have arisen due to our lack of vigilance in successfully implanting our faith in our children. We have allowed the seductive nature of unregulated online communication and social media to easily capture their attention, exposing them to unhealthy spiritual alternatives which quickly take root among the fertile soil of immature spirits.

While there are many positive aspects to digital communication in this age, we must actively engage in helping them discern what is true and right, not only what is flashy and trendy. We must continually ask for God’s help in alerting this generation to the social errors they are repeating within the cycle of worshiping false gods of cultural acceptance that they are not even aware of. Our vigilance must be firmly placed in God’s Word as we seek to help them to recognize the truth of who God is and to be cognizant and respectful of his sovereignty in this world.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

How to recognize false teachers

Core of the Bible podcast #32 – How to recognize false teachers

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of vigilance, and how we need to constantly be on guard against false teaching and exposing those who are leading others astray. For us to do so, we must be able to accurately identify them.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20

A way of paraphrasing this can be expressed as: Beware of deceitful religious impostors. You will recognize them for what they truly are by looking closely at the results of their words and actions.

Vigilance involves being on guard against all manner of deception to avoid following a false way.

Job 15:34-35 “For the company of the godless is barren, And fire consumes the tents of the corrupt. “They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity, And their mind prepares deception.”

Ephesians 5:6  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

1 John 2:26  These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

Romans 16:17-18  Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

Colossians 2:8  See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13  But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity [of devotion] to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear [this] beautifully. … For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

Believers are warned over and over again to avoid deception and be sure that they are not being led astray.

If it was true for them in their day, how much more this is timely advice in this current day and age! We have become inundated with information overload; we must carefully pick and choose the sources of our teaching to ensure we are remaining on the narrow path laid out for us.

This admonition of Yeshua to beware of false prophets was of utmost importance to his first-century flock, as the nation was full of those who would try to gain a hearing, and a living, from the ignorant and willing among them.

Mark 13:22 – For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Thankfully, Yeshua provided a touch-stone, a type of verification of identity of false teaching and those who promote it: “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  Their fruits are their actions and their words; do they align with what they are promoting? Do they align with the Word of God?

DETERMINING FALSEHOOD

The apostle Peter had no shortage of words for the deceivers that were prevalent in his day. What he has laid out in a few verses in his second epistle can provide us an outline of identifiers of false teaching.

2 Peter 2:1-3 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

In this passage, the apostle vividly expanded on describing more specifically what some of those fruits of false teachers are that Yeshua mentioned as the method of identifying them.

  • secrecy
  • denying Yeshua as Messiah
  • sensuality
  • greed
  • exploitation of believers
  • false words
  • speaking against the way of truth

What are the fruits of Bible teachers today? Can their doctrine and their lifestyles be matched up to this list that Peter has provided us? I believe that by taking a closer look at Peter’s outline and asking some relevant questions, we may begin to put together a picture of what these false teachers look like, how they act, and what they are erroneously teaching.

THE WAY OF TRUTH

One of the key indicators that Peter provides is that among false teachers the way of truth will be blasphemed. Depending on the version being quoted, this is variously represented as maligning or speaking evil of the way of truth. Since, as believers, we are very anxious to make sure we are following the way of truth, we can start with this identifier.

First, let’s see how the Bible defines this way of truth. Yeshua taught:

Matthew 7:13-14  “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

John 14:3-6  “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, [there] you may be also. “And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

So we see Yeshua identified himself and his teaching as being a key to understanding the way and the truth which leads to life.

The apostle Paul, when confronted by his accusers that he was abandoning the law of Moses, says:

Acts 24:14  “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets…”

Based on these few passages, the Way (or the way of truth) can be discerned as “a way of life based on God’s word culminating in the teaching and life of his Messiah.” So if people are speaking against God’s Word or the Messiah as the fulfillment of his Word, they are blaspheming this way of the truth that God has revealed.

