Charitable deeds from a sincere heart are always recognized by God

There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.

Acts 9:36

Being compassionate towards those in need is a hallmark of believers. Providing charitable actions for others is something that is encouraged by Yeshua.

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luke 12:33

Thanks to the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible, generosity with those in need has been historically come to be known as the giving of “alms.” That word has lost a lot of its meaning in our current age, but the underlying Greek word implies pity and mercy; according to one dictionary: “compassionateness (as exercised towards the poor), beneficence, or (concretely) a benefaction.”

In the New Testament writings, we see individuals who were recognized for their charitable actions and giving: Tabitha, as mentioned above, and Cornelius, a benefactor of the Jews.

There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.

Acts 10:1-2

While both of these individuals are mentioned because of the extraordinary events that accompanied the recognition of their giving (Tabitha was brought back from the dead, and Cornelius received a heavenly vision), the important thing is that their giving was recognized by God. They were not giving to be praised by others (although that ended up coming about), but they were simply individuals who were motivated by sincere compassion to help those in need.

Yeshua was clear that this type of charitable giving and assistance should in no way be motivated by public recognition.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. “But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, “so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4

The examples of Tabitha and Cornelius should be a great encouragement to us because they are each direct fulfillments of this very promise from Yeshua: “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Each of them received amazing blessings from God, not because they were looking to be blessed, but because they were simply and sincerely concerned about the welfare of others.

These two individuals should not be looked at as examples of testing God to see if he will come through with some amazing blessing for us when we give; they are examples of the honor that can be bestowed on individuals whom God chooses to honor when they are faithful to his Word and his principles. Neither one of these individuals was giving to get, and yet they received an abundance of blessing and honor. The Word of God and the words of Yeshua are validated in their fulfillment in these individuals’ lives.

“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure ​– ​pressed down, shaken together, and running over ​– ​will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Luke 6:38

It’s this type of sincere generosity and compassion that God has demonstrated that he sees and recognizes. While we may never receive a wondrous miracle due to our charitable compassion, it is because of these examples that we can be confident that our heavenly Father recognizes our actions and is pleased with our obedient giving. That in itself should be more than enough reward 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 here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

It’s time to grow up and act our true spiritual age

But you must always act like your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:48

When reading Matthew 5 in almost any English version of the Bible, this verse reads something like: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word that is typically translated as perfect is the Greek word teleios which carries some of the following definitions:

  • (a) complete in all its parts, (b) full grown, of full age,
  • mature (consummated) from going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal, i.e. developed into a consummating completion by fulfilling the necessary process
  • complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.); completeness — of full age

But I like how the Christian Standard Bible quoted above states it: “you must always act like your Father in heaven.” While not a literal translation of the original text, I think it conveys the force of the intended meaning. Believers must always act like their Father in heaven.

The context of this saying is, of course, in the depths of the Sermon on the Mount, and Yeshua had just related that believers must love and forgive their enemies in the same way that the Father loves those who would be adversarial to him. This is the way we demonstrate we are his children: when we actually act like him.

Children carry the genetic and behavioral aspects of their parents into their worlds as they live and grow. If we are to be considered the children of God, then we should carry his genetic aspects (through being “born from above”) and his behavioral aspects (from learning his culture from his people through his Word) into our world. Since God is a god who loves, so should we. Since God is a god who forgives, so should we. Since God is a god who is fully complete and unchanging, we should be also.

This is the admonition of Yeshua here: that we should be complete, fully mature, demonstrating this spiritual maturity with those around us. We have all the tools we need, his Spirit and Word, to accomplish this.

The apostle Paul chastises the Corinthian believers for their lack of maturity.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

The writer of Hebrews also laments the immaturity of his audience.

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Hebrews 5:11-14

“Solid food is for the mature,” the teleion, those who through constant use and training (like a gymnast) have their sense and judgment honed to know and do what’s right.

It’s past time for us to stop playing at spiritual things and to mature into truly living them out. We need to be responsible children of God who honor his name by doing the things he does, forgiving and loving as does.

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.

Trustworthy believers are faithful in speech

“‘You shall not go around as a tale-bearer among your people.

Leviticus 19:16

Believers have come to trust in Yahweh because he has proved himself faithful. He has accomplished all with his people that he said he would. As his children, we should be exhibiting the same kind of faithfulness with others. If we cannot be considered faithful, why would anyone believe us when we tell them about the faithfulness of our God?

In the Bible, untrustworthy individuals were known as tale-bearers or slanderers. The root word for this type of person describes one who is a scandal-monger, one who would travel about spreading information with the intent of stirring up dissent. Believers were cautioned not only to not participate in such activity but to avoid these type of people altogether.

Proverbs 11:13 One who is a tale-bearer uncovers secrets, but one who is of a trustworthy spirit conceals a confidence.
Proverbs 20:19 He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets; therefore don’t keep company with him who opens wide his lips.

These tale-bearers and slanderers were a main target amidst Jeremiah’s denunciation of the wickedness of his own people, and one of the primary factors of Israel’s judgment in his day.

[God speaking to Jeremiah] “I have made you a tester of metals and a fortress among my people, that you may know and try their way. They are all grievous rebels, going around to slander. They are bronze and iron. All of them deal corruptly. The bellows blow fiercely. The lead is consumed in the fire. In vain they go on refining, for the wicked are not plucked away. Men will call them rejected silver, because Yahweh has rejected them.”

Jeremiah 6:27-30

[Jeremiah laments over the wicked state of his people] Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a spring of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people and go from them! For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. “They bend their tongue, as their bow, for falsehood. They have grown strong in the land, but not for truth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they don’t know me,” says Yahweh. “Everyone beware of his neighbor, and don’t trust in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will go around like a slanderer. Friends deceive each other, and will not speak the truth. They have taught their tongue to speak lies. They weary themselves committing iniquity. Your habitation is in the middle of deceit. Through deceit, they refuse to know me,” says Yahweh. Therefore Yahweh of Armies says, “Behold, I will melt them and test them; for how should I deal with the daughter of my people? Their tongue is a deadly arrow. It speaks deceit. One speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in his heart, he waits to ambush him. Shouldn’t I punish them for these things?” says Yahweh. “Shouldn’t my soul be avenged on a nation such as this?

Jeremiah 9:1-9

When individuals demonstrate this kind of betrayal among their own people, relatives and friends, who can trust in them?

The apostle James relates a similar understanding of the power of the tongue at the culmination of the wicked generation in his day.

James 1:26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
James 3:5-12 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

James encourages believers to remain faithful in their speech and not to fall prey to the wickedness of the tongue, with which many in his day used to demean and curse others.

Peter also encourages believers to be faithful in speech and conduct, and he backs up his admonition with a quote from Psalm 34:

[Do not return] evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”

1 Peter 3:9-12

Our code of conduct exceeds that of the world so that we can encourage instead of demean, bless instead of curse. By being trustworthy individuals in speech and manner of life, we honor the God who calls us to be the lights in a world of darkness and strife.

…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…

Philippians 2:13-15

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.

Where you are building your storehouse is where you have placed your trust

Core of the Bible podcast #20- Where you are building your storehouse is where you have placed your trust

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of trust, and how our attitudes and actions demonstrate whether our trust is in earthly things or in heavenly things.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

A typical interpretation of this passage is that we should not be focused constantly on amassing earthly wealth which is regularly subject to loss. Instead, we should be gathering and storing heavenly wealth, for it will always be perfectly safe. Which type of wealth we are pursuing reveals our true heart motivation.

This is not an incorrect deduction; we certainly should be focused on the spiritual over that which is earthly and temporary.

However, looking at the passage from its literary construction, the subject doesn’t appear to be so much the type of wealth, but the storehouse in which the wealth is kept. The word used for treasure here is a little misleading in the English. The definition of the Greek word means “a store-house for precious things; hence: a treasure, a store.” This is where we get our English word for thesaurus; a thesaurus being a type of storehouse of words that can be used in various ways.  

A more literal rendering of the passage might be something like this:

“Do not amass storehouses on the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But build up for yourselves storehouses in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your storehouse is, there your heart will be also.”

You see, it’s not the treasure itself that is the focus, but the storehouse. Wherever you are storing your stuff, that’s where your heart will be.

This simple shift in focus also makes more sense of the parable Yeshua uses to explain the principle.

Luke 12:15-21 He [Yeshua] then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”  Then he told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. “He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? “I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. “Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ‘  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared ​– ​whose will they be? ‘  “That’s how it is with the one who amasses storehouses for himself and is not abundant toward God.”

The storehouse was for worldly security and ease; that’s where this man’s heart was. He was more focused on the storehouse of his earthly ease and security than the state of his spirituality. Everything he did was deliberate towards his own physical satisfaction, and nothing toward understanding the real spiritual nature of his life or bettering the spiritual state of others. His focus was on his personal earthly storehouse, not his spiritual one in the service of others.