Now you might be saying, “Well how can Bible teachers be speaking against God’s Word or the Messiah? Isn’t that what they teach?” Well, it would seem so, but there are ways they can still speak against God’s word while claiming to teach it.

For example, many groups today teach that the law or sections of the law have been abolished and no longer apply to believers today; things like food laws or observation of the Sabbath, or God’s annual calendar days. They teach that Yeshua’s death on the cross did away with everything prior from the Old Testament; essentially three-fourths of the Bible they carry around has been nullified! But this maligns God’s Word and his Messiah, since Yeshua was very clear that this would not be the case.

Matthew 5:17-19  “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

For something to be fulfilled is not the same thing as being abolished. Because there is so much confusion over these points, I will be doing some future studies on how we can know which laws have been fulfilled (but never abolished) and which ones are designed to be fulfilled only as we fulfill them in our lives. Understanding these distinctions brings the whole of God’s word into the vitality of our relationship with God. All of God’s Word is for all believers in all ages.

But this process of picking and choosing what we are going to follow from God’s word is one of the main ways that his Word is maligned and blasphemed today. We need to be on guard to identify these aspects with those whom we consider teachers among us.

QUESTIONS FOR EVALUATING TEACHERS

Regarding the other characteristics or fruits of false teachers that Peter warns about, here are some questions to consider that may provide further insight into false teachers and their doctrine.

Secrecy or stealth (v. 1): Are the teachers promising a secret message “just for you” or for only a limited few among the group? Do they promote secret practices that only certain people can be privy to? Do they have a hidden agenda that underlies a more favorable public message? Do they have a different lifestyle in private than they are in public? Hidden motives and secrets are a key indicator of false teachers.

Denying Yeshua as Messiah (v. 1): the word means to contradict or disown Yeshua. Is Yeshua not central to their doctrine? Is Yeshua just one path among many to God? Do their teachings contradict what Yeshua taught, but still sound “biblical” and reasonable? This applies to what we previously mentioned about speaking evil of the Way.

Sensuality (v. 2): the word conveys more of a meaning of rejecting restraint, committing acts or saying things that are shocking to public decency. Are these teachers’ lives bad examples on public display? Are expressions of riotous behavior acceptable within the group dynamic? Are clear commands of God being downplayed or eradicated?

Covetousness and Greed (v. 3): Are they constantly asking for money to assist in their “ministry” and for goods and properties that do nothing in the cause of helping those in need or sharing the good news of the kingdom?  Do they live a lavish lifestyle on the contributions of the congregation? This ties closely with the next indicator of exploitation.

Exploitation (v. 3): This word also implies “to trade in,” as if their followers are a commodity to be used. Are they taking advantage of believers’ trust through their greed? Are they manipulative and seeking to be in control? Are the members of the group being pressured to donate unreasonable amounts of their time and money to support their lifestyle?

False words (v. 3):  Are they making false promises that never come to pass? Are they creating artificial or fictitious scenarios to lure people further into deception? Simply put, are they just making stuff up and passing it off as God’s truth?

Yeshua declares the end of false teachers or “every tree that does not produce good fruit” as being “cut down and thrown into the fire,” (Matt. 7:19). While they may look good on the surface, they will not survive their worldly aspirations designed only to better themselves. While the context of Yeshua’s statement applied to the coming destruction of the corrupt system of his day, in no way does that diminish God’s view of those who are promoting falsehood and tradition over the Word of God today.

Psalm 119:29, 128  Remove the false way from me, And graciously grant me Your law [torah]. … Therefore I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything, I hate every false way.

Believers are right to hate every false way when we recognize it. This is a built-in zeal for righteousness that believers cultivate as they yield to God’s Word and the inspiration of his Spirit. This zeal yearns for the truth to be known and for right ways to prevail over injustice and deception.