We all know that the wealth of this world is temporary and the Bible is very clear on this topic, as well.

Psalm 39:6 Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, And does not know who will gather them.

Proverbs 11:4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death.  

Proverbs 11:28 He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage.

Proverbs 23:4-5 Don’t weary yourself to be rich. In your wisdom, show restraint. Why do you set your eyes on that which is not? For it certainly sprouts wings like an eagle and flies in the sky.

Proverbs 27:24 For riches are not forever, Nor does a crown endure to all generations.

If we spend the bulk of our time focused on collecting riches for our own benefit, the Bible is clear that it is time and energy spent in vain. Like everything, there is a balance. God knows we need to have an income, and hard work and discipline are to be commended.

Yet, if this is our primary focus above all else, Yeshua warns us that it could all disappear tomorrow; someone could break in and steal everything you have.  

For example, just like anyone else, I enjoy the home and belongings my wife and I have accrued over the years, but we also recognize that some disaster like a fire or earthquake or violent storm could take it all away in an instant. Robbery is also a possibility, but we really don’t have anything of great value that would be meaningful to anyone but us. We  both recognize that the things we have, while we enjoy them, are not permanent in any way, shape, or form.  

How many times have you seen news interviews with victims of tornadoes or fires who have lost their homes, only to hear them say something like, “We’re just so grateful everyone made it out safely,” or something to that effect. In that moment, they are confronted with what is really important in life, and it is not their stuff.

You see, it’s not the riches themselves, but the attitude one carries about them that makes the difference. Some people can be super-wealthy and yet remain humble and submitted to God’s kingdom; they may use their wealth to help others in meaningful ways. Some people may be dirt-poor and yet just as satisfied knowing their basic needs are met, and they are equally generous with whatever they do have. The amount of money or wealth is not the deciding factor, but the heart-attitude toward that wealth that makes a difference. This attitude is an indicator of where a person’s storehouse is.  

We also know everything is relative to one’s circumstances or local market conditions. What might pass for poverty here in the U.S. might be considered wealth when compared to Third World conditions elsewhere. There always appears to be someone more wealthy or someone who has less. This is the way of life here on this earth. Yeshua is encouraging us to not be wrapped up in the struggle and striving for that which ultimately has little or no value.  

Additionally, Yeshua desires his followers to have a single purpose, not to have divided interests.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:24

You cannot be bound equally both to God and to your confidence in wealth. One will always take precedence over the other, and the results of following either will be evident in your life.  

The issue that Yeshua focuses on is not necessarily the results of following either (which are evident throughout the biblical writings), but the complete inability of humans to multi-task loving God in among other responsibilities in this life. We all have necessary obligations in life, but if our over-arching purpose for everything we do does not rest in God and his kingdom, then we have by default chosen to place our trust in the other option.

According to the New Testament writings, covetousness is equated with idolatry.

Colossians 3:5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

When viewed from this perspective, it is clear that God cannot be worshipped among any other gods, as one of many. Yeshua taught that every choice in life will fall under one heading or the other, God or worldly wealth, and whichever choice is made is a determination of which deity is being trusted.  

So if we have determined that a constant focus on worldly storehouses is not appropriate for believers, what should we be focusing on? So far, we have reviewed the perils of trusting in worldly wealth in earthly storehouses to the exclusion of trusting in God wholeheartedly. But Yeshua mentions another type of storehouse, a “heavenly storehouse.” What is this heavenly storehouse and what type of wealth should we be storing in it?

So, in regard to this heavenly storehouse and its contents, Yeshua states it this way:

But amass for yourselves storehouses in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. Matthew 6:20

Why is it that thieves, moths and rust cannot touch this type of wealth? It is because the storehouse is in a heavenly place filled with a spiritual type of wealth. What is this wealth? Based on the structure of the Sermon on the Mount, the answer appears to be being rich in good works and ethical actions that God approves of through his word. There is no way that anyone or anything can detract from these good motives and good actions. This is the type of wealth that Yeshua encourages us to store up. Let’s look at how we can arrive at that type of conclusion.  

The Sermon on the Mount has a natural flow and progression to it when it is viewed as a whole. Whether this was an actual sermon or a collection of Yeshua’s teachings, what is recorded for us in Matthew has a certain structure that moves logically from one focus to the next.