Instead of simply going along with these aberrational doctrines and practices, we should be vigilant and dedicated to exposing the falsehood of their teachings. We need to be bold enough to confront and expose these unfruitful deeds, as Paul explains to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:6, 11, 15-16 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. … Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; … Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

CONFRONTING FALSE TEACHERS

To expose these falsehoods is to rebuke and chasten the ones who hold to deception, demonstrating the falsity of their claims so that others will not be mislead by them. Those who blatantly teach falsehoods need to be aggressively confronted and shown to be in error. This was the pattern of Yeshua and his disciples.

Yeshua did not hesitate to confront the error of the religious leaders of his day.

Matthew 23:27-28, 33  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. “In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  … “Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell?

Matthew 21:12 – Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.

The early believers also carried this essential teaching of Yeshua into their congregations. We have already seen how Peter called out false teachers; and here we can see how Jude, in like fashion, and almost the same wording as Peter, expressed the need for this vigilance among believers. The whole letter of Jude is essentially a diatribe against false teaching. Here are some excerpts:

Jude 1:4, 8, 11-13, 16, 19  For some people … have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into sensuality and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord.  … In the same way these people ​– ​relying on their dreams ​– ​defile their flesh, reject authority, and slander glorious ones. … Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, have plunged into Balaam’s error for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion.  These people are dangerous reefs at your love feasts as they eat with you without reverence. They are shepherds who only look after themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by winds; trees in late autumn ​– ​fruitless, twice dead and uprooted. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameful deeds; wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever.  … These people are discontented grumblers, living according to their desires; their mouths utter arrogant words, flattering people for their own advantage. …These people create divisions and are worldly, not having the Spirit.

If we don’t have this same type of view of false teachers, we are destined to be weighted down with bad doctrine in every generation. We need to be bold enough to confront these teachers and to hold them accountable to the truth of God’s Word and the Way of Messiah.

HELPING OTHERS WHO ARE CAUGHT UP IN FALSE TEACHING

Now, as much as I would love to end on such a fiery denunciation of falsehood, I feel compelled to provide further insight on the general membership of believers who have become caught up in their rhetoric. Because we know how destructive falsehood can be, it is quite natural for us to become emotionally upset with those who promote doctrine and beliefs that are not true. However, in the same way we are commanded to be vigilant in confronting teachers of falsehoods, we are also commanded to be respectful and balanced toward those who may be led astray by them. As believers it is our duty to call out the false teachers among our ranks, but to be helpful with love and gentleness to those who have followed false teaching.

To this end, Paul encouraged Timothy to select leaders who could be firm, but not bullying or quarrelsome.

1 Timothy 3:2-3  An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy.

2 Timothy 2:23-26  But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses [and escape] from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Paul intimates here that those who are holding to falsehood are in need of “coming to their senses.” The word is used to describe those who are in need of sobering up from intoxication. They have become captive to false ideas that cause them to act in ways that are adversarial to the will of God and the way of truth.

Confrontation is never easy; if it is, then you’re not doing it right, or you have some further self-examination to do. Confronting falsehood effectively takes maturity and diplomacy, which is why Paul was instructing Timothy to ensure that potential leaders have qualities of balance and maturity.

This level-headedness was sorely needed in the volatile environment of first-century Palestine where conflict, both civil and religious, was rampant.

INTERACTING WITH FALSEHOOD AROUND US IN OUR CULTURE

Our current environment, at least here in the American society, appears to be moving in a similar direction. While our primary focus of correcting falsehood should be aimed at those within the ranks of the Kingdom of God, we are equally challenged with the turbulence of the current secular age, where mere opinion and personally-defined rights are flaunted and shouted as if they were to be recognized as legitimate by all. Bitter divisiveness exists on every topic where vanguards of common sense and respectful dialogue are thrown to the ground and savagely trampled. It is tempting and easy for us to fall into the same pattern of degradation of communication in an effort to stem the onslaught of so much negative and false information.