It begins with the blessings of the righteous and how the righteous stand out from the rest of the world. This is due to their adherence to torah, the instruction of God, not just the traditions of the elders. In abiding to torah, believers begin to shine in the world.

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

After presenting his hearers with this truth about good deeds, Yeshua then reminds them that they should not be letting the recognition of their good deeds become the motivation for doing them. He proceeds to give some examples of oral traditions of the religious leaders, which were considered examples of good works or doctrine, but he presents them as teachings to be avoided.

Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ … “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ … “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ … “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ … “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ … “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’

While these oral traditions were based on the truth of God’s written torah, or instruction, the leaders had corrupted those things into false and hypocritical practices, and Yeshua set about to correct those teachings.

Further, Yeshua provided reassurance that God does in fact see the things that we do for the right reasons when they stem from a heart of obedience, even when they are done privately and intimately as a heart of obedience to God.

Matthew 6:3-6, 17-18  

GIVING:

But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  

PRAYING:

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  

FASTING:

When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

The overall context of Yeshua’s instruction is that true obedience to God’s torah or instruction comes from the heart, not from outward conformity to corrupted traditions or opinions of others. The wealth of heaven is exhibited in God’s recognition of our heart motives and private obedience, while the wealth of this world comes as outward recognition of actions. When our heart motives and private obedience are exhibited in the service of others, it is then that we become the light of the world. But our motives should always remain tied to a heart of compassion and love, regardless of any outward recognition. This, in God’s eyes, is what true wealth is.

The focus in the sermon then becomes the benefits of trusting in God and single-minded devotion to the kingdom of God. This will keep us from hypocrisy and keep us on the narrow path. This will also allow us to see false teachings (and teachers) for what they are. If we remain faithful to the wisdom that Yeshua provides, we will be able to weather any storm.

Throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount, we can see how our beliefs and our actions are tied together; one reveals the other. We believe what we do, and we do what we believe. To do one thing while claiming to believe something else, something perhaps nobler, is an inconsistent and potentially hypocritical position.

Some people may say they intend to do the right thing, but they aren’t always successful in doing so. Intent is not the same as belief; intent is simply an abstract concept and cannot be demonstrated until an action reveals its presence. If a contrary action is demonstrated, then the true belief is revealed; the ideal in which we place our trust will be evident. If our intent and beliefs are aligned, then our actions will harmonize with our beliefs and we will be consistent.

All through the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua is encouraging those who are righteous to be faithful to their calling and act in righteous ways, not in the hypocritical ways of their false teachers and leaders. The storehouses we build will be filled with something, either good and faithful actions, or hypocritical self-serving actions. Where your storehouse is will likely determine what you fill it with, and where your heart will be. An earthly storehouse will receive worldly actions, but a heavenly storehouse can receive righteous actions. One is built on sand, the other is built on the rock. Yeshua encourages his followers to trust and abide by his words, and so be building upon the rock.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that through our attitude and actions we are building storehouses either here on earth or in heavenly places. If we have an attitude of trust in God, we can remain focused on his purpose and kingdom, even in private and intimate ways of obedience to his instruction. God will recognize and reward those efforts, and those spiritual storehouses will provide eternal rewards.  

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.

The holiness of shining with the simplicity of God’s wisdom

Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.

Ecclesiastes 8:1

Wisdom in interpretation can provide great strength. That which we know and understand and apply in our lives is that which provides confidence and direction that emboldens us to act in right ways. Our stern attitude can appear to be changed when we act with simplicity in confidence. It is as if we are shining, radiating that wisdom out to others.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness, how deep is that darkness!

Matthew 6:22-23

Yeshua speaks about the singleness of the eye. The word means to be simple; literally, “unfolded.” If something is unfolded, it is simple, no wrinkles or creases to distract from the simplicity of what it is. This condition is contrasted with that which is wicked or bad; this “badness” also contains meanings of distractedness and annoyance; that which causes pain and trouble.

The analogy of the eye represents what we focus on; what we spend our time paying attention to. If we choose to keep things simple by remaining focused on the kingdom, we will not allow the distractions of this life to pull us away from that objective. We can apply the wisdom of God with confidence, and in so doing we will appear to shine amidst the darkness of this world.

Daniel 12:3 Those who have insight will shine like the bright expanse of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Matthew 5:16 “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.
Matthew 13:43 “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen.
Philippians 2:15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world,

This shining sets us apart from the rest of the world. This is what holiness is: it’s being set apart, and typically set apart for God’s purposes, not our own. When we radiate with the wisdom of God and our simple focus on the kingdom, we cannot help but shine upon the darkness of this generation for God to draw them to himself.

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.

Vigilance and hard work are necessary for establishing the kingdom of God

The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.

Nehemiah 4:17-18

The story of Nehemiah is one of reestablishing God’s presence in Jerusalem after the exile of the nation in Persia. God has placed in the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem to protect those living there against their enemies in the area.

While the historical account has merit for describing the return of the Jewish exiles, it also carries some analogous themes for the vigilance required in establishing the kingdom of God within each generation.

The kingdom has a central place of ancestral lineage as a figure: the city of Jerusalem.
1:5 Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.”

It is a disgrace for the city to lie in ruins.
1:17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

Those outside the city are opposed to its presence.
1:10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

The ones reestablishing the presence of the kingdom meet with resistance.
4:7-8 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry, and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.

Countering the resistance requires a sharp vigilance while the work progresses.
4:17-18 The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.

Those involved with the construction are relying on God’s strength and protection to accomplish the work.
4:4, 9 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their taunt back on their own heads, and give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 9 So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

Infighting needed to be identified and resolved
5:5, 9-11 Now our flesh is the same as that of our kindred; our children are the same as their children; and yet we are forcing our sons and daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been ravished; we are powerless, and our fields and vineyards now belong to others.” … 9 So I said [to the leaders], “The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. 11 Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”

The Torah of God was central to the community
8:2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

The people collectively confess and agree to follow God’s instruction
9:38 Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests.

The community purifies itself
13:3, 30 When the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. … Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign

While this is not an exhaustive list of themes, they briefly outline the level of vigilance necessary in the work of establishing the kingdom in a hostile environment. As we seek to work alongside God in growing his kingdom in this world, we can take to heart his responsiveness and favor as we cautiously but diligently set ourselves apart to fulfill the work in each generation.

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.

The integrity of walking in obedience to God’s commands

They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.

Luke 1:6

Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the baptizer, are described as being a couple with incredible integrity. From the narrative in the gospel of Luke, it appears this is why they were chosen to be the recipients of such a great honor as being the parents of one of the most influential prophets. In fact, Yeshua would go on to describe John as being “the greatest of those born among women,” (Matt. 11:11, Lk. 7:28).

This righteousness, or integrity, was based on their keeping of the commandments. This is what being righteous means: doing what’s right. What’s right in God’s eyes is what he has revealed to us as his torah, his instruction. Those who are faithful in living in accordance with his instruction are considered righteous. This hyper-obedient type of integrity is what Yeshua taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. … In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven. … So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:6, 16, 19-20

This righteousness, or obedience to the commands, is considered a standard of the those who would be participants in the kingdom of God. The apostle John also makes this abundantly clear.

1 John 2:3-4 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person.
1 John 5:2-3 By this we know that we love the children of God: whenever we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down…

There is no difference between the righteousness of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the righteousness of believers today; righteousness is still based on obedience to God’s torah, his instruction. While their obedience was a hopeful, forward-looking faith toward the coming of God’s Messianic kingdom, our obedience is based on a faith that looks back to the establishment of that kingdom. Yeshua was going to fulfill the prophetic expectation of their day; we are now looking back at the completed picture of how that has been fulfilled.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the ruling leader and completer of the faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Our common faith with Zechariah and Elizabeth is based on walking in the same integrity and righteousness of obedience that allows all of us to be participants in the kingdom. They are the witnesses that have gone before, we are the witnesses that come behind, continuing the glory of the everlasting kingdom that has been completed and established by Messiah.

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.

Overcoming covetousness with love

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that [is] your neighbor’s.”

Exodus 20:17

As we have learned about the Kingdom of God, the Ten Commandments are the charter of the kingdom, its constitution of conduct. The command against covetousness is the last of the Ten Commandments, yet is in no way inferior to the rest. In Hebraic thinking, the tenth commandment is in fact a summary of the rest. Coveting can be viewed as lying at the root of all that comes before, whether it is forsaking God for idolatry, dishonoring his name, continuing to work on Sabbath, or rejecting the authority of mother and father for personal desires. People kill, they commit adultery, and they lie and steal due to coveting.

Yeshua teaches about coveting as being one of the unproductive soils of the heart that cannot bear fruit when the seed of the word is planted in it.

“Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things [i.e., covetousness] entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

James went so far as to teach how covetousness is the basis of sin itself:

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust [i.e., covetousness]. Then when [covetousness] has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

James 1:14-15

In our Western way of thinking, we would consider that if covetousness is likened to greed, that the opposite of covetousness might be something akin to generosity. However, the apostle Paul highlights a different view, a different way of viewing covetousness.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

You see, if coveting is the basis of all that is sinful and contrary to the Ten Commandments, if it is the foundation of all that is harmful to God and others, then love is the overcoming of that poisonous root. This is absolutely congruent with the teaching of Yeshua, since he taught that love fulfills all aspects of the law, both toward God and toward others.

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Love overcomes everything that is opposed to God, and everything that is opposed to right conduct with others. If covetousness is at the foundation of all that is sinful, then love is its opposite, and the only necessary ingredient to the demise of covetousness throughout the world.

Covetousness is the primary characteristic of the “old man” that must be done away with, as we seek to live the renewed life that God has provided us through Messiah.

… put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts [i.e., covetousness], and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

True righteousness and holiness can be achieved when we love God and love others, as Yeshua taught. As we do, we fulfill the requirements of the Ten Commandments and we exhibit the type of renewed life that God desires for all in his kingdom.

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.

Instead of sectarianism, edifying one another

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, to be building him up.

Romans 15:1-2

This admonition from Paul comes within the context of sorting through the varieties of opinions and traditions that were evident within the burgeoning Messianic community. Some had traditional fasting days each week, others would not eat meat from the markets because it had been sacrificed to idols. All of these collective variations in practice were coming together in the body of Messiah to become one people.

A similar equivalent in Christianity today might be to have Methodists, Lutherans, Quakers, Catholics, along with any other non-denominational Protestant group gather together for a pot-luck each week, and all get along and be united. This was the type of challenge that Paul was attempting to overcome in this passage.

Sectarian differences are evident within all religions, and Christianity is no different (in fact, dare I say, it excels) in that regard. We have allowed ourselves to become extremely fragmented and isolated from one another rather than strengthened by one another in the unity of the instruction of God.

Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling. … Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.

Romans 14: 13, 15

The exhibition of love and compassion among believers is to not put stumbling blocks in each others’ way. Rather than focus on our differences, Paul is saying, let’s put our personal opinions aside and focus on encouraging and building one another up.

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in us all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…

1 Timothy 2:5

If we could start there in our communication with each other (one God, the Father, and one Lord, the Messiah), we can begin to realize the unity that God envisions for his people. Regardless of our opinions about non-essential things, we could become peacemakers who seek to honor our Lord by edifying one another and strengthening one another.

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.

Following the example of Yeshua by speaking well of those who would cause us harm

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what you have been called to do, that you should inherit blessing.

1 Peter 3:9 

If everyone in the world followed this one teaching, we would essentially have an end to all strife. However, we have this admonition because there are always people who are evil and insulting to others.

Evil is such a bitter and condemning word. But the underlying Greek definition for this word is not any kinder: “inner malice flowing out of a morally-rotten character.” We can never surmise why someone acts in the evil way they do, whether it is due to their upbringing, their situations in life, or the decisions they have made along the way. Perhaps it’s a combination of some or all of those things.

Peter doesn’t make a distinction in specific types of evil, an there is no way for us to know someone’s motivation. We are taught only to not respond in the same way with the same type of evil.

As for the insults one might receive, one of the English definitions for the Greek word used here for insult reads, “using mean-spirited, insulting words to demoralize or humiliate.”  Sounds like any comment feed or live chat online. More than that, in real life we also encounter individuals like this in all aspects of our lives. Some are strangers in stores, some are friends who have been offended, and some are family members.

The point is: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you think they were born evil and insulting or if they were somehow negatively influenced by their surroundings and environments, or if they are strangers, acquaintances or family members. As disciples of Yeshua we are commanded to respond with blessing, that is, speaking well of all others at all times. This will likely involve large measures of forgiveness as a method of overlooking the offense or injury.

Peter teaches us to follow the example of our Lord, the Messiah.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. … He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.

1 Peter 2:21, 23 

While this may be a revolutionary concept to our ears today, it was not new within the instruction of God. This has always been a principle of God’s torah, or his instruction, quoted by Peter here in his teaching. If we heed its injunction, then we are eligible for its promise: deliverance out of the injustice, a deliverance which comes from Yahweh.

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. … Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.

Psalm 34:13-14, 19 

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.