However, we are called to a higher standard in our interactions with others, especially those outside the kingdom. We are to be doers and makers of peace, not dissenters stoking the flames of bitter rivalry and mistrust. It is our job to resist without engaging, to simply stand firm while holding out the truth of the Way.

Our message is a message of hope and peace which cannot be adequately communicated by the tip of the sword.  We have to remember that those outside the kingdom do not hold to the same standards, values, or worldview we have. To try to force them to adopt ways that are foreign to them only fans the flames of bitterness, distrust, and mockery they may feel towards us. Freedom of speech, whether theirs or ours, is no right to force others to adopt personal and subjective views.

Instead, we need to exhibit love towards those around us in an effort to demonstrate that we are not their enemies, but their helpers desiring only what’s best for them. We have to believe that the message and wisdom of the Bible, exemplified through our loving actions, is capable of drawing and leading them toward God.

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

SUMMARY

We have much work to do in being vigilant about the truth of God, especially when it comes to confronting false teaching. Look at the fruits of your teachers: what they promote or endorse, how they esteem the Word of truth. By reviewing the principles outlined by Yeshua and his disciples, we can become more aware of the falsehoods being promoted within the kingdom, and emboldened to confront false teachers with wisdom and diligence.

Our brothers and sisters who have been led astray also need to be confronted, but in gentleness and with love, as many times they have only been doing what they have been taught or brought up to believe.

Our vigilance needs to be not only in identifying and overcoming falsehood within our ranks, but equally toward being faithful with outsiders in exhibiting the truths we have come to know and believe in. This can be a challenging balancing act: guarding and protecting the inside while actively promoting the truth on the outside, and accomplishing both with the balance of wisdom and love.

Yet this is our lot in life, our calling. As masterfully and aggressively as Yeshua fought for truth within the ranks of the leaders of Israel, he equally demonstrated a compassionate quest for sharing that truth with the lost and wandering sheep. Our goals should align with his in each culture and generation. This is how the kingdom is not only maintained internally, but how it grows externally. Our vigilance in these areas provides for the continuation of the truths of God’s message to all people for all time.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Self-awareness yields fruit for God

Vigilance can be defined as “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.” Being vigilant in our walk with God means that an individual must remain self-aware for dangers and difficulties at all times. This self-awareness includes emotions along with our doctrinal understanding, and also extends to our practices and habits.

If we are to remain vigilant over our emotions, we must be able to have a balanced perspective in all situations. The most common way we allow our emotions to get the best of us is when we succumb to frustration and anger. This emotion rides just below the surface of our persona or our residual demeanor. It can be sparked by the slightest of apparent infractions; however, the we must remain vigilant in controlling this emotion.

Proverbs 25:28 A person who does not control his temper is like a city whose wall is broken down.
Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise person holds it in check.

The wisdom of emotional vigilance means we will not say or do things under the control of anger that we may come to regret under any normal circumstance. Violent actions and words are extremely difficult to regain.

James 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body.

We must also remain vigilant in our doctrinal understanding. This is why we should be spending quality time in prayerful searching, Bible studies, listening to sermons, or reading commentaries. Having a correct understanding of doctrine provides us the basis for balance and appropriate conduct. According to the apostle Paul, the constant assistance of the Spirit of God is his provision for that balance and insight.

1 Corinthians 2:10-14 Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.
2 John 1:8-9 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

A spiritual person is typically looked upon as someone who rises above situations and maintains a consistent and reasonable viewpoint. This level-headed thinking then plays out in solid and useful actions.

2 Corinthians 8:21 Indeed, we are giving careful thought to do what is right, not only before the Lord but also before people.
1 John 3:10 This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister.

To be vigilant over our emotions, doctrine and practices provides us the best opportunities to demonstrate true love to others. Our vigilance in these areas is the basis for conducting ourselves in ways that honor God. In the larger picture of our lives among those who live in darkness, we then have the most potential to draw others to him.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